Since we had a positive experience with Cigars International's Gurkha Park Avenue line, we decided to turn to the mail order giant again and sample another of their house brands. Black Crown is made at Fabrica de Tabacos Raíces Cubanas in Honduras, one of our favorite manufacturers, and the past and present home of many standout brands including the eponymous Raíces Cubanas and Alec Bradley Family Blend.
While the cigar comes from a genuine "boutique" factory, it satisfies both of our requirements for being available to anyone with an address and affordable. The corona we smoked is $4 each by the five pack, or $3.50 if purchased in a full box of 20. Of course, since Cigars International is promo-crazy, you can probably wait for them to go on sale for considerably less, or head over to their auction site in search of a real bargain price.
Black Crown comes in five normal sizes; no jawbreaker-size smokes are anywhere in sight. We chose the 5.5" x 44 corona because we love coronas, and also because this format often is completely absent from many modern product lines. We also figured it bodes well for the brand, since it is generally accepted that only true cigar geeks seek out thinner formats like coronas and lanceros.
The construction is on the rustic side...a little lumpy, with a dull, mottled but still attractively hued wrapper. You even get something like a triple cap. All in all though, the cigar vaguely reminds us of two of our favorite coronas, Tatuaje's Noella and Cuba's Montecristo No. 3, both of which cost more than double the Black Crown.
Consistency is a virtue in any cigar, let alone a bargain priced brand. After sampling half a box, we found each one to look and feel about the same and all had an excellent draw and burn with virtually no variations from sample to sample.
Upon lighting, the cigar struck us as a rather less refined version of Alec Bradley's Family Blend. Both are initially woody, but the Black Crown is more of a damp, smoldering hickory with an almost dirt-like mouthfeel. While that may sound unappealing, it's actually interesting. And because this is a medium-bodied cigar, these are not intense or overpowering characteristics. Fans of peaty whisky may find some appeal here, though actually pairing the two might be redundant. We liked it best with a simple, cold tea which served not only as a sweet, citrusy counterpoint but also an effective palate cleanser.
As the cigar progresses it takes on more earthy character and an aroma of dank fall ground cover. There's some light pepper and roasted mushroom notes as well as a hint of Kentucky pipe tobacco. From about the first third to the end, the cigar doesn't evolve much but that's not necessarily a bad thing since there's enough going on. However, the flavors did occasionally straddle the fine line between "interesting" and "off," and the finish was rich but short, leaving the palate slightly less than refreshed.
We think Black Crown falls into the "like it or lump it" category. With more finesse it could have been a fascinating smoke. We found ourselves grappling with ways to adequately describe the various aspects, which is usually more of a high priced problem. Age may smooth it out somewhat but our gut tells us it will also likely dull it, so we say smoke these now.
You can't hope to please everyone with a boutique cigar blend, especially when you're working on a tight budget. The Black Crown corona may not have universal appeal but the mere Cigars International was able to bring a characterful cigar to market for between $3 and $4 each is worth noting.
5.5 x 44
B: Nicaragua, Honduras
F: Not Specified
Steeped in smoky wood and dank earth, this is a somewhat unrefined but interesting smoke for those who might like a rustic Nicaraguan cigar with peaty whisky character.