Review: El Septimo Excepcion Light
I was thinking about the first time I smoked a cigar I’d purchased while in Europe. It was late Spring during a business trip in Germany. The small, post-industrial town in which we were staying had become too quaint and quiet, so after a long week of training and meetings, a couple of colleagues and I decided to blow off some steam and we hopped an ICE train to Amsterdam for the weekend.
While doing some sight-seeing, I happened upon a small, local tobacconist near the historic town center. I wasn’t thrilled with the limited cigar selection, but decided on an overpriced Maria Mancini. A decent Nicaraguan cigar, but nothing to write home about. But it did the job and provided a mild fix to tie me over.
While it can be hit or miss (I’m told its more miss), some cigar makers try to craft cigars that cater to the “European palate”, which some suggest is a cigar with a high level of complexity and flavor. Some would also proffer that this demographic also has a propensity for intensity as well. Most European cigar smokers hail from the western region of the continent and Cuban cigars are arguably the perennial favorites.
Many European cigar lovers I know, who have taken a shine to some popular American brands, like Drew Estate, say the European cigar market leaves a lot to be desired. Another cigar lover disenchanted with the lack of premium cigar offerings is French cigar distributor and master blender, Gilles Botquin, who in 2005 took matters into his own hands and launched El Septimo Cigars.
Frustrated with an industry that appeared to care little for flavor or quality and by a growing dissatisfaction with Cuban products, Botquin set out to make premium cigars with a laser focus on every element starting with well-aged tobacco grown in rich, lush conditions in Costa Rica. Using blending techniques conceptualized from making fine wines, Botquin rounded out his vision with fanatical detail with regards to construction, draw, combustion and of course, enjoyment.
Did you Know: All cigars in El Septimo’s portfolio are Costa Rican Puros.
Make no mistake: these cigars were designed with the discerning connoisseur in mind and El Septimo pulls no punches when referring to its cigars as “indulgent and unapologetic.” Now encompassing over 30 lines and using tobaccos aged from 5 to 15 years, El Septimo offers an ultra-premium, decadent smoking experience. And they’re bringing this eclectic indulgence stateside as mentioned in a recent news post.
Earlier this year, El Septimo was purchased by Zaya Younan, founder and CEO of the Younan Company, a global private equity firm. Now doing business as El Septimo Geneva SA, the story unfolds as Younan visited a European lounge and indulged in his first El Septimo blend. He was so impressed, and fueled by his passion for premium cigars (and exhaustive research), he bought the company. El Septimo is yet another piece in a growing, global portfolio of luxurious products, services and properties in which the Younan Company has invested.
After discovering El Septimo a couple of years ago on social media, we tried in vain to secure some of these luxurious cigars. Singles are not available online and the few US locations that do carry some lines, wouldn’t return our calls or respond to our emails. This was becoming a quest. Serendipity interceded when I recently received an El Septimo newsletter announcing that their cigars would soon be coming to the US. Thinking it was a long shot, I responded with requests for additional info and where I might obtain some of these hard-to-find babies.
Unexpectedly, I received a reply from Zaya Younan himself. Two phone calls and a few emails later, Zaya Younan had kindly agreed to provide some samples for our reviews. Alleluja! He suggested we start with the Excepcion Light, a medium bodied cigar from El Septimo’s vaunted Luxus collection. The Luxus portfolio features cigars crafted with tobaccos aged a minimum of 10 years, and as the line title suggests, represent the flagship of El Septimo’s offerings.
The first thing you notice about these cigars is the oily, toffee-colored, oscuro-fermented wrapper which is near-seamless. The triple seam cap is well-executed. Continuing the tribute to the Cuban entubar style of rolling, our gordo is uniformly firm and sports a covered foot topped with a pigtail, both of which play a role: the covered foot allows the smoker to taste more of the wrapper and the pigtail aids in lighting.
The aromas are breathtaking, oozing with fragrant milk chocolate and a sweet essence best described as Belgian waffle batter. Younan recommended using just a punch for the best draw, and he was absolutely spot on as the draw was near effortless, providing just enough resistance to keep it from feeling too open. The cold draw provides a mild Kola nut sweetness on the palate.
- Profile: Medium
- Vitola: Gordo
- Length / Ring Gauge: 5.12″ x 60
- Purchased: Direct
- Origin: Costa Rica
- Wrapper: Costa Rican Oscuro
- Binder: Costa Rican
- Filler: Costa Rican
- Cutter: Xikar Punch
- Lighter: Colibri Firebird
- Price: $44.10
- Humidor Age: 2 wks.
- Box: 10 and 25
- Other Vitolas: N/A
** 99 Cigars typically pays for all cigars; however, due to availability, cigars were provided by El Septimo Geneva SA in exchange for complimentary advertising.
Initial impressions after lighting are highlighted by how silky smooth the texture is, undoubtedly the welcomed by-product of the vintage leaves used. The easy light was followed by a dense, maple and chocolate core with underpinnings of white pepper, leather and caramel. The long, savory finish is dotted with coffee bean and a tang of hickory. The lush undertones of citrus on the draw is phenomenal.
I’m already drifting off as to which Scotch or Cognac would best pair with the Excepcion. This thing is just delicious. The combustion is flawless throughout the initial profile providing an even, razor-sharp char. The second profile is equally complex beginning with a carry-over of citrus essence on the draw. More organic with an earthy nucleus, the Excepcion transitions with a hearty mix of black coffee and charred wood on the palate, sweet nougat and waffle batter on the retro and a rich, chewy finish flush with dark fruit.
The ensuing epilogue ups the ante in body and intensity underscored by a robust profile of earth and anise on the palate. The sweet overtones on the retro balances the core opacity with notes of oak, nougat and whiffs of cinnamon. The Excepcion finishes with a light spice on the palate along with notes of dark fruit and cinnamon. Combustion and draw never waver, but the Excepcion does get hot once down to about 1.5” remaining.
My roughly hour and a half spent with the Excepcion Light is something I’ll remember. What stays with me is the enticing aromas and the unique, overall essence of the flavor palette. This is a decadent and delicious cigar without exception (pun intended) that distances itself well, in every regard, from the current crop of rush-to-market Cuban offerings and even some of the best alternatives to come out of Central America.
The good news is that El Septimo will have a broader presence in the US, but its pricing makes it clear that they’re targeting a niche demographic of discerning aficionados willing to pay over $25 per cigar with some cigars commanding box prices over $1000. There’s no question in my mind that many cigar smokers are perfectly happy with their circle of favorites, willing to occasionally splurge on something approaching $20 – I happen to be one of them. But I’m also in the minority who also believe that sometimes a cigar with this kind of unapologetic approach to detail, driven by passion, is always worth the chance of pure enjoyment – the heart of El Septimo’s métier. Tastes like more. – In Fumo Pax!