Juan Lopez Seleccion No. 2

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So the first thing you may notice about the picture above is that we were shooting from the blues when playing golf at Stuart Creek this summer in Alberta.  A beautiful golf course situated in the mountains near Banff Alberta and some of the lowest scorecards I’ve seen us mark all year, which probably had to do with the wine we were drinking the night before.  The second thing you may notice in the above picture is that there is an un-banded Robusto proudly perched and burning with a nice grey ash.

There was a bit of a mystery surrounding this cigar when I bought the box last summer since I was told that the cigars, I picked up from a friend, were in a Juan Lopez Seleccion No. 2 SLB but were un-banded.  Here is where it gets a bit sketchy because Juan Lopez started putting bands on the Selecction No 2 in 2005 and its been that way ever since.  What I didn’t know was the age of the cigars I bought until last night when I phoned my buddy to find out that they are from 2003, he simply didn’t put them in the right box when he decided to sell them to me.  I found this news to be very exciting.

I found something else very interesting about these cigars and it reminds me about something Aaron, the owner of “The Vancouver Cigar Company”, told me last year when he said that he likes smoking cigars that sit in a humidor with a little less humidity than 71, where I like to keep mine.  He said that he finds that smoking cigars that are in a humidor around 66 to 69 to have a very nice effect on their flavor.  Interestingly enough, I’ve been smoking these Juan Lopez cigars from a humidor that usually sits at around 68 and I’ve noticed that the flavor is quite exceptional.

The more damp these cigars are, the more bitter they taste and I was beginning to become quite frustrated with these aged Robustos.  I actually discovered this by accident and then I started doing more reading online about a humidor’s humidity levels and it’s effect on the cigars it holds.  Sure enough, I’ve found that too much moisture will cause the cigar to burn hotter, or at least feel that way, and the taste is altered in a negative way.  Right now as I type away, I have one of these Robustos burning and the flavors are rich and dry, like a dry wine.  The complexity and the evolution of this Seleccion No 2 is giving me a number of different flavors from cedar to a dark coffee and, from time to time, a small amount of Cinnamon.

When young, the Juan Lopez will give you enough strength to consider this to be an after dinner cigar paired with a single malt or Cognac but as it ages, you may want to consider simply water to keep your palate clean and rinsed to taste the subtle flavor notes available in this great Robusto.

Montecristo Regata…Perfect Medium Strength, Mid-day Cigar

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A Montecristo that is catching on with many new smokers is the Open Series Regata, the smaller brother of the Montecristo No. 2 with a tapered head, a 46 ring gauge and 5.3 inches long.  The high quality filler tobacco and smooth, slightly oily wrapper will start off being a bit spicy in the first few puffs but will settle down into a sweet, almost creamy coffee and toasted tobacco profile into its first third.  Halfway into the cigar, a bit more cedar is introduced and then this cigar ends with a steady medium strength that is perfect smoking for a crisp autumn day.

When the “Open Series” from Montecristo was first introduced in 2009, a lot of die hard Monte smokers lined up to buy and finally taste the new cigars that many people were talking about.  Initially the series was met with mixed reviews because the old regulars were expecting an experience similar to the Edmundo and Monte No 2, what they were met with was a flavor profile that didn’t have the strength and maybe the complexity that they were used to.  This was exactly what Habanos expected but weren’t aiming to get the old guard on board, their intention was to introduce a new line of cigars that new smokers could become attached to.

It worked.  Many new cigar smokers are now lining the bottoms of their humidors with the Open Series, whether it be the Regata ( my favorite), the Master, the Eagle or the Junior.  These cigars are the perfect mid day cigar because of their gentle approach and smooth finish that doesn’t overpower the palate with strong flavors of pepper or strong cedar finishes that stay with you for the rest of the day.  Let the Cohiba or Partagas big boys be your companion as you smoke the last cigar of the day.

Montecristo No. 4

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The above picture reveals a Montecristo No. 4, which is a Mareva ( factory name ) and at a 42 ring gauge and 5 inches long.  This will give you a medium to full body, Cuban, handmade cigar that will give you up to an hour of great flavors which are creamy, earthy and complex.  Leather and coffee are two more notes that race to the forefront in the first third that carry through till the end of the cigar.  As this cigar gathers some momentum during and into the second half, beany flavors such as, vanilla, cocoa also come into the profile, giving this compact and elegant cigar a complexity that makes it a classic Cuban that has earned the title of being the most smoked Cuban on the market.

Like most, if not all Cuban cigars, this cigar needs a bit of age to realize it’s full potential and at least 3 years in the humidor is strongly recommended.  These will still smoke, burn and draw well when they’re young but tend to be a bit of a powerhouse that will make you stand up and pay attention if smoked hot and quickly.  With everyday life speeding up for all of us, a Mareva like this one is the perfect size for a short time out with a cigar and a glass of rum.

With popularity and proven quality also comes the danger of running into counterfeiting and copying this cigar.  This is where one should be extra careful in insuring that you get these cigars from a reputable dealer.  The vancouver Company gets it’s cigars from the Canadian distributor, Habanos.  This is as real as getting them from La Casa Del Habanos in Havana and in most cases more safe than Havana shops.  I hate to say it but I feel more secure buying Cuban cigars from my favorite cigar company in Vancouver than pretty much anywhere else.

Always consider that websites that sell Cuban cigars at an unrealistic low price.  Do a bit of homework and see for yourself that there is a middle ground, as far as price goes and if you can buy these more popular brands at a fair price or a little under the norm, you’ll probably be fine… But…… Let your experienced palate be the judge !!  Fake Montecristos simply taste one dimensional and bitter, nothing at all like the real thing.

Guantanamera Company Cigars

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There is no better cigar to have on hand when very occasional cigar smoking friends come over.  This machine made, cellophane covered Cuban cigar measures at a 4.8 inches long and a 40 ring gauge and should please those who are starting out smoking Cuban cigars and don’t want to be left out of the party.  We’ve all been there, you give out a prized Montecristo Edmundo to someone who takes a few puffs and then sets it down in the ashtray because it was just a bit too powerful for the untrained palate.

This machine made cigar is mild, made of Cuban tobacco and gives new smokers a rather enjoyable experience for a small price tag.  Another Guantanamera that I have in my humidor is the Cristales which is packaged in a glass tube and a nice presentation for, again, a modest price.

I won’t go into great detail about the complexity of this brand since this machine made cigar really only gives you a mild toasted tobacco flavor.  The burn and draw are always fine and predictable with this standard cigar, it really doesn’t give you any problems that a lot of other more expensive Cuban cigars are capable of from time to time.

One more thing I’d like to add is that there are times when you don’t want to light up a great old Cuban go-to cigar when you only have a moment for a smoke.  Seasoned smokers buy them for those instances when they are taking a quick trip to the store and only just want a 5 minute smoke.  Letting them go out and re-lighting something like this Guantanamera is no real crime and, after all, they fit into everyone’s budget.

The Right Environment

machine-made-romeo9376y59 Nothing makes me happier than going to one of my humidors, seeing that the moisture level is accurately being monitored with my digital hygrometer and its reading anywhere between 69 to 71.  That tells me that the humidity level is exactly where it should be for aging and storing fine handmade Cuban cigars.  A higher moisture level will result in mold forming on my cigars ( game over ) and anything considerably lower would result in cigars being too dry and bitter when I smoke them.  If you’re planning on aging a cigar for 20 or 30 years, you can get away with the humidity level in a humidor being in the low 60’s but if you’re in any way similar to my way of living, then you’ll probably be smoking them sooner, quite a LOT sooner.

The cigar in the picture is a Romeo y Julieta No. 3 that I’ve had for 4 years.  This is a smaller machine made cigar which appears a bit rough but that’s because I took a close up of the cigar to try to show the small amount of plume that is forming on it’s wrapper.  If you end up with plume or bloom on your cigars, you have an environment in your humidor that is perfect for aging Cuban tobacco.  Pray to every God you can think of that this happens to you, anything less, then you need to do a bit of adjusting to your moisture and heat levels.

Think about what happens to a bottle of fine wine that is left in a warm, even hot and sunny spot in your house.  After a year or two, the only thing the wine would be good for is cooking in a recipe that calls for a bitter purple vinegar.  You wouldn’t treat your wine that way and it’s best to not treat your cigars in the same manner.  A chemical transformation is taking place in your humidor where you are dealing with tobacco that is slowly fermenting, which results in the flavors in the cigar smoke becoming less harsh, less bitter, smoother and more suited for the sophisticated palate.  Many aficionados will not smoke a cigar that is younger than 10 years old, but some of these people also have humidors that hold 10,000 plus cigars.  There’s a whole big world of cigar smokers that have different sizes of bank accounts, different tastes and preferences when it comes to cigars from different cigar producing nations.

I’m simply happy when my cigars age the way they should and taste great!

Trinidad Coloniales

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The picture above features one of my favorite Cuban cigars from Trinidad, the Trinidad Coloniales.  This was one of my favorite cigars a few years back, I smoked many and loved every one of them.  With a 44 ring gauge and 5.1 inches long you get an hour and a half of some of the best cigar smoking time that Cuba has to offer.  This cigar comes in a box of 24 cigars, not 25, and is rolled with superior Cuban tobacco.

This is a creamy cigar with vanilla and caramel flavors dancing around the profile.  Some spice usually enters into the picture in the second third and this cigar ends with  a medium strength finish that is perfect for any afternoon cigar smoking moment.  Not overly complex but as soon as you light this “petit corona”, you’ll easily taste tobacco flavors that were initially enjoyed by the privileged few as they were given out as diplomatic gifts since 1969.  All Trinidads are rolled at “El Laguito” in Havana and are said to be of the same quality tobacco as Cohiba but without the third barrel fermentation process.

In 1998, the Trinidad brand was finally released to the public but only produced one size cigar, the “Fundadores“, exactly the same size as the Cohiba Lanceros, a 38 ring gauge by 7 1/2 inches in length.  In November of 2003, three new sizes were introduced by Trinidad; the Reyesthe coloniales and the wonderful Trinidad Robusto Extra.  The Trinidad brand released the Trinidad Robusto-T, last year in 2010 which was a big success.  I loved that cigar which was a bit shorter at 4 inches long and a 50 ring gauge and packed with rich flavor.

The more I spend time thinking about authentic Cubans versus counterfeits, I see the advantage to searching out cigars, like Trinidad, which are more likely to be the real thing.  Basement cigar factories in Havana tend to roll cigars that sport the more popular labels like Cohiba, Montecristo and Romeo y Julieta.  We’ve all smoked them, I’d say that 99% of us find them disgusting and should be avoided at all costs.  One more reason to move forward and search out Cuban cigars that the rest of the pack does NOT smoke exclusively.

Quintero Brevas With Good Friends

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Perched atop a glass of Merlot, above in the picture,  is a Quintero Brevas.  This cigar may not be the most expensive Cuban you will find nor will it be the most complex but it is in a class with Jose L. Piedra as being a cigar that will give you more than you might expect for the money you’ll spend.  We are entering into the winter months and just beginning a time when you may not want to light up a cohiba or Trinidad on a cold day outdoors.

With 5 1/2 inches long and a 40 ring gauge, you’ll get over an hour of smoking time from this moderately priced cigar and it will give you clouds of smoke, an easy draw and an even burn.  Not bad for a machine made cigar but miles ahead of Non-Cuban brands at the same price.  This is, once again, something that amazes me about Cuban cigars.  Its the soil, the sun and the age old tradition of making cigars without any additives that gives us this kind of flavor.

There is a bit of power in this small cigar.  Like I mentioned before, complexity is what you WON’T find but you’ll get loads of cedar, a bit of leather and a moist earthy finish that lasts for some time on your palate.  The cigar does NOT evolve as it burns down but DOES stay very pleasant as long as you don’t smoke it very hot.

I’m not sure that pairing a cigar with any kind of wine is good for me since I’m really a Scotch guy, but I had no problem with these two vices I cling to.  The evening spent with friends, cigars and wine was more than worth while and I’d do it again in a heart beat.

2010 Gordito de Allones-Edicion Regionale

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The last cigar I’ll talk about from our road trip a few days back is the Canadian release for 2010, the Ramon Allones-gorditos de Allones.  I have to admit that it was quite a day for trying different cigars, an extravagant experience indeed.  This Edicion Reginale was purchased the same day a year ago along with the Bolivar B2 and they had a year to age in my humidor, giving them the time needed to give off the ammonia that alters the taste of a young cigar.  In the case of this cigar, I was very happy I waited as long as I did.  That being said, I find that Ramon Allones is a Cuban brand that I can smoke quite happily when they are young, but aging a cigar always helps.

I found the construction of this Robusto Extra to be perfect, with a smooth dark caramel wrapper, slightly spongy feel from head to foot and no hard spots or lumps which would harm the draw.  This cigar’s draw was, in my opinion, perfect since I really love a bit of a wind tunnel.  Pre-light draw only revealed subtle barnyard notes, somewhat grassy and mild, but upon lighting, the first few puffs were spicy and revealed the unmistakable Ramon Allones flavor I love.  The first third was very similar in taste to the “Specially Selected”, with it’s dark chocolate and sweet spice, but maybe had a bit more power.  The burn was perfect going into the second third, the darkish ash held firmly and, as a cigar usually behaves, this cigar was starting to build in strength and flavors were starting to evolve.  The sweetness of the cigar stayed throughout, as did the flavors of dark chocolate and herbs, but the cigar never became bitter.  As we smoked this cigar, we were quite amazed with it’s construction, great burn, easy draw and full flavor.

Anyone who loves the Ramon Allones brand and who have smoked this cigar would easily be able to see that the best of all worlds were represented in this Robusto Extra.  When you smoke a more rare cigar, there’s always a feeling of exclusivity in knowing that not all cigar smokers world wide are tasting, or will ever be tasting, what you have in your hand. In this case only 2.500 boxes of 10 cigars were produced for this Edicion Regionale, making it a small number of 25,000.

Something that leaves me scratching my head is the fact that the Robusto Extra at 5 3/5 inches long and with a 50 ring gauge is a size that is used rarely in Cuban cigars.  The Trinidad Robusto Extra and the San Cristobal de la Habana La Fuerza are the only Cuban cigars in regular production that comes in this size which leaves me asking why so few?  The robusto is a size that is very popular with cigar smokers and these two are roughly half an inch longer, giving you probably 8 to 10 more minutes minutes of smoking time.  But………………… Havana, through the years, has produced a number of cigars in this size for regional editions and limited editions, making this the size for a special occasion. I guess I can get used to that.

Juan Lopez-Edicion Regionale-Asia Pacifico 2010

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Juan Lopez started this brand in the 1870’s and although not a lot of cigar smokers know great amounts about these cigars, true followers of the Lopez brand gravitate towards the vitolas as a go-to cigar when they want rich and powerful taste from the tobacco used from the Vuelta Abajo region of Cuba.  These are a very consistent cigar made from long filler and totally hand made.  Last year Juan Lopez released a Piramides to the Asia Pacifico region and this torpedo was met with enthusiasm from lovers of this size cigar with the dimensions being a 52 ring gauge and 6 1/8 inch in length.

This cigar felt slightly spongy from head to foot with no hard spots or lumps to deter from a good draw and after the head was clipped, a very slight amount of resistance revealed that this would be a cigar that would be easy to smoke.  The pre-light draw revealed slight amounts of musky earth and a grassy herbal taste that I love.  This is a very exciting moment for any cigar smoker, the moment when you are given a subtle preview of the cigar’s character which leaves you wondering what the future will bring.

First few puffs were, as usual with almost every Cuban cigar, a bit tart with pepper coming through as the main contributor to the flavor.  Not unlike the Juan Lopez Seleccion No. 2, this torpedo let me know that I was in for a wild ride of flavors and strength unsuited for the faint of heart.  I’m not saying that this cigar had power that almost any cigar smoker would have a problem with, I’m only telling you that this was a full flavored, in your face reminder that smoking a cigar slowly will coax the very best out of the tobacco.

Entering into the second third, I was reminded that Cuba must pay a lot of attention to the construction of these Limited and Regional releases, since the construction of of what I was smoking was perfect in every way.  An even burn and great draw that gave me clouds of billowing smoke, was so enjoyable to experience especially since this cigar needed no touch-ups whatsoever from start to finish.  Pepper, cedar and a very strong espresso stayed with me as I approached the moment when I set the nub down to rest, not a cigar who’s flavors vary greatly but one which built in strength without ever being bitter or harsh.

As I smoked this wonderful No 2, I kept thinking about how lucky I am to be living in a country where these hard to get cigars are available.  “The Vancouver Cigar Company”, founded and ran by very experienced smokers and lovers of Cuban tobacco, help me immensely with all I need whenever I’m looking for a Cuban cigar that is a bit tough to find.

Bolivar B2 On The Road

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A few days back as my friend, Tom, and I were driving back from Alberta, we decided to smoke a few cigars together and our first choice for the day was the 2010 Canadian Edicion Regionale from Bolivar, the B2.  I bought a few last fall and smoked one right away, then let the rest age for a while in the humidor.  What a great idea that was, a year can make a huge difference for a young cigar and this one turned into a wonderful smoke.

The pre-light draw from this 6 inch, 52 ring gauge torpedo was a full on barn yard with cedar notes and dry hay.  I remember growing up on a farm and the taste reminded me of what it smelled like whenever hay bales were around, usually the end of July was when the baling took place.  First third was like heaven with more hay, cedar and leather coming through in a very balanced way.

As this cigar entered into the second third, we detected that there wasn’t a real evolution of flavors taking place but a real beauty that held firmly until the final third started revealing some change.  Bitter chocolate was now becoming part of the profile which became considerably stronger as we finished this cigar.  Strength was something that we were commenting on as we smoked this Piramides, I love a very strong cigar, I love smoking them to the very last finger blistering half inch and I was in Heaven with the B2.

I can’t stress enough that you can have a cigar behave one way when young and then move into a very different direction after a lot of the initial presence of ammonia is gone.  Very real and distinct flavors start to emerge as the cigar slowly ferments in your humidor, the first few years see the most change then start to slow down after five years goes by.  The B2 may be one of the best cigars Bolivar has produced, don’t get me wrong, I love all of the cigars in the Bolivar line but this one is the best I’ve seen from them in a long time.