Russ Ouellette
Ocean State Cigars haven’t been around all that long, and I remember being pleased with the original J. Grotto, but it didn’t make it into my favorites.
When I received samples of the new J. Grotto Series Reserve to review, I was surprised by how attractive the cigar was. An oily chestnut colored wrapper with only a couple of noticeable veins covers a nice, firm 6 x 52 cigar with a small pigtail cap. The elaborate main band sits above a secondary band with "Reserve" to differentiate it from the original. The tawny wrapper is Honduran Criollo as is the binder, and the filler is a blend of Honduran and Nicaraguan Ligero.

I don’t want to sound like I’m channeling Andy Rooney, but why are there so many oversized and double bands? Certainly they can be attractive, but how many sticks are damaged by removing monster-sized bands and ripping the wrapper? I’m okay with cigar art, but only if the band is glued to itself without the adhesive getting on the leaf. But that’s enough kvetching.

The pre-light draw was on the light side, but the head of the cigar was nice and firm, and the flavor was earthy with a bit of sweetness. After toasting the foot, I lit up and was greeted by a flinty earthiness with a creaminess that I usually associate with Connecticut Broadleaf. There’s also an almost syrupy dried fruit note that I found pleasant. The cigar burned straight and true, producing a medium-grey ash that held on firmly.

J. Grotto Series Reserve Gran Toro Cigar Review

As the cigar progressed into the second third, I became more impressed with the flavor as the elements changed and intensified. Although they claim that this cigar has no spice, there was a little sharp woody note that hit me high in the back of my throat. Despite the fact that there were a lot of different elements in the flavor, there was a nice smooth, somewhat oily aspect that tied everything together. Interestingly, the earth, fruit and cedary notes weaved in and out, making for a an intriguing smoke that kept my attention.


The last third found the body moving from a solid medium to medium-full, but still exhibiting no harshness. A little bit of a minty undertone crept in which worked nicely with the fruity notes to counterbalance the flinty aspect. It’s not that often that I find a new cigar with what I consider a unique profile, but this one qualifies.

I found no need for touch-ups as the Gran Toro burned true all the way down, and to revisit my grumbling above, I give Ocean State credit for bands that removed easily without tearing the wrapper. I left the room for a few minutes to allow my sinuses to clear and re-entered the room to check the aroma. It struck me as an enjoyable mixture of wood and herbs that dissipated relatively quickly.

How does this cigar rate? The appearance was among the best I’ve seen, especially with such a beautiful wrapper, so I’m giving it a 14 out of 15. The construction was solid, with a firm, yet easy draw, and very even burn. The only downside was that it seemed to smoke a little quickly, but not disturbingly so. I’ll give it 32 out of 35 for craftsmanship. The flavor had nicely balanced and well-defined elements that worked together with aplomb. I’m always delighted when I try a new smoke that surprises me with its uniqueness, and that’s certainly true here. I’m giving it a 45 out of 50 for flavor/aroma, leading to an aggregate score of 91. The J. Grotto Series Reserve Gran Toro is a cigar that will find its way into my rotation. Definitely worth a try.

Overall rating: 91

6 x 52
Wrapper: Honduran Criollo
Binder: Honduran Criollo
Filler: Honduran and Nicaraguan Ligero

Russ Ouellette is the blender/creator of the Hearth & Home series of pipe tobaccos for Habana Premium Cigar Shoppe and in Albany, NY. He has been a cigar smoker and pipe tobacco blender for over 30 years. Russ will be contributing articles in several areas starting with reviewing cigars that are the best bang for the buck – something we anticipate many readers will be interested in during these challenging economic times.

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