About a week ago, Dan over at New Havana Cigars emailed me to tell me about a new project he had been working on for a while. Dubbed “Surrogates,” it is a line that is meant to be readily available whenever someone want to purchase them.

Says Dan Welsh, Owner of New Havana Cigars:

It’s a broadleaf wrapper around a strong blend containing a lot of ligero but I don’t really want to divulge the sources.  There’s a bit of an experiment here in being a bit vague and stating “Made in Central America” and “A full bodied blend of Central American tobacco” and “From a new source for me”.  I am curious, given my business model, how much hype goes into our smoking and buying decisions.  Although I am thoroughly an advocate of educating ourselves as to what we are smoking, eating or drinking – so as to develop our palate and make better decisions when choosing future things – I also think that when we try something new without the hype of a limited release, or a certain manufacturer or claims of aged tobacco or 100% ligero, etc., that we come across a more authentic tasting experience.   So, being that it is not limited – this seemed like a great opportunity to tell everyone ‘try it and decide’.

I wanted to develop a brand for NHC that would bring new customers our way as well as serve the clients that we have who want something special – but want access to it whenever they want more.   To me, that means two things:  Availability and Price.  Bringing something out that has a good price point and can continually be made at a quality that rivals a more expensive stick equals something that I would want to keep in my smoking rotation.  There are sticks that I want to save, to age, to collect and there are sticks that I want to smoke all the time.  When the two collide – that is, I really want to smoke a stick but I only have a couple of them left – then I have a problem.  Surrogates is trying to solve that problem!  As for the sizes and blend, many of NHC’s customers are big fans of smaller ring gauges – like the NHC SL – but there are many who wanted something bigger and stronger.  I smoke a lot of strong sticks – but I really want a balance of strength and flavor when I do.   So these first vitolas do just that for me.

NHC Surrogates Skull Breaker 1.png

(photo courtasy of NewHavanaCigars.com)

  • Bone Crusher (5 1/4 x 54) — Robusto Extra — $7.50
  • Skull Breaker (5 1/4 x 52) – Belicoso — $7.50

Each vitola comes in boxes of 20, and prices are the same for each, $7.50 for singles and $135 for a box.

NHC Surrogates Skull Breaker 2.png

  • Cigar Reviewed: NHC Surrogates Skull Breaker
  • Factory: n/a
  • Country of Origin: n/a
  • Wrapper: Broadleaf
  • Binder: Unknown
  • Filler: Unknown
  • Size: 5.25 inches
  • Ring Gauge: 52
  • Vitola: Belicoso
  • MSRP: $7.50 (Boxes of 20, $135.00)
  • Date Released: September 3, 2011
  • Number of Cigars Smoked for Review: 3

The cigar itself seems extremely well-made with a very dark red-brown wrapper that smells strongly of manure, hay, dark chocolate and espresso. It does have a few veins present, but they are not overly distracting. The wrapper is not exactly rough to the touch, but it does have some tooth to it. The cold draw brings flavors of cedar, leather and strong black pepper.

The first third starts out with strong black pepper up front and quite a bit of spice in the back. It really grabs you by the throat. The pepper sticks around for about half of the first third, then backs down, albeit just a bit, so that I could note a few flavors, mostly espresso and wood. Honestly, the black pepper was so strong in the first third that it made it almost impossible to really discern individual flavors. I could also already feel my heart beating faster, this stick is strong.

NHC Surrogates Skull Breaker 3.png

The second third backs off on the black pepper by about half, but it is still very much in the profile, but is enough so that I can taste distinct flavors of leather, espresso, very dark (slightly bitter) chocolate and wood.

NHC Surrogates Skull Breaker 4.png

In the final third, the pepper seems to be mellowing a bit more, but is still there. The flavors don’t change a lot, but they do seem to meld a bit more, combining quite nicely. The strength continues on about the same level as well, and while it did get a bit hot at the end, I was still able to nub it.

NHC Surrogates Skull Breaker 5.png

Final Notes

  • This is not a cigar for beginners and not a cigar to smoke in the morning, before breakfast as I did with one of the samples. It is strong and never let’s you forget it. Don’t even THINK about retrohaling until after the first third, unless you have an iron-plated nose. Trust me on this.
  • I smoked multiple samples of both the Skull Breaker and the Bone Crusher, and I have to say, I like the Skull Breaker a bit more, mostly due to the vitola. The strength and flavors were almost identical, which is not shocking, since they are both the same blend, and the sizes are so close.
  • The draw on both Skull Breakers was just a bit loose, although not enough to really impact the flavors, but the draw on the Bone Crushers was perfect. The burn on both vitolas was fine, but not perfect.
  • There is already quite a bit of chatter on the boards about Dan Welsh not revealing who is producing the cigars for him. There is no lack of interesting ideas. For example, the fact that the first two words of the two released vitolas are “Skull” and “Bones” and the logo on the Skull Breaker is reminiscent of the Viaje Skull and Bones release, although I think it looks more like the Punisher logo. Honestly, while I did taste some similarities to Viaje in some of the flavors, I am not sure I would go so far as to say that it is one of their sticks.
  • Concerning the logo, Dan Welsh had this to say, “Actually it’s from the font used on the band and stretched a bit to mimic my bald head.”
  • It really does not bother me that I don’t know where the tobacco comes from. If I like a cigar, I could care less what kind of tobacco is in it.
  • If you are fan of full and strong cigars, you will be in heaven, but if you have an you have any reservations at all, the best thing to do is to order a sampler to try first.
  • If you want to purchase the Surrogates, the only place you can buy them is at New Havana Cigars.
90 Overall Score

Make no mistake, this is a strong cigar. Black pepper and spice grab you by the throat from the first puff, and never lets go. However, I was a bit surprised that there is also quite a bit of flavor and balance throughout the smoke and while not the most complex cigar in the world, there was more then enough transitions to keep me interested. I think this is a perfect cigar to buy a box of, put in the very back of the humidor, and forget about for about two years, and the box price of $135 helps with that immensely. If there is one major negative I have, it is that the two vitolas that are available now are essentially the same (same length, and one ring gauge difference) and I would prefer a bit smaller size to see how the blend changes.

Brooks Whittington

I have been smoking cigars for over eight years. A documentary wedding photographer by trade, I spent seven years as a photojournalist for the Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star Telegram. I started the cigar blog SmokingStogie in 2008 after realizing that there was a need for a cigar blog with better photographs and more in-depth information about each release. SmokingStogie quickly became one of the more influential cigar blogs on the internet, known for reviewing preproduction, prerelease, rare, extremely hard-to-find and expensive cigars. I am a co-founder of halfwheel and now serve as an editor for halfwheel.