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In 2006, Dion Giolito decided to release limited quantities of a cigar that he deemed had not met the standards he had set for his Illusione brand. The cigar was a stronger version of his ~mk~ Corona that was part of The Original Document. Dubbed, MKULTRA, Dion once again turned to his clichés for naming.

Says Giolito:

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As with my 88, I sampled a few to you in the forums for review when I was re-working on the blend in ’06. I did the same with the mk. There were two versions, the ~MK~ and the MKULTRA. MKULTRA was much stronger than I wanted it to be. I called Paul Palmer which in turn relayed my information to the factory to correct the issue. They have a gold band along with the ~hl~ because they’re more of an artisan blend better represented in those particular sizes. They’re 20% different than regular illusione black and white bands. As some of you know, I let out my stock of MKULTRAS because I just wasn’t pleased with the blend. You guys ate them up! Thanks. Project MKULTRA was a government experiment in creating “zombie soldiers” if you will, through experimentation with LSD and subconscious suggestion when under the influence. MKULTRA was also referred to as the “teaching machine.” The classic corona size is the teaching machine vitola. It is the perfect vehicle for delivery of flavor, if the blend is right.

The MKULTRA was sold exclusively through Dan Welsh’s New Havana Cigars, although Dion was known to send a few to various people. NHC described the cigar:

If you dare to try an even fuller blend than the new -mk-,  give this one a try!  This is not the production -mk-, but a different version of it.  Not for the faint hearted, or to be smoked on an empty stomach!
A classic petit corona, 5 1/8 x 42, an even stronger blend than the new -mk- vitola in the Illusione line-up.
– mk ULTRA –    (5 1/8″ x 42)  – petit corona

Made at the Raices Cubanas factory in Honduras from 100% Nicaraguan tobacco.

The cigars were packaged in plain paper bundles, think Tatuaje Pork Tenderloin.

Here’s a picture of the MKULTRA next to the ~ultra~ MKULTRA.

Illusione MKULTRAs.jpg

Illusione MKULTRA 1.jpg

  • Cigar Reviewed: Illusione MKULTRA
  • Country of Origin: Honduras
  • Factory: Fábrica de Tabacos Raíces Cubanas S. de R.L.
  • Wrapper: Nicaragua
  • Binder: Nicaragua
  • Filler: Nicaragua
  • Size: 5 1/8 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 42
  • Vitola: Petit Corona
  • MSRP: $6.45
  • Date Produced: 2006
  • Number of Cigars Released: n/a
  • Number of Cigars Smoked for Review: 3

Wrapper colors aren’t consistent, but I’ve yet to find a regular ~mk~ that has come close to the darkness of the MKULTRA. It’s just a dark heavy brown hue that features small veins on a clean roll. Aroma from the wrapper is sweet nuts, earth, a touch of coffee and heavy aged leather and as far as uncelloed cigar from 2006, it’s quite strong. The foot shows more fruits, clean leather and some earth. It’s short, but rather complex and concentrated. Cold draw tastes Cuban. Plain and simple, it’s pretty much a medium-full sweet tang.

As far as first draws go, the MKULTRA is special, real special. It starts with a rich full coffee that transitions to a sweet cocoa and cedar note, it then begins to bitter as a black pepper develops around the lips before the creaminess emerges for the full finish. Three puffs into the First Third and the Corona changes. There’s a blast of white and black pepper up front with spicy cedar in the middle and red pepper on the finish. The flavor is very much in your face, but it’s also smooth. On the rare times in which the retrohale is doable, there’s actually some citrus underneath the obvious pepper.

Illusione MKULTRA 2.jpg

Into the second third and the dry herbal transition which has been sort of a signature of MKULTRAs of the past year takes effect. Five minutes in and it’s a rich molasses cedar with some sweet earth and a bit of berries. Outside of the retrohale, the pepper is all but gone. Speaking of the retrohale, I get an odd bbq note with a bit of sourness. Thirty minutes in and the strength (full) is creeping on you.

Illusione MKULTRA 3.jpg

Once again, the final third is greeted by the herbal transition. The flavor of the Illusione continues to bitter with some underlying sweetness helping to provide contrast. The dominant note is bitter nuts over sweet cedar and earth. Herbs and a mild pepper go in and out.

Illusione MKULTRA 4.jpg

Final Notes

  • At the 2011 IPCPR, Dion introduced a new line of ~ULTRA~ cigars including a ~mk~ size. The additional sizes are expected to make their debut later this year. It is almost certain that the blends are not identical.
  • This is probably the strongest production Corona outside of the Liga Privada Dirty Rat. Unlike the Dirty Rat, the strength is regulated to the final two thirds nearly exclusively. In addition, this comes up to bite you, whereas Dirty Rat is in your face from the start. Also, five year-old Dirty Rat (prototypes) are generally not strong at this point.
  • As mentioned above, there is no real way to tell the difference. I was talking to Dan Reeve of Cigar Explorer about the cigar and I told him it is much like the same as the is this Cuban test. Bottom line, the only real way to tell is to smoke it, because the MKULTRA and the ULTRA are not close. The wrappers of the MKULTRA are supposed to be darker, but wrapper variation is so common I wouldn’t rest on that.
  • Construction was incredible. Tons of smoke flowing and a perfect draw. A bit tight, but smooth.
  • Final Smoking Time is generally one hour and 20 minutes.
91 Overall Score

This is a great example of what happens when you have multiple reviewers. When Steve Valle reviewed the new version (Illusione ~ULTRA~ MKULTRA) of the MKULTRA a few months ago, he scored it a bit higher than what I score the old MKULTRA. Ultimately, both Steve and I agree that the original was better. This is a phenomonel cigar after five or so years and it still has plenty left in it. It will be interesting to see how the new ~ULTRA~ line does, but there are few cigars that have aged as well as the MKULTRA.

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Charlie Minato
About the author

I am an editor and co-founder of halfwheel.com/Rueda Media, LLC. I previously co-founded and published TheCigarFeed, one of the two predecessors of halfwheel. I handle the editing of our written content, the majority of the technical aspects of the site and work with the rest of our staff on content management, business development and more. I’ve lived in most corners of the country and now entering my second stint in Dallas, Texas. I enjoy boxing, headphones, the Le Mans 24-hour, wearing sweatshirts year-round and gyros. echte liebe.

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