I was speaking with a friend from work the other day, who commented that he enjoys the occasional cigar, but finds the cost to be prohibitive of being able to more frequently enjoy a nice smoke. It got me thinking about doing some reviews on “cheap” cigars; that is, less expensive stogies. A thing I've learned, is that the price of a cigar is not an indicator of how good or enjoyable it is. There are plenty of fantastic cigars out there that won't break the bank, and I think it's time I set out to find them and share my discoveries with you.
Now, I'm not talking about machine-made, flavored crap, here. I'm still talking about hand-made, premium cigars— but these ones can be found at the lower end of the cost spectrum. I picked up seven sticks today, each one priced below $5/stick. Over the course of the week, I'll be tasting and reviewing these “cheap” sticks, so you can get a sense of how enjoyable many of these lower-priced cigars can actually be.
That being said, there are some which I already don't expect to be great, and I'll be getting these out of the way first. These are, of course, the Cuban Rounds cigars, which everyone sees at the Exchange and then tells be, “the NEX is selling Cubans now.”
No, they're not. It is still illegal for retailers to sell Cuban cigars in the U.S. Cuban Rounds are actually produced in Nicaragua, from “Cuban seed tobacco.” That really means next to nothing at all, since nearly all of the tobacco plant varietals used in cigar making today are of “Cuban seed.” Tobacco is a very temperamental plant; you can take Cuban seed and plant it somewhere else, and it's going to come out much differently than the same plant grown in Cuban soil. Different climates, different soil content, different agricultural practices, are all going to contribute to a new plant, no matter where the seed came from.
Cuban Rounds are also advertised as being rolled “in the Cuban style.” Honestly, what is that even supposed to mean? It's rolled like a cigar. Period. There's so much strained language in how these sticks are marketed, that it just leaves me very suspicious right from the start. But I'm going to give it a try, anyway, because I really have no way of knowing how they actually smoke until I try one.
Cigar: Cuban Rounds Natural
Vitola: Robusto (5” x 50)
Filler: Nicaraguan (short filler)
Rating (out of 10): 9.4
The band is similar enough to the design of a Cuban Cohiba that I make the connection right away, but it's still far enough off to not really be called a “knockoff” or a “cheap imitation.” It does read, “Cuban Rounds, Taste of Havana,” which continues down the path of deceptive, but not outright dishonest, marketing. It's completely understandable how somebody might see these and think they were looking at actual Cubans, and the deception by the makers of CRs actually angers me a bit. But I'm going to move on.
The wrapper is a nice medium, leathery brown. There's a bit of discoloration, but it's not all that significant. I'm not seeing any cracks, tears, or other damage, either.
There's some nice give to this stick between the fingers. The cap is neatly applied, and cuts perfectly with my narrow punch.
There's a kind of earthy muskiness along the barrel, and a woodier scent with some subtle undertones of berries at the foot.
The cold draw is open and sweet, kind of a soft molasses or honey flavor. The draw does seem to tighten just a bit once it's lit, but that sweetness becomes more pronounced, though the primary flavor now is one of sweet leather, with that soft molasses taking a more secondary role, and a subtle hint of spice on the finish.
There's something almost nougaty in here, as well. It's definitely a milder smoke, maybe pushing close to medium-bodied, and much tastier than I had anticipated. I'm actually a little surprised; it does, in fact, taste somewhat similar to many of the Cubans I've had before, particularly Upmanns and Cohibas. It's definitely not the same; I've noted before that Cuban tobacco has a distinctive flavor to it— you know when you're smoking Cuban tobacco and when you're not. And this, is not Cuban tobacco. It's just... somewhat similar.
There is a lovely tobacco aroma coming from this thing, also. It's soft, and it just smells like a cigar. Not anything fancy, just a nice, soft, tobacco scent.
The burn is nice and even, actually damned near razor-sharp, and the ash is white and solid.
Well, I officially feel like a douche. I've avoided these cigars for so long because I just didn't trust them. Goes to prove, once again, that you can't judge a book by its cover, nor a cigar by its band.
There's a bit of chocolate coming in as things develop.
Progressing into the second third, the leather profile gives way to a distinctive cedar flavor. The spice on the finish picks up just slightly in intensity here, as well.
So, near the halfway point, our flavor profile is primarily cedar and chocolate, with a nice molasses undertone and a subtle peppery finish.
The burn is still perfect, the aroma slightly woodier in this third, and the ash consistently solid and white.
The peppery spice comes through strongest on the retrohale.
The last third is definitely leathery and chocolatey again. The cedar is still there, but it's faded slightly and taken a more secondary position, with the notes of molasses and now also sweet hay.
Though the burn remains mostly even, there is just one little spot here that required the slightest touchup.
The burn is absolutely perfect and razor-sharp right down to the end. For such an inexpensive stick, it's been burning more perfectly than just about any other cigar I've ever smoked. I'm extremely impressed.
It does get much spicier right at the end, so if that's not your thing, it's totally okay to stop smoking it with about an inch left!
I came into this one expecting it to be the worst of the bunch I bought today. It might still be, which I suppose would actually go even farther than I thought in showing that inexpensive cigars can be just as good as the pricier ones, and you don't need to break the bank to enjoy premium cigars on a more regular basis.
For only $2.59 a stick, you really can't beat this. And the cost per stick only drops when you buy these by the bundle. So if you're looking to smoke more, but are worried about cost... don't be.