Origin : Nicaragua
Format : Robusto
Size : 5.25 x 54
Wrapper : Connecticut Broadleaf
Filler : Nicaraguan
Binder : Nicaraguan
Price : $7.50 ($6.00 street price)
If you are a lover of boutique cigars, chances are you already know about New Havana Cigars. Located in Columbus, Ohio (go Buckeyes [sorry Michigan fans]), NHC is my kind of store. The owners are hardcore cigar nuts that believe Cuba no longer makes the best cigars. I couldn’t agree more (see my article about this here), and I rely on NHC as a source for great, non-Cuban, boutique cigars.
At the epicenter of this new cigar-paradigm lies Esteli, Nicaragua. It is the birthplace of many new brands, some of which have emerged as leaders of this cigar renaissance. Surrounded by rich volcanic soil, Esteli produces some of the strongest and most flavorful cigar tobacco on the planet. With its close proximity to other, great tobacco growing regions, i.e. Condega and Jalapa, it’s no wonder why many of the best boutique cigar makers have made this part of the world their home. Over the past six or seven years, an astounding number of great cigars have come out of this region: Tatuaje, My Father, and Casa Fernandez, to name just a few. Although many cigar vendors sell these brands, the owners of NHC understand the value of featuring only stellar boutique brands. A glance at their website illustrates this concept. If your tastes lean towards the traditional Romeo y Julieta or Cohiba, this is not the place for you. NHC has a simple concept: to provide the intimacy of a small cigar store to its online customers. They don’t warehouse huge quantities of cigars, and ship all orders vacuum packed, with humidification. (I’ve smoked their cigars right out of the package and they taste perfectly conditioned.) But the best part of their service is their ability to always have new, cutting edge cigars available to smoke. For a critical cigar aficionado, this is a real selling point.
After years of buying cigars from a particular vendor, we get a “feel” for a store’s sensibilities. Everyone has their own particular tastes, and finding a cigar dealer who shares our sensibilities can be a valuable asset. By trusting the recommendations of those we know we will have a greater chance of finding a cigar we like, sight-unseen. The trick is to be in the loop when new product becomes available. That is where the Internet really helps. By subscribing to newsletters, we can get regular announcements from our favorite vendors. This is how I became aware of an outstanding and unique cigar called Skull and Bones. Last year, NHC offered this limited production cigar, and I trusted their judgment. Frankly, I try many of the new cigars they carry. I don’t always love their stuff, but all have been worth exploring. But with the Skull and Bones, they were really on to something. Made by Andre Farkas of Viaje, these cigars were rich and earthy, offset by a sweet spice. Almost black in color, the Skull and Bones was a maduro of intense character. But this was a very limited run and after I smoked through my stash, sadly, no more were available. So, when NHC announced that they had developed a new cigar that looked, on the surface, to be similar, I was very excited.
The Surrogates Bone Crusher had the look and vibe of the Skull and Bones. The ominous name, dark wrapper, and stout dimensions, were all reminiscent of the cigar I was looking for. And the good news was that it was an ongoing production, not a limited run like the Skull and Bones. But, the proof was in the pudding so I bought a sampler first.
Right away I could see this cigar had promise. Its pre-lit taste had that molasses spiciness, reminiscent of the Skull and Bones. But upon lighting I could sense a touch of citrus, a flavor I could not associate with the Skull and Bones. Additionally, the Bone Crusher starts out more mild than the Skull and Bones. Yet other similarities remained. Both editions had great tobacco richness, licorice tones, and super smoothness to the nub. With perfect balance, neither had excessive spice.
But what exactly was the Surrogates Bone Crusher? The NHC website gave no information as to its origins. Was it indeed an extension of the Skull and Bones? Is that why they called it Surrogates? I had to know and promptly emailed NHC. Here’s what Dan of NHC wrote in response:
Surrogates have NOTHING to do with Skull and Bones or Viaje. They are made by My Father Cigars and were blended by Pete Johnson.  Starting off as a social experiment, to see if people would embrace a limited release quality stick at an everyday price, it has expanded to include 2 new sticks on the horizon as Surrogates will be marketed by L’Atelier Imports, Pete’s new company with myself, K.C. Johnson and Sean “Casper” Johnson. The original Bone Crusher and Skull Breaker will be joined by 2 new vitolas, each with its own blend. Tramp Stamp is a 5 1/4 x 48 vitola blended as a take off on the Tatuaje Black label and Crystal Baller is a 5 3/4 x 56 box press blended for flavor that still has a medium-full body. Both will premiere at the IPCPR show in August alongside the Bone Crusher and Skull Breaker vitolas. Pete and I wanted to take these national and the L’Atelier umbrella seemed like the perfect place to do so.
Although I was sure the Bone Crusher was an extension of the Skull and Bones line, turns out I was very wrong, but not disappointed. (To be clear, the Surrogates is an exclusive NHC brand, while the Skull and Bones was nationally distributed.) The Surrogates Bone Crusher is a great cigar with a great draw, tons of rich smoke, perfect burn, and great natural Habano flavor. It was nice to find a maduro-colored cigar that didn’t taste flavored. Of moderate complexity, the Surrogates Bone Crusher is a blend of Nicaraguan fillers with a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper. This really surprised me. My association with Connecticut leaf was always that of a mild, shade-grown claro (golden color) wrapper. This rich, dark brown cigar really had me fooled. But that could explain the Surrogates’ medium strength. It starts out pretty tame, with its power kicking in near the end. But the best thing about the Surrogates Bone Crusher is that it leaves an impression. It’s a cigar that wants to be smoked again and again. It’s got a ton of X Factor.
Honestly, I’m not sure why NHC chose to introduce the Bone Crusher in this manner. It certainly was confusing. Pete Johnson and My Father Cigars are arguably the hottest names on the cigar scene today; why not use this to promote the Surrogates? (Although I must admit it was fun to guess its origins.) Perhaps NHC was tapping into its customers’ innate curiosity about cigars. In my case, it totally worked. Actually, with the flood of product coming from Pete and My Father, I might otherwise have passed on this one.
Making a great cigar is very difficult. To be successful all the elements of production need to be perfect. From agronomy to construction, a cigar is only as good as its weakest link in the production chain. But when great growers and blenders put their talents together, great things happen. In the case of the Surrogates Bone Crusher, everything seems to have fallen into place. To make a cigar in the image of the folks at NHC, only the best elements were chosen. These guys know great cigars, and their experience and taste has guided them to perfection. The trend of cigar vendors collaborating with cigar makers is not new, and has become standard practice within the industry. Through this marriage, many great new cigar brands have been born, and at bargain prices. But when a boutique vendor hooks up with a boutique manufacturer, the end result can be truly exceptional. Such is the case with the Bone Crusher. It’s a cigar I can’t put down, and when available at $6/stick, there is no reason to do so.