That's why his semi-annual EL release is so anticipated: it's the smallest of the small batches, the craftiest of craft brews. A Nicraguan puro, this year's is limited to just 900 boxes of 15 cigars. To put that in perspective, it is estimated that Habanos SA produces about 25 million Montecristo No. 4 petit coronas annually. Illusione have bounced their cigar production around a bit over the years, but it looks like they're now made in Nicaragua again.
The inaugural release, 2010's toro-sized Phantom, was a gorgeous and subtle knockout that we will soon revisit as an aged smoke. There was no 2011 due to some logistical complications, so Illusione just went ahead and released it in 2012. That brings us to the 2013 edition, a 7x46 churchill called Rose Croix.
Illusione's packaging is simple and authentic. The 2013 EL arrived in the same basic cedar cab that has become a brand signature. Like nearly all Illusiones, the cigars aren't individually sleeved in cellophane. Most manufacturers who actually place a large emphasis on making profits don't do this because the cigars can get damaged in shipping. They also don't fare too well when being poked and prodded by customers while on display. However, cigar nuts (like us) prefer un-cellophaned cigars for aging and presentation.
The cigars themselves look good, as expected. A reddish Colorado leaf with fine veins and nice oils are offset by the classy silver-and-white bands. Let's talk about those bands for a second because they are very small. It seems like bands have gotten so big nowadays that sometimes they cover up half of the cigar! Not here, and we think that's a good sign. It means Illusione thinks the cigar is good enough to grab our attention rather than the band. Illusione say the Rose Croix is a 46 ring gauge, but it feels more like a 48 or even a 49.
Out first sample was a fairly simple tasting cigar. The flavors were the standard pepper and wood at the start and felt like they were going to open up when we encountered a burn problem. This lasted throughout the middle of the cigar, which got quite hot while trying to smoke through it, compounded by a need for frequent touch-ups. By the final third, it was a worse for the wear, exhibiting mostly aggressive cedar and pepper notes. We might have simply discarded the cigar without comment under normal circumstances, but since we were only able to get our greasy paws on a single box of 15, it was a bummer losing one to below average construction.
Subsequent examples fared much better, with a balance not unlike Scotch whisky. Hickory and smoke loomed large throughout each cigar, with a dash of white pepper and some charred protein. Toward the end a sweetness emerges but so does a waxy quality on the finish, which was odd but not off putting – it was reminiscent of salt water taffy. The Rose Croix didn't produce a ton of smoke, and while we wouldn't call it rich by any means, neither is it austere. Therefore, these should be smoked with a fresh palate. We wouldn't recommend them after a hearty meal. Keep your beverage choice light and fresh, too. We found San Pellegrino Aranciata good for clearing the palate, and the acidity made a bracing counterpoint.
We've never met an Illusione cigar we didn't like, and the Rose Croix is no exception. Would we go out of our way to locate some? Heck yes. Would we fight a kangaroo on bath salts in a winner-take-all cage match? Nope, but only because there's so much goodness in the regular Illusione and Epernay lines. Missing out on these is hardly going to leave a hole in your soul.
We're going to suggest that you smoke, rather than hold, these. The reason is because they just weren't crazy special. A very good cigar? No doubt. But the construction and consistency seemed slightly below par, and the flavor profile a bit lean. We're going to hold onto three or four for a few years just out of curiosity, but we're not expecting the cigars to dramatically change.
Singulares have always been a tasty little thank you from Illusione to their hardcore fans. If, like us, you're part of that particular fan club, you should enjoy these.
Very limited production Illusione satisfies. Scotch-like balance of flavors. Slightly lean. Very good, possibly held back slightly by average construction.