Cigars made in Europe have generally received a bad press from cigar aficionados. Made to suit European tastes, cigars from Germany, Holland and Belgium tend to be milder than their Caribbean cousins, eventhough the tobacco used in their construction are often sourced from the same place. For example, Ashton cigars made in Belgium use Dominican wrappers and Ecuadorian fillers. Furthermore, being almost exclusively machine-made (labour being tremendously expensive in Europe) contributes to the “uninpiring” tag many European cigar brands have received.

This piqued my curiousity: was there a substantial difference between the Caribbean-made cigars i’ve had up to now and cigars from Europe? An answer to this question was presented to me when I stumbled across a newstand in Bukit Bintang, directly opposite the Tops in the lower ground floor, and discovered they had an interesting range of European cigars for sale. After a bit of thought, i picked up a small 5-pack of Willem II Optimums for RM$55 – each cigar came in its own tube and was roughly the size of a slightly smaller corona (though not as small as a petit corona).

The scent and visual inspection test didn’t reveal anything overly exceptional. While the tobacco smelled fresh, it didn’t have the rich bouquet you would expect from a premium cuban cigar. The visual test was ok – the wrapper, being double protected in cellophane and the aluminium tube, was unmarked except with tiny pleasant veins. The question in my mind was whether such a plain looking and smelling cigar would provide suitable enjoyment in terms of taste.

The Optimum lighted well. Just a few quick licks of the lighter brought it to life. The first few draws was… uninspiring at best. Though the smoke with each draw was volumnious, it was quite bland, almost tasteless with an extremely light woody tobacco taste. Through the first third of the cigar, i kept on looking at it, asking when this cigar would begin “kicking” in; i was thinking about chucking it then and there because it was so boring. But just past halfway, the cigar began its transformation. Quite a Jekyll and Hyde change if you ask me – where it was once tasteless and dry, the cigar became quite rich and creamy. Each draw, while not necessarily the best tasting experience i’ve had, was certainly a marked improvement over its earlier, first-half performance.

Verdict: For RM55 a pack of 5, this makes the Willem II Optimum a cheap, easy smoke. Having smoked 3 out of five, i can report that you’ll find the experience quite consistent: a poor first half and a reasonably decent 2nd half, and quite spicy final third. If you can afford a little bit more, save your money for a Dominican experience such as the Private Stock line.