El Original Maduro Robusto
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If you remember when these made a splash, you’re officially old school.
The El Original, made in Miami and Key Largo, FL, was a cult smoke during mid-late 90s. At the time, it was one of few non-Cubans to deserve the label of full-bodied. Most manufacturers were conjuring up medium-bodied blends for intermediate smokers stepping up from Macanudos. Master blender Santiago Cabana, meanwhile, was steps ahead, making them strong five years before anyone else thought to double dip into the ligero pile.
Senor Cabana came to the U.S. from Cuba in 1993. His web bio states that has been in the cigar industry for six decades, and plied his craft at none other than the Partagas Factory in Havana. Shortly after his arrival in Florida, Cabana began producing cigars for Key Largo’s Island Smoke Shop. First was the eponymous Santiago Cabana, which I’ll be reviewing soon. Later came the El Original, which blew the doors off of 56 other maduros to grab top honors in Smoke Mag’s Winter ‘99 taste test.
The 5″x 50 El Original Maduro Robusto uses a dark brown Mexican wrapper to cloak a Nicaraguan binder and a complex blend of Dominican, Peruvian, Honduran, Mexican and Nicaraguan fillers. Though the stick isn’t particularly heavy in the hand, a glance at the foot shows it to be jam packed with leaf.
Cigar Envy’s write-up from 2006 notes that the “El O” ages well. I concur. When I purchased this box last summer, I was disappointed. Compared to the box of Santiago Cabanas from the same order, the El O bordered on rough, like a young El Rico Habano Maduro.
This thing will jolt you right out of the gate with a peppery bite that goes straight to your nose. Fortunately, it tames itself almost immediately. After the early scare, the balance is outstanding. It remains peppery, though nothing along the lines of that first blast. It has picked up some cedar from box aging. A meaty component is present early (a note it shares with the Santiago Cabana), and after about an inch it picks up a “cakey,” dense chocolate quality.
This cigar plays against type in two ways: (1) It does not have an up-front maduro sweetness. Instead, just a hint of comes late on the finish and seems to be more a function of the cedar than the wrapper; (2) it isn’t notably earthy, as I thought it might be given the Mexican wrapper and Honduran filler.
Most striking is the draw, which is absolute perfection. Full, but with enough resistance to make me confident it’s not going to overheat. The burn is also exemplary.
The strength builds from medium-full to full. With two inches remaining, it becomes more peppery with hints of cardamom. The finish is woody at this point. Char doesn’t kick in until after I peel off the band. Good to the nub, and it’ll leave you feeling as if you’ve just finished a much larger cigar.
Finally, the value is excellent. They’re $100.00 per box (25), and if you’re the commitment type you can go for the wheel of 50 for $170, which gets the price down to $3.40 per stick.
CONCLUSION: If you can buy a box with some age on them or park them in your humidor for a year, the El Original will be among your favorite maduros. The profile is not what you’d expect from a Mexican-wrapped stick. It is full-flavored, complex and full of surprises — the kind of smoke you’ll want to pay attention to, rather than something to puff on mindlessly while browsing the web. I’d rank this alongside the LGC Wavell Miami as the best maduro I’ve had this year.