Premium cigars; American whiskey; heavy metal; celebrity collaboration; triple-maduro tobacco recipe: there’s clearly a lot going on with Drew Estate’s latest core-line release… let’s take a deeper dive.
The cigar at hand is the Blackened Cigars “M81” by Drew Estate, first being announced last fall and later debuting to Drew Diplomat-authorized retailers in Nov. 2022. Similar to recent launches in the industry such as Espinosa’s Knuckle Sandwich and Illusione’s PIV Robusto, M81 brought cigar enthusiasts a celebrity collaboration of—what you might consider—a higher caliber. This is because Drew Estate, one of the industry’s most prominent companies, partnered with BLACKENED American Whiskey—which itself is a collaboration between the iconic heavy metal band Metallica and Sweet Amber Distilling Co.
While there are a lot of moving parts and partnerships at work, the collaboration is simplified into three figureheads: Jonathan Drew (Drew Estate), James Hetfield (Metallica), and Rob Dietrich (Master Distiller and Blender of BLACKENED American Whiskey). The cigar takes its name from both BLACKENED American Whiskey and Metallica’s founding year (i.e. “M” for Metallica and 1981).
Blackened Cigars “M81” Toro Breakdown
Wrapper: Mexican San Andrés
Binder: Connecticut Broadleaf
Filler: Nicaragua | Pennsylvania Broadleaf (Ligero)
Factory: La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate (Nicaragua)
Production: Regular Production
Vitola: 6? x 52 (Toro)
Price: $9.85 (MSRP)
When dealing with a cigar/whiskey crossover, the first question often revolves around whether or not the cigars (or any tobaccos within the recipe) were either infused or aged in whiskey barrels. In the case of Blackened Cigars “M81,” neither is true. Instead, the cigars were crafted to fit the dark and bold stylings of Metallica, BLACKENED American Whiskey, and the tastes of Hetfield and Dietrich, with the blend said to be chosen after two years of sampling and critiquing by the duo in collaboration with Jonathan Drew and Drew Estate.
This process amounted to a triple-maduro recipe, including a Mexican San Andrés wrapper, a Connecticut Broadleaf binder, and and fillers of Nicaragua and Pennsylvania Broadleaf maduro. The latter is said to be “the boldest Pennsylvania Broadleaf ligero in Drew Estate’s vast tobacco inventory.” At the time of release, the cigars were offered in four sizes, with prices ranging from $9.15 to $10.35 MSRP.
Corona: 5? x 43 | $9.15 ($183/box of 20)
Robusto: 5? x 50 | $9.45 ($189/box of 20)
Toro: 6? x 52 | $9.85 ($197/box of 20)
Corona Doble: 7? x 50 | $10.35 ($207/box of 20)
Click images below for full resolution
Wearing black, white, and copper, the Blackened “M81” cigar mimics the whiskey somewhat closely (with the whiskey itself being the copper component in the bottle). The presentation begins with a fairly substantial wood box, having a matte-black finish with copper accents. Additionally, the box has a split lid, where the foot or head side of the cigars can be exposed independently (primarily benefitting retailers, as the foot side can fold down as a shelf-talker). The cigars have a bold and clean look, using a thin-style primary band (reading “BLACKENED”) and a heavier foot band (reading “M81 MADURO TO THE CORE”).
Though eye-catching at a distance, the cigar doesn’t quite hold up with a closer look. There are ripples throughout the wrapper and the seams are on the sloppy side; however, the leaf is surprisingly smooth, and has a clean, shiny appearance when held in the sunlight. It’s a solid, sturdy toro, alluding to either a double binder or a dense filler. The cigar is not quite as heavy as I’d expect, so my guess would be that it uses a double binder. On the nose, the wrapper shows barnyard hay, mineral, and pencil lead. The foot is surprisingly mild, with aromas of molasses, subtle sweetness, and barnyard. A pre-light draw offers a fairly firm resistance, having notes of fresh-baked bread, molasses, and damp wood (very similar to a deep inhale of fermenting tobacco pilón, for those that have visited a cigar factory before).
Click images below for full resolution
From first puff, it’s black pepper and char throughout. The smoke is fiery and dry in texture, allowing for a smoked hickory visual that has barbecue written all over it. There’s a medium sting through the retrohale, which is a tick or two milder than anticipated. A quarter-inch in, the profile shows its first signs of sweetness, building slowly/steadily beneath the surface with a molasses component.
As the pre-light hinted, the smoking draw is on the firm side; this makes for double puffing on every two or three draws, and care must be taken not to overheat the cigar. Additionally, the smoke is on the thin side, which is quite the departure from the booming smoke output known throughout many of Drew Estate’s most acclaimed maduros. The burn is wavy but good (not canoeing), building a white/flaky ash that eventually lasts for an inch to an inch and a half. While the profile operates primarily in the dry-smoked range throughout the beginnings, the sweetness becomes a big enough player by the one-inch mark to make an impact, giving a Mexican hot chocolate vibe through chocolates and touches of cinnamon. The cigar is medium-full in flavor, medium in strength, and medium-plus in body.
Despite taking the hot chocolate detour for a small segment, the cigar’s comfort zone is BBQ. Draws tend to start with charred meat upfront, leading into smoked hickory mid-palate and molasses/brown sugar/mole through the finish. While this is the general direction, there are also more specific flavors that pop in and out, such as toasted oak, smoky-sweet BBQ sauce, and the occasional cocoa. In terms of palate, the smoke comes across dry and smoky upfront, being more mouthwatering through the finish. It tends to hit the taste buds on the acidic, bitter, and sweet regions in roughly that order. Passing the halfway mark, the cigar is just under full in flavor, medium-plus in strength, and medium-full in body.
The second half (or perhaps final third) begins a trend towards darker flavors. This is first noticed through an uptick in black pepper through the retrohale, being followed by a biting sensation on the tongue through the finish. The balanced smoky-sweet profile remains for a good chunk, having a subtle pinch through the nostrils and tertiary notes of rain-soaked oak and a much-appreciated Swiss Miss hot chocolate powder through the finish. Smoking beyond my preferred threshold, the cigar blackens into menthol or anise-like flavors, having a cooling sensation on the palate and finishing with notes of anise, char, chocolate mint, bitterness, and clove.
Would I Smoke This Cigar Again?
I would and I have! Adding a third major San Andrés to Drew Estate’s lineup (joining the Undercrown Maduro and Herrera Estelí Norteño), it was important that the company find a way to distinguish the profile enough to justify the three cigars. I found that they indeed pulled off the task, and my general outlook now goes something like: Undercrown = cocoa/earth, Norteño = chocolate pastry/Cuban espresso, Blackened Cigars “M81” = hickory/BBQ. I’ve smoked quite a few of these and, while there were some ups and downs between samples, the general consensus is a balanced, flavorful experience from start to finish, with an approachable price point for today’s market ($9.65 median average between sizes).
I have not yet tried any of the BLACKENED American Whiskeys.
I’ve smoked all but the corona size, and find the toro to be my preference.
The BLACKENED whiskey itself has quite a unique narrative: the whiskey is a blend of North American bourbon & rye whiskeys, though it is the unique finishing process (dubbed BLACK NOISE) that is perhaps most interesting. Reportedly, the whiskey is “blasted with its very own Metallica playlist, curated by the band themselves.” Low-frequency sound waves from the band are used, with the intended effect of helping the spirit to penetrate deeper into the barrel and “[extract] more caramel, honey and vanilla flavors from the wood.”
James Hetfield has been smoking the cigars quite frequently on social media, including at and during many Metallica shows. There was even an instance where fans brought their own cigars and he made a point to light the cigars for them.
Blackened Cigars “M81” currently has a “98% Smokable” rating on Dojoverse, ranking in the top 100 cigars on the overall leaderboard (the top 1.7% out of ~4.7k cigars).
There are a handful of “triple maduro” cigars that come to mind, with this cigar now joining the Camacho Triple Maduro and the EIROA CBT Maduro.
I smoked this cigar on the First Impressions episode of Smoke Night LIVE in September 2022, giving the cigar a score of 89.
Body: Medium / Full
Mexican hot chocolate
Smoke Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Pairing Recommendation: Bourbon (100-ish proof) | Zinfandel | Root beer | Smoked old fashioned
Purchase Recommendation: Box
Consistency (from start to finish and between samples)Upfront and easily approachable flavorGood price/value for today’s market
Draw on firm sideThin smoke outputChar/bitterness in final third can be off-putting
Originally posted on June 14, 2023 @ 6:18 am