Monday, March 14, 2011

Cigar Tobacco Test: Baltimore Home-Grown vs. Valle de Jalapa, Nicaraugua

These honestly may be the best cigars produced from Baltimore's 2008 tobacco crop
(I'm not really serious)
 In 2003, I grew a small plot of Connecticut and Havana tobacco.  I cured and dried it wrong. The aroma of the smoke was perfect.  The taste of the cigars was like putting your face over a brush fire.  Project - failed.
I tried again in 2008.  Havana, Punch, and Black Mammoth.  In the middle of transplanting, the plants got mixed up, so that was a botch.  But as I wrote throughout 2008, the plants lived, ultimately produced great leaves, and I somehow managed to cure and dry them correctly, ultimately rolling them into cigars and storing them in old cedar cigar forms from an old German operation in Pennsylvania.  After 6 months in the forms, I cut them and put them in the humidor, where they have been for two years.   They shrunk a bit (lost moisture) in the humidor, which I guess means that they were initially higher in moisture than the ambient humidity of the humidor (60-70%).  I'd been meaning to smoke them, and finally offered one to T during a hunt.  He appropriately responded, "No way......have you smoked one yet?"  I had not.  But now I have. 
I thought it would be fully humorous and semi-useful to smoke one of my home-grown, home-cured, home-rolled cigars alongside one of my favorite cigars, Nicaragua's Illusione #2.  Of course, Illusione makes some of the world's best cigars (#7 in 2010, #19 in 2009).  So this was not really set out to be a fair test.  

A box of Illusione 4/2s.
I started off with the home smoke.  It let well but burned unevenly.  It had very strong tastes of leather and cedar and nothing else.  The aroma was smooth, which was a surprise, and left no weird aftertaste.  It burned down to the lower third in about 20 minutes, and with another cigar still to smoke, I put it out.  The amazing thing about this cigar was that (other than the uneven burn), there was literally nothing wrong with it!   For a moment, I felt like this experiment was really a success!
And then I lit a 2008 Illusione, my first in over a year.  The contrast with my home-grown tobacco was dramatic and immediate.  The Illusione promptly burned into a mellow, consistent "rose" that was even on all sides.  The smoke was thick and slow.  It burned soooooo slowly.  The flavor seemed like a constantly changing mix of coffee, leather, and cedar - none overpowering. It was a great smoke that forced me to relax.
And I guess that's the primary difference.  For probably the equivalent of two dollars or so a piece, I had grown, cut, cured, wrapped, and aged about 30 of my own cigars.  A noble, nearly three year undertaking and a decent outcome, if I do say so myself.  However, all you have to do is look at, or smoke, the seven dollar Illusione and you see how the best in the world accomplish the same thing, with simply amazing results.
Illusione #2 (left) and my stogie (right). 
Illusiones have a surprising density of leaf veins, as you can see. 
Look at how badly my cigar's wrapper dried out in the humidor!


tugboatdude said...

now I'm glad I didn't try your leather cedar cigar!seriously it is cool when you grow,wait and have an end product so good job

LB @ Bullets And Biscuits said...

Impressive! I can't show Rambob this post because he will want to start growing and making his own cigars to go with our homemade wine.

Kirk Mantay said...

Having done both, I would take homemade wine over the homegrown cigars. Cigars were a lot of work for a mediocre payoff.

LB - would love to join you & Rambob for some fishing sometime this spring. Drop me a line! In the spring, I am on the shore a few days a week for work.

LB @ Bullets And Biscuits said...

Heck yeah! We went out over the weekend and nothing biting yet but as soon as they do, we will definitely get together to take ya.

We have access to about 5 private ponds on one farm that only a few people fish. Since its hardly been fished, its easy to catch 70 bass in a day, ranging 2-4 lbs each. It will spoil ya.

Anonymous said...

Your cigar could have been burning uneven because of the condition of the wrapper. Do you have any details on how you cured your tobacco the second time?

Kirk Mantay said...

No doubt, it had something to do with uneven moisture (both wrapper and filler) and my own clumsy hand-rolling.

First, I hung the stalks upside down, then when it got limp, I cut the leaves and hung them individually. As they started to dry, I piled them in big stacks - an 1800s Cuban method. This caused fermentation (good), but I constantly had to shift leaves from stack to stack to stop the middle ones from rotting after fermentation. It was a lot of work.

You can smell the ammonia when they start to ferment. That's when you know you're on the right track. Beyond that, it's just the delicate balance of keeping them "leathery" moist - not wet, and not dry, and not moldy. They eventually turn cigar brown and are soft like paper. It's amazing.

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