It seems that everywhere you turn today, there is a new brewery, distillery—even artisan cheese shop popping up in towns across this country. I wish the same existed for cigar companies, but this isn’t the article for that discussion. One of those artisan spirit makers moving on up in the whiskey industry is Rabbit Hole Distillery. Founder, Kevin Zamanian, was an ardent and loyal scotch drinker until his future bride gave him the second-best gift in his life—a glass of bourbon.
Enter in a name we seem to see everywhere these days within the cigar industry: A.J. Fernández, in partnership with General Cigar Company and Rabbit Hole Distillery, presents Diesel Whiskey Row. “Another barrel-aged cigar?” Insert a groan from the collective skeptics. Keep reading. Fernández takes something that’s been done and then takes a daring leap. Whiskey barrel-aged tobacco in… the binder. According to Diesel, Fernández developed a proprietary process specifically for this project.
It makes sense for a like-minded Zamanian and Fernández to team up under the Diesel brand name. An edgy brand—originally made by Fernández as a contract blend for Meier & Dutch—Diesel had long been castoff to that phrase never to be uttered by loyal B&M employees and consumers alike: “the internet.” That was the case, at least until last year, when General took the brand in-house, announcing and launching Diesel Grind at IPCPR 2017 (a line made exclusively for B&M retailers across the country). Now, Diesel has reinvigorated life.
Diesel Whiskey Row Robusto Breakdown
- Wrapper: Ecuadorian Habano
- Binder: Mexican San Andrés (Bourbon Barrel-Aged)
- Filler: Nicaragua (Ometepe | Condega | Jalapa)
- Factory: Tabacalera A.J. Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua (Nicaragua)
- Production: Regular Production
- Vitola: 5½″ × 52 (Robusto)
- Price: $7.49 (MSRP)
For Diesel Whiskey Row, binder leaves from San Andrés, Mexico, were placed in Rabbit Hole whiskey barrels at Tabacalera A.J. Fernandez back in 2016. As previously mentioned, Fernández introduced a specific method for aging these tobaccos within said barrels. The filler consists of a three-region all-Nicaraguan blend from Condega, Jalapa, and Omentepe, each containing five to eight years’ age. The proprietary binder and Nicaraguan fillers are encased in a five-year-aged Ecuadorian Habano leaf.
There’s a lot going on here. The label is a trifecta of navy, salmon, and dark brown, with “diesel” emblazoned in a lower case, gothic font on the salmon portion of the label. The diesel “d” sits atop the name inside the navy label. Rabbit Hole’s “rabbit” logo rests on the bottom navy rocker, below everything else, with the words “WHISKEY ROW” written in a bronze font and acting as a separator between “diesel” and the rabbit. There is also a large foot band that offers more logos and text-based descriptors, advertising the cigar’s unique barrel-aged status. Noticeably absent from all visible labels is the name or logo of A.J. Fernández.
The wrapper is quite clear of most visible veins, sans tooth, and is a sleek, light brown in color. Given the proper timing, I use a guillotine cutter given to me by Andrews at this year’s IPCPR trade show. The pre-light aroma and dry draw are as consistent for a cigar that I have ever experienced before. Both have keen pepper notes mixed with cinnamon, caramel, and hay. Also present, but notably subtle, is an oak aroma and flavor.
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The aroma off the foot while toasting is peppery, with more pronounced oak than on the dry draw. The first portion of the cigar puts forth a consistent follow-up to its pre-light observations. The caramel and pepper dominate with oak and hay lurking in the background. I miss the cinnamon and the expectation of other familiar bourbon notes (e.g. vanilla and maple) are non-existent. The draw is right in my wheelhouse, a slight resistance with gorgeous construction.
As the cigar continues to open, the oak flavor is consistently in the background. Pepper and caramel continue to dominate the forefront, with the cinnamon returning on the retrohale. The result is a sweet and spicy, long finish.
The reason I haven’t spoken about strength is that I am still waiting for it to arrive. That sounds a bit punchy, but we are talking nicotine strength and not flavor. This isn’t exactly in line with something like a Connecticut shade-wrapped cigar, but this blend is not strong, which makes its complexity even more noticeable and intriguing. Throughout the smoke, there are lingering, complimentary notes of apricot, sweet pepper jam, and faint floral hints.
As the cigar finishes, I have gone the entirety of the cigar searching and coming up empty for the traditional bourbon sweetness. No vanilla, no maple, but yes, lots of oak. The cigar finishes with a rich baking spice sweetness, stone fruit, caramel, and a pepper-with-earth finish.
Would I Smoke This Cigar Again?
Yes. But I do want to stress that if you are searching for the common sweetness associated with a lot of bourbons, you will be left wanting.
I have, ironically, smoked more Diesel Whiskey Row cigars than any other cigar released at the 2018 IPCPR trade show; I am also a big fan of Rabbit Hole Whiskey (and their Dry Gin is incredible as well).
- I ashed my first cigar for this review a mere three times.
- The interesting thing about the history of bourbon is that “bourbon,” as we define it today, was was created, in definition, by law. The people behind this wanted to protect the purity, the sanctity, the incorruptible truth that there is only one way to define a distilled spirit as whiskey, taking it a step further to define it as bourbon. Allow me to digress here, the pure and traditional way of making bourbon has been along the way of manufactured byproducts that yield some of the most highly sought-after consumables known. Bourbon, bacon, bourbon cake, bourbon chocolate, bourbon candy, and bourbon coffee—these, along with thousands of cocktails, are sought after and made with bourbon, not whiskey, B-O-U-R-B-O-N. And I’ll do you one more, bourbon barrel-aged. The storage units for this amazing beverage are now being used with wine, other spirits (scotch being the most notorious), and even beer. Bourbon is truly the American gift that keeps on giving.
- Flavor: Medium-Full
- Strength: Medium-Light
- Body: Medium
- Smoke Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
- Pairing Recommendation: Barrel-aged stout, Medium-roast coffee, Bourbon (naturally), Cheddar-Pepitas-Figs-Apricots combo
- Purchase Recommendation: Handful–Box
- Diverse, uniquely sweet palate without being cloying
- Great draw & construction
- Lacking traditional bourbon-like sweetness
- Initial blandness
- Congested band design