It was early 2015 that Illusione released their anticipated followup to 2008’s ~eccj~ cigar—dubbed the ~eccj~ 20th. And as with most Illusione releases, you’ll need to do a little digging to find the meaning behind their mystery-shrouded concepts. For ~eccj~, it’s not as “Illuminati-esque” as their usual forte, but it still requires a quick overview.
The original ~eccj~ was made to commemorate the European Cigar Cult Journal’s (there’s your acronym) 15th anniversary. And while the “journal” now simply goes by “Cigar Journal”, the new ~eccj~ 20th keeps the old title. Yes, it appears the cigar missed the actual 20th anniversary by a couple of years, but it’s the thought that counts… And I think we can all agree, a better product trumps a timely release.
~eccj~ was such a popular release, Illusione later converted the cigar to a regular production, under the name Epernay. For the 20th anniversary blend, brand owner Dion Giolito has tweaked the original blend, making for what many describe as “An amped-up Epernay.”
~eccj~ 20th Breakdown
- Wrapper: Nicaraguan Corojo 99
- Binder: Nicaraguan
- Filler: Nicaraguan Criollo 98 | Nicaraguan Corojo 99
- Factory: TABSA (Nicaragua)
- Production: Limited edition (2,000 boxes of 15 cigars)
- Vitola: 6½” x 48 (Corona Extra/Short Churchill)
- Price: $13.00
I’ll tell you straight out—the ~eccj~ 20th looks fantastic. The wrapper is a dark gold hue, which Illusione describes as Café Rosado. There are lots of small, yet prominent veins, and the seams are clearly visible—topped with a perfectly placed triple cap. The wrapper leaf is speckled with light spots, possibly water marks, where the areas didn’t fully ferment to match the rest of the leaf. These are only minor distractions from a near-perfect construction. The roll is hard on the exterior, like papier mâché, with no soft spots. And looking at the foot, it doesn’t appear to be overly packed—this (combined with the papier mâché-like exterior) is usually a good indication, with signs of a good draw, slow burn time, and (hopefully) a straight burn.
On the nose, there are notes of buttered nuts, leather, and strange conglomeration I’d describe as “thrift shop”—think perfume meets musk…
A citrus-filled pre-draw unveils a predictably perfect resistance, just a little stiffer than medium. With a light, the profile starts much more mellow than your average Nicaraguan, with instantly noticeable notes of roasted nuts, cedar, and a fruitiness in the retrohale. The smoke is buttery smooth, with an oily texture that coats the palate.
As far as smoke output goes, I’m satisfied—it’s less than desirable, but there’s enough to let you know you’re making some progress. The burn line is wavy, yet it stays on course, with no signs of a touchup needed. The retrohale begins to sharpen up at around the 1″ mark, bringing in notes of white pepper and chili spice. On the palate, the nuttiness continues, showing hazelnut, Cubanesque qualities, and a slight backdrop of perfume (thankfully this is very minor). ~eccj~ is very pleasant and complex, though it’s interesting that there is almost no sweetness to be found—this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, potentially even good—as an overly sweet smoke can sometimes mask deeper complexities.
The kick of spice in the retro doesn’t last long, maybe an inch; this is replaced by classic notes of Cuban muskiness, sawdust, and a little saltiness on the finish. The smoke is about a medium body and flavor, with a medium-light strength. It’s the type of flavor that isn’t going to hit you over the head to grab your attention—but if you give it the time and attention it deserves, you’ll be fully rewarded with a rich complexity. Nearing the final portion of the cigar, I found flavors of buttered squash, lemon grass, hints of anise, vanilla, and even a wasabi-like zing in the retrohale—as the strength amped up to around medium-plus for the finale.
Would I smoke this cigar again?
Easy—yes! I’ve always been a big fan of the Epernay, and while I’ve never been lucky enough to try the original ~eccj~, I can’t imagine it being much better than this (though I could certainly be persuaded…). Up until this point, I’d give the award for “best Illusione cigar” to the Singulare family, but there’s no question in my mind, ~eccj~ is now the clear winner.
The cigar could really be smoked any time of day, but afternoon onwards will be your best bet. Pairing? This would pair pretty easily with anything that isn’t too heavy, but I’ll tell you, I was daydreaming of pairing with a nice Belgian Golden Strong Ale for a good portion of this smoking experience—I feel that would suit this smoke perfectly.
- Top-notch construction
- Superior complexity and refined flavors
- Slow burner (2+ hours)
- Occasional perfume-like flavors