30 December 2009

CIGAR REVIEW: Carlos Torano - 1916 Cameroon

The Carlos Torano - 1916 Cameroon was introduced in 2003 to commemorate Don Santiago Torano's emigration from Spain to Cuba.  It is hand-made in Esteli, Nicaragua in four vitollas: Robusto (5.5" x 52), Corona (5.5" x 42), Torpedo (6.5" x 54), and Churchill (7" x 48); each of which are cellos with a thin cedar wrapping.  The capa is Nicaraguan grown Cameroon, the capote is Havana-seed Nicaraguan, and the tripa is a blend of Honduran and Nicaraguan.  Torano describes the 1916 Cameroon as being a, "slow burning, well balanced, medium body cigar with distinctive hints of pepper, caramel, nuts, and sweet spice with a long, smooth finish."  The vitolla I smoked for this review was the Robusto.

The 1916 had a very pleasant and sweet pre-light aroma with a color between colorado and colorado-rosado.  It had several lumps and bumps in the capa but no knots or hard / soft spots; however, there were some color inconsistencies with small greenish spots here and there.  It squeezed very firmly and judging by the foot, appeared to be well packed.  I made a straight-cut with scissors and tested the pre-light draw and taste which had pretty fair resistance and a slight bitterness at first which subsided right away and was followed immediately by a woody, sweet taste.  It took a little fire to get it lit well but I attribute that to the apparent well packed quality I mentioned a moment ago.  Once lit it began to burn very well and produced plenty of distinctive blue smoke with a noticeable woody taste.

About 1/2" in I began to detect a distinct pepper / spice tingle on the top 1/3 of the tongue.  Retro-exhalation was possible but had to be done gently, otherwise it would burn a little and trigger a cough.  As it burned it left behind a crispy, very light grey, almost white ash with a few dark spots which held on for the full first 1/3 before dropping off on its own.  Around the 1" mark the distinctness of the pepper was still present but the tingle had mellowed and each puff was followed by a dry finish.  The middle 1/3 continued to mellow but still had some pepper notes and the dry finish while a mild woody taste developed on the lips.  Farther into the middle 1/3 the strength of the pepper re-emerged across the middle-top of the tongue and the ash dropped off again on its own with the full middle 1/3 and part of the last 1/3 (indicating good long-filler tobacco and skilled rolling).  The final 1/3 smoked with slight wood and pepper notes and the dry finish continued to the end.

Overall, the Carlos Torano - 1916 Cameroon was a decent smoke.  From beginning to end it didn't require a single touch-up or re-light.  I thought it was going to need a touch-up a couple times but it corrected itself and continued to burn smoothly.  I didn't notice much in the way of complexity so it's not the kind of cigar you need to devote your full time and attention to; however, it struck me as being the kind of cigar that would be good with a beverage and while I smoked it, Macallan 12 year old single malt Scotch kept coming to mind, perhaps because its fruity nose and smooth taste would be a good balance and compliment to the wood, pepper, and dryness of the 1916.

06 December 2009


Pete Johnson, brand owner of Tatuaje, has been releasing annual special edition cigars around Halloween he calls the Monster Series.  One of this year's releases, and the subject of this review, is the Drac-2009.  Before I go any further, let me address some major issues which have surrounded this cigar.  The Dracs were shipped in painted and lacquered, coffin shaped boxes which have been at the root of the primary complaint.  There have been numerous complaints about a terrible odor emanating from the box and even some about that odor and even a flavor having been imparted to the cigars themselves.  The Drac is a Halloween themed cigar which of course, had to be released by 31 October, but according to Pete Johnson the box maker in Nicaragua wasn't able to complete the boxes until shortly before the release date.  This resulted in the boxes not having time to air out before they were packed, wrapped in cellophane, and ultimately shipped.  When opened by B&Ms or individual buyers at their final destination, the trapped odor from the paint and lacquer has poured out.  The second complaint about these cigars is that many of the wrappers were damaged when the boxes were opened and the cigars were still "wet."

For the first problem, Pete recommends that you remove the cigars from their original box and place them in your humidor to rest and age for a while.  If you want to keep the box, let it air out for a few weeks and he says it should be fine.  This is why I'm reviewing a Halloween themed cigar at the beginning of December.  For the second problem, he says if you have any damaged cigars, return them to Tatuaje in an uncut, unlit, unsmoked fashion and they will replace them.  I have heard some people say that they think the Dracs were released too soon and the moist tripa expanded causing the capa to "burst."  Who can say for sure, but Pete says they were in tact when they were shipped and each of the ones I smoked for this review had none of the reported bad smell or damage.  I also checked with one of the top B&Ms in my area and they said they had heard of these problems but had not experienced them.  There is an in depth explanation on the Tatuaje website of what I just reiterated, so on to the smoke.

The Drac was released in a 6-3/4 x 52 "fang-shaped" Torpedo vitolla, in 1,300 boxes of 13 cigars each with a recommended price of $13 per cigar (before taxes and other penalties of course).  There were also a certain number of "Spooky Tickets" placed in various boxes, the finders winning something from Tatuaje (reminiscent of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).  The Drac is a Nicaraguan puro with a Habano maduro capa which was perhaps just a shade below maduro in color with no real visible flaws.  It was adorned with a simple black and red band at the foot, had a smooth texture with some nice veins but felt very light in the hand.  The squeeze test was a bit odd; it seemed to give too much close beneath the capa and didn't firm up until under pressure.  These could all be signs of poor packing, but I'm not certain this is the case here and that would definitely be out of character for Tatuaje.  The pre-light aroma was very mild with the slightest hint of sweetness but no real perceptible notes.  I made a straight cut with a single guillotine which the head stood up to without fraying.  The reason I mention this is because a single guillotine only cuts from one side and exerts pressure from the other which can easily cause damage, so this was sort of a quality test.  The pre-light draw was easy and had a slight woody taste, following which it lit easily and evenly and produced a good amount of grey smoke from the draw.

Initially there was a mild woody taste and a hint of bitterness on the middle-top of the tongue which went away quickly.   The tiniest spice tingle snuck up on the tip of the tongue about 1/4" into it and retro-exhalation was a bit harsh but could be done very gently.  As it smoked it produced a light-grey ash with hints of dark undertones which was soft and a little crisp and had an interesting 'rippled' appearance to it which held on for the whole first 1/3.  Up to this point it burned well but required its first touch-up about 1-1/2" in.  Into the middle 1/3 the ash became a little flaky and irregular and dropped off quickly.  A charred / burnt flavor would occasionally present itself but only briefly before passing.  Just past the half-way point it required a full re-light and bitterness became the dominant taste on the top of the tongue.  Through the final 1/3 it required minor touch-ups and couldn't shake the bitterness which ultimately took over the entire center of the tongue and lingered a while.

I met Pete Johnson a couple years ago and liked him which is when he turned me onto his Cojonu cigar (but that is another review).  As I mentioned above, cigars with quality problems would certainly be out of character for Tatuaje and I am a fan of their smokes, but I have to give my honest opinion here, "Puro Integritas."  Reputation is huge in this business and something like this can hurt a good company.  While they couldn't control the problems with the boxes, perhaps they should have bit the bullet and held on to them until next Halloween; the boxes wouldn't have been a problem and cigars get better with age.  Also, some of the problems others have reported, as well as the ones I experienced, could possibly indicate a "wet" cigar.  There is a time following a cigar's rolling known as, "the period of sickness."  Some say it is only a myth, some say it is true, but the general consensus among believers is that from a few months up to a year after being rolled, a cigar may still be overly humidified from the tobacco being moistened prior to rolling.  During this period it may still give off ammonia (which is alkaline and causes bitterness), have problems burning, or have not much in the way of flavor at all and should not be smoked.  I'm not saying this is in fact the case with the Drac, I'm just presenting some possibilities.  Don't let any of this put you off from smoking Tatuajes, they are a good company that makes good cigars which can frequently be found in my humidor.