Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Digital Cigar Journal #1: California

I spent two and a half weeks in an area where cigars are plentiful – California. I used my time appropriately and tried many cigars that I had not before. I decided before I left to try only new cigars on the trip, to never buy a cigar I have had before, and to try only one of each cigar. I only failed four or five times. Of course, one cannot understand a cigar based on just one smoke, but here are the results of those single-cigar tasting sessions:


Mild Cigars:
Alec Bradley American Classic Blend:
This was a brilliant Connecticut cigar. It forgoes the recent fascination with spicy cigars wrapped in America's best wrappers and sticks to what Connecticuts do best: smooth, creamy, flavorful, satisfying. I will buy some more, both to let my wife – who loves creamy, smooth, mild cigars – try them, and to have some more myself. $3.50-$5 per cigar in a box.


Medium Cigars: There are a lot here

Alec Bradley Family Blend:
We'll start the mediums with the best cigar I had on the trip, the Alec Bradley Family Blend. A delicious and inviting scent on the nose was followed up by a lit flavor that tasted of tasty, excellent, and alluring flavors. This was Honduras at its finest. Complex, subtle, and delicious while remaining balanced and focused. The Criollo wrapper was perfect and luscious. I want a number of boxes of these. And I want that number to be large. It was so so so good. If I had to compare it to a cigar it would be a more balanced, subtle, nuanced, and smooth Man of War. It is also similar to Punch. That was my impression. I had 2, on a trip when I told myself I would never smoke the same cigar twice or smoke something I had tried before. $5-$6 per cigar in a box.

Alec Bradley Tempus:
This was spicy. This wasn't spicy. This overwhelmed my palette with pepper and leather, then left an aftertaste of nuts and sweetness on the tongue. The mix was odd, like sweet and sour sauce, but like the Northwest weather, it works – sunny one minute, thunder the next, and sunny the one after. This was a fantastic journey, this cigar. This tasted like a spicy Medium cigar should, and like a smooth medium cigar should. This is a mix of Honduran smoothness and sweet with Nicaraguan spice and spirit. I heard Cigar Afficianado rated it a 94, and you know what? I would agree. At least a 94, if not more. I did not try the Tempus Maduro. $6-$9 per cigar in a box.

Alec Bradley Maxx:
If you're looking for complexity, this fits the bill. I'll be honest, it confused me. There are tobaccos from four countries inside the cigar, a fifth country provides the binder, and it's all wrapped up by a Maduro leaf from Nicaragua. With that much going on in my mouth, I couldn't separate flavors very well. My overall impression was that the Maxx was great and I wanted more. Flavor wise, the Maduro wrapper was quite dominant in my experience, and that wasn't a bad thing at all. I will try this one again because there is more for me to explore there, and I think I'll be quite pleased. I did not try the Brazilian or Connecticut Maxx, just the Honduran. $5.55 per cigar in a box.

Alec Bradley Black Market:
Half of this cigar's leaves are from the fabled Jamastran valley in Honduras – and it shows through in delicious smoothness and a quintessential Honduran flavor profile. But, this Honduran masterpiece is modified by the addition of Panamanian tobacco. Yes, Panamanian. I cannot remember ever smoking or even hearing about Panamanian tobacco before. But after smoking this, it is unfortunate that America had to give up Panama. This ties with the Tempus as my second favorite Alec Bradley cigar, but I'm more likely to buy another one of these because it was a flavor profile that I am less used to. There were notes of tea and peat to pair with the Alec Bradley preferences of leather and a touch of pepper. Delicious, intriguing, and smooth. Not as smooth as the Family Blend, but not as bipolar as the Tempus. The Black Market, to me, fit right in between the two perfectly. $6-$7 per cigar in a box.

Alec Bradley Prensado:
I had two on this trip, and had one months before. The first one I had was good, but I was intoxicated and outside surrounded by ten other cigars, so I was looking forward to trying this one with a little less going on around me. I tried it and liked it less than the first time. Then I tried it a third time, being surprised that a cigar with such universal acclaim didn't interest me at all, and concluded that it was a good cigar, but not worth the money. Every other Alec Bradley blend that I tried was more interesting and pleasing to me than the Prensado. It is a good cigar, but it isn't for me. Especially not at that price point. I missed this bus. $7.50-$10 per cigar in a box.

Alec Bradley New York:
To me, this tasted like a Family Blend crossed with an American Blend. It was good, but amongst the Tempus, Family Blend, American Blend, and Black Market, this didn't seem to fit. It was smoky in the mouth and the room note was sweet, but without the Alec Bradley contrasting pepper, I wasn't able to catch the magic of this cigar. There was an oakiness that is also a Bradley characteristic, but like the Prensado, I came away scratching my head. This is certainly a good cigar, but I do not plan on buying another one. Only available in New York, supposedly. $5.50-$7 per cigar in a box online.

Don Pepin Garcia My Father Cigars La Reloba Habano:
The wrapper let this cigar down. It was thin and didn't quite converse with the filler and binder the way that I felt it should – leaving a lack of balance that wasn't as enjoyable as I had hoped. It was a tasty cigar, and I enjoyed my experience, but I felt that a higher quality wrapper could have really made this cigar amazing. And it detracts from the experience when I'm smoking it thinking, “This is so close, it could be so much better.” I do not plan on ever purchasing a box of these, but a five pack sounds about right. $4-$6 per cigar in a box.

Don Pepin Garcia My Father Cigars La Reloba Sumatra:
A friend gave me this, and it wasn't my favorite. I got an odd aftertaste throughout the whole cigar – something like pencil shavings with a bitter, oily taste. I think, honestly, that the cigar was just not smoked at the right time. There was potential here. I could sense some things happening around the edges that really wanted to resolve into interesting discourses, but they may not have been mature enough to have those discussions yet. Anyways, I might get a couple of these and age them a year to see how they turn out. They were sold out of these at Sequoia Cigar Company for the whole two weeks I was there – they must be popular with somebody. $4-$6 per cigar in a box.

Rocky Patel 15th Anniversary:
This was good. It is a Nicaraguan binder and filler wrapped in an Ecuadorian wrapper and it is good. I don't quite know how to explain it. Maybe it is like a full-bodied cigar on a diet. It looks and smells oily and dark, but smokes decidedly medium and smooth. Perhaps a touch more spice or flavor or body could've really made this cigar one of my favorites of the trip, but as it sits, I do not plan on another. It isn't exciting enough. Rocky Patel makes so many good cigars, and so many bad cigars. This, to me, might be his first cigar between the two extremes. It's good, and I'd like to try another, but I'll be unlikely to because there are so many other good cigars out there. $8 per cigar in a box.

Rocky Patel Vintage 2003 Cameroon Sixty:
I had tried this cigar before, but not this size. It came out in 2011 and, up until this trip, was my top new cigar tried in 2012. However, this size, the 6” by 60 ring gauge "Sixty", was bad. It lacked what makes the sizes with smaller ring guages so good – the focus of the cigar on the pristine Cameroon wrapper. It says it right on the label – Cameroon. But in this size, the filler overpowered the perfect wrapper and made the smoke lackluster and bland. Not at all what I expected or wanted. I will certainly buy many more Vintage 2003 Cameroons, but never again the big Sixty: there is too much filler for this specific wrapper to keep up with. $9.75 per cigar in a box.


Full Bodied Cigars:

Oliva Series V:
Delightful. It was exactly what I expected it to be: a Nicuraguan Puro wrapped in a thick, Sun-Grown Habano wrapper that delivers spice in spades. It's not all one-sided though: notes of oil and earth blended into the first third before resolving into a slight coffee and chocolate in the second third. The third third also saw the introduction of a welcome leather undertone and a pine flavor that provided a needed freshness on the tongue after all that oil. In all, this is a perfectly balanced cigar and a true pleasure. I understand, when smoking it, why it costs so much – and as a consumer, I guess that's the most I can ask for. $6-$8.50 per cigar in a box.

Don Pepin Garcia My Father Cigars La Reloba Seleccion Mexico:
This blew me away. My second favorite cigar from the trip. This was full and spicy and, with the Mexican wrapper, even a touch salty – but nothing compared to the usual Mexican tobacco experience of smoking a salt lick. I got some flavors out of it that were recognizable, but it was hard to notice over the chorus of rejoicing in my mouth. In my mind, Don Pepin Garcia has such consistency and quality in full-bodied cigars that he is the best full-bodied blender around. This cigar is another piece of evidence for my opinion. It is perfect. I want a lot more of these right now. $3-$4 per cigar in a box.

Drew Estates Liga Privada T52:
I hate flavored cigars. What I like about cigars is the tobacco flavor. If I wanted to taste grape or brandy I would eat a grape or drink some brandy. That said, Drew Estates are the most popular flavored cigars in the world. They have tried unsuccessfully to make unflavored cigars before and have failed every time. Until now. They released three cigars that people like me like, and on this trip I tried my first, and I loved every second of it. There was that tinge of regret when I put it out that means I will be back for more. It was complex, nuanced, and full of rich flavors. It was like a symphony in my mouth with many movements that I could almost catch. I adored my first experience with the Liga Privada/Undercrown line and can't wait for more. $9.75-$12.50 per cigar in a box.


So if I have to rate these, here are the eight I hope to purchase more of:
1. Alec Bradley Family Blend – Astoundingly smooth and flavorful
2. Don Pepin Garcia My Father Cigars La Reloba Seleccion Mexico – The perfect Mexican cigar
3. Alec Bradley Black Market – Interesting and delectable
3. Alec Bradley Tempus – Bipolar and alluringly rewarding
5. Oliva Series V – Delightfully balanced and nuanced
6. Alec Bradley American Classic Blend – Creamy and smooth nailed
7. Drew Estated Liga Privada T52 – Deliciously meaty
8. Alec Bradley Maxx – Perhaps over complex, but needs more exploration

These ones I probably will not buy again:
9. Don Pepin Garcia My Father Cigars La Reloba Seleccion Habano – Lacks flavor
9. Don Pepin Garcia My Father Cigars La Reloba Seleccion Sumatra – Probably not aged long enough
9. Rocky Patel Vintage 2003 Cameroon Sixty – Overpowers an amazing wrapper
12. Rocky Patel 15th Anniversary – Can't decide whether it wants to be full or medium
13. Alec Bradley Prensado – I missed the bus
14. Alec Bradley New York – Doesn't fill a niche flavor profile or offer a strong enough case to create its own


Where I live, there are no cigar stores that sell Alec Bradley. The nearest I know of is too far away for me to have tried anything of his but for a single Prensado given to me by a friend. When I walked into Sequoia Cigar Company (above) and saw all of their Alec Bradleys, I decided to try all they had. And I did.

Alec Bradley makes amazing sticks. He is quickly starting to rival Punch in defining Honduran tobacco in my mind. His cigars are often contradictory – sweet and spicy simultaneously – and that makes them fascinating to me. His flavor preferences are pepper, leather, nuts, oak, and an odd sweetness that I can't pin down. Almost mango-ish, but also sort of like a pine needle tea or, or, um... I don't know. It's a sweetness. That's all I can say. Anyways, I was quite pleased with my Alec Bradley exploration and will return to the American Blend, Maxx, Tempus, Black Market, and Family Blend as many times as possible in the future. I did not get to try his Occidental Reserve, Tempus Maduro, Select Cabinet Reserve, Harvest, Maxx Brazilian, Vice Press, Spirit of Cuba, Special Blends, or Kensington Connecticut Reserve. Based on the strength of what I have tried though, I look forward to more Alec Bradley in my future.

Meanwhile, Rocky Patel still seems to be making hundreds of new blends a year. You think he would've noticed that the larger Vintage 2003 lacks what makes the blend so great. Or that he would've realized that a bit more spice or body would've made the 15th Anniversary exciting. However, his inconsistent path has brought us so many gems – the Edge Corojo, the Vintage 1999, the Vintage 2003, the Vintage 1992, the 2011 Winter Blend, and the Decade – that his many, many misses are more humorous than annoying today.

Don Jose Pepin Garcia is a full-bodied master. His foray into a medium cigar with the Habano and Sumatra wrapped La Relobas failed for me, but his Mexican wrapped La Reloba was stunning and the best Mexican cigar I have ever had. He continues to blend most of my favorite full-bodied and spicy cigars, and I'm glad to add another to the list.

Jonathan Drew Estates finally made a successful foray into the unflavored cigar world with the Liga Privada T9, T52, and Undercrown. It was an immensely pleasant experience to smoke the T52, and one I want to repeat soon. I will be actively looking for the T9 and Undercrown to try.

Oliva, of course, is still shooting par, like they seem to do with every cigar. So consistent and tasty. Will they ever make a misstep? The V may be their best, and if it isn't, it's close to it.

All in all, a few weeks like this, trying a bunch of new cigars, is an unmeasurable blessing to a smoker like me, who was getting bored of the boxes I had left in the humidor. I would like to sincerely thank both Sequoia Cigar Company and Santa Barbara Cigar and Tobacco (above) for their selection, smoking lounges, and patience with a curious smoker like myself. I hope also to see both establishments again.

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