A little over a month ago, I wrote the following in my blog from 7/9:
Black Label Trading Company Benediction and Black Label Trading Company Salvation - A couple of weeks or months ago, my good friend Brad from CigarStix announced that he would be the exclusive distributor for a new line of cigars - Black Label Trading Company. He provided little information at first on the brand, but has since taken to social media to get the word out employing an innovative Ambassador program. A few weeks ago, Brad sent me a sample of 2 of the 6 lines - Benediction and Salvation (the others are Royalty, Redemption, Lawless, and Last Rites) - both in a 5x54 vitola(they also come in 6x60s with the Redemption 6x60 and both Last Rites sizes available as box pressed) to get my thoughts. One note I will make is that while I am not a reviewer, I often don't think its "fair" for a reviewer to judge a cigar off a 1 cigar sample. Unfortunately, I only received 1 of each cigar and, since the nature of this blog isn't necessarily to review the cigar, I will share my thoughts. First, the branding on these cigars is really cool - I'm digging the naming used and the banding (including foot band on each) really fits the theme. The cigar itself looks perfect - nice, crisp leaf that is not overly veiny. Both cigars were firm to the touch with a slight give. Each received a straight guillotine cut and the pre-light draw seemed very tight on both. I wondered if the tobacco was overpacked. I took a bit extra off the cap on each to see if I could open the draw a bit, but found the draw was very tight on both throughout the smoke (it would eventually open up in the final third a bit), but both still gave off decent smoke production albeit not copious amounts of smoke. Burn was wavy in parts, but razor sharp for the most part. I don't know what strength these are classified as, but I'd guess in the medium-full range which for some reason I found a bit surprising as I guess I expected fuller experiences to go along with the branding. I think my draw concerns impacted my overall enjoyment of this cigar, but I still am eager to track down some more (and I'm hearing great things about some of the other lines - namely the Last Rites) to make a final decision.
Shortly after this review posted, I was contacted by Eric from Black Label Trading Company to apologize for my experience and to assure me that the tight draw I experienced was a fluke that no one else has come across. Eric offered to send me samples of the entire line to prove that this was a fluke, and while I told him that wasn't necessary, a shipment arrived on my doorstep a short time later. I thought this provided me the opportunity to do a full line review and I will attempt to experience all 6 blends (in the 5x54 vitola, though they do come in 6x60 as well with the Redemption 6x60 and both Last Rites sizes available as box pressed) over the course of this week and report back on each win as a means to cover the entire brand in preparation for their September 26th debut on CigarChat with Logan & Robby.
Lawless - Monday arrived and I kicked off the week with the Lawless. The Lawless presents Nicaraguan filler and binder wrapped in a dark brown Ecuadorian Habano Rosado wrapper. I was a bit surprised to learn this had an Ecuadorian Habano Rosado wrapper as it appears much darker than some other instances of that wrapper I've seen - notably the Ortega Serie D Natural. Nevertheless, I took a guillotine to it and toasted the foot for some initial drags. Immediately I can tell you that the draw and construction are light years better than my initial experiences with BLTC. Draw was pretty open - something I prefer - and there was significant smoke output even as it sat on my Stinky ashtray. Throughout much of this medium/medium-full cigar, earth was the dominant flavor for me with some woodsy notes throughout, but I felt the cigar ramped up in power a bit as well as sweetness, oddly, in the final third. I actually found myself enjoying the cigar the most in the final third and think it all came together at that point. Construction and burn were perfect throughout and I was able to nub it without any touch-ups or relights. I actually just had someone contact me asking for my thoughts on this cigar as he knew I was doing this blog, and he was a bit surprised that I enjoyed this cigar as he had a different experience. Different strokes...
Last Rites - After skipping Tuesday for work commitments, I decided to pull out the Last Rites for Wednesday's post-work smoke. From everything I've heard on Twitter and throughout the "blogosphere", the Last Rites seems to be extremely popular so I was hoping for something big. The Last Rites includes fillers from Nicaragua and Honduras with a Honduran binder and a dark, deep brown Aged Ecuadorian Maduro wrapper - one of, if not THE, darkest wrapper in the line. One odd note that is bothering me is that the foot band that says "Last Rites" is slightly off-centered from the main BLTC band. I don't know why this bothered me, but it was significant enough for me to take note. Again, even from the pre-light draw, I can tell that the draw on this is much more open than my initial experiences. While I haven't re-tried the Salvation or Benediction yet, I'm beginning to think Eric was right - I did have a fluky experience. Further, while the draw and smoke output were excellent again on this, the burn was a bit wavy and once got a bit out of hand, and I would have to relight this cigar a few times throughout the smoke. Again, while I find myself expecting these cigars to be full-bodied for some reason, I find this to be firmly supplanted in the medium-full range throughout. The major flavors seem to provide an earthy, bitter sweetness - almost like a black coffee - that draws some chocolate flavors as it burns. I found these flavors to be dominant throughout, and while I enjoyed the smoke and will smoke it again, I think the lofty expectations I had for it bring it down a notch in my eyes. I think I'll find, as I often do, that I enjoy this immensely more the second time I smoke it with slimmed down expectations. As for now, I rank the blends as Lawless, then Last Rites, but the Last Rites has definite potential to be my favorite of the line when I go in blank.
Royalty - Thursday started off and I decided to work from home - or the local cigar shop as luck would have it - and decided to bring the Royalty along with me. Nicaraguan filler with Honduran binder and a Corojo Ecuador wrapper produce the Royalty. The wrapper is a milk chocolate brown with a reddish hue commiserate with the Corojo leaf. Immediately on the pre-light draw and initial puffs, I got a piney flavor that I found pretty unique. With the Corojo wrapper, I usually get a sweet and spicy mix, but this blend didn't provide that for me save for an occasional spicy note that would come through. The pine flavors stayed for much of the first half of the cigar before transitioning into a cedar flavor that I'm finding to be somewhat prevalent in the BLTC cigars. Again, burn and draw were fantastic throughout continuing to prove that my initial experiences were a fluke. While the flavors of this one don't fit in my wheelhouse, I think its good at what it does and provides a unique version of the Corojo. Probably my least favorite of the 3 through 3, but that's not necessarily an indictment on the cigar - just my personal preferences.
Redemption - Typically, while I still don't claim to be a reviewer, I try not to smoke new cigars (to me) in the same day so I can fully savor the flavors of each cigar to gauge if I enjoy them or not. However, since I was already at the shop on Thursday and had the Redemption in my herfador, and figured the Royalty was a bit on the lighter side, I decided to go against my typical plans and light up the Redemption as well. I felt even more comfortable with this because the Redemption's Aged Nicaraguan Maduro wrapped Nicaraguan binder and filler provides probably the darkest cigar of the batch - a deep, deep chocolate brown. Again, I'll note - and I haven't been looking for this - the foot band on the Redemption doesn't perfectly align with the main BL band. Not sure why I note that, but it sticks out to me as I'm looking at the cigar. Of the 4 BLTC blends I've now smoked for this blog, this is the first where the ash fell off pretty quickly - not even 1/4 of an inch in, and the ash fell; however, as I continued the ash would stay on for roughly an inch at a time. Smoke output was again generous throughout. Flavor-wise, this cigar really provides a lot of complexity although it surprises me by not providing the full-bodied power and strength I was expecting for some reason. I get some hints of spice throughout, especially on the retrohale of the Redemption, but I'm quickly learning that spice is not a calling card of the BLTC blends (at least not for someone who regularly smokes fuller cigars like me). The familiar cedar flavors I've noted in the other blends presents itself here with a definite leather - something I've struggled to find myself in cigars previously, but is obvious here. At points I get some bitter sweetness which I attribute to coffee flavors. Overall I can say that while I continually expect strong powerhouses from these BLTC blends, I'm consistently surprised by the uniqueness these blends provide. It's hard for me to compare these to other cigars because I don't know too many Nicaraguan Maduro wrapped cigars with this flavor profile. I'm eager for others to try these blends so I can get some comparison in my notes and begin some discussion on what these bring to the table. At this point, I put this cigar in the same vicinity as the Last Rites in terms of my preferences of the line.
Benediction - Friday arrives and brings with it the "big day" in terms of this blog. Benediction and Salvation were the original two BLTC cigars I smoked, and I experienced draw issues, and now, after smoking the 4 other blends, I'm left with these two again. I've already proven that the BLTC cigars don't have tight draws on the whole, but what about the Benediction and Salvation individually? I cut the cap off with a guillotine and immediately I can tell this cigar is not as packed as the original - its filled, but not too tight. I take some pre-light draws that are as open as you could want and get leaps of that familiar cedar/wood in my mouth. I go to toast the foot and my Xikar runs out of fuel! What a kicker! I run inside to grab another lighter and we're finally lit! Before we go any further, I think at this point we can safely say that my first experience with these cigars was a fluke. The draw on these is very open, smoke is constantly and consistently pouring off of this cigar, and I can get the ash to about 2" and only knock it off because it is beginning to impact the burn. At this point, going into the smoke my expectations are a bit tempered on what I can expect from the tobacco combination - Nicaraguan filler and binder wrapped in a milk-chocolate brown Aged Nicaraguan Habano. The cedar I got on the pre-light is again the dominating flavor through the first third along with a bit of bitter chocolate, but as we move into the second third there are some subtle pepper notes that turn into some harshness on the retrohale. I'm surprised by this as Eric told me this was the lightest blend they offer, but I actually enjoy it. The pepper flavors are extremely subtle as I burn, but the flavor profile remains roughly the same throughout with the bitter chocolate getting a bit creamier and less bitter into the final third. I'm finding that other than the Royalty which didn't fit my preferences and the Lawless which stood out for me, I rank the other blends very similarly.
Salvation - And then came #6. Nicaraguan filler with a Honduran binder and an Ecuadorian Sun Grown Habano wrapper. After praising the virtues of the draw through the first 5 blends in Black Label's portfolio, the Salvation again threw a bit of a wrench into things. Again, I took my guillotine and snipped off the cap and the pre-light draw was a bit tight. I decided to take another snip and now I'm getting a much more open draw. I should probably note that I really like a wide open draw. I'd say the 5 blends I've already covered satisfy my preferences, but the draw on the Salvation, while not quite as open, is probably in the "perfect draw" realm. In terms of flavor, the Salvation ran me over with pine. All the way through I felt the cigar progressively ramp up in pine flavor while progressively becoming a bit more mellow. I kept waiting for this blend to pull the trigger, but it just never hit for me. From my notes, I'm curious how similar the blends for this cigar and the Royalty are because they seem awfully similar to me which is intriguing given the different wrappers. Unfortunately, as with the Royalty, the flavor profile is just not one that intrigues me. Again, this is not to say this is a bad cigar as I can see someone who enjoys the flavor profile loving this cigar.
And with that, we are done. In the span of the past week, I have been able to enjoy all 6 Black Label Trading Company blends. I actually wonder how many people outside the company can say they have done that at this point! First, let's be utterly and totally clear, the construction and draw issues I had in the first samples had to be flukes as all 6 of these smoked and burned fantastically. You can talk about lots of things with regards to these cigars (the branding is still awesome) and the flavors might not be in your wheelhouse, but the construction of these is legit.
I'm curious of the similarities between the different BLTC blends - is the deep, almost sweet cedar a calling card for the brand, are the binder/filler of the Salvation & Royalty that similar, or is my palate just that "elementary"? Could be either as I never claim to be a reviewer - just a guy who knows what he likes to smoke! I don't know what the MSRP is on any of these so my opinion could change (I've heard people say $14 each, but I can't find that info in any of the materials I have or can find), but I don't envision myself going out to buy a box of any of these (I also typically only buy boxes of cigars I like to smoke daily or that are difficult to track down regularly). With that said, outside of the Royalty which was just too mild for my preferences and the Salvation which just never delivered, these are all cigars that I enjoyed and would smoke again and I could see them all really fitting some smoker's palates perfectly. The Lawless is something that worked for me and I'll be sure to make sure I have some in my humidor at all times, and I really envision the Last Rites ending up being my favorite in the line and being one that I also make sure to keep in hand. James Brown of BLTC actually told me that the blend works best, in his opinion, as a box-pressed and even the 6x60 as opposed to the 5x54 I smoked.
My suggestion is to track these down and experience them for yourselves. I don't think these are blends that will work for everyone, but what they do, they do well, and I imagine that people that enjoy the flavor profiles will fall in love with them. As I've mentioned briefly, I have shared notes with a couple of people who have smoked some of these blends, and I've heard one say that he didn't care for a blend while another told me he's trying to track down a box as soon as he can. If you've smoked any of these, please share your opinions with me as I do this really to compare thoughts with others and I don't know too many who have smoked these yet.
Finally, I want to thank Eric and BLTC for the samples. My thoughts were conducted off of 1 cigar a piece, but I will be revisiting these in the coming months to see how some time in the humidor has treated each of them. Stay tuned and thanks for reading! Goodbye for now!