Ashton Estate Sun Grown Twenty Year Salute

Made by Carlos Fuente Jr of Opus X fame for Ashton’s anniversary, this cigar definitely has the lineage for greatness. The combination of the luxurious wrapper and elaborate cigar band makes for a stunning introduction to the Ashton Estate Sun Grown. The lush 6 ¾” x 49 cigar is leathery in appearance and aroma. The draw is seemingly perfect while the initial flavors and aromas are intoxicating. Leather, mahogany and slight bits of chocolate mix with nutmeg and sandalwood for a truly complex, but silky smooth journey. Musk and mesquite fill the air, while pepper and roasted nuts ease into the ever-growing flavor profile. The burn stays solidly even through two-thirds, but begins to run in the last as the flavors start to sour. This is, no doubt, just an anomaly. Rich, but not too heavy, the ESG is an impressive addition to the Ashton line and worthy of its Fuente Opus X pedigree. It is, indeed, a great cigar. Considering the ESG’s price, however, is it the best in the Ashton line? That is an entirely different matter.

Onyx Reserve Mini Belicoso

The Onyx Reserve has a beautiful dark chocolate, almost jet-black Maduro wrapper that shrouds its box-pressed guts. At 5” x 52 with a belicoso head, this is a perfect dessert smoke. The firm draw brings a mouth-watering cocktail of cocoa, espresso and spice that seem to surge past one another with each puff. A slight splattering of vanilla finds its way to the taste-buds and adds just enough sweetness to ignite dreams of sipping cappuccinos on a lazy day in Venice. Before digging out the passport, though, a hot pepper taste begins to wash out the more pleasant flavors and back to reality. The medium/full-bodied profile makes this change tolerable and so the frustration is slight and soon forgotten. It has a decent aroma, but it is thick and lingering. The Onyx just does not maintain the flavors deep enough into the smoke to completely satisfy, but it does have some great things going for it. This is a lot of cigar for the money and a worthy adventure for cigar enthusiasts of all tastes.

Brioso Corona

This Brioso is an interesting middle-of-the-road smoke from the makers of Macanudo, Partagas, Punch, etc. It has a medium brown wrapper that is on the rough side, but appears richer than its humble, bundled-cigar price tag. It sparks up well with immediate pepper and wood flavors. These flavors run the entire smoke, picking up a meaty leather undertone along the way. The draw is good and the burn is fairly even, with a little hiccup here and there. The ash is a dark grey and clumpy, but firm enough not to end up in your lap. The 5 ½” x 44 Corona just about met expectations (which were not very high) and is an average cigar at best, but not a bad way to go if looking for something more affordable or just don’t want to waste the high-end sticks when out and about

Quesada Jalapa Belicoso

The 6 1/8” x 52 belicoso is wrapped in a leathery Nicaraguan “Jalapa” leaf and gives off a pleasant nutty scent. After the initial light, a perfect draw and burn announce the arrival of roasted chestnuts, caramel and coffee. These delicious flavors and matching aromas maintain throughout, but are occasionally accompanied by leather, cedar, cream and cinnamon. The interplay between these flavors is a glorious symphony of smoke and taste. Instead of a grand finale, however, the lyrical flavor experience quietly fades as pepper and wood take over. Not the perfect finish, but a worthy effort. The Jalapa is a medium-bodied smoke that delivers a great smoking experience. The flavors that develop throughout the smoke are perfectly matched to the silky smooth body. Typical Manuel Quesada creation: Good quality, good value. A great “anytime” smoke that should find a spot in the humidor.

Macanudo Crü Royale Poco Gordo

This chunky 4” x 60 cigar has a dark, oily wrapper that hides an interesting array of flavors and aromas. Mixed nuts start it off and gradually morph into more developed coffee and spice flavors. The ash is firm, the burn even and the aromas tinged with nutmeg, wood and coffee. The body stays fairly consistent for most of the smoke, becoming more intense and robust towards the final stretch. It is here that a mesquite undertone pops up with a pinch of pepper. Not entirely unpleasant, but more of the delicious coffee and spice would be ideal. Nothing earth-shattering in the big picture, but this is a good option for those who want to venture out from milder Macanudo cigars or for those who just want a nice change of pace without breaking the bank.

Gurkha Status Churchill

The bright Connecticut Shade-wrapped beauty emerges from the rich frosted glass tube, looking every bit the star. A sweet lemongrass aroma accompanies the cigar prior to lighting. At first light, an initial straw and balsa taste gives way to sweet cream and cedar. The smoke is mild and smooth, the flavors enticing and straight-forward. The cigar never wavers from its buttery mild-to-medium profile, but develops a sour paper taste towards the end, making it difficult to get your money’s worth out of this 7” x 50 Churchill even with an impeccable draw. The lackluster beginning and frustrating end might be worth the trouble for some though to get to the flavors in between. Perhaps better suited for the “only on special occasions” crowd, this cigar has its faults, but still manages to satisfy enough to give it the benefit of the doubt. Over-the-top packaging and price aside, the Status is a decent mild smoke with some great flavors, but one could definitely do better.

Alec Bradley Prensado Corona Gorda

The Prensado by Alec Bradley is an attractive box-pressed 5 ½” x 46 cigar that has a rich, leathery wrapper both in appearance and aroma. After a pedestrian beginning, cocoa emerges and stays until the very end, intensifying as the moments pass. This is pleasant enough, but nutmeg flavors also emerge and gradually find their way to some very happy taste-buds. The flavors work beautifully together for a while, until the cocoa and leather meet, leaving a bit of a lingering, if not confused after-taste. Although it has its faults, this is another fine Alec Bradley cigar that should please most palates. Recommended, but a larger size might provide an expanded flavor profile.

Romeo by Romeo y Julieta Piramides

Here is yet another line extension to the ever-growing Romeo y Julieta canon. The trendier Romeo is definitely a departure from the usual Romeo y Julieta. Solidly constructed, the Romeo is seemingly wrapped in beautifully well-oiled cowhide. While it does have faint echoes of previous R y J cigars, it adds a new complexity that seems to have escaped its predecessors. Pepper and cinnamon flavors surround the toothy richness that grabs hold and won’t let go. Ever-changing undertones compliment the spiciness of this 6 1/8” x 52 piramide well, but let a familiar Romeo y Julieta sourness into the mix. Romeo y Julieta fans will surely have a strong opinion about this one. Some will praise it as the best ever, while others will no doubt curse its name. Perhaps not for everyone’s taste, the Romeo is still a quality smoke from start to finish.

La Flor de Ynclan Robusto

A uniform Ecuadorian Connecticut-shade wrapper surrounds this attractive robusto (5” x 52) from a somewhat obscure brand. Floral and cedar aromas greet the nose before lighting, after which roasted nuts and toast take over. A dry, woody beginning slowly rolls over into a medium-bodied excursion of spice, coffee and cream. These flavors continue throughout and are not unwelcome, however more complexity would definitely be a plus. The burn is somewhat uneven, but never enough to interrupt the enjoyment. With a little more complexity and slightly better construction this cigar could compete with more-widely available cigars in its price-range. The flavors are enough to give La Flor de Ynclan a chance to be in the rotation, but do not expect to find greatness here. Just a solid, straight-forward smoke.

Flor de las Antillas Sun Grown Toro

At first glance, the beautiful Sun Grown wrapper and elegant cigar band inspire a definite Old World nostalgia. This My Father Cigars creation starts off with a perfect draw and even burn. Tightly formed white ash stays firm and consistent throughout the experience. Rich spice and leather flavors seamlessly dance with subtle notes of pepper.  Beginning mild-to-medium bodied, this 6 ” x 52 cigar gradually evolves into a rich, but never strong smoke.

The Flor de las Antillas will surely remind some of the smokes during the early stages of the 1990’s cigar boom, before the preoccupation with big and bold, “knock you on your butt” cigars.  This is a refined Nicaraguan cigar that will be a fine addition to any humidor. Highly recommended.

Davidoff Aniversario No. 3

The Aniversario No. 3 is nicely sized at 6” x 50 and its construction is pure Davidoff: Impeccable from head to foot. The draw is firm, but pleasant with the light coming easily. The burn is even from start to finish, almost mechanical in its consistency. With each draw, a gentle creaminess gives way to coffee, nut and cedar flavors. Medium in body throughout with a little extra spice in the final half, the Aniversario No. 3 can’t shake a dry, earthy undertone that frustratingly lingers for most of the smoke.  This is its only real drawback and is, perhaps with the help of the right libation, easily ignored.

La Gloria Cubana Serie N “49”

This is a stunning looking cigar with a gloriously dark and oily wrapper that oozes “Smoke me if you dare” attitude.  This particular stick was well made, but the draw was on the verge of being too tight for comfort.  This minor annoyance gave way to a freight train of flavor with a surprisingly smooth texture. Cocoa and pepper are the most prominent flavors, but coffee also lingers throughout. What this straight-forward cigar lacks in complexity, it more than makes up in consistency of taste.

The Serie N 49 (5.75 x 49), with an improved draw, would definitely be added to the “after-dinner” rotation. Setting aside the minor issues, it is perfect for those who want big flavor without waiting for the back-end kick of other smokes.