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Viaje has seemingly always been a company that preferred to maintain some mystery about its cigars, though some releases send to get more secrecy than others.

Which makes it seem perfectly obvious that the company would add the word mystery—or rather, M?stery—to one it lines, the Skull and Bones.

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The Viaje Skull and Bones line dates back to May 2010, when the company released one its most highly ranked and sought-after cigars, the Daisy Cutter. Over the years it would add a number of offshoots—47 cigars in all as of this writing—almost all of which get their names from types of bombs. That is, except for this cigar, which debuted in October 2010 and was simply known as the Skull and Bones “?”.

There have now been 47 different releases in the Skull and Bones Series:

Over the years, the M?stery has changed its vitola a few times, getting a box press as well as becoming a torpedo after starting as a robusto gordo. It has also changed its name to the stylized M?stery to indicate that little if anything about the cigar is being disclosed, while also going from a black and white band to an all black design.

For the 2020 release, the 11th M?stery, the company declined to say anything about it, other than showing a picture of it the box social media. That meant no blend details, something that has become increasingly common, but also no size information.

According to listings from retailers and our own measurements, the cigar is a box-pressed robusto that measures 5 1/2 inches long and has a 54 ring gauge. It is priced at $258 for a box of 25 cigars, which works out to $10.32 per cigar, before taxes.

It marks the first release of the cigar since 2018, and just the third time since 2015.

  • Cigar Reviewed: Viaje Skull and Bones M?stery (2020)
  • Country of Origin: Not Disclosed
  • Factory: Not Disclosed
  • Wrapper: Not Disclosed
  • Binder: Not Disclosed
  • Filler: Not Disclosed
  • Length: 5 1/2 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 54
  • Vitola: Robusto Gordo
  • MSRP: $10.32 (Box of 25, $258)
  • Release Date: October 2020
  • Number of Cigars Released: Not Disclosed
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3

While it might not quite be a log of a cigar, the 2020 installment of the Viaje Skull and Bones M?stery is definitely a block of one thanks to a box press that creates angles that are pretty close to 90 degrees. With the almost all black band, I rely on a sliver of white or an uneven seam at the tail of the band to indicate the front of the cigar. It’s a firmly rolled stick, especially for a box press, finished off by a tightly covered foot. The wrapper leaf is a medium shade of brown that makes me think of milk chocolate by its color, while a bit of oiliness gives it a supple feel on the fingertips. The vein network is small and somewhat scattered; most are no more visible than the occasional seam line but some pucker and stand out more. The covered foot offers an aroma of cocoa powder and creaminess, stopping short of making me think of a hot chocolate. It’s a cool, slightly sweet smell that also leads me down the path of Hershey’s chocolate syrup, and there’s no pepper to disrupt that thought, even after multiple sniffs. The covered foot doesn’t seem to impede air flow, with each draw offering a bit more of the cocoa powder and creaminess, while also kicking in a very subtle bit of woodiness and a suggestion at earthiness. Pepper feels like it’s trying to come out here, with a bit of tingle on the lips after several puffs, but it isn’t dominant.

For a fairly sweet and creamy cold draw and aroma, the Viaje Skull and Bones M?stery starts off with a profile that I think of as being more Viaje-esque: some earthiness, black pepper, and even a bit of red chili pepper that is squarely aimed at the front half of my tongue as well as my lips. It’s a fairly full flavored start, with body a touch thin and strength still on the leash but seemingly on the way. Retrohales are almost as vibrant, mainly by way of the pepper that delivers a pointed sensation to the nostrils, although the thinness of the smoke is more here than on the palate. Depending on the cigar, the opening puffs can have a bit too much sharpness, leading to an unpleasant sensation that signals something may be amiss with the tobacco. The red chili pepper, as well as most of the black pepper, slowly begin to fade away, and both are almost completely gone by the time I knock off the first clump of ash. Retrohales are a different story, however, offering a still peppery tingle for the nostrils. Meanwhile the flavor has become a bit sweeter thanks to a subtle chocolate syrup note coming in, which keeps the profile complex but heading in a new direction. The burn line has a tendency to go awry after that first clump of ash is knocked off, but otherwise the cigar performs well in the early goings. After starting fairly full, flavor ends this section in the medium-plus range, while the body has caught up to medium-plus as well and strength is still lingering a bit behind that. Draw, combustion and smoke production have all been good but not perfect.

Between retrohales and what the palate gets, the start of the second third offers a duality that pairs pretty well together. Seemingly not a blend to take much of a rest when it comes to flavor changes, the second third brings the black pepper back to the palate while introducing a flavor that reminds me of grilled pork or chicken, mainly because of the grilled aspect and less as to what’s on said grill. There’s a bit of char in the mix as well, and by the midpoint flavor has ramped back up to full. It’s also rockier, which makes for a more jagged smoke on the palate and quite a turn from the smoother profile of most of the first third. The one exception to that is a sample that has a much lighter and more fragrant retrohale, mainly nutty but with a surprisingly effervescent quality in the nose, a flowering sensation that has me thinking of cashews, Champagne and pine. This change carries the Viaje Skull and Bones M?stery through the second third, with the flavor getting a bit more intense right as the burn line approaches the final third. Flavor is full, body is medium-full, and strength seems to be creeping up towards medium-full, though so far I’m not feeling much in the way of physical effects. Construction and combustion are both solid and problem-free.

While I’m still waiting on—or maybe fearing—the nicotine strength to come along, there is something about the tobacco that is causing a bit of irritation in the upper chest on occasion. Needless to say it’s a sensation I’m not crazy about and would gladly wave goodbye to if given the option. The flavor strength begins a slight decline in terms of intensity but hangs onto the rocky earth and sharp pepper from the second third. Retrohales are still bright and peppery, but have picked up a bit of light floral aspect that is also fairly crisp in the nostrils. Two cigars have a decidedly lighter and woody flavor that emerges for a bit and gives the profile a new and enjoyable direction, and leads me to think that when this blend skews a bit lighter on the flavor spectrum, it yields a much more enjoyable experience. The nuttiness from earlier is largely gone, replaced by a light woodiness that sits between lumberyard boards and cedar, both of which complement the emerging white pepper. That woodiness continues to develop, and in the final two inches evolves into oak or maple, eventually morphing into what I would describe as being the smell of new wood furniture. It’s remarkably rich and enjoyable, and a fairly quick change for a cigar that seemed content on sticking with the rocky earth and black pepper components. It does pick up a bit of char towards the end, though it reminds me a bit more of a smoky Scotch than anything overly abrasive. Construction is generally very good, though one of the three samples struggled with combustion enough to merit a few relights. Flavor is medium-full is not full, body is right behind that, and strength has stayed medium-full at most.

Final Notes

  • The covered foot streak continues for the cigars I have reviewed lately.
  • As for the covered feet, they were created fairly well, though one sample looked a bit rushed with the tobacco just pressed into place.
  • One cigar burned notably slower and with more combustion issues than the others. It seemed like anything more than about 30 or 40 seconds between puffs resulted in a significant decrease in smoke production and the occasional full relight being needed.
  • When I measured the cigar, I had it right at about 5 1/2 inches, though I asked Charlie to confirm the ring gauge with the HERICS Cigar Measuring Tape he reviewed a while back. He confirmed the ring gauge was right at 54, though thought the length was 5.4 inches if counting the covered foot, but closer to 5 1/3 inches than 5 1/2 if not counting that extra tobacco.
  • While information about recent releases has been scarce, in 2011, the cigar was said to be a Nicaraguan puro with a sun grown criollo wrapper that was made at Raíces Cubanas in Honduras.
  • In 2013, that wrapper changed to a maduro leaf of undisclosed origin. That was the last year we received any information about the blend.
  • While I still think of Viaje’s portfolio as being on the full strength side, this one pleasantly surprised me by not delivering the kind of nicotine punch that might be inferred from a cigar named Skull and Bones.
  • The cigars for this review were purchased by halfwheel.
  • Smoking time seemed to vary quite a bit, with one sample taking about two hours and 20 minutes, another about two hours, and the third closer to an hour and 45 minutes, despite not taking a different approach to puffing rate or being smoked in different environments.
  • Final smoking time was two hours on average.
  • Site sponsors Atlantic Cigar Co. carries the 2020 version of the Viaje Skull and Bones M?stery, although it currently shows as being out of stock.
85 Overall Score

The Viaje Skull and Bones M?stery has a bit of a Goldilocks problem, in that the three samples I smoked each offered a slightly different take on the blend with a handful of commonalities along the journey. At its best, it's a progression of flavors from peppery earth to fragrant woods, with some enjoyable stops along the way. At its low points is abrasive smoke and char that irritates the senses with suggestions of tobaccos that could use a bit more time to sweat out its rougher spots. Thankfully, the high points were more plentiful than the lows, both in terms of flavor and construction. While I may not know what's in it or where it was made, I do know that on the whole it was an enjoyable cigar and one that I might smoke now as well as put down for a bit more rest to see if some humidor time smooths out those rougher spots.

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Patrick Lagreid

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.