Swept up in the ever ebbing and flowing sea of cigar options, the Saint Luis Rey brand sits forlornly in a tidepool of neglected stogie smoking options.
An all too often overlooked cigar line that suffers from dated marketing methodologies and oversaturated humidor shelves.
But there's a reason Altadis has kept this vintage cigar namesake around after all these years, with the stick seen here securing a "Top 25" award in 2021 from Cigar Aficionado.
Simply slide the "Carenas" premium cigar blend by Saint Luis Rey from its cellophane sheath, and you'll immediately see that this brand is still alive and kicking. But in an eloquently aromatic, balanced sort of medium-strength way...
"Holy $#@% does this thing look like old school!"
These were my precise words when I first saw the Toro size of a Saint Luis Rey "Carenas" in person. It's this reddish-brown English Market Select (EMS) wrapped stick, with a band that likely received approval from the marketing strategy team back in 1997.
Get past the vintage Saint Luis Rey branding and all of the little chrome accents accentuating the yellow and red band, and you'll notice something far more fascinating. A damn near perfectly constructed cigar.
Save for a slightly discolored cap with some minor closure creases, this stick is flawless in appearance. Gaps, seams, veins, soft spots, bumps, ridges, mottled spotting, discoloration... there's nary a splash of it to be seen anywhere along this pristine parejo. It's also very firmly bunched and rolled, with just enough spring to let you know that it will smoke just fine.
And then there's the aroma. Wafts of chocolate milk, summer spiced cobbler, and a kick of spicy pepper to keep things interesting all await. Matching unlit cold pulls? Yeah, the "Carenas" blend has that too, along with a whole lot of woodsy flavors that go beyond traditional Spanish cedar.
Floral and cocoa powder packed, this blend's beginning draw is accentuated by flavors of roasted almonds, and a medley of dried apricots and mixed berries.
It's a stunning start that is supported by a familiar earthiness that can best be described as the taste you get when smoking darker Honduran tobacco. A banging beginning to say the least.
While the first third's flavor profile remained fairly true to what was first detected, a notable shift toward a more nutty, granola cereal taste surfaced around its midsection.
A spark of grassiness could also be detected, with dehydrated blackberry flavors providing a fun contrast to the oaky earthen tastes and lingering cocoa venti effects from the first few inches.
Although strength did remain square within the center of medium, flavor intensity hit me with a bit of a left hook shortly past the halfway mark.
Doughy dark beer bread flavors and a freshly milled whole wheat taste came at me hard and fast, finished with a slightly sweet cocoa note that I can only compare to Nesquik.
It's a bold move toward a more vibrant finish, which I found to be extremely pleasant. Especially since the aromatics of the cigar stuck to these tastes, and added even more wood-like tannin scents to the experience.
The final portions of the Saint Luis Rey "Carenas" is a slip-n-slide of earthy Honduran tobacco tastes, dark cacao nibs, and a blend of walnuts and almonds.
It's also exceedingly aromatic, with an unexpected return of those floral notes from the first few inches of the cigar making for a winning closing round.
Ash / Burn / Smoke / Draw
Draw and smoke production were both outstanding with this cigar, and the first half of the barrel burned with nearly impeccable precision.
However, some touch-ups were required in the final half, and the cigar did randomly extinguish itself without warning not once but twice during the center of the stick.
Dated cigar band and bland box branding be damned. The premium cigar blend that is the "Carenas" from Saint Luis Rey kicks more ass than a Chuck Norris marathon on a Saturday night.
Flavorful and well-rounded, with just enough kick to keep the plot interesting, this cigar is a must-smoke experience for those who dig medium-strength cigars.
Hell, with the right fixes in play, this could be a contender for best medium cigar of the year in my opinion. It truly is that solid of a cigar.
All that Altadis has to do is fix the self-extinguishing issue I encountered (apparently this is a common problem with this blend) and then spike the marketing department's office water cooler with some psilocybin for a little "creative encouragement" and we'll be in business!
Saint Luis Rey "Carenas"
Nicaragua English Market Select (EMS)
Honduras (Connecticut Broadleaf)
Honduras (Flor de Copan)
6" x 52 "Toro"
Yebisu Single Origin Hoppy Ale