The longer I have smoked cigars, the more I have grown in my desire to experience the truly unique, the truly special. No, this is not a snobbish aim for the most exclusive or most expensive, but more of a drive to enjoy cigars as works of art. It so happened that while on vacation in my favorite summer region, the Door County peninsula in Wisconsin, I had the opportunity to take in a new-to-me brand by Principle Cigars, The Vainqueur from the Aviator Series. Coming in at a fairly imposing 6.5”x56 vitola I prepared myself for what looked to be a heavy and in your face smoking experience. As it turned out, it could not have been a more wrong first impression.
With my vacation rental this year being wonderfully situated RIGHT ON the beautiful waters of Lake Michigan, I wanted to take advantage of this extraordinary backdrop and film a full video review on this cigar. Naturally then I began to set up the camera and captured some very good-looking footage for this review thanks to some fortunately ideal natural lighting. But not, however, before doing some research on the Aviator Series (and Principle Cigars in general) to get the necessary blend info and perhaps pick up any little tidbits of knowledge that might be interesting. What I in fact discovered was a treasure trove.
Principle Cigars had its inception in 2013, started by Long Island native, art collector, 8-time cigar smoking champion, and literal treasure hunter, Darren Cioffi. Cioffi had grown enchanted by vintage cigar boxes and label art throughout his life and became very fond of smoking vintage and pre-embargo cigars, with some that dated as far back as the 1870’s. He accumulated a massive library of cigar art and an impressive personal cigar collection of his own. This affection would drive him to begin his own cigar making endeavors in the attempt to create cigars that as he put it, “encompassed the entire beauty of this product: the presentation, the tobacco, the blend, the vitolas, the construction, all in harmony to give pure pleasure to all the senses”.
Cioffi would eventually meet with none other than Hendrik Kelner Jr in his pursuit. The two visionaries spent nearly 2 years searching for and accumulating the appropriate tobaccos of a level of quality that Cioffi had wanted to ensure his quest was to be fulfilled properly. Kelner’s very own and very small artisanal factory, Kelner Boutique Factory in Santiago, DR would soon become the primary producer of Cioffi’s portfolio of fine cigars.
Digging deeper into this story I came to find that very often the production volume of these cigars is deliberately limited based on the quality of the tobaccos that Darren and Hendrik can obtain. Cioffi is adamant that harmony, balance and quality combustion takes priority over quantity and consistency. There is a set small number of permanent rollers at the Kelner Boutique Factory under the direct supervision of Kelner himself.
All tobaccos used in any of their blends are at least 5 years old, which Darren insists upon to achieve the distinct flavors he has in mind. Some of the vitolas in their catalogue are only produced in quantities of 10 per day. If the amount of tobacco they deem good enough for their cigars is only enough to produce a couple thousand of that cigar for the year, then that is how many will be produced. Put in another way, this is not a money-making enterprise, but a pure passion project focused on perfection.
After taking all of this beautiful story in that afternoon I was doubly excited to light this Vainqueur up. While inspecting the wrapper and label art I am immediately struck at the vintage-styled, Art Deco themed bands on the cigar. Principle Cigars tend to have this art style on many of their cigar bands and boxes. The blend of each cigar in the Aviator Series is unique to its vitola.
The Vainqueur (6.5”x56) features fillers from Nicaragua, the Dominican, and the USA, a Dominican binder, and a beautiful Ecuadorian Corojo wrapper leaf. The wrapper coloring is a luscious medium brown and very even. The pack and roll are both on point, and then suddenly I see it. In the sunlight there is an unmistakable sparkling crystalline on the cap of this cigar. There it is, the mythical, often disputed, ever-elusive plume! Some may call me a liar, but I have video proof, so I am sticking with it!
The cigar demonstrated a perfect draw and smoke output from the very first light. The body was medium, and sometimes dipped down south of medium, with a lightly oily mouthfeel. The flavors admittedly started off feeling a little scattered in their balance, but very soon melded beautifully into a lovely harmony. I start off by getting sweet cedar, and a strange charred coffee bean sort of flavor that I have not experienced before. The retrohale is remarkably smooth and clean, with seltzer, burnt paper, hay, caramel and coffee beans.
A little further in and the flavors start to get along much better with each other. Sweet, dried berries and dried citrus rind notes come in on the draw, along with light touches of seltzer, evergreen, grassy notes and pine nuts. The retrohale begins to bring out a light cedar, shredded wheat cereal, a clean and smooth white pepper and citrus zest. By the middle of the cigar the flavor balance is superb with notes of a light roast coffee with cream and a touch of sugar, sweet and musty cedar, almond, pine nuts, and subtle cashew. The retro from here on out is an awesome balance of a very musty cedar wood, white pepper and citrus zest.
In the final third there is a rebound of the light caramel sweetness, sassafras, a more pronounced buttery cashew, and a lingering walnut and light roast coffee with cream. The overall experience was one of clean and elegant flavors with a calming texture, and an effortless and thoroughly generous draw. Vainqueur in French translates literally to “the victor”, and this one was definitely a winner for me.
Darren Cioffi made a point to mention that in his approach to creating cigars he is only too aware of the numerous factors that play a role in how we will experience a cigar. The time of day, what we have recently eaten or drank, the weather, our current state of mind, time of year etc., can all affect what we experience and what we will taste. Thus, he concludes that consistency, which won’t really be experienced anyway, should not be his focus. That is to say that will always err on the side of “making a slightly better cigar than the side of making a slightly more consistent one”. This mindset speaks to me deeply, and I am so gratified to know that artisans such as Darren and Hendrik are maintaining these principles.
Watch the video review on the Jonose Cigars channel on YouTube.