Review: 601 Green Label Oscuro
Two weeks without a cigar. Two weeks. Two weeks without a cigar is like going without sex for 6. That’s equal to 3 “sex-weeks”, a crude dog-year analogy. Anyway, after battling the influenza plague that invaded our humble home, I summoned the energy, and a fresh pair of lounge pants, to get through the Christmas holidays.
To make matters worse, we had an unseasonably cold week where the temps dropped below freezing and the sun disappeared. In south Texas, that’s the equivalent to the zombie apocalypse. Water, batteries and ammo flew off store shelves like girl scout cookies after a reefer party as we all hunkered down for the end. Well, we survived the weather, holidays and in-laws to usher in a new year. Feeling more like myself on the eve of 2018, it was time to put fire to a fine cigar.
No party. No fanfare, friends or family. Ugh, and unfortunately no booze (thanks to the meds I was popping like tic tacs). The current temp – 36 degrees. Hey, this was a heat wave compared to the ball-shriveling body block from Jack Frost we got previously, so yeah, I’m lighting up. Ok, in the garage. With one of the doors open.
Honestly, after reviewing Felix Assouline’s epic Ego Red, I had my eye on his CSB Habano burning a hole in one of my humidors. But to be fair, I hadn’t enjoyed some of Erik Espinosa’s wares in a while and bam – like a green emerald in a sea of diamonds, the 601 Oscuro called to me. So, dressed in layers till I looked like one of those idiots donned in one of those inflated sumo wrestler costumes, in an unceremonious fashion I avoided going full retard and got my mojo back thanks to Mr. Espinosa. Gracias, amigo.
Like most successful cigar makers, Erik Espinosa has a unique story. And like many great booze-infused tales, no great success story ever started with someone eating a salad. In other words, Espinosa’s meteoric rise didn’t happen because he played it safe. Erik didn’t wake up one day with a dufflebag full of cash, buy a one-way ticket to Nicaragua, purchase the first farm he saw and cha ching, make mouth-watering, award-winning cigars.
Since 1997, Erik has paid his dues in the retail ranks as well as done time as a broker. He’s slogged along some of the industry’s best and brightest like Drew Estate and Rocky Patel. In 2004, he connected with Eddie Ortega to craft the 601 and Murcielago brands produced by the Garcia family.
In 2012, he started Espinosa Cigars and blew up the boutique industry with the Espinosa Habano and Maduro. Most recently, he crafted the critically acclaimed fan favorite, Laranja, Portuguese for ‘orange’, based on the funky orange hue of the Brazilian Arapiraca tobacco used in the wrapper.
Espinosa has made a name for himself for creating premium handmades packed with flavor and every reviewer and industry rag on the planet has recognized him and many of his cigars. The cigar industry is notoriously incestuous, so it’s not unusual for innovators like Espinosa to contract with other cigar brands to extend his Midas touch, the beneficiaries of which include up-and-comers like Cornelius & Anthony.
Did you know: Since 2016, Espinosa’s 601 line of cigars are all produced at AJ Fernandez’s San Lotano Factory in Ocotál, Nicaragua.
- Profile: Full
- Vitola: Trabuco [Gran Corona]
- Length / Ring Gauge: 6 1/8″/ 58
- Purchased: Local Humidor
- Origin: Nicaragua
- Wrapper: Nicaragua Habano Oscuro
- Binder: Nicaragua
- Filler: Nicaragua
- Cutter: Colibri V-cut
- Lighter: Colibri Firebird
- Price Range: $7.40 – $8
The 601 Bomba is a powerful smoke – the primary focus of then EO’s Eddie Ortega. Interestingly, Espinosa, while not shying away from full-strength cigars, favored more of a sophisticated flavor profile rather than relying on just skull-splitting power. The pig-tail fuse of the Bomba is novel and is still a favorite of many. In fact, the entire 601 line in its present guise is recognized as the most popular brand within the Espinosa stable in terms of volume. Once produced by the Garcia family, production moved to AJ Fernandez’s San Lotano factory in 2016. The Other Espinosa brands are produced at his own factory, La Zona, in the heart of Esteli, Nicaragua.
The 601 Green Label Oscuro, or just Oscuro, garnered an impressive 91 rating from Cigar Aficionado. The Oscuro comes in 5 vitolas and are packaged in boxes of 20. The build of my 601 Oscuro is solid with uniform firmness, although the head is a touch soft – not a bad thing. The roll and triple cap is done very well. The shaft is slightly veiny and toothy with semi-visible seams. Slightly longer than a standard toro, my prefered vitola, the ring gauge is a really nice compromise over a gordo, which is typically 60+. The oily Habano Oscuro wrapper is a luscious chocolate-brown with a nice aroma of cocoa, raisins and hay. The sweetness from the foot offered up notes of hay in addition to what my brain interpreted as fudge brownie. Whaaat? Yes, I said it. Fudge brownie. The cold draw is excellent with a V-cut and provided more cocoa sweetness.
Upon initial light, the complexity is off the charts. My brain is in meltdown as the earthy background revolves nicely around notes of nuts and leather. There is a nice zesty nature defined by salt and red pepper, which also provides a nice spice. The finish is toasty. The 601 is producing copious amounts of aromatic smoke. The 601 settles in with a sweet baking spice lurking among the tang of cedar and a peppery, savory profile. Flavor bomb has been dropped. Combustion is flawless.
The zesty and savory nature begin to define the middle third with the continued balance of pepper and cedar with baked bread and just the slightest whiffs of vanilla on the retrohale. The 601 never loses her character or waivers, i.e. flavors disappear leaving the cigar one-dimensional then reappear. As she nears the end of the middle third, a more earthy profile emerges. Combustion trails a bit unevenly requiring a single touch up about mid way through the middle third.
The final third of the 601 Oscuro offers up a couple of surprises. Still overwhelmed by the complexity, I’m treated to an epilogue of the aforementioned earthy profile, but with some wood, pepper and dare I say it – pistachio. I’m a huge pistachio fan and there is no doubt in my mind there were notes of pistachio on the retrohale. Call me crazy, I don’t mind. The finish is a warm dark coffee flavor, a perfect end to the 601. Combustion is, again, flawless.
The 601, like the Ego Red, exemplify the oscuro flavor pallet in my opinion. Carrillo and LFD have some great ones as well. If done correctly, it is a flavor bomb. Cigar makers who employ habano wrappers don’t always age or ferment their wrappers the same way, hence why there is subtle, and sometimes huge, differences in the overall oscuro flavor. I will say that initially, there is a lot going on with the 601, almost too much to sort out. It’s a wonderful mix, and in some instances, you kind of want it to keep going, but it does settle down.
Zesty. Savory. Wood. Earth. Subtle sweetness. Pepper. Leather. Bam. Espinosa nails the oscuro. The complexity is always there and is nicely balanced. Aside from the one touch-up, the combustion was perfect. She’ll hold a 1″ ash with no problem. The price point is ridiculously low. At $8 a stick you can still pick up a couple of taco supremes from Taco Bell with that ten-dollar bill. The value is overflowing here as I would gladly pay over $10 for something of this quality and flavor. This is yet another sub-$10 taste treat that shouldn’t be missed. I can’t say this is an everyday go-to for me personally, but you can bet I’ll always keep a few of these boom sticks around. – In Fumo Pax!