In December 2007, Sasja van Horssen debuted the first of what would be come an annual release of cigars to honor his brother, who passed away the previous year at the age of 36. The van Horssen family owns The Longfiller Co., which happens to be one of the largest importers of cigars in the Netherlands, and thus has access to quite a number of large names in the non-Cuban cigar business. As a result, the commemorative cigars—aptly named the Ilja—have been made up a who’s who of manufactures, including Arturo Fuente, My Father Cigars and Padrón to name a few.
Last year’s version of the annual release was produced by Joya de Nicaragua in its Cuatro Cinco blend in a size unique to the line. However, while the 7 x 52 size is new, the blend remains the same as the other Cuatro Cinco cigars, namely a Nicaraguan habano wrapper from the Jalapa region, a Dominican binder and Nicaraguan filler tobaccos that includes five-year-old Nicaraguan ligero aged in oak barrels that previously held rum. As with the rest of the cigars in the Ilja series, there were only 418 cigars produced, packaged in boxes of 13.
Historically, of those 36 boxes, one is given to Ilja’s children, one is given to his parents and one is reserved for Sasja. In addition, as has been the case since the series started, any proceeds from the sale of the remaining 33 boxes is donated to charity.
There have now been nine releases in the Ilja Series, each of which have been packaged in boxes of 13:
- Ilja I — OpusX A — December 2007
- Ilja II — OpusX Double Robusto — December 2008
- Ilja III — Oliva Serie V Maduro Torpedo — December 2009
- Ilja IV — Padrón 1926 80th Anniversary Maduro — December 2010
- Ilja V — OpusX Shark — December 2011
- Ilja VI — Drew Estate Liga Privada A — December 2012
- Ilja VII — OpusX Angel Share Toro — December 2013
- Ilja VIII — My Father Cigars Unnamed Blend A — December 2014
- Ilja IX — Joya de Nicaragua Cuatro Cinco Toro Extra — December 2015
- Cigar Reviewed: Ilja IX
- Country of Origin: Nicaragua
- Factory: Fabrica de Tabacos Joya de Nicaragua S.A.
- Wrapper: Nicaraguan Habano Viso (Jalapa)
- Binder: Dominican Republic
- Filler: Nicaragua
- Length: 7 Inches
- Ring Gauge: 50
- Vitola: Toro Extra
- MSRP: Not for Sale
- Release Date: December 2015
- Number of Cigars Released: 36 Boxes of 13 Cigars (418 Total Cigars)
- Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3
The Ilja IX is visually impressive, with a splotchy mocha brown wrapper that is rough to the touch and featuring an almost complete lack of oil. There is an obvious box-press to each of the samples and the cigar is fairly spongy when squeezed. Aroma from the wrapper is a combination of peanut shells, dark chocolate, earth, leather, sawdust and pepper while the cold draw brings flavors of peanuts, leather, cinnamon, creamy cedar, sweet corn and espresso beans.
From the first puff, the Ilja IX starts off the first third with some very strong notes of both creamy peanuts and bitter espresso beans, interspersed with flavors of oak, hay, powdery cocoa, gritty earth and generic nuts. There is a huge bite of black pepper on the retrohale for the first 10 puffs or so, although it begins to recede after that. I am picking up some chewy raisin sweetness on the retrohale as well that seems to be getting stronger as the first third progresses, along with some spice on my tounge. Smoke production is thick and dense off of the foot, and both the burn and draw are excellent so far, with neither giving me any issues at all. Strength-wise, the Ilja IX starts off quite mild, although it does seem to be increasing as the first third comes to an end.
While the creamy peanuts and coffee beans remain dominant, the second third of the Ilja IX adds an interesting floral note on the finish that gradually dies down, giving way to other flavors of earth, oak, grass, dark chocolate, peanuts and a touch of cinnamon. Both the black pepper and the raisin sweetness are down significantly compared to the first third, although both notes are still strong enough to distinguish individually. Both the burn and the draw continue to impress, and the smoke production does not seem to be slowing down at all. Strewth-wise, the Ilja IX hits a point close to the medium mark by the end of the second third, but does not seem to be going any further very quickly.
Coming into the final third, the Ilja IX retains the core creamy peanut and coffee bean notes that have been dominant for the entire cigar, along with other flavors of cinnamon, gritty earth, cocoa, barnyard and very slight citrus. Sadly, the floral note from the second third is long gone, and both the raisin sweetness and black pepper on the retrohale fail to gain any strength after their high point in the first third. Construction-wise, the draw remains excellent, but the burn begins to waver a bit, forcing me to touch it up a couple of times. The overall strength fails to go much further than a solid medium, and remains there until I put the nub down with less than an inch left to go.
- At seven inches, this is the longest vitola in the Cuatro Cinco line, although there are two vitolas that have the same or larger ring gauges: the 6 x 50 toro and the 5 x 56 doble robusto.
- Ilja van Horssen was born Feb. 24, 1970 and passed away on July 14, 2006.
- The band used in the Ilja is interesting, a portrait of Ilja himself with a cigar.
- Interestingly, last year’s Ilja VIII was the first time that the aforementioned band was the only band used on the cigar; in all previous releases, the blend’s standard band was used in the customary place while the Ilja band was placed on the foot.
- I think that any avid cigar smoker who has lost a loved one likes the idea of making a special cigar in their honor, and I love the fact that Sasja has been able to keep this series going through the year with such a large assortment of manufacturers.
- Unlike the rest of the Cuatro Cinco line, the Ilja does not even come close to being full-bodied, and the strength is solidly in the medium range as well.
- While this is a larger vitola at 7 x 50, it burns fast for the size, and the average final smoking time of one hour and 35 minutes reflects this.
- The cigars smoked for this review were sent to halfwheel by Sasja van Horssen.
I was very interested to see how the Ilja IX would compare to the rest of the Cuatro Cinco line, a blend I have really enjoyed in the past. While the largest vitola in the line has a number of similarities, it is also noticeably creamier and a bit more reserved than other sizes in the line, although I did notice a bit more nuance in some of the flavors that are present. No, it is not quite a good as some of the other vitals in Cuatro Cinco blend, but it is a nice addition to the line, and a great dedication to a departed loved one that I absolutely recommend if you ever run across one.