Kevin is a hospitality business professional working exclusively in guest services. On his free time, he's an avid seeker for the finer dining experience that life has to offer. In 2014, he was introduced to the cigar community. Since then, he's trained his palate vigorously for food, beverage and cigars. Until very recently, he put his experience and taste buds to the test by reviewing cigars.
On this week’s episode, Kevin Sun joined the guys at The Straight Cut on an educational journey, exploring how different binders contribute to the tasting note in a cigar. Created by Luxury Cigar Club in collaboration with Valacari Cigar Company, this first installation in the Cigar University Series will help cigar smokers understand the (often overlooked) impact of the binder.
Nelson Alfonso is widely known for his marketing genius by establishing some of the most iconic brand identities for companies such as Montecristo, Romeo & Julieta, and one of the most sought out Cuban cigars, the Cohiba Behike. However, not everyone has heard of his cigars. Under the Selected Tobacco S.A umbrella, Byron is one of the three cigar brands under his belt (the others are Atabey and Tabacos Bandolero).
The history of this cigar is quite fascinating:
“Byron was the original cigar line produced by Alfonso’s family in the mid-19th Century. It was named after a world-renowned English poet George Gordon Byron, also known as Lord Byron. By the end of the 19th century, the Alfonso family encountered some major financial distress and reluctantly sold the brand to a neighboring cigar manufacturer. After almost a century, Alfonso’s family was able to reclaim the Byron brand.”
You can visit the Selected Tobacco S.A website to get the full version and learn about his other two cigar brands, Atabey and Bandolero.
Cigar Reviewed: Byron Reserva 5 Anos
Size: Habaneros (6” x 56)
Appearance & Construction
The oily Colorado color wrapper shines pristinely under the warm light. It has no blemishes and just one small minor vein is visible. I run my fingers down the cigar and do not feel any soft spots. I can tell this cigar was rolled masterfully, as it takes me a while to find the seam of the wrapper.
Flavor & Smoke Characteristics
The wrapper gives off a scent of sweet vanilla, caramel, and cedarwood. I smell the foot and get tart dried cranberry, plum, and sawdust. After shaving off the cap, I taste oatmeal and cedar from the cold draw.
I take my first puff after lighting the cigar and am a bit disappointed as my tastebuds are bum-rushed with extreme bitterness in the smoke. Once my tastebuds acclimate a bit, I’m able to taste salty burnt peanut, dark leather, and red pepper spice that fades as soon as it hits the flat of my palate. There is an aftertaste of peanut skin, and just like peanut skin, it dries out my tongue. I retrohale the next puffs, and surprisingly it becomes quite floral with flavors of leather, tree branch, and baking spice that linger in my nasal passage.
Thankfully, the dark bitter flavors don’t last too long: by an inch in, the bitterness clears and I taste tree bark, light leather, apple, and a hint of spice at the back of my tongue. The retrohale remains the same so far.
I have to compliment the construction of this cigar. As I enter the second third: the burn line is even the whole time, and the white ash is undisturbed by random gusts of wind as it tunnels through the streets of New York City.
At this point, the Byron becomes very inviting with flavors of freshly baked bread, salted and buttered popcorn, sweet hay, peanut, and blond roast coffee beans. The combination of the flavors reminds me of cracker jacks without the caramel. The retrohale remains floral with almond, cedar, nutmeg, and red pepper spice.
The final third of the Byron is as enjoyable as the second third. I get a strong taste of butter popcorn alongside caramel, granola, cedar, and red pepper spice. As I take the last puff of retrohale, it transports me to a carnival with flavors of apple, marshmallow, cedar, light leather, and cinnamon spice.
The Byron is truly a sophisticated smoke. The overall flavors were flawlessly balanced, and the construction was superb. It was atypical for Byron to open up with such harshness. However, the flavors became delectable after surpassing the first inch of the cigar. What stood out to me the most was the subtle shift in the tasting notes every half an inch or so. Especially when the flavors evolved from buttered popcorn in the second third into cracker jacks during the final third. That being said, this can also be a challenge to review this cigar with the traditional standard of every third.
Ever since my first encounter with them at their launch event at The Carnegie Club back in March 2019, I’ve always had Viva La Vida from Artesano del Tobacco stocked in my humidor. Since then, I have gone through countless boxes in different vitolas, including their follow-up launches of the Jester, lounge exclusives, and club exclusive.
In April of 2020, Billy and Gus Fakih released a line paying homage to the first 500 cigar lounges and patrons whom they believed are the core supporters of the Viva La Vida cigar, the Club 500. I had the good luck of unknowingly blind reviewing this cigar. Read on.
Cigar Reviewed: Viva la Vida Club 500
Wrapper: Nicaraguan Habano Oscuro
Filler: Nicaraguan Corojo 99 & Criollo 98
Size: 6″x60 (Box Pressed)
Appearance & Construction
The dark Oscuro wrapper gives off a red hue under the sunlight. The box-pressed cigar feels heavy and sturdy as I’m squeezing it between my fingers. My fingers become oily from holding onto the cigar for an extended amount of time. I see two minor veins, but it doesn’t hurt the construction. The box-press has leveled all sides evenly. Visually, this cigar is stunning; it reminds me of a chocolate bar.
Flavor & Smoke Characteristics
The wrapper gives off a nutty and vanilla scent. At the foot, the cigar delivers a mixture of apricot, hay, and pepper spice. I shave off the cap and take a cold draw. The flavors are a little muted; a hint of sweetness, dark leather, and cayenne pepper murmur at me. Slowly toasting the foot, a swirl of white smoke spirals around my head, giving off a scent of warm baking spices as they pass by my nose.
An abundance of velvety smoke glides past my palate as I puff on the cigar and drown myself in flavors of roasted peanut shell, barnyard, light leather, tree bark, vanilla, and cayenne pepper spice. I proceed to retrohale the next puff and taste citrus fruits, hay, vanilla, and a sizzling sensation of warm baking spice, only to disappear the second it exits my nose.
Half-way past the first third, the cigar becomes a chocolate bomb: creamy and sweet milk chocolate with light leather and a taste reminding me of a summer breeze. As the flavor disperses, red pepper spice lingers behind, playing punching bag with my uvula. A stream of warm smoke rushes through my nasal path, carrying vanilla, sunflower seeds, barnyard hay, and baking spice.
The flavors continue to enrich themselves as I reach the second third. The sweet and creamy milk chocolate intensifies along with roasted peanut, straw hay, and paprika spice with a citrus aftertaste. Retrohale is very saporous: I taste light leather, dry apricot, roasted peanut, and cinnamon spice. At this point, I feel like I am smoking a cup of Mexican Hot Chocolate.
As if the cigar knows what I was thinking, the flavor profile adjusts itself one last time for the big finale. Right before the sweet and creamy flavor overwhelm my taste buds, honey roasted peanut, hay, and cinnamon spice became the dominant flavors. I thought I was smoking an entirely different cigar. A great ending.
Billy and Gus hit another home run with the Viva La Vida Club 500. The construction was near perfection. The smoke was complex and well balanced with every shift in the flavor profile. I can’t wait to see what Artesano Del Tobacco has in store for us in the future.
In 2011, famed humidor maker Daniel Marshall custom-made a cigar wrapped in an edible gold leaf, specially designed to celebrate his friend’s 64th birthday. Not too long after, Marshall decided to recreate the golden cigar for an over the top “ultra bling” humidor, which was a project given to him by Universal Studios to commemorate the movie Scarface.
The next year, Marshall released another version of the golden DM2 blend named the “24kt Golden Torpedo” to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his company. The cigar itself is a Nicaraguan puro blended by Manuel “Manolo” Quesada and made in the Placencia factory. Each cigar gets rolled in a 24kt Italian gold leaf, which is sourced from the same supplier who provided for the Sistine Chapel. They come in individual coffins and sell for $300 per cigar.
But at such a high price point, could it be worth it? Let’s find out.
Cigar Reviewed: Daniel Marshall 24kt Golden Torpedo
Binder: Nicaragua (Esteli)
Filler: Nicaragua (Jalapa)
Size: 6 1/4″ x 54 (Torpedo)
Appearance & Construction
The Golden Torpedo is an eye-catcher. It glares under the sunlight, making it the brightest object in the dimmed B&M I’m smoking at. Other patrons couldn’t help but notice the shiny cigar, as some thought it was a prop while others recognized it immediately.
After a quick show and tell, I was able to sit down and give 110% of my attention to this cigar. Visually, the Golden Torpedo is stunning. The surface is very glossy, but I can feel the impression of the wrapper through the foil. I give the cigar a firm squeeze between my fingers, and it is unyielding. Upon a closer look, I see a small portion of the gold flaked off by the foot, exposing the habano wrapper.
Flavor & Smoke Characteristics
The gold leaf has a slight waxy smell coming off of it, which kind of reminds me of wax paper for baking. The foot of the cigar gives off a sweet apricot scent followed by white pepper, which tickles my nose. I cut off the triangular cap with my straight cutter and try a cold draw. The taste is exceptionally satisfying with floral notes, dried apricot, persimmon, and sweet hay with an aftertaste of granola. The airflow is on the tight end of the spectrum, about 8 out of 10.
Unlike a standard cigar, lighting the Golden Torpedo takes a while (and a little bit of patience). As I start puffing on the cigar, I taste barnyard, pine nuts, cedar, and black pepper. There is also an aftertaste of bitterness in the smoke. I retrohale the next puff and get a burst of black pepper spice, then hay and dark leather once the pepper disburse. This cigar forces me to continuously puff on it to keep it lit, which makes the bitterness in the smoke more prominent.
Halfway down the first third, I have to relight the cigar twice. On the third time, the filler is not reacting to the flame from my torch. I try to knock the ash off on the side of the ashtray, but the ash is hard like a lump of charcoal. I have no other choice but to cut off the remaining of the first third.
As I relight the Golden Torpedo, I notice a natural sweetness has replaced the bitterness in the smoke. There is also a taste of almond, light leather, and cedar. The retrohale becomes smoother as well, with barnyard and red pepper spice. Unfortunately, the cigar does not stay lit for more than half an inch. The same lighting issue is reoccurring. I have to do the unthinkable twice and cut off another portion of the cigar.
Hoping third time is the charm, I reignite the foot. The flavor profile picks up from where it left off all the way down to the nub. The Golden Torpedo finally burns and tastes like a $300 cigar with creamy smoke, dried apricot, sweet hay, and grain. I shut my eyes close for a second and immediately imagined a bowl of creamy oatmeal with fruits and brown sugar. I end my golden moment with a retrohale, and it leaves me with cedar, almond, and white pepper.
Is Daniel Marshall Golden Torpedo worth $300? No. This cigar did tease me with superb flavors on the cold draw. However, the gold that makes this cigar stands out is also its downfall. Not only does the 24kt gold leaf make the cigar look a bit gimmicky, but unlike natural tobacco wrapper, there is no aeration through the wrapper other than the foot of the cigar. I believe the lack of oxygen was the factor that created the burning issues I experienced throughout the whole smoke.
For the price of this cigar, the Daniel Marshall Golden Torpedo didn’t even come close to my expectation. Despite the negative experience, I am interested in trying the DM2 blend without the gold, seeing as the cold draw and the nub did leave a positive impression on me.
Archetype by Ventura Cigar Co. is not a brand I cross paths with regularly. However, as a fantasy enthusiast, you can imagine my interest after learning about the cigar once the big reveal from my blind review. Archetype originates from the works of psychologist Dr. Carl Jung and mythographer Joseph Campbell. Throughout much of Campbell’s research, he has discovered that in the world myths, ‘Hero’s Journey’ is a common theme used to tell and retell stories in their infinite variations since the beginning of time.
Using the ‘Hero’s Journey’ as a guideline, Archetype came out with their tale under their Fantasy Miniseries; Cloaks, Crystals, and Curses. Today I will be doing a blind review on Curses. As described on their website, “Curses represent the evil forces our hero is pitted against…”. Let’s see what kind of endeavor we would face smoking Curses.
Cigar Reviewed: Archetype Fantasy Miniseries Curses
Wrapper: Connecticut Broadleaf
Binder: Nicaragua Habano
Filler: Nicaragua Habano
Size: Robusto (5″x50)
Appearance & Construction
Just like the name and the description suggested, Curses is true to its nature when it comes to its construction: A dry, toothy, Maduro wrapper a little bit on the rough side. The edge of the wrapper is visible; you can feel the separation, but it still gives off a sturdiness as a whole.
The cigar is pack proportionally, and it is springy as I squeeze it between my fingers. The wrapper gives off a strong smell of sweet and tart raisin, followed by light leather and espresso beans. Off the foot, I get apricot and dry hay. After shaving off the cap, and taking several puffs, I taste leather, sweet stone fruits, and bitter coffee.
Flavor and Smoke Characteristics
I take my first puff of the cigar after lighting and the foot shines like a miniature sun. Immediately, it feel like I get splashed in the face with a cup of dark roast coffee. As the initial flavor disburses, I taste oak, leather, earthy mineral with a hint of bitterness in the smoke, all while an undertone of pepper grows towards the back of my tongue. As I retrohale the next few puffs, the smoke comes through my nostrils with white pepper spice, roasted coffee beans, and almonds. As the first third comes to an end, the ash is still holding on and the burn line is even. The only complaint I have so far is the missing component—creaminess—which I believe would elevate the smoking experience and round up some of the roughness for this cigar.
The second third doesn’t change much, at least not until the halfway mark. Now I’m tasting medium roasted coffee, wheat, almond, and an earthy taste that reminds me of a wet log. On the retrohale, I get sweet black coffee, tree bark, and black pepper. The bitterness in the smoke is gone, replaced by a vegetal aftertaste. At this point, the cigar is enjoyable as it tones down in strength. But the flavors are still not balancing with one another.
In the final act of the Curses, the flavor profiles became even lighter with flavors of blond roasted coffee, sawdust, almonds, and cocoa dust. The retrohale is delightful as I get vanilla, oak, sweet hay, and white pepper. The smoke was so smooth and silky that I was able to retrohale the whole puff without any discomfort.
As I’m arriving at the nub, about three inches left, the Curses decides to reshape the whole flavor profile and introduce a creamy element into the fray, ending my experience with flavors of mocha latte, sawdust, and oats.
Like a villain, the Curses teased my palate throughout the whole smoking experience. Unfortunately, each third felt incomplete as it was missing an element needed to balance out the flavor profiles. It wasn’t until the very end where the missing component makes an appearance and harmonized the flavors. But by that time, I had to put out the cigar as it began to burn my fingers. Perhaps the fantasy miniseries was meant to be smoked back to back in a specific order — like a hero tale, where the end of one leads to the beginning of another.