Personal blends for cigar makers have been around for a very long time and considering their origins, it comes as no surprise that some examples have been extremely well regarded by cigar smokers over the years. However, when discussing modern-day Nicaraguan brands, you can’t talk about the history of personal blends without including the Tatuaje Black Label Private Reserve.

Longtime fans of Tatuaje probably know the history of the brand by heart, but for everyone else the story goes like this: after a trip that owner Pete Johnson took to Cuba during the early part of his career as a cigar maker, he met a man who was kind enough to gift him a cigar described as the man’s personal blend. Johnson liked the cigar so much that upon returning to the United States, he decided to try and recreate that blend, and thus the Private Reserve was born.

On a recent trip to a famous island known for historic cigar making, I spent my time in a small town enjoying the simple life. Every day was peaceful and every night was festive, with both having cigars involved throughout. My favorite cigar was not a cigar bought at the local store or factory, but a cigar that was handed to me every morning.

Mornings, after taking a shower with a bucket of water warmed with what looked like a curling iron, I would walk to the front of the house and sit on the fence to get some sun and take in the fresh air. I also took in the fact that I was miles from home and no one knew where I was. My phone didn’t work and I had no cares in the world other than trying to decide what to smoke.

My first morning on the island an older gentleman came along on his bike. This was not a motorcycle but something like an old Schwinn that he had likely been riding for decades. This gentleman was well dressed, almost dapper, and I probably appeared to him to be a strange character. My usual outfit of jeans, t-shirt, loads of silver jewelry, and an arm full of tattoos didn’t seem to faze him. He saw I was enjoying myself so that morning, and every morning after that, he would stop and give me a cigar from his shirt pocket.

This cigar was far from being a ‘pretty’ cigar but that did not bother me a bit. It was a treasured and unexpected gift that I was thrilled to be given. After smoking this cigar I realized that this was one of the best cigars I smoked on the island. Later that day in speaking with my host on this trip I came to understand that these cigars were something special to every person who carried them. They were cigars that they made for themselves. Even the guys who worked hard in the cigar factories all day would return home at night and make their private cigars. Simple cigars with flavors they personally enjoyed. Over the course of the next few days my host and I visited his friends and asked for cigars that they made. Before I left I had cigars from a few locals who all used different tobaccos from the different growing regions. They were all great but there was one that really stood out for me as special.

I decided when traveling to Nicaragua to work with the Garcia family that I would try to recreate this special cigar for myself. Together we spent quite some time working on the blend and looking at different leaves for wrapper. The marbled toothy wrapper was perfect for this cigar, rustic looking but with tons of aroma. After smoking the first sample, I was immediately brought back to that island relaxing on a fence, enjoying life, smoking a great cigar. A great cigar that will always in my mind represent the place, the time, and the experience of the purity of the simple life. This cigar may be considered ugly by some but inside that surface roughness it contains such rich flavor and aroma.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. This is a tribute to that cigar.

The first of what would eventually become one of Tatuaje’s legendary creations was released in 2007, a corona gorda with a nipple cap packaged first in bundles and then in custom-made black ceramic jars. Over the years, quite a few different vitolas would follow, all of which were limited or exclusive releases for specific stores.

That changed in 2011 with the release of the regular production version of the Black Label Petite Lancero, which was originally a store-exclusive for Tobacco Grove in Maple Grove, Minn. Four additional regular production sizes were added between 2016 and 2019—the Corona Gorda 2013, Petite Robusto, Cazadores and Gran Toro in 2016—and three new vitolas have been added this year.

Last month, Tatuaje shipped two brand new vitolas in the Black Label line, a 5 3/8 x 48 perfecto dubbed Britanicas Extra and a 6 x 50 toro. Both new sizes are puros that incorporate the same blend as the existing releases—specifically a sun grown criollo wrapper grown in the Estelí region covering a binder and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua—and both vitolas are being sold at an MSRP of $11 packaged in boxes of 20 cigars. However, unlike the five previous additions to the line, the two newest sizes are limited so far, with only 500 boxes of each shipped to retailers.

There have now been a total of 22 different releases in the Black Label line.

  • Cigar Reviewed: Tatuaje Black Label Britanicas Extra
  • Country of Origin: Nicaragua
  • Factory: My Father Cigars S.A.
  • Wrapper: Nicaragua (Sun Grown Criollo Estelí)
  • Binder: Nicaragua
  • Filler: Nicaragua
  • Length: 5 3/8 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 48
  • Vitola: Britanicas Extra
  • MSRP: $11 (Box of 20, $220)
  • Release Date: Sept. 20, 2020
  • Number of Cigars Released: 500 Boxes of 20 (10,000 Total Cigars)
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3

While certainly not as gnarly as some past Black Label releases, the Britanicas Extra is not exactly one I would call overly attractive. It has a combination of overt marbling, obvious veins and somewhat sandpaper rough tooth. Having said that, there is plenty of oil present, and the cigar is very dense when held in my hand, while one sample feature a massive soft spot just below the main band in front. Aroma from the wrapper and foot is a combination of strong peanut shells, salt, gritty earth, leather, hay, barnyard, cedar and cake batter sweetness, while the cold draw brings flavors of aged cedar, cinnamon, hay, leather tack, floral, earth and vanilla bean sweetness.

Starting off with a bang, the Tatuaje Britanicas Extra features quite a bit of both black pepper on the retrohale and spice on my tongue right after toasting the foot. While the former starts to fade almost immediately, the aforementioned spice does not, and a combination of cinnamon and creamy cedar easily rise to the top of the profile. Additional notes of gritty earth, leather, salted nuts, hay, bread and bitter espresso fight for their respective places, while an obvious floral sweetness combines with the black pepper on the retrohale. In terms of construction, the draw is excellent after a simple straight cut, while the burn is a bit wavy out of the gate, albeit not problematic enough to correct. The overall strength starts out firmly in the medium range but does not increase much by the time the first third comes to an end.

While the dominant flavors of creamy cedar and cinnamon do not change in the second third of the brand new Tatuaje Black Label, the earth note is becoming noticeably more aggressive, followed closely behind by notes of sourdough bread, ground coffee, sawdust, peanuts, barnyard and a touch of cocoa nibs. The spice on my tongue continues to be strong enough to be a major part of the profile, while the black pepper and floral sweetness on the retrohale show no signs of easing up. Construction-wise, the draw remains excellent, but the burn needs a couple of quick touchups to keep it on track. In terms of strength, the Tatuaje has increased noticeably, easily hitting a point between medium and full by the end of the second third.

Both the cinnamon and creamy cedar remain the clear winners in the profile of the Black Label Britanicas Extra, but a new flavor of citrus replaces the floral sweetness on the retrohale. Other flavors of cocoa nibs, peanuts, leather, earth, barnyard and salt flit in and out as well, while the spice present on my tongue shows no signs of diminishing in any major way. The draw is as excellent as ever and the burn has evened up nicely after the necessary touch-ups in the second third, and the overall strength ends up crossing over the full mark just as I put the nub down with about an inch remaining.

Final Notes

  • While fairly few and far between, there are cigar blends that get worse with age instead of better, and the Black Label blend has always fallen into that category for me, joining other blends like Liga Privada and Padron Anniversary.
  • The Britanicas Extra vitola has been used a handful of times by Habanos S.A. in the last decade since the debut of the U.K.-exclusive Bolívar Britanicas in 2012. Additional releases of the vitola followed, including the Ramón Allones Perfectos Edición Regional Suiza in 2014, the Rafael González 88 Edición Regional Asia Pacificio in 2016 and the Bolívar Lusiadas Edición Regional Portugal in 2017.
  • The Britanicas Extra is a bit stronger than most of the other Black Label releases I have smoked, most of which I would classify as medium-plus; in fact, I would put this vitola in the full category.
  • I love the new Black Label bands, but I also think that the more simplistic bands do a better job of paying homage to the original idea of the blend.
  • Although the overall construction was quite good for two of the three cigars, my final sample had a tight enough draw in the first third that I had to cut a bit further down on the cap and massage the filler a bit to give me the resistance I needed. Thankfully, that seemed to do the trick, and the draw opened up nicely in the middle and final thirds.
  • The cigars smoked for this review were purchased by halfwheel.
  • Final smoking time averaged one hour and 35 minutes for all three samples.
  • If you would like to purchase of the Tatuaje Black Label Britanicas Extra, site sponsor Atlantic Cigar Co. has them in stock now.
90 Overall Score

When it was first released in 2007, the Tatuaje Black Label was one of the best cigars I had smoked up to that time and since then, there have been some additions to the line that were just as enjoyable, as well as some that really missed the mark. I’m looking at you Black Label Tubo. Through all of the different releases, the Black Label blend has certain characteristics common in its profile: cinnamon, creamy cedar, nuts and floral along with a great spice interspersed throughout until the last puff which is not so aggressive that it takes away from the profile, but never so tame that it disappears into the background. While not the most enjoyable of the brand so far, the Britanicas Extra includes all of those and easily shows why the Black Label line continues to be one of Tatuaje's best.

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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.