In any event, the cigars were apparently a success and the store owner finally decided to distribute them, first in Europe and later, in the United States. The brand got off to a good start, and by 2013, one of their cigars was named #7 cigar of the year on Cigar Aficionado magazine's annual list. Not bad, considering it was priced at only $5.40 at the time.
In our view, the El Gran Rey is the most Cuban-esque of the entire line. Fans of Romeo y Julieta and Saint Luis Rey will probably appreciate the style here. The range is small: a robusto, toro and the subject of our review, this belicoso. We also sampled the toro and found it very nice, but the Belicoso was bolder, more flavorful and aromatic.
Right out of the box, the cigar is vaguely pungent. That makes sense, being an all-Nicaraguan blend. Presented without cellophane, the cigars benefit from their time in the plain cedar box packaging. While this is often described as a full-bodied cigar, we'd peg it as full-flavored but rather medium in terms of strength. By the way, the wrappers seem much lighter in person than they do in pictures.
Well-made and triple-capped, the Bellicoso starts off with a distinct twangy blast of salty tobacco, quite different than the slow-starting toro. As it settles down, there's a pleasant leathery quality but also a good amount of extra dry and pungent woodiness and floral notes. That dryness is, to us, appealing in the same way a dry white wine can be crisp and bracing. Not everyone will agree on that point. Certainly, pairing this with something sweet like a fruit tea will hep create some counterpoint.
Closer to the midway point, we picked up some salted caramel which added both richness and sweetness that really rounded things out. From then on, it offered a very pleasant balance of sweet-bitter-salty that was relatively straightforward but nonetheless enjoyable. It remained medium-bodied but delivered plenty of smoke and lots of flavor that lingered on the palate. Toward the end, the bitter elements gained prominence and it was time to lay the El Gran Rey down.
This is a style of cigar we happen to love, and we very much want to rate it Excellent. Unfortunately, when judged against the entire cigar universe, it does have some unique elements that may not appeal to everyone. For instance, we appreciate dry, floral cigars as much as we enjoy a dry martini, but we understand some would consider that dryness unappealing. Plus, we do have to admit, the cigar lacks the complexity of Cuban cigars we'd compare it to—which can cost around the same as the El Gran Rey depending on where you're buying.
There's a lot to like here for the smoker who appreciates medium bodied cigars with full flavor. Are you the kind of person who runs toward stinky cheese instead of away? Does smoky, peaty whisky whet your whistle far more often than a good old Glenlivet 12? If so, give these a try.
5 3/8 x 52
A Cuban-style cigar that fans of Romeo y Julieta and Saint Luis Rey may appreciate. Lovely, medium-bodied and well-made. Floral, twangy, leathery and for us, appealingly crisp and dry...but not everyone will appreciate that last bit.