22 Mar 2007
When I was a newspaperman, we often joked that the scariest words in journalism were “first in a series.” Just let readers see that and they’d run screaming from the breakfast table.
So, consider yourself warned. I’m planning a succession of articles on budget cigars. Well, not exactly budget cigars. More like really cheap cigars. None over $3 (and only one at that lofty price tag, and that’s just because I thought it looked interesting).
Here’s what I’ll be smoking and reporting on, with the price I paid before sales tax:
1. Don Gregory Extreme. $3. It is said to be Dominican filler with a Cameroon wrapper and looks like an imitation Hemingway Short Story. Purchased at an outlet shop not far from my house.
2. Cuban Rejects. $1.35. This is a six inch stick that looks to be about 48 ring gauge. One Internet source listed them as Dominican, another called them a Nicaraguan handmade sandwich cigar. They may be made and/or imported by Phillips & King; it’s not easy to tell.
3. Havana Blend Maduro. $2. These come from Texas’ Finck Tobacco Co., which says they include Cuban filler from the “vintage crop of 1959” imported before the embargo and mixed with Central American fillers inside a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper. Mine is a five inch by 43 ring gauge Coronado.
4. Alcazar No. 4 Maduro. $2.75. According to AtlanticCigar.com, which sells these in bundles, they are “100% Long Filler” with Nicaraguan binder and filler and a Connecticut wrapper. The No. 4 is listed as a five inch stick with a 52 ring gauge.
5.Dutch Masters Corona De Luxe. Somewhere around 75 cents each for a four-pack. (I’ve lost the receipt from that well-known tobacconist where I got them, Winn-Dixie.) These are five and 5/8 inches with a 43 ring gauge. Altadis gives little information about them on their website, but this line has a natural Connecticut wrapper and the packaging says they are “predominantly natural tobacco with non-tobacco ingredients added.”
So, let me begin with that Dutchie. Why did I choose it among the seemingly endless array of machine-made sticks?
Partly, I suppose, due to fond memories of Ernie Kovacs and the ads on his show when he’d pose as one of Rembrandt’s “masters.” I also figured that with an actual tobacco wrapper it might be a better smoke than most.
But, my god, if it is better, then the others should be registered with U.N. weapons inspectors.
To begin with, I couldn’t decide whether the packaging is intended to protect the cigars or protect you from the cigars. The box is sealed in cellophane. Then the four sticks are enclosed in a sealed cellophane “pouch.” Finally, each Corona De Luxe is individually cello’d as well.
So after going through enough clear plastic to shrink wrap the Hollywood Bowl, I got to the cigars. Despite all the packaging, the foot was somewhat smushed on all four. The first one I pulled out had veins that looked like scars left behind by a hurried battlefield surgeon in the Crimean War. There’s also the typical machine made hole-in-the-head (and, yes, you’re right; it’s an apt metaphor for trying one in the first place).
Even before lighting, I noticed an odd sweet taste that I couldn’t identify. It nearly matched the cigar’s smell – and believe me these smell; it’s not an aroma. After lighting and a few puffs, I was able to identify it. Bubble gum. But not just any bubble gum. If you remember the sticks packed with Topps baseball cards – brittle and stale by summer’s end – then you’ve got it.
I thought initially that the cigar was no worse than any number of really lousy cigars I’ve smoked through the years. Distasteful but not distinctively so.
I was wrong.
After just a bit more smoking, the Dutchie had turned into the foulest, harshest thing I’ve ever smoked. The good news is that it didn’t make me sick – though I guess it might have if I’d smoked more. The finish was akin to breathing in smoke from a campfire of sap-filled, uncured pine logs.
Multiple tooth brushing, tongue scraping, and mouthwash swishing didn’t do much. I tried smoking a good cigar about an hour later, foolishly thinking it would obliterate the memory. All that happened, though, was that the new smoke was ruined. In fact, I’ve stopped smoking for a couple of days hoping that’s long enough for my system to purge itself. I’m planning to try again this evening with another good stick. I’ve got my fingers crossed.
At least I know I don’t have to try another Dutch Masters to see if I’ve given them a fair shake. It says right on the box that “each Dutch Masters will be like every other Dutch Masters…”
It may be awhile before I try the next of these bargain beauties. After all, I’m not as young – or strong – as I once was. Which would you suggest I tackle next?