SCHIP Buster Series - Volume 4
Unless you’ve been asleep at the wheel the past month or two, you know that SCHIP has hit home. This bill places a heavy tax on all cigars, and has resulted in higher prices starting 4/1. Some manufacturers are using this tax as a vehicle to introduce price increases that, in some cases, go above and beyond the level of the tax. In several cases, manufacturers have instituted multiple price increases on the same cigar, capitalizing even further. On top of this, some cigars are already quite expensive, and any new increases (whether it be additional costs or taxes) could possibly put them out of reach for the working man. In an effort to provide you with optimum value, I will be matching up two cigars each week. One expensive cigar and one lesser-expensive option, comparing them based on flavor, satisfaction, construction, and price.
Volume 4 – Ashton and John Bull
Today’s review will be a tough one for some to swallow, largely due to the fact that John Bull is brand new and most of you have yet to try it. However, I can assure you, it’s a good match-up for Ashton. Ashton is a popular, expensive cigar that rivals the ranks of Macanudo and Davidoff. A smooth-bodied handmade crafted in the Dominican by the Fuente family. John Bull is another smooth-bodied cigar, but it is made in Nicaragua and comes equipped with a very low price point in value-sized boxes of 30.
Hopefully you’re still with me here. If so, let’s move on.
Ashton – When it comes to smooth, high-quality Dominican handmades, the classic Ashton is usually one of the first brands people speak about. The brand has enough ratings in Cigar Aficionado to field most of the NFL’s teams, and has been rated as high as ‘92’. Ashton combines a golden Connecticut shade wrapper with aged Dominican long-fillers. I chose the Double Magnum, which measures 6”x50, sits heavy in the hand, and offers a nice, glossy texture.
John Bull – This cigar is brand spankin’ new, and comes from Nicaragua. Out of the gates, it has already been called “the working man’s Excalibur.” It’s smooth in body, using a thick Connecticut-seed wrapper from Ecuador to conceal a mellow blend of Nicaraguan and Dominican tobaccos. The wrapper is a few shades darker than the Ashton’s Connecticut leaf, with some tooth and oils to boot. To keep things comparable, I chose the 6”x48 Britannia.
Again, I hope you’re still with me here. Especially those that enjoy Ashton on a regular basis. I know there’s a good amount of you out there, so please read on as I break down the flavor and quality of each....
Ashton – Over the years, I have come to really enjoy smooth-bodied cigars. They offer a subtle, but sophisticated level of flavor and, when done right, today’s makers are producing mellow smokes that are really quite rich and enjoyable. The Double Magnum is smooth and shiny with no veins, and it offers a nice, cedary pre-light aroma. Off the bat, a creaminess coats my palate, followed by a toasty series of tobacco and cedar. The aftertaste sticks around just long enough to pick up more toast and wood on the tip of the palate. The cigar isn’t overly rich, but it’s balanced and pleasant. Ashton is known for consistency and quality, and this Double Magnum drives this point home. The flavor is consistently smooth and pleasant, while the burn remains slow and straight. A full-bodied fan may not reach for Ashton all too often, if ever, but I can easily find a spot for this cigar in my morning rotation, as I feel the crips (but creamy) flavors will pair nicely with a bold cup of coffee. The smooth-bodied character lasts throughout the burn, while the cigar continues to pump out thick clouds of creamy, white smoke.
John Bull – This cigar is brand new to us, and has only been featured in one catalog to date. So far, sales are promising and, based on the “working man’s Excalibur” comments from our retail store customers, the brand seems to be off to a good start. The cigar is pretty, with a dark, toothy appearance. Upon first light, I note an interesting mix of dark tobacco flavors and crisp, mellower tobaccos. This mix is a result of the Nicaraguan and Dominican leaves inside, and it’s complemented nicely by the Ecuadorian-grown wrapper’s rich, creamy influence. There’s some sweet cedary tones during each puff, while toasty remains on the exhale. The slightest touch of pepper is found when the smoke exits my nose. The Ashton fan might consider this to be mellow to medium. I say medium would be a stretch, as John Bull is a solid, mellow-bodied handmade with a good balance of contrasting flavors. The Britannia burns a little quicker than the Double Magnum, but I am not going to complain about that. This cigar can be enjoyed brainlessly, puffing away while doing just about anything, but enjoying it thoroughly.
Ashton and John Bull. Two very different cigars made in two very different countries of very different tobaccos and priced at opposite ends of the price spectrum. Ironically enough, they’re surprisingly comparable in terms of flavor and quality. That said, I’d have to give the Ashton the edge here with a ’90,’ while John Bull sits comfortably with an ’88.’
But, price is obviously part of the equation. John Bull carries an everyday price point. The MSRP for its largest size - a massive 7.25”x54 presidente known as the Prime Minister - is $4.50. Furthermore, the economical boxes of 30 allow us to sell this size for a paltry $2, which is becoming even more rare as the effects of SCHIP become increasingly more real. Ashton is expensive. We all know this, and the brand’s closest size – a 7.5”x52 Churchill – maintains an MSRP of $9.30. That’s more than double, and we sell it for a little over $8 apiece. A big difference.
Both cigars are gentle and pleasant, so this toss-up comes down to what you’re looking for. If you’re a stickler for big brand names and flashy ratings, Ashton is one of those brands that has established itself in that realm. However, if you’re just looking for a mellow smoke to enjoy on a regular basis, John Bull is a fine choice. Now that price has entered the equation, the tides have turned....slightly.