I’m going to rip the Band-Aid off at the very beginning: I am a cheapskate. Nothing makes me happier than finding a good deal, and coming across a cigar that falls into the value category that is also a worthwhile smoke is a rare treat. While we are long past the days of the five-cent cigar, there is still plenty of value to be had in the premium cigar world. So, when I was tapped to review the El Baton by J.C. Newman, I was happy to oblige, as I was relatively unaware of the brand, other than it being a reasonably priced stick. Low and behold, when I dove into this review I found that the El Baton has a long and rich history that dates back to the early days of the J.C. Newman brand, yet somehow has managed to stay “under the radar” to a portion of premium cigar smokers despite a very reasonably base MSRP of $7.70.
El Baton was one of the first brands released by the man himself, Julius Caeser Newman, back in 1914 for five cents apiece, being constructed from Cuban tobacco. After a modest amount of success, the cigar was put to rest for over 80 years in favor of machine-made cigars until 2008, when it was reintroduced as a wallet-friendly cigar that the company’s dive into Nicaraguan smoking experiences. After 14 years on the market, Drew Newman—J.C. Newman general counsel and fourth generation owner—took it upon himself to refresh the cigar, updating not only the boxes and bands, but the tobacco blend as well (which is described as being slightly fuller in body). In a press release from the company, Mr. Newman is quoted as saying:
“As I was unsatisfied, I decided to tweak the El Baton blend and return to more of a traditional style of packaging that better reflects the century-old history of my great-grandfather’s old cigar brand.”
El Baton Belicoso Breakdown
Wrapper: Ecuadorian Habano
Factory: J.C. Newman PENSA (Nicaragua)
Production: Regular Production
Vitola: 5? × 56 (Belicoso)
Price: $7.90 (MSRP)
Robusto: 5? x 54 | $7.70 (25-count box | $192.50)
Belicoso: 5? x 56 | $7.90 (25-count box | $197.50)
Double Torpedo: 6¼” x 56 | $8.20 (25-count box | $205)
Double Toro: 6? x 60 | $8.70 (25-count box | $217.50)
First appearances are important, and the new banding and packaging of the El Baton really starts out on the right foot. A brand new band adorns the cigar with a fresh color scheme of blues, gold, and black. The embossed gold foil areas as well as the imagery and styling invokes a heritage feel that fits well with the long history of the cigar’s namesake. I like the change of the banding from the 2008 release. It gives you the impression you are holding a cigar that is far more expensive than the actual price. Now, this isn’t just because of the band, as the appearance of the cigar itself helps achieve this goal. The wrapper sits nicely on its inner tobaccos. A slight oily sheen makes the belicoso pop visually, as it accents the aged leather look of the leaf. The El Baton has a great feel in the hand, being hefty with what feels like a firm bunch. I’ve found this usually isn’t the norm with cigars of this price point.
As I take a few deep breaths with the stick under my nose, I easily discern sweet raisins, dried hay, and a light floral note. The foot itself is a noticeably different experience, as notes of molasses, damp earth, and a light spice fills my sinuses. As I clip the pointed tip of this belicoso, I am quickly reminded as to why I tend to shy away from the vitola, as it takes me a couple of cuts to get a good draw (I’m basically left with a short robusto). I will say that the draw is a solid 8/10, which isn’t always achievable with a pointed-tip cigar, no matter how much you cut off. The cold draw is a lighter version of the notes I got off of the foot of the cigar with a little more pepper spice.
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The toasting process with my torch lighter is a bit more extended than normal. I attribute it to the firm roll of the tobacco; it’s not a problem though, and the cigar springs to life with a couple of puffs. Notes of dried hay and raw walnuts are at the forefront of the thick smoke, and light notes of tanned leather with an ever so slight black pepper set the finish up nicely. Flavor is medium/full, with the body and strength sitting slightly behind, at a medium-plus.
As I progress into more of the body of the cigar, I find the retrohale to be very easy on my nose, and I am able to catch more of a cayenne tingle that sets the scene for primary notes of roasted nuts, a slight tanned leather flavor, and a dry milk chocolate note. The draw is holding at a respectable 8/10. Flavor, body, and strength have settled into a medium-plus across the board. The smoke is still thick, billowing with every draw. I enjoy a good smoke show in a cigar, and the El Baton is definitely qualifying so far.
Crossing the halfway mark, smoke still abounds from every draw (coming out of the foot and head of the cigar). Flavors have shifted, and I am now met with a slightly bitter wood and raw Spanish peanuts. It reminds me of the tangy peanut flavor from the peanut brittle that was a family tradition for my family’s Christmas celebrations. The leather note I have been getting has dried into more of a suede leather note with an acrid dark chocolate component mixing in. The retrohale has picked up more black pepper and a dusty earth on the finish. All of these changes have not been an improvement on the cigar’s flavor and body, which remain at a medium-plus. Strength has ticked back up to the medium/full range, and I feel this has added to the bitter profile. The ash falls in a solid white chunk just past the midpoint, and the draw has not wavered throughout the smoking experience, showing just how well the cigar is constructed.
Closing out the last portion of the El Baton, I find a very bitter and peppery smoking experience. Bitter wood, dry and dusty earth, and a generic roasted nuttiness are the dominant flavors, with a heavy-handed black pepper now present on both the finish and retrohale. The aromas jog memories of taking late winter / early spring hikes in the mountains. The wet, decaying leaves and damp wood that surround you mix with the dusty walking trail, swirling into a pungent and easily recognizable smell. Construction has been consistent throughout the entire smoking experience, as the ash now drops again in a solid white chunk. Flavor is medium-plus, body is a medium, and strength is a medium-plus. As I set the nub down in my ashtray, the final notes I’m left with are a warm nuttiness (so common in the closing puffs of cigars), bitter wood, and black pepper. It is a poor close to such a solid opening with this stick.
Would I Smoke This Cigar Again?
I think I would. I realize that the back half of the El Baton did not perform (flavor-wise) nearly as well as the first half, but you have to understand the parameters you are working with in the cigar you are smoking. While you always want an amazing smoke no matter the price point, you can’t expect an eight-dollar cigar to smoke like an 18-dollar cigar. That’s not fair to the brand or the blender. I understand that with value some sacrifices need to be made, and the construction of this stick was on point. A near-perfect draw, sharp burn line, and solid ash were the standout performers on both sticks I smoked for this review. Sure, the flavors flattened out past the halfway point, but they were solid and enjoyable in the first half. Put all that together and you have a decent smoke at a decent price.
Dry milk chocolate
Smoke Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Pairing Recommendation: Medium-roast coffee | Bourbon | Scotch | Most dark-liquor-based cocktails
Purchase Recommendation: Snag at least a 5-pack of these economical and well-made sticks
Great constructionEasy retrohaleAffordable price
Might be a little strong for casual smokersFlavors become flat and bitter past the halfway markValue is diminished taking into account the second half
Originally posted on February 3, 2023 @ 6:18 am