And another one done! It’s time to take stock and review my overall impressions of the Fusion of Flavor Sampler from Pipes & Cigars. I unbagged the sampler on October 22, 2014, a few days after it arrived (since I was still out on my book tour then.) Like most of the Pipes & Cigars samplers the packaging was fairly simple. Unlike some of their other samplers it did not come with any accessories (like cigar cutters). It took me about eight and a half months to finish the sampler, smoking when I chose to between other cigars and other projects. Some of them stored better than others, and some I liked considerably better than others.
My favourite of the lot was the Indian Tabac Ltd. Reserve, my choice for the February meeting of the Okanagan Pipe & Cigar Club (February 3, 2015.) I called it “A Ray of Sunshine.” I was impressed with the “light butter, clover and honey elements . . . perhaps a dash of vanilla,” which picked up a spicy element in the second third that reminded me of pumpkin pie (and I speculated that might be a nutmeg taste I was detecting.) Being a Rocky Patel I initially doubted its “medium-bodied” rating, but I was pleasantly surprised that the description actually was accurate, unlike many other RP products, which often turn out to be much stronger than indicated. Despite some concerns about its construction, since the cap was peeling when I opened it, it stayed together nicely and turned into an excellent smoke. As I said:
It was the perfect compliment for the weather, the conversation, and the coffee I had near the beginning of the afternoon, and the hot apple cigar I had near the end.”
I couldn’t give it a perfect mark because of the cracking, but I did enjoy it enough to give it four and a half stars; pretty high praise coming from me!
There were three sticks that tied for second place, at a rating of four stars:
“Irish Eyes (Were) Smiling” when I smoked the Erin Go Bragh on St. Patrick’s Day (I wrote about it March 24, 2015). I described it as “a fine looking, golden cigar with a solid double cap, a beautiful Indonesian Connecticut-shade wrapper, and almost no veins or seams to speak of – very attractive!” And I loved the label, “which features a golden harp surrounded by lovely green and orange, bringing the Orange the Green together at last . . .” I observed that the Connecticut-shaded wrapper had “a pleasant wrapper note and pre-light draw that reminded me distinctly of Irish cream.” The promise was proven in the pudding:
I clipped it with my portable single-guillotine and amazingly it clipped easily (thicker cigars often don’t do well with the single-cut). The initial draw was everything I had hoped for: mild-tasting buttery and creamy tobacco with just a hint of Irish whiskey. There was no work at all for the draw; a very forgiving, delicious, medium-bodied smoke, perhaps ideal for the novice to sink her teeth into.”
As I noted, the benefit (and drawback) of aromatics tends to be consistency, and the Erin Go Bragh was consistent. In this case I liked that. “Needless to say that since it wasn’t nearly as strongly flavoured as some other such cigars that I have smoked, and you could still clearly enjoy the golden Connecticut tobacco, I was enjoying it and thought it well-suited to the joyous nature of St. Patrick’s Day.” I asked Erin to order me a pack of cigarillos; that’s how much I enjoyed it. I know Tad didn’t like it much, but it’s definitely going to be a repeat customer for me!
I was also rather fond of the Isla del Sol Robusto by Drew Estate (April 11, 2015.) I am a confirmed coffee addict and aspiring coffee snob (or I would be if I didn’t spend so much money on cigars) and so I was looking forward to this with great relish:
Hopefully I inhaled the wrapper note. Indeed, it was coffee and cream, as anticipated! Well, now we were about to combine two of my favourite things in the world; coffee and cigars. And Sumatran coffee at that! Does it get any better? I opened up my travel mug and scrutinized the contents to be sure there would be enough coffee to last the duration of the smoke. And there was . . .
The first few draws were deliciously touched with golden hay and honey elements. But I couldn’t discern the coffee in the aromatic blend.”
I viewed that as a good thing.
I thought my coffee would be the perfect compliment; but I suspect that it was probably overpowering the casing. I see this as a good thing. My big complaint about most aromatic cigars is the overwhelming flavouring. Generally manufacturers seem to be trying to drown out the tobacco taste, which I think is not only fruitless, it’s disgusting . . . Drew Estate seems to understand that the purpose of flavouring is to compliment the natural tobacco elements, not to smother them. As a result, even hard-core veteran cigar smokers who are purists will occasionally indulge in a flavoured Drew Estate cigar for a change of pace.
So, that being said, I put aside the coffee for the second third to settle into a genuine appreciation of the smoke. I love the idea of a dark, sun-aged Sumatran tobacco wrapper blended with the taste of dark, sun-aged Sumatran coffee.
And I found the second third to be outstanding. It reminded me of a quality latte in a good coffee shop. I know you’re probably disappointed that I didn’t say ‘cappuccino’ but it’s simply too sweet for that. And there’s a creamy element also. The sweetening effectively cancelled out the typical ‘second third bitterness.’ My only complaint is that as a mild-medium-bodied cigar, I was not hindered by nicotine overdose, so I smoked it rather quickly . . .
The final third . . . increased that coffee element and picked up something mocha-like. I was distinctly reminded of a Coffee Crisp chocolate bar, which was a pleasant surprise since I can no longer eat them due to allergies. I like my coffee . . . smoldering?“
Good stuff; definitely a repeater as well. Re-reading my impressions, I can’t imagine why I didn’t give it full marks, other than a developing prejudice towards aromatics. Highly recommended.
For an “Everyday Smoke for Everyday Life” (June 24, 2015; my most recent review of the set,) I was impressed by the C’est La Vie Corona. It’s an incredibly inexpensive light-bodied cigar. I expected not much. I was surprised.
I described the wrapper note as being sugar and clover, and with a pre-light draw element that suggested alfalfa, but otherwise “not much to write home about.” Still, I was especially delighted by its triple cap, which I wasn’t expecting in a low-budget stick. I found it a lovely light golden Connecticut, sweet with a touch of clover. For such a low-budget cigar, it sure made a high-budget impression.
Coming in at a solid B rating (three and a half stars) was the Nat Sherman Host Hobart Connecticut Robusto (December 3, 2014,) which I dubbed “A Fine Manhattan Morning” because of the New York tobacconist who invented it. I found this a significant departure from the “typical” aromatic. Its casing was very subtle; subtle enough that I even noticed the “second third bitterness.” I tasted butter, clover and vanilla and I described it as “full-bodied, creamy, and quite delicious.”
I noticed a particularly fine, clean burn on this one, indicating that it’s relatively free of adulterants. That’s a very good thing and I probably should have given it half a star for that alone.
As the cigar drew to a close I also noticed a touch of chocolate; perhaps white chocolate. I said that I’d enjoyed it but I probably wouldn’t seek it out; though I’d definitely smoke it again if someone put it in front of me.
I sampled the Acid Opulence 3 on June 12 of this year. By this time I was uncertain about Drew Estate aromatics; I’d really enjoyed some, not so much others. It was a beautiful chocolate-shaded maduro that smelled strongly of its casing. But as I smoked it, I found I had a sense of “Deja Vu”; it seemed to me that it tasted almost the same as the Acid Kuba Maduro I’d smoked a couple of weeks prior. So, good, but too similar to something else was my verdict.
The Profesor Sila was the last cigar in the set that I tried, which was on July 8. I described it as “Unsophisticated and Pleasant”:
I won’t say I didn’t enjoy it because that would be a lie; I did! It was a very nice cigar for a morning smoke! But it wasn’t complicated or sophisticated and other than it was pleasant and sweet, I don’t have a lot to say about it.”
I described it as a good beginner’s cigar because it was sweet and mild-bodied, so smoking it too fast would not be a disaster.
Getting down to about a solid C rating, I judged the Baccarat ‘The Game’ Double Corona, made by Neptune Cigar, to be “A Good Bet with a Hint of Danger” (May 11, 2015). It had an unusual golden Connecticut “Mexican Dulce binder” and a professionally-constructed triple cap. I enjoyed the honey-and-clover infused Connecticut wrapper note. I settled in to enjoy Game of Thrones. I thought the label’s indication, based on the reference to 007’s game of choice, to be “false advertising” since it implied “danger, mystery and intrigue,” but its true nature was clear to be seen. That was, until it burnt me:
I was startled from my absorption in the show when I dropped ashes and its cherry on my legs and toe! That was a hot surprise! The burn was clean but it seems that the pack was lighter than I’d anticipated . . . I re-lit the cigar and continued to smoke it. I suppose largely because the infusion was fairly strong I didn’t notice much differentiation between the thirds. But ten minutes later it spilled some more ashes on me! This time it had to be swept off the chair I was sitting on, which burned me a little, and then smothered.”
All in all I judged that to be a sufficient drawback to an otherwise very good cigar that I couldn’t give it more than two and a half stars.
I was less than impressed with the Acid Kuba Kuba Robusto (April 27, 2015). It was a very appealing cigar in its presentation, “decorated in that spiffy Acid electric blue label, the Sumatran wrapper was dark enough that I would call it a Colorado Maduro. It was, again, almost seamless and shiny, with few veins.” It punched easily but started peeling immediately at the punch, which isn’t a point in its favour. To make matters worse, I described it as having a “Weird Dissonance”:
I lit the stick with a cedar spill and took a couple of draws. Well, okay; not bad I guess. Not at all what I was expecting. I kept at it for a few minutes and I found that the natural bitter of the tobacco created a weird dissonance with the sweetness of the infusion. It was kind of like drinking an espresso after eating a pack of those rocket candies. Not my idea of a good time.
I persisted anyway because I wanted to give the Kuba Kuba a fair review. So it burned at a weird angle and then went out halfway through, which was about forty minutes in. I clipped it again and then re-lit once I got home from my road trip; it went out within five or ten minutes. And it still tasted like espresso and rocket candies, with a charcoal undertone this time.
Once again into the breech with a clip and a re-light. Again, dead in five minutes and the mouthpiece was peeling. I gave up in disgust.”
Definitely not a winner. I gave it a grand total of two stars; and on reflection, I think I was being generous. That’s a passing grade, and I won’t smoke another one unless it comes in a sampler and I can’t pawn it off onto a friend.
But the absolute nadir of the set was the Drew Estate Dirt Natural Torpedo (May 23, 2015). The finely-crafted torpedo shape and wrapper were impressive, but once I lit the thing I was utterly disgusted:
Jamie lit the cigar for me since I was driving. And he made a face. ‘This tastes like an Old Port!’ he snorted.
He handed it to me. And I took a draw. It was disgusting! It tasted like someone had mingled those candy cigarettes they used to sell with decent tobacco.
Well, perhaps that was just the first draw; maybe it was a little dry, since it had been in my leather case. I tried again to see if it would improve. It didn’t . . .
After five puffs, when the oils had thoroughly saturated my mouth enough that I could not doubt what it tasted like, I simply couldn’t take it anymore and I snuffed it and threw it out the window.
Total fail. If you can’t even finish a cigar because it’s so lousy . . . My rating: Can I give it a negative star? ‘Less Than Zero.’ Don’t waste your money.”
As I was putting this summary together, I was distinctly reminded of the description in the Harry Potter novels of “Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans,” which was a magical candy product that consisted of jellybeans that might come in any flavour at all — from buttered popcorn to earwax. Jelly Belly brand jellybeans made a product based on this description, and their variation had everything from buttered popcorn (my favourite) to booger and vomit (which made me wrinkle my nose in disgust). The Fusion of Flavor sampler is a mixed bag, just like that. When I tried the Every Flavour Beans, I found I really enjoyed the variety and I appreciated the good ones even more because I might end up with bad ones also. Smoking this sampler was just like that. Fully a third of them were outstanding cigars; about a third were good cigars; a little less than a third were okay; and two were actually terrible. Betting odds, but certainly there’s risk!
Because I enjoyed the sense of adventure, I give this sampler a rating of:
But keep what I said in mind as a cautionary note! If you don’t like the possibility of nasty surprises to match the happy ones, perhaps this sampler isn’t for you.
And that’s a lady’s perspective!