In a post-FDA-regulated cigar industry, companies that meet the predicate date—having cigars released before February 15, 2007—have suddenly been given an upper hand. This is particularly important for smaller companies, where a costly approval process is widely expected to have a devastating impact. Suddenly, these boutiques that have been quietly flying under the radar are making moves to familiarize consumers with their deep-rooted portfolios.
One such example is a small Dominican enterprise that has been operating out of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic for the past twenty-five years. Don Lucas Cigars was the brainchild of Philippe Gillet, whom was inspired by the beautiful scenery and culture of the Dominican Republic’s La Costa del Coco region—located on the eastern coast of the Dominican island, a good four and one-half hour drive from the DR’s bustling cigar mecca of Santiago.
This has helped shape the brand’s strategy over the years, with the company taking advantage of the higher tourist activity of La Costa del Coco. Located within the Don Lucas compound are a conglomerate of five entities; including the cigar factory, a gift shop, a rum boutique shop, a coffee roaster, and chocolate factory. It is estimated that over two-hundred fifty customers/tourists visit the small collection of boutiques per day, with the allure of tours and samples through the various factories. Don Lucas’ gift shop offers not only their own product, but other manufacturers, including Habanos, as well.
This setup has served the small, family operation well over the years, but Don Lucas has made efforts in recent years to reach the US clientele on a more regular basis—introducing their portfolio to US retailers in 2012, which has grown to include five cigar lines. Among these five, the brand’s flagship offering—Don Lucas Family Reserve—debuted in the summer of 2016 at the annual IPCPR trade show in Las Vegas.
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Family Reserve Natural Breakdown
- Wrapper: Dominican Criollo ’98
- Binder: Dominican
- Filler: Dominican | Nicaraguan
- Factory: Don Lucas Cigars (Dominican Republic)
- Production: Small Batch (500 boxes of 10 cigars per year/edition)
- Vitola: 5½″ × 54 (Robusto Extra)
- Price: $17.00 (MSRP)
Don Lucas Family Reserve takes the boutique mindset to heart, offering two blend variations (Natural and Maduro) with strict quality control, the brand’s most premium selection of tobaccos, and limited production. Blended and maintained by Erick Martinez, the Family Reserve is limited to five hundred boxes of Natural and five hundred boxes of Maduro cigars each year. This is accomplished in five batches of one thousand cigars per blend, with rolling teams capped at two hundred cigars per day (as opposed to the cap of four hundred cigars for the brand’s baseline products). And as an added measure, Don Lucas includes an info card within each box of cigars—detailing the year of production, batch number, box number, aging dates, and more—all hand-signed and certified, making for a nice touch of authenticity for the more discerning cigar hobbyists.
The Family Reserve lineup was introduced in a singular vitola, with both the Natural and Maduro sharing the heafty 5½″ × 54 robusto extra shape. According to Don Lucas Cigars, this will be extended to include a box-pressed version of both blends in 2017—rolling out the Natural first and later the Maduro.
Look / Feel
The Don Lucas Family Reserve has a positive first impression, with a classic and premium appearance. The eyes are first drawn to the cigar’s double bands—having a premium, thick texture on both the band and smaller foot band (which denotes the cigar as Natural or Maduro). The look is certainly not groundbreaking (a safe concept that manages to work well), with the traditional frills of gold-foil emblems and pin striping, surrounding a brush script “Don Lucas” and a Western-inspired “FAMILY RESERVE” titling. The Western look is continued to the sub-band, reading “NATURAL” in a larger format. Both bands are simplistic and feature a rugged-looking die cut shape—very similar to the iconic OpusX band—adding to the classy feel.
At 5½″ × 54, the robusto carries a good heft in the hand. The cigar feels very sturdy, with a hardened, papier-mâché-like exterior. The Criollo wrapper has a vibrant hue, with subtle highlights of orange under a Sandalwood brown appearance—it gives a slightly fuzzy feel between the fingers. There are thin, yet prominent veins and clearly visible seams and a few streaks of green from water spotting. But a very impressive overall construction, look, and feel.
On the nose, the wrapper offers above average, pungent notes of leather, burnt caramel, and floral qualities; and the foot aroma is cedar and a slight mustiness. The pre-light draw is medium/firm, with cedar flavors and a pleasing, bright sensation on the tongue.
Toasting and lighting provides an initial blast of sharp flavors on the tongue—notes of fresh-cracked peppercorns and spiced corn chips abound. On the finish, Don Lucas provides a more classical experience, with softer, warmer flavors of cinnamon and nutmeg—it reminds me of the various spices and herbs included with Christmas gift baskets. These warm spices are not accompanied with the traditional zest of pepper spice you often find at a cigar’s start, providing an all-around classical experience.
The profile is light/medium in body, medium in flavor, and light in strength; offering light/medium bursts of smoke from a medium/firm draw (which is more smoke than expected from the slightly tight draw). From the initial light, the wrapper expanded too quickly and formed a split that lasted around one inch—this didn’t affect the smoking experience other than creating a wavy burn line.
The cigar’s strength soon picks up to a solid medium, giving a little more edge to the profile. With the maintained warm and balanced combination of flavors, the profile was reminiscent of the Garcia family’s My Father No. 1 cigar. After the ember envelops the cigar’s cracked foot, the burn line straightens to near perfection—providing an increasingly velvety smoking texture on the tongue.
Construction is proving to be a strong point, as the ash stacks in solid layers of medium gray, maxing out at nearly three inches before breaking for the first time. Flavors seem to build around the halfway point, using an increasing strength to showcase tannins on the side of the mouth, a bright cedar note, and a satisfyingly sweet milk and caramel. The cigar is very retrohalable, with smooth and balanced flavors and a light hint of spice. Nearing the end, added notes of anise can be found in the nostrils and caramel and roasted chestnuts are present on the palate.
The experience ultimately becomes too heated nearing the band, offering a final profile of medium body, medium-plus strength, and medium flavor.
Would I smoke This Cigar Again?
This really depends on the situation and cost. At $17, this becomes a tricky boutique to justify. The cigars are priced more favorably at the Don Lucas Cigars factory (using tax breaks), making for the perfect souvenir to the cigar-loving tourist; and Don Lucas even arranges for factory visitors to receive the lower price on future purchases from the US. And then there’s the actual cost in the US, where the cigars can be found at a couple dollars less than MSRP, but this still places us well in luxury price territory…
Ultimately, if I’m buying: I’ll smoke 1 per year. If price is not a factor: I would smoke this a couple times per month.
- Smoking Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
- Suggested Pairing: Kentucky straight rye, hot toddy, barrel-aged brown ale, Disaronno
- Purchase Recommendation: try 1 of each (Natural & Maduro) and see if the box purchase is right for your palate
- Warm & balanced flavors
- Near-perfect construction
- Dynamic strength
- Very high price
- Slightly tight draw
- Could use more complexity