Cigar Review – SCDLH La Fuerza, Mar 2014 “EML” box code; Final Score – 90

SCDLH is a bit of a sweet-tooth favourite of mine.  I find they just hit the spot nicely every now and again.  To me, they have that nice dark and sweet touch, similar to a Ramon Allones (but without the boldness and mongrel that I love in that brand), or even similar to well-aged Por Laranaga with their caramel tinge.

As I described in my last review about the SCDLH Oficios LCDH release, San Cristobal De La Habana is a very recent brand in the Habanos S.A. portfolio, only being born in 1999, and made to commemorate Christopher Columbus, using the original name for Havana itself.  Also, the unique little historical part (which I love when it comes to Cuba and Cuban cigars) is that all of the brand’s main cigars are named after the old forts that guard the harbour entrance into Havana – El Morro, La Fuerza, La Punta, and El Principe.  I always try to have a nice quality box of La Fuerza around, as the gorditos / robusto extra format works just so well with so many blends, and is one that both enthusiasts and relative newbies alike all can smoke without too much concern for smoking styles or techniques.

This particular box is a brand new and gorgeous one that I found on my Nov 2014 Havana trip, and was able to snag it up when box browsing at the LCDH shop at the Partagas factory.  A couple of us snagged some gorgeous boxes of these, and that hectic afternoon also included being able to help Hamlet Jaime Paredes pick through some stellar boxes of Sir Winnies for other travelling companions and store customers as well.

After trying a few fresh in Cuba on that trip, as well as gifting a few out, this particular cigar I smoked way back in December, specifically for this review.  Unfortunately, it’s another one that got lost in the shuffle and I simply neglected to get published prior to now.

Reviewed Cigar:  San Cristobal De La Habana La Fuerza

Box Date:  Mar 2014

Factory / Manufacture Code:  EML

Packaging:  25-count dressed box

Price per cigar:  $212.50 CUC (Partagas LCDH in Havana, Cuba)

Length:  5 5/8″, or 141 mm

Ring Gauge:  50

Format:  Gorditos / Robusto extra

Weight:  12 grams / 0.4 oz

Construction/Appearance & Pre-Light:  This was from a really dark, oily, and pungent box that I picked up in Havana in November.  The pictures don’t do it justice.  Thin, supple, marbled in colours and oily (two favourite characteristics of mine to see), with very strong “barnyard” aromas.  Love it.

This particular stick had good construction and weight to it.  The cap and wrapper were perfect looking, and the bunch on the foot was just wonderful – though it seemed to be a slight bit too open (I like to see lots of tobacco there), it was just the right firmness, and the colour lapping between the different tobacco types was present, with no one-sidedness apparent.

After cutting the cigar and tasting at cold….CRAP!!!!  A wind tunnel at cold!  But the cigar felt good in construction, with no hollow / soft spots, yet it was just a complete breeze moving through it on the cold draw.  However, a massive and definitive flavour at cold of gingerbread (what I always love to see in my SCDLH’s), so this one was getting lit anyways – well worth the test.

Opening Impressions:  Boom.  Warm gingerbread cookies and rich, dense, toasted tobacco.  Awesome.  A bit firmer on the draw once lit, and not off-putting anymore.  Quite a copious amount of smoke when puffed.

First Third:  Into the first third, the experience was pretty damn good.  The gingerbread and tobacco flavours were there in rich heapings.  Some wet leather coming into the fold.

The smoke progression and burn on this was great.  For such a damn young cigar, and being made with such rich and oily tobacco, I was having no burn problems.  I made one small cosmetic touch-up with my torch in the first third, but throughout the whole first half of the cigar, the burn was relatively sharp and even.

Second Third:  Into the second third, I noticed that the ash, while holding on in decent clumps, was fairly flaky.  Almost like the wrapper and binder leaf, once burnt, was “peeling” away from the inner core tobacco, almost like petals on a flower begin to open up and spread out.  It wasn’t a detriment to the smoke, but it was curious with how this ash was holding minimally like that.

The core gingerbread and rich tobacco tones continued to build in intensity.  Some dark old leather coming in there, joined by a bit of wet hay perhaps.  Some ginger root tucked on the fringes.

Final Third:  Into the final third, a little bit of change from the building stature of this cigar.  Some of the flavours, notably the gingerbread and leather, receded.  Coming to the forefront instead was a strong peppery tone.  The draw began to firm right up, and a completely wonky and “canoeing” burn began to occur.  A heavy touch-up relight to solve this, and it continued with the peppery tinge, with a bit of an anise root coming into play, and perhaps with some bland dark chocolate.  The pepper hint really put the other flavours in the background.

Finishing Comments / Overall Impression:  Even though this cigar wasn’t the most well-behaved and had some notable draw and burn issues, it was still pretty damn good.

The gingerbread and leather hits were there in spades.  Amazing overall flavour profile, and was just bold enough.  Hell, this cigar was only 9 months old, fresh from a Cuba trip, and this was the worst-performing one out of that box that I’ve had so far, to the best of my recollection.  And – I was still satisfied with this smoke.  To me, that’s a big thing on a cigar’s onus there – that it leaves you satisfied.  That it was time well spent.  And, all things considered, even the negatives of this one particular stick, it definitely was.

I can’t wait to see what the rest of the box holds in store for me, as this stick’s brethren get more and more aging time under their belts.

Final Score:  90

Total Smoking Time:  1 hour and 8 minutes

Date & Time Smoked:  December 15th, 2014; lit up at 9:20 pm, done at 10:28 pm

Paired Beverage:  Havana Club Anejo 7 Anos and Coke

Last Meal:  Big Smoke artisan burger, 4:20 pm

Smoking Conditions:  In the hot tub, 6 degrees Celsius and 93% RH outside, with a 16 kph breeze.

Thanks for reading my review.  Hope you enjoyed it.

Cheers all.

“Cigar Advisor” Magazine Article – “Say Hello to my Smoke Nazi Neighbour”…

Love it.  Came across this article from Cigar Advisor magazine (funnily enough – amazed that they can use the “CA” acronym, considering Cigar Aficionado!).  While this article is from 2013, I read it recently after seeing it on a forum post, and it was just the sort of thing I needed in the crap hell that has become political correctness lately.  Awesome writing (definitely exaggerated tongue-in-cheek pseudo-fiction), but funny shit nonetheless and thought I’d share it here…

That said – damn, am I glad that I have similar-thinking and awesome neighbours!!!

Cheers all.

Cigar Review – SCDLH Oficios LCDH Release, Dic 2005 “FJN” box code; Final Score – 86

I had a nice little experience smoking this cigar, even if the cigar itself wasn’t my favourite of recent times.  A co-worker of mine, she being also into cigars mildly on-and-off for years, had found a fairly local cigar retailer near our workplace, on a local native band’s reservation.  I’ve known of this retailer for some years now (being a company that many online international cigar enthusiasts purchase from), but did not realize it had a very decent private lounge with some extraordinary comfy leather seating.

So, one particular “long change” off (where we have a 24-hr period off of work, as we switch from days to our night shift), her, I, and another co-worker who occasionally enjoys cigars, we all went to this retailer to enjoy a couple of hours, tucked away enjoying our hobby away from the end-winter temperatures (though it was a decent enough and sunny day).  It was nice, as I was able to do some fairly decent window-shopping, and purchased a bunch more non-Cuban sticks to bring down as unique treats to Cuban friends during my Feb-Mar Havana trip (it’s something I like to do, as they’re generally unable to get stuff from off their own island like that).

Anywho, when we were perusing their walk-in for Cuban cigars, I came across these San Cristobal De La Habana sticks from their LCDH Release series.  SCDLH is a very recent brand in the Habanos S.A. portfolio, only being born in 1999, and made to commemorate Christopher Columbus, and using the original name for Havana itself.  All of the brand’s main cigars are named after the old forts that guard the harbour entrance into Havana – El Morro, La Fuerza, La Punta, and El Principe.  The La Casa Del Habano Release series, made somewhat exclusively for the chain of international stores selling Habanos cigars, was sort of brought about in 2004 to commemorate the 5th anniversary of the brand, when the El Morro was included into a commemorative special humidor release along with 3 new sticks -Oficios, Mercaderes, and Muralla.  These new three were re-released in 2006 until 2011 as a special LCDH Release series, in a special box and with a secondary LCDH band, with some of the original-release boxes of these coming out in late 2005, as this box of Oficios was.

These piqued my interest when I came across them due to the box date and relative nice condition of the cigars, lovely dark wrappers, and just as a nice change of pace for me (I really like the La Fuerza, and also keep a good stock now of La Punta, but these special one’s [LCDH sticks] haven’t just been on my hit list).

Reviewed Cigar:  San Cristobal De La Habana Oficios LCDH Release

Box Date:  Dic 2005

Factory / Manufacture Code:  FJN

Packaging:  25-count varnished natural box

Price per cigar:  $14.41 CDN (brick & mortar local retailer)

Length:  5 3/8″, or 135 mm

Ring Gauge:  43

Format:  Dalias cortas / Corona

Weight:  Didn’t weigh this particular stick

Construction/Appearance & Pre-Light:  This was a nice looking box.  The presentation on these in the darkly varnished “boite nature” boxes are a nice change from SCDLH’s generally blah looking light-yellow-and-white semi-dress boxes.  The box varnish is a pretty close match to the secondary LCDH bands on these sticks.

This cigar was pretty nice looking.  Fairly dark and marbled wrapper, light oils on the wrapper leaf, and with just a slight imperfection to the finishing of the triple-wrapped cap.  The construction and weight in hand was fairly nice, with the cigar being somewhat solid but without any overly hard spots.

After a cut and taste at cold, just one main hit – molasses, and loads of it.  Fingers crossed

Opening Impressions:  Definite tones of rich, aged tobacco.  Loads of smoke when puffed on, but only slight wisps on its own.  A bit more restrictive on the draw than I’d like once lit.

First Third:  Into the first third, the molasses sways ever so lightly in and out, mostly leaving just a rich tobacco tone.  Maybe a bit of hay and wet leather around the fringes.

I was having this with an XO brandy – can’t remember for the life of me what the brand of it was.  I’m not a huge brandy drinker, though I do like the occasional touch, especially around the Christmas holidays.  I grew up with a Dutch mother (and my wife loves that, as I “came trained” as she likes to say), and a typical goodie that we always had floating around the house over Christmastime was “brandy beans”.  Great little candies – a dark chocolate, banana-shaped “bean”, filled with a half teaspoon or so of brandy liquor inside.  So, as a pre-teen kid, I remember scamming the whole box on multiple occasions, and REALLY enjoying my Christmas holidays!

Second Third:  Into the second third, not much more really.  The molasses tones really waved back into the latter recesses of the aftertaste.  The rich tobacco tone was there, but it was ever so faint.

This was turning into a bit of a hot-air generating blah.

Final Third:  Into the final third, a little bit of redemption.  The hay and dark leather came back a bit, and a wet woody tone came into play, almost sweet but a bit mangy at the same time.

I noticed at about the mid-way point on the cigar, and it became really prominent in the last third, that my tongue was starting to get a tingle.  This cigar was becoming very tongue tingling, almost like a nicotine sting on the tongue, but without a heavy nicotine hit though.  Almost like that residual feeling on your tongue from some Novocaine at the dentist’s office.  Kinda weird.

Maybe some tinges of an anise flavour in there too?  Was that part of the tingling I was getting?  Hmmmm.

Finishing Comments / Overall Impression:  This cigar wasn’t overly complex.  I was hoping for something special, considering I do like the heavy molasses and leather I get from other SCDLH sticks.  This wasn’t overly complex, but also kind of showed some faint dark brown sugar tones right near the end.  The leather was there a bit, but it became over-ridden by a carbon / pencil lead finish in the last third too.

Nothing special.  Are these past their prime?  Was it the brandy overpowering the stick?  Was it another example of a cigar that didn’t draw too much attention for its flavours upon release, and now aged, has simply become an aged cigar with not much to offer?  I’m not sure – perhaps its a combination of all the above – as I didn’t delve into these on original release.

I’m sure there might be fans of these.  While a nice change, and the looks and such checked all the right boxes, the flavours just weren’t there for me.  Not a throwaway, though, so I may have to give another stick a try again in the future.

At the very least, good time spent in a nice spot with great co-workers.

Final Score:  86

Total Smoking Time:  1 hour and 18 minutes

Date & Time Smoked:  March 11th, 2015; lit up at 1:05 pm, done at 2:23 pm

Paired Beverage:  XO brandy

Last Meal:  McDonald’s Big Mac combo, 11:55 am

Smoking Conditions:  In an indoors lounge at a very comfy 20-something, and very well ventilated, but 6 degrees Celsius and 59% RH outside.

Thanks for reading my review.  Hope you enjoyed it.

Cheers all.

Cigar Review – Ramon Allones Mille Fleurs, Nov 2002 “EAR” box code; Final Score – 92

As I carried on in the same evening from my previous review on the H. Upmann Monarch tubos, I took a quick rest inside the house (the winds were picking up), and then with my wife joining me in the hot tub, I got to enjoy Round 2 of my cigars that night, a stellar example of a Ramon Allones Mille Fleurs.

I love Ramon Allones.  Yup.  That I do.  So, I figured I’d enjoy this stick, regardless of….gasp…being a dreaded “machine-made” variant.

Okay.  I tried to say that with a straight face.

I personally don’t get the disdain that some have for certain machine-made cigars.  Granted, I definitely have a grumpy experience with some of the “lesser brands”, or “cheap and cheerfuls” as many refer to them as well.  But a machine-made can still be a beautiful thing.  While it misses that certain human-touch in its artistic quality, if the tobacco itself is good, it can still be a top-notch experience for a relatively inexpensive cost.

This stick is a beautiful example.  A cigar from one of the multitude of trades that I’ve been able to do with great BOTL Chris / “chanceschmerr”, a fellow CF member who’s across-the-pond at a special navy offi-sure school right now, this was a special cigar he sent for me to enjoy.  These RA Mille Fleurs are cellophane-wrapped lovelies which he snagged from a nice little shop in Andorra on a past mission rest-stop.  These are solely machine-made sticks which were discontinued in 2005.

Reviewed Cigar:  Ramon Allones Mille Fleurs

Box Date:  Nov 2002

Factory / Manufacture Code:  EAR

Packaging:  25-count dress box of cellophane-wrapped cigars

Price per cigar:  Unk. (traded stick)

Length:  5 1/8″, or 129 mm

Ring Gauge:  42

Format:  Petit corona

Weight:  9 grams / 0.3 oz

Construction/Appearance & Pre-Light:  The overall tobacco quality and finish on this cigar wasn’t bad.  A smaller stick, I’m impressed that something like this can be done as efficiently as they are with the type of older machines that Cuba has.

Nice wrapper colour, and no soft spots throughout the cigar itself.  With a this machine-made stick, I noted that the cap had a fair bit of a wrinkle / crease to it, and the triple-cap was horribly sloppy.  As these machine mades are hand-finished, it’s a bit of a sloppy finalizing, though the rest of the wrapper was applied very well, and the band was finished well (and I love the older / smoother / less-refined RA bands too).

The cello had a nice very slight yellowing to it, and the foot (as can be seen in the below pictures) showed that the bunch was packed amazingly tight on one side, but fairly loose and with holes on the other.  Again, no soft spots or issues there, but just an example of how a machine-made stick can’t have that artistic-finishing quality that human hands can.

After a cut and at cold, not too shabby.  Slight caramel sweetness, a bit salty, and with a fragrant aged tea tone.

Other construction notes?  Wife was sporting a new(er) bikini – me likey!

Opening Impressions:  A wonderfully aged smoke.  This thing just started right in.  Caramel flan tones to start – caramel, creme brulee, vanilla, breadfruit doughy-ness.  Loving it.

First Third:  Into the first third, light leather with burnt caramel edge.  Not a lot of the stewed fruit aspect that I normally get in Ramon Allones’ sticks though.  Some brown sugar, hay, and well-aged toasted tobacco.  Very refined toasted tobacco tones coming through full volume.

Second Third:  Into the second third, a lot of the same.  Swaying back and forth with the burnt caramel, and bready, toasted tobacco.

Final Third:  Into the final third, creme brulee coming to the forefront again.  Vanilla, burnt / carmelized brown sugar, and bready goodness.  Almost a bread pudding kind of flavour tone (you know – that traditional kind of bread pudding, made with eggs, milk, bread chunks, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, etc.); just wonderful.

Still unfortunately not getting the heavy stewed-fruits / Christmas fruitcake tone that I so love with RA.  Kind of wished it was there, but this stick, for its fair size, was still giving me lots of performance value.

A good cigar to go along with a great view.  😉

Finishing Comments / Overall Impression:  This cigar burned impeccably well for me too.  Burn was relatively razor sharp, and did not require any relights that I recollect.  The aged refinement that this cigar had was wonderful.  The slightly perfumy, aged, toasted tobacco tone throughout, along with the tag-team of a caramel, creme brulee hit, made this just a great little cigar to enjoy.

I know Habanos has got rid of machine mades.  While I don’t necessarily disparage that, it would be nice if this Mille Fleurs blend was still offered in a handmade.  Hell, even if a handmade, “luxury” version of the RA Mille Fleurs was offered perhaps as an RE from a cunning distributor, I think it’d be quite a hit – I’d LOVE to see that done, a box of 25 cellophane wrapped sticks to bring back that vintage look, and in a size format where a 25-count box wouldn’t make it beyond the reach of many.

Dollar value, these are excellent – inexpensive machine-mades can definitely be worth an addition into someone’s smoking stock, provided it was a good quality run.  Though these are all discontinued, the fairly extensive age on any remaining at vendors will make it well worth the search.  That perfumy aspect of nice aged cigars are a great taste to experience.

Final Score:  92

Total Smoking Time:  42 minutes

Date & Time Smoked:  February 18th, 2015; lit up at 8:58 pm, done at 9:40 pm

Paired Beverage:  Havana Club Anejo 7 Anos and Coke

Last Meal:  Haddock and chip dinner w/ coleslaw, 5:20 pm

Smoking Conditions:  In the hot tub, continuing chilly and fairly windy night, -12 degrees Celsius and dropping rapidly, 68% RH

Thanks for reading my review.  Hope you enjoyed it.

Cheers all.

Cigar Review – H. Upmann Monarch tubos, Unk. pre-2007 code; Final Score – 91

Yup – another delayed review.  Deal with it peoples!  😉

And getting into some of these delayed reviews, we have this specimen, an H. Upmann Monarcas / Monarch tubos.  The actual name of this stick is a Monarcas, however, the old-style aluminum tubos have Monarch on them – surprise, surprise, Cuba isn’t 100% clear on what something is.  Hell, I myself am not 100% on what the box code was on this particular stick, but I’m guessing 2006-early 2007.  These came from a mixed sampler purchase from December 2007, and at the time, I noted that these were from a pre-’07 (must have been something that the retailer stated to me at the time of purchase).  The band as found on these was only started on various H. Upmann sticks in 2006, and these cigars were eventually discontinued in 2009.

Was / is that a shame?

Reviewed Cigar:  H. Upmann Monarca / Monarch tubos

Box Date:  Unk. (2006 to early-2007 stick)

Factory / Manufacture Code:  Unk.

Packaging:  Tubos from 25-count dress box

Price per cigar:  Approx. $20.00 CAD per stick (part of a tubos sampler from online retailer)

Length:  7″, or 178 mm

Ring Gauge:   47

Format:  Julieta No. 2 / Churchill

Weight:  16 grams / 0.5 oz

Construction/Appearance & Pre-Light:  This cigar was pretty darn nice.  Colorado rosado wrapper, fairly smooth and silky-thin wrapper leaf.  The foot itself looked somewhat loosely packed, however there were no soft spots to the cigar, and it felt fairly hefty and well-packed in hand.

What’s also nice is that this came in the older, plain-aluminum tubes.  Sooooo much nicer than the newer weird and ugly dark-green painted ones for H. Upmann.  These older matte-finished plain-aluminum ones have a nice tone of dark green paint for labelling, and the added touch of the embossed H. Upmann logo on the threaded end-cap make it just a nice presentation all-round.

After a cut and having a taste at cold, very nice.  Some honey, extremely light cinnamon, and fresh cream at cold.  Interesting.

Opening Impressions:  Not bad.  A razor-sharp burn to get it going, and decent amounts of smoke once going.  Some nice creamy and shortbread tones in there.

First Third:  Into the first third, I picked up on some flavours of Sir Winnie, but it was a bit introverted through this first third.  Definitely loads of rich tobacco in this Churchill.  I’m generally only partaking in some other H. Upmann vitolas (Sir Winnies, Magnum 46, Mag 50 sometimes, and the occasional No. 2), so this one has been near and far to me.  Definitely more toasty tobacco and woodiness through it.  The creamy and shortbread tones began pulling back some.

Second Third:  Into the second third, this is where it opened up for me.  Toasted tobacco tones.  Some light cedar essences in there, almost a different kind of cedar though – almost like the aroma you get in a dried-out cedar-lined dry sauna.

Started to get a slight bit more edge and more “heat” to the flavours. Perhaps a pink or white pepper edge added to it; almost like a red-pepper-jelly fading in and out of the honey and shortbread sweetness.

Final Third:  Into the final third, the body built up more, getting into the medium-full range, and I started really getting that mongrel version of Sir Winnie.  Dirty, dank, wet shortbread cookies, hints of bread and some toasted nuts.  Lost the honey and cream aspects completely.  If not for knowing how aged it was, part of me would have guessed it was a younger cigar, for some of the mangy youthful aspects kicked in.

Finishing Comments / Overall Impression:  This cigar was so-so for me.  The burn was impeccable – razor-sharp, and not needing any relights, even considering the humid and breezy smoking conditions.  I really started getting more and more of a peppery version of a Sir Winnie – though part of me longed for a more creamy and refined Sir Winnie, looking at the same band.

This is a slightly stronger, less refined, more “mangy” version of a Sir Winnie, in my opinion.  So, with so few cigars left in the H. Upmann profile, was it wise to have this cut from the portfolio?  Definitely, its always a shame to see any cigar get the axe, as every single cigar has it’s fans.  That said, I don’t overly disparage the thinking behind it, as two Churchills in the same brand, with fairly limited selections, wasn’t likely of the greatest business sense.  I mean – how hard would it be to play second fiddle to the Sir Winnie too?!?!?!?

It was a nice experience overall, and generally pleasant smoke.  I won’t be searching out any further samples in the future likely, but I did enjoy the well-aged toasted-tobacco aspects of this stick, and the overall construction, burn, appearance and packaging all saved the score on this stick despite my palate not overly agreeing with the experience.

Final Score:  91

Total Smoking Time:  1 hour and 5 minutes

Date & Time Smoked:  February 18th, 2015; lit up at 6:20 pm, done at 7:25 pm

Paired Beverage:  Havana Club Anejo 7 Anos and Coke

Last Meal:  Haddock and chip dinner w/ coleslaw, 5:20 pm

Smoking Conditions:  In the hot tub, but a fairly chilly and breezy night, -10 degrees Celsius and dropping rapidly, 72% RH

Thanks for reading my review.  Hope you enjoyed it.

Cheers all.

Havana Trip, Feb-Mar 2015: Good Times with Good Friends…

Lord knows I meant to write this post first and foremost once I got back from Cuba in early March.  Alas, other things sidetracked me, and I misplaced some of the pictures I wanted to share here.  So, perhaps saving the best for last in my post-Havana-trip posts, here we are…

In Havana, the days are long, and the nights are longer.  Many Cuban and international friends (and those of us “yumas” that get to experience it) say that the city has two sides – daytime Havana, and the more risque nighttime variant.  Many people work all day, try to catch a catnap / sleep away the afternoon/evening, and then only get things going after about 10 or 11 pm or so.

So, after a long day of smoking cigars and drinking, we all pony up our energy for… a longer night of smoking cigars and drinking.  LOL.  Many hijinks are usually had.

Take for example the following…

I decided to try to take a half-decent photo of Andy Ryan, while we were out at a local hot spot.  However, Stuart Fox (whom I had not yet met in-person before this trip, but whom both our reputations preceded us due to [likely mostly untrue] stories passed along both ways by his brother Rob), decided to photo bomb Andy.  Drunkenly, we howled for ages after these pictures were taken…

Those pictures, and a short but wonderful evening, were had at El Sauce, and great outdoor dance club.  DJ’s, bands, and the local revellers made it a wonderful spot to go to, even though they kept us and the dogs (LOL, not kidding) penned up in the VIP area.  Great music mix, and the vibe was infectious.  And Michel doing his best “Johnny Depp” impersonation too!

I also had the opportunity to finally meet up in person, quite coincidentally, with Emil / “tropical doc”.  He was there on an authorized trip from the States, and though we’ve talked, traded cigars, and known each other for almost 5 years now, we’ve just never been able to meet up – until we were both in Havana, surprisingly!  It was great to meet him, and his energy and zest for delving into all that the island had to offer was able to be read on his face from a mile away.  Chatting with him since we’ve both returned home, he had an amazing trip, got to meet some amazing Cuban people, and said that all the delays and red tape were so incredibly worthwhile obviously…

Then there’s Nino. Oh, what can I say about Nino that hasn’t already been said. No…seriously. What can I say about Nino that hasn’t already been said??? LOL.

Times with him are always enjoyable – well, I better SAY they are, as he helps my sorry ass with my incomprehensible Spanglish, so he helps play tour guide and fixer too!!!  LOL.  Seriously though, he’s a host and gentleman to those that share the immense passion he has for the cigars, the island, the people, and his Cuban extended-family.  Always pointing out hot new spots, always there to enjoy a divinely rich dinner, or a mellow simple night with friends.  He had a few rough days at the end of Feb., same as I had back in November – such is the way when you’re guiding / organizing for a group – but we all found our groove again as the days moved on.

And likewise Simon, Seemon, my “little spoon” fellow Canadian.  Wished I got to spend more time this trip with my roommate from a previous trip, but I know we’ll all get more time with future Canadian group trips, and other local gatherings.

Also, through online forums and trades, to also get the chance to finally meet up with Gino / “Mr Japan” in person, as well as his son Stefano, was simply icing on the cake.  We all shared some great dinners, cigars, and drinks together.  I’m thankful for those times, truly.  Even IF Gino hit me for ordering a cappuccino at 10:30 pm at night to enjoy as an after-dinner coffee with another nice Monsdale.

Apparently, he informed me, it’s not “PROPER” for an Italian to have a cappuccino more than an hour-and-a-half after getting up, or past about 10:30 am or so.  Well, I took much glee in explaining to him that I’m Canadian, not Italian, and of Belgian-Dutch decent (he seemed shocked that everyone doesn’t revolve around Italy’s rules, LOL).  I informed him I don’t even drink cappuccino’s at home, save for occasionally at a particular Cuban restaurant in Toronto.  I also informed him that I was in CUBA, not Italia – in Cuba…they offer cappuccino, I order it, I drink it, anytime of the day.  And further, I informed him that it wasn’t “PROPER” for a man to hit a bigger man, especially when that first man was wearing yellow pants and carrying around a pink lighter!!!  LOL – it was all a running joke between our group all week, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Salut, Gino!!!!

Great times were again had with Yannick, after meeting him initially back in November.  He introduced me this trip to a friend of his and another fellow industry person, Nicky, and Nicky’s wife and her friends, and we all had fun times (mostly the girls did, when they, in Spanish, revelled in making fun of my bad Spanglish, and yet took interest in my Canadian accent).  Yannick, from Intertabak in Switzerland, was also wonderful in gifting some of the new RA Perfectos, and generally sharing in all the various good times.  A younger guy in the business, with many years under his belt already, but just chilling in an understated t-shirt and pants.  So fun to hang out with him, and his extended circle, including Nicky and his wife, and their friends.

Also through Nino and Yannick, we all had the pleasure to meet Victoria, a wonderful young lady.  A true German beauty, she had been down in Havana for a month before our arrival, as part of a 5-month learning experience that her father set up for her to learn the cigar business (Nino knows of her father’s small but wonderful shop in Germany well, he said).  Victoria was amazing – great English (like most Europeans) that thankfully made up for my abhorrent lack of Spanish.  She was a tanned beauty, who had eyes that made all of us star-struck a bit – her eyes reminded me of the mature-beyond-her-years beauty, innocence, and knowledge that were also apparent in the beautiful woman from Afghanistan that graced the cover from National Geographic magazine so many years ago.  Victoria “hung with the guys” quite well, took a keen interest in the overall experience, and seemed to be truly fascinated and gobbling up all that she could of the various cigar, tobacco, and Cuba knowledge that was offered to her.  So wonderful to see a keen interest in women of the cigar field.

And also…Gato Tuerto.  Can’t mention fun in Havana with friends without mentioning this place.  Always a fun time at the “one-eyed cat jazz club”, slash “Irish Embassy”, slash “Commonwealth Consulate”.

And of course, when drunkenly walking uphill back to the Nacional from Gato, you must not avoid the limbo tree…

I must say, I really enjoyed seeing Yiorgos again, and finally meeting Andy Ryan in person, as well as Stuart Fox.  I also was gifted, by way of meeting up with those three, in getting to know some of the Fox group’s staff (Bogusha and her fellow trouble-maker Gordana), as well as Albert from Stagnetto’s in Gibraltar/Spain, and also again seeing Captain Keith (a pilot for Emirates) and whom has been a friend to so many for so long (Nino and others can’t speak highly enough of him).  Others were also introduced to me through these various gents and ladies, and we all had wonderful times.

Stuart, at one point during the first day of meeting me, stated enthusiastically that he was really looking forward to hanging out together (or more perhaps me hanging out with their overall group), as he had heard such wonderful (and harrowing, LOL) tales of me. That my reputation preceded me, so to speak, good AND bad. I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying great times in the past with his brother, Rob Fox, and also with Rob Ayala and other like-friended travellers, so it turns out that’s where some stories traversed from. But it was very welcoming and warming for him (and Andy and the others also) to be so open, so inviting, and so eager to just hang out and converse with me those first few days of my solo trip.

Little did he know…LOL.

But then, our last night of all hanging out together, Stuart (almost seeming like he was about to choke up, and Andy and Bogusha capitalizing on that and teasing him, LOL) actually said something very very touching to me.  He stated that even though it was only four days or so since he met me, it was like we had known each other for years, and just gelled.  That the kind words from his brother didn’t adequately prepare him for how great and enjoyable of a time we had together, and he was so glad to make another life-long friend (even a ghastly-pale Canadian one) in Cuba.  That he was truly thankful, and that we were now like family almost, further cementing the “brotherhood” feeling for him, and the magic that the island offers for us all.

It was a truly humbling and jaw dropping moment for me to hear what he said, how he put it, and the emotion he had behind it (granted – he was drunk, and had just inadvertently left a near-full bottle of booze at the Gato).

But he’s yet another person, “in the business”, who shows it’s not just about sales and solely business-relationships.  It’s about making solid friendships and enjoying the brotherhood that experiencing all that Cuban cigars, Havana, and Cuba itself has to offer, for those of us with a passion and zeal for it all.  It’s about the experience and overall enjoyment, not just the tangible dollars-and-cents business-related aspects.

I’m humbled, honored, and likewise blessed to have increased my circle of Cuban-international friends.

Cheers all.

Havana Trip, Feb-Mar 2015: Booze and Cigars For Sale, Must Go To Good Home…

So, as I posted about earlier in March regarding the new Cohiba Silver humidors available at the Habana Libre LCDH store, Havana occasionally comes out with new stuff for sale.  And all usually for “the most bestest discerning enthusiast of Habanos” [or insert cheesy Spanish-to-bad-English-translation sales pitch here].

Like everything debauchery-related in Havana, booze and cigars are generally always for sale.  Kinda like free kittens.  Who doesn’t want free kittens???  And they’re ALWAYS available (damn cats won’t stop humpin’, that’s why!), as long as they go to a “good home” (whatever the hell that means).  But shiiiiiiiit, if you’re taking free kittens, that might be a judge that it’s NOT going to a good home.  Vis a vie, I guess that’s why booze and cigars can’t be far behind.

Anyways, Cuba, in its infinite wisdom, came up with a few other new goodies for February’s Habanos Festival.  Forgot to mention them before, but just came across the pics when I was putting together another review.  Namely, the new goodies are some more expensive cigars (Cohiba, of course), those earlier mentioned Cohiba Silver thingamagigers (yay, Cohiba), and even some expensive rum-slash-brandy-mix (Cohiba, fuck yeah!)

But, the silver lining is that I happened to stumble upon a new “elixir”.  For those in love with Legendario Elixir, this stuff is gold.  It’s a liquor that’s MADE from rum.  That’s right – they take rum (already good) and make it thicker and sweeter as an aperitif drink (sometimes even gooder, depending on your mood).  Anywho, I happened to stumble upon what seems to be another elixir, perhaps to compete for tourist dollars with Legendario.  It’s quite a bit cheaper / inexpensive to Legendario, but to me, it tasted very similar, albeit perhaps not as thick and syrupy.  And it seemed to be all over the place when I was down there in Feb-Mar (I didn’t see it at all back in November, or previous to this trip).

“Elixir 33”, made by Cubay.  Same idea as Legendario – a liquor made from 5-year-old rum, and only $4.95 CUC’s a bottle!  If the availability is more prominent than Legendario, they definitely may have a shot, given the lucrative pricing.

So, give it a try if you stumble upon it.  Can’t hurt the risk, at that price.  Unlike some of the other new stuff.

Cheers all.

Cigar Review – Ramon Allones Phoenicio RE Libano, Sep 2008 “TEB” box code (Box # 1889 of 6000); Final Score – 97

Well, since my post-Cuba wrap-up from my Havana trip in Feb-Mar has drawn so much of my time, I’ve got a bit of a backlog of formal reviews to get posted.  This one especially, I’ve been chomping at the bit to get done.  Easily, my best cigar ever to date, at least since I’ve been “keeping score” so to say and recording my reviews in a Cigar Dossier since about 2008 or so.

I was sent this sample with some surprise.  During last Christmas, I “cigar bombed” a number of good BOTL’s – guys and gals worldwide that I’ve done trades with in years gone past, and whom I really enjoyed our trades, but for whatever reason, it had been a while since we last traded – so I sent out some assortments of fresh custom cigars from Cuba.  So, with this cigar reviewed in particular, it came to me from Emil / “Tropical Doc” down in Florida.  He and I have talked and traded cigars for about 5 years or so now, but it had been nearly 3 since our last trade.  So, at Christmastime, I bombed him down a package with about a 1/2 dozen or so miscellaneous Cuban customs, some specific favourites of mine.  Then, in January, I opened up my mailbox to find a package containing this…

So, yes Emil, you’re a force to reckon with, and not to be outdone!  LOL.

He sent me the above, along with some party favours / promo material from his new lounge he’s started up.  As if he didn’t have enough on his plate, LOL, he’s taken on this new venture.  I highly encourage you to check out his webpage here at, and visit his lounge if you can, if you’re in the area.  After meeting him in Havana last month, I can gladly say he’s one of the most enthusiastic and passionate guys for cigars, especially for someone that’s not directly in the main industry (until starting up his lounge now).  My plans are to take a swing by next spring when next down in Florida with the family.

In the meantime though, this piddly little cigar would have to do!  I picked it first out of the cornucopia he sent me, as I’ve heard lots about it, and was very interested in it.  Emil was also kind enough to pass along some “product shots” of it’s kin-folk…

The Phoenicio was a nice, hefty sublime.  This particular sample was the first coming out of box number 1889 out of 6000.  These cigars were made to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Phoenicia Trading, the importer for Lebanon.  A Phoenico, made for Phoenicia – yup, it gets more confusing.  This particular variant was from the 2008 release, when there were 6000 boxes made, with 30-sticks per box.  They proved to be so popular and well-reputed, that they created a re-release in 2009, with 15-cigars per box and 3000 boxes produced of that variant, though it apparently hasn’t been as well-regarded of a smoke.

But, this one being from 2008, I was looking plenty forward to it.

Reviewed Cigar:  Ramon Allones Phoenico, 2008 RE Libano

Box Date:  Sep 2008

Factory / Manufacture Code:  TEB

Packaging:  30-count varnished box, numbered boxes (box # 1889 of 6000)

Price per cigar:  Unk.

Length:  6 1/2″, or 164 mm

Ring Gauge:  54

Format:  Sublimes / Double robusto

Weight:  20 grams / 0.7 oz

Construction/Appearance & Pre-Light:  This cigar was constructed so damn impeccably.  I love a cigar that hits all the good aspects of construction (no soft-/hard-spots, good fill, nice foot, pungent aroma, etc.) and also has a wrapper that’s dark and “marbled” in appearance, showing the oils within and on the wrapper leaf.  This cigar was all of that.

Beautiful band, beautifully oily and marbled wrapper, strong aroma, great format, heavy and sturdy cigar, and then, upon clipping the cap, a slight divot (revealing great construction/roll within), and just the perfect slightly resistive draw.

At cold, strong cherry and molasses notes.  Strong woodiness.

Opening Impressions:  Upon lighting and initial puff, just enthralled.  Thick, creamy smoke, and big puffs of it.  Sweet, rich – like a sugar-coated dank forest floor.

First/Second/& Final Thirds:  Fuck me.  This was just a DAMN EPIC CIGAR.  I didn’t take detailed notes – I remembered to take some pictures, and that was about it.  I got lost in the cigar itself – those are the BEST cigar experiences, in my opinion!  I just remember the overall experience of the cigar, but not so much the individual aspects / thirds of it.

It had huge, bold flavours.  I noted that my wanted RA flavour-tones were all there at some point – Christmas fruitcake, molasses, rich carmelized brown sugar, stewed dark fruits (prunes, cherries, blueberries?), dark and damp rich woods (that forest-floor oak tone), and an almost sweet, bready, cookies-and-rich-coffee tone.


This cigar just hit home run after home run, puff after puff.  Loads of smoke on every pull, and thick, viscous, coat-your-palate-good smoke at that.  That unsweetened-whipping-cream sort of palate-coating goodness.  This cigar was just a flavour-laden stick, with a size format that, while on the larger-side of what I enjoy, actually made it all that much better – and that I wish lasted another hour or so!

Finishing Comments / Overall Impression:  What else can I say?????

A box of these (which is no doubt in the higher realm of pricing due to slim availability now) is on the short-list for me now.

To me, these don’t need anymore age at all.  I would be interested to see what they do over the next 5 and 10 years though, but if I had a box in hand, they wouldn’t last 1/2 that long I don’t think!!!

Final Score:  97

Total Smoking Time:  1 hour and 36 minutes

Date & Time Smoked:  February 19th, 2015; lit up at 9:00 pm, done at 10:36 pm

Paired Beverage:  Havana Club Anejo 7 Anos and Coke

Last Meal:  Can’t remember – didn’t make note of it

Smoking Conditions:  In the hot tub, light breeze, -19 degrees Celsius, 92% RH

Thanks for reading my review.  Hope you enjoyed it.

Cheers all.

Havana Trip, Feb-Mar 2015: Another nice visit with the Lung Kong Society…

Another nice visit was had to the Sociedad Lung Kong in Havana last month.  As I wrote about previously, I loaded up ahead of this trip with some various wares for the lovely ladies and gents there.  Through Tom’s help (a great Toronto BOTL), I had gone out prior to the trip and got four dozen “long life”-design teacups, lots of cooking utensils, some very gorgeous looking exotic wood chopsticks (a darkened bamboo perhaps?), and a few other much-needed cooking items, all from a nice little Chinatown shop that Tom steered me to.  I definitely went a bit overboard though, as when I checked in my luggage for my flight down I was hit with some hefty overweight charges for my checked bags – not surprising considering half of both checked bags were a mix of these gifts for Lung Kong, and for other Cuban friends.

So, when I arrived down in Havana last month, Nino was neck-deep in planning and organizing for the Urs Portmann group, but managed to find a day that all meshed well with everyone’s schedule, and we were all able to meet up at Lung Kong.  I unfortunately arrived a bit late that day, with my cabbie getting lost and not knowing where Bario Chino was in Havana (only two blocks west of the Capitolio, I kept trying to explain), and then him wanting to drop me off something like 6 blocks away.  Seemed like he simply didn’t want to go there – he kept saying he was afraid his car would get stuck in the narrow roadways. Suuuuuure.  “We’re driving in a Lada”, I told him.

Anyways, after I got there, it was all smiles and hugs.  I met “Santa Claus” (Nino), and very quickly the “Buddha” exclaimations were out there as well.  To be joined there as well with Yannick, Michel, Luka, Thomas, Urs – it was just that much nicer.

Graciela was happy to hear that perhaps some of the other Toronto gents might be visiting her and the rest of the elders later on this spring, and that we’d be back in the fall as well.  She asked to send along her best wishes to Tom and the others, as well as Joe and the rest of her “Chinese-Canadian boys”.

Always nice to see friendly faces in these visits too. “Peso cigars” received as well from the same fellow that’s always tickled pink with our visits.

Hope we can continue to visit and support this venture for a long time to come.

Cheers all.

S.T. Dupont Xtend lighter – Maori turtle tribal tattoo finish…

A while back, I did a review on a La China custom dalia that I received at the Encuentros Partagas festival from Nov 2014.  In that review, I got to sort-of do an unboxing for a particular S.T. Dupont lighter that I had been looking for for quite a while.

It’s one of the earlier Xtend lighters, which were the original “Made in France” versions, and has been replaced by the made-in-China MaxiJet version in recent years.  I don’t debate the quality or fit-and-finish of one versus the other – it’s my understanding anyways that the Xtend’s were made of Chinese-made parts, and simply assembled in France, and that the MaxiJet’s are simply the same parts basically (except for some branding differences), from the same factories in China, and now just made in China at the source.  However, some people do really look for the Made in France Xtend’s, differentiated by the “Made in France” logo on the bottom of the lighter, the small fuel window on the base, the “Xtend” logo painted on the edge opposite of the trigger button, and a plain shiny chrome trigger (as opposed to the newer MaxiJet having the “S.T. Dupont” logo stamped on it).

Anywho, I love this little lighter.  I snagged it from an online auction listing from a retailer in Spain that was closing out some discontinued new-old-stock stuff – I think I got it for around $120 USD shipped, as well as the leather case/cover from another seller for about another $30.

The matte brown finish, layered with a matte black Maori tribal-tattoo pattern in the style of a sea turtle has some great beauty and meaning behind it for me.  I’ve always been fascinated with the history, art and architecture of ancient peoples and indigenous tribes.

The Maori people are a Polynesian indigenous people in New Zealand and the Cook Islands with quite a wonderful history behind them, not unlike the Taino indians of Cuba, or the Aztec peoples of ancient Mexico.  The influence of their histories and ties to nature definitely impacts on their folk art, noticable in the art of modern Pacific-rim countries and around the Caribbean and South America.  While some may call it tourist-kitsch, my wife and I have always enjoyed the brightness and boldness of most of these art forms.

As such, the sea turtle in Maori / Polynesian culture is one of great esteem.  The turtle represents one of the most important and popular elements, as it’s representative of harmony, family, wellness, and long life – but also in it’s symbolism as “the navigator” (yup – got right to me with my work in civvie SAR and in policing).  The turtle is also highly regarded as a representative of that which will bring these peoples to their final resting place after death, as the turtle moves freely between land and sea, between this world and the next.

Even, at it’s heart, even without this connotation to me in my work and personal life, it’s still a wonderfully functional piece with amazing quality construction and finishing.  It’s been flawless in it’s performance to me over about the past few months – though I have about a dozen various lighters (yes, I’m definitely a “gear whore”, LOL), this one is in my top three rotation between my Vector/KGM Tri-Pump table lighter and an Iroda red-and-black travel torch.  If you can find one – let me know and I’ll buy it too!  LOL.  But, definitely worth a snag if you can find one, or any of the other unique art-piece editions that S.T. Dupont did of these earlier Xtend single-torch lighters.

Cheers all.

Havana Trip, Feb-Mar 2015: Food and Drinks in Cuba (Part 3 of 3)…

So, continuing on from my the first and second posts on these spots…

11.  Santy’s.  Simple atmosphere.  Rustic views.  Simply amazing seafood.  And great company – international and Cuban friends.  Just an overall amazing time, and will be one spot that I’ll have to continue to go to again and again.  So very glad I was guided to attend here.

12.  Starbien.  A unique house – apparently the owner (head chef too?) used to be the head chef for the French embassy, and was actually born in that house.  While it was decorated nicely, I wasn’t a fan of the overall experience.  The food was fairly nice – nothing mind blowing, but not bland either – I had a stuffed red pepper and Serrano ham tempura appetizer (very nice), and then camarones in strong garlic-and-butter sauce (okay, I guess).

However, the service sucked, in my opinion.  They shoved us in this little room (the VIP room apparently), and separated us away from the entire location – mostly due to us cigar smokers.  However, that stiffled out the non-cigar-smokers in our group.  It took 55 minutes (not that I actually started counting or anything) to get my FIRST drink, a Cubata (aged rum and Coke – nothing special or hard to make), and only after I asked 3 times.  They took our drink order only when they took our overall food order – not drinks, then appetizers, then main course, etc.  Took 25 minutes for us to get a second ashtray too, again, only after asking multiple times.  The waitstaff would frequently pop their heads in, someone would wave to their attention or cast a look, and then the waitstaff would disappear out again, closing the door behind him, and not helping out.  Nicky had to call the waitstaff into the room for additional rounds of drinks later on in the meal.  In the end, everyone was very blah about the food generally.  I’ll likely not plan on going there again.

13.  El Canyonazo.  This is a tourist-centric restaurant on the other side of the harbour from Habana Vieja, between the El Morro and La Cabana fortresses, just over through the tunnel.  I was taken here by a driver, a friend of a friend that I used for a day.  Courteous as I try to be sometimes, I let him talk me out of my wanted plans to go to El Templete that day for lunch.  I wish I hadn’t let him.  Don’t get me wrong – the service was impeccable (with some very lovely ladies), the music was nice, and the food was pretty darn good too.  But, it wasn’t El Templete, and that’s what I was in a mood for.  Oh well.  I still had a nice seafood mixed grill in garlic sauce.  And the locale, and especially the constant flood of classic cars, did make for a nice afternoon stop nontheless.

14.  Ivan Justo’s.  Wonderful.  Croquetas de pescado, with some of the best flambéed bananas that I’ve enjoyed.  A wonderful langosta dinner also – not quite a fresh or tender as the lobster that Nino and Gino enjoyed at Santy’s, but very tastly nonetheless.  Caribbean lobster is very different for me compared to what we get in Canada – the Atlantic lobster we enjoy is a much sweeter and more tender meat, with Caribbean “langosta” being more chewy (I guess that’s the easiest way to describe it).  But this was wonderfully prepared.  The guava flan was just icing on the cake for me…but then I had a “hit” of Nino’s “tres leches” dessert.  WOW. R ich, decadent, and a yet-so-simple presentation in a tin can.  Reminded me of a custard mixed in layers with dulce de leche sauce (actually, that’s probably exactly what it was, lol).

Such a wonderful meal there shared with great company, in a beautiful little paladar, relatively hidden (once again, like many of Nino’s hotspots) down a non-descript looking alleyway in Havana.  A stellar restaurant to cap off my week there, and my last group meal shared with friends during this trip.  Perfect.

Cheers all.

Cigar Review – Cohiba Piramides EL 2001, Unk. code; Final Score – 93

[EDIT / NOTE – I actually wrote this review on Feb 25th earlier this year, ahead of my Feb-Mar Havana trip.  But, for whatever reason, it looks like it wasn’t published, and I just noticed it sitting in my “Drafts” folder while compiling some other reviews.  So, here you go…]

So, in “recovery” mode after last November’s Encuentros Partagas, I decided to indulge a little for some good “me-time”.

This cigar was from a charity auction event from earlier in the year, and as such, I’m not 100% sure of the box code from this sample.  My initial plan was to set this aside, and save it for a special event.  Well, simply, surviving the monsoon week we had in Havana in November, the digestive issues of a fair few of us, and having my wallet get raped by Customs on my way back, well, frankly, an afternoon to myself to sit back in the hot tub and indulge was enough of a special event for me.

This was my first of these, that I recollect, since I got back into cigars in 2005 or so and started keeping records in a Cigar Dossier (highly recommend it to those who want helpful tasting notes at hand, and are quite simply, uhhhh, anal retentive enough like me to keep up with it, LOL).  I think I might have tried a couple of these when they came out, but I’m not 100%, and there’s nothing in my recent notes.  So, for all intents and purposes, I was really going into this cigar with a blank slate.  Albeit, with some hopes.

A revered cigar – how did it fare?

Reviewed Cigar:  Cohiba Piramides EL 2001

Box Date:  Unk. (2001-2002 production, 2002 release)

Factory / Manufacture Code:  Unk.

Packaging:  Came in 25-boxes, varnished semi-boite nature box

Price per cigar:  Unk. initial cost, paid $110 or so at the charity auction

Length:  6 1/8″, or 156 mm

Ring Gauge:  52

Format:  Pyramid

Weight:  Unk. (forgot to weigh this bad boy)

Construction/Appearance & Pre-Light:  This cigar was quite nice.  A darker wrapper with an ever-so-slight sheen, this cigar actually had a nice, maduro-like-but-silky wrapper.  Early Edicion Limitada program cigars were (and sometimes still are) characterized by thick, heavy, fire-retardant wrapper leaves.  In the early years of the EL program, it was only the wrapper leaves that were aged for at least 2 years (as opposed to 6-12 months usually), but all EL releases since about 2007, if I recall correctly, have all tobaccos used aged to at least this 2 year mark (my Trinidad Ingenios EL 2007 were part of the start of this).

This cigar’s only real blemish I could find, construction-wise, was one small water spot on the wrapper – and, while it’s noticeable on the darker wrapper, it does NOTHING to affect the performance of the cigar, nor my scoring on construction.  The foot itself was also very nicely bunched and arranged, and the colour palate to the rich tobaccos within were wonderful – a great “mixing” evident in there.  No hard or soft spots – construction-wise, this thing was in the Goldilocks zone!

After clipping the head, taking some cold draws….mmmm, rich black tea with a honey tinge.  Almost a dark element there – old leather perhaps?

Opening Impressions:  After a lighting up and initial draws, the opening had a perfect draw and smoke volumes – took to flame and lit well.  Light wispy smoke, but fairly potent and powerful – big hits of earth and leather.  No “Cohiba-ness” to it at all (not surprising, with the EL thing).

First Third:  Into the first third, I noticed that the burn was easily transitioning the burning cigar to darker charcoal-coloured ash, which was somewhat soft and flakey.  The smoke wasn’t creamy or overly viscous.  Thin smoke, but some decently potent flavours there.  Sitting just above the medium mark on boldness, but just below on potency.  Some mild black pepper on the retrohale, but lots of leather and earth on the tongue.  Some dark black tea in there too.

While the smoke itself was thin, I was still getting big smokey mouthfuls when pulled on.  Blue smoke off the burnt end, pure white, almost fog-like smoke on the exhale from the mouth, and mildly-dark grey charcoal ash – this thing was a colour palate.

Second Third:  Into the second third, it was continuing along somewhat similarly.  Burn was continuing to be fairly wonky, but no so bad as to need a torch correction.  Mild leather stepping back now, hmmm….

Big, rich, smokey honey tinges.  Almost to a slightly darkened-but-not-quite-burnt caramel tone.  Yup – rich, dark, unfiltered, smoke-riddled honey.  Man, it blended so nice with the mild leather and earthiness of this cigar.

Almost got hints of old hay, swinging in and out of the dark honey hits – when one faded out, the other one stepped in.

Final Third:  Into the final third, similar to the second in burn qualities.  Needed to do some torch touch-ups – the burn just wouldn’t find that razor’s edge.  The honey and hay sweetness started to subside, and then gave way to a flow right back to the old leather and earthiness, this time accompanied by that dark black tea essence in full stride.

Smoked this puppy right down.  Deeee-lish.

Finishing Comments / Overall Impression:  This cigar was a treat.  A much-needed, wanted, and enjoyed treat.  The wonky burn and such deflected a few points, and parts of it were a bit more bland than others, but without that nice, potent perfumy aspect that I find so lovely with aged cigars in the 10-15+ year range.  Was hoping to get that with this one, and it lost out on not having that present.

All that said…

Price justification (either for this cigar as a single or as a box currently)???

No, not really.  While I was glad to purchase it as some of my planned money outlay at the charity auction, it wasn’t a dollar-performer for me.  Still a wonderful experience nonetheless, and whether it cost me $20 or $200 wouldn’t have affected the score allotted for this singular smoking experience.  It’s just one to be scratched off the list, so to speak.



While there were some dark honey qualities hiding in the experience, there was no Cohiba-esque-ness (if that’s a word, LOL) to this cigar for me.  None of that lemongrass and beaniness to it (vanilla bean, light coffee bean).  While there was honey in strides, the leather and earthiness took away from that a bit for me.

And, I have to say, with the overall flavours as it came across my palate, mixed in with the hay tinges, I couldn’t help but think:  My gawd, this should be labelled as a Trinidad Piramides!!!

It got me to thinking – now, THAT is a blend that could really work well in a piramides.  Amazing that they haven’t done that yet, in adding a pyramid to the Trinidad line – but, then again, it’s perhaps not that surprising given their past actions in butchering the line apart, discontinuing the Trinidad Robustos T that many loved so much (and only after a minimal time on the market), and their current actions in loveless quality control that’s been going on with Trinidad in recent years (its sooooo hard to find decent boxes of Fundadores lately!)

But, a great experience nonetheless, but to see this blend with a Trinidad label on it would strike me as more in keeping than with the Cohiba band.

Final Score:  93

Total Smoking Time:  1 hour and 25 minutes

Date & Time Smoked:  November 27th, 2014; lit up at 1:40 pm, done at 3:05 pm

Paired Beverage:  El Dorado 12 & Coke

Last Meal:  Three cheese hamburger helper, 12:30 pm

Smoking Conditions:  Mild wind, overcast, 1 degree Celsius, 73% RH

Thanks for reading my review.  Hope you enjoyed it.

Cheers all.

Havana Trip, Feb-Mar 2015: Food and Drinks in Cuba (Part 2 of 3)…

So, continuing on from my earlier

6.  La Terraza / Prado 309.  Always on my list to hit.  Amazingly, this is the first trip that I’ve not had the leg-of-lamb.  Tried the mixed grill instead.  AND they were unfortunately out of my grilled octopus appetizer.  Still was a great meal, with great company and conversations with Luca and Michel from Europe (both in the cigar industry, there as part of the Portmann group for the festival) – great company and conversations, so not many pictures unfortunately.

7.  El Aljibe.  The “chicken shack”, as I like to say.  Chicken, rice and beans, fresh bread, and other traditional sides – nothing special really, but that’s actually what makes it special.  The sauce is made from a mixture of the chicken drippings and the squashed juices from fermented oranges – it’s amazing on the chicken itself, but also mopped up with pieces of the fresh crusty bread.  The cigar shop next door isn’t too bad either.  A great open-air spot.  Very fresh and well-done food, even for all it’s simplicity, as a state-run restaurant (just beware of giant tour bus groups coming through occasionally).

8.  Cafe Laurent.  Having never ate here before, but hearing good things generally, I was almost detered from a report that Nino did about an experience that he and Yannick had there in November.  However, I gave it a shot, being just a small 2-block walk from the Nacional.  I’m glad I did.

Some fresh, piping hot and wonderful croquets (only 4 CUC’s), and a nice “creamy seafood rice” (10 CUC’s).  Not quite an actual paella, but a saucy variant of one, and it still hit the spot.  Washed down with the obligatory mid-day mojitos.  A Japanese gentleman sitting at the table next to me was having the mixed grill with lobster tail, shrimp skewer, etc., and said it was divine, and much better than when he had himself been there in November.

It’s also a great little spot with a nice terrace and some pleasant views.  A very nice mid-way spot to lunch on the way between the Hotel Nacional and the Habana Libre.  I’m glad I gave it a chance, but I don’t think I’d want to be there with a larger group, due to space limitations.

9.  Hotel Saratoga.  The rooftop pool patio is a great little spot to visit – not for a swim, but to have a drink, order some munchies, and take in the wonderful view at sunset.  I made sure to hit this after one day of walking around Habana Vieja, and dug into a cigar, a flan, and some Cubatas, all while I took in the sunset over Havana, lighting up the Capitolio, Parque Central, Parque de la Fraternidad, the Gran Teatro, and the various other landmarks.

10.  VIPHabana.  A new spot that was introduced to us by Yannick and Nicky.  Wonderful.  Had a great langosta dinner with Cubatas and a flan – doesn’t get too much better than that.  The outside patio that we were seated at was wonderful – as Nino stated, indoors was almost a bit too pristine, and Euro-cliche for most of us, but the mellow piano music drifted outside to us on a wonderful evening.  This is where I also unfortunately was succumbed to Gino’s hassling about my after-dinner cappuccino, LOL (and yes, to remind again, while he had a pink lighter and bright yellow pants on).

More to come…

Cheers all.

Havana Trip, Feb-Mar 2015: Yolanda “Custom Jars” Coming Soon…

So, as I described in one of my earlier posts on my Havana trip last month, Yolanda, the custom roller / “house roller” from LCDH Melia Habana, mentioned something to me.  She’s apparently going to be coming out shortly with her own “custom jar” for her custom cigars.

Yolanda Medina is a lovely lady.  In her upper 60’s now, she’s been rolling at the LCDH store at the Melia Habana hotel for about 18 years, and has been rolling cigars for an astonishing 48 or so now.  Starting rolling at age 19 at the H. Upmann factory, she’s well renowned for her past experience as a roller, as well as a former production manager from both the Romeo y Julieta factory and the Partagas factory.  She’s been the house roller at the Melia Habana LCDH since 1997, and she’s well renowned for that.  And, she herself is a former Guiness World Record holder, for rolling one of the world’s longest cigars in the mid 80’s sometime, before Cueto came to fame recently for doing the same.  I think it’s fair to say that she’s in the big league of custom rollers that cigar enthusiasts flock to Havana for.  Herself, Jorge Lopez Leal (from Club Habana, and of “Monsdale” fame), Reynaldo from Conde de Villanueva, Cueto from the El Morro shop, and also formerly Hamlet from RyJ (when he was rolling there) – they’re all amazing rollers who are some of the most courteous and excellent “faces” for Habanos cigars.

On this past trip, I snagged myself a bundle of her custom piramides, her signature roll.  Those are what she’s most well-renowned for, and what she said she rolls 2-to-1 compared to all the other formats she rolls combined, I was told.  (And, as Alex, a good Canadian BOTL and usual fellow-traveller has told me before, she’s usually sold out of them, and he’s always in a bind to get those specifically, as they’re his favourites from the island).  Though, her custom 898’s / dalias are slowly but surely catching up, and she gifted me with one of those to try when I visited her that day – it definitely hit the spot for me as a late-morning start with a nice cappuccino.

But anyways, she’s in the works with coming out with a custom jar, if you can call it that.  As she explained to me, and as the below pictures show, it’s a wooden jar.  She stated that it was her intent and continuing-want to do a ceramic jar instead.  But the jar as-shown perfectly fits a 25-bundle of her custom 898’s / dalias, or will also fit about 19 of her custom piramides.  The wooden container is currently at a cost of $150 CUC’s, but she’s trying to negotiate a better price through the manufacturer to make it much more feasible, and back down to well inside of a two-digit cost she said.

Through the assistance of Fred, a Chinese businessman she’s had a long-standing customer friendship with, she was able to get LCDH’s and/or Caracol’s permission to be able to offer these custom wooden “jars” at her rolling table in the Habana Libre shop.  So, she made planning arrangements with a Chinese manufacturer, also with the assistance of Fred, to have the jars made – with her initial intent of ceramic jars, but her agreeing to be open to the wooden / cedar jar (as shown above) as a bit of a prototype.

As we chatted, she was right in the midst of rolling a 500-stick order for Fred of custom robusto extras, and said she would be going to China in April for a few weeks to visit him, and would hopefully be finalizing the jar arrangements.  She said she was planning on going back to her original want for a ceramic jar instead, but might still take an initial production-run of some of these wooden ones.

She said it’d likely all be sorted out over this spring, and would likely have ready stocks of them in hand by mid- / end-summer – plenty of time, hopefully, to have it sorted out prior to the next Encuentros Partagas festival in the upcoming fall.  I myself am looking forward to seeing the final results of these later on this fall hopefully.  And, will likely be loading up on more of her custom piramides and dalias too.

Cheers all.