For the last few months I’ve been posting my reviews every wednesday, sunday and 15h of the month plus on april 17, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of my blog. So today shouldn’t be a review day but I decided to review a special cigar, the Ilja VIII. Now those of you that don’t know the story behind the Ilja cigars, it is a sad story. Ilja van Horssen was a third generation tobacco wholesaler, his grandfather started a wholesale company in dry cigars and roll your own tobacco, his father build the company further up and Ilja and his younger brother Sasja started working for the Van Horssen BV company too. About 20 years ago they saw the future of the cigars in The Netherlands and decided to start a new source of income for the company: premium longfiller cigars from the Caribbean. So they started ‘Longfiller Company’ under the J. van Horssen BV umbrella. A few years later Ilja left the company to start his own retail store, Cuesta Rey, in The Hague and also bought the famous Dutch Brand G. de Graaff and the shop with the same name. Ilja created a huge reputation for himself because he was able to find many hard to get cigars that even his brother Sasja, as the official distributer for those brands like Fuente and Padron, couldn’t even get his hands on. Sounds like a success story right? Here’s the downer, Ilja got sick and died way too young at age 36 on july 14 2006, leaving two young children and his wife behind. His widow ran the shop for a number of years before she turned into the first La Casa del Habano in The Netherlands, the LCDH The Hague.
To commemorate his brother Sasja decided to release a hard to find cigar every year, 36 boxes as Ilja only made it till 36, and the proceedings would go to charity. After a few years the concept changed a little, the cigars are now released on a special event, invitation only and you can only buy one of the boxes if you’re invited to that event by Sasja personally, the proceedings still go to charity though, to Pronica. Now I’m not part of the family, but I’ve worked close with the family for some years and was even involved with some of the Ilja cigars, like the Ilja VI (Liga Privada A), this Ilja VIII and the Ilja IV. If you’re afraid that I’m bias because of this, don’t worry, I wasn’t involved in the blending process, I only asked the manufacturers what they could do for the Ilja cigar and picked sizes. When I was in Nicaragua early 2014 I had a meeting with Rosa Vilchez, our contact within My Father Cigars, and I asked her if My Father Cigars could do something for the next Ilja. She called Jaime, who was in Miami at the time and immediately they agreed, they were actually honored to be asked and came up with a new blend and in an 9 1/4×48 A size like I requested. The cigars are all bunched and rolled by Jaime and his father Don Pepin self. I wanted to review this cigar for a while and what date is more suitable to post than the 14th of july, the day Ilja moved on. If you want a full list on the Ilja releases, check out Halfwheel
(and add a Joya de Nicaragua twist on the cuatro cinco blend to the list as Ilja IV).
The cigar has a dark chocolate color with beautiful small veins and a triple cap, just the looks of the wrapper makes my saliva work. The wrapper feels leathery and the cigar has a strong barnyard aroma with a little acidity and ammonia even though it’s 2 years old. The construction feels good and the band, what can I say? The ring is so personal for the family, the picture of Ilja, the quality of the printing is great, and I mean, I know the family so well, I know how much this ring means to them, how hard it was for Sasja to do see the rings roll of the press the first time and color proof it, I can only give it the full amount of points available in my rating system. The cold draw is great and I taste raisin in the front of my mouth and spices in the back of my throat.
The first flavor I get is a nice sweetened coffee and I smell a nice pepper without breaking out in a sneeze. I also taste some honey and some vanilla. After a centimeter I taste chocolate, dark chocolate like I’m sucking on a small piece and the flavor is sticking to the top of my throat. After an inch I still taste the chocolate but now with cedar and a little bit of chili. Slowly the flavors change to a charred woody barbecue flavor with a hint of lime but still with a little bit of chocolate although is fading away.
After a third the chocolate is back, a bit sweeter this time and with some spicy toast on the back. The overall feeling of the flavors is meaty. There is also still a lime flavor, slowly that acidity grows a little bit. The flavors are now creamy, like ice cream with a hint of vanilla and some chocolate. The aftertaste is still a bit barbecue like. The spicy barbecue flavor is the main flavor after I reach the halfway point but I taste a nice honey and chocolate flavor every time i take a sip of water and over the duration of this cigar I almost drank a liter of water. After two thirds I get a lot more pepper with a smoky flavor soon to be accompanied by a raspberry vinegar. I’m still having that tasting chocolate after water experience. Near the end i also taste spices and herbs with an oaky aftertaste. The last few puffs give me salted nuts, macadamia and hazelnut with a nice dose of pepper.
The draw is great, the smoke is cool due to the length of the cigar. The smoke starts out relatively thin, but beautifully blue white and decent amount. The smoke slowly gets thicker. The ash is light colored and firm. The burn is straight as a line. This cigar is full bodied and full flavored. It’s a long smoke but it never gets boring. The cigar lasted me 3 hours and 30 minutes.
Would I buy this cigar again? Unfortunately that’s no longer possible but I know Sasja has plans to release this blend in a robusto and gordo size in the near future.