Cigar Review: Bellas Artes Maduro

This offering from AJ Fernandez features a Brazilian Mata Fina Maduro wrapper of a Mexican San Andreas binder and Nicaraguan long fillers. The size smoked for this review is a 6″ x 54RG box pressed Toro vitola.

The first light reveals a perfect draw producing thick plumes of medium/full bodied smoke. Heavy earth and black pepper dominate the first few puffs, supported by a soft creamy note.

The first third builds on the opening puffs with the introduction of a rich dark chocolate and espresso on the draw and adding a red pepper element on the finish. There’s a very subtle sweetness that ties it all together, but it’s a very heavy, dark flavor package. The smoke is very heavy on the palate also.

Getting into the second third the pepper and spice slightly diminish and the earthy note morphs into more of a leather. The final third drops almost everything but the leather and a slight spice – quite plain toward the end. Ending at 1 hour for an average burn time for the size and bringing in a matching medium/full nicotine strength.

Flawless construction throughout with an absolutely razor sharp burn line. Ash only held on for about inch or so chunks but didn’t upset the burn any. High quality self-adhesive bands that removed easily without damaging the wrapper.

I’m torn on this one. The first 2/3 of the cigar was great with lots of complexity. The last third, quite frankly, was boring. This cigar would have been much better had it been a more consistent blend (even as much as I enjoy cigars that have transition points and keep things interesting). Still a good option for a bold red wine, imperial stout beer or bourbon after dinner though. Priced fairly at $9/stick give or take. Rating: 3.75/5.

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Full Review: MacLellan Revelation Bagpipes

revelations

Alright, now that I have a few playing sessions on these, I feel like I can give them a full review of this instrument (highlights, lowlights, etc.). Full disclosure: I am a huge fan of Roddy’s pipes, but I’ll do my best to be as objective here as I possibly can.

To save time, I won’t go much into detail of the unique features of this bagpipe, which you can read about in my previous post so you know what I’m talking about as far as that’s concerned. Also, for reference, my full test setup was as follows: Ross suede bag, tube trap, Kinnaird Edge drone reeds.

So let’s start off with the cellulose polymer lined drones and the silica cartridge stocks mentioned prior. How well do they really work? The answer: very well indeed. As mentioned prior, I completely removed my canister drying system and replaced with just a simple tube-style water trap. I am an oral firehose, so some kind of canister or dessicant system is a must for me, so reducing to just a tube trap was a real torture-test of the moisture resistance of this bagpipe.

After an hour long session of playing, I disassembled the bagpipe and noted the following: 1) ¬†absolutely no visible condensation on the drone reeds, and 2) only the slightest bit in the drone bores. There were no visible beads in the bores, but the polymer lining appeared to be slightly wet. Nowhere near enough to condense on the surface and dribble down into the drone reeds to cause tuning or stability problems. Though my tube trap was totally full and I dumped about a shotglass worth of water out of it, the silica and polymer did an excellent job of removing the rest. I’m so impressed I’ve decided to also just run my ABW set out of the silica cartridge stocks for the superior moisture control, thus removing the need for a bulky, heavy canister.

Drying out the stock cartridges couldn’t be easier – simply remove them from the instrument and allow them to air dry naturally. For quicker drying, a hair dryer on medium heat can be used for 20-30 seconds. You do not want to microwave these the way you would a canister system, for it could distort the shape of the cartridge and not allow it to be reinserted.

So we’ve established that this bagpipe does have superior moisture resistance, better than many wooden bagpipes I would imagine and definitely better than every other Delrin bagpipe out there. So what about the tone and air efficiency? Concerning air efficiency, it’s got the same air efficient profile of my ABW MacLellan, so I noticed no difference there (it surprised me initially when I got my first MacLellan how little pressure was required to produce a superior sound).

Tonally speaking, this bagpipe is a total winner. It lives up to the claim of sounding more like a wooden bagpipe. There isn’t any of the harsh, brassy, metallic tone that’s often found in all-Delrin bagpipes. The cellulose polymer lining does a fantastic job of tempering that, giving a more natural, wood-like tone. Compared to my ABW set, the drones aren’t quite as loud, but have more than ample presence. Maybe Robertson-esque or Lawrie-esque is how I would describe them (not quite as loud as a classic Henderson, but not as subdued as a classic Glen, MacDougall, etc.).

The bass drone features a great depth and richness of sound, which are complemented by warm, ringing, but not bright, tenors. The blend is steady, seamless and brought out many rich, ringing harmonics in the three chanter/reed combinations I tried with these pipes. Those combinations being: McCallum McC2 solo poly w/Husk reed, MacLellan standard solo delrin w/Apps G3, Dunbar/JM Aurora solo poly w/Troy McAllister reed, all 3 the same strength (about 23-24″ H2O – very light but necessary for me). The drones went well with all the chanter/reed combinations, and save for some adjustment of the tuning screws to pitch each on the tuning pins, I didn’t have to touch the reeds. Of course, each chanter/reed combo retained its unique tone and pitch, as to be expected, but all were a great blend. Though all chanters tested were solo chanters, I’m sure they would go equally well with a band chanter.

My preference was the JM, but that’s with any setup as it is slightly lower-pitched than the other two, which is my liking (probably the lowest pitched solo chanter around – Jim McGillivray and Dunbar did a great job designing it and it sounds fantastic. It also has a fairly narrow finger spacing making it very comfortable to play).

As far as downsides, there were a few to note, but I already knew these things going into it. The first thing to note is the weight. Delrin is a fair bit heavier than wood, and the pipes are noticeably heavier than my ABW set in the same drone profile and with very similar adornments. However, removing the canister system negated this effect and actually resulted in a slightly lighter setup than my ABW set with canister. The other is the blowpipe, which seems to have a small-ish bore and is slightly restrictive. In its place, as I have for the past several years, I play an aftermarket blowpipe from Peter Crisler, which is wide-bored, adjustable, and has absolutely no restriction whatsoever. Lastly, and this is very minor, but the cartridge stocks have a rather large outer diameter to accommodate the cartridge. This can make fitting to certain pipe bags with grommets/collars a bit of a challenge. I had to work to get them into my Ross bag, and I’m sure a Bannatyne or Canmore bag would be an even greater challenge.

All in all, color me impressed. Roddy really has elevated the Delrin bagpipe to heights beyond any other before it. Not only is it more moisture resistant, the sound is virtually indistinguishable from a wooden instrument, while retaining the durability and resilency of Delrin that make it the ideal material for playing extreme heat, cold, wet, dry, etc. environments that would likely damage a wooden instrument. Sure, there are production Delrin instruments from other manufacturers that are half the price or less depending on decoration, but the extra cost and wait is well worth it for a superior instrument.

I highly recommend these pipes.

PS: I tried to capture a sound clip, but I don’t have any professional recording equipment and my phone and computer mics were overpowered by the sheer volume. I’ll try to get one sometime if I can get some better recording equipment.

Cigar Review: Montecristo White Series

This offering from Montecristo La Romana features an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper over a Nicaraguan binder and Nicaraguan and Dominican long fillers. The size smoked for review is the Rothschilde, a 5″ x 52RG Robusto vitola.

First light reveals a perfect draw. Good smoke output with mild/medium body flavors of salted nuts, a slightly sweet cream and a bit of a pepper on the nose.

Getting into the first third the creaminess comes up and the sweetness more pronounced. There’s also a yeasty bread note coming in. Everything is exceptionally smooth and very well blended.

This cigar was consistent start to finish with major transitions points, save for the pepper diminishing and being replaced by an effervescent slightly spicy ginger note on the retrohale. Ending at 50 minutes for an average burn time for the size and no detectable nicotine strength.

Excellent construction throughout with a near razor sharp burn. Ash holds on about half the stick at a time. High quality self-adhesive bands that removed easily without damaging the delicate Connecticut wrapper leaf.

A mellow smoke for sure. Nice enough for in the morning with your cup of coffee, but this one failed to wow me in any way. Not overly complex nor transitional, this might fit the bill for an average Connecticut smoker but I’m more picky about mine, especially for the price (approximately $11/stick). I’ve found a handful of better (IMO) Connecticut cigars for lower cost. With that, my rating comes out to 3/5.

Cigar Review: Micallef Herencia Maduro

This collaborative offering from Micallef and Gomez Sanchez family cigars features a Pennsylvania Broadleaf Maduro wrapper over an Ecuadorian Sumatra binder and Honduran and Nicaraguan long fillers. The size reviewed here is a 5.5″ x 52RG box pressed Belicoso vitola.

After two cuts with the Cuban Crafters Perfect Cutter, the first light reveals a perfect draw producing thick plumes of medium bodied smoke. Notes of rich cocoa and leather on the draw followed by an ample pepper and spice on the finish and retrohale.

Getting into the first third we see the same general profile with the exception of the initial pepper and spice blast dialing down a bit, allowing an aromatic bright cedar to join the retrohale.

The cigar was consistent start to finish in the flavor profile. Ending at 40 minutes for a rather short burn time and with a subtle mild/medium nicotine strength.

Excellent construction throughout with a near razor sharp burn. Ash holds on about a third at a time. High quality self-adhesive bands that came off cleanly without damaging the wrapper.

This was a nice enough smoke but man I was left wanting more time out of it. That’s the way it goes sometimes though. This would be a good option for a morning or lunch time smoke when you just don’t have much time to commit, but at $10/stick not exactly a good value for money. Great with a cup of coffee or a lighter red wine like a Pinot Noir. My final rating on this came out to a 3.5/5.

Cigar Review: The K by Karen Maduro

This offering from Karen Berger cigars is a Nicaraguan puro. The size smoked for review is a 5″ x 52RG box pressed Robusto.

The first light reveals a perfect draw producing ample medium bodied smoke. Core flavors of a smoky meat draw followed by a peppery finish and retrohale with a tinge of cedar.

The cigar develops beautifully in the first third retaining the first light flavors while adding a deep, rich, creamy chocolate onto the draw – almost like a malted milkshake. Think of the flavor profile as going to a 50s diner and ordering a chocolate malt with your burger. The pepper and cedar remain on the nose. The smoke is very thick on the palate – almost “chewy.”

No changes were noted in the flavor profile for the 2nd third which was fine by me because I was totally digging the flavors. The final third showed the smoky quality (don’t laugh!) getting more intense as the body ramps up to a medium/full. Ending at 55 minutes for a good burn time for a Robusto and bringing in a medium nicotine strength.

Construction was very good with only slight variations in the burn line that did require correction at the halfway point. Ash held on for half the stick. High quality self adhesive bands that removed easily and did not damage the wrapper in any way.

This cigar had a very unique and delicious flavor profile that kept me wanting more. With its medium blend profile, this is a great option for a mid-day or lunch smoke. Would go well with coffee, red wine or maybe even a nice mimosa. A little pricy at $9.50/stick but well worth it for the flavor profile. My final rating on this stick came out to 4.25/5.

Cigar Review: Henry Clay Warhawk

This cigar features an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper over a Connecticut Broadleaf binder and Honduran long fillers. The size smoked for this review is a 6″ x 50RG Toro vitola.

First light reveals a slightly snug draw but producing plentiful creamy medium bodied smoke. Core flavors of a sweet nuttiness on the draw with a heavy oak and pepper finish and retrohale.

Getting into the first third the draw opens up to the perfect resistance and the smoke retains a medium body as the pepper diminishes somewhat allowing a hint of cocoa to enter the draw. I have to say not quite my expectations for a Connecticut wrapped cigar.

The 2nd third sees not so much a transition as an addition to the already complex flavor profile. Everything holding at medium body, but the finish adds a note of yeasty bread to the mix.

A slight shift in the final third as the nutty flavor transitions to a thick, creamy leather note and the pepper dropping off almost entirely. Ending at 1 hour 15 minutes for an impressive burn time and bringing in a surprising medium nicotine strength kick.

Construction was very good with a razor sharp burn line and high quality self-adhesive bands that removed effortlessly and did not damage the wrapper. Short, flowery ash so be aware of that though.

What a surprise. Definitely exceeded my expectations for a Connecticut blend. At about $8/stick it’s very reasonably priced too. Great morning or mid-day smoke with some great coffee spiked with Bailey’s, Chila or Rumchata. Rating: 4.5/5.

Cigar Review: Smokin Joe’s 34th Anniversary

For cigar smokers looking for a stellar stick at an unbelievable price, definitely stay tuned to this review. You’ll be glad you did.

This commemorative cigar, available exclusively from cigarandpipes.com in New York was blended by E.P. Carillo Cigars and features an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper over a Nicaraguan binder and Nicaraguan and Dominican long fillers. This cigar comes in three vitolas – a 5″ x 50RG Robusto, a 6″ x 52RG Toro, and a 6″ x 60RG Gordo. All three vitolas are less than $5/stick, so definitely budget smoker specials.

So let’s just get into the review and talk about why these sticks are so special. For this review, I am smoking the Toro vitola.

The first light reveals a perfect draw putting off plentiful thick, medium/full bodied smoke. Notes of cedar and pepper dominate out of the gate, along with a smooth leather. Quite a surprising start to such an inexpensive stick.

Getting into the first third the cigar develops in complexity, still holding a medium/full flavor profile. The notes above remain, but are joined by a rich cocoa on the draw and unsalted roasted nuts oh the finish. The smoke is very thick textured and creamy on the palate.

The second third sees the same great complex flavor profile but with the balance of flavors shifting a bit. Whereas the first third emphasized the wood and pepper notes, the cocoa and leather really take over in the second half. That’s really all there is to report as the stick is fairly consistent otherwise, which is fine by me as it has a complexity and richness to the flavors. Ending at 1 hour 15 minutes for a solid burn time for the size and entering a matching medium/full nicotine strength.

Excellent construction throughout with a near razor sharp burn and an ash holding on damn near half the cigar. High quality self-adhesive band that came off without issue and did not damage the wrapper.

I told you that you were going to want to read to the end. You are just not going to find a better cigar in this price bracket. Full of flavor, a nice kick, and an unbelievable price. I hope they make these regular production. Do yourself a flavor and buy a bundle in your preferred size and try it out. You’ll thank me later.

Pair with red wine, rum or imperial stout beer for best results. For what you’re getting for such a diminutive price, I’m giving this cigar a 5/5. It blows away many cigars 3 times its price point and sometimes more.