Many of today’s owners of “boutique” brands travelled a long and winding road on their journey toward the cigar business. And in the case of Oscar Valladares, that statement is not metaphorical. Oscar’s initial exposure to the tobacco business was as a bus driver for a transit company which provided tours of the vast Rocky Patel operation. Shortly thereafter, Patel hired Valladares and he spent the next nine years learning about the business under Rocky’s guidance. During this time, Oscar met Bayron Duarte—who had spent almost two decades working for General Cigar and Oliva—and the duo began discussing a future partnership. In early 2011, Valladares left Rocky Patel and opened a small cigar shop in Danli, Honduras; employing a few rollers to make fresh cigars. Near the end of the year, Bayron contacted Oscar and informed him that a small factory was for sale. With financing assistance from Valladares’ brother Hector, the partners purchased the downtown Danli factory and named it Oscar Valladares Tobacco & Co. The company’s freshman release was the “2012 by Oscar”—referencing the Mayan calendar and its foretelling of the end of the world on December 21, 2012. And then, providence entered the picture.
Jim “Island Jim” Robinson—the owner of a small tobacco and coffee shop in the Strip District of Pittsburgh called Leaf and Bean—contacted Oscar soon after the the factory was up and running. Robinson wanted Valladares to produce a house cigar for his store. After months of collaboration, they finally settled on three blends—using Connecticut, Corojo, and Maduro wrappers—and named the new brand “Leaf by Oscar.” Instead of casing the cigars in cellophane, they wrapped the cigar in a tobacco leaf to protect the natural oils and create an unusual appearance. Island Jim ordered five-thousand cigars, figuring that the quantity would last for one year. To his surprise, the cigars sold out in one month. Several months later—primarily due to word of mouth recommendations—retailers across the country began calling Robinson to order the cigars. Robinson started his own wholesaling operation and the brand eventually found shelf space at more than three-hundred locations in the United States and several other countries. Demand for the cigars overwhelmed the production capacity of Oscar’s small factory and he eventually bought a much larger one, which had once been owned by the General Cigar Company. Additionally, the Leaf by Oscar was well received by the media, with the Connecticut-wrapped version becoming one of Cigar Dojo’s “10 Best Under-the-Radar Cigars” of 2014.
At last year’s IPCPR Trade Show in Las Vegas, Valladares introduced a new brand called The Oscar. Unlike the Leaf by Oscar, this new line of cigars is entirely owned and distributed by Oscar Valladares Tobacco & Co.
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The Oscar Habano Robusto Breakdown
- Wrapper: Ecuadorian Habano
- Binder: Honduran
- Filler: Honduran | Nicaraguan
- Factory: Oscar Valladares Tobacco & Co. (Honduras)
- Production: Regular Production
- Vitola: 5″ × 50 Robusto
- Price: $11.00 (MSRP)
The Oscar Habano is one of the newest blends produced at Oscar Valladares’s factory in Honduras. This line of cigars is offered in three sizes—Robusto (5” x 50, $11.00 MSPR), Toro (6” x 52, $12.00 MSPR), and Sixty (6” x 60, $13.00 MSRP). Individually wrapped in a candela tobacco leaf instead of cellophane—reputedly to protect the wrapper’s natural oils—the vitolas are shipped in unique wooden cigar molds, where the insides have been stripped out and replaced with cedar to reduce transit weight. Each box contains eleven cigars.
Unfortunately, the composition of The Oscar Habano is revealed only in generalities. It is rolled with an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, a binder from Honduras, and long-leaf filler leaves from Honduras and Nicaragua. Previously, Nicaraguan filler tobacco has not been utilized in the construction of cigars at Oscar Valladares Tobacco & Co.
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The Oscar Habano Robusto offers the cigar enthusiast two distinct visual impressions, the first occurring when the cigar is removed from its box. Paying homage to the Leaf by Oscar cigars, the bottom half of the vitola is wrapped in a light, olive-green candela leaf, which covers three-quarters of its length. The aroma off of this leaf mixes natural tobacco with a fire-cured sweetness. The Ecuadoran Habano wrapper is fairly smooth—tight seams, one predominant vein, almost imperceptible tooth, and a nicely-applied cap. Its color is a mixture of chestnut and Peruvian brown, with a slight tinge of dark chocolate near the foot. The wrapper has an above average amount of oiliness and produces a smooth sensation when gently rolled between the fingers.
The Oscar Habano is encased with a lightly-embossed, die-cut band printed in the colors of black, turquoise, and gold. In the center resides the words “THE OSCAR” with “HABANO” printed underneath in a diminutive matching font—perhaps signifying that the cigar will be eventually produced with different wrappers and blends. On the back of the band, the logo of Oscar Valladares Tobacco & Co. is printed in brown and orange. Very firmly packed from the foot to the cap—bordering on the edge of sun-dried papier–mâché—the wrapper aroma is a blend of natural tobacco and milk chocolate, while the open foot delivers delicate smells of barnyard, oak, pine, and raw tobacco.
After the cap of the robusto is opened with a double guillotine cut—to ensure the maximum amount of taste from the wrapper, binder, and filler—the initial cold draw is fairly tight. Balanced and subtle notes of cedar, licorice, sun-dried earth, and rye whiskey immediately touch the palate.
After toasting and lighting the cigar with a soft double-flame lighter, the first draw produces a dose of assorted minerals, natural tobacco, and oak. After the third puff, a chalky quality begins to blend in with the initial flavors. This culmination produces a rather dry taste on the palate—requiring a large sip of San Pellegrino, which is quite unusual this early in the smoking experience. The draw of the robusto is tight, demanding strong puffs to produce an average amount of smoke output. Aromas and flavors of charred hardwoods, moss, and root beer mingle together with the primary notes, while cedar and white pepper are dominant on the rather light retrohale.
As The Oscar enters into its second third, the draw begins to open up a bit, while both the body and the strength of the cigar settles into the medium range. The initial notes remain dominant, while a bit of saltiness begins to formulate at the front and sides of the tongue, delivering a slight amount of much-needed saliva. A mustiness soon develops, like walking into an ancient library filled with leather-bound tomes. Subtle flavors and aromas of cookies, cream, and wet soil flirt in and out of the profile, adding a touch of complexity to the robusto.
At this point in the smoking experience, the candela outer wrapper is placed in an ashtray and ignited, resulting in a room aroma redolent of a curing barn in the humid tobacco fields of Kentucky. The burn line is razor sharp, holding nearly two inches of silver ash highlighted with streaks of nickel between the tightly compressed stacks. On the smooth retrohale, the white pepper present in the first third is replaced by a mixture of freshly-crushed green and black peppercorns along with a trace amount of anise and rye whiskey.
As it burns toward its final third, The Oscar Habano Robusto hits the sweet spot. The draw is open and lush, requiring only single puffs to produce bountiful amounts of ceiling-clinging smoke. At this point, the Nicaraguan tobacco present in the filler blend finally begins to deliver its characteristic notes of coffee, dark chocolate, pepper, and spices. Unfortunately, this attractive profile lasts for only about twenty minutes before finally transitioning to back to its initial flavors.
Would I Smoke This Cigar Again?
The answer to that question is, “On occasion.” While The Oscar Habano Robusto is a very well constructed cigar with a unique appearance, the cigar really shines only during a twenty-minute period in its final third. Otherwise, The Oscar delivers an slightly above-average smoking experience. And at its $11.00 price point, I expect more.
- Smoking Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
- Pairing Recommendations: Espresso, Ale, Assam, Hot Rum Toddy, Rye whiskey
- Purchase Recommendation: 5-pack
- Excellent Construction
- Unique Appearance
- Earthy Flavors
- Limited Complexity
- Variable Draw
- High Price Point