Charlie’s Month in Smoke, vol. 11

These days, time seems to be a luxury I can’t afford. I was hoping to have a video recorded for today, but alas, it was not to be. I do have some interesting reviews and first impressions in the works, and will try to have something ready for next week. In the meantime, just because I haven’t been able to sit down in front of a camera doesn’t mean I haven’t been enjoying some great cigars. Today’s mini-reviews cover some of the smokes I’ve managed to squeeze in between hustling at work, caring for a sleepless baby, entertaining house guests, and neglecting my dissertation.

My standard Month in Smoke disclaimer: Here’s a recap of some of the cigars I’ve smoked since my last Month in Smoke, in addition to any I evaluated for a full review or featured first impressions. Some of these cigars may have already been reviewed by myself or another member of the Stogie Review crew, while others just might make it into a full-length review sometime in the future. Enjoy!

Illusione cg:4

Illusione cg:4 – I don’t often get a kitchen pass, so when I do, I try to make the most of it. A few weeks ago, I had a couple of hours to myself, and after running a few errands, I made my way over to Leesburg Cigar & Pipe to get some work done while enjoying a cigar. But first, I needed a new cutter. My favorite Palio guillotine had sadly fallen apart on me, but fortunately they’ve got an awesome no-questions-asked lifetime replacement warranty. The good folks at Leesburg Cigar & Pipe, being a Palio retailer, quickly and cheerfully provided me with a replacement, so I was back in business in no time. Checking out their humidor, I nearly went for a very reasonably priced Opus X, but eventually chose an Illusione cg:4. Corona gorda might be the cigar format I prefer the most, and Illusione always puts out a quality product, so I knew I was in for something good. The appearance on this cigar was nearly perfect, with a lovely sheen and just one small vein. The wrapper gave off a dark coffee aroma, while the foot presented manure. Once lit, the resistance was spot-on and generated a tons of smoke. Initial flavors included sweet dough and black pepper, with a nice change up into rich leather as time went on. I only wish I’d eaten a more substantial meal before smoking this cigar as the strength snuck up on me just a bit.

Ortega Serie D Natural

Ortega Cigars Serie D Natural – Eddie Ortega is quite the character, and a very fun guy to hang out with. More importantly, he makes great cigars, and he always seems to be having an absolute blast doing it. The wrapper on this Serie D Natural was light brown and resembled rustic leather. It gave off a scent of milk chocolate, while the foot was a blend of dark chocolate and earth, and I noted spiced bread from the open cold draw. Once lit, an effortless draw produced tons of smoke. Initial flavors were a mix of holiday spice cookie and graham cracker, with a peppery retrohale and sweet, creamy finish. The dense smoke cloud lingered in the air on a calm day. The cigar evolved nicely, weaving-in rich leather and sweet wood, then creamy, bittersweet chocolate — all classic flavors, in my opinion. Strength was in the medium range, and the construction was flawless. Eddie’s core lines are terrific, and I’m excited to try what he’s putting together for his “Wild Bunch” limited editions.

Miami Anoranzas

Añoranzas by Miami Cigar & Co. (IPCPR sample) – I was really looking forward to this new release from Miami Cigar, which I first got my hands on at this year’s IPCPR. The gentle box press felt very firm, with the consistently brown wrapper sporting tiny veins and offering up a distinct aroma reminiscent of Yoo-hoo chocolate drink. The foot offered scents of cocoa powder and black pepper, while the firm cold draw tasted like Raisinets. Expecting a flavor profile evoking care-free childhood memories, I eagerly put flame to foot. At the beginning, the draw was a bit too firm and didn’t produce much smoke. Flavors started off as chocolate and red pepper, transitioning into leather and sour wood. Once the medium gray ash built up to a solid inch and a half, the smoke volume increased substantially. The burn was a tad jagged, but soldiered on without any intervention. In the latter half, the flavors changed up again into wood and cream. Interestingly, the cigar seemed to lose its box press shape completely towards the end. Other than a slightly lackluster start, I really enjoyed the Añoranzas, and look forward to picking up some more. According to the Miami Cigar website, it’s being offered in both 10 and 20-count boxes, something I’m a huge advocate of. When cigars are sold in boxes of 20-24 (or more), I’ll often balk at a box purchase and just pick up a 5-pack instead. However, if the cigars instead come 10 to a box, I’m far more easily tempted to forgo the individual sticks and splurge on a box purchase. In other words, if the choice is between a 5-pack and 24-count box, I’ll usually go for the 5-pack (unless I’m sure I’ll love the cigars), but if the choice includes a 10-count box, I’ll gravitate towards that since the risk of getting skunked is far less.

Fernando Leon Family Reserve

Fernando León Family Reserve by La Aurora (IPCPR sample) – Another new offering from Miami Cigar and Co., this sample featured a veiny & rustic-looking golden brown wrapper that felt firm in the hand and smelled of milk chocolate. I got dark chocolate and earth from the foot, while the cold draw offered a good amount of resistance with dark fruit flavors. As I smoked the cigar, I noted dry straw and cream-like flavors, with some rich undertones. The draw and smoke were both good, and the burn was jagged but acceptable, leaving behind a 1.5″ gray ash. Later, I picked up sweet cedar, coffee, and creamy wood at the end. I also noticed a small amount of tar buildup, which I’m more than willing to attribute to the nature of IPCPR samples. Based on these first impressions, I think I’d go for the Añoranzas over the Fernando León Family Reserve, as its flavor profile is a better fit for my predilections.

EPM La Hermandad

El Primer Mundo La Hermandad (IPCPR sample) – Sean Williams is another one of the many first-class personalities in the cigar industry. He’s always a great guy to talk with, both on and off-camera. Back at IPCPR, he handed us each a sample of one of the cigars he was working on — La Hermandad — so new, that the final bands weren’t even ready yet, so pay no attention to the temporary paper band in the photo. The Brazil Arapiraca wrapper on this sample was dark and sultry, with small veins and a brilliant sheen. I detected that “band-aid” scent that’s become more & more familiar lately, with the foot offering a barnyard smell, and the cold draw presenting me with dark chocolate and peppery meat. Once lit, I was greeted with wonderfully intense flavors and aromas of grilled steak. The smoke produced by this stick was great, too: nice, dense puffs and lots of great-smelling resting smoke as well. In an earlier post, Walt described the smoke coming from La Hermandad as being “oily,” and I’d concur with that characterization of the texture, but I quite enjoyed the smell of this cigar (which he found to be slightly offensive). Although the cigar started off firm, it wound up feeling rather soft as time went on. The burn, however, was great, and the dark salt & pepper ash fell off in one-inch chunks. Wrapping things up, I noticed more umami and woody twang towards the end. Just all-in-all a very good medium-plus cigar with fantastic meaty flavors. Arapiraca is a wrapper leaf that’s been growing on me lately, and La Hermandad is definitely keeping that winning streak going strong.

Aging Room M356

Aging Room M356 – Shortly after returning from IPCPR in Orlando this past August, I returned to Orlando again for a work-related conference and trade show. I arrived the day before the conference began, and after our corporate booth was set up, I headed over to Downtown Disney to grab some grub with a couple coworkers. As we strolled past the various shops, I decided to pop into Sosa Family Cigar Co. After perusing the humidor shelves for a bit, I purchased an Aging Room M356 robusto. This cigar picked up a bit of notoriety earlier this year for its ranking in a very well-known “25 Best Cigars of 2011” list, a fact that was featured prominently by its facing on the shelf. I took it back to my hotel where I quickly grabbed my cutter and headed poolside. From the wrapper, I got chocolate and earth, while I picked up fruity notes from the foot and wood from the cold draw. It was extremely humid that day (at least for me) and the cigar seemed a bit wet. My palate could also have been affected by all the traveling (I had attended two weddings in two different states during the previous whirlwind 48 hours at the time), but the only flavors I was able to discern were charred wood and a black pepper finish. The smoke had a really gritty texture, and started getting very salty about half way through. It was extremely full bodied and could have used some balance, and I eventually had to put it down before finishing. I’d probably try it again to see if my experience was different the second time around, but I was rather shocked considering the high ranking it had received.

EPC Cardinal Maduro

E.P. Carrillo Cardinal Maduro – Last week, I found myself with some time to kill in the Pentagon City area of Arlington, Virginia. I had just wrapped up a day-long training course and was meeting up with some friends for dinner & drinks afterwards. Whilst waiting for my friends to get off from work, I headed over to the nearby Old Virginia Tobacco Co. location. It’s a small shop tucked into a corner of the local mall, but the humidor has a nice selection and the folks there are friendly and welcoming. It took me a while to decide what to smoke — I was debating between several very compelling options. Ultimately, I selected an EPC Cardinal Maduro. Ernesto handed me a sample back at IPCPR in August, and although I hadn’t had a chance to smoke it yet, I’d heard very good things and decided to take this opportunity to quit stalling and light one up. I was immediately greeted with lots of delicious, leathery twang with a complex, underlying sweetness that resembled syrup or spiced wafer. Later, a meaty flavor developed along with some dark break and a slight white pepper finish. Construction was terrific: draw and burn were great, while it produced a good amount of smoke and left behind a tight, white ash with a few darker streaks. Definitely full-bodied but extremely well-balanced, I’ll certainly be reaching for more of these in the future.

(Yes, I did notice after putting this post together that nearly all of the cigars I’ve featured have been previously reviewed by the incomparable Mr. Brian Hewitt. I almost went back and changed the title to read “Month in Smoke: Following in the Footsteps of Greatness Exceptional Banality Edition” — but I resisted the urge.)