This is the cigar that got the Illusione brand off the ground. In 2004, Dion Giolito—today well-known throughout the industry for his height, unique hairstyle, obsession with conspiracy theories, and cigar blending abilities—opened a cigar shop in Reno. Shortly thereafter, with assistance from Pete Johnson of Tatuaje fame, he bought 50 boxes of robustos that would become his house blend. He called the cigar “88,” commemorating the year he moved to Nevada, and named the brand Illusione.
“Illusione sounded like an inside secret,” Giolito recently told Cigar Aficionado. “An indie cigar for people part of an inner circle. Plus, the word Illusione sounded nice. Very European.” Today, all the cigars in the original Illusione lineup (also known as Original Documents) have unique names that refer to Giolito’s faith, a significant year in his life, or his favorite numbers at the craps table.
Illusione debuted at the 2006 industry trade show within the Tatuaje booth. At the time, the cigars were crafted in Honduras at the Raices Cubanas factory; production has since moved to the TABSA factory in Nicaragua, where the five-pack of 88s I smoked for this review were made.
This well-made robusto (5 x 52) retails for about $8 and is notably heavy in the hand due to its tight packing of Nicaraguan tobaccos. At first glance, the cigar has a rustic appeal, though the quality is evident. The clean, milk chocolate-colored wrapper has tight seams, minimal veins, and a fine, toothy surface. There is a floral pre-light scent, and the triple-cap clips cleanly to reveal a smooth cold draw. The simple, thin, black and white ring band is very loosely applied; it can be slipped off the cigar easily.
Once an even light is established, an oily, rich, medium-bodied taste emerges with a core of dry wood, cinnamon, white pepper, cocoa powder, and traces of leather. The finish is characterized by a floral sweetness, and the texture is simultaneously airy and a bit sandy. After a half inch or so, a delightful creamy nuttiness comes to the fore. Coffee and mint join in around the midway mark. The finale reminds me of oily coffee beans with a gentle cayenne heat.
The 88’s combustion properties are imperfect but not troublesome. Each of my five samples required some touch-ups along the way to stay lit and burning evenly. The gray ash is flaky, yet it manages to hold well off the foot. Smoke production is above average.
We interviewed Giolito in 2008, when Illusione was still young. Then, he told us the greatest challenge in creating a brand was “dealing with all of the liars. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in this side of the business it’s that everybody lies—farmers, factory owners, managers, etc. My biggest challenge has been to get my ideals and approach across to these guys without them cutting corners every time the cat’s away. Sometimes the leaf you choose is mysteriously not the leaf that goes into the cigar. I’ve refused entire orders because of one component. I need to be able to look someone in the eye when they ask me what my favorite cigar is and tell them it’s the one I make. I don’t want to be the guy that makes a cigar and smokes someone else’s. There are a lot of those guys out there.”
While a lot has changed since 2008, Giolito’s passion for excellence still comes through in the 88. This is a flavorful, satisfying, well-balanced robusto, and I think Illusione’s trademark floral sweetness comes through particularly well in this format. The Illusione 88 earns a very respectable rating of four stogies out of five.
[To read more StogieGuys.com cigar reviews, please click here.]
photo credit: Stogie Guys