Saturday, December 08, 2007

For my 32nd birthday, my friend Shaun bought me a Gurkha humidor filled with a selection of 20 cigars that were all rated 94 or better by Cigar Aficionado magazine. There are 10 different types of cigars showcased (2 of each brand). Most of them are new to me, although some I have reviewed before. As Shaun and I smoke them together throughout the year, I'll post my reviews in this section:

Graycliff Profesionale PGX
Size: 6.0 x 50 (toro)
Wrapper: Indonesian
Filler: Primarily Brazilian, with some Dominican and Nicaraguan
Price: $10

Date: 12/14/2007
Occasion: Poker night, in honor of my birthday

The ultra-expensive Graycliff cigars are rolled at the ultra-exclusive Graycliff resort in the Bahamas, where they are designed (according to to be enjoyed with the "fine wine and cuisine" available only in ultra-chic Graycliff restaurants. These cigars retail from $7 to $38 per cigar at online discount sites (I've seen some for sale in B&Ms, usually in the $15-$20 range).

Most of the non-Cuban cigars I've tried at the $10 price point have been, at least to some extent, novelty items (Drew Estate Egg, Makers Mark, Island Prince). Others have been decent but laughably overpriced (Gurkha Class Regent, RP Vintage 1990, CAO CX2). So, I was suspicious that Graycliff would turn out to be all hype, little substance.

The cigar came dressed with an impressive blue label with the well-known gold "G" emblem. The wrapper was a nondescript light brown with a few noticeable veins. The pre-light aroma and taste told me unequivocally that there would be a lot of spice in this cigar. And, upon lighting, it certainly did not disappoint. In fact, the Graycliff Profesionale PGX hit the flavor profile I enjoy most in a cigar: medium body with a strong, spicy flavor. It immediately reminded me of a few other favorites, namely the Fuente Hemingway line and the Island Prince from Hawaii.

The cigar had flawless construction, as I nursed it through the first two hours of a Friday night poker game, paired with Whathen's Kentucky Bourbon. It kept a quarter- to half-inch salt-and-pepper ash and maintained a consistent taste until it burned past the band mark.

As an encore, I followed it with a slightly stronger Edge Counterfeit Corojo and a Lagavulin Single Malt Scotch. I even won $55 in the poker game -- all in all, a fairly extraordinary night.

Montecristo White Rothchilde
Size: 5 x 52
Wrapper: Ecuadorian Connecticut Shade
Filler: Dominican/Nicaraguan blend
Price: $8.50

Date: 12/28/2007
Occasion: Shaun's Birthday

In appearance, this cigar is very elegant in its simplicity. It has a light reddish-brown wrapper, flawless without veins, creases or bumps. The band depicts the famous Montecristo logo, but with an all-white background instead of the typical brown. I detected a very slight (but pleasant) prelight aroma. When I clipped the end and tasted the tobacco, there was no prelight flavor, which I knew indicated an extremely mild taste.

The stogie is very, very mild with a subtle taste of nuts. (In fact, it reminded me a lot of the Padilla Cedro, except substitute the flavor of nuts instead of grass). The body is light and the draw is medium. The finish was more noticeable on the palate than the initial draw because it left behind a slightly bitter taste. I could not decide if this was intentional or if the cigar was a little too wet (I have kept it stored about 70% humidity). I think it was intentional or else there wouldn't have been much to taste at all.

Because of the mild nature of the cigar, it is important to pair it with a good drink. It might go well with a domestic beer or a bottled water, but I found that Basil Hayden 8-year Kentucky bourbon enhanced the experience nicely.

I took a long time to decide if I really liked this cigar. I still don't know. My first instict was to write it off as simply an overpriced mild smoke (there are plenty of those on the market, from Macanudo to Royal Jamaica Gold). But at the same time, it is clear this cigar is excellently constructed and the tastes, while faint, are well-balanced. In the end, I decided that no ultra-mild cigar could be any better than this. Montecristo has perfected its product; I'm just not in the target audience.

Joya de Nicaragua Celebracion Consul
Size: 4.5 x 52
Wrapper: Criollo
Filler: Nicaraguan Puro
Price: $4

Occasion: New Year's Day 2008

Joya de Nicaragua cigars were first created in 1968 in the first tobacco factory in Central America. They have not always been available in the U.S., the victim of government instability and a complicated history of trademark ownership. Today, the brand is owed by Tabacos Puros de Nicaragua S.A and the cigars are onced again manufactured in Nicaragua and made entirely with Nicaraguan tobacco. The Celebracion itself was named one of the Top 25 Cigars of 2004.

I paired this cigar with a Yuengling lager on a chilly New Year's Day afternoon.

Featuring a dark brown criollo wrapper, the first thing I noticed about this cigar was a rich, full prelight aroma and a peppery taste on the tongue. When I toasted the foot with my lighter, I was surprised at how strong and spicy the cigar was, particularly since I had read that the Celebraction is viewed by many as the "milder cousin" of the Antano 1970 line. Based on online reviews, I was expecting tastes of cedar and nuts; instead I was pleasantly surprised to get notes of deep spice.

While the strength does abate somewhat, this could not be called anything except full-flavored and full-bodied. It reminded me a lot of the Padron 1926, except somewhat harsher. The only drawbacks were some inconsistent burning, a slight tendency to canoe at the halfway point, and a tight draw. None of these were severe problems, and I think they could have been alleviated by storing at a lower humidity (maybe around 66% or so).

I would definitely try this cigar again. However, I no longer have a desire to try the Antano 1970 line. If it's any stronger than the Celebracion, it will definitely be too strong.

Rocky Patel Vintage 1990
Occasion: 70 degrees in the middle of winter, felt like celebrating

I reviewed this cigar in a bigger ring guage several months back, so I won't retread my opinions all over again. This cigar had more tastes of nuts and coffee, and less spice. It was also fuller in body and finish. It paired very nicely with three fingers of Gentleman Jack. My overall impression of this cigar did not change. This is a very good cigar (it would be better without the hard box press). It's not worth the $10 price tag I usually see in B&Ms, but you can usually find bundles of 2nds online at substantially less cost.

Power by Felipe Gregorio
Size: 5.5 x 55
Wrapper: Cuban-seed Costa Rican
Filler: Nicaraguan
Price: $11

I usually like to research a new cigar before I smoke it. In this case, I did all my research after the fact, and I wonder if my perception would have been different if I'd read the hype before I smoked it.

According to, the Felipe Power cigar features a wrapper derived from a strain of Cuban seed tobacco called Pelo del Oro ('Golden Hair') that has not been cultivated in Cuba since before Castro’s reign. It has earned ratings as high as ‘92’ by Cigar Aficionado. It is described on Cigars International as "med to full body with ample taste". It sells for over $10 at B&Ms and online stores.

My cigar started out unceremoniously when my rare pre-Castro Pelo del Oro ripped as I removed the band. Fortunately, the hole didn't seem to affect the smoking consistency very much. It had a strong, very sweet pre-light taste. After lighting it, I realized that "Power" must have been named after the characteristics it was missing. There was no punch at all to this cigar. I tasted a little earth, a little sweetness, and (if I closed my eyes and wished really hard) just a little spice.

On the whole, it was a mild, indistinct taste. Very little body or finish. The cigar wasn't bad by any means, just average. It reminded me of several $2 cigars I’ve enjoyed while mowing the lawn or driving around town. I was stunned when I found out later how much this cigar usually sells for.

Gispert Churchill
Size: 7 x 54
Wrapper: Ecudorian
Filler: Honduran, Nicaraguan
Price: $2.52

Occasion: Easter Celebration

I spend so much time looking for full-bodied, spicy cigars that sometimes I am surprised how much relaxation can be derived from a high-quality, well-balanced mild smoke. Gispert (pronounced his-pairt) definitely fit the bill tonight, chatting with friends and sipping on a sweet port wine. This cigar sported a golden wrapper, free of almost all veins and blemishes. Upon lighting it, I tasted hints of spice and nuts, and for a few minutes I thought it was going to be medium-bodied, but then it quickly settled into a light, sweet taste (no doubt greatly influenced by the port). The draw was firm, yielding mouthfuls of clean white smoke. The aroma was surprisingly robust for a such a mild taste. It certainly gave off a cedar-like smell, although I did not taste any cedar. The finish was light, with almost no aftertaste. It burned like a champ for over an hour and a half.

I did some research on the brand but did not turn up very much information. The cigar is made by Altadis, one of the two biggest cigar companies in the world, and its slogan is "A five star cigar without a five star price." It was named after a 19th century Cuban brand, and was once rated 90 by Cigar Aficionado.

Romeo y Julieta 1875 Cedro Deluxe #2
Size: 5.5 x 44
Tobacco: Dominican with Indonesian shade-grown wrapper
Price: $4.50 (B&M); $3.00 (box price)
Occasion: Memorial Day, 2008

I scoured my old cigar reviews today and was surprised to discover only three entries for Romeo y Juliet. The first one was the 8.5" Exhibicion #1 (New Year's Day, 2005), which I mentioned briefly but never wrote a full review. The other two were the Romeo #1 and #2, both of Cuban origin. Like the HdM Excalibur, it seems every B&M I've ever visited sells this brand, and I think I must have tried several in my "early days". It must have been prior to January 2003, when I started writing this blog in order to remember which brands I liked.

Shaun and I decided to pull these cigars out of our now-famous "Gurkha box" to celebrate Memorial Day-- although since I forgot to bring them to his Memorial Day party, we actually enjoyed them four days later as we polished off the last of my Lagavulin single malt scotch. We sat in the backyard with our wives, after a nice dinner at Bahama Breeze, and planned our cruise vacation to the Bahamas.

The non-Cuban incarnation of the Romeo y Julieta hasn't changed much over the years. It is a mild-flavored smoke, with a white ash and a weak (but not tight) draw. It comes wrapped in a cedar sleeve which imparts a relaxing aroma and a slightly nutty taste. It is always a good cigar, although not one that I would regularly go out of my way to procure; there are other equally good mild cigars that can be had for less.

Carlos Torano Signature
Size: 6 x 50 (Toro)
Wrapper: Sun Grown Brazilian Maduro
Filler: DR/Nicaragua
Price: $4.45

Occasion: 4th of July in Arkansas

I gave this cigar a poor review in Jan 2007, but I'm pleased to announce my sophomore encounter was much better. After almost seven months aging in the "gurkha box", Shaun and I enjoyed these relaxing on his parents’ back porch with our wives, overlooking a lake, sampling some Talisker 10-year. It was a great night and my overall enjoyment of the cigar increased. The nutty aroma and taste (with hints of coffee) were there, like I remember from last time, but this time they were more pronounced and consistent throughout the cigar. It is still a mild cigar that could use a burst of flavor, so I'm not ready to go buy a box of these just yet, but at least it salvaged my initial impression of the Torano brand.

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