Ortega The Wild Bunch Iron Mike I-Beam (Preproduction)

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In July 2012, Eddie Ortega began talking about a new project he was working on, the Dirty Dozen. While he didn’t release a ton of details at the time, his fondness for social media – Facebook in particular – became a vehicle for little bits of information to be released.

When the project was announced, Ortega had this to say about it:

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“Been meaning to develop this project for a long time. I’ve met some very interesting people in my years in the industry….you might recognize some of them when Im done. :)  Names are actually relational to someone I’ve either met or know to be kind of crazy guy :) ” (sic)

As the project evolved, members of the 12 cigar group came and went as names were changed and new monikers added and deleted. Also undergoing a change was the name of the project.

Originally slated to be named The Dirty Dozen, is was changed sometime between July 24 and August 26 of 2012 after a manufacturer contacted Ortega and asked “do you really have to use the word dirty?” That individual’s company had already made a cigar with the word and was fairly fond of it. It was an amicable call, and the series was renamed The Wild Bunch. The dates come from when Ortega first showed off the series on his Facebook page, and the first mention of Dirty Dozen to refer to the project, at least that I could find.

In short order that manufacturer was identified as Jonathan Drew of Drew Estate, who, along with Eddie Ortega, has left comments on my review of the first cigar in the series, Big Bad John, which you can find at the bottom of this post. Ortega himself said that the name change was “not a big issue” and that he had “already thought it might be a good idea…if only out of respect for a friend.”

The members of the Wild Bunch have changed a few times since the first mention, as well as since my review of Big Bad John at the end of October. The first three have remained the same:

Ortega The Wild Bunch

  • Big Bad John “Jackhammer” (6 7/8 x 60) — January 2013
  • Iron Mike “I-Beam” (4 7/8 x 54) — February 2013
  • Island Jim “WaHoo” (6 1/2 x 52) — March 2013

While Tony the Boss is still on track to be April’s release, Eddie Ortega recently announced that the May member would be changing from “Fast Eddie” to someone who wasn’t included in the original list, Dandy McCoy:

Ortega Wild Bunch Dandy McCoy.png

Iron Mike will come in 20–count boxes that look somewhat like this:

The Iron Mike cigar is also available as part of a three-cigar sampler that Ortega released at the first of the year and also includes one each of Big Bad John and March’s release, Island Jim. He will continue to release a sampler of the series’ next three cigars every three months.

All the art for the Wild Bunch project was done by Neal Wollenberg, a graphic artist and cigar lover from Manhattan, KS who, among other things, has a website called Cigart where he produces cigar-related artwork. His Facebook page is worth watching, as new artwork for the Wild Bunch project frequently shows up there first.

Ortega The Wild Bunch Iron Mike I Beam 1

  • Cigar Reviewed: Ortega The Wild Bunch Iron Mike I-Beam
  • Country of Origin: Nicaragua
  • Factory: My Father Cigars, S.A.
  • Wrapper: Nicaraguan Habano Oscuro
  • Binder: Nicaragua
  • Filler: Nicaragua
  • Size: 4 7/8 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 54
  • Vitola: Robusto Gordo
  • MSRP: $9.80 (Boxes of 20, $196.00)
  • Release Date: February 2013 
  • Number of Cigars Released: 500 Boxes of 20 (10,000 Total Cigars)
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 2

One thing that struck me about all of the first three members of the Ortega Wild Bunch is how oily and rich the wrappers are, and while Iron Mike isn’t oozing oil, it’s still a shiny and rich looking cigar. There is a good bit of toothiness in the wrapper and some small but noticeable veins. It’s firm from top to bottom, not quite as hard as iron but definitely well filled and solid. The prelight notes of sweet wood, pepper, spice and something that I can’t quite put my finger on, which come together to make an incredibly enjoyable introduction to this cigar. The cold draw is just the slightest bit firm, but perfectly acceptable and delivers a robust flavor reminiscent of oatmeal with a bit of spice in the background.

The first puffs are nice and spicy with the palate, nose and eyes all getting a piece of the action. The first third continues to develop with a solid but not overwhelming backbone of pepper that seems to aim equally for the tongue and nose. The burn line is razor sharp through the first inch with a gorgeous gray ash that holds together well with no bend whatsoever.

Ortega The Wild Bunch Iron Mike I Beam 2

The ash finally drops off about almost two inches into the cigar, and the Ortega Wild Bunch Iron Mike needs a relight to get the second third underway. A medium-intensity white pepper note leads the way, with a dry undertone of earth and tobacco. It’s not the most complex set of flavors, but it is by no means boring. While I can’t put names to everything that I’m tasting, I can put a word to the experience: tasty. The spice and body seem to keep reaching new apexes as the burn line crosses the midpoint, steadily climbing up the scale from medium to medium-full and putting its toes right on the line – if not slightly over – of being a full bodied cigar, which is how the cigar is billed.

Ortega The Wild Bunch Iron Mike I Beam 3

The final third of the Ortega Wild Bunch Iron Mike seems to get going fairly quickly and brings a more developed overall flavor but also a slightly bitter taste to the palate. The technical performance remains perfect and the burn line stays about as sharp as I can remember seeing on any cigar in recent memory. Much like the flavor progression in Big Bad John, the final third of Iron Mike seems to open up all the flavors that the cigar is going to offer, adding a good bit of complexity in the final inches.

Ortega The Wild Bunch Iron Mike I Beam 4

Final Notes:

  • Iron Mike was at one time going to be known as “The Brawler,” but that name changed to “I-Beam.” The other secondary names don’t get nearly as much attention as the characters’ names, which I think is a good thing: too many names for the same cigar seems unnecessary.
  • When he sent these out, Eddie Ortega said that the final version of Iron Mike as well as Big Bad John and Island Jim was still subject to some blend tweaks. He sent out a number of samples in mid-October to get feedback on, which may in turn alter the cigar that ends up on store shelves.
  • Ortega was debating how much he’s going to disclose about the binder and the filler for this and all the Wild Bunch cigars, mainly due to their limited nature. While it hasn’t generally been available, it’s listed in the store on the Ortega Cigars website.
  • As mentioned earlier, you could pick up a sampler pack of the first three cigars in The Wild Bunch at select retailers for an MSRP of $31.25.
  • The bands for these came off a laser printer – the final versions will be of much higher quality.
  • You might occasionally hear this cigar line or the people in it referred to as Grupo Salvaje. That’s wild bunch in Spanish. It’s also written on the band.
  • As mentioned in my review of Big Bad John, in a time of copyright claims and ever more cigars coming to market, naming new sticks for customers might just be a trend worth watching.
  • Production for the first three cigars is being capped at 10,000 total cigars – 500 boxes of 20. Ortega said that may increase down the road, but it won’t likely ever go over 1,000 boxes for any one release.
  • On Friday, January 18, Ortega posted to his Facebook page that “Heads up to everyone who got in on the WB series! I’ve started getting calls to see about getting a few more boxes, WE HAVE NONE LEFT! And have no plans for more, that’s the way it’s supposed to be…don’t want anyone stuck with a bunch of limited product they cant sell. -thanks to all who are participating…..”
  • Ortega has released a poster of The Wild Bunch, with the first three characters pre-printed and then stickers made for subsequent releases. There is also rumor of Wild Bunch caps and t-shirts.
  • As to the identities of the characters, Ortega hasn’t publicly disclosed them, but it’s been pretty easy to determine that Island Jim is Jim Robinson of Leaf & Bean in Pittsburgh and Dandy McCoy is a gentleman named Ade Mccoy. What he does want is for each character to represent the personality of the cigar and for the consumer to connect with that, more than with a particular individual.
  • You can purchase artwork by Neal Wollenberg that features the first three characters in the Wild Bunch series. You can also find more of Wollenberg’s work at that same site.
  • In December 2013, when all the cigars have been released, Ortega says he will issue a final release of the completed set, either a 12–cigar set with one of each character, or a 24–cigar set with two of each.
  • The cigars for this review were provided by Eddie Ortega.
  • Final smoking time is about one hour and 35 minutes.
  • The complete list of retailers carrying the Ortega Wild Bunch can be found here, and includes site sponsors Cigar King (800–669–7167) and Atlantic Cigar (800–887–7877). Be sure to tell them halfwheel sent you.
87 Overall Score

Having smoked the first two Wild Bunch releases, I have to say that Eddie Ortega is two-for-two. The Iron Mike I-Beam wastes no time getting down to business and keeps ramping things up until reaching an apex of strength right around the midpoint and then letting all the flavors shine in the final third without ever letting things get out of balance or harmony. Had it not been for that slight twinge of bitterness going into the final third of the cigar this would have been a downright stellar showing, which leaves me hoping that with a bit of time it will smooth out and add a level of complexity instead of a layer of complication. That being said, I'm finding myself more and more inclined to believe that this Wild Bunch project is going to be a winner for Ortega when it's all said and done.

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Patrick Lagreid
About the author

I strive to capture the essence of a cigar and the people behind them in my work – every cigar you light up is the culmination of the work of countless people and often represents generations of struggle and stories. For me, it’s about so much more than the cigar – it’s about the story behind it, the experience of enjoying the work of artisans and the way that a good cigar can bring people together. In addition to my work with halfwheel, I’m the public address announcer for the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks during spring training, as well as for the Salt River Rafters of the Arizona Fall League, the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury and the Arizona Rattlers of the Indoor Football League. I also work in a number of roles for MLB.com, plus I'm a voice over artist. I previously covered the Phoenix and national cigar scene for Examiner.com, and was an editor for Cigar Snob magazine.

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