A Saturday of Intrigue…

Yesterday was a pretty good day all told.  I made my way into London to spend a day herfing with a friend and had quite a day smoking, eating, drinking and looking at some real gems from the cigar world.

Sautter's Humidor

The Humidor in Sautter's of Mount St (Click picture to enlarge)

Upon arriving at Paddington I decided that the weather was just fair enough for me to take a morning stroll across to Sautter’s of Mount Street in Mayfair.  I made a quick caffeine stop at the Mount Street Deli before my first cigar (the Deli: good coffee, very slow service).  I moved a couple of doors down to Sautter’s, which is situated opposite the Connaught Hotel, the home of de Gaulle throughout the Second World War.  As I entered, I spotted the familiar face of Nic Wing (Cities in Sound – Cuban Cigar Walk London) who was, if I recall correctly, trying out a Fuente Opus X of some description.  A brief trip to the humidor in search of a Hoyo de Monterrey ‘Le Hoyo’ of some description – an ideal morning range in my opinion – yielded a du Maire, a tiny little smoke, and the only Le Hoyo that is available as a single from Sautter’s well stocked but small walk-in humidor.  It was a nice, light and quick start to the day’s smoking, taking around 30 minutes to smoke – aside from a slightly tight draw, it just about hit the spot.

Just as Nic and the team at Sautter’s started showing off some of the really interesting stock that’s hidden away in the vaults under Mayfair, my herfing buddy for the day arrived.  Just in time for the show…  Two treasures spring to mind.  One was a box of old (70-90 years) Castañeda cigars which seem to have been sent so someone in lieu of gold…  Castañeda was one of the brands which eventually merged to become today’s Fonseca marque.

Two Budles in the H.Upmann Cabinet

The other treasure, and this really was something to behold, was a cabinet of H.Upmann cigars. (Thankyou to Nic for the picture, right).  Here I am referring to the original cabinet – more akin to a cupboard or sideboard than today’s slide-lid boxes…  The date of this cabinet, which originally contained 500 cigars of various vitolas, is believed to be 1897.  Not just pre-Revolution or pre-World Wars, but pre 20th Century!  The cabinet was originally sent to Devon, and there remains just over 300 cigars – one can only imagine the Victorian gentlemen lining up in the gun room to have their post-shoot cigar.  What a welcome return from a possibly miserable, wet shoot in the Devon countryside (which can definitely be an unforgiving part of the country).  An interesting bit of trivia, rumour has it, is that two of the cigar names from this cabinet are front-runners to be the names of the next two UK Regional Editions…

However, back to the cigars of today.  My second cigar at Sautter’s was a Romeo y Julieta Cedros No3.  It was a pleasant smoke as well, and just hit the spot before heading off for a light lunch at Carluccio’s.  Great cigars, great Italian food and some Peroni Gran Riserva beer certainly got the day off to a wonderful start.

After lunch it was a stroll along New and Old Bond Streets, gazing longingly into some of the wonderful shops which line those streets, towards St James.  A quick stop in Berry Brothers to pick up a bottle of chilled Sancerre was our only diversion from JJ Fox, our intended destination.  Unfortunately, we were slowly running out of time, so our planned post-dinner Churchills had to go by the wayside – and I was so looking forward to a H.Upmann Sir Winston…  I decided to finally give the new UK Regional Edition a test run, so picked up a La Flor de Cano Short Robusto.  I was certainly three-for-three on the day though, as the LFdC was a very pleasant smoke, with lots of buttery richness; the only downside was a slight lack of progression as the cigar developed.

The Day Ends at JJ Fox

As I made my way back to Paddington, I was glad that I’d made the trip across from the West Country – some good company in the form of Nic Wing and Dan Ward, some good cigars, some good food and a very nice bottle of wine.  Little did I know that my dodgy knee was going to be so painful once I’d got back home!  I hope you enjoyed the read, and don’t forget that over the coming days I’ll be posting reviews of all three cigars that I smoked, so keep checking back.

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El Rey del Mundo Cafe au Lait (NC)

(Size: 4 1/2″ x 35  —  Time: 25mins)

As  haven’t made notes on my last couple of cigars, here’s one from the archives for you…

To get us started with this reminiscing… do you know just how bleeding cold it is outside at nine o’clock of an evening in February… In the face of such perilous dangers I took precautions by taking the airs whilst resembling Scott of the Antarctic. Grabbing the smallest stick I could find, I headed out for a little smoke. That stick happened to be an ERdM (NC) Cafe Au Lait. Anyway, here are my thoughts from that arctic night…

Appearance /15

This little Honduran bad boy had a reasonably dark wrapper. The wrapper was smooth, with little by way of veins. However, it laked a nice sheen and was ever so slightly flakey. Indeed, when removing the band as I approached the end of the smoke, it snagged (quite innocuously I thought) on the end and a very small piece of wrapper just crumbled off… 12

Smoking Characteristics /25

Pre-light, the aromas were reminscent of a nice spring garden… Given that it was so cold, and so bleedin’ windy, I was not expecting the cigar to behave itself all that well. I need not have worried, it was a true gent. It lit first time, evenly. The cigar burned magnificently throughout the length of the stick. The ash was equally as impressive: a strong, grey ash was the proof of smoking. Most impressive was the beautiful, concentric rings all the way down the length of the ash (see below). The draw was also nigh on perfect. The way this cigar smoked was almost faultless. 25

Flavour /25

On lighting, the Cafe au Lait was quite light (arguably slightly floral). As we moved towards the quarter-mark, the flavours started to develop and round towards more leathery notes. It continued to be smooth and mellow through the middle third – however, it did seem to lose its way, lacking a certain something during this period. As the cigar approached the final third it developed some slightly woody and even citrusy notes before swiftly hitting that hard to identify cigar quality… it’s an almost Scotch like pepperiness. This approachable pepperiness then mingled with a creaminess as the cigar drew to a close – this final twist had qualities which were akin to Granny’s very alcoholic brandy sauce. Overall, the flavours were mild, but they did develop through the cigar. 19

Overall Impression /35

Honduras… I’m not sure that I had delved into the Honduran jungles until this cigar, and its somewhere that I’m not averse to returning to. The ERdM Cafe Au Lait was a mild and light smoke. Whilst it provided a developing profile, it never really got out of second gear. There was nothing offensive about this cigar and some strong positives – the construction particularly, which was almost perfect. It’s a short, 25-30 minute smoke which is ideal when it’s a little nippy (though still slightly too long when it was as Baltic outside as it was on this occassion…). I was drinking Caffrey’s with this, but it’s a cigar which could probably stand up to a slightly stronger drink. Either way, if you get the chance to try one, give it a go. 28

Grand total… 84/100

Cohiba Behike BHK 52

(Size: 4 3/4″ x 52  —  Time: 1hr 10mins)

 

After months of anticipation, Cohiba’s new premium line of cigars, the Behikes, hit the markets in May. I was lucky enough to be at the launch party in London (see previous post) – the first opportunity to try outside of Cuba itself. I’ve been over the back-story of the new Behike line a couple of times before, so won’t do so again – if you missed it before, just click on the link above. They are of course ‘new’ Behikes, with a previous release of ultra-premium cigars going before.

This review is based on three separate experiences of smoking the BHK 52. It’s an expensive cigar, coming in at around £28 per stick in the UK, for something which is essentially robusto sized.

Appearance /15

 

Let’s start with the band. A little showy perhaps, but a thing of beauty I’d have to say personally – I know the ‘showiness’ is a devisive issue amongst many cigar smokers; however, as I remove my bands early on where possible, it is not something which worries me. Interestingly, one of the reasons for the new band was so that two security holograms could be incorporate – a further step by Habanos SA to try and reduce the risk of consumers paying big money for knock-offs. Can you spot the two holograms? As for the cigar itself: the wrapper is a beautiful shade, nice and deep with just a few small veins and a well applied cap. Not bad at all. 14

 

Smoking Characteristics /25

 

The aroma, pre-light, was slightly vegetal. It lit nicely first time, and the draw was absolutely perfect from the off. These cigars are well packed, containing lots of tobacco, so it is no surprise that they give off satisfyingly large amounts of smoke. Wonderful! The burn started off straight-and-true. The burn line was crisp and even throughout – something which I absolutely adore, there is nothing I like less than a lot of trouble with touching up, dampening etc to try and keep it well behaved – the BHK 52 has clearly been to a Swiss finishing school… The only, remarkably small, issue which I can bring up is the aroma of the smoke. Not something I’d usually notice – and indeed I didn’t – but when smoking in company it’s always interesting to hear their thoughts. The BHK 52, is not, apparantly, as aromatic as the CAO La Traviata which I enjoyed the day before. 24

 

Flavour /25

 

With the use of the fabled medio tiempo leaf from the top tobacco plant (the first two primings of specific plants to be exact), the Cubans anticipated the addition of a smooth, flavourful power which would be difficult to balance well by using just ligero for the strength. It works. Straight from the powerful first draw this cigar manages to give you a good medium-to-full body and flavour profile whilst never feeling overpowering. It started off smooth and creamy – my notes from one day described it as a ‘Cohiba on steroids’ – all those great flavours, just with a little extra punch. Maybe because these were pretty much the first shipment, but at around the one-third stage, there were some vegetal flavours coming into the experience. The had a taste which, whilst not unpleasant, certainly felt inconspicuous given the creamy array of other flavours, which included a middle-third providing a wonderful lingering ‘finish’ in the mouth which was sweet and crab-like. As we neared the final third, the intensity of flavours rose again. The creaminess, accompanied by the crab-like sweetness, gave way to far crisper flavours: Aztec style chocolate came to mind – a great combination of cocoa with a slight spiciness too. This too developed as the burn line approached the nub… Just as my fingers were starting to burn, a final twist excited me. The spiciness ramped up a little (not in a harsh, end-of-cigar way), and a great richness came through too, coating the mouth like a fine wine. Complexity and great development mark this cigar out as being potentially phenomenal. For now it will have to settle for great… Maybe with a couple of years on these the slightly out of place vegetal interlude will fade, leaving a cigar worthy of a full 25 marks for flavour? For now… 23

 

Overall Impression /35

 

What an incredible cigar this is. Faultless construction, great complexity and as gorgeous as a Victoria’s Secret shoot. A couple of minor flaws, yes, but many of these will probably disappear with a couple of years in the humi – indeed, despite the wonderful tobacco used, one has to acknowledge that these are still young cigars. Of course, a major talking point of any of the BHK cigars will be their price. This little boy comes in at £28… The BHK 56 is slightly more ey-watering. So, unless you are crazy rich, these will be celebration cigars for most people. And what a great way to celebrate. Hopefully the larger vitolas of this line will live up to the promise of the 52, because two and a half hours of this would be very well spent… 32

 

Grand total… 93/100

UPDATE: (11 June 2014) Since their release, as one might imagine, the Cohiba BHK line of cigars has been a target for counterfeiters.  This was in-spite of a raft of security measures (as detailed above).  In response to this issues, the authorities have updated these measures.  Details of what you should now be looking out for, when current production starts hitting the shelves, can be found here: http://www.cigaraficionado.com/webfeatures/show/id/17649

Cain Cigars – UK Launch

Last night saw the UK launch of Cain cigars at an excellent and social evening at Dunhill’s Bourdon House. Cain is the latest line from Sam Leccia – the marketing and cigar guru who gave us Nub.

Cain cigars are straight ligero leaf stogies. Ligero comes from the very top of a tobacco plant and is the leaf which gives a cigar strength and power. Sensibly, however, Leccia uses triple fermented tobacco, which means you still get the appropriate kick, but its part of a much smoother experience. Leccia uses three main regions for his tobacco, which each produce ligero with slightly different characteristics.

Esteli, Condega and Jalapa are the main sources, each being further north than the previous. As well as getting progrssively further north, as you go from Esteli, through Condega, to Jalapa the amount of sun these leaves receives is slightly less, producing tobacco with a smoother profile, and less power in Jalapa and Condega than in Esteli.

Only two of the Cains are being launched at the moment in the UK. Unfortunately, due to the current supply/demand in the States, we’re going to have to wait for the Cain F to be released over here. The maduro, which I smoked at the launch, is a decent cigar – it had just the right stength and power, but was never harsh or overpowering. In this sense it had a similar characteristic to a good Bolivar (however, I felt it lacked the complexity of one). The habano, which is being renamed Nicaraguan for the UK market. I suspect for fear of causing trouble with Hunters and Frankau, who distribute Cuban cigars (made by Habanos SA) in the UK.

When I get around to smoking the habano version of the Cain I shall write up a review. As for the maduro… I’d give it roughly 87.

Check out Mitchell at CGars own account of the evening (including some nice photos)… click here.

The Mystery Robusto… (NC)

A man who I’m sure is known to many in the online cigar world, G-man (aka Mike), sent me a small collection of cigars recently. Amongst which were (to name but three): the glorious looking Oliva V Churchill; a shaggy, pig-tailed Kristoff maduro robusto; and a mystery robusto – his special blend we are led to believe. Others who have tried it enjoyed it… but did I?

Appearance /15

You can see from the photo that this cigar has quite a light wrapper. It had a few veins, but nothing too pronounced and not too many. It was firm to the touch, but not overly so – a credit to the regulating qualities of both its cellophane wrapper and my aluminium tubo. The cap was reasonably well applied, though not necessarily the neatest. Overall a decent appearance. 13

Smoking Characteristics /25

Beyond the appearance of this cigar, the first thing which you note is the wonderful, if feint, aroma of chocolate at the foot… Now I’m presuming, as Mike is an American chap (hey, nobody’s perfect, right… ), that this light hued robusto is of non-Cuban origin. As such, I begin to expect certain things of the construction – namely for it to be better than that of most Cubans… Well, it certainly starts off on the right foot – it lights very decently and burns well and evenly from the outset. At the get-go the draw was slightly looser than I personally like, but it improves as the smoke progresses. What is noticeable throughout is a strong, attractive ash – nice and bright with concentric rings building up as I smoked. The strength of this cigar would best be categorized as light-to-medium, no more. So, aside from a very minor issue with the draw, this cigar was (as expected) excellently constructed. The only real negative was the aroma, which wasn’t so great – it started with a tribute to the pre-light chocolate, but soon went down an oddish path. Hey ho. 23

Flavour /25

Whilst I generally expect the world from a non-Cuban on the construction front, I expect a fair amount less on the flavour front. I’ve certainly smoked some nice NCs, but they are just not as consistent. A archetypal example being the Vegas de Tabacalera Robusto (reviewed previously) – the first half of which probably ranks in my top five ‘half-of-a-cigar’ rankings (the other half being just, well, wrank). So what was I going to get from this? Not a clue! Well… as I took some nice and deep early draws, I got the milky, chocolatey-ness which the aroma suggested before lighting. It was quite mild, but nice. Soon though, it took on a greenish, metallic taste – almost reminiscent of the sort of taste which blood leaves in your mouth. Very odd. However, this soon lost its edge, and left me with something more akin to a very strong cup of black tea. Whilst the intensity changed periodically, following the chocolatey opening, this was the only real characteristic which I picked up from this cigar. To summarise… chocolatey opening, became slightly metallic around one-third, but by half way had settled into a tea-like profile. Not fantastic, but it had more than one dimension and moved swiftly on from the slightly dodgy metallic notes. 19

Overall Impression /35

Well, I’d have to say that I have been lucky to get to try a G-man mystery robusto! It’s certainly not a bad cigar, though it’s not in the top echelons either. The construction is great and the appearance reasonable. The flavours didn’t develop too much and there was a slight lake of complexity, but nothing fatal. With the variety of cigars I’ve yet to try, I doubt that I’d go out of my way to pick one of these up at the store (that is, if I knew what it was), but I’d be very happy to smoke it again were the opportunity to arise. 29

(So… to answer the question at the start of the review. Yes, I suppose I did enjoy it).

Grand total… 84/100

Vegas Robaina Don Alejandro

(Size: 7 5/8″ x 49  —  Time: 2hrs 15mins)

I smoked the Don Alejandro a couple of weeks back at the Hunters and Frankau evening held at the the Ten Manchester Street Hotel. It’s a cigar which I had wanted to try for some time, being a huge fan of the VR line of cigars. It seemed a fitting tribute to the great Don Alejandro Robaina who sadly passed away in April.

As well as a fitting tribute to one of the greatest tobacco growers of the last one-hundred years, the VR Don Alejandro will also be the first of the ‘World Cup selection’ I shall be reviewing – a few cigars which should see you through a whole match: from kick off to final whistle.

If I remember correctly, scuttlebutt was that the evening’s cigars came from a 2007 box in H&F’s chamber of wonderment. That wouldn’t surprise me at all, it was a nice, refined smoke, as I shall now describe…

Appearance /15

What a great looking cigar the Don Alejandro is. It has the typical milky wrapper (perhaps a little too light for some tastes) and just the right amount of smooth lustre too – both of which you expect on a VR cigar, both helping to create a good first impression. There were just a couple of very small marks or veins preventing perfection, but this was still a great looking cigar! To the touch it was a good story too: nice an firm, but with just the right hint of springiness at the foot. 13

Smoking Characteristics /25

The Don Alejandro lit nicely on the first attempt, I suspect that this may have aided the great early burn – so straight you could measure it with a spirit level… The draw was excellent throughout the whole cigar. However, for a short period at the very start of the cigar the amount of smoke produced was not quite enough for my liking, though this soon sorted itself out. At around the half-way stage (which was over an hour in) there was a slight issue with the burn, which started to become a little uneven, but it was nothing too drastic, and only a couple of minor touches were required to keep it in check. Towards the end of this large cigar, as you might expect, the draw became a little bit tighter, and even purging didn’t help too much. Surprisingly though, it only needed a relight once, and that was at around the two-hour mark – so you could happily lie it down there-and-then and be very happy with the experience you’d had. Overall, a couple of minor issues, but cigars of this size are rarely without a small imperfection or two. 22

Flavour /25

Right off the bat the Don Alejandro was smooth, wonderfully smooth. It was a light, peppery start which had a cream like feel in the mouth. As the cigar progressed to the one-third stage, the flavours became slightly sweeter, with the cream leading to a lovely milk-chocolate profile – one of those wonderfully VR flavours for my money. As the cigar burned down, further typically VR flavours came to the fore, with the milk chocolate gaining the slightly stronger profile of dark chocolate. Some nuttiness was here and there too, with roasted almond hanging around at times, especially with the darker chocolate notes. What a delectable cigar this was turning out to be! Finally, the nutty, cocoa led to a creamy coffee which increased in intensity as this big, double-corona, cigar reached its climax. Just a hint of harshness was present at the end, however, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, after a cigar has been burning for well over two-hours there are a couple of things that are essentially inevitable… That aside, this was a beautiful cigar, and I don’t doubt for a second that it had at least three years of age on it – the flavours were wonderfully rounded and they were fantastically balanced. A well blended cigar. 23

Overall Impression /35

This is a big cigar, named after a big man in the Cuban tobacco world. Alejandro Robaina was so brilliant that the cubans named a brand after his family (Vegas Robaina), he was so revered that they named a cigar after the man himself – the Don Alejandro. Unfortunately that cigar is now a tribute to the man. It is, however, a very fitting tribute. At over two-hours long it provides a great afternoon or sports cigar. It is well belnded, and the flavours develop and change harmoniously. The strength is just right, starting a little below medium and working up to a little above medium towards the slightly more powerful finale. It is a joy to smoke, but it isn’t completely without fault. This is definitely one to bring out of the humi for a World Cup match. I very much doubt that I’ll be watching any of the matches myself, but I’ll certainly be smoking many more of these. 33

Grand total…  91/100

A day on the cigar trail…

Yesterday (Monday 24th May) was an excellent day for a herf. The temperature was rocketing in London, and any decent cigar store, being climate controlled, would provide excellent respite from the relentless sun.

And so it was, after a brief bit of ‘business’ at lunch-time, I hopped on a train to Teddington with fellow UKCF member Max. We were, of course, heading to La Casa del Habano – the officially franchised cigar store of the Cuban cigar giant Habanos SA. Ajay Patel, the store’s passionate owner showed us the delights of his humidors, and they were certainly delightful! One of the advantages of being a LCdH store is access to all kinds of brilliant goodies, and eyeing up the various anniversary humidors for the likes of Cohiba and Partagas made me seriously consider a stint as a bank robber.

Perhaps a more realistic target for us mere mortals would be to purchase some of the massive range of Regional Editions which Ajay stocks. It is almost a case of just naming what you want (he’s probably got it somewhere…) Swiss, Spanish, Canadian and even Lebanese are just a small selection of the regions he’s managed to source from. One piece of advice given to us later in the evening – and I feel that I must share this with everyone – is not to take a credit card with you. Get the cash out and leave everything else at home, the store is such a treasure trove that you will spend lots of money if you’re not careful. As it was, I bought three cigars on the day. The one I sampled in the lounge was the Bolivar Simones (Canadian RE from 07) – it has had a lot of good things said about it – all correct. I’ll try and post my thoughts soon.

Ajay and his wife also organize a cigar smokers club, members are able to store their cigars at the store in an excellent humidified box and make use of the lounge for ‘sampling’ – Thursday night’s late session by all accounts is very popular and it certainly sounds as though the members are a welcoming and sociable bunch.

Following our, longer than expected, visit to Teddington, we made it to the No10 Manchester Steet Hotel for Hunters and Frankau’s cigar tasting evening – with the Vegas Robaina Don Alejandro being the focus of attention. Thankfully things had cooled down a bit by the time we got there, and despite missing Simon Chase’s talk on Don Alejandro the person (who sadly passed away a little over a month ago) and some background about the cigar, the evening was an excellent finale. As ever at these events, the social nature of cigar smoking shone through. Despite knowing many of the attendees from UKCF, I spent a good deal of time chatting away with new acquaintances on subjects as diverse as nuclear deterrence and bikini mud-wrestling (as you do). The cigar was paired with a vodka martini (not a martini then…), though Max was able to persuade them, with little trouble, to substitute the vodka for a real spirit – gin!

My verdict on the Don Alejandro will be up in due course, but I hope you enjoyed the account of the day. If you are able to get into London for any of the events coming up then you really must – you won’t be disappointed.

Link: LCdH in Teddington

A couple more pics from the members’ lounge at LCdH, Teddington (just click):