Monday, February 22, 2010

My Weekend Cigar: Illusione "888 Necessary & Sufficient"

You would think that a cigar smoker with all my industry connections and so-called "experience" would have smoked at least a few Dion Giolito Illusione cigars by now. However, I'm embarrassed to admit I never smoked one until this past Sunday, and I have my good pal and coworker Hayward Tenney to thank for it. He offered one of his Illusione "888 Necessary & Sufficient" to me in trade. In turn, I gave him a Winston Churchill "Marrakesh."

Before I write my glowing review, let me get the downside out of the way. Despite the wonderful flavor this cigar produced from its 6¾" foot down to the 1-inch nub, I had to do about six touch-ups. This surprised me since the draw was effortless and the packing was firm all the way up. I have to give this cigar the benefit of the doubt as it could have been a result of my office humidor, which for some reason has been showing average RH levels of 78% the past week or so.

Now that that's out of the way, let's get to the cigar: From the perfect cut of the cap, to the earthy pre-light draw, to the first few puffs, this cigar was dead-on delicious. The smoke was ultra-smooth, creamy, and perfectly balanced. The flavors were primarily earthy and toasty with nutty accents, subtle spicy notes, and an appealing sweet tobacco taste on the tongue. Plus, despite all those touch-ups, the flavors never wavered which speaks volumes about the integrity of this cigar.

Since I'm now adding the Illusione "888 Necessary & Sufficient" cigars to my all-time favorites list, I'm now sorry I never took the time to meet and greet Mr. Giolito at last year's IPCPR show, or even at prior shows.

Thanks Dion, and thank YOU Hayward. It was the perfect ending to a great weekend.

If you'd like to chime-in on your Illusione cigar experiences, please do.

~ Gary Korb

Monday, February 15, 2010

My Weekend Cigar: Avo Limited Edition LE2010

Last week our good friend Tom Smith from Davidoff cigars stopped by to host a special sampling preview dinner for the upcoming Avo Limited Edition 2010 cigars. I didn't make it to the dinner, but Arthur did, and he saved a couple of unbanded samples for Hayward and me.

First, the back story: The Avo LE10 is advertised as a "Super-Robusto" format, rolled to 5½" x 55. The blend consists of unspecified full-bodied Ligero longfillers and a Mexican-grown Sumatra binder seamlessly rolled in a dark Ecuadorian sun-grown wrapper.

Hayward got a head start on me and sent me his tasting notes. I hid them to prevent tainting my opinion and wrote the following review. Compare how our notes differed and you'll see just how subjective sampling cigars really is.

As is usually the case with Avo LE releases, the cigar was a sight to behold. The wrapper glistened with a dark, chocolately sheen that was especially oily and leathery. Held under the nose it offered an extra sweet grassy aroma.

The cap cut perfectly and I tasted a caramely-spicy flavor on the pre-light. The cigar was very fresh which made it little softer and chewier, too.

I paired the cigar with spring water. It lit-up nice and evenly. The first few puffs were a little grassy as some Avo cigars tend to be early on. The next few puffs had a hot shot of pepper in them. The smoke quickly smoothed out to a predominantly medium-bodied flavor with notes of black pepper and anise on the finish.

At about an inch-and-a-half the flavors and strength changed up dramatically. Still very creamy, but a more spicy-peppery flavor began seeping in. Shortly after that, woody flavors of sweet cedar and oak emerged. The grassiness was still lingering somewhere down in the mix.

Just passed the first third, this was one of the strongest Avos I've had in a while, even for this series. At the halfway point the smoke was starting to get into my nervous system; my hands were beginning to sweat and the smoke was still very peppery on the finish.

During the final act the smoke presented myriad wood, coffee, and cocoa notes, while remaining very peppery and potent. Several minutes after putting it down I felt it in my gut. It's been a while since a cigar did that to me.

Hayward's Notes
1st Third: Spicy, peppery beginning. Medium-bodied, slight woody undertone

2nd Third: Minty notes on the finish develop into rich, chocolaty flavors. Deep, earthy baseline. Pleasant, room-filling aroma of sweet, toasty coconut. Pepper dies down a little. Strength increases to medium-full plus. Complex as hell.

Last Third: Dark fruit notes, like cherry. Pepper is back. A whiff of ammonia is gone as quickly as it arrived, announcing the arrival of leathery notes. Full-bodied now, with thick, billowing smoke. Woody notes become very apparent.

And so it goes. If you love strong cigars look out for the Avo LE10's when they officially release on Avo's 84th birthday, March 22nd, 2010.

~ G.K.

Monday, February 8, 2010

My Weekend Cigar: Mi Barrio El Puro

Yesterday, before heading to Famous Smoke Shop to watch the Superbowl, I decided to bring a special cigar with me for the occasion. It was a Mi Barrio El Puro that I received about two years ago when these scrumptious Don Jose Pepin Garcia-made cigars debuted. If this 7½" x 52 cigar was a football player it would be a linebacker. But rather than personify this cigar with corny metaphors, let's get down to the nitty-gritty.

Every now and then I come across what I call a "perfect cigar," and the Mi Barrio El Puro falls into that category. Everything about this cigar was so good it virtually justified the $250.99/box price. (If I ever hit the lottery, this will be one of my first purchases.)

The blend is composed of rare Nicaraguan Esteli and Jalapa tobaccos rolled in dark, oily Nicaraguan Habano wrappers. I can also see why these are made in limited edition. The appearance of the cigar is stunning enough; nary a spec of discoloration and packed to the gills with all that rich, dark tobacco.

Considering its size I was expecting this cigar to be a lot more potent, but it wasn't peppery-spicy like some of Pepin's more popular cigars. On the contrary, it was ultra-smooth, oozed gobs of thick, creamy smoke, and was surprisingly sweet. (Perhaps it was the extra two years of aging in my humidor.) Moreover, every puff was brimming with sweet, woody flavors; and I mean every puff, from end-to-end. Mixed in were some leathery notes, but all-in-all, a primarily sweet cigar.

The ash was firm and burned cleanly revealing a nice round cherry when tapped. The cigar also didn't have a chance to go out, so there was no relight issue. The aroma was also rich enough to break through the effluvium of all the other cigars in the room. Additionally, the balance never wavered off of dead center. Suffice it to say, this cigar didn't skip a beat from the start of the 2nd quarter of the game to well into the 4th.

I should also add that I paired the last third of the cigar with a glass of Ron Zacapa Centenario Rum, aged 23 yrs. Factor in the length of the cigar, the fullness of its smoke, plus the rum, and you could say I was feeling pretty good by the time I left the 1½-inch stub in the ashtray (see photo).

In closing, the Mi Barrio El Puro is going on my all-time best list. I can imagine that only the best Cuban cigars during Havana's golden age could rattle this cigar, and frankly I don't care. Viva that these cigars are legal, that's all.

All I can add is, like many cigars of this caliber, you really have to experience it for yourself to fully appreciate its splendor. If you've smoked any of the Mi Barrio cigars, please leave a comment, and feel free to mention your Superbowl cigar, too.

~ Gary Korb

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What does Famous Smoke Shop have in common with the top 25 best cigars of the year?

I can't take all the credit for this blog. Not only the idea, but the facts come courtesy of Famous Smoke Shop special projects manager, Jeff Brown, who came into my office last week with a copy of Cigar Aficionado's "Top 25 Cigars of the Year."

Jeff tosses the magazine on my desk and sits down. With his hands pressed together, he leans forward, turns toward me with an inquisitive look and asks, "What does Famous Smoke Shop have in common with these cigars?"

"I don't know, but you're going to tell me, right?"

"Of the three manufacturers who appear at least four times in the top 25, A. Fuente, My Father Cigars, and Raices Cubanas, two of them are making new cigars exclusively for us."

As I peruse the list, I see what he's talking about.

My Father Cigars, Inc. (Nos. 3, 6, 18, and 25): Home to Don Pepin Garcia Cigars, not only did My Father Cigars produce the Famous 70th Pvt. Sel. Anniversary by Garcia Family cigars, but they are also producing the new Maroma Fuerte, Siboney Reserve, and the soon to be released Famous Signature Series by Garcia.

Fabrica de Tobacos Raices Cubanas S. de R.L. (Nos. 16, 19, 21, and 22): They're making the soon to be released Famous Value Line Honduran #400, the next edition of Famous Smoke Shop's VSL (Viso/Seco/Ligero) series, and a new Bayamo cigars line.

But wait - there's more. You can't count out Plasencia's Segovia Cigar Factory in Nicaragua (Nos. 12 & 24). They already make dozens of cigars for Famous Smoke Shop including last year's Famous Pvt. Sel. 70th Anniversary by Plasencia cigars and Nesticos.

Then there's Tabacalera La Flor (No. 13), Litto Gomez's factory, which is also going to be making a Famous Signature Series cigar.

Finally, Rocky Patel's El Paraiso Factory took the No.8 spot. El Paraiso also produces Famous' Conuco cigars, Rocky Patel Rosado and American Market Selection cigars.

Still don't believe these house brands stack up to the better-known labels? You ought to try some of these cigars. As for the die-hard cynics, I wonder what cigar goes well with crow pot pie?

~ G.K.