Saint Luis Rey Maduro vs. Serie G Maduro

This week’s journey into the humidor is a tale of two maduros, cigars that have different compositions but share a common name: Saint Luis Rey. They are both products of the mammoth Altadis USA, the largest producer of cigars in the US. When they aren’t suing smaller companies for trademark infringement they have been known, on occasion, to roll out a decent stick.

Saint Luis Rey is an old Cuban brand name, and in accordance with the rule that all cigars with traditional Cuban cigar names must have an American counterpart, the non-Cuban SLR emerged from the Big Bang of the Cigar Boom in the mid 1990’s. This “original” SLR has done well, having spawned eight vitolas — some in tubes, cabs of 50, and even pequenos. It is available in both natural and maduro wrappers, but the maduro employed here is Mexican San Andres, which is complemented by a Nicaraguan binder and fillers from Honduras, Nicaragua, and Peru.

The “new” SLR is the Serie G. It was first introduced in 2006, when various cigar blenders engaged the novel concept of the double maduro blend — in this case both binder and wrapper are Connecticut Broadleaf. The filler is Nicaraguan. A year later the Serie G Natural, with a Nicaraguan Habano wrapper, was added to the menu.

Bearing the same name might be the cause of some confusion between these two cigars, and whether this is deliberate or not (I have my theories) I hope to clarify the matter by obscuring the air with smoke.

St. Luis Rey Reserva Especial Maduro

The standard Saint Luis Rey — the “Reserva Especial” — is quite distinguishable from the Serie G. Aside from a slightly smaller ring gauge, the wrapper on the Reserva is a flat, almost matte black color. I was a little worried that it might be dyed, but aside from color there was no evidence of that. The roll is solid, and the cap is ugly, but serviceable. Most of it came off when I clipped the head, leaving a clean cut anyway.

The burn is mostly even (no mean feat for any maduro cigar) but the ash is weak and flaky. (This was the first ash I’ve had fall in my lap in quite a while.) The draw, on the other hand, is perfect, producing billowing clouds of smooth smoke.

After a pleasantly peppery introduction, the core flavors are sweet wood and dark chocolate. It isn’t remarkably complex, but the blend is smooth as it gradually transitions in the last section to a sweet char. Aromatic isn’t exactly the word for this cigar — it’s pungent and quite powerful, more of a bonfire kind of cigar with it’s rich smell of tar and pine resin. A good room-clearing stogie if ever the need should arise.

St. Luis Rey Serie G Maduro

There are far fewer sizes to choose from in the Serie G formulation, but the rotund rothchilde has been a favorite of mine for years.  All of the vitolas in this line have over-sized waistlines; at a 54 ring gauge the rothchilde and the belicoso are the thinnest ones.

The Serie G is a little bit richer, a little bit smoother, and not quite as sweet as the regular SLR Maduro. This cigar is lighter in appearance (though still dark) and more natural looking, with its mottled and leathery wrapper. The roll is solid — sometimes a little too solid — and very well packed. From time to time I’ve had a tight draw with the rothchilde, but it burns well. The ash is a little stronger than the standard line SLR, but it still flakes a bit.

The core flavors are a piney wood with sweet char. There isn’t any pepper here until the last third of the cigar, and even then it stays pretty smooth. In the mid-section there are notes of leather and earth, but what I mostly find are the straightforward classic maduro flavors — wood, sweet char, and a touch of chocolate. It’s not heavy on the sweetness or the coffee/cocoa flavors, but it’s quite smooth. Like the regular SLR Maduro, the Serie G creates a pungent resting smoke.

Conclusion

Both of these cigars are fine everyday smokes, especially the Serie G, which is a bit more complex than the standard line. What sets them both apart is the price — the Serie G is just over 3 bucks a stick, and the regular line is well under that. One online retailer is selling the regular SLR for 55 USD per box of 25, and that officially makes this a bargain cigar.  Keep an eye out for these if your financial advisor (or your spouse, who are often one and the same) is getting cranky about your discretionary spending.

Final Scores:

Saint Luis Rey Reserva Especial Maduro: 86

Saint Luis Rey Serie G Maduro: 88

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St. Luis Rey Cazadore — Aging Report

This is one of the last of a box of Saint Luis Rey Cazadores that I bought in late 2005 to conduct an aging experiment.  Soon after this the Cazadores vitola went out of production.  The manufacturer toned down the blend for the other sizes in the line, but this is the original Honduran blend. After reading so much about how well Cuban cigars age, I wanted to see how a full-bodied Non-Cuban cigar would hold up over a few years. After acquiring some aged Camacho Havanas that had become extremely mild over the years I wanted to compare different styles of non-Cuban cigars after a few years of aging.

When I first cracked the box I found the Cazadores to be aggressive, but tasty — woody and spicy with a peppery bite. Two years in long-term parking mellowed the smoke significantly, allowing more distinct flavors of leather and cinnamon to emerge, while still retaining some of the original bite.

It has now been almost five years since I purchased this box, most likely more than five years since they were produced, so it’s time to give them a final assessment.

Construction Notes

The St. Luis Rey Cazadore has not suffered at all from its long cedar nap. The wrapper is just as pretty as it was on opening the box in 2005, and the roll is solid with just a bit of give. One improvement made over time is the burn — these senior smokes are burning righteously, though the ash is still a mite flakey.

Overall construction: Very Good.

Tasting Notes

The first few puffs on the Cazadore are reminiscent of the young cigar — a touch of spice on the tongue — but this sensation quickly dissipates and is replaced by a smooth, almost creamy smoke. The smoke texture is still full in body and has a decent kick, but this feisty Honduran of 2005 has finally matured into a respectable citizen of the world.

When new this cigar’s aroma was almost undetectable amidst the hammering that it gave the palate, but five years later it reveals an enjoyable and subtle spice over an earthy foundation.

The mid-section of the cigar is still hearty, but its spirit has waned over the years. More than anything I enjoy the cedar and light spice on the nose — cinnamon or nutmeg I think — and the smooth earthy flavor. The final section gets a little more serious as the black pepper kicks in again, but the flavor loses complexity and eventually flatlines.

Conclusion

I think these cigars are probably a little past their peak at this point. The flavor isn’t completely washed away yet (as happened with the Camacho Havana after six years) but the complexity of the cigar is waning. The toasty, earthy flavor of this 5 year-old blend is still very enjoyable though, and the soft subtle spices that have emerged in the aroma are a nice surprise.

Aging this now -extinct SLR blend has produced a pronounced change in flavor as well as performance, and each stage of its maturation has revealed a different set of characteristics. That’s what makes aging cigars fun. Leave a comment if you have any suggestions for other blends — especially Non-Cuban cigars — that you think age really well.

Aging Report: Saint Luis Rey Cazadore

slrcaz

This mysterious cigar, first reviewed in April 2006, is from a 2005 box that has an uncertain history.  When I first purchased these from JR Cigars I could find no listing for St. Luis Rey Cazadores anywhere except JR, and nothing has changed since then. (They are unlisted by the manufacturer, Altadis USA, though JR still lists them as “Out of Stock.”) The current SLR is a medium-bodied multinational blend with a Nicaraguan wrapper, while this one is still a full-blooded full-bodied Honduran.

The “Cazadores” is a traditional Cuban production vitola — the Cuban Romeo y Julieta is probably the best known example — but this double corona sized cigar doesn’t even come close to meeting the traditional 6 7/16 x 44 Cuban format.

So why this cigar is called a “Cazadore” is as confounding as the fact that it no longer exists, because it’s a nice full-bodied cigar that so far is aging beautifully.

Aesthetically this old SLR is gorgeous — a smooth leathery colorado wrapper that has few veins and almost no imperfections. The roll is perfectly consistent and the head is flawlessly shaped and wrapped. The one surprise is the lack of a triple cap — with a roll this perfect I’ve come to expect one, even if here it really isn’t necessary.

I was prepared for this cigar to have lost some weight over three years in storage, but it seems to be as brawny as ever. It starts up with the same bullish glower that I remember so well — pepper with a leathery aroma and a good kick from the git-go. The draw is good but the thick juicy wrapper requires a correction almost immediately, within the first inch and half. (Since this was the last correction needed, I’m calling operator error… toast that foot evenly.)

The middle third is meaty and rich — just what I’m looking for from a Honduran cigar. The aroma takes on a woodier aspect at this point with a dash of cinnamon. I didn’t note this in the earlier review, and digging through the cluttered humidor of Smokes Past I’m not finding any memories of such subtleties.

The last third returns to darker peppery flavors and leather, getting stronger by the inch. I was hoping that this cigar would have mellowed a little in this regard, but after three years it’s still in fighting form.

My experience with aging cigars has so far shown that after a year or two the most noticeable change is in potency — I’ve seen this with the Camacho Havana (6 years) and the Angel 100 (2 years) and with several other brands over shorter periods of time. Strength diminishes and subtler qualities emerge. For the most part the Saint Luis Rey Cazadore is an exception to this, at least so far. I still have half a dozen of these put away, so we’ll have to see if the weight of the years can eventually tame down these unruly Hondurans.