By Marc Phillips
“Why, them cigars are fer Girl Scouts and Methodists!”
In the world of serious cigar smokers, flavored and infused cigars don’t get a lot of respect. Go onto an online cigar forum and bring up a flavored or infused cigar and you’ll probably be told to shut up and start talking about real cigars. They’re just not taken seriously. They’re like toy cigars.
When Cory Grover of Famous Smoke Shop approached me to talk about flavored and infused cigars, he did so with a sense of hesitation—I almost thought he was going to say, “Please don’t hit me!” But I’m not as critical about these sticks as you might think. I know a few things about flavored cigars that make me approach the subject with a modicum of respect.
First, flavored and infused cigars are popular. Back when I was running that cigar lounge in Texas (that’s a phrase I vow to use at least once in every column), my best sellers were mostly flavored cigars from brands such as Acid, Tatiana, Al Capone and more. I didn’t carry them because I wanted to—I carried them because they made money. Flavored and infused cigars were surprisingly popular with younger smokers (people in their 20s, not kids!), novice smokers and yes, I’ll come right out and say it—women. If a group of seasoned cigar smokers came in for some of those real cigars and someone in the group wasn’t quite into it, they could usually be talked into something that tasted like peach, strawberry or chocolate.
Second, flavored and infused cigars are simply getting better than ever before. There’s a preponderance of flavored sticks available right now that started out life as a fairly decent cigar. In many cases, quality flavored cigars have a beautiful draw, burn evenly and throw out huge plumes of smoke just like an excellent premium cigar. Many reputable cigar factories such as Rocky Patel and CAO are getting involved with this market segment, so that’s one reason for the improvements. These sticks are far more sophisticated than your father’s Swisher Sweets—which still taste like you’re smoking a bowl of Frosted Flakes doused liberally with cough syrup.
Finally, and this goes back to the second point, but every once in a while I get a hankering for a flavored or infused cigar. It’s sort of like sherbet between the courses—it’s a way to lighten up the mix and keep things interesting. While I’m not the biggest fan of sweet things, and the majority of these stogies taste like they’ve been marinating in cake frosting for a week, I do occasionally go for something that’s completely different. I know better than to buy a whole box of these cigars because I often lose interest if I smoke more than two of these in a row, but sometimes these tobacco confections really hit the spot.
It’s even possible to avoid the sweetness completely. For example, I once smoked a cigar from Cu-Avana named, quite alarmingly, the Punisher. It had a wrapper infused with cayenne pepper. The marketing copy warned you that your lips and your tongue would probably go numb as soon as you put the Punisher in your mouth. But I like spicy food, and I accepted the challenge. And beneath the nearly overwhelming spiciness was a fairly impressive Maduro stick and I wound up really liking it. Acid cigars, from Drew Estates, are extremely popular and feature a unique herbal blend in their cigars that’s somewhat subtle and just different enough to intrigue me. Acid still features a sweetened wrapper that I could do without, but that starts to dissipate past the halfway mark.
So I told Cory that if he was going to send me flavored and infused cigars, they had to be a cut above the rest. He wound up sending me three—two from brands that I already knew very well, and one that’s an exclusive for Famous Smoke Shop.
Java Robusto Maduro
If you are brave enough to bring up the subject of flavored cigars on an online forum, the one you’ll probably see mentioned more than any other is Java. This is also my vote for one of the best flavored cigars you can buy—it smokes beautifully, it’s well constructed (you even get a classic Cuban pigtail at the head), and deep beneath the coffee and chocolate flavors you’ll detect some very high quality tobacco. That’s because Java is a joint effort between Drew Estates and Rocky Patel, two brands with a strong presence in the premium cigar market.
As I’ve mentioned many times before, my two favorite naturally occurring flavor notes in a cigar are chocolate and coffee. So if I had to smoke a flavored cigar, I’d choose one of those two flavors—or both! While the Java does feature a sweetened wrapper around its distinctive mocha blend, it’s not overpowering. The chocolate and coffee flavors and strong and assertive, but well-balanced and pleasant at the same time.
I’ll offer just one caveat for the Java. It smokes like a dream, with an incredibly easy draw. That means you’ll need to put on the brakes once again or it will smoke too quickly and start to take on a harshness that can destroy those smooth, creamy flavors in the last third of the stick. Your café mocha will turn into stale Raisinettes mixed with burnt espresso beans, as if Rocky Patel handed the reins over to Starbucks. (Yeah, I’m a coffee snob too.) This isn’t a big cigar, and you can race through it in a few minutes if you’re not careful. And it won’t be good.
Acid Subculture Progeny
Of all the flavored cigars I sold in my cigar lounge, the Java was probably my favorite. But I still smoked plenty of Acid cigars from Drew Estates. While the blends were usually similar—an herbal-infused filler with a sweetened wrapper—the shapes varied enough to provide some unique smoking experiences. One Acid in particular, the Wafe, was shaped like a couple of wooden tongue depressors glued together. This flat little cigar would only last for about five minutes, but I could create a massive cloud of smoke big enough to recreate the opening scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The fun factor was off the charts.
If you go down the list of Acid cigars, you’ll see descriptions of the flavor profiles. I tend to think of Acid cigars all tasting the same with only minor variations on those profiles. The Progeny is a relatively new stick that I’ve never smoked before—it’s a “Cuban” corona (5.5” by 46 ring) that has been aged for an extra year compared to the others in the line. That seems to suggest a bolder flavor profile, but my first impression of the Progeny was that the sweetness of the wrapper was dialed down a bit to the point where I didn’t mind it at all. Was this just the aged wrapper titling the balance, or was it a deliberate effort to make the Progeny more reminiscent of a real Cuban? I’ll have to think on that one a bit.
What I noticed about the Progeny, despite its familiar Acid flavor, was that it smoked flawlessly. At each stage of the smoke, the burn line around the circumference of the stick was ruler-straight. Like the Wafe, it was genuinely fun to smoke. If you gently squeeze the Progeny, you’ll feel an even, well-rolled texture that hints at the fact that Acid knows how to make an excellent cigar, even with the sweet wrapper and the herbal blend. You might think hey, Drew Estates might want to think about making some real cigars. Well, they do. They go by the brand name Liga Privada and they’re very highly regarded in the industry.
But this Progeny is intriguing based on its own merits. It suggests that the Acid brand is maturing, getting better and definitely playing down the gimmickry in order to deliver a quality cigar.
If you took my reservations about Acid—namely, the sweet wrapper and the strong herbal notes—you might come up with something close to the #Famous Toro. This is a very smooth, very mild infused cigar with equally modest notes of vanilla and caramel. The sweetness dial has been turned down, and the wrapper is anything but cloying. After the first few puffs I thought that the mild flavor was due to a Connecticut wrapper, but it turns out that the #Famous is made from a blend of “secret” Nicaraguan tobaccos.
The Toro is also a very generous cigar—at 6” by 50 it will provide at least an hour’s worth of enjoyment. (It also comes in a little petite corona that only costs about $2 each.) It also has an excellent pedigree—it’s made by Nestor Plasencia whose factory has produced cigars for such brands as 5 Vegas, Rocky Patel, Alec Bradley, Casa Magna and Padilla. As a strange side note, he’s also responsible for that potent Cu-Avana Punisher as well as Swisher Sweets. Hmmm.
Most of all, this stick is perfect for people who want a flavored cigar that’s not too sweet or overpowering, and for a great price. Smooth and subtle aren’t usually adjectives I would use to describe flavored cigars, but this stick is remarkable for its restraint in a market segment full of outlandishness and attitude.
I’ve just thought of one more reason why I like to occasionally smoke flavored and infused cigars. Usually when I come inside after a smoke, Colleen will make some sort of snarky comment about the smell that has clung to my clothes and my hair. After smoking one of these sticks one night, Colleen said “You stink, but it’s not that bad of a stink. In fact, it’s kind of a nice stink.”
That’s a pretty good reason right there to smoke flavored and infused cigars.