Reviewing top shelf smokes is always fun, but in the interest of keeping this blog somewhat balanced, sometimes it’s necessary to smoke a cheaper one. It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a budget stogie, so today I lit up a Casa de Ortez, the newest bundled offering from Altadis U.S.A.
I’d be lying to you if I said my expectations were sky high—for starters, I knew that this was a mixed-filler cigar, and I also knew the price point, which is somewhere around $1.75 per stick. Sure, it’s wrong to judge a stogie by its price tag, but generally you don’t get much for a buck and change. That said, I’m eating my words right now, because the Casa de Ortez Belicoso Ecuadorian Cubano was a damn sight better than I thought it would be.
First off, the wrapper on this thing was much better looking than you’d generally get from such a cheap cigar. It was smooth and oily, had very few veins, and was applied very nicely. Next, I noticed that the filler was packed evenly throughout the cigar, and the leaves swirled nicely at the foot—there were none of the holes or loose bits that you sometimes get with mixed-filler stogies. My preconceptions changed a bit more when I took a few pre-light draws—the flavor profile was predominantly buttery with a little bit of pepper and some faint sweetness, and none of the harsh ammonia overtones that sometimes ruin bundled smokes.
This cigar lit up pretty easily with my Xikar Element and immediately began producing huge plumes of smoke. Right off the bat I got black pepper, caramel, and a little bit of fruit sweetness, and the ash held on longer than any mixed-filler cigar I’d ever seen. I didn’t have to touch up the burn once, and the draw remained firm yet generous throughout the length of the cigar.
An inch or so in, the peppery spice started building and the butter note from the pre-light draw came back. Further in, at around the halfway point, the pepper mellowed out just enough for the smoke to turn creamy, and the fruit sweetness evolved into pure toffee. At $1.75 a stick, this thing was smoking like it cost five times as much.
Finally, as I reached the end of the smoke, the pepper ramped up again, the fruit sweetness came back, and I started getting a little bit of dry cocoa in the background. Even with around an inch left in the smoke, the draw stayed firm and cool and the burn stayed straight. The ash held on for around an inch and a half at a time, and each time it fell off, it somehow managed to keep its shape.
Everybody’s misjudged a cigar sometime or another, and this is definitely my own worst example. I thought the Casa de Ortez Belicoso Ecuadorian Cubano would be a typical budget smoke—tons of tingly black pepper, a little coffee, and maybe a hint of sickly sweetness to keep you from putting down the cigar a half-inch in—but here I am, eating crow. These things are way tastier than their price would suggest, and I definitely recommend keeping a few around for those times when you don’t feel like lighting up a $10 bill, say, to keep you company while mowing the lawn. This wasn’t the best cigar I’ve ever had, but for the price, I’ve seen very few that even came close.