July 17, 2012

REVIEW: L'Atelier Surrogates Crystal Baller (pre-release)

Let's talk about a new stick coming soon from the Surrogates brand of cigars. Surrogates, for those of you who don't know, is a line of cigars owned by Dan Welsh, owner/operator of  New Havana Cigars. There were two releases from this line this past year - the Skull Breaker and the Bone Crusher. Much buzz was around these cigars in the early days because Dan was not forthcoming with where these sticks were being made and explained that it was an experiment he was conducting.

Dan explained the experiment as this: I was curious, given my business model, how much hype goes into our smoking and buying decisions. Although I am thoroughly an advocate of educating ourselves as to what we are smoking, eating or drinking - so as to develop our palate and make better decisions when choosing future things - I also think that when we try something new without the hype of a limited release, or a certain manufacturer or claims of aged tobacco or 100% ligero, etc., that we come across a more authentic tasting experience.   So, being that it is not limited - this seemed like a great opportunity to tell everyone 'try it and decide'.

Fast forward a few months to now and we all know the cat is out of the bag with the experiment, and that Pete Johnson of Tatuaje fame blended and produced these sticks at the My Father Cigar factory in Esteli. Now to add one more chapter to the story of the Surrogates brand, the former two releases and the two newer releases (this one and Tramp Stamp) are being licensed out to be made for a new company called L’Atelier Imports for the foreseeable future. L'Atelier is a new company formed by Dan Welsh, Pete Johnson, K.C. Johnson, and Shawn Johnson. I don't tend to write news stories on this site, so if you want the full scoop on L'Atelier, check out Cigar Brief's post or Charlie's Halfwheel post.

OK. Now that all of the information is out of the way, let's move on to the review.

Vitola: Robusto +ish, with a box press
Length: 5 3/4
Ring Gauge: 56
Wrapper: Ecuadoran Habano
Binder: Nicaraguan
Filler: Nicaraguan
Price: $8.00
Smoking Location: My back deck
Beverage: water


The first thing I noticed while looking at my Crystal Baller was the wrapper and just how much lighter a wrapper Surrogates used for this line in comparison to its older brothers. I know it comes from a different seed entirely, so I shouldn't have been surprised, but it was different seeing the standard "Surrogates" band on a lighter, peanut brown-colored wrapper. The artwork was simple and still looked a bit sinister, which kept the design in line with the others, even though there are no bones or death on this one. The box press was not too hard but hard enough to give it that box-pressed feel in your hand. (That sounds dumb, but you know what I mean if you smoke box-pressed cigars). The pre-lit aroma was filled with natural sweetness and light molasses notes at the open foot. I had no problems with clipping the cap; the draw was free with just a slight resistance. The flavors from the cold draw were a mixture of that same natural sweetness but included some citrus and plum flavors.

First Third
Thick and rich doughy flavors hit the center of my palate right away when I got my Crystal Baller sparked up. It was almost like biting into a baguette, but without the crunch (obviously.) That was the front of the profile, but just as interesting on the finish was a sweet yet salty spice that lasted awhile between puffs. It was in no way a peppery spice, but a combo of sweet and salty. If you've ever had homemade ice cream that wasn't made exactly right and you pick up a lingering bit of salt....that was it exactly. It worked well to cut into some of the richness that came on strong at the beginning of each puff. The burn was straight and the draw excellent. I'd put the nicotine level in the medium range.

Second Third
During the second third of my Crystal Baller, I was still picking up a lot of the "bready" flavor from the first third, but at this point, it wasn't as rich or dominate. Mixing in on the front was a slight hint of graham cracker and burnt sugar that seemed to go back and forth in strength between draws. The finish also had a change up and picked up (at one point, very strongly) some dry cocoa notes. Think dry NESQUIK powder before you add the milk. The salty flavor was still there, too, but not as strongly or in your face as it had been in the first third. Again, no issues at all with the burn nor the draw. Another note worth mentioning was how strong and dense the ash was. At this point, I'd still say the strength was medium but could tell it was building.

Final Third and Final Thoughts 
The final third brought on more spice than earlier on the front of the profile. The consistent bread flavor was absolutely still there, but instead of the graham or burnt sugar notes, I picked up a rather strong, spicy nutmeg. Yup. I didn't see that one coming either. This flavor continued to dominate the front of the profile until the end of the cigar. Speaking of domination, the saltiness returned full tilt on the finish during the final third and, again, acted as a nice balance to cut into the deep flavors from the front of each draw. The construction was perfect to the nub and I'd say the nicotine level did pick up in the final third to a solid medium-full. It's not going to knock you over with nicotine power, but it will let you know it's there.

Final thoughts on the L'Atelier Surrogates Crystal Baller (pre-release)? This cigar had a lot going on and noteworthy, staple consistency. The bread flavor is definitely the main taste profile for this smoke, but the other flavors seemed to jump in and out enough to keep anyone from getting anything close to bored. It certainly had unique flavor combos that I don't often get in other cigars. It's nothing at all like the other Surrogates releases that I love, but a solid cigar nonetheless.

Would I buy it again? Yes.

Would I buy a box? I tend to like a more peppery cigar for a full box purchase, but for its uniqueness and my curiosity on how these will age, I'd be in for a box. Plus, the price is excellent.



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