Isabela Cigar Co. Fire-Crackers | Cigar Reviews by the Katman

Wrapper: Ecuadorian Desflorado, Nicaraguan Habano
Binder: Nicaraguan Aged Medio Tiempo
Filler: Nicaraguan (Including Aged Medio Tiempo and a “sliver” of Nicaraguan triple-aged ligero)
Size: 4.25 x 38
Strength: Medium/Full
Price: $7.00

Today we take a look at the Isabela Cigar Co. Fire-Crackers.
Samples were provided by Isabela Cigar Company.

Normally, I just post some details about the cigar available to everyone online.
I rarely, if ever, ask you to pay attention to the background information.
Today, I am asking you to read what Johnny Piette of Isabela Cigar Co. sent me about this cigar blend. It’s so interesting that I found it lyrical. Proceed…

“What we tried to create is a small cigar, packed with explosive transitions, and subtle undertone-reveals as well…a “journey” which is extremely hard to pull off…in such a small vitola…

“We wanted some spiciness to keep those Northerners warm…when walking their dogs…in winter…!

“To affect the transitions, we again used different aging techniques…with a fresh, ripe, unaged binder; and the filler blend comprised of 3 different Nica tobaccos. 1 aged over a year, of high high priming, one aged 6 months that is high, high priming, and one not aged at all…media tiempo…then we blended all 3 into the filler to give you spank and substance.

“The final craft sees a short season of 4 months post -production aging.

“The result did reveal our intent of explosive transitions and subtle, ever-changing undertones; however, what we didn’t expect is that little cigar would last for almost an hour…visions of Northerners with frostbite after an hour-long dog walk was not what we intended!!

“Anyways, that’s the story…the other half of the story is it took us 3 years of blending and re-blending…throwing away bad creations and starting anew…before we finally got it where I wanted it to be…!!”

Two things grab you at once. The barber pole effect of two glossy wrappers sparkling in the sun and the second…the fancy schmancy tres-capa pigtail. I will remove it yarmulke style (Remove the cap without removing the tobacco underneath) for the photos using my Palio cutter.
The feel is spot on. No hard spots. No soft spots. Goldilocks would love it.

Notes of dark cocoa, malt, creaminess, spiciness, barnyard, cedar, either strawberry or kiwi…just a touch, pretzel, buttered rye toast, and espresso.
The cold draw shows a strawberry smoothie, chocolate ice cream soda, espresso, lots of malt, cedar, and barnyard. Plus, earth, wind, and leather.

I’ve smoked plenty of these babies but always forgot to review them. Spoiler alert: They’re really good.
The draw is on the money my babies. I put the PerfecDraw cigar poker back in the drawer.

All of Isabela blends have a natural sugar tipped cap. But totally honest here, Piette’s a smart cookie and knows a lot of smokers don’t like that old Cuban trend. His sweetness on the start is mild, enjoyable, and in no way interferes with the taste of the tobacco. It dissipates in a few minutes but I like it.

I’ve had this cigar simmering for 4 months and it’s kicking arse and taking names.

Massive flavors sprint out of this mini kielbasa. The spiciness hits first but it is a combo of both black and red peppers. I can actually taste the difference without squinching my eyes. It’s potent but so is the tobacco elements that follow…All the aromas are present and accounted for. I taste everything as the cigar starts with a very high level of complexity. It waits for no one. If you’re not ready, well, snooze, you lose. It kicks off like a stallion.

Strength is medium/full immediately. Step back.

The construction is immaculate as the stick smokes oh so slowly; taking its time to impart some very delicious flavors and character. The balance is perfect with less than half an inch burned.
Transitions are going Bozo crazy. The finish is its own food group.

The classic rock gods are with me for this review…the Stones’ “Beast of Burden” And then Jimi “The Wind Cries Mary.” And then CS&N “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” Ahhh, my misspent youth comes rushing back.

Making a small vitola sing is not easy. There is only a handful of manufacturers that are able to pull it off. The Fire-Crackers is included.

Complexity runs the show. Flavors meld. The spiciness prevails with a balanced attack that is so complementary that it is pure delight. I swear I can taste Chinese hot mustard. I need an egg roll, please.

The trick is patience. Isabela proved its patience during the farming, blending and aging process. So, the least you can do is give the cigar some respectable time in your humidor or you end up, like some reviewers who chose to write too soon, with a good cigar but not a great one. At 3-4 months, you get great.

Isabela Cigar Co. makes it a hidden mission statement that all of its blends are in some state of entropy in terms of the transitions that occur throughout the smoking process. The cigar is in constant flux; getting better with each puff.

I’ve been smoking the Fire-Crackers for 20 minutes and haven’t come close to the halfway point.

A perfect combo of sweet and savory. Sweet in terms of it’s like drinking a decadent pork milkshake. Or even a root beer float. I get that strong sassafras component that makes me smile. Vanilla and creamy. Damn, it’s decadent. This is what I mean about the transitions as the cigar burns down to eternity. No hint of root beer in the first inch.

Mocha java slams it home. Then a dense earthy tobacco flavor that only comes from fine leaves and the proper way to respect them.
The sweetie pie cap dissipated eons ago.
Strength remains at medium/full but is on a trajectory to become stronger in the second half.

30 minutes on the nose.
The cigar smokes like a very high premium blend; which it is, just a small one. It paints my palate with large brush strokes and the intensity of the complexity, transitions, finish, and balance are spectacular. No shit.

I am fully aware at the exasperation that I often give excellent cigars a high rating. I’m not chincy. But at the same time, you know if I don’t like a cigar, I can be brutal. So, it all works out in the wash. I actually do have a mathematical set of equations I use to rate a cigar. Maybe someday I will share.

I ain’t shitting you when I say that the Fire-Crackers keeps getting better with each puff. And like opening a Cracker Jack box, you just don’t know what the next prize will be.

I just love everything Isabela Cigar Co. produces. I’ve never been shy of expressing this. Johnny is a perfectionist. He doesn’t assign famous blenders to do his bidding and then takes all the credit like so many other boutique brands. He puts his heart and soul into his creations. This is why I love the guy. He doesn’t know how to make a mediocre blend.

Flavors: Fierce. Powerful. Extraordinary.

This is the perfect cigar for those teaching their palates. But also for those that just want an incredible cigar to smoke and don’t care about dissecting the flavor profile. The cigar is on auto pilot and all you have to do is not crash and burn.

At this point, this little schmekel will indeed, be an hourlong cigar.

The appropriate song for this cigar is playing: “All My Love” by Led Zep.

With 1-1/2” to go, it never stops transitioning into something bolder and a joy to smoke.

Normally, small cigars will become harsh at the end. Nope. Not in this case. The Fire-Crackers remains smooth and constant. I didn’t say consistent because I can’t keep up with all the flavors pelting my palate.

$7.00 for a 60-minute ride is exceptional. I’ve smoked, as you have, all those little expensive specialty limited edition releases and those blends have nothing on this one.

Not only does it not become harsh near the end, but it actually is at its smoothest point. Amazing.
Don’t forget, Isabela Cigar Co. provides a promo code for my readers:
Katman Free Katpack. Use it.


And now for something completely different:

Way back in 1973, I played with a drummer named John and a guitarist named Tim. We would jam at John’s house all day long. Smoking doobs and playing. And never playing a single song. Strictly woodshedding. This had an enormous positive effect on my chops. We recorded the entire time and would take breaks to listen.

John played out in a couple of country bands. I was a rock and roller. Country did not interest me.
One day, John invited me to come record with him at a small studio in Newport Beach, CA.
Only film nuts and old guys will remember this name: Chill Wills. He was a cowboy movie actor. And in just about every western made in the 1940’s and 1950’s. And almost always in every John Wayne movie. They were buddies.

I was star struck when I met Mr. Wills. His studio was strictly a vanity project. He got some good players together to record songs he had written on guitar. And they needed a bassist. I got the gig.

I was nervous but at the end of the night, Chill took me aside and told me, “You did good, kid.”
I was invited back once a week.

Now these fellas could drink. I mean really drink. Strictly whiskey. I’ve never been a drinker and disappointed everyone. But John always brought some weed and we all imbibed, including Chill.
This man looked exactly like he did in the movies: scruffy, unshaven and never combed his hair.
I did this for a year. And then I left for Europe.

But you would not believe the people I met while hanging with Chill Wills. All the cowboy movie stars of the time.
John Wayne even showed up a couple times to sing with Chill. It was hilarious. Neither could hold a note. But they got drunk and they didn’t care.


I was never allowed to keep a cassette copy of what we played. Chill was adamant about that.
Wayne always showed up without his toupee. And I never got used to looking at him this way.

Once, Wayne invited all the musicians to on his yacht docked in Newport Beach. He bought a Navy mine sweeper and converted it into the biggest yacht I had ever seen. This was one cool boat.
I met a lot of stars that night as Chill introduced me to everyone. They were polite but I was just a musician and therefore, beneath them.
On the last night we recorded in April, 1974, Chill Wills gave me the biggest bear hug. He wished me well on my journey to Europe. And we both shed a couple of tears.
I never saw him again. But it was certainly one of those once in a lifetime experiences.

The only bummer about the experience is that this big group of good ol’ boys were bigots and racists. Hollywood bigots. You know…the damn Jews run everything and we hate them all. Wills knew immediately I was a Jew by my last name. John Wayne did too. But they got used to me because Wills liked me playing bass for him…and I was pretty low key. In fact, I was in shock most of the time being around these icons.

Sometimes we’d be sitting in the control booth and they would all be dissing the Jew film company owners, Jew agents, Jew managers, Jew accountants, etc. They completely forgot I was there but I think they just didn’t give a shit if I heard it or not. I never said anything; though once in a while I did speak up when they started using the ‘K” word. They would laugh and knuckle me in the shoulder. I was pretty affable at 23. Back then, I was easy to get along with. And they recognized that and since I was there to play, not horn in on their clique, they accepted me…eventually. The Duke called me “Jew Boy” a couple times and I gave him the serious stink eye. He would erupt in laughter and of course, his own Cowboy Rat Pack would join in. If Wayne and Wills liked me, they had to like me and be careful what they said.
Of course, that was a different place in time.


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15 replies

  1. Phil!
    Awesome story! How about Tim Holt? You meet him? I know him and JW were tight. Tim was my favorite as a kid.
    Smoking pot with Chill? Love it!
    Isabella sent me a firecracker with my order of the sparkles! Hmm the “waiting is the hardest part”
    Gary in surprise

  2. Hey Phil – I think it would be great if you could put your reviews and stories into a book. I’ll sign up for a pre-order. – Ken

    • That means I will sell one copy.
      Ken, I’ve put together packages in the past to submit to literary agents and most didn’t even bother to respond.
      The thing is I’m not famous. If I were, it might be a choice.
      There are a gazillion other musicians with better stories than me.
      I am working on compiling one giant work of my stories and will place them on a separate blog so that my daughter and grandson will have something of me after I’m gone. No one in my family bothers to read my stuff…lol. Isn’t that always the case?
      But thank you for the wonderful compliment.

  3. Phil, I’ve been reading your stuff for years and this story is one of your best. Did you ever meet Andy Devine? He was part of that crowd. I imagine that Irishman could drink as well.

    • I remember Devine showing up once. I don’t know if he was sick with leukemia yet but he was smaller than I saw him on TV in the movies. He never said anything about it. I just recall being impressed he was there but nothing else. Sorry.
      He died almost 3 years after I left the Wills’ band.

  4. I love your review but the stories are incredible! Keep it up man!

  5. Oh I also just bought my first ever Isabella cigars thanks to your reviews!

  6. Phil, terrific “now for something completely different”. Few weeks back I read your review of the Isabela shape shifter , immediately reached out and picked up five, like I always do after being properly motivated by your reviews. Fired it up last week. YUM … My first experience with Isabela cigars, and very positive one. Thanks to you, once again turned me on to something good. As you know ; I always read your reviews aloud to Debbie. I thought you may find Debbie’s comments to this review interesting – classic country girl that Debbie is – “ No shit !?!? John Wayne was bald, and wore a toupee. Wow ! I always thought highly of John Wayne, shame on that racists ass-hole for treating Katman that way ! 😂

  7. These guys have their cigar shit together. One of my favorite cigars of 2018

  8. I love my “little” cigars, and this has quickly become one of my favorites. Johnny is a helluva blender and his sticks are some of the most interesting, complex smokes around. Nothing I have had by Isabela has ever disappointed. Going right now to place an order!

  9. Master Piette, has me bowing to his greatness again. But even more so – you Katman! The cosmos led me to you about 2-3 years ago. Love the irreverent reviews, stories, blah, blah, blah. But you introducing to Isabela took me down a whole new path – perhaps it was the rabbit hole to Wonderland. I think I’ve had all of his creations and can’t wait for more. Thanks my friend!

    • Hey Vince,
      I know Johnny. I know exactly how hard he works making brilliant creations. It takes him years for each new limited release. He is the hardest working cigar maker in the industry. He sent me a new blend that will be released in mid 2019 and he won’t let me review it. Another big winner, of course.
      Thanks for the nice words.

  10. Well, I’m sold. Literally. Just bought some Firecrackers and Sparkles from Isabella. Can’t
    Wait to try them. Of course I used your promo code so they know who sent me lol. Maybe they will hook you up with their new Pepperhead cigar coming out in May?