Where do we begin with this? This venerable line has been produced for nearly a decade, under the hands and eyes of some of the biggest names in the cigar industry. Originally created by EO Brands (Erik Espinosa and Eddie Ortega), the cigar was manufactured by Don Pepín García at My Father Cigars. There were then several alterations, including a new (unpopular) design, a short stint where Rocky Patel acquired 50% of the brand, the infamous dissolving of EO Brands, and the eventual return to Erik Espinosa and his then-new Espinosa Premium Cigars company. In this time, the look of 601 was returned to its former glory, with production being moved to Espinosa’s La Zona factory in Estelí.
The 601 brand has long been a best-seller for Espinosa, with demand eventually outpacing production. With AJ Fernandez’s recent purchase of the former San Rafael factory (now the San Lotano factory) in Ocotál, Nicaragua, the two seized on the opportunity to work together. Says Erik on moving production to San Lotano, “My La Zona factory in Estelí has been producing quality cigars for close to five years now. But I am unable to expand its production since I have already outgrown it. It’s a perfect opportunity for me to finally meet the demand for my cigars.”
With a renewed focus on the fan-favorite 601 lineup for 2018, we do see some updates as the result of this new partnership. Production originally moved to the new factory in August of 2016, and began shipping in July of 2017. Without actually altering the blend, the biggest change would be the usage of tobaccos from AJ’s substantial inventory (which are noted for being more aged than Espinosa’s previous materials). Another noteworthy update is an additional vitola to the 601 Blue Label Maduro line, that being the Short Churchill size used for this review.
601 Blue Label Maduro Short Churchill Breakdown
- Wrapper: Connecticut Broadleaf Maduro
- Binder: Nicaraguan
- Filler: Nicaraguan
- Factory: San Lotano (Nicaragua)
- Production: Regular Production
- Vitola: 6½″ × 50 “Short Churchill”
- Price: $8.50 (MSRP)
A small note or gripe about this cigar came up when researching for this review. Different online retailers list different information regarding the cigar, both in terms of factory and blend. One site lists it being made at La Zona with a CBL wrapper (understandable), while another says it’s from TAVICUSA with a Nicaraguan Habano wrapper, while yet another lists the cigar as a Nicaraguan maduro. Add to the fact that none of the major retailers mention the new factory, it can be hard to know exactly what you might be buying. This, of course, is due to accumulated information from years of brand changes. To set the record straight, all 601 Blue Label cigars are now made with the statistics listed above (save for the vitola specs, of which there are now five sizes).
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Despite changes behind the scenes, the new 601 Blue has an identical appearance when examining the individual cigar. One pleasant thing I notice while handling this softly box-pressed Short Churchill is that it’s dense, well-packed, and hefty. The cap is what I’m now beginning to think of as the trademark AJ cap—one tiny cap applied to the top with a very large one-third-inch secondary cap. There is none of that dainty “triple action” here (as far as I can tell). The wrapper is mesmerizing. I got lost admiring the web of fine veins, and the almost dot-matrix brown/black coloration of the leaf. There’s a good deal of oil visible, with a hint of crystalline sugars, but with practically no tooth and flat veins, it gives a matte-finished, soft and smooth feel.
From the wrapper I smell yeasty bread, chocolate, and sweet whipped cream with the papery, woody aroma of roasting coffee beans. From the foot it’s more of the yeast bread and chocolate, with a slight twinge of spiciness. The cold draw is sort of a muddy, earthy version of the aroma from the foot. It’s got a light twang that, in keeping with the bready theme, reminds me of a bubbling sourdough starter. On the back of all that is a Manischewitz wine fruitiness.
The slight hint of spiciness that I detected in the aroma of the unlit cigar turns into the real deal upon ignition. The smoke is chewy, big, round, spicy, and abundant. Initial flavors are driven by an earthiness that is like cowboy coffee—full-bodied and gritty, with oak riding shotgun on a beer run. The abundant yeasty flavors have turned into that of a Trappist red ale, and it is a spectacular flavor note that I can’t remember tasting in the original version. The burn line is great, the ash forms into tight little stacks, the result of perfect construction and even combustion. The earthiness and spiciness combine into freshly cracked black peppercorn, and a fruity cacao flavor that is balanced with creamy oak. The yeast-like note is now akin to a Belgian waffle, toasty and rich.
The long cigar burns slowly, and after nearly 40 minutes it’s time to move into the second third. Strength has been in a pleasant medium range, with a medium/full body (this is a big plus for me, as I have felt a little “green” after smoking 601 Blue Labels on more than one occasion). Fruitiness and creaminess are picking up near the midpoint of the cigar, with the earthiness just hanging on the back of the tongue like the sediment from a cup of French-pressed coffee. Come to think of it, coffee is the best descriptor of how these flavors all come together. The wood, earth, fruit, and cream remind me of juicy Kenyan coffee with a hint of black pepper. The flavors detectable on the retrohale get particularly exciting past the midway point, and I get a hint of black walnut, maple candy, coffee ice cream. This cigar is exploding with flavor at this point, with strength ramping up to medium/full (thankfully no room spins though). A swirling of flavors abound, and as I near the end of the second third the black pepper note is backed by black berry jam sweetness, charred buttered toast and that dark cacao. This cigar is really staying interesting.
After nearly an hour and forty minutes, heading into the final third, the Short Churchill is oaky, fruity, peppery, and delicious. The fruitiness reminds me of the prune flavor associated with perique pipe tobacco. The burn isn’t as pretty as the first half, as the ash gets ugly and flaky, but corrections haven’t been necessary. We are now in full speed, full strength, knockout mode. Juicy, sticky, sweet prunes, cacao, cream, pepper, and smokey charred coffee beans—the profile is superb. The nub is cool, the pepper tingles, and my heart is singing joyous praises to this cigar. Some pleasing earthiness arrives as I finish the cigar at just over 2 hours of smoke time.
Would I Smoke This Cigar Again?
For shizzle! While still being the “same” cigar as before (blend-wise, on paper, at least) this cigar struck me as having better construction, better balance of strength and flavor, and just being more tasty and interesting than my previous experiences.
For those curious, there are two ways to ensure you are smoking the updated 601 Blue Label: a) purchase the new Short Churchill vitola, and b) check the bottom of the cigar’s box (old 601 boxes are branded La Zona, while new 601 boxes are branded San Lotano).
- Flavor: Full
- Strength: Medium-Plus – Full
- Body: Medium / Full
- Yeasty Breads
- Sweet Dried Prunes
- Smoke Time: 2 hours
- Pairing Recommendation: Dr. Pepper, Chimay Red Ale, a nicely aged Châteauneuf-du-Pape
- Purchase Recommendation: 10-Pack
- Lots of flavor
- Heavy strength without sacrificing flavors
- Even burn, good construction
- Can be confusing to know if it’s the new version
- Perhaps a buck too pricey for what you get