El Galan Reserva Especial

El Galan Reserva Especial

It was William Faulkner who said, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” With the death of Fidel Castro and the relaxation (for now) of relations between the U.S. and Cuba, it would be good to remember what old Faulkner said. Regardless of what happens in the near future, what happened to Cubans during and after the revolution will continue to have an effect on thousands of Cubans and Cuban-Americans. There’s no escaping history.

The cigar business brings that history to the present, from seed to smoke. Take the subject of today’s little examination: the El Galan Reserva Especial. The founder and blender-in-chief is Felix A. Mesa, who is originally from the Cabaiguan region of Cuba. He comes to the industry with some familiar credentials: three generations of ancestors who worked the fields of Central Cuba and made their names in the business.

Look carefully at the band and you’ll see in the center El Galan himself, “the gentleman.” Flanking him are two small photographs: on the left is Felix Mesa’s mother, Ana Nancy, working in the tobacco field removing tobacco buds, and on his right Mesa’s grandfather Francisco working on his farm. (Check out a fine interview with Felix Mesa at hoochly for more.)

Like many cigar makers with Cuban roots, Mesa eventually made his way to Nicaragua, and today he operates a factory in Esteli where about half a dozen different blends are made. For many of today’s greatest cigar makers, Cuban roots now flower in Nicaragua.

El Galan Reserva Especial is a Nicaraguan puro made in four sizes:

  • Airosos – 5 x 52
  • Gallardos – 6 x 52 torpedo
  • Apuestos – 5 3/4 x 54
  • Obesos – 6 x 60

Construction Notes

El Galan Reserva 2

I test drove El Galan Reserva in the Apuestos size, a square pressed cigar with near-toro dimensions. The wrapper is a dark colorado maduro, rich and slightly rough. There are a few prominent veins and the triple cap is not quite perfect, but definitely serviceable.

The cigar is rolled well with a good draw and a slow burn that meanders a bit but corrects itself. Each one of the three I smoked for the review was consistent in this regard, so there’s good quality control here.

Overall construction: Excellent

Tasting Notes

El Galan 3

There’s a nice blend of sugar and spice here. The Apuestos open bright and peppery with a citric bite, but this is balanced by cedar and a touch of graham cracker on the nose. The body is medium, growing to full, and the strength is around medium to medium-full.

The pepper diminishes as the cigar develops and more savory flavors appear on the palate. The smoke becomes meaty with an earthy aftertaste. A few sweet notes continue to dance on the nEl Galan 4ose, but they deepen a bit as the cedar loses its edge and becomes more oaky. A finale composed of increased earthiness, char, and pepper closes out the cigar.

Conclusion

I don’t usually expect a lot of complexity from cigars with wrappers this dark, but El Galan Reserva delivers. It’s well built, consistent, and in the $6-7 USD range for all four sizes, it’s nicely priced. This is one to check out if you’re looking for a complex and meaty maduro.

But don’t take my word for it. Ask Jeff, writing for Casas Fumando early this year.

 

Final Score: 90

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1502 Nicaragua Robusto

1502 Nicaragua Robusto

1502 Cigars are named for the year that Columbus “discovered” Nicaragua, so it’s perfectly fitting that a Nicaraguan puro has been added to the line. The 1502 Nicaragua fills out the quartet that includes the 1502 Ruby (previously reviewed here), the 1502 Emerald, and the 1502 Black Gold. The Nicaragua is a blend of tobaccos from Esteli, Jalapa, Condega, and the volcanic island of Ometepe which sits nestled in Lake Nicaragua.

The cigar is produced at the Placencia factory in Esteli, Nicaragua, for Global Premium Cigars, and apparently only two sizes are in regular production, a 7 x 48 Churchill, and a 5 x 50 Robusto.

Construction Notes

The 1502 Nicaragua Robusto arrives box pressed, with a semi-flagged foot. The colorado claro wrapper leaf is somewhat veiny but smooth. The head is slightly flattened, the cap is solid, and the draw is excellent. It lights easily, perhaps aided by the flags. It burns slowly, but unevenly, requiring a touchup or two. The ash is solid.

Overall construction: Very good.

1502 Nicaragua 2

Tasting Notes

I smoked two robustos for this evaluation, separated by about a week, and had two rather different experiences. The first cigar seemed quite sharp and the flavors focused on cedar; the second cigar wasn’t as spicy and centered on musk. I briefly considered abandoning the review due to inconclusive or conflicting evidence, but whenever this happens I have to remind myself that matters of taste are always subjective. As the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus says: “No man steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river, and he’s not the same man.”  With that in mind, here are my notes on the river of the 1502 Nicaragua, with notes from the second cigar in green:

The robusto opens with cedar and a dose of white pepper; in addition to the cedar there is a distinctly musky note. Cedar spice on the nose continues into the middle third of the cigar. Dry tannins on the palate combine nicely with spice and a touch of sulfur or gunpowder on the nose. This is a medium bodied cigar — smooth but not creamy — that builds from medium in strength to nearly full at the conclusion. The spice on the nose and musky aroma continue into the final third of the cigar, which waves farewell with an earthy note and a flinty aftertaste.

Conclusion

I enjoyed both samples of the 1502 Nicaragua, even though they seemed to me to have somewhat different qualities. I will attribute this difference to my own subjectivity rather than the cigar; I will simply have to smoke more of them to arrive at a more satisfactory conclusion. In any case, this is a fine smoke, and I will happily assume the burden of further examination.

Both sticks exhibited a balanced cedary spice, a tannic element that develops into an earthy base flavor, and a smooth medium-bodied disposition. It’s not a powerhouse Nicaraguan, but it does exhibit some of the characteristics typical of great Nicaraguan smokes. Singles of the robusto run around USD $6.50, which is pretty reasonable for a premium boutique cigar of this caliber.

1502 Nicaragua 3

Final Score: 89

Sindicato Corona Gorda

Sindicato

Sindicato is a clever name for a cigar — it has that underworld overtone,  that slightly sinister suggestion of menace that is so common in cigar marketing these days. But the name is a classic red herring. Sindicato has nothing to do with the mob — it’s the Spanish term for a labor union. Leave the gun. Take the chaveta.

Sindicato Cigars are made by a union of cigar industry veterans: retailers, manufacturers, lobbyists, the whole kit. Their motto is “Join the Union.” After smoking a couple of their flagship brand cigars, I believe I will.

Sindicato is a Nicaraguan puro blended by Arsenio Ramos. The cigar is made in the Casa Fernandez factory, so it should be no surprise that the wrapper is a shade-grown Corojo leaf grown on the Fernandez farms in Jalapa. Under the hood is a double binder from Esteli and a filler blend of leaves from Jalapa and Esteli. I will openly confess my weakness for Jalapa tobacco, and I’ve been a fan of Aganorsa leaf from the early days of Tabacalera Tropical, so I was stoked to fire this one up.

Sindicato was released on March 1, 2014, in six sizes:

  • Corona Gorda – 5 1/2 x 48
  • Robusto – 5 x 54
  • Toro – 6 x 54
  • Belicoso – 6 1/8 x 54
  • Churchill – 7 x 52
  • Magnum – 6 x 60

Sindicato 2

Construction Notes

The Corona Gorda is a square pressed cigar with a soft and supple milk-chocolate brown wrapper. The cigar feels light in the hand, but it’s packed well and burns slowly. The foot is unfinished (flagged) and the head sports a tight pigtail cap. The draw is excellent, producing a consistent volume of medium-bodied smoke, and the cigar burns evenly.

This is a handsome cigar, obviously rolled by experts.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Tasting Notes

The Sindicato Corona Gorda is a medium strength cigar with notably aromatic complexity. The cigar starts out as smooth as its silky wrapper leaf and never gets harsh. Initial flavors are of roasted nuts with a dash of black pepper, but the aroma steals the show. It’s too complex to call it cedar –it smells to me like sandalwood. There is a sweetness to the scent that complements the flavors on the palate, a nutty brown sugar sweetness that grows earthier and more peppery as the cigar burns.

The finish is lengthy, and though it becomes fairly spicy in second half it stays smooth to the end.

Sindicato 3

Conclusion

Sindicato is an elegant and extraordinary smoke. I haven’t seen anyone do a flavor map for this cigar yet, but if I made one it would cover the whole spectrum. Everything from wood to pepper to floral scents — it pretty much made my palate light up like a Christmas tree. It’s smooth and sweet, very easy to smoke, and never boring. It’s one of the best new cigars I’ve tried in a long time.

Just one catch though, and you knew this was coming. You don’t get to join the Union without paying your dues. While the price is not exactly prohibitive, it is still considerable. The Corona Gorda runs around $10 USD, with larger sizes commanding commensurately larger fees. And you won’t find these in the discount aisle anytime soon, or ever, so save up your shekels. It’s a worthy investment.

Final Score: 94

 

Cain Daytona 654T Torpedo

Cain Daytona

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Well, Mr. Shakespeare, that may be true. But there’s a reason you’ve never heard The Yellow Rhododendron of Texas. And there’s nothing in Holinshed about the War of the Daffodils, is there?

And yet I admit that half the reason I’ve never smoked a Cain cigar is because of the name. The story of Cain in Genesis is not one that I would expect to inspire greatness, unless the mark of Cain can somehow be construed to be a good thing. (Though Herman Hesse does this very thing in his novel Demian, so it’s not an impossibility.)

The other half of the reason is that Cain cigars are composed entirely of ligero tobacco leaf, the strongest and oiliest part of the stalk. Raw power is not really my thing. Ligero is an essential element in many fine blends, but I’ve always thought that smoking a ligero puro would be like sitting down to a tumbler of Bacardi 151. Drinkin’ TNT and smokin’ dynamite. (Yeah,I know — Muddy was smoking something a little different.)

But I love Jalapa tobacco, so when a reader last year mentioned that Cain’s Daytona blend is a Jalapa puro, I had to try it. The Jalapa Valley is the northernmost tobacco growing region of Nicaragua, and the shade afforded by the valley allows the tobacco to be a little more restrained than does the full sun of Esteli. The result is a complex tobacco with a soft and lush flavor.

Cain is made by Studio Tobac, the edgier wing of the Oliva Cigar Company. The cigar is made by Tabacalera Oliva in five sizes, from which the frontmarks take their names:

  • 660
  • 654T (torpedo)
  • 646
  • 550
  • 543

Cain Daytona 2

Construction Notes

The Cain Daytona torpedo arrives with only a foot band, and when this is removed it must stand naked before the world. But like a body builder on the beach, it has the physique to withstand close scrutiny, and seems to invite it. The wrapper is a smooth and attractive colorado maduro, with a touch of oil to highlight some fine veins in the leaf. The roll is even and solid. The cap is not Pepin-perfect, but the head clips easily and the wrapper doesn’t unfurl, which is always my primary concern.

It draws well, burns evenly, and builds a long, strong, dirty gray ash.

Overall construction: Excellent

Tasting Notes

What is immediately apparent about the Cain Daytona is its pungency. The resting smoke is powerful. The wrapper leaf is usually the most aromatic part of a cigar, so catching a whiff from the smoldering foot is one way I try to gauge its aroma. That is not easy to do with this cigar — and an accidental inhalation or even a retrohale might be a deal-breaker.

But the flavors on the palate are quite nice — lots of cocoa over an earthy and mineral-laced foundation. The smoke is not spicy on the tongue, but it leaves a peppery aftertaste. The smoke is not as astringent as a lot of Nicaraguan puros, but the cocoa screams Jalapa.

An odd thing about the Daytona is that the smoke is surprisingly thin. At first I thought the cigar might not be burning properly, but it turns out that the smoke texture is just very light. It isn’t often that a cigar’s body is outmatched by its strength, but here is a great example.

Conclusion

The Cain Daytona torpedo is a fascinating cigar, but as much as I love the tobaccos of Jalapa, I find this one to be unbalanced and thin. The lure of ligero is what the Cain line is founded on, so perhaps the blenders are simply sticking to their guns here — but I think a softer and more sophisticated wrapper leaf would go a long way toward smoothing out the pungency of the ligero and give the smoke a little more weight on the tongue.

On the other hand, if ligero is your thing, the Daytona might make a nice breakfast smoke for you. But not for me.  For now I believe I will stick with Torano’s Single Region to satisfy my craving for Jalapa.

Cain Daytona 3

La Gloria Cubana Serie R Esteli

Serie R Esteli

La Gloria Cubana has always been associated with the Dominican Republic, so two new blends rolled in Nicaragua are an interesting development for the company. Both blends are in the “Serie R” line, and true to that tradition they’re all wide bodies. The “R” stands for robusto, even though ring gauges for these lines generally exceed the familiar 50/64 inch robusto size.

Both blends are Nicaraguan puros concentrating on the flavors of leaf grown in the Jalapa valley. What distinguishes them is the wrapper — the Serie R Black features a Jalapa ligero, while the Esteli line uses a Jalapa Sol wrapper.

Tobaccos from Jalapa tend to be a little softer and less spicy than those from Esteli, even though these areas are not geographically all that distant from one another.  One of my favorite cigars in recent years is Carlos Torano’s Single Region blend from Jalapa, and I’ve noticed that Nicaraguan cigars that utilize leaf from this area fit my criteria for a great smoke: they tend to be rich in flavor, medium to full in body, and usually won’t knock a lightweight like me into the next county.

As of this writing, only three sizes are in production, all toro or toro-plus sized:

  • No. Fifty-Four – 6 x 54
  • No. Sixty  – 6 x 60
  • No. Sixty-Four – 6 ¼ x 64

Construction Notes

The LGC Serie R Esteli No. 54 appears princely with its dark colorado maduro wrapper and black and silver band. The wrapper is quite oily with some fine veins, and its rich hue makes an impression. The roll is slightly irregular, but solid, and the cap is bit messy yet entirely functional. (If something can be called functional by dint of its removal.) The draw is excellent, and the burn is extremely slow. I was able to stretch this cigar out for a good hour and fifteen minutes and never had a burn issue the while.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Gloria cubana esteli

Tasting Notes

The 54 opens with a sweet and woody character, punctuated by leather and spice. The woody element is sweet and clean, reminding me of juniper more than the cedary aroma typical of so many cigars these days. This toro seems to be more complex in its first third than it is later on, which is a bit unusual, but this may be in part due to the amount of time it takes to smoke. After an hour my taste buds get a bit fatigued and I’m less able to detect subtleties.

The smoke is medium in body and quite smooth. The flavors and aromas presented in the first third reappear in the middle section, though the taste is less clean and takes on a meaty, barbecued tang. The final section continues on that path but the sweetness wanes after a brief flirtation with chocolate.

Conclusion

La Gloria Cubana has a great new blend here, especially for fans of the rich complexity of Jalapa tobaccos. The combination of wood and leather with just the right amount of sweetness really hits the spot this time of year.  I would love to see this cigar in a standard robusto size, but the trend toward large ring gauges is apparently no longer a trend and is now simply what the market is demanding. So I will rest content with the relatively svelte 54.

The Serie R Esteli is available in boxes of 18, and singles go for around $6.50 USD.  Add two bits for the 60, and a buck for the 64. That’s a very respectable price for a cigar of this magnitude and quality.

LGC Serie R Esteli

Final Score: 91

Special thanks to General Cigar for providing samples for review. 

Asylum 13 Fifty

Asylum 13

It’s hard to believe that it has been five years since Camacho was acquired by Davidoff, but it’s true. And while Davidoff has managed to keep the sticks rolling out of the factory in an almost seamless manner, the intervening years have provided new opportunities for Christian Eiroa. Asylum and Asylum 13 are some of the results.

Asylum Cigars are a joint venture of Kevin Baxter and Tom Lazuka, who were later joined by Christian Eiroa. Eiroa formed Tabacaleras Unidas last year as the parent company for several brands including his own CLE and CLE Cuarenta brands, and it appears that Baxter and Lazuka have, well, taken Asylum there.

Asylum Cigars are rolled in the old Tabacos Rancho Jamastran factory in Honduras, a familiar name to Camacho fans. The Asylum 13 is a Nicaraguan puro featuring a dark habano wrapper. The cigar is made in four gobstopping sizes, with the 50-ring Fifty being the runt of the litter.

  • Fifty – 5 x 50
  • Sixty (double toro) – 6 x 60
  • Seventy (double churchill) – 7 x 70
  • Ogre (barber pole) – 7 x 70

Asylum 13

Construction Notes

The Asylum 13 has a slighly oily maduro wrapper that appears quite smooth despite a few prominent veins. The cigar is solidly packed but draws very easily. The burn is even and the ash holds well.

Overall construction excellent.

Tasting Notes

This is a fairly boisterous cigar from the first few puffs to the last. It introduces itself with a potent dose of red pepper and a strong, almost stinging, woody aroma. After an inch or so the spiciness wanes enough to detect more subtle flavors — some earthiness comes through to complement the woody flavors, and there is coffee or cocoa on the nose. A touch of anise appears at times, but fleetingly.

The smoke texture is medium to full in body, but this full-flavored cigar is a brawler from the start. I’ve read a few reviews that state the larger sizes are even stronger, so I think I’ll be sticking with the 50.

Conclusion

One of my favorite cigars from the old Camacho days was the Diploma, but I rarely smoked it because it would invariably leave me on the floor. The Asylum 13 isn’t quite that heavy (nor is it quite as complex) but it’s still a tasty cigar with excellent construction. I hope to find similar flavors in the non-13 Asylum, perhaps with a little less power and a little more complexity.

Judging by the box counts, Asylum 13 is geared for brick-and-mortar sales. The Fifty and Sixty are sold in boxes of 50 cigars, and the Seventy and Ogre are available in boxes of 30. I picked up the Fifty for around $5.00 a stick, which is pretty economical for a boutique smoke.

Asylum 13

Final Score: 88

Ezra Zion Jamais Vu (Inception)

jamais vu

Up until a few weeks ago this cigar was known to the world as Ezra Zion Inception. But it turns out there is another company making cigars under the Inception name, and rather than engage in the legal grappling that often occurs with trademark disputes, Ezra Zion made the honorable decision to simply change the name of their blend. Jamais Vu is not the next big wing chun master. It is a French phrase meaning something like “deja vu,” but turned on its head. From the Ezra Zion website:

JAMAIS VU is defined as “…a sense of eeriness and the observer’s impression of seeing the situation for the first time, despite rationally knowing that he or she has been in the situation before.”

It’s an interesting choice of names, considering the situation which led to the name change. But a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet, to quote the Bard. Of course the Bard also says that men of few words are the best men, so I’ll get down to business.

Jamais Vu is a Nicaraguan puro with a 2007 corojo wrapper. Two different binders — corojo and criollo — from two different years hold in place a blend of viso, ligero, and medio tiempo tobaccos, all aged five to six years. The blend was released in 2012 (under its former name, Inception) in three sizes:

  • Corona Gorda – 6 1/2 x 54
  • Exquisito – 6 1/4 x 52
  • Gran Robusto – 5 1/4 x 50

Construction Notes
Upon picking up my first Inception/Jamais Vu Gran Robusto I wondered if I should discard the foot band, as is my customary practice, or if I should preserve it as an item of historical interest. I put the band aside for further consideration, but I really like the fact that it comes off so easily.

The wrapper on the Jamais Vu is an attractive and oily colorado maduro. Some fine veins run down and across the cigar. It looks leathery but not weathered. The bunch is solid, though there are interesting seams that are detectable beneath the wrapper. I’m not sure if this is the result of using two binders, or if it has to do with the bunching process. The seams are not obvious, and would not be noticed by most normal cigar smokers. (By the way, if you’re reading this, you’re probably not normal. We count that a good thing.)

The cap is beautiful and the draw is perfect. The burn was a little uneven, but not problematic.

Overall construction: Very good.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tasting Notes

The first flavors out of the gate are quintessentially Nicaraguan, and the best kind of Nicaraguan. The first few puffs are spicy without the sting, and notes of hardwood and caramel soon follow. The flavors are clean and bright with an acidic tang familiar to fans of Illusione’s Original Document and some of Padilla’s cigars (the Aganorsa years).

The smoke texture is medium to full in body, and the cigar becomes considerably potent in the last third.

The cigar develops a mild bite, but the combination of wood and earth on the palate with caramel and cocoa on the nose is an adequate distraction from a little burn on the tongue. This cigar is an engine that keeps the flavors pumping and jumping from beginning to end.

Conclusion

Jamais Vu reminds me of a number of other premium Nicaraguan smokes, which I sort of lump into a flavor bin I call “Aganorsa” (whether it is actually Aganorsa leaf or not.) Los Blancos Nine comes to mind, as do a number of Casa Fernandez cigars (but in my estimation this Ezra Zion blend is smoother). There is a bright and sweet quality to this tobacco which is really distinctive, and the caramel and cocoa from the corojo wrapper combines with the spice in the core to create a beautiful smoke.

Retail price looks to be around $9 USD. This is a cigar worth going out of your way to find and enjoy.

Jamais Vu

Final Score: 92