A few days ago I got an email from my friend Brett Bowersox. It went a little something like this:
Brett: “Hey Zak whats your schedule looking like for Friday between 3-6″
Brett: “Ok, XXXXXX Project samples. Lets smoke them in your next door lounge if it’s available. 3pm Friday.”
Brett: “I may or may not have some Rodrigo Fortaleza with me as well. Should be a good afternoon.”
Zak: “I may or may not be excited… No, I’m excited.”
Brett: “Make sure you eat a big meal for lunch Friday, I’m bringing you 2-3 powerhouse cigars.”
…that last email is when I started to get nervous. I am no stranger to burning down a few cigars in a day… but three… in 3 hours… noted as being “power house cigars.” I knew I was in trouble. Brett showed up at 3:00pm as promised. I had taken his advice and ate a pretty decent size lunch that day. We gathered our things and headed to our not so secret Top Secret Lounge.
I could tell Brett had given a lot of thought as to the order we would smoke these beautiful cigars. He acted pretty calm, but I could tell he knew we were in for quite the ride. He excitedly pointed to the XXXXXX Project – mystery cigar. It was the only one without a cigar ring. I picked it up, unwrapped it, gave it a nice cut and away we went.
At about the time I got to the point shown in the picture above, I had started to question Brett’s decision-making on the order of our smokes. My entire mouth felt as though I had picked up a pepper shaker and mistaken it for a shot glass. There was no way I was going to be able to taste anything from the cigars still to follow. I pushed on and to my surprise I was completely mistaken.
By the second third of this cigar, the pepper had seriously subsided and the strong nutty and leathery flavors had taken over. My lips still tingled from spice but in the pleasing way as if you had just consumed the perfect pepper encrusted steak. There was a hint of citrus that came through every once in a while keeping the smoke nothing less than interesting. The cigar finished off strong and it was a shame that it had come to an end. Here on SundayStogie we don’t focus on real detailed reviews and are not afraid to give a simple opinion. This one is not for the faint of heart and gets a solid thumbs up! Keep in mind Brett and I still have two cigars to go and by this point my hands are shaking and my legs feel like Jell-O. We both pound a bottle of water and clip our next selection. The brand new creation of Eddie Ortega, the Ortega Serie “D.”
With both eyes watering and the foot of the Ortega Serie “D” under my nostrils I breathed in deep through my nose taking in the full aroma of this cigar pre-light. It has to be one of the nicest smelling cigars ever. It was about this time that there was a knock at the door and in walked my two good friends Tony Damore (my eloquent cohort) and Josh Stein. They had caught wind of pleasurable pain we were putting ourselves through and wanted to see how we were making out. I think it was Josh that wanted to put me through a sobriety test just for the fun of it. I had a few choice words for him and we got on with the tasting.
From the initial light of the Serie “D” my palate was cleansed of the heavy pepper from the previous smoke. The taste of raisins took over with a nutty aftertaste on the retro hale. It was obvious that I was smoking a cigar that would appeal to the majority of smokers. I was also relieved that strength level of this cigar would give me a rest before our final smoke. That being said, I don’t claim to have the most sophisticated palate. However I have smoked enough cigars to understand that my experiences during this sampling will surely alter when I try these cigars independently. During the 2nd third of the Serie “D” the raisins gave way to a subtle citrus note and the cigar became earthy and rich. During the smoke I had some fun tweeting back and forth with Eddie Ortega and mentioned he was going to need to send some more samples to his rep.
I had a little fun with Eddie when I sent him this photo of me stealing Brett’s samples when he stepped out of the room for a moment. These will be a welcome addition to our humidor when they are available. Feeling a little refreshed (but still shaky) it was time to move on to our final cigar of the afternoon. The somewhat soon to be released Rodrigo Fortaleza.
The photo above does not do the cigar ring on this stick justice. It is a striking black and silver variation of his original bands that you can’t help but stare at. Being a fan of George’s other lines, I was really excited to smoke this cigar. I had regained a bit of confidence in Brett at this point as I had regained my composure (some what).
The Fortaleza opened with a sweet almost graham cracker flavor that I had never tasted before. I looked at Brett and asked him if he was sure this was a Dominican cigar. He laughed at me- as usual- and assured me it was. The sweetness that I tasted in the beginning of the cigar gave way to a mild spice, not nearly the amount that I was use to from other cigars in the Rodrigo line. About halfway through looked at Brett as if to say, “Why is this last on our list today?” Without a word coming out of my mouth Brett simply stated, “Wait for it!” Within moments I began to feel the trembling in my legs and hands again and a subtle haze started settling in. This cigar is indeed a power house. In no way was any of the flavor sacrificed for the strength. The cigar finished strong with elements of nuttiness and wood never loosing that pleasant sweetness. One of the most important qualities I look for in a cigar is the draw to smoke ratio. The Fortaleza did not disappoint as the draw was stellar and the smoke massive! Two thumbs up George! I can’t wait to smoke another one.
With our tasting of the century now complete, it was time to head home. I stumbled carefully into the shop and said goodnight to the guys. A couple of hours later I realized that I had left without taking any of my things home… needles to say, I was rocked!
Thank you to Brett Bowersox for putting me through this. Thank you to both George Rodriguez and Eddie Ortega for their dedication to excellence and thank you to Josh and Tony for making fun of me.
One puff at a time.