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Don Kiki Limited Reserve Brown Label Toro


When the “Favorite Budget Smoke” thread pops up like clockwork on the message boards, the Don Kiki Limited Reserve always gets a mention. Mild controversy typically ensues. Some swear by their value ($2.00 per stick), while others say they’re cheap for a reason.

So, which is it — two buck wonder or dog rocket?

Cigarmaker Enrique “Kiki” Berger’s eponymous Brown Label is made at his Tabacalera Esteli factory in Nicaragua, almost entirely from leaves grown on his 200-acre farm.

Berger first came to prominence making the original 5 Vegas. (The 5 Vegas brand has since been purchased by Cigars International and is now made by Nestor Plasencia.) Success with the cult favorite Cupido followed. Today, Don Kiki produces a wide selection of brands available through his Miami-based distribution arm, Cuban Crafters.

The Brown Label Toro’s appearance doesn’t inspire confidence. The caps are crooked. While the sungrown Criollo wrapper has nice color, the texture is dry and gritty. You can see soft spots and lumps before even giving it the pinch test, and it is suspiciously lightweight in the hand.

Immediately after lighting, I note a too-easy draw and a little metallic funk. Underfilled. And it heats up right away. Shaking the flaky ash about five minutes later, I get visual confirmation of the problem — the dreaded donut hole in the bunch, as if it had been worked with a rather large draw poker. More likely, it’s the product of inattentive bunchers.

So I nurse the Brown Label along, walking the thin line between heating it up and letting it go out (which it seems to want to do frequently). For the moments between extremes, the flavors are good. There is ample spice and earth with brown sugar and bread notes — a solid medium body. But it’s just a matter of time before the bitter notes of an overheated smoke return, spoiling the experience.

The heartbreak of the Brown Label is that you’re tempted to fight it past the point of diminishing returns, convinced the worthwhile flavors can save the day. If the blend were straight-up bad, I’d have no problem pitching it. But I almost never do, because of the half-dozen I have smoked I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the couple that were properly built.

Like a plugged stick, there’s simply no redeeming an underfilled one.

To be even-handed, I feel like I should steer you toward Stogie Guy Patrick A.’s review of this same smoke. He gave it 4.5/5. On taste, I can’t really disagree with Patrick, but we had very different experiences with the burn.

CONCLUSION: The Don Kiki Limited Reserve Brown Label is a good blend that is marred, if not destroyed, by shoddy construction. Even at the tempting price point, I’d pass on another box of these.



1 Lisa { 05.06.08 at 6:34 am }

Kevin, I would feel the same way. Now a days it’s not worth struggling with poorly constructed cigars even if they taste fantastic. Cigar makers should be encouraged to make the “complete package” or people won’t buy them. For those in which price is the primary factor then the credo, “you get what you pay for” factors in. For me, I would rather give up cigars than to settle for a shoddy product.

2 Kevin { 05.06.08 at 8:04 am }

Hi Lisa! Like most, I am intrigued by the two buck wonders, partly because I’ve stumbled across some real winners in the past — Oliva Angel 100, Padilla Achilles, etc. But every now and again I get a rude, you-get-what-you-pay-for awakening! This, I’m afraid, was one of those.

3 La Rosa Especial Piquin — The Box Press { 09.07.08 at 3:24 pm }

[…] There is just a hint of brown sugar and bread on the finish. In this way, it reminds me of the Don Kiki Brown Label, though the Brown Label has far more […]

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