There are A LOT of cigars out there. There are A LOT of really good cigars, A LOT of decent cigars and A LOT of mediocre cigars out there. I think that without a doubt the majority of us will agree on that point if nothing else. When I started with cigars I tried everything that I could get my hands on basically, and I fell for the big brand advertising online and in the magazines telling me just how great this new cigar was going to be and I went out in search of it and paid too much money only to get it home, light it up and go “Eh, not really all that great”. Then I thought, well, the people advertising and promoting these have been smoking WAYYYYY longer than I have, maybe it’s not the cigar at all, maybe my palate just isn’t up to par. And the vicious circle continued for awhile. Then I tried my first boutique cigar and it hit me, this is what I have been searching for. I started researching these hidden gems and learning about the companies, the brands, and the people behind them. It became a passion for me, and it still is today. Along with this new research came the wave of all new cigars to try, so many so that I had to purchase a new beautiful humidor to house them and segregate them from the “big box brands” everyone raves about. In a way, I have become a cigar snob. I really thought I was building a nice collection of great smokes with the humidor of big name brands I have. (They are available for purchase at a great price if anyone would be interested, just throwing that out there)
I have a very hard time putting money down on big brands anymore because the market is saturated with mediocre cigars and the majority come from a handful of big name factories. I am not saying that there aren’t so truly wonderful, consistently great sticks on the market. I have a select few names that if I need to, I will pick up and have no worries with what I am smoking. In the rare occasion that I am traveling without my own or I end up in a place I haven’t been before, I always spend money locally and will make a purchase in the local shop. (For anyone that is new to cigars, this is not a written rule, but it is a courtesy to always make a purchase of some sort when visiting a new lounge or shop if you plan to smoke there) If they carry boutiques, I am going for them, but if not, I can always find something that will get me through. It’s just courtesy. If they have a house blend, sure why not. I did that at Primings in Nashville and it was a fantastic stick. (Free plug for them, lol)
One thing I have found through all of this, is that boutiques have made me super picky about what I like and what I will spend money on. As of now I have only a handful of brands that I will purchase on a regular basis. Well that limits you from trying a lot of great cigars. No, it means I know the difference between mediocre bullshit and quality. Nothing is stopping me from trying anything except the choice I make to put my money down or not. I do not ask cigar companies to send me samples to review, I do not review the next trendy cigars, I have not been to IPCPR (although I would love to go for different reasons), but if someone sends me a cigar and ask me to review it for them I certainly won’t tell them no. I also won’t sell myself out and give it a high review if I didn’t enjoy it simply because there is some obligation to the manufacture who sent it. Unfortunately there is too much of that already and it’s the reason I had many cigars I didn’t care much about.
So, all of this leads me. As I said in previous reviews about Felix Assouline, I was told about this company from a BOTL awhile back and just never really got around to ordering online. They are not available in my local go to shops so it just fell off the radar. One day I saw a very cool post of the II Saints cigar and I made the decision to place the order. Just so happens that the online store was down. Bummer. No, not really. The man himself, Felix reached out to me via Messenger and we went back and forth for a bit and he took my order personally and took care of me. It was a blessing in disguise because how often, in this day and age of digital, online ordering, do we actually get to interact with the owner of a company? On Monday I received a message with my tracking info, an apology for the store being down and a thank you for doing business with FAC. WOW! Again, not often we get that these days, but the thing that really blew me away was that Felix told me he was sending me something special for my troubles. Great I thought. It really wasn’t much trouble but I certainly appreciate it regardless. Little did I know that I would be receiving something TRULY special.
My order came in and I opened the box and as ordered were all of the cigars with one exception. There was one extra that I didn’t recognize from the website. After some messages with Felix, I found out that this gem was from his personal stock of a 17 year old cigar that he had made for himself and select friends and customers. Well I must say, I was truly honored. I thanked him and told him I would save that for a very special occasion. His response was, I would appreciate it if you would review it for me! Needless to say I am honored and told him I would. I was a little skeptical about it because in my mind I am still very green to this and still working on developing my palate. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from this cigar. Felix never gave me much input about it as to try and sway me in any direction. All I knew after smoking 3 of the other brands he made, all of which were fantastic, this was 17 years old and from his private stock, so I anticipated a truly great cigar.
The CSB Vintage Habano 98′. First things first. It’s right at 18 years old. I have a son that was born in 98′ so this thing is ancient for a cigar right? As you can see from the pic, the cellophane has turned orange but when you remove this cigar, it is just as fresh and smells like it was just taken off the rolling table. This particular cigar (as with all of FAC cigars) are made with tobaccos grown by them on the farms in the Jamastran Valley in Honduras and in Jalapa Nicaragua. This is a full bodied, full flavor cigar.
Wrapper: Jalapa Habano Crillo 98′ Binder and Filler: Jamastran Honduras. Since I had tried 3 other cigars from Felix with Jamastran tobacco in them, the notes from the foot were not as foreign to me as it was the first time I smelled it. This tobacco is unlike anything I have tried in any other brand. There is a scent and a flavor profile to it that is so hard to pinpoint but to me, it reminds me of almost a pine or evergreen. I may be completely off base with that description but that is the closest thing I can come up with. I pick up notes of barnyard, earth, leather and a sweetness like dark chocolate or cocoa. The cigar, as stated, for being almost 18 years old, looked great. Rustic, dark brown wrapper with small veins. The band was a simple golden orange color with CSB lettering. Nothing fancy or flashy. That was left to the cigar.
I decided to change it up and used my Xikar hole punch to get things going. I started with a wooden match to heat the foot and followed up with a dual flame just to finish it off. Initial draw of this cigar was simply one of the most unique flavor profiles I have had in a cigar. I couldn’t even begin to tell you what I was tasting as I was not expecting that I had. After a few puffs, I was able to wrap my head around that Jamastran flavor profile which is very woodsy, almost evergreen-ish, with some pepper like spice, earth and a sweetness at the end that blended amazingly with the profile. The pepper stuck with me for a bit but was never harsh. This was the TRULY GREAT cigar I knew was out there and I thought I had found it a couple of times, but this cigar raised the bar for me. Thick, greyish, white, smoke poured off of this cigar and the ash, as you can see held for the entire first third of the cigar. It only fell because I made it.
The second third brought me more of the same wonderful flavors I had been experiencing. The pepper dropped off and I was met with more of the chocolate/cocoa or espresso flavor, but they were not so noticeable that it made the cigar sweet. It remained a full flavored, full bodied cigar, but the subtle hints of sweetness really smoothed the second third out. Again, the ash held throughout, the draw was simply perfect, the burn lines were sharp and only got a little off when I stepped outdoors for a minute. (Keep in mind that it is in the 30’s and I am in a heated garage).
The final third brought all of the flavors together for me. Earth, leather, pepper, sweetness, and of course that wonderful woodsy flavor. The profile of this cigar never got fully away from where it started but changed enough to keep you very interested in where it was headed. As you can see, I nubbed this cigar for all the right reasons. Even going that far down with it, I never hit any nicotine bitterness nor did it burn super hot. These are 2 factors that really speak to the quality of the tobacco and the construction of the cigar. I did not pair this cigar with anything except water so I got the full profile of only the cigar. Wise decision but I can easily see this blending with a great Scotch or Bourbon. This cigar would make spoiled milk shine, ok maybe that’s pushing it a little…If you get the chance to score one of these (see below) be sure to let me know what you think.
What else can I say about this work of art? Felix Assouline has some terrific cigars in his portfolio and I was completely sold on all 3 of the cigars I had tried prior to this. After going back and forth with him about a number of different things, I will say this, he truly outdid himself with this cigar and I am very lucky to have been given the opportunity to try it. I am truly honored that he asked me to review it and I hope I did it justice. If you follow him on Facebook and join the family, tell him you read this review. I am sure that he will take care of you and you may just get lucky and score one yourself. (Facebook Felix Assouline Family) Let him know I sent you.
I apologize for the long post but something like this doesn’t come along often.
At the end of the day, everyone enjoys a great cigar and we all have our favorite sticks. The great thing is that we don’t all like the same exact thing and even better, we don’t have to. I encourage everyone to try all the new cigars you want and venture out of your comfort zone. You may be surprised at what is out there but be careful, once you find it, it may ruin many others that you thought were great. Until next time, long ashes and full glasses friends. Peace.