Suggest a beverage pairing for a cigar and you’ll get some fairly standard responses: rum, coffee, Scotch, bourbon, other whisk(e)y, and maybe a handful of beers and wines. The same group is also generally listed off when it comes to spirits that make for a good infused cigar.
Yet Alpha Cigar Co. had a different idea: absinthe.
Certainly not the most well-known spirit, its reputation almost precedes it due to the spirit having connotations of being a hallucinogen or even psychoactive drug due to having trace amounts of a chemical compound called thujone. Even though the amount of the chemical found in the spirit are too small to cause the supposed results, the spirit was banned in the U.S. and much of Europe by 1915.
While it lived on in legend, the spirit started making a comeback in the late 1990s as cocktail culture got revived throughout the United States and many people sought out spirits that were different from what was generally on offer at their local bar. While there are hundreds of expressions of absinthe made throughout the U.S., Europe, and beyond, the spirit is generally known for its core anise flavor and high proof, with secondary flavors ranging from floral to herbal to pepper.
For three of its core lines, Alpha Cigar Co. took a French brand of absinthe called La Maison Fontaine and infused just the binder leaves of its cigars, creating what the company described as being very mild and which was designed to complement the tobacco’s existing flavors. While the cigars are made at PDR Cigars in the Dominican Republic, the infusion is done off-site in a misting room designed to facilitate the infusion process.
The three infused blends feature a binder from the Dominican Republic and fillers from Nicaragua, while the wrapper is either an Ecuadorian Connecticut, Mexican San Andrés claro, or Mexican San Andrés maduro.
Each of the three blends is offered in five sizes.
- Alpha Cigar Co Absinthe Infused Box Pressed Belicoso (6 1/2 x 50) – $9.12 (Boxes of 24, $218.88)
- Alpha Cigar Co Absinthe Infused Corona (5 x 46) – $8.40 (Boxes of 24, $201.60)
- Alpha Cigar Co Absinthe Infused Gordo (5 1/2 x 60) – $9.40 (Boxes of 24, $225.60)
- Alpha Cigar Co Absinthe Infused Half Corona (3 1/2 x 46) – $7.24 (Boxes of 24, $173.76)
- Alpha Cigar Co Absinthe Infused Robusto (5 x 50) – $8.70 (Boxes of 24, $208.80)
While still fairly new to the U.S. market, Alpha Cigar Co. was launched in 2015 by Tim “TJ” Cavenagh, Jr. and Justin Hansen, a pair of Chicagoans who were working in Hong Kong at the time; Cavenagh as a distributor for Rocky Patel Premium Cigars and Hansen as a distributor in the wine and spirits sector. The pair began distributing their first cigar through Hong Kong, mainland China, South Korea and Taiwan. It also has distribution in Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Australia.
- Cigar Reviewed: Alpha Absinthe Infused Claro Robusto
- Country of Origin: Dominican Republic
- Factory: PDR Cigars
- Wrapper: Mexican San Andrés Claro
- Binder: Dominican Republic
- Filler: Nicaragua
- Length: 5 Inches
- Ring Gauge: 50
- Vitola: Robusto
- MSRP: $8.70 (Boxes of 24, $208.80)
- Release Date: July 25, 2016
- Number of Cigars Released: Regular Production
- Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3
The Alpha Absinthe Infused Claro Robusto is a much lighter shade of San Andrés tobacco than I can recall seeing, though given the claro designation I’m not caught off-guard by it. The top leaf’s color is reminiscent of dry earth and has a matte finish with plenty of veins and a good bit of tooth. The roll is firm but the wrapper’s seams are quite visible, and the triple cap at the top could have been executed a bit better. Thankfully, I can’t say that the foot gives away the fact that the tobacco has been infused with absinthe, yet depending on your familiarity with the spirit you’ll likely pick up on the anise and fennel. I also seem to be getting some chartreuse through the nose, while a bit of earth underlays the more dominant aromas. The cold draw is firm and while it shares some of the notes from the aroma, is a bit lighter, sweeter and more syrupy.
First impressions from infused cigars always intrigue me, though maybe concern is the better word, as I want to see just how obvious it is from the first puffs that the cigar has been infused. In the case of the Alpha Absinthe Infused Claro Robusto, it’s much like taking a whiff of the foot before lighting it; it’s not readily apparent, though you get a hint that it is. The first few puffs are on the mild side, with a retrohale offering a bit more sensation in the nose thanks to a mixture of dry woods and white pepper before being joined by fennel around the one-inch mark. The draw is a bit firmer than I’d like and smoke production a bit light in the first sample, though both are acceptable. Through much of the first third, the majority of what absinthe flavor there is to be found in the cigar gets picked up by the nose, while the palate gets a blander smoke that is good but not as engaging.
At the start of the second third, I get a bit more of an absinthe finish on my tongue, the first real encounter I can say I’ve had with the flavor to this point. It’s mild and far short of what I would expect from a cigar billed as being infused, though in this case I begin to believe that its relative mildness may not just be a good thing, it may be the cigar’s strength. There’s also a cooling effect on the tongue and through the nose for a few puffs, something I certainly wasn’t expecting but found myself enjoying. Much of the Alpha Absinthe Infused Claro Robusto’s profile stays rooted in a generic yet rich tobacco flavor, not showing an abundance of individual flavors but maintaining an enjoyable overall flavor, though one sample hits me with a cinnamon candy note, a la Red Hots, that is quite surprising. The smoke at the end of the second third develops a bit more chartreuse sweetness through the nose, with black pepper coming in to start the transition to the final third.
The beginning of the final third shows what I would consider to be the first taste of alcohol in the Alpha Absinthe Infused Claro Robusto, though it’s subtle enough to not be overpowering or immediately identifiable as liquor. The overall flavor of the cigar has also nudged forward a bit, with a sharp lumber note on the front half of the tongue, though when it’s clear that there is some absinthe added to the flavor, the result is rather enjoyable. The cigar picks up a bit more pepper through the nose in the final two inches, and the one sample with the cinnamon candy flavor can’t seem to let it go, which seems to impede the absinthe notes rather than enhance them. The burn line gets a bit wavy but not bad enough to warrant correction as the cigar comes to an end.
- The first cigar had a fairly consistent streak of flowering, with one strip constantly bending away from the rest of the ash. The second also had some flowering but nowhere near as much as the first, while the third had even more than the other two, with three separate strips peeling away in the first inch.
- Even with the ash flowering and looking a bit less solid than I’d prefer, it held on quite well in each sample.
- Smoke production was a bit less than I would like from each cigar.
- If there’s something that concerns me about the three cigars I smoked, it’s consistency. While there were some shared flavors, each sample had enough variation that it never felt like I was getting the same cigar.
- Alpha Cigar Co. added another absinthe infused cigar at this year’s IPCPR Convention & Trade Show, a 3 1/2 x 46 limited edition called the Édition New Orleans. It too is available in a choice of three wrappers, an Ecuadorian Connecticut, a Mexican San Andrés claro or a Mexican San Andrés maduro.
- Absinthe is also used in making a Sazerac cocktail, with the spirit being used to wash the glass and then dumped out before the cocktail is poured.
- If you want to try the blends without the absinthe infusion, Alpha Cigar Co. also makes each of the three blends available via a series called The Defuser.
- I can’t recall the last time I had absinthe let alone saw it in a bar, though several years ago when I lived in Seattle there were a number of cocktail bars that had it available. Having had somewhat of a reintroduction to it with this cigar, I might have to look into finding it again.
- The cigars for this review were purchased by halfwheel.
- Final smoking time was one hour and 45 minutes on average.
I’m still not sold on the idea of infused cigars, particularly those infused with alcohol, but I must give the Alpha Absinthe Infused Claro Robusto credit for doing it subtly enough that it’s neither blatantly obvious or overpowering on the palate. As I noted above, the majority of the cigar doesn’t ooze with absinthe, but rather the spirit seems to pick and choose spots to make itself known, and they almost always seem to be at rather opportune times. For a spirit that can be tough to embrace due to its strong flavors, it certainly works well with this blend. Consider me quite pleasantly surprised.