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Article: CIGAR.com Member's Lounge, Vol. I

It should come as no surprise that everyone at CIGAR.com loves cigars and premium tobacco, and it’s truly a passion we convey to all customers, but what about an even more detailed discussion?

Welcome to the Member’s Lounge, a monthly digest where the current “top picks” around the CIGAR.com office are highlighted. Let us provide the same detailed scoop you'd come to expect if we sat down in a smoking lounge together, as we share our knowledge and passion for all things cigar with you.

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CAO Amazon Basin

At first thought, you may think anything can grow successfully in the rainforest, but it’s really not suitable for tobacco production. The constant high heat + humidity, indirect sun exposure, and downpours that cause splash erosion isn’t the prototypical environment for cigars. Of course there’s always the exception to the rule, and that’s where we get arguably CAO’s one-of-a-kind release, Amazon Basin.

Inspired by a strain of tobacco called Bragança harvested only once every three years, this tobacco is nothing short of unique: it’s not grown in neat rows, but rather the seeds are planted wherever there’s available sunlight. Once harvested, the leaves are rolled by hand into tubes (carrotes) and undergo natural fermentation for six months similar to the Andullo method. (Andullo was created in the DR, and it’s a lengthy process that imparts strength to tobacco, as well as a delightfully heady aroma.) After full fermentation, it can take anywhere from four to six weeks to get the tobacco from the remote forest to the factory, involving the carrotes being hand-carried to the river, loaded into canoes, rowed to the mainland, driven to the port, and ultimately shipped to Nicaragua for rolling. 

CAO’s Amazon Basin blend is a mix of Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper, Nicaraguan binder, and Nicaraguan filler combined with the special Bragança leaf, and once aged all together, brings about what could only be described as the strangest buffet of flavors that oddly work together. Earth, golden raisin, black pepper, cedar, chipotle pepper, buttered popcorn, leather, anise, toasted almond, coffee grounds, orange peel, and even activated yeast… For a cigar it’s ridiculously complex, and the perfect draw plus razor-sharp burn make it all the better. More than once I’ve smoked Amazon Basin walking about, and I was told it smelled like mesquite barbecue. To me, that’s better than any cologne on the market!

Southern Draw Cedrus

Even though they’re a newer kid on the block, Southern Draw is as well-respected as companies much, much older: Robert Holt has teamed up with AJ Fernandez to create showstopper after showstopper, and there are no signs of slowing down. The Holts are a military family, as are many of their employees, so it’s no wonder this culture of honor and respect is promulgated throughout their portfolio.

The summer of 2018 saw Southern Draw add Cedrus to their core offerings. Those of you into Dendrology know of the Cedrus libani, or Lebanese cedar as it is commonly known. In ancient times, these trees were coveted both for offering firm, high-quality wood, as well as emitting a pleasant aroma. Today it’s still used to create cigar boxes, and is also seen in Southern Draw’s branding and logos. The use of the word cedrus here pays tribute to Navy veteran and long-time Southern Draw supporter, Phil Hogan, whose family also shares its surname with a specific varietal of the wood. (Growing up to 200ft. tall and capable for living over 1,000 years, the Hogan Western Red Cedar tree graces the landscape of Gresham, Oregon, east of Portland.)

Cedrus uses an Indonesian Sumatra wrapper varietal known as Besuki TBN, and the binder is a Habano 2000 from Estelí. The filler blend contains Dominican Piloto Cubano Viso, and three leaves from Nicaragua -- Criollo ‘98 Viso from Estelí, Habano ‘92 from Quilali, and Corojo ‘99 Ligero from Jalapa. Robert Holt refers to Cedrus as the company’s “most distinguished tasting cigar,” thanks to the Indonesian tobacco’s distinctive profile, and the herby nuances stemming from the Quilali tobacco. This full-bodied cigar is ripe with wood, spices, cocoa, dried fruit, and the faintest hint of floral. Much like the tree for which it’s named, Cedrus only gets better and stronger over time.

Aging Room Quattro Nicaragua

How does a piano-playing, Cuban refugee with no background in tobacco come to the US and eventually create the #1 Cigar of 2019? Rafael Nodal knew after buying a fledgling cigar company that he needed to make an impact to survive, so he befriended maestros to assist in small batches, aka boutique blends. (Coincidentally, that’s what Nodal renamed his once-failing company.) Working with the likes of Jochy Blanco (Tabacalera Palma) and eventually Nicaragua’s wunderkind, AJ Fernandez, has landed Nodal within Cigar Aficionado’s Top 25 more than once.

While many tobacco-growing countries can easily produce a puro, there’s something sublime about Nicaragua. Multiple growing regions each with their unique soil composition means a skilled farmer can take the exact same seed, and yield crops with distinctive characteristics – it’s magical. When it comes to Aging Room Quattro Nicaragua, Rafael Nodal is the composer, AJ Fernandez is the conductor, and the Nicaraguan tobacco is the orchestra.

There’s an ebb and flow to this cigar that’s dynamic. It’s always balanced, and smokes like an emotive piece of music. At times heavy, rich, and bold with notes of dark chocolate and mahogany wood; other times, however, it becomes delicate on the palate with caramel, toasted almonds, and lightly-roasted coffee bean that never overpower one another. As much as one often wants to pair a cigar with a beverage, I honestly would suggest drinking water to keep your palate clean, that way you won’t miss a beat.

Davidoff Nicaragua

I know others may call blasphemy given Davidoff’s history and esteemed reputation, but I feel this is the best blend the company’s ever made. After many years in business, there are few cigars that I can say I remember exactly where I was and what I thought when I first tried them – Davidoff Nicaragua is one of a select few – and each time I light one still, I’m transported back to that afternoon in sunny Florida when my eyes bugged out of my head in excitement.

Having scored a ‘95’ during a blind Cigar Aficionado tasting, the #3 Cigar of 2013, was the first Nicaraguan puro they ever brought to market. The wrapper is a decade-old Nicaraguan Havana-seed Rosado from Jalapa, surrounding filler leaves from Estelí, Condega, and Ometepe – and together, it’s a sensory experience. 

If you’ve never had this cigar then what I’m about to say may sound odd, but it feels elegant on the palate: smooth, balanced, and like a dessert that’s both savory and sweet at the same time. Cedar, baking spice, caramel, coffee, cream, cacao, leather, and even hints of red chili pepper all come out to play. It’s like smoking the equivalent of a Mexican chocolate cupcake with buttercream frosting, and washing it down with a lightly-peated Scotch. In one word, magnificent. 

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