San Cristobal Revelation Legend

San Cristobal RevelationFor as long as I can remember, Ashton’s Virgin Sun Grown (VSG) line has been revered and sought after by cigar smokers. It is not always easy to find, and it commands a price dictated by its quality and high demand. The Ecuadorian Sumatra leaf that covers the VSG is the benchmark for Sun Grown taste, in my humble (or not-so-humble) opinion. The bright zing of this tobacco, grown by the Oliva family for Ashton, is what makes the VSG sing.

Now there is another voice to join that virgin choir — San Cristobal Revelation — which is made with a wrapper leaf from the same plant as the one used on the VSG. There is a slight difference, however. The VSG uses a stronger, spicier leaf from the top of the plant, whereas San Cristobal Revelation uses a milder mid-level viso leaf. But the similarities between the VSG and the SC Revelation end there. The VSG is more of a Fuente blend featuring Dominican tobacco,  while San Cristobal bears the mark of Pepin Garcia: the binder and filler leaves are Nicaraguan and the cigar is made by My Father Cigars in Esteli.

San Cristobal Revelation was introduced in 2013 in five sizes:

  • Leviathan – 6 1/2 x 64
  • Legend – 6 1/4 x 52
  • Odyssey – 5 3/4 x  60
  • Mystic – 5 5/8 x 48
  • Prophet  – 5 x 54

Construction Notes

The Revelation Legend is a box pressed toro with a mottled chocolate brown wrapper and a well formed head. The cap is not as perfect as I’ve seen on other cigars out of this factory in recent years, but it’s attractive and certainly functional. The roll is solid and the draw is excellent. The cigar burns evenly, especially for a pressed stick, although it seems to burn more quickly than I had expected. There are no overheating issues and the cigar is rolled well, so this isn’t a significant issue.

Overall construction: Very good.

San Cristobal Revelation 2

Tasting Notes

The first inch of the Revelation Legend is peppery with the tannic dryness typical of most Nicaraguan blends these days. Pepin’s peppery hallmark has been appropriated (or perhaps the polite word is emulated) by so many other cigar makers that pepper-and-tannin has become the standard for Nicaraguan cigars. But the pepper here is not overwhelming, and in keeping with the medium-bodied tenor of the cigar it fades to allow cedar and a slightly spicy floral note come to the fore.

Sun grown flavors make their appearance in the mid-section of the cigar — a cinammon zing with chocolate and cedar in the background. Along with the spice there is a touch of sweetness enhanced by the cedary aroma.

The smoke concludes with a spicy char and a lengthy finish. This is a medium-bodied cigar, but it ends on a powerful, if somewhat muddied and less complex note.

Conclusion

Revelation is a fine addition to the San Cristobal line. It’s not as heavy as the original San Cristobal, but it’s spicier than the San Cristobal Elegancia. The tannins in the first inch might lighten up a bit over time, but these blends are made that way intentionally and aren’t intended to fade, so pucker up and enjoy.

So how does the Revelation stand up to the VSG? It makes a decent showing, but it is a far milder cigar. It’s like comparing Beethoven to Schumann. Perhaps it’s not a fair comparison, but most cigar smokers will choose the pounding chords of the VSG over the gentle but soulful Revelation. That is no reflection on the quality of the Revelation; it’s just a matter of how much water you like in your whiskey. Sometimes a little splash is nice.

The Legend runs right around $8 USD.

San Cristobal Revelation 3Final Score: 90

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Alec Bradley Sun Grown Robusto

Alec Bradley’s Sun Grown cigar is distributed as a Famous Cigar private label, so there is limited information about it available. The distinguishing feature of the blend is a Mata Fina wrapper from the Bahia region of Brazil.

Mata Fina is a region in the Reconcavo Bahiana, the “bay area” of the state of Bahia. Much of this part of Brazil has been cleared of its natural forest over the years and secondary regrowth has taken place. “Mata Fina” is a farmer’s term for the type of regrowth, secondary forest, in this area. The climate and soil is excellent for tobacco cultivation — tropical weather with plenty of sun (though an average of 42 inches of rain annually) and sandy soil that provides good drainage. Tobacco farmers like to point out that Bahia is the same distance south of the equator that Cuba is north of it.

Tobacco is native to Brazil and was quickly adopted by early Dutch and Portuguese settlers. By the late 19th century it was one of Brazil’s leading exports, both in raw form and finished cigars. Brazil still produces a prodigious amount of tobacco (and a few blends of Brazilian puros) but the vast majority is now exported to major cigar manufacturers in Central America and the Dominican Republic.

All of the tobacco in Mata Fina is sun grown, which is part of the reason for its dark appearance. When mata fina is naturally cured it turns quite dark and can be mistaken for maduro, but the leaf is actually less robust, more refined and more highly aromatic than most maduro wrappers. Mata fina is most frequently used as wrapper leaf (which is hand-picked) but it can also be used as binder and filler (which is stalk cut.)

In addition to a Mata Fina wrapper, the Alec Bradley Sun Grown employs a Honduran binder and fillers from Nicaragua and Colombia. Three sizes are in production:

Churchill – 7 x 48
Robusto – 5 x 50
Toro – 6 x 52

Construction Notes

I haven’t seen how the Alec Bradley Sun Grown is packaged (I picked up a five-pack from Famous), but they look box-pressed to me. The roll is a little bit soft and seems to have taken on some press. The wrapper is dark and rich in appearance, though every bit as rustic as you’d expect from a sun-grown leaf. The cap is purely functional. Actually, the stick seems to have been designed without aesthetics in mind at all — maybe after looking at the wrapper they just threw in the towel. The band, on the other hand, is gorgeous. The secondary “Sun Grown” band is probably unnecessary though.

The robusto burns quite well — straight, with an even draw, and a smooth light gray ash.

Overall construction very good.

Tasting Notes

The robusto starts up with a flare of sweet spice, but it’s not the explosion of pepper that is common to a lot of Nicaraguan cigars. It’s palate-tingling, but it’s more like the minty flavor found in  Cameroon. There is a mild bite on the tongue and the aroma is sweet and complex. I have a hard time distinguishing the scents on the nose at this point, but the base flavor is coffee and earth.

Cruising into the mid-section the smoke gets a bit smoother on the palate but remains spicy upstairs. As the flavors settle and coalesce there’s a hint of cherry over the continuing coffee and earth underneath.

The complexity of the cigar diminishes as the cigar burns into its final stage, concentrating on coffee, earth, and that minty or clove-like scent with which it opened. The coffee dwindles into a burned flavor and starts to turn bitter at the very end of the smoke.

(One of the three I’ve smoked so far was a dud. I’m going to count that one out of my assessment, but I’d be interested in hearing if anyone has had a similar experience. Maybe there was a bad leaf in there or something.  If anything it shows that you have to smoke more than one cigar (preferably several) before passing judgment on a blend.

Conclusion

I don’t usually expect much from large distributors’ exclusive cigars, but the Alec Bradley Sun Grown was a good one. The complexity of aromas that the mata fina wrapper contributes really distinguishes the cigar, and at a price around 5 USD it makes a great everyday smoke.

Pick up a five-pack and let me know what you think. (Strangely, buying four five-packs is significantly cheaper than buying a 20-count box. And it’s not like Kaizad Hansotia designed the box.)

Final Score: 89

San Cristobal Seleccion del Sol by Ashton

When José “Don Pepín” García first started making cigars for Ashton in 2007 a few of us speculated that his commercial success would change him. I guess we’re used to seeing our small-town heroes ruined by large-scale success. And as some of Pepin’s smaller clients were shed for blue chip partners like Ashton, we anticipated that the unique flavor and superb construction of cigars like Padilla’s 1932 would become a distant memory.

Instead it appears that Pepin and family are using their well-earned capital to invest in infrastructure, and the quality of their cigars has not diminished a bit. Equally inspiring is the fact that some of Pepin’s former clients, like Padilla, are forging new paths and doing very well on their own as well.

Pepin now produces five blends under three different brands for Ashton —  San Cristobal,  La Aroma de Cuba, and Benchmade (an economy mixed-filler cigar.)  The original La Aroma de Cuba has been phased out and was replaced this year by Pepin’s new blend, which is in addition to the Edicion Especial line which was introduced in 2008. The San Cristobal Selección del Sol is new for 2009 and adds another member to the San Cristobal family.

The Garcias have long aspired to sow what they reap, and as a natural development of their previous success they are now cultivating tobacco on their Estrella farm in Esteli. The San Cristobal Seleccion del Sol features one of the first fruits of this new endeavor: the sun-grown wrapper that graces this cigar.

Like the first San Cristobal, the Seleccion del Sol is a Nicaraguan puro, but it is in fact an entirely new blend.  Only three sizes are currently in production:

  • Robusto – 5 x 52
  • Belicoso – 5.5 x 52
  • Toro – 6 x 52

Construction Notes

The Estrella Farms wrapper on the Seleccion del Sol is not much to look at — it’s dry and drab, and much lighter in appearance than the standard San Cristobal. The foot band slips off easily, which is very much appreciated. The roll is excellent, as expected, and the cap is wound to a blunt tip. The draw is fine.

I rarely find anything negative to note about the construction of any Pepin-made smokes, but I had issues with the burn on these. The foot of the cigar did not want to light evenly (even with a torch) and thence forward the burn was uneven, required correction several times, and went out a couple times when I wasn’t paying close attention. What we have here, ladies and gentleman, is a cigar with a crappy burn. And the ash is flaky to boot.

Overall construction: only fair.

Tasting Notes

The Selección del Sol exhibits a lot of the flair associated with sun-grown wrappers, and while it compares favorably in this regard to Ashton’s VSG and Rocky Patel’s Sun Grown cigars, it doesn’t quite live up to those standard bearers.

The first third is dry but sweet with a tingle on the tongue. The aroma is of sweet wood, which blends nicely with the minty note on the palate. There is a hint of a bite and just a dash of pepper, which seems unusually understated for a DPG blend. The smoke is smooth though, and the nicotine is moderate.

The middle section continues in the same vein, doling out lots of woody smoke with a sweet, fresh finish. There is some spice on the palate, but the woody flavors and the sun-grown zing take center stage. The resting smoke is very pleasant, even for the non-smokers in the vicinity who for once are not glaring at me.

The final stage is earthier on the palate, with continued sweet wood on the nose. The sensation on the tongue is interesting — almost like the effect of carbonation, and the overall effect is spirituous. Like champagne, if a champagne could taste like humus and sweet wood. The last half-inch into the band area gets a little harsh on the throat, but other than that this is a smooth tasting smoke.

Conclusion

This is a really unusual cigar from DPG. The burn is sub-standard by comparison with his other lines, and while the flavors are certainly interesting, they’re not what the typical Pepin fan is after. There is little here of the cocoa and black peppery bang that his cigars are best known for. This doesn’t make it a bad cigar by any means, but in my opinion it’s not really what he does best.

I think that if it were made by anyone else I would have rated the Selección del Sol more highly, but I expect more from The Great One. Maybe it isn’t fair, but when the man hits home runs every game, to get a double and a base hit are a little disappointing.

Final Score: 84