Patrick, I like the theory on cigar scoring! Sounds like a cigar unlikely to offend, like an English Gent
Review: XIKAR HC Series Habano² Robusto (Prerelease)
The XIKAR HC Series has an interesting history, dating all the way back to 2007 and XIKAR’s entry into the cigar market with the Defiance, which debuted at the 2007 RTDA trade show in Houston. Despite the fact that the cigar received some critical acclaim, the name didn’t resonate with consumers and in May 2009 it was rebranded as part of the HC Series, specifcally as the HC Series Criollo.
In May of 2008, XIKAR filed a trademark application for a new line of cutters, lighters and other accessories called the Havana Collection. Less then five months later, XIKAR found itself on the receiving end of a filing of opposition by Habanos S.A., the corporation who oversees the Cuban cigar industry. Habanos S.A. claimed that consumers would be confused by use of the word Havana in regards to cigars, cutters, humidors, lighters and humidification devices. The opposition centered around a name registered by Habanos S.A., Habanos Unicos desde 1492 (U.S. Registration #2,177,837).
One of the key points of the 53–item list of objections that was filed on September 22, 2008 were contentions that the word Havana should be limited to usage on products that originate from Cuba.
It was on April 18, 2009 when XIKAR announced via a press release that they were launching the new HC Series cigar line, which looked nearly (if not totally) identical to the Havana Collection, but using a different name. While the name has been changed on the cigars, the accessories with the Havana Collection name remain, as you can see on the XIKAR website.
In the May 19, 2009 edition of Cigar Insider, Jerry Dear, executive vice president of sales and marketing at XIKAR said that they were unable to use the Havana Collection name on a cigar line, as “Habanos [S.A.] objected.”
The trial brief from Corporacion Habanos S.A. was filed on January 9, 2012, a document you can find at Frank Herrera’s Cigar Law website if you’d like to read it. Herrera, a lawyer who keeps a watchful eye on litigation in the cigar industry, said that the case is still awaiting a final order and expects it to be resolved by early 2013.
Since being released, the HC lines have steadily expanded, adding vitolas and dropping prices in a move to gain more market share, something Dear said was a goal of the company in the Cigar Insider article. But it wasn’t until the summer of 2012 when XIKAR added a new line to the HC Series – the Habano² (Habano Squared), which debuted at the IPCPR convention and trade show in Orlando earlier this month.
XIKAR says that the cigar was born as the result of the travels and life experiences of co-founders Kurt Van Keppel and Scott Almsberger, and the interior art of the box features both of their photos and signatures. The company was secretive about the blend of the new cigar, not publishing the country of origin of the wrapper and binder, nor the factory in which it was made. However, e-mails to the company revealed that the cigar was blended by “the HC Team” and made at A.J. Fernandez’s Tabacalera Fernandez in Nicaragua, making it the first cigar in the HC Series not to be made by Jesus Fuego nor rolled at Nestor Plasencia’s factories in Honduras and Nicaragua. The XIKAR Habano² is being released in four sizes:
Robusto (5 x 50) — $6.75 (Boxes of 21, $142.00)
Toro (6 1/2 x 52) — $7.75 (Boxes of 21, $163.00)
Belicoso (6 x 54) — $8.00 (Boxes of 21, $168.00)
Grande (6 x 60) — $8.50 (Boxes of 21, $178.50)
All four sizes are slated to begin shipping to retailers on August 20, 2012.
The boxes look like this:
Now that we’vegot that out of the way, let’s light this stick up.
Cigar Reviewed: XIKAR HC Series Habano² Robusto
Country of Origin: Nicaragua
Factory: Tabacalera Fernandez
Wrapper: Ecuadorian Habano2000
Binder: Ecuadorian Sumatra
Filler: Honduran and Nicaraguan
Size: 5 Inches
Ring Gauge: 50
Vitola: Box-Pressed Robusto
MSRP: $6.75 (Boxes of 21, $142.00)
Release Date: August 20, 2012
Number of Cigars Released: Regular Production
Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3
The XIKAR HC Series Habano² is covered with a smooth Habano2000 wrapper that has an almost matte-like finish. There are just a few small veins and an ever so slightly mottled medium brown color. Both the pre-light aroma and cold draw have a great complexity to them: the nose picks up a cool spicy note with herbs and almond as the driving factors, while the palate gets wood, some spice and an almond liqueur coming through. There is a uniform amount of give in the cigar, though it doesn’t feel underfilled at all, and its softness in the mouth is a change of pace from what seems to be a pattern of smoking cigars without as much give. It’s also worth noting that the Habano² has an updated band, as Habano² is featured prominently on the bottom of the band, while the side artwork gets a different look and the footband on the rest of the HC Series isn’t used on this new release.
An enjoyable combination of spice, wood and earth begin the first third—full flavor and medium-plus in body. The spice component starts to build after the cigar has burned about three-quarters of an inch in and is particularly strong in the retrohale, where it is combined with a slightly chalky dryness. The initial boldness of the flavors settles down a bit by the end of the first inch, and despite a fairly strong lean, the ash of the XIKAR holds on nicely through the first inch as well.
The second third continues the mellowing of flavors a bit, though they stay upfront and as smooth as they have been up to this point. The spice that is present doesn’t go right after the palate, but plays a supporting role to the earthiness in the overall flavor. Through the first half, the Habano² has performed perfectly with a sharp burn line, copious amounts of smoke and no combustion issues. If anything, it’s a slow burning cigar, providing plenty of opportunity to pick apart the flavor combinations presented. Nutmeg, some brown sugar and a faint amount of spice make up the bulk of the flavor at this point, with the heavier earthiness found in the first third fading almost completely away.
A noticeable uptick in spice starts the transition to the final third of the XIKAR Habano², with the wood notes coming out as a leading note, though the overall flavor isn’t as thick and stewed as it was in the first third. There is a mineral, metallic taste that colors the flavor a bit, an interesting change that makes the Habano²’s flavor teeter on the edge of being unpleasant. While the first and third cigars smoked stayed cool all the way down to the finger-burning end, the second warmed up to the point of being downright hotwith about an inch to go.
- The Havana Collection/HC Series was born out of XIKAR’s original cigar release, known as the Defiance, which eventually became the HC Series Criollo.
- The XIKAR HC Series Habano² settles in at a medium-plus in terms of strength, particularly in the final third. It may be a bit too strong for fans of mild cigars, particularly right out of the gate, but I’d have a hard time believing anyone who’s moved past the standard list of introductory cigars wouldn’t enjoy this.
- One thing I will say about this cigar: it is smooth all the way through. There’s not a note of harshness to be found at all.
- Specifics as to who exactly “the HC Team” that blended this cigar remain a secret, though given the marketing, it figures that Kurt Van Keppel and Scott Almsberger were a part of it.
- The shift to A.J. Fernandez’s factory, and subsequent separation from Jesus Fuego, has been a relatively quiet piece of this new cigar.
- According to XIKAR, the box designs you see are mockups, as no photos of the finalized boxes were available. Why, you ask? The finished boxes weren’t expected to arrive until this coming week.
- XIKAR changed the cover image on their Facebook page to Almsberger and Van Keppel walking in a tobacco field when they started letting the news out about this new cigar, with the tag “Treasure Hunt.” It’s a bit of a departure from one of the original XIKAR images of them at the drawing board working on cutter and lighter designs.
- The bands on the XIKAR HC Series Habano² slid right off with no wrapper damage whatsoever. If every cigar band were put on the way these were, the world would be a better place.
- Additional kudos to XIKAR for sending these cigars with humidification. If more people sent cigars with humidification, the world would be a better place.
- The cigars were sent for review by XIKAR.
- Final smoking time is about one hour and 40 minutes.
The Bottom Line: When trying to put a number to a cigar, for me there are two schools of thought: start at 100 and deduct points as you find things wrong, or start at zero and add points as you find things you like. In the case of the XIKAR HC Series Habano² Robusto, the two approaches would end up with a slightly different score. There’s not a ton to dislike about this stick: it performs flawlessly, has absolutely no harshness or unpleasant parts, and given the price, is about as good a value for the money as I can recall in recent memory. That means there’s not a lot to deduct from a perfect score. But start at zero, and the lack of a few more pronounced flavor changes and a somewhat uneventful second third keeps it from achieving the same high score it would have gotten using the deduction method. So how do I resolve this gap? Split the difference and give it an unreserved recommendation, while picking some up for myself whenever I want a flavorful medium-bodied cigar with some character and a friendly price.
Final Score: 89