Ever been really bitten by the hype on something? As in, you really want to love it, before you even try it? Yeah, me too. It happens with a lot of stuff out there- marketing glitz and blitz, well-known media write-ups and slick marketing. The cigar market is certainly not immune to it, going all the way back to General Cigar Company marketing their first post-Cuban Embargo cigar labels Macanudo and ‘red dot’ Cohiba. As a bit of history, President Kennedy signed the famous embargo on Cuba outlawing the sale of Cuba’s two chief exports, rum and tobacco, while prompting his press secretary Pierre Salinger to buy up 1,000 H. Upmann Petit Coronas, which was Kennedy’s favorite. I’m not much of a little cigar guy myself, but to each their own. Anyway, point is that the cigar market has been playing to that famous embargo ever since, and while Nicaragua surpasses Cuba in the number of quality cigars exported and arguably grows some of the best tobacco in the world, with the Dominican Republic in a close second, there’s still a mystique around Cuban tobacco…like an underground, rebel kinda feeling, kinda like taking that first sip of moonshine. That said, its a good marketing ploy, and one that sometimes hit the mark, and other times..not so much.

Alec Bradley certainly uses it to their advantage, having such labels as “Post Embargo“, owing to a day when there’s no longer an embargo, the Raices Cubanas, named after their rolling facility in Nicaragua, and of course, the Black Market that I’m reviewing today. It even comes boxed in a fake ammo crate. Right off the bat I’ll say I’m not a huge Alec Bradley fan- I’ve had most of the sticks in their mainstream lines and with that said I’ve experienced plugs, overly tight draws, and unraveling towards the nub- all telling me they’ve either got too many inexperienced rollers at their factory or they’re overworked trying to meet the demand. Suffice to say, while some of the blends have tasted great, construction errors are a make-or-break deal for me. The whole point to a cigar is to sit back and enjoy it, not work your ass off keeping it lit. Other folks have disagreed, highly praising all the lines, and I’m not here to argue with their experiences, just noting my own. Its all subjective, after all.

So I rolled the dice once more and picked up a few of the Black Market Robustos based on my awesome experience with Alec Bradley’s Magic Toast- a cigar which certainly does live up to its name and rekindled my interest in the label as a whole. Black Market…cool packaging, dark, oily maduro wrapper, what’s not to like.

On the cut and cold draw I get a taste of coco and strong black pepper, with the draw being fairly even and showing no signs of plugs. I don’t like a loose draw, but I’d take that over a tight draw any day, and this ain’t too bad. Certainly better than that Post-Embargo I had which was awful. Toast the foot, rotate, draw…you know the deal. Strong black pepper flavor overpowering pretty much every other flavor. Let it settle down, after the light and first quarter inch or so the flavors tend to open up on a cigar especially if you’ve just picked them up and got no time to rest in a humidor to stabilize the tobacco.

First third I’m still being overpowered by the black pepper and a vanilla flavor. The strength is easily in the full category, and there’s no danger of this blend trying to mimic anything I’ve had from Cuba. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I’m not sure exactly what the marketing behind this one is trying to achieve. The burn and smoke production is good, even if a little uneven, but the ligero leaves are overpowering on this one are making an overly powerful blend in the vein of a Camacho.

Second third maintains this profile, bordering on harsh. Not gas station Phillies harsh, but certainly not pleasant. And I’m no stranger to strong smokes- Partagas Black has a continued place in my humidor rotation with a good glass of Jameson. This one though is worlds apart from the flavor bomb and overall great experience that was the Magic Toast. The black pepper taste that was tolerable only seems to be getting stronger. This is not a relaxing smoke. Maybe it does it for some, but not for me.

Smoking down to the nub holds no surprises- its a full bodied, full strength beast that relies on beating its way to victory. I will say that it was a well constructed smoke- and for that much, its a winner. But that said, if you’re not a fan of brutally strong smokes, preferring not to be kicked in the teeth, this is not for you. Behind all the marketing and packaging I really liked where they were going with this…but, it is what it is. Not my style. I’m a more medium-body laid back kinda smoker, favoring more traditional blends over hype, and this one just doesn’t do it for me.

But hey, you might be different. And that’s fine, cigars are all subjective.