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Cigar Review: Illusione ~eccj~ 20th Anniversary

26 Mar 2015

illusione-eccj-20Illusione has been on a roll lately. The recently released 2014 Singulare Anunnaki earned a rare five-stogie rating. It is the first Singulare that’s in the same class as the original 2010 Singulare, as good and possibly even better depending on how it ages. And the last new full line from Illusione, the Fume d’Amour, was another outstanding release.illusione-eccj-20-sq

In addition to both being good smokes, both the Anunnaki and Fume d’Amour fall in the mild- to medium-bodied range. For that reason, I was particularly interested to try Illusione’s ~eccj~ 20th Annicersary cigar.

The original ~eccj~ debuted in 2008 to celebrate the 15th Anniverary of the European Cigar Cult Journal magazine, now just called Cigar Journal. That cigar blend, which gained a bit of a cult following, would become the popular Epernay line.

So, naturally, when Illusione brand owner Dion Giolito announced a follow-up ~eccj~ would be coming, it was eagerly anticipated. The new ~eccj~ features a tweaked blend and a slightly larger size (6.5 x 48). Boxes of 15 sell for $195, or $13 per cigar.

Using 100% Nicaraguan tobacco, including a Café Rosado Corojo ’99 wrapper, the ~eccj~ 20th Anniversary features some sneaky strength. The flavors are a complex combination of roasted nuts, breadiness, light oak, leather, and cream.

The strength builds towards a solid-medium, bordering on medium-full as it progresses, though the flavors don’t change much. There is a slightly sour edge that particularly lingers on the finish.

While it’s an excellent cigar, it might suffer from the obvious comparison to other Illusione cigars. For my tastes, it isn’t as refined as the Epernay, Fume d’Amour, or the most recent Singulare. But don’t let that high bar fool you. With sneaky flavor, complexity, and good construction, plus the potential to get better with more age, the Illusione ~eccj~ 20th earns a rating of four stogies out of five.

[To read more cigar reviews, please click here.]

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Lot No. 40 Canadian Rye Whiskey (2012 Release)

24 Mar 2015

Canadian whiskey has never been something I’ve spent much time seeking out. With a reputation for mild flavors, often the result of blending rye whiskey with largely flavorless grain whiskey, I’ve found it’s a bit lacking in the distinctive character I identify with with my favorite scotch and American whiskey.

Lot-40-canadian-ryeFortunately, Canadian whiskey makers have started to see the potential for selling more expressive offerings, many of which are in the same class as good Kentucky or Indiana straight rye. Three stealth Canadian ryes (they don’t play up their Canadian roots) are WhistlePig, Masterson’s, and Jefferson’s, each of which are 10 years old. Each sports a 100% rye mashbill. This is achieved by using the same unmalted rye that goes into all straight American rye, along with a percentage of malted rye, which is necessary for the distillation process.

The 86-proof Lot 40 is similarly a 100% rye (90% unmalted, 10% malted), although it doesn’t obscure the fact that this is Canadian rye. The brand was originally launched in the late 1990s but disappeared for a while until it was reintroduced a few years ago.

For a time it was hard to find in the U.S., but in the past year it has become more widely available. I was able to find a bottle at a Virginia state liquor store for just under $50.

The spirit features a bronze color and a lively nose with fresh bread, banana, anise, and maple. On the palate it has a syrupy intensity with oak, baking spices, fruit cake, and a little floral spice. The finish is subtle with more bread and muted fruit notes. The result is a complex, sophisticated Canadian rye that calls for a similarly complex, yet balanced, cigar. I’d recommend the following: Davidoff Colorado Claro, Illusione Epernay, or Paul Garmirian Gourmet.

I realize, for many bourbon drinkers, a Canadian whiskey is something your grandfather drinks or you mix with cola, not a spirit to be enjoyed neat. But this is a fine whiskey that rye fans should certainly pick up and try.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Drew Estate Liga Privada Único Serie Dirty Rat

22 Mar 2015

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”


With a high price and limited availability, I don’t smoke Drew Estate’s Dirty Rat frequently, but when I do I never regret it. The cigar came about when Drew Estate wanted to add a corona size to its Liga Privada No. 9 line, but the small ring gauge meant the blend had to be tweaked. The result is a balanced cigar that is simultaneously sweet, spicy, and savory. Milk chocolate, rich earth, and black pepper flavors are all apparent.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Booker’s Bourbon Batch 2015-1 ‘Big Man, Small Batch’ Limited Edition

17 Mar 2015

Considering its wide availability, bold barrel-proof flavors, and consistent quality, I’ve always felt Booker’s Bourbon was a bit underrated. Now, for better or worse, I think the marketing department at Jim Beam has finally caught on. (Beam makes Booker’s along with the rest of the Small Batch Collection: Knob Creek, Baker’s, and Basil Hayden.)

bookers-bigman-smallbatchLast month Beam announced a “new collection” of limited edition Booker’s releases, the first of which would be called “Big Man, Small Batch,” which pays homage to the late Booker Noe, one of the biggest personalities in the bourbon business. For those looking for this or future limited edition releases, the packaging features a different, larger batch label with an illustration, and the box is stained a darker brown, whereas regular releases (including Roundtable releases) will continue in the lighter, natural wood boxes.

Unlike last year’s 25th Anniversary, the age statement of this first limited edition is within the normal 6-8 years for Booker’s. Specifically, “Big Man, Small Batch” (Batch No. 2015-01) is 7 years, 2 months, and 16 days old. It’s bottled at 128.7-proof (64.35% ABV). At least in Virginia state liquor stores, it sells for the same price as regular release Booker’s: $59.

As you’d expect, it’s a full-bodied bourbon in the Booker’s tradition with a bold nose of caramel and vanilla. On the palate there’s more vanilla, peanut butter, and salted caramel. Only on the finish does the high-proof heat come through, along with vanilla and oak.

To test out Big Man Small Batch, I tasted it side by side with two other Booker’s bottles: a 6-year-old batch No. C06-K-8 bottled at 130.4-proof, and batch No. 2014-6, a Roundtable Batch aged 7 years, 2 months, and 14 days, and bottled at 127.7-proof. (Roundtable Batches, selected with the input of various bourbon writers, don’t have any special packaging and can only be identified by the batch number.)

The six-year-old has a bit more sharpness and resinous wood. The Roundtable Batch is more refined and closer to the Big Man, Small Batch in profile, which makes sense given the very similar age statement and proof, but it doesn’t have the toffee-like richness of this first limited release.

So as long as Booker’s sells this and future limited edition Booker’s at the same price as the regular batches, it’s easy to recommend to those who enjoy full-bodied, high-proof bourbons. I, for one, am looking forward to future Booker’s releases from this line, and filings last year for label approvals suggest there may be many coming.

As for cigars, all Booker’s releases call for the same thing: a full-bodied smoke. The RoMaCraft CromagnonArturo Fuente Opus X, EO 601 Serie “Blue”, and La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero all fit the bill.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Illusione Singulare Rose Croix LE 2013

15 Mar 2015

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”illusione-sq


My recent five-stogie rating of the 2014 Illusione Singulare prompted me to see how the 2013 Illusione Singulare was smoking. Much as I like the Anunnaki, the Rose Croix is a size (7 x 46) that, in general, I prefer. Age hasn’t hurt the Rose Croix, although I’m not sure it has improved much either, which is sort of a surprise given how much the 2010 Illusione Singulare improved with time. Still, it’s a tasty medium- to full-bodied cigar with woodiness, coffee, leather, and a slight metallic note. It’s still a fine cigar, but age hasn’t, at least yet, improved this elegant smoke.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Illusione Singulare LE 2014 Anunnaki

12 Mar 2015

There are very few new cigars that I would feel comfortable about buying a box of without trying. A high price doesn’t guarantee quality, and good inexpensive cigars are hard to find. That makes a box of cigars that I’ve never tried before a real gamble, no matter the cost.illusione-singulare-2014-sq

illusione-singulare-2014One of the few boxes I will buy blind is the annual Singulare release from Illusione. I’ve bought at least one box of the Singulare release every year since it was first introduced 2010, which also happens to be my favorite. (Though if you read the reviews of the 2011, 2012, and 2013, you’ll see I’ve been impressed with them all).

The latest Singulare is called Anunnaki after the Sumerian God. (Who said you’d never use that semester of Ancient World History?) Every year the size and blend changes. The 2014 format is a “double robusto”(5.5 x 54).

Anunnaki started shipping last November, but apparently all 2,000 boxes of the production weren’t ready to ship just then; mine has a box date from mid-January. Each box has 15 cigars and the price is $13 per cigar. Like many recent Illusione offerings, it’s made at the Nicaraguan TABSA factory, as opposed to the Raices Cubanas factory in Honduras where earlier lines were rolled.

The Nicaraguan puro has a Corojo ’99 wrapper (the same wrapper as the Illusione Epernay) over dual binders of Jalapa Criollo ’98 and Estelí Corojo ’99. The cigar, which was blended to feature low priming tobaccos from the Chilamate farm in the Jalapa region, contains only a small percentage of Ligero.

Once lit, I found a tasty combination of sourdough bread, cream, and light cedar that’s very similar to the Epernay, but with more sweetness and a velvety texture. It starts out mild, though it does build to a more medium-bodied profile. Past the halfway point, it adds coffee notes and more wood spice, though it maintains excellent balance throughout.

With solid construction and complex, balanced, and interesting flavors, I have no second thoughts about buying this box blind. Fans of Illusione’s Epernay, of which I’m one, will particularly enjoy this classic, mild- to medium-bodied cigar. The Illusione Singulare LE 2014 Anunnaki earns a rare rating of five stogies out of five.

[To read more cigar reviews, please click here. A list of other five-stogie rated cigars can be found here.]

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7 Year Straight Rye Whiskey

10 Mar 2015

Read through the articles in the A-Z Guide to Rye and you’ll notice lots of references to Indiana rye (LDI/MPGI/Seagram’s are just a few of the  operation’s names). As complete a list as I know of companies that sell their ryes is available here, but some of the best-known include Bulleit, Templeton, George Dickel, Angel’s Envy, Willett, and High West (though the latter two also have other sources for their rye).

sa-old-scout-ryeWhile some of the companies that sell MPGI products obscure the source, MPG Ingredients, as the former Seagram’s distillery is now known, is very upfront about what it offers. Aside from its 95% rye mashbill, it has recently added two additional rye recipes with lesser rye contents.

The biggest reason MPGI’s rye is so ubiquitous is, at a time when rye is hot, MPGI actually has a significant amount of aged stock to sell. In my opinion, a second and nearly as important reason is that the 95% rye is quite drinkable at a relatively young age, with much of it presumably bottled at between two and five years of age.

This makes the Smooth Ambler’s Old Scout offering a little different. The 99-proof rye features a 7-year age statement, which sets it apart from other widely available Indiana ryes.

The result is a copper-tinted whiskey with citrus, candied fruit, and light oak. The palate has good wood spice, but also deep bourbon-esque sweetness and floral notes. The finish has some pickle brine and orange peel.

Pair it with a medium-bodied cigar like an Arturo Fuente King T Rosado Sun Grown, Bolivar Royal Corona (Cuban), Tatuaje Black, or RoMa Craft Intemperance.

At $40 a bottle, Old Scout Rye is a nice value with enough complexity to be enjoyed neat, but it also makes a nice Manhattan. It’s not as brash as Bulleit (one of my favorite value ryes) but the age gives it more woodiness and depth of flavor.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys