20 Year Salute, 6.75" x 49 ring gauge / approx. $24
To celebrate 20 years of the pursuit of cigar excellence, Ashton turned to Carlos Fuente, Jr., to blend a special cigar using a sungrown leaf from Chateau de la Fuente...one that is used on no other cigar. One vitola has been released each year, starting with the 20-year salute. From what I can determine, the ESG is a Dominican puro. I have seen these on the shelves, but the combination of a very high price tag and the fact that I have just never been a huge fan of Ashton's regular line or the VSG (Virgin Sun Grown) has caused me to steer away. I bought this sample as part of a premium sampler and it will be the first experience I have had with this blend.
Taking the cigar out of its cello sheath, I was struck by the ornate band--large, multi-color, glossy pictures along with embossed and foiled angels and crowns. This is a little over-the-top to me. Nice, but verging on trying too hard to impress. The wrapper leaf felt slightly oily and velvety under my fingers and I noted a medium-brown color with a bit of darker mottling and a few larger veins. Bringing the cigar to my nose, I got a light mix of cedar and natural tobacco along with a little spice; on the foot I got a more herbal/spicy note along with some barnyard/earthy aromas. After clipping the cap with a Xikar Xi I got a cold draw that was a little tight, but very flavorful--earth, hay, wood and pepper spice all had a little influence.
After lighting up, I got a smoke that was creamy and smooth with subtle flavors of earth, leather and natural tobacco. On the retrohale I got just a little pepper burn and a bit of roasted nuttiness. When the first third really got going, I got a good mix of cedar and natural tobacco while the earthiness played a more supporting role along with a little pepper spice and occasional hints of cinnamon.
At the start of the second third, the draw went from slightly snug to bordering on unsmokeable, so I brought out the draw poker to assist. Some will say, "This is a handmade product and you're just going to get a bad stick or two in any particular box." I say "Hogwash!" At a price of over $20 a stick there is just no excuse for any stick to have bad construction attributes. The flavor was very good, but there were not major changes in ti. I wish I could say that one corrective measure solved the draw issue, but that would be lying.
When the final third started, I did start to get some real change in flavor. The body, which had been fairly mild-to-medium so far, ramped up quickly to a medium-to-full status. I started to get a lot more pepper spice on the palate along with a more subtle floral note. The draw finally got better as well; the burn line had been nothing short of perfection throughout. By the end of the ESG, I was really enjoying it, but I could not shake the feeling that a cigar of this pedigree and price tage should be spectacular from first puff to last, and for me--it just was not. I am sure there are people who thoroughly enjoy this cigar and I am happy that I finally got a chance to try it, but I can't say I would happily plop down $20+ to smoke another one. As always, though...your experience may be different from mine, so I encourage you to try this one at least once. If you already have tried it, let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.