L’Atelier NHC Surrogates Skull Breaker | Cigar Review

Wrapper: Connecticut Broadleaf
Binder: Nicaraguan
Filler: Nicaraguan
Size: 5.25 x 52 “Belicoso”
Body: Full
Price: $8.00


Today we take a look at the L’Atelier NHC Surrogates Skull Breaker.

I’m playing with fire here. I just reviewed the companion cigar to this Surrogates blend; the Bone Crusher, yesterday. What if they taste the same?

So I took precautions. I spent 5 minutes licking a bar of Lava soap and drank half a bottle of ipecac. That should freshen up my palate. Good to go.

NHC put out this dare:
“NHC Surrogates (Bone Crusher and Skull Breaker) were made in the summer of 2011 and the line has since been distributed by L’Atelier Imports (starting in the summer of 2012). We wanted you to be able to compare them side by side and see for yourself what a little age can do!”

OK. I take the challenge.

The NHC Surrogates is currently available in six blends: Skull Breaker, Bone Crusher, Tramp Stamp, Crystal Baller, Animal Cracker, and Satin Glove. Prices range from $7.50-$9.50.

NHC offers a sampler of 4 cigars containing 2 NHC Surrogates Bone Crushers alongside 2 new Surrogates Skull Breakers for $30.00. Or $7.50 per stick.

The four sticks I received had very yellow cellos containing the cigars. That’s a very good thing.

According to NHC, these cigars have been sitting around since their inception in 2011. They should be ready to smoke.

This is from the New Havana Cigars web site:
“The offerings by L’Atelier Imports are all made by the Garcia Family and blended by Pete Johnson and the L’Atelier team. Surrogates was started in 2011 by Pete Johnson and Dan Welsh and when L’Atelier Imports was created in 2012, Surrogates was a perfect fit for the portfolio. Pete Johnson and industry friends Dan Welsh, K.C. Johnson and Sean “Casper” Johnson set out to make premium cigars that are “Consumer Price Conscious” and to raise the expectations of cigar smokers at every level of experience.

“This premium line, made at the My Father Cigars factory in Esteli, Nicaragua is a unique undertaking. Each vitola released under the Surrogates brand will have its own character derived from its own blend and size. Created to bring the excitement of a limited edition stick at a consumer conscious price point and be readily available, these vitolas answer the question of whether to save it or smoke it with a blaring “Smoke it! Every day!”. The Surrogates tagline of “Limited Edition Quality at an Everyday Price” is another way that L’Atelier Imports.”

The L’Atelier NHC Surrogates Skull Breaker is more rustic looking than the Bone Crusher. Lumpy and bumpy. Seams are tight but clearly visible. A lot of veins. But beautifully applied triple caps. The oily, reddish, dark coffee bean colored wrapper makes the flash on my camera smile. That won’t last long as the early morning duskiness takes over in a bit. But clearly, since these are 2011 sticks, the oils have come to the surface of the wrapper and beautify the presentation.

While yesterday’s Bone Crusher was a perfect round. The L’Atelier NHC Surrogates Skull Breaker is a lopsided parallelogram. LOL.

I clip the cap and find aromas of barnyard, spice, dark bitter baking cocoa, bitter strong coffee, and a lovely cedar.
Time to light up.

There is a bunch of strong elements to the flavor profile. My first impression is of green melon. After that is black pepper, bitter chocolate, and dark espresso. That’s it. The spiciness is so overwhelming that it is difficult for anything else to break through.

Immediately, I assess this is a horse of a different color than the Bone Crusher. While the Bone Crusher was about a kitchen sink full of wonderful, varied flavors; the L’Atelier NHC Surrogates Skull Breaker is more straight ahead. It is extremely earthy and dark. Speaking of my first wife….Badda boom!

Sweetness picks up after 3/8” is burned. Like the Bone Crusher, it is totally jam packed. A long smoke ahead of me.

I prefer the regular cap of the Bone Crusher to the belicoso cap of the Skull Breaker. Just hard to hold on to when you’re a chomper like me. Although, I will take a belicoso cap before a torpedo cap anytime.

And as I write that last sentence, the flavor profile blossoms. It was like the lid of a mason jar had been removed.

Flavors become lighter and sweeter: Dark chocolate becomes milk chocolate. Espresso becomes café latte.

The melon is gone but leaves a light fruity taste. There is another taste component that I have difficulty with….it’s part of the wood species but I can’t tell what it is. It has a very refined taste. I’m stumped.

I think the leather influence is skewing the perception of what kind of wood it is. And the wood is very strong. I have it! It tastes like almond shells. If you’ve eaten raw almonds and had to bite into the shell to free the nut, then you will recognize what I am trying to describe. The almond flavor expands and the sweetness gives it a slight marzipan component.

I’ve burned through 1” of the cigar. Totally different cigar blend than the Bone Crusher; which at this moment, I prefer.

I sent a copy of yesterday’s review to NHC and they never responded.

I noticed the site stats and saw that quite a few people clicked on the link that took them to the NHC page that sells this 4 pack. So they made a few shekels because of me. You’re welcome.

Strangely, no creaminess element. That is what is missing. Creaminess really is the glue for a lot of cigar flavor profiles. Without it, the flavors seem disparate and disjointed. That is what I am experiencing now.

The cigar blend is primarily made up of earthiness with a bit of sweetness to offset the earthy factors. It is not a well-rounded cigar; but it is still early.

I won’t give in to the humidor aging, or lack thereof. This cigar had a bright yellow cello and has 4-5 years of box aging. It is as ready as it can be. The Bone Crusher proved that.

And as I usually do, I make a total ass of myself as I wrote that last sentence.

Flavor explosion! Here they are: Creaminess, wood, earthiness, chocolate, spice, coffee, nuts, marzipan, cedar, and a distinct sweetness that comes from dried fruit.

Now we’re talking. I guess the Bone Crusher spoiled me by being a flavor bomb from the first 1/8”.

The strength is medium/full.

I get it now. What the blend team did. It is yin/yang. The L’Atelier NHC Surrogates Skull Breaker is a dark foreboding cigar blend. While the Bone Crusher is light and rainbows.
Very clever.

There is a distinct flavor in really, really good cigars that I’ve yet been able to identify. It is a common thread amongst them. My palate just isn’t good enough to describe it. If you’ve smoked the Cigar Federation Ezra Zion The Collective, then you know what I mean. Other than that, I’m at a loss.

The Collective is as close to a perfect cigar as they come according to my palate.

The spiciness relents. It moves to the back of the line while the sweetness moves up.

The dried fruit is raisin. Golden raisins. Not the dark kind.

The second third begins.

Flavor Bomb 2.0.

An amazing cigar full of dark and earthy flavors augmented by cream and candy.

The L’Atelier NHC Surrogates Skull Breaker is now extremely smooth. It wasn’t harsh early on but that overabundance of earthiness made it a roller coaster. The Skull Breaker has settled down now.

Just like the Bone Crusher, the construction is excellent on all fronts.

I’ve invested about 35-40 minutes in that first third. The sun is out now. And blinding me through the window so I don a baseball cap in order to see the laptop screen.

The L’Atelier NHC Surrogates Skull Breaker is very leathery. And meaty. Dried jerky meaty. The sweetness was destined to complement this component.

While my hopes for buying, or being helped to buy a bass, has been dashed…a good friend said he has a friend with an older Hofner bass. And he might be willing to part with it for a song. Pardon the pun.

The Hofner (the bass McCartney plays) was my first bass in 1965. While I would prefer to have an electric upright, it’s just out of my price range. I wanted the upright because it would be easy on my bad back. But the Hofner is a light, hollow bodied bass. You can literally hold it up with two fingers.

And I am using those two fingers crossed that this deal may go through. Of course, McCartney’s current Hofner is so tricked out that it would cost multi thousands of dollars to duplicate.

Fortunately, I have a killer Line 6 bass combo amp that has sound design as part of its allure. I can choose bass sounds like R n B, Rock, Blues, Fretless,etc, And I can choose cabinet sounds like Marshall, etc. So I can probably get my Line 6 to approximate the booming sound of my beloved Schecter fretless I had to sell when Charlotte had her breast cancer scare.

Back to the L’Atelier NHC Surrogates Skull Breaker.

Just like the Bone Crusher, the Skull Breaker has a wavy char line. But minor and not requiring touch ups.
With each puff, the cigar becomes more delicious.

I think the deal that NHC has on a 4 pack of both cigars is a killer deal. I got my Social Security today and while tempted to buy another 4 pack, I bought the last of the Surrogates I haven’t reviewed: Tramp Stamp.

I am at the halfway point. And the cigar is screaming laughter.

Chocolate usurps the other flavors; including the creaminess.

Just like my experience with the Bone Crusher, I find no need for a libation while writing and smoking. A juicy cigar.

The belicoso cap is withstanding Katman drool. No clipping necessary yet.

The 4-5 years of box aging has taken some of the power from both blends. The Bone Crusher ended at medium/full and I expect the same for the Skull Breaker.

We got great news yesterday. Our 28 year old daughter, Katie, passed all her tests for joining the Milwaukee PD. She got a very high score on all of her tests and will be admitted. Katie has wanted to be a cop since she was 11. That’s when I taught her to shoot a pistol back in Arizona. And of course, she knows all the Milwaukee cops…from being an EMT and her fiancée is a Milwaukee cop. And SWAT member.

They are getting married in May and she gave me an ultimatum that I cut my hair for the photos. Meanwhile, the in-laws are covered head to toe in tattoos. That’s OK I guess.

I’ve been dancing around describing the L’Atelier NHC Surrogates Skull Breaker because it appears to have reached its zenith. No place to go from here.

The complexity is deep and rich. The balance is spot on. And it has a nice chewy long finish. Plus it is super smooth.

The price point. Buying by the 5 pack, it is $8. Buying both cigars by the box brings the price down to $6.75. But by the special 4 pack, it is $7.50.

No matter what choice you make, the price points are killer deals for this quality. The new La Aroma de Cuba Noblesse is $16 each by the 5 pack. By the box, it is $14.34.

I can’t believe that the La Aroma is twice as good as either the Bone Crusher or the Skull Breaker. For chrissakes, does the La Aroma give you a blow job too?

The last third begins.

Flavor Bomb 3.0.

While the Skull Breaker continues to be as smooth as my tush, there is a giant flavor explosion. Every element goes nuts.

For the last time: Wood, earthiness, chocolate, creaminess, coffee, cedar, raisin, cedar, nuts, fruity sweetness, and leather.

If you compare the list of flavors to the Bone Crusher, they seem similar. But they are not. The L’Atelier NHC Surrogates Skull Breaker maintains a darker image of character.

The strength hits full bodied.

Nicotine rears its ugly head. I don my crash helmet. Just in case.

Now I wish I could have planned better and reviewed the entire line of Surrogates one day after the next for comparisons. Woulda’, coulda’, shoulda’.

Once again chocolate moves to the forefront.

I absolutely recommend the L’Atelier NHC Surrogates Skull Breaker. It is a magnificent blend. The nicotine winds down. The strength is most definitely full bodied.

Who knows how long NHC will have the Surrogates vs Surrogates 4 Pack Sampler. It’s a good way to spend $30.00.
Please make sure you tell them the Katman sent you.

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