I like a bargain as much, if not more , as the next guy and when it comes to cigars I certainly try to keep an eye for bargain sticks. To the eyes of non-smokers and plenty of occasional smokers Cuban cigars are an expensive luxury product. While that is true for many Cubans, there are a decent amount of brands that make affordable smokes (Think Fonseca and Por Larrañaga for example), but if you really want cheap, without wallowing in the squalor of the dreaded Guantanamera, then the Jose’ L. Piedra brand is what to look for.
Traditionally an old pre-revolutionary brand, Habanos brought it back to produce 7 different vitolas under the J.L. Piedra brand. All are handmade short filler cigars made from tobacco produced in the eastern region of Cuba, Vuelta Arriba – according to some sources specifically in the Remedios area. These are considered all medium to full smokes and although not refined smokes, they have their fans and some think they become quite nice when aged. They are quite clearly marketed as budget smokes, coming in bundles instead of the traditional boxes other Cuban brands use.Up to now my experience with short fillers has been quite awful, so I was not expecting much. Still I heard some good opinions on these so I decided to give them a go. At worst I would give them away to a couple of colleagues who smoke machine-made crap
Jose’ L.Piedra Nacionales
Length: 5 1/4 ”
Ring gauge: 42
Price: Depends… 1.50-2 Euros in many EU countries, around £5 in the UK. If someone can give me a good reason for this I swear I’ll send you a couple of free smokes. Taxes cannot be the only reason here, as these are cheaper in tax-heavy Sweden ( around £2.50-3) than the UK!
Wrapper: Cuba, Vuelta Arriba
Binder: Cuba, Vuelta Arriba
Filler: Cuba, Vuelta Arriba
Smoking Time: 60-70 minutes
Appearance and pre-smoke
These won’t win any beauty contest. As you can see below, the wrapper is wrinkly, spotty and quite veiny. On the plus side it has a bit of oily sheen. Not surprisingly it feels a bit bumpy, as short fillers do. The aroma of the wrapper is barnyard, to put it in fine terms, but being an honest guy I need to say these smell like shit… horse shit to be exact.
There is not much sense in talking about the three phases with a short filler as the tobacco mix pretty much does not change through the cigar. The predominant flavour is toasted earthy tobacco with some (chilli?) spice and a hint of creamy sweetness in the background, with some green and woody once it worms up. It is very nice to smoke, perfect draw, almost perfect burn, plenty of smoke and impressively long ash for a short filler. While it is not the smoothest of smokes, it is rustic rather than rough, certainly miles better than other short fillers I’ve had recently.
I was pleasantly surprised by the Nacionales, possibly because of my low expectations. Still this is a decent cigar in its own right (a 77 on my points scale) which I’d happily smoke when I don’t want to concentrate on the cigar too much and does not cost so much that I would mind finishing it early
So to conclude: Yes, for the price these go for in continental Europe I’d certainly pick up a bundle as everyday smoke next time I am over. At the UK prices, no, not in years – that’s plain daylight robbery. For a fiver there’s more interesting things to be had.