Alec Bradley Prensado Churchill

Alec Bradley Prensado Churchill

Origin : HondurasAlec Bradley
Format : Churchill
Size : 7 x 48
Wrapper : Honduran 2006 Corojo (Maduro)
Filler : Honduran/Nicaraguan blend
Binder : Nicaragua
Price : ~$10-11 each

Any cigar enthusiast knows that Cigar Aficionado magazine has become the cigar industry’s standard when it comes to cigars. Cigar smokers and manufacturers alike refer to it as the bible when it comes to the cigar lover’s lifestyle and culture. A high rating in this publication can make your sales soar, while at the same time negative feedback can often leave your cigars collecting dust on the back shelf of the walk-in humidor.

Perhaps no list is as eagerly awaited each year than their list of the year’s best cigars. One cigar gets to be crowned “Cigar of the Year” and, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been making it a point to ensure that I get my hands on the number one so that I can see for myself what the hype is about. On some occasions I had already smoked their top rated cigar while on others I hadn’t. The last cigar to be crowned Cigar Aficionado’s cigar of the year was the Alec Bradley Prensado. Many ‘aficionados’ found this selection surprising/controversial. In fact, I had never paid much attention to this cigar before, having tasted some of Alec Bradley’s other offerings and not being too pleased with them. However, because this cigar won 2011’s cigar of the year, I was compelled to give it a go. I often agree with the magazine’s overall impressions. While I may not think as highly or as lowly as they do in some of their ratings, usually, I can agree on a good smoke or a bad one only disagreeing with the rating itself. Can we really crown something “the best” given that taste is so subjective?

Needless to say, the winning cigar, especially if it is a non-Cuban, can pretty much be assured of selling out their supply in short order. Cuban cigars are different because they cannot be purchased in the United States, one of the biggest markets for the aforementioned publication.

Having set my eyes on the Prensado, I was fortunate enough to get my hands on one during my frequent visits to the United States. Thankfully I live a short drive to the border and normally pick up a few non-Cuban cigars when I cross the bridge. Living in Canada, the demand for non-Cuban cigars is not that great but we also have to contend with some hefty tobacco taxes. I was uneasy about spending over $20.00 one of these cigars here in Canada so I waited until one of my trips to the U.S. to pick up a stick.

I picked one up in early February, paying $10.75 for it. Buying them by the box will save on the per-cigar price, a practise that is against the law here in Canada. That is, you cannot offer a discount if you buy the box but instead must pay the actual cigar price multiplied by the number of sticks.

With all that said and out of the way, the other night was a perfect mild evening with little to no humidity and no breeze. It was the perfect outdoor condition to enjoy a cigar, and a Churchill at best given that I would need some time to get through this 7 inch smoke. Therefore, enough rambling… time to dig into the review. Is the reigning champion worthy of the its title?

Appearance : Rating: ★★★★½
This box-pressed cigar measures 7 inches long with a 48 ring gauge. The cigar is manufactured in Honduras and is composed of both Honduran and Nicaraguan tobacco. The main feature of this cigar is the lush and well aged (2006) Corojo wrapper grown in the Trojos region of the Honduran Jalapa Valley. The binder is Nicaraguan tobacco and the filler is composed of approximate equal parts of Nicaraguan and Honduran long leaf. The cigar looks rich. It has fabulous eye appeal sporting a beautiful band and a very oily looking Maduro wrapper. It sports a triple cap.

Construction : Rating: ★★★☆☆
As noted, the cigar is box-pressed and comes wrapped in cellophane. The Prensado was firm with a couple of spongy spots near the band. The cap on my sample was slightly crooked. The draw was effortless and, for the most part, every puff of the first half rewarded me with a very thick cloud of smoke. The smoke remained cool as was expected with a 7 inch cigar and the burn was less than impressive. I found myself fighting the burn and I needed to correct it on 3 occasions. The cigar needed to be re-lit twice. If you aren’t puffing this cigar often it will go out on you. The volume of smoke remained consistent for the first half of the cigar with the amount of smoke declining as I approached the band. The draw remained consistent but as I said, it had a tendency to want to go out on me if I did not take frequent draws. The first re-light was required approximately 2 cm above the band and the second one just beneath it. Deductions were given for the very uneven burn and the re-lights.

Flavor : Rating: ★★☆☆☆
This is where I disagree with the aforementioned publication and with many of the reviews I have seen since the crowning.

The pre-light draw gave me a very typical maduro tobacco taste. It had no resistance and provided woodsy and earthy tones. The foot of the cigar had a deep earthy aroma as did the body of the cigar itself.

I toasted the foot and proceeded to light the cigar at which time I was immediately greeted with a very full-bodied spice with exceptional smoke volume. I tasted hints of wood and leather. The spice was strong with a very noticeable, almost distracting “heat”. It was not a typical peppery spice but was a longer lasting heat, best described as cayenne pepper or even a jalapeno spice. The draw had a long finish with the spice overshadowing the leathery, woodsy flavours. I noticed hints of thick cocoa, bitter chocolate and to be quite frank, I was reminded of burnt espresso like when it is simply served too hot causing the coffee to go very bitter. The best way to describe the flavour I got out of the first couple of centimetres was a burnt, unsweetened espresso with hints of wood and thick cocoa. There was certainly a lot going on. The spice remained constant and perhaps was a bit over the top. The burn started to go wavy at approximately 1cm.

The cigar remained very spicy for the first third. The finish remained long. It continued to offer hints of wood and leather especially noticeable in the finish. Hints of bitter espresso remained. The ash was typical of maduro cigars, dark and toasted grey. It remained firm and fell off on its own at approximately 1.5 inches into the cigar. It was at that point that the burn became very uneven. As the first third ended so did the overpowering spice. That is not to say that the spice disappeared but it became less of a distraction.

The cigar mellowed out a bit at the start of the second third at which point the burn needed a correction. Much of the overwhelming spice and bitterness subsided and gave way to milder hints of earth and wood. I started to feel some very faint hints of salt on my lips at this point. No longer was the spice lingering at the back of my throat.
At the halfway mark the volume of cigar smoke declined. The burn got away from me again and required its second correction. I was not getting the harsh bitterness anymore and the intensity of the spice subsided to a palatable level. Hints of musty wood with tobacco and roasted coffee emerged. The overall intensity of the flavour declined noticeably.

Past the halfway mark the flavours became much more muted and the burn again started to waver. I could start to feel the nicotine at this point and the spice became more like a cracked pepper heat. The smoke volume decreased and the bitterness was replaced with a more palatable sweetness. I picked up hints of cocoa and slight citrus with some coffee tones that were balanced by mild saltiness on the lips.

During the final third of the cigar there was much less spice/pepper. The cigar became much smoother and sweeter/creamier. The harsh bitterness disappeared and I was starting to taste hints of sweet chocolate and thick coffee. The cigar needed to be re-lit just before removing the band and again just past it. It wants to be smoked and long pauses will cause the cigar to go out. The volume of smoke noticeably dimished in the last 2 inches. The ash became flaky following the halfway mark falling off more frequently, perhaps every cm or two, perhaps because of the uneven burn.

The cigar started off as a very full-bodied cigar ending more medium-bodied. It was a medium/strong strength. The cigar flavours were very complex. However, complexity is only a good thing if the flavours accompanying that complexity are pleasing. Unfortunately, I found that for the most part they weren’t. The cigar did not become really enjoyable for me until long after the halfway mark of the cigar and that is just too long for me to wait for the cigar to balance out. I can’t imagine having to wait 5 inches into a 7 inch cigar to finally experience balanced flavours. If I was not intending to review it I would probably have put the cigar to rest much earlier. Most of the time I was fighting the burn and battling bitterness and harsh spice. The predominant flavour was that of a woodsy/earthy cigar. I do love peppery cigars but this spice was just overwhelming, like someone sprinkled cayenne pepper into the cigar. It offered short hints of lush cocoa at the start but these were very short lived. The lush cocoa and coffee sweetness that I normally get from maduro cigars re-emerged later on into the smoke but simply took too long to develop. The cigar lasted almost an hour and 45 minutes with the last 2 inches becoming difficult to draw and stay lit.

Value : Rating: ★★★½☆
$10.70 for the cigar of the year (cheaper if bought by the box in the U.S.) and for a 7 inch smoke lasting 15 minutes shy of 2 hours is amazing value. If you enjoy the cigar then the cost of the cigar is not an issue. It offers exceptional value for such a long lasting smoke. However, I did not particularly enjoy the cigar and will not be buying another. I find it hard to rate value because much of what I deem to be of value must be accompanied by a reason or desire to spend the money to begin with. As I did not enjoy the cigar I cannot honestly say that it has any value for me. However, on a general level, I must admit that this 7 inch Churchill is priced right for those that enjoy it. It certainly won’t bust your wallet unless you are buying it in an unfriendly tobacco tax market like Canada.

Overall Rating : Rating: ★★★☆☆
I don’t agree with the Cigar Aficionado tasters/rating. I can think of many more cigars that I found exceptionally more appealing than this one. I think their tasters were being somewhat generous. Maybe they tasted something I didn’t or perhaps I had a bad sample. This is not the first time that the number one cigar caused controversy in the smoking world. I am not going to like this cigar simply because a publication thought it was the best of the year. Too many people simply follow the leader and play along in that regard, having their initial impressions swayed by the knowledge that they are smoking the cigar of the year.

I don’t think I recall seeing reviews of this cigar before the rating was released but since being crowned the best of 2011 I’ve seen many which is why I couldn’t wait to taste it for myself. I am often left wondering if people like the cigar because of its crown or if they actually find the smoke pleasing.

Much of my positive rating for this cigar was based on appearance. The cigar really looked sexy and I really wanted this cigar to be better. I absolutely loved its appearance. The photograph was taken by me and the cigar in the photograph is the actual cigar I smoked. I really wanted for its taste to match its looks. Unfortunately it failed miserably in the only area that counts: taste. This goes to show that beauty is truly only skin (wrapper) deep.