MBombay Vintage Reserve Lancero 1973

Mel Shah’s Bombay Tobak has a well-established track record of producing flavorful smokes with his Mbombay offerings, and this year’s model is the Vintage Reserve Lancero 1973. The production was limited to just 560 boxes of 25, which headed to retailers in late summer. Bombay Tobak goes all in on the “Vintage” aspect of this cigar, using some filler tobaccos that date back more than 40 years. Given the success of previous lines, such as the Nikka and Corojo Oscuro, who’s going to pass up a chance to try this one? Not this guy.

CIGAR STATS: This 8½ x 38 rail features an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper around a Dominican binder and Dominican and Peruvian filler. As noted above, the filler leaf dates as far back as the early 1970s. (The 1973 in the stick’s name refers to the year of Shah’s birth.) It is available in only the Lancero size, and should retail for about $13.50 a stick.

APPEARANCE: The Vintage Reserve comes cloaked in a cedar sleeve, but on the whole its appearance is on the understated side, with a small, tasteful band around the classic light-brown Connecticut wrapper. Still, the size is unusual. How often does one smoke an 8½-inch cigar?

THE SMOKE: Once the flame is applied, the stick gives off plenty of wood – the cedar wrapper does its job – and earth. It’s not an overly powerful stick, but one gets a strong dose of the wood on the exhale too. A few floral notes appear along the way, but the dominant taste is wood throughout the smoke. The best aspect of the smoke is that it remains flavorful from start to finish, and it gives off a very rich tobacco aroma. In addition, the burn line is  near-perfect, and the draw is consistently smooth.

THE VERDICT: At $13.50 a stick, it’s clearly on the pricey side, but the adage that you get what you pay for applies here. This is a tasty, unique smoke that should not disappoint. To learn more about the Vintage Reserve Lancero 1973 and the other Mbombay offerings, visit bombaytobak.com. – Brian Coyne


Espinosa Especial

In February of this year we (finally) reviewed the Espinosa Laranja, the extremely popular 2014 release from Erik and the crew at the La Zona factory. In 2015 they were back at it again with the release of the Espinosa Especial and we thought we might try to tackle this one in a more timely, and I use that term loosely, fashion.

CIGAR STATS: Blended at the La Zona factory in Esteli, Nicaragua, the Espinosa Especial features a Mexican Capa Negra wrapper with a binder and fillers comprised of tobacco from the four major growing regions of Nicaragua: Condega, Esteli, Jalapa, and Ometepe. The Especial comes in 10-count boxes available in three different sizes: No. 1 (6.5 x 48) $8.75, No. 4 (5 x 52) $8.25, and No. 5 (6 x 54) $8.95. For this review I smoked a couple of No. 4s (Robusto).

APPEARANCE: The Mexican Capa Negra wrapper is mocha brown with some darker marbling and a bit of tooth that gives it a somewhat rustic look. There is very little in the way of oils present or visible veins. The copper color on the main band and the ribbon around the foot lend a touch of elegance and are reminiscent of the band and ribbon adorning the Espinosa Laranja.

THE SMOKE: Black pepper and spice envelope the senses at the starting gate but these aggressive flavors quickly transition to dark coffee, chocolate and a grassy earthiness. As the burn progresses the addition of a sweet cedar and leather bolster the existing flavors while the pepper and spice remain, but mostly on the retrohale. Coming down the home stretch the Especial is dominated by leather, dark coffee, earth and, of course, pepper and spice. The No. 4 burned well with only a few touch-ups and the charcoal-colored ash was slightly flaky but still made it to the ash tray every time.

THE VERDICT: The Espinosa Especial is a very good cigar. To say that I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the Laranja, while true, isn’t really being fair because they are two completely different animals. Building on an already impressive portfolio, the Especial was blended to fill a void in their lineup as a medium-to-full-bodied smoke that doesn’t knock you on your ass, like the 601 La Bomba. Consider that goal met. For more information about the Especial or the entire line of Espinosa cigars, please visit: www.espinosacigars.com. – Jason Zahner


Southern Draw Kudzu

Back in early July we received some samples from Robert Holt, the founder of Southern Draw Cigars, and promptly reviewed the QuickDraw Connecticut and Pennsylvania, which we thoroughly enjoyed. Today we take a look at their inaugural release, from May of 2014, the Kudzu.

CIGAR STATS: Blended by Robert Holt and rolled at the A.J. Fernandez factory, Tabacalera Fernandez S.A., in Esteli, Nicaragua, the Kudzu features a double-fermented Ecuadorian Habano Oscuro wrapper with premium aged Nicaraguan tobaccos for the binder and filler. The Kudzu is available in 3 original sizes: Robusto (5.5 x 54), Toro (6 x 52), and Gordo (6.5 x 60), and 4 new sizes released earlier this month: Axil Lancero (6.5 x 40), Belicoso Fino (5.5 x 50) and two Perfectos (5 x 58, 6 x 56), with prices ranging from about $8-$11 per stick. This review deals specifically with the Robusto.

APPEARANCE: Like the other two vitolas, the Kudzu Toro is box-pressed with a closed foot. The wrapper is milk chocolate in color with an oily sheen and plenty of tooth. Around this gorgeous wrapper are two bands. The top one sports the company’s name and the lower one the cigar’s name.

THE SMOKE: Applying flame to foot produces the usual black pepper, but this gives way to cedar, cocoa, and a natural tobacco sweetness soon after the initial light up. These flavors hold steady until the halfway mark where the black pepper dies down a tad and cocoa, coffee and cedar dominate the inhale while an increased natural tobacco sweetness dominates the exhale. The last couple of inches add a leather component to the flavor wheel and also amps back up the black pepper just a bit. Throughout the review the Kudzu puts out tons of smoke with an easy draw and a steady burn line.

THE VERDICT: I was so caught off-guard by how much I enjoyed this cigar that halfway through the first one that I smoked I texted Robert with my admiration for his product. He, being a “Southern Gentleman,” was gracious and appreciative, but I’m the one who should be appreciative. The Southern Draw Kudzu is a wonderful blend with an array of well-balanced flavors and excellent construction, and I am grateful for the chance to smoke one. For more information about the Kudzu, or the entire line of Southern Draw cigars, please visit: www.southerdrawcigars.com. – Jason Zahner


A.J. Fernandez Enclave

One of the most prolific producers in the industry, A.J. Fernandez launched the Enclave, which is meant to be a salute to native Americans, in the fall of 2015. It is a follow-up to his New World line of 2014-15, and it is another collaboration with his father, Ismael. And like the New World smokes, the Enclave is on the reasonable end of the price spectrum, and that is always a noble endeavor.

CIGAR STATS: The Enclave features an Ecuadoran Habano Rosado wrapper around a Cameroon binder and Nicaraguan and Piloto Cubano filler. It is produced at the Tabacalera Fernandez in Esteli, Nicaragua, and is offered in four sizes: Robusto (5 x 52), Toro (6 x 52), Figurado (6½ x 52), and Churchill (7 x 52). You can expect to pay $7-8 per stick.

APPEARANCE: The dark reddish-brown wrapper has a prominent vein or two and a folded-over foot. It’s a good-lloking cigar with a bit of spring to the touch.

THE SMOKE: Upon lighting up, the early flavor notes are wood (cedar) with a helping of coffee. It’s in the medium-bodied range, and there’s a bit of cream along the way. At about the midpoint, hay and some floral notes begin to compete with the wood, serving up a flavorful mix that remains to the end. Throughout the smoke, the Enclave generates a pleasant, rich aroma. In addition, the flavor never descends into the harshness late in the smoke that is often prevalent in lesser cigars. The draw is on the easy side, but very consistent, and the burn line is OK, requiring only one touchup.

THE VERDICT: A.J. Fernandez is renowned for packing a lot of flavor in his creations, and he has done it again here. The Enclave isn’t a powerhouse in terms of strength, but it delivers a tasty, relaxing 90-minute smoke, which is all anyone can ask for on a midsummer evening. To learn more about the Enclave, visit ajfernandezcigars.com– Brian Coyne


Bombay Tobak Gaaja

This review takes a look at the Gaaja, the latest release from Bombay Tobak owner Mel Shah, a wine retailer in California who entered the cigar industry a couple of years back with his MBombay line. The Gaaja (pronounced : Gaa-ya) is a Sanskrit word meaning elephant, and is the first box-pressed offering available in the Bombay Tobak portfolio.

CIGAR STATS: The Gaaja, produced at Tabacos de Costa Rica, features tobacco from four different countries, including a portion of the filler from Paraguay. From their press release:

“We had been working on the blend of Gaaja for more than 4 years. The process involved in logistics and long fermentation of tobacco from countries like Peru and Paraguay, really tested our patience. We had to wait for 3 vintages of the Hybrid Connecticut wrapper leaf for the perfection we wanted. As the elders say, “patience pays off”; hence Gaaja.” 

The Gaaja uses an Ecuadorian Connecticut Desflorado (variety Hybrid Mejorado 2004) for the wrapper, an Ecuadorian HVA Seca Mejorda for the binder, and a combination of Perúvian Hybrid Habano (Seco), Ecuadorian criollo 98 (Viso), Paraguayan Hybrid Habano 2000 (Viso), Dominican criollo 98 (Viso) and a Dominican HVA Mejorado (Ligero) for the filler. The 6 x 54 box-pressed toro is the only size offered and is available in 24-count boxes for $15.50 per stick.

APPEARANCE: The wrapper is medium-to-light brown, silky smooth and is adorned with a simple yet colorful band that features artwork created by Mel Shah’s better half.

THE SMOKE: The Gaaja starts off with lots of white pepper that quickly transitions to herbal notes with a cedar and tobacco sweetness playing out in the background. Floral notes add to the sweetness which balances nicely against the white pepper that is still in play at this point of the review. The last inch or so is a combination of natural tobacco and an overall earthiness that makes for pleasing finish to this well-constructed, evenly burning stick.

VERDICT: The Gaaja is easily my favorite blend produced by Mel Shah and Bombay Tobak. Appropriately, the strength never leaves the medium range, allowing the flavors, complex and well-balanced, to shine through. For more information about Bombat Tobak cigars, visit: www.bombaytobak.com – Jason Zahner


Southern Draw QuickDraw

The QuickDraw line was introduced by Southern Draw Cigars about a year ago with two blends – an Ecuadorian Dark Habano and a Pennsylvania Broadleaf. This summer, the QuickDraw Connecticut has joined the party. As the name implies, the sticks are small in stature and designed for those instances when you don’t have the luxury of 90 minutes or two hours to devote to a smoke and you need to pick up the pace a bit. Southern Draw also recommends several beverage pairings for each cigar, but I am confident you can figure that part of the smoking equation for yourself. For this review, I smoked the Pennsylvania and Connecticut.

CIGAR STATS: The Connecticut is offered in two sizes: Petite Corona (4½ x 44) and Short Panatela (5½ x 40). The Pennsylvania comes in only the Petite Corona form. The cigars are made in Nicaragua by AJ Fernandez. The Connecticut features a wrapper grown in Ecuador with binder and filler coming from the Ometepe, Esteli and Condega regions of Nicaragua. Likewise, the Pennsylvania Broadleaf wrapper is grown in Ecuador, with the rest of the tobacco from Nicaragua. You can expect to pay about $5 per stick.

THE SMOKE: Connecticut – This medium-bodied smoke brings what you might expect, lots of cream and wood after the first blast of pepper. About halfway through, a pleasing element of hay and citrus notes make themselves known. It produces a rich aroma, and the draw is near perfect. I also had zero burn issues, which is always a plus.
Pennsylvania – Not surprisingly, the Pennsylvania shares many characteristics with the Connecticut, including a spot-on draw, appealing  construction with a pig-tail cap and covered foot, and terrific aroma. But this is a meatier cigar, of medium to full-bodied strength, with flavor notes of coffee, wood (cedar), earth, and a bit of hay. There is a healthy dose of pepper at the start, but it soon settles into a tasty mix of flavors.

VERDICT: If you are looking for a smoke in the 30-minute range, these QuickDraw offerings are right in your wheelhouse. And the price point is about as appealing as it gets these days. By all means, seek them out. To learn more about the entire Southern Draw stable, visit southerndrawcigars.com – Brian Coyne


Oliva Serie V Melanio

Back in 2006, with public interest in stronger, Nicaraguan tobacco steadily increasing, the Oliva Cigar Co. released the immediately popular Serie V line. Six years later, in an effort to pay tribute to the Oliva family patriarch, Melanio Oliva, the company released the Oliva Serie V Melanio. Then, in 2014, Cigar Aficionado named the Melanio figurado their #1 Cigar of the Year, and two years after that we’re finally getting around to reviewing it.

CIGAR STATS: Made by a small group rollers and blended at the Tabacalera Oliva de Nicaragua S.A. in Esteli, the Oliva Serie V Melanio features an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper and Nicaraguan tobacco from the Jalapa region for the binder and filler. The following vitolas are all box-pressed and come in 10-count boxes: Petit Corona (4½ x 42), Robusto (5 x 52), Figurado (6½ x 52), Torpedo (6½ x 52), Double Toro (6 x 60), and Churchill (7 x 50). Prices range from $8 to $15.

APPEARANCE: This is one gorgeous cigar. The Sumatra wrapper is silky smooth and extremely oily with tight seams and minor veins. The taper at the head and foot makes you pay close attention when cutting and lighting so as not to start from the wrong end.

THE SMOKE: The Melanio opens smoothly with nuts, a caramel sweetness, and very little spice. Cedar and a bit more pepper emerge during the mid-section and the strength increases quite a bit. Leather and pepper dominate the final third with an underlying nutty sweetness balancing out the flavor profile. The flawless construction produces a perfect draw and burn line with plenty of smoke output.

VERDICT: Rarely do I agree with Cigar Aficionado but, in the case of the Oliva Serie V Melanio figurado, they got this one right. This is a phenomenal cigar that every connoisseur should try at least once … or ten times. For more information about the Melanio, or the entire line of Oliva cigars, visit: www.olivacigar.com – Jason Zahner


PDR 1878 Capa Sun Grown

PDR Cigars have been around a while, and the company has been seeking to fill a niche for a quality smoke that doesn’t break the smoker’s budget. The 1878 line follows that playbook faithfully, offering a variety of smokes at an appealing price point – think $6-7 a stick, as opposed to $8-10. That’s going to get our attention every time.

CIGAR STATS: The cigar features an Ecuadoran Sun Grown Claro wrapper around Dominican Criollo 98 and Corojo filler and Dominican Criollo 98 binder leaves. It is offered in five sizes: Robusto (5 x 52), Toro (6 x 52), Torpedo (6½ x 52), Churchill (7 x 54), and Double Magnum (6 x 60). As noted above, you can expect to pay in the $6-7 range per stick. I smoked the Robusto for this review.

APPEARANCE: The dark brown wrapper has a few veins and is adorned with an understated, classy band of blue, white and silver – with bonus points awarded for not obscuring half of the stick. It is springy to the touch, with a bump or two, and it is topped by a pigtail cap. There’s no mistaking the hand-made touches here.

THE SMOKE: The cold draw yields a classic sweet tobacco flavor, but the light brings a big blast of pepper. After that passes, notes of earth and wood begin to dominate. A bit of cream and hay make their presence known about a third of the way in, and the wood comes on really strong around the midpoint and stays the rest of the way. The draw is quite smooth, but the burn line proved to be a little problematic, requiring a couple of touchups.

VERDICT: PDR scores a solid hit with the Sun Grown. It packs plenty of flavor into a medium-bodied smoke, and its price tag is consumer friendly. This is definitely a should-try for a relaxing late-spring sit-down at your preferred smoking spot. You can learn more about the PDR lines at pdrcigars.com. – Brian Coyne


Camacho Double Shock

Since rebooting its brand a couple of years back, Camacho has sought to broaden its appeal by introducing a series of limited-edition cigars, such as the Blackout and this year’s American Barrel-Aged. Between those two sticks came the Double Shock, a barber-pole offering featuring two wrappers. The Double Shock has been on the market for a while, but it’s still available in brick-and-mortars and online, so it’s getting a test drive here. Better late than never.

CIGAR STATS: The Double Shock’s two-tone look is courtesy of Ecuadoran Habano and Mexican San Andres wrappers around a Criollo binder and Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Pennsylvania filler leaves. It is offered in five sizes: Robusto (5 x 50), Toro (6 x 50), Churchill (7 x 48), Figurado (6 1/8 x 54 x 42), and Gordo (6 x 60). Prices range from $11-13 per stick. This review is based on smoking the Robusto.

APPEARANCE: This is an eye-catching cigar – alternating light and dark stripes, expertly wrapped, with a triple cap and few veins. There is some oil, and it’s firm to the touch.

THE SMOKE: There is quite a bit of sweetness in the cold draw, but once it is lit and after the first bit of pepper, the dominant notes are wood (cedar) and earth. An inch or two in, some coffee and sweetness join the party in a fairly smooth blend. Later on, some floral notes materialize. There is little change to the flavor profile in the second half of the smoke. The Double Shock is billed as a full-bodied cigar, but it felt closer to the medium range of the spectrum to this palate. The draw was fairly easy, and the burn line got a little uneven in the second half of the smoke, requiring a couple of touch-ups.

VERDICT: The Double Shock is an intriguing stick, and the first half of the smoke delivered a good measure of flavor and aroma. The second half of the experience was a bit underwhelming, so the return on the investment could have been better. It falls somewhere between must-try and don’t-bother. – Brian Coyne


Quesada 40th Anniversary

Released in 2014, but only recently available in our neck of the woods, the 40th Anniversary line is a celebration of Quesada’s 40 years in the cigar industry.

CIGAR STATS: Crafted by Master Blender and company President, Manuel Quesada Jr., the Corona Clasica (6.5 x 46, $9.25) is one of six cigars that make up the 40th Anniversary line. While the other five, blended by Manuel’s daughters, Patricia and Raquel, sport a Mexican San Andres wrapper, the Corona Clasica is covered in an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper with a Dominican Criollo binder and Dominican and Nicaraguan fillers.

APPEARANCE: The Corona Clasica has a silky, honey-colored wrapper that is covered on the lower half with a thin, white tissue paper that helps to protect the delicate Ecuadorian Connecticut leaf while also giving it a somewhat sophisticated look.

THE SMOKE: The Corona Clasica starts off with a mild spice and some natural tobacco sweetness. As the spice backs off, cedar and citrus move in to take over the driver’s seat. These flavors dominate for a while before some floral notes join in to make it a threesome. The cedar, citrus, and tobacco sweetness all stay put for the finish while the spice from the beginning returns to replace the floral notes. Throughout the review the ash holds firm and the burn line remains relatively straight with only one touch-up required.

VERDICT: The Quesada 40th Anniversary Corona Clasica is a smooth, flavorful smoke that is mild-to-medium in strength and  medium-to-full in body. I highly recommend you grab a cup of your favorite coffee and head on over to Mickey Blake’s in Southington (where I got mine) to light one up. For more information about the 40th Anniversary line, or the entire line of Quesada cigars, visit: www.quesadacigars.com – Jason Zahner