Hoyo de Monterrey Double Epicure Duty Free Exclusivo 2010

In the main, Habanos SA doesn’t put a lot of effort into the Duty Free Exclusive line, and frankly, why would they? These are cigars that will sit for years in an unhumidified plexiglass cabinet in the perpetually airconditioned day-night of an airport, tended to by sales people more accustomed to moving jumbo-sized bottles of Malibu and cartons of discount Holiday cigarettes than fine Havana leaf. When they are finally purchased, it will be as a last-minute gift; “oh, we forgot Groom! He likes cigars, doesn’t he? Get him this fancy white box.” For most duty-free exclusives, Habanos simply commissions a lacquered box from China, drop-ships them a few master cases of whichever regular production cigar they have spare, and calls it a day. Once in a while though they decide to make an effort. The Hoyo Double Epicure is only found in this one release; 4,000 units of fifteen cigars. That makes it rarer than most anything else out there. Rarer than Grand Reservas. Rarer than most regionals.

How they arrived at “Double” for this Epicure I’m not quite sure – it’s the same ring and twenty per cent longer than an Epicure 2, and a little under ten percent longer than an Epicure Especial. With the ring a comparatively classy 50 though, it’s better not to ask too many questions.

Hoyo de Monterrey Double Epicure unlit

Once lit, the cigar is mild, with a perfectly pleasant aroma of light tobacco and buttered toast. My cut, unfortunately, was a little vigorous, and I have damaged the head, causing it to unravel somewhat. Once my saliva has thoroughly soaked into it, everything will be fine, but for the moment though I must sip the smoke ever so gently.

Perhaps not for society as a whole, but amoungst my friends I think I sit about two thirds of the way down the dodginess scale. Sure, I’ll have a puff or two of a joint if someone is passing one around, and I’ll attend a cockfight if it’s Brahma night, and I probably know a guy who can get what you’re looking for, but in general I am a productive and clean-living member of society. I have a job. I own a home. I pay taxes. My arrests are rare and never lead to any charges.

I’m sure some of my friends, those lily-livered tenderfoots, consider me their dodgy mate. They should see my dodgy mate. Lance Hendrix is an unemployable drug addict, and he’s the guy I call when I’m trying to get you what you’re looking for. And yet, on the scale of dodgy mates, he’s not really all that dodgy. Sure, he is high all day every day, but he rarely causes anybody any trouble. He lives in his parents’ middle-class home and watches a lot of conspiracy-theory videos on YouTube. He manages to get by on the dole money without committing too many crimes to supplement it.

Lance’s dodgy mate is Pete, and Pete is a proper lowlife. My occasional run-ins with him generally all begin the same way: I’ll be meeting Lance for coffee, and afterwards he’ll ask if I can drive him down to Fitzroy to run an errand (Lance, understandably, doesn’t like to drive). The errand is to buy weed from Pete.

Pete is half-Thai and half Caucasian. He’s about five-foot-tall, and weighs all of 40kg. His front teeth are dead and blackened, and he has a nervous twitch and stutter. He likes to punctuate his sentences with a cry of “yeeeaah booiiii.”

When Lance calls Pete to announce our imminent arrival, Pete always asks the same favour: “can you bring me a couple of bottles of coke?” He lives deep in a block of low rise housing commission flats. We park in a nearby alley, and then wind our way through the complex, through the overgrown courtyard with an abandoned couch, and past some rusted play equipment. The place always seems empty. People keep their blinds drawn.

Pete lives with his mother, who is sometimes there and sometimes not. When she’s there, she’s usually on the couch watching TV and doesn’t acknowledge us as we walk past her on the way to her son’s room. Their house is overflowing with stuff: in the kitchen every counter is covered with groceries. In the lounge room, every surface is home to a vast community of little animal figurines. Pete has a small white dog with a bad skin condition, that sniffs at us as we pass through. He treats it very gently.

As soon as you enter Pete’s room, he immediately lays a rolled-up towel in front of the door gap, I assume as a concession to his mother, who otherwise doesn’t seem to question why he has a string of people visiting him for ten-minute intervals at all hours of the day and night. His room is small and decorated with posters of Asian women with implausibly full busts. Across one shelf is his collection of My Little Ponies. He usually seems to be watching a movie and will skip back and forth to show you the good bits.

I usually enjoy these little visits: a refreshing glass of Coke, a bit of a chat about the “clever girl” scene in Jurassic Park, some insights into the life of an interesting character. Lance, however, does not. As soon as the deal is done, he’ll start looking for an excuse to leave. Pete is too dodgy for him.

Hoyo de Monterrey Double Epicure with about a quarter smoked

After a bitter spell ten minutes in, the cigar has slackened off, and if it wasn’t for the visible smoke I would wonder if it was even lit. The flavours are extremely mild. Somewhere in there I can detect the slightest hint of tobacco. Perhaps, if I’m pushing it, there’s something sweet. Vanilla maybe. Full disclosure, I am enjoying this cigar with a Bloody Mary. I make my Marys with fresh tomatoes rather than concentrate, and as such they are a much milder beverage than is typically had over brunch. They do, nonetheless, have plenty of Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce, so it’s more than possible I’ve ruined my palate for a delicate cigar like this.

Pete may be a weed dealer but, like most people, he likes to look outside his business for his recreation. His real passion is for crystal methamphetamine. As a casual acquaintance, who only really knew him in a professional capacity, I was only dimly aware of this hobby until after coffee one Saturday, when Lance asked me to drive him on an errand. He wanted to go visit Pete in the hospital.

Pete, it eventuated, had suffered a collapsed lung. Crystal meth is hard stuff, and Pete had been enjoying it on a more than casual basis. Eventually, he’d caused a part of his lung to rot and a hole had developed. Having a hole in a lung is not ideal, but it’s survivable: Pete, it seemed, had been carrying his around for some time without too many issues. The problem came when one of his clients bought around a new bong for show and tell. It was a glorious double chambered thing, eighteen inches long, and made of lab-grade Pyrex. Dishwasher safe. He insisted they christen it together; Pete huffed in a giant hit, some air got out through the hole in his lung, and when he exhaled the pressure differential between the air outside his lung and the absence of air inside it caused it to collapse.

Short of breath, with a racing heart and stabbing pain in his chest, Pete thought he was just too high. “Man” he said, “that is an awesome bong.” He delayed seeking treatment for almost a day, but eventually had his mum drive him to the hospital.

When Lance and I saw him, Pete was a miserable customer indeed, lying in bed with a tube of bloody fluid coming out of him, and numerous other tubes of (less bloody) fluids going in. He was watching American History X in bed. We sat with him a while as he skipped around, showing us the good bits, and loudly speaking along to the dialogue, either unaware of unconcerned that the ward of people around him could hear every word.

A few weeks later, Lance and I visited Pete again, now back at home and seemingly fully recovered. As always, he weighed Lance out his ounce, and then rolled us a joint, before waxing philosophical: “Guys” he said, “I’ve learned something from all this. Nothing wrong with smoking, nothing wrong with a little meth, but stay away from the fuckin bongs. Yeeeaah booiiii.”

Hoyo de Monterrey Double Epicure smoked just above the band.

In the final third the cigar grows coffee bitter, never acrid, and honestly, it’s a welcome change from the bland two thirds that proceeded it. My over-enthusiastic cut, which hasn’t troubled me at all after the first few minutes, finally catches up with me in a sloppy nub that falls apart.

There’s not too much to the Hoyo Double Epicure, but what there is is no way offensive. If you’re in the duty-free shop looking for a gift and the Upmanns are available, take them every day of the week. If they only have Hoyos? Well, get me these over the Epicure 1s.

Hoyo de Monterrey Double Epicure nub

Hoyo de Monterrey Double Epicure Duty Free Exclusivo 2010 on the Cuban Cigar Website

Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure de Luxe La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2012

In its best moments, the La Casa del Habano Exclusivo series is an island of misfit cigars; smokes too weird for mainstream release, produced on an “as many as we can sell” basis. The Partagas Culebras, the Upmann Noellas, the Bolivar Gold Medals, and the Partagas Salomon: all are perfect examples of the breed. To this dysfunctional family came 2012’s Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure de Luxe – an utterly standard new release. It is of the Mágicos vitola, proud size of every second regional, and a petite robusto in a brand already sporting robusti petite, regular and extra. If there is one thing that the de Luxe did pioneer, it is in the art of excessive bands: with both a double-sized main band and an LCDH special, fully 42% of it is concealed.

Unlit, the Epicure de Luxe has a wind tunnel draw, the air passing through without even a hint of resistance. Lit, it begins with notes of burnt toast. The tobacco is sweet and mild. There is a hint of the typical Hoyo wood there, but fortunately it takes a back seat to sweetness and cinnamon. After about a centimetre the cigar develops something dry and unpleasant on the back palate. Oddly, the draw has tightened up to a point where it’s definitely firm, and on the verge of Cuban. I attribute it to the rinsing, which took place after the cut, but before the light. Yet another example of the glories of running your cigars under a tap.

Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure de Luxe

Camellia-Bell Jones was a dear sweet thing when our paths first crossed, and to some extent, so was I. It was the summer of my 19th year, at the same stock-standard teenage riot that I attended weekly in those salad days; forty or so kids and a few slabs of Melbourne Bitter arranged around the tumbledown share-house of a friend-of-a-friend. That night, my attention was laser focused on Victoria Sargent, a Toorak ballerina who’d been in and out of my circle for four-or-five years. She was utterly out of my league, but treated my dotage with good humour, even as she casually rebuffed my fumbled advances. I went home that night delighted with myself: another evening well spent in the radiant light of The Sargent. “One day” I thought “I’ll wear her down. Good ground work, Groom.” I had no awareness that even as my gaze fell limpet on Victoria, other eyes were regarding me just as covetously from across the cold void of the dance floor.

Camellia-Bell got my number from the host and rang my house the next morning. “It’s a girl,” my mother announced loudly, for her own benefit more than anyone else’s. Camellia said she’d really enjoyed meeting me last night and wanted to have coffee sometime. I accepted, despite having no memory of her at all, an amnesia that continued well into the coffee date itself.

She was a waifish wallflower from the suburban fringe, who had moved to the big city for university; 45kg of blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and big dreams. Unlatched from the parental teat she was all about taking charge of her life. She’d never had a boyfriend – never even been kissed – and first item on the list was to find a man. Her first real date had been some weeks earlier with Ben Plumber, a vague acquaintance of mine. It had not gone well. In a lanky teenaged Groom, though, she thought she’d found something promising. She was wrong.

At nineteen, I still succoured from my parental teat nightly. My 6pm curfew wasn’t strictly speaking enforced anymore, but I still respected it most of the time. I liked video games and pizza and goofing around with my friends. I knew an awful lot about Civilization 2 and Warhammer 40,000, and almost nothing about the fairer sex.

I spent a lot of time with Camellia-Bell that summer. We wandered around back alleys. We went to Parliament House and the Supreme Court and the stock exchange. Anywhere free. She wore dressy backless tops and tight skirts and eye makeup. I wore tatty black shirts and cargo pants from the army disposals store. When she introduced me to her friends they smiled knowing smiles. “Nice to finally meet you” they said. “We’ve heard so much about you.”

Clearly, Camellia-Bell was into me, and yet, my diaries at the time are filled with endless analysis of every comment. “Does she like me?” I wondered. “What about when she brought up talking to a boy on the bus, what was that about?” In my more confident moments, my rumination moved to how to escalate things, with every possibility ruled out.

Eventually, her roommate took me aside. “It’s so hilarious how into you Cammy is” she told me. “She has a photo of the two of your framed next to her bed, and she has this whole book where she practices signing her name as ‘Camellia-Bell Groom.’ She draws a little flower on the end.” I’m not sure if the roommate told Camellia-Bell what she’d done, but the next time I saw her she seemed to have a new determination. She asked outright if I liked anyone. I gave her an adolescent non-answer. “I like someone” she volunteered, unprompted, and looking at me deeply. “I just can’t figure out how to tell him.”

Perhaps it was the anaphrodisiac of being desired, or maybe simple cowardice, but it was all too much for me. I was spooked. I went cold on her. From that day forward, when she texted I wouldn’t reply for days, if at all. On the rare occasion I answered her calls, I would give her a series of non-committal grunts, declining her invitations with a curt “nah, I’m busy.”

Eventually the phone calls stopped and a letter arrived, a full ten pages of loopy feminine script. I can’t believe I was so in love with such a coward, it began, and continued in that vein. I didn’t reply, and time rolled on, and that was that. Over the years I thought of her once in a while. Tried to look her up, but I never could find anything. No Facebook. No LinkedIn. With no real mutual friends, she was out of my life. A ghost of a botched romance from the distant past.

Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure de Luxe partly smoked.

At the halfway point something has turned in the Epicure de Luxe. The cigar is bitter and ashy. I let it sit for a while, and blow through it vigorously to clear the smoke, but nothing seems to help. I try to tap the end off, but the bulk of the ash won’t budge, just small particles of ash falling from it like dandruff. Thinking that perhaps it is tunnelling, I relight to even up the coal, which makes it even hotter and ashier, so I let it sit for a while, after which it seems to come back on form. Still not a lot to it though.

Fifteen years later, I was seated in a karaoke bar, watching with distain as a drunken quartet caroused their way through a rendition Eminem’s Lose Yourself, when my phone vibrated: New friend request from Camelia-Bell Lockwood. I clicked through, and there were those bright blue eyes.

Over the next few weeks we chatted online, and once the pleasantries were out of the way, she wanted an explanation for why I cut her off all those years ago. I said I didn’t really have one, but I denied some stuff and apologised for the rest, and that seemed to satisfy her. She wanted to meet, and a week later we found ourselves back in the old coffee shop, and she told me her story.

Two years after I had departed her life, she was still un-kissed when on a New Year’s Eve she got chatting to a boy, and at midnight he grabbed her by the neck and gave her both barrels. A week later he asked her to marry him. She said no at first, but he persisted, and six months later they were engaged, and married just after the next new year. They moved to a one-horse town in rural Victoria and bought a cute little house. He started a business installing pest netting on organic farms. She did a Dip-Ed and got a job at the local high school.

The years passed, and malaise set in. The netting business was seasonal, and when it was slow, her husband would drink and bring home his frustrations to her. She didn’t like the principal at her school, but with no other schools within a reasonable distance, there was nowhere else she could go.

The Victorian Education Department offers teachers seven years of unpaid maternity leave, and a baby seemed like the answer to both problems. By the time she was ready to return to fulltime teaching, surely the principal would be retired. Also, she hoped, the new bub would focus her husband, and reinvigorate their marriage. She was wrong.

After the birth, her husband’s drinking moved from moderate to heavy, and his shouted frustrations moved to kicked doors and broken glass. Finally, he threatened her child, and she left, first to a woman’s shelter and later to a cot in the hallway of her mother’s house.

Six months later, her divorce was finalised. With her settlement she bought a little flat and picked out a puppy. Unlatched from her husband, it was time take charge of her life, so she looked up the boy she’d never forgotten. The one who had seemed so promising. Friend request sent to A. T. Groom.

Our coffee date was awkward. We were two strangers, with two very different lifetimes between us. Camila-Bell was undeterred. Afterwards she sent me a text. “It wasn’t as easy chatting to you as I remembered, but I still feel that special connection with you. I want us to be proper friends.”

From the fortress of my inner-city bachelor pad I considered the situation carefully. I had been a bit of a shit to her last go around, and it had obviously left some scars. I didn’t want to leave any more. A brief fling to cross one off the list was out of the question. With this one it was either never let it begin, or marry her.

For a while I allowed myself the fantasy. A simple life. Sell my apartment. Quit the owner’s corporation. Ditch the eighty hours a week in the office, the binge drinking, the cocaine, the string of girls that come and go. We could make a nice life in a cute little house in the country. I could open up a computer shop and install anti-virus software for people. Home by 5:15 to my schoolteacher wife with the bright blue eyes. A father to her son, and after a few years, to the sons she would bare me.

Instead I decided to be cruel to be kind. When she messaged me, my replies were slow to come and short. I declined four of her invitations before her tone became exasperated.

“I can’t believe you’re so busy! Are you trying to avoid me? 😉”

I tried to let her down gentle.

“I’m sorry Cammy, you’re a great girl, it’s just I know I hurt you last time around, and I don’t think I can give you what you want this time around and I don’t want to hurt you again, so I’m not sure how smart it is to start up with you…”

The chat-box flashed Camelia-Bell is typing for the longest time, as she composed her furious response. When it finally came, all it was missing was the loopy teenage script.

“It sounds like you think I’m pathetic. I did like you once, but I’m not interested in you that way anymore. Actually, I’m seeing someone else. I just wanted to be friends with you because from the first moment I met you I always felt we had a special connection, like we were together in a past life or something. I should have known it was a mistake to contact you again.”

The text continued in that vein for several scroll wheel clicks, and by the time I got to the bottom the reply box was greyed out. This user has unfriended you and blocked you from sending messages.

Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure de Luxe smoked to the second band.

As the second band comes off, the Epicure de Luxe it starts to recover, the sweetness returning somewhat, with a note of coffee. As it moves into the nub the coffee transitions from arabica to robusta to over-roasted robusta and finally into tar. The aftertaste is all cedar, but it’s not too bad.

I don’t really think of Hoyo as a brand with too much aging potential, but this one I feel could use five years to take the edge off it. It’s a decent enough smoke besides though. Just could use a little bit of maturity.

Oh, and Victoria Sargent? She wound up marrying Rod Plumber.

Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure de Luxe nub.

Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure de Luxe La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2012 on the Cuban Cigar Website.

Hoyo de Monterrey Grand Epicure Edición Limitada 2013

The Hoyo de Monterrey Grand Epicure was released in 2013 to mixed reviews. Some liked the profile, which was a bit more in keeping with its marque than most Edición Limitadas. Others complained about the erratic construction. Its stable mates were the Romeo De Luxe and the Punch Serie D’Oro No. 2; of the three, the D’Oro got the press. The first limited from Punch, and a Pyramid in a brand where those are very thin on the ground. Ultimately, though, all three of 2013’s ELs would slip away into the mists of forgettability.

Hoyo de Monterrey Grand Epicure Edición Limitada 2013 unlit

The Grand Epicure is about as vulgar as they come, with its 55-ring gauge and double-sized custom band, but if you put aside the design then this example looks to be a good one. The wrapper is dark and oily, and construction appears perfect. The draw could be firmer but is well within the threshold of acceptability.

Lit, the cigar is smooth and rich. The predominant flavours are of the forest floor – fungus and wet dirt. The wood is there, of course, but it isn’t the standard dry cedar or the tannins of fresh cut sapling; it’s something darker. Cuban mahogany.

There are few triter clichés than that of the favourite teacher; the sage whose lips let spill the viscous pearl of wisdom into a wiling teenage ear, converting a wild hoodlum into a productive member of society. For me, the Sage’s name was Dr. Penny Marceau.

The high school I attended was a select entry college for academic boys. The faculty at all times placed great emphasis on preserving the culture of the place. Classes were formal business, and to be taken seriously. Competition was high. Discipline was expected. The VCE literature master was Giorgio Demetriou, well known throughout the school for his short fuse and fits of rage. Even the non-literature inclined knew him well, as any classroom remotely near his would inevitably find themselves snickering at the sound of his screaming rampages coming through the walls, and the line of boys outside his door who had been thrown out for some infraction or other.

In year eleven it was my turn to spend time with Giorgio, but a last-minute reprieve changed the course of my life. Over the summer break, one extra student transferred into literature, taking the size of the class over the government mandated maximum. The cohort was cleft in twain, and I wound up in the B stream; eleven boys and a temp teacher named Dr. Marceau.

The class lacked the formalities of the rest of school life. With Dr. Marceau we sat on the floor and chatted casually. We read Shakespeare and Don DeLillo. Peter Carey and Tennessee Williams. Up to that point I’d always been an avid reader of pulp fantasy garbage: Dr. Marceau’s class changed that. One-week she saw something with a dragon on the cover sticking out of my blazer pocket, and the next she gave me her well-thumbed copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude to read on my own time. “Read this” she said. “It’s fantasy with meaning.” I’ve never looked back.

Since a young age I’d always written creatively, but never been met with anything more than an eye-roll from adults. Dr. Marceau took me seriously. One afternoon, instead of handing my essay back like she did everybody else’s, she held me after class and spent hours going through it sentence by sentence with me, trying to instil in me a feel for the rhythm of language.

At the end of the year, Dr. Marceu’s future was uncertain. She had been hired only to fill the gap in the literature course. Aping Dead Poet’s Society, me and the other boys stood on our desks to wish her farewell. “Oh Captain my Captain.”

Of course, the school kept her on, but I never had her again.

Hoyo de Monterrey Grand Epicure Edición Limitada 2013 an inch or so smoked

At the mid-point the cigar is sweet, and extremely smooth. The term “elegant” fits it very well. It is soft and creamy. The tobacco is light and floral, with only the slightest high of cedar.

Fifteen years on I found myself in a hotel function room, seated up the back at an Old Boys dinner: steak and fish, served alternately. The speaker was a boy from a couple of years after me, who had found minor celebrity as a stand-up comic. He began by welcoming the various notables – a few politicians, a judge, a member of the class of 1933, and finally “our distinguished former faculty member, Dr. Penny Marceau.”

Excitedly I told my tablemates about her, about how she made me the man I am today, and after I’d finished my fish I headed up to the front of the room to seek her out. She was surrounded by other men my age, no doubt all with the same intentions as me, but I patiently waited my turn, finally catching her just as people started to return to their seats for dessert. “Dr. Marceau” I gushed. “I just wanted to say ‘hi.’ Alexander Groom.”

She looked at me blankly. “Class of 2001. It was a small class. I had long hair.”
“Oh, hi” she said, clearly without any memory of me.
“I just wanted to thank you… you really instilled in me a love of literature, and taught me so much about language, about the rhythm and beauty of prose.”
She brightened up. “Oh? So what are you doing now?”
“I’m the head of tech at a start-up,” I said, and watched her face fall.
“So nothing creative?”
“Well that’s just my day job,” I stammered. “I also run a cigar website… it’s very successful.”
With a sneer, she began to turn away. Desperately I called after her.
“I also write a blog. Sometimes I use big words. Petrichor!”

But she wasn’t listening. I was just another disappointment.

Hoyo de Monterrey Grand Epicure Edición Limitada 2013 smoked just above the band.

Right to the end, the cigar remains extremely smooth, never bitter for an instant. Most of the final third is notes of buttered toast and nuts. In the last moments some of the forest floor from earlier returns, with fungal notes and the petrichor funk. Above all though, the chief attribute of the Hoyo de Monterrey Grand Epicure is smoothness. An elegant, relaxing, and wonderful smoke. Quite a claim for a 55-ring gauge cigar with barely five years of age on it. A long way better than the Epicure 2.

Hoyo de Monterrey Grand Epicure Edición Limitada 2013 nub.

Hoyo de Monterrey Grand Epicure Edición Limitada 2013 on the Cuban Cigar Website

Hoyo de Monterrey Le Hoyo des Dieux

Beyond the Epicures, there is another line in Hoyo de Monterrey: the Serie le Hoyo. A reader, distressed by the perpetual mediocrity that this season’s vertical has put me through, suggested that I should try something from the Le Hoyo range, and presented me with this example, a Le Hoyo des Dieux.

“Are you a big Hoyo fan?” I asked, worried that I may have offended a man of otherwise impeccable taste (and ready with my follow-up question, “how could anybody like this muck?”). “Not really,” he shrugged. “But I like the Des Dieux.”

Hoyo de Monterrey Le Hoyo des Dieux unlit

The cigar begins nicely enough, although it’s not as far from the Hoyo trope as I would like. It’s mild, with that woody, cedar taste, and a very strong grass note. Beneath it all there is something lactic, which in and of itself is a big improvement over the rest of the Hoyo marque.

We are drinking that prince of drinks, the Sazerac. It’s a drink I’ve been ordering once in a while for many years. In the early 2000s, before Mad Men re-popularized vintage alcoholism, and before I was really secure in my masculinity, ordering cocktails was a dangerous affair. It was the dying days of the liqueur era, and all around was saccharine sweet; every drink on every menu made of Galliano, Chambord and Frangelico, served in a hurricane glass with fruit and whipped cream spilling out of the top.

Once, seeing me agonizing over a particularly treacherous menu, a bartender offered to make me a special, and the thing that came back was a Sazerac. I didn’t care much for it, my boyish palate still too soft for hard liquor, but I persisted, and have ordered them occasionally ever since. A safe choice. Slightly watered down, lightly sweetened whiskey. Something every bartender knows that sounds a bit more sophisticated than an Old Fashioned when you ask for it.

It was more or less a year ago to the day that my host showed me the true potential of the Sazerac. When he makes them they are smooth and sweet, with only the slightest twinge of alcohol burn. Beyond all else there is a butteriness to them; they warm the throat like an alcoholic Butter Menthol. Divine. A prince among drinks.

Hoyo de Monterrey Le Hoyo des Dieux, somewhat burnt

By about the midpoint, the lactation has increased to the point where cream is the dominant flavour in the cigar. There is still some wood on the back end (it is a Hoyo, after all), but mostly it is cream. The tobacco taste is very light, with not a hint of spice or bitterness.

The first step to making a good Sazerac is to select the right glass: you want to contain the volume of the drink (about 75ml) and nothing more. This is no place for a balloon glass.

Next, pour in a little absinth. 5, maybe 10ml. You want an absinth with some staying power. My host uses Doubs, but anything a bit serious will do. Not Green Fairy.

Fill the glass to the brim with water and set it in the freezer for 45 minutes. For this reason alone, a Sazerac is good for the first drink of the night. Have the glasses in the freezer so that they’re ready to go as soon as she walks in the door. After 45 minutes, the glass will have the start of a thin skin of ice. Serve only to punctual guests. If she’s an hour and a half late then you’ll have to wait until the absinth ice-cubes at least partially thaw.

(The object of all this is to chill the glass and to coat the inside evenly with a light amount of the absinth. The hurried tapster could theoretically get away with leaving the glass only a few minutes, or perhaps not chilling it at all. As in all things though, if you can take the time, you should.)

When the glasses are about chilled, make the bulk of the drink. In a cocktail tin, mix two shots of good cognac, with 10ml of simple syrup and three dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters. When it comes down to it, this drink is basically a glass of cognac, so you should use something drinkable. My host uses Hennessey VSOP. In many bars, they use one part of rye whiskey to one part cognac. This is one of the many reasons most bartenders fail at this drink.

The most important step is the stirring. Add to your tin a few large lumps of ice. Large lumps melt slower and are more forgiving. Stir the drink with a bar spoon until it is exactly as cold and diluted as it needs to be. How to tell when that is? Well, therein lies the skill of the Sazerac; the thing that sets it apart from the Old Fashioned or the Alaska or any other glass of lightly sweetened hard liquor. For me, it is always about ten turns of the spoon longer than I think it should be. Stir too little and your Sazerac will still have the alcohol burn. Still too much and it will taste watery.

With the drink ready to go, take the glasses out of the freezer, and toss the contents dramatically down the sink. Hold one glass under her nose. She’ll wrinkle it. “Black jellybeans?”

Strain the tin into the glasses, filling a bare half millimetre below the rim. The drink will be a glorious Chuck Berry red. Drop a lightly coiled lemon twist into each glass. The liquid should now be forming a meniscus. Take a second piece of lemon peel and squeeze some of its oils over the surface of the drink. Spritz a little more on the outside of the glass, where the hand will sit. On the stem if you’re using stemware.

Serve carefully and drink with purpose.

Hoyo de Monterrey Le Hoyo des Dieux, mostly combusted

The Le Hoyo des Dieux ends very respectably, with a slight strengthening of the tobacco note, but no tar or anything objectionable. Perhaps it’s the liquor, or the company, or the warm summer sun, but the Dieux has been a very pleasant smoke. It is a Hoyo, and it has all the family traits. It’s light and woody and not overly complex. What is there is good, however, and I rank it above all its predecessors in the round-up.

Hoyo de Monterrey Le Hoyo des Dieux nub

Hoyo de Monterrey Le Hoyo des Dieux on the Cuban Cigar Website

Hoyo de Monterrey Petite Robustos

Hailing from 2004, the Hoyo de Monterrey Petite Robustos was a trendsetter for the brand, and for Habanos generally. At release it was the first of its vitola, both salida and galera; the first front-line skirmisher of the short-and-fat brigade that would come to dominate the new release lists for the next fifteen years.

To me, the petite robusto has always looked a little off, its girth heralding a grander cigar than the length can deliver, and begging the question, “where’s the rest?” Lit, it is bitter from the start, with an acrid woody tang. I set it down a moment, and it calms down a bit, relaxing into light wood and medium tobacco.

Hoyo de Monterrey Petit Robustos unlit

I’ve known a few delinquents in my time, but rarely have I been in as close contact with the criminal element as I was with Simon Cates in the summer of ‘aught five. It was six months into my relationship with Audrey (and about two years before the Parisian Encounter). We both lived with our respective parents, but that summer hers had gone to Europe on The Trip of a Lifetime – three months riding the canals of Germany, France and the Netherlands – and Audrey and I were playing house.

Audrey had a summer job as a research assistant, which kept her busy for most of the daylight hours. I had no need of a job, having emancipated myself from my parents a year or so prior, which made me eligible for the government cheques. I spent my days mainly playing video games in her father’s study. The long summer days also gave me plenty of opportunity to bond with the house’s other resident layabout, Audrey’s eighteen-year-old brother, Simon (Simmy, to his friends).

They were siblings, and had similar noses, but that was about it. Audrey had attended an exclusive private school for gifted girls. She spoke with a vestigial British accent, and her friends were snobbish pseudo-intellectuals. Simmy had attended the local high school, and spoke with the languid drawl of a suburban thug, and his friends did the same. Audrey was blonde, with clear blue eyes and porcelain skin. She was against all physical activity, and deemed ballgames the pastime of the troglodyte. Simmy was tan and swarthy, and a natural athlete. Above all, Audrey was a member of society, and followed society’s rules. For Simmy there was no such thing.

The house was built into the side of a hill, and sprawled over three floors. Audrey and I occupied what was normally her parents’ domain on the top level. The bottom floor was Simmy territory. The open kitchen and dining room on the middle level were common property.

I rarely ventured down into Simmy’s crypt, but whenever I did the scene was much the same. He would be shirtless, reclined on the couch. Draped nearby would be Kate, his impossibly long-legged high-school girlfriend, clad only in one of Simmy’s basketball singlets and a blissful post-coital expression. His tubby friend Dave would be lying on the floor. The television would be playing an action movie, and all about would be strewn bongs and nangs and packets of chips. The marijuana scent was palpable, and as his parent’s return drew closer he would become increasingly concerned about how irreparably it had penetrated the soft furnishings.

On the second day of my residence, I was aroused from my Grand Theft Auto by a commotion on the kitchen deck. Investigating, I found Simmy and Dave in the process of heaving the family microwave over the railing to the lawn below. They had chanced upon a crime of opportunity: an open truck full of brand new microwaves, and helped themselves. I suggested that instead of destroying their parents’ perfectly serviceable microwave, they could sell either it or the new one for cash, but they weren’t interested. I then offered the idea that they could destroy it in a more spectacular fashion by microwaving a deodorant can or something. They thought about that one, but decided it was too much trouble, and over the railing the appliance went. Dented but largely intact, it would stay on the lawn until the night before his parents came back.

Audrey and I were both fending for ourselves for the first time, and were shocked by how expensive grocery bills could be. When we went shopping we were frugal, buying simple meals, and mostly cooking ourselves. For Simmy though the world was his oyster. Several times a week he and his friends would come home fully laden with purloined frozen meals and meats and candies and every delicacy of the suburban supermarket. I was amazed every time. For myself, I couldn’t see how it was possible to heist more than a chocolate bar, but Simmy seemed to be able to liberate the weekly shop for a family of ten. When I asked him how he did it he was nonchalant. “Just carry it out” he told me. “Nobody cares.”

Hoyo de Monterrey Petit Robustos, two thirds remaining

With the third of so of the cigar combusted, the bitterness has left, but what remains is very much the par three hole of the Monterrey course. Mostly it tastes of cedar dust, with a mild herbaceous twang in the aftertaste.

Audrey was universally disapproving of Simmy and his antics, but I became something of a friend to him and his buddies, not exactly approving, but definitely impressed. More than anything I was fascinated by a life so free of societal norms. One afternoon Simmy knocked on my study door clutching a little medical pouch. “Hey mate” he asked, “do you know how to fill up a needle?”

As it happened I did, having acquired the skill while caring for my family’s diabetic dog. Simmy had gotten his hands on some steroid injections, and wanted me help him shoot them into the meaty part of his buttock. For the next two weeks it became a ritual for us – he would come by after lunch, usually – and I would give him his injection. Eventually he gave it up because he wasn’t working out enough to see the benefit.

Halfway through the summer he came to Audrey and I and announced with great pride that he’d gotten a job. Starting Monday he was the new night watchman at the Tennis Centre. Audrey was pleased, although in bed that night we privately wondered if Rod Laver knew he was employing a fox to guard his henhouse. It took Simmy only three shifts to figure out how to turn off the cameras and open up the pro-store, and after that he would come home every morning with thousands of dollars’ worth of sneakers and racquets. As always with Simmy, there wasn’t any consequence. When he was fired some months later it was for absenteeism, not for thievery.

Audrey and I broke up not long after the end of the summer. After her parents came home she had wanted us to find our own place together, but I was content to go back to my folks’ place, where the groceries came gratis. We would reconcile for a time a few years later, but eventually parted for good. Last I heard, Simmy had done a few months in prison in his twenties for low-level drug dealing, but eventually straightened out, working a variety of labourer jobs before starting a landscape gardening business. He eventually married Kate, too, high-school sweethearts, and fathered twin girls. No word on what became of Dave.

Hoyo de Monterrey Petit Robustos, the final chunk.

The Petite Robustos lightens up considerably in the bottom half of the cigar, but doesn’t gain a lot in the way of complexity, with the usual wood, grass, and slight tang predominating.

The marketing impetus behind the short and fat revolution is that nobody has the time to smoke big cigars any more. To some extent, the marketeers have a point. Gone are the days of smoking in offices, in gentlemen’s clubs, in restaurants and bars, and other places where men might once have engaged in otherwise meaningful activity with a Churchill clamped between their teeth. The aficionado will always find a way to luxuriate at home with a big cigar, but for the habitual smoker, who smokes two, and four, and five a day, they need it short and to some extent they need it fat. Something to suck down while driving between landscape gardening jobs. In that capacity, the Hoyo Petite Robusto succeeds. It’s an easy-going, uncomplicated sort of smoke that you could get down in 30 minutes if you put your mind to it.

Hoyo de Monterrey Petit Robustos nub.

Hoyo de Monterrey Petite Robustos on the Cuban Cigar Website

Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure Especial

The Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure Especial made its first appearance in 2004 as an Edition Limitada, where it proved so popular that they made it a regular production four years later. It was ahead of its time; the third example of the Gorditos vitola, a size which has appeared in the “new releases” column of the Habanos catalogue fifteen times since, and continues to resurface on an annual basis. I wondered at the time why they called it the Epicure Especial, and not the Epicure No. 3, which seemed to me a more logical name for a cigar that was basically a longer Epicure No. 2. Whatever their reasoning was I guess it worked for them, as they have continued the trend with the Double Epicure, the Grand Epicure, and the Epicure de Luxe.

Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure Especial unlit

I light her up. Construction is not great, with a wind tunnel draw that makes the initial burn far too hot, the smoke bitter as a result. Hopefully it will clean up as things stabilize. What flavor notes there are are woody and slightly chemical. Treated pine.

I met Saskiri Sutrisno online. Her profile was vague. She liked some TV shows. She liked to travel. Her pictures, all close-ups with big sunglasses, gave little indication of how she looked. She was enthusiastic, though, when she reached out to me and gushed about the bombastic essay that I used to promote my own eligibility. Enthusiasm goes a long way. It was a clear case for a low stakes internet date.

We met on a Tuesday night outside the State Library, because it’s a public place that everybody knows and because there’s nothing to do there. If you hate each other from the first moment then you’re not even committed to finishing your coffee. It was a Tuesday because nobody has anything better to do on a Tuesday.

We went to a nearby bar and immediately hit it off. She had been raised a diplo-brat, the child of a big wheel in the Indonesian kleptocracy of the 1980s and 90s, and we swapped stories about our childhoods in diplomatic enclaves. She laughed and smiled, with a big, wet mouth, and eyes to match. I liked her summer dress.

After the bar the date carried on to a restaurant, where the casual touching started; the clasp of the hand on the table to emphasize a point, the faux sympathetic shoulder pat. On the way to the third bar I held her hand. “Good move,” she whispered.

By the time the third bar closed it was a quarter passed midnight and we were two martinis passed sensible. We necked heavily in an alleyway.

Through the fog of Wednesday morning, I related the story to a friend. “I think this could be the one,” I told him. “She’s funny and smart and beautiful. She’s got Indonesian gangster money. Relax and Rolex.”

Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure Especial two thirds remain.

True to expectation, the cigar has mellowed off considerably. There are notes of straw and cedar, with light dry earth and dust. There is a vague peanut flavor in the late taste. Some salt.

For the most part, my affair with Saskiri was a lot of fun. She worked in finance at one of those jobs where everyone is young and bubbly and drinks late every night. She fell for that old routine, the one where I throw on a robe and casually put together cocktails in my grand apartment. She lived in the hipster area, and we had nice breakfasts and sneered cynically at everything. She had a fun set of nicknames: Sass, Sassafrass, Sasquatch, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Once, she crashed one of my work functions just as it was winding down, and smiled and laughed and enthralled the older guys. “Who was that girl?” my boss asked me the next morning. “An old friend?”
“Ah…no” I replied. “More of a new friend.”

I wasn’t wrong about the gangster money, either. She showed me pictures of herself at age four, being bounced on Suharto’s knee. Then came the family portrait: ten Sutrisnos and twenty staff, all in their Sunday best outside an ambassadorial residence. The women and girls wore matching white dresses. The men and boys were in suits and brandished AK-47s.

But then, there were the problems.

Most of them were minor. She snored like a rhinoceros. She had terrible taste in movies. She was always on her phone. And, of course, that old complaint started to surface; the one that has driven most every lover from my life. She liked me, and she needed to express that to me, and to hear it expressed in return. The needier she got the less my broken psychology wanted to validated her.

The final straw came on July 1. It was a Wednesday, and she was celebrating Canada Day at a bar near my house. She texted me repeatedly, asking me to join her. When I finally arrived she was drunk, and slurring her words, and going on and on about how she couldn’t believe two of her friends had hooked up. It wasn’t the event for me, and inside an hour I was ready to go. When I told her so, and a twenty-minute song-and-dance ensued about whether or not she would come to my house. Her complex iterations of logistics are lost on me even today, but basically, I felt that as we both had busy days the next day, the dominant strategy would be for her to come and be intimate for an hour or so, and then get a cab home; she was steadfast that she was only coming to my house if she could stay the night.

She fell asleep immediately post-coitus, stealing all the blanket and snoring at the volume of industrial machinery. Several times I tried to wake her, or roll her over, or to smother her, but it was all in vain, and by 3am I abandoned my bed and went to sleep in the spare room. There I slept soundly until five, when she shook me awake. “What are you doing in here?” she asked. “Was I snoring?” I moaned concurrence. “Oh my god,” she said. “I’m so sorry.” She climbed into bed with me, the spare room’s single considerably less accommodating than my king, and fell asleep at once, immediately resuming her cacophony.

I was curt with her in the morning. She was sheepish, and knew she was in trouble. Once she’d gone I went upstairs to make the beds, and discovered that both sheets were heavily bloodstained. She had a cut on her leg, that apparently had opened up.

It was the final straw, and when she sheepishly texted me three days later, I let her know that it was over. She didn’t reply, but a few hours later I noticed she’d unfriended me on Facebook.

Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure Especial, burnt just above the band.

The Epicure Especial ends a little spicy, with a sharp tar that is not altogether unpleasant. There is still some dry dirt in the aftertaste. A few weeks ago, a friend, having read the first few of this season’s Dusky Beauties observed to me that Hoyo might be a bit mild for my taste. I’m sorry to say it, but I think he might be right. Hopefully there is some gold deeper in the limiteds, because as far as the regular production goes, it all seems to be much of the same.

Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure Especial nub.

Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure Especial on the Cuban Cigar Website

Hoyo de Monterrey Elegantes La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2016

In The Harem, where cigars are rarely combusted before their fifth birthdays, and often not before their fifteenth, today’s beauty is a comparative rarity; the Hoyo de Monterrey Elegantes is part of the La Casa del Habano exclusive program, and was scheduled for release in 2016. Naturally, it did not actually begin appearing in stores until 2017, and the single I purchased at retail wasn’t even from the first batch. From factory to fire in less than six months! Unheard of.

Hoyo de Monterrey Elegantes La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2016 unlit

True to its name, it’s an elegant cigar, topping out at 47 ring gauge, but feeling thinner on account of the perfecto format. The wrapper is smooth chestnut. Whoever put the band on had a little trouble with the tapered tip: the fit is awkward, and you can clearly see the overlap. Lit, the cigar is punchy from the get go: bitter, and acridly herbal, with strong tannic and woody notes. Somewhere in there is something slightly fungal. Shitake mushrooms.

Being the height of Melbourne’s summer, the weather has taken a turn. The sky is overcast, and a chill breeze is coming in from the south. My winter coats are deep in the mothballs, and going in after them this early in the year would seem too much like giving up. My autumnal coat though? Seemed doable. It’s a very simple, Loden-wool chesterfield, cut to the mid-thigh. It first came into my possession in the mid-90s, when I was about 14, and going through a phase. A phase where I wanted a trench-coat.

I wanted it long and black and preferably leather. I wanted a collar I could flip up as high as my ears. I wanted to drop a caustic one-liner, flick my cigarette into the wind, and swoosh off into the night. The Matrix hadn’t come out yet, so I guess I must have seen The Crow or something. I suggested to my parents that they could buy me one for my birthday, and they flatly refused. That Sunday, at dinner at my grandparents’ house, my mother even brought it up as a joke. “Do you know what Alexander wants for his birthday?” She hooted. “A trench-coat!” My grandmother’s eyes lit up immediately. “I’ve got just the thing!”

She scurried to the back bedroom, and pulled my coat from the cupboard. “I hate this horrible thing” she declared. My grandfather glared, but said nothing. My mother gushed over the quality, which is very fine, and I accepted it somewhat begrudgingly. It was not at all what I wanted; a plain, old-man’s autumnal coat. I wasn’t nearly long or leather enough. On the ride home I mused out loud about the possibility of dying it back. “Oh, you mustn’t,” my mother said. “You’ll ruin it.”

Hoyo de Monterrey Elegantes La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2016, with two thirds remaining

After the bulge has burned away, the cigar grows mild, with cedar notes predominating. A straw taste has emerged, and there is still that slight musty element of forest floor. The burn is perfect.

My grandmother’s demise was fairly swift, as far as demises go. She was eighty-nine, and a routine doctor’s visit showed a lump on her liver. A biopsy declared it cancerous and rapidly spreading. She was sent more or less immediately to hospital, and after two weeks as an inpatient she was transferred to a hospice, where a few days later she would die.

The last time I saw her was in the hospital. It was the only occasion in my adult life that I ever remember being alone with her, and the only time I ever conversed with her person-to-person, as equals. She was taking a medication that was making her hallucinate, especially at night, and I discussed the experience at length with her, trying to give her some insight from my own misspent youth, when I had been through the same thing recreationally. Eventually the nurse came in, and it was time for me to go. As she was being bolstered up, my grandmother looked at me slyly and added one last thing in parting. “You know,” she said. “He’s never forgiven me for giving you that coat.”

At this point I had had the coat for fifteen years, and although my tastes had matured enough that I could appreciate it, I still wore it only rarely. There’s simply not that many days in a year that call for an autumnal coat. It had acquired a few knocks over the decades – it was missing a button, and the lining had come away in places – and I resolved to set things right. I would get it fixed up and return it to my grandfather.

Hoyo de Monterrey Elegantes La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2016, final third

Into the final third, the cigar as strengthened again. Still, the predominant note is cedar, and fresh cut branches. It’s slightly nutty. Walnuts.

After my grandmother died, my grandfather always seemed a bit lost. He lived until he was ninety-seven, and I think in the last few years more or less everyone he knew had died. He stayed in his own home, stubbornly independent, and pottered around, working on little projects and watching a lot of old TV. My grandmother had always done the cooking and the cleaning and so on, and he didn’t care much for those jobs, living on microwave dinners and letting the dishes pile up in the sink. He had to endure his daughters reversing the parental relationship, nagging him to eat better and clean up after himself, and bossing him around about his appointments and so on.

It took me about five years, but eventually I gave the coat back. I had it dry-cleaned and repaired, and it looked as good as the day I had acquired it. My parents were going over to my grandfather’s house for dinner, and I joined them, which was rare for me. I presented him the coat, and explained the story about my grandmother’s death bed. He claimed not to remember it, but nonetheless I felt like I had done the right thing. I had put something right that once was wrong.

It was almost exactly a week later that he died. My aunt was at his house, and was going to take him out for dinner. He was in the next room when she heard him fall. Mentally and physically he was fine, and in the family we had every expectation that he would reach a century, but in that one moment his heart just stopped beating. The paramedic said he would have been dead before he hit the floor.

A month later the family gather at the old house to divide up the estate, each of us placing stickers on the things we wanted. The coat was folded over the back of the dining chair, exactly where I’d left it. It got my first sticker.

Hoyo de Monterrey Elegantes La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2016 nub

The cigar gets a little bitter towards the end, but never too bad; it isn’t the bitter chocolate and heavy tobacco end that I relish, but nor is it the sharp, saliva inducing tar that finishes off inferior cigars. The Elegantes falls pretty squarely in type for Hoyo de Monterrey: it is light to medium strength, woody, with bit of grass and not too much else. If I had to rank it, and eventually I shall, it will probably find its place above the Epicure 2 and below the Regalos. It’s a narrow field though.

Hoyo de Monterrey Elegantes La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2016 on the Cuban Cigar Website

Hoyo de Monterrey Regalos Edición Limitada 2007

It is the morning after the night before, and the well-trodden path has taken me to a shady nook in the Brisbane Botanical Gardens. It seemed very implausible to me that smoking would be allowed here, and certainly nobody else seems to be doing it, but on careful study of the rules board I found no prohibition. The sky is a flawless blue. A gentle tropical breeze takes the edge off the Australian sun. On the river, boats silently putter back and forth, and on the boardwalk girls stroll languidly by, tan legs flashing beneath summer dresses. One cannot imagine a better situation for a cigar smoker to find himself in.

Hoyo de Monterrey Regalos Edición Limitada 2007 unlit, resting on some RayBan Caravans.

The Hoyo de Monterrey Regalos is one of the 2007 Edición Limitadas, and as far as I recall it’s considered largely forgettable, or at least, people largely have forgotten it. I haven’t seen a review of one of these in five years or more, and the ones when it came out weren’t glowing. Still, time changes cigars. It may have come into its own. Ignited, the opening of the cigar has a sharp bite, with musty, fungal undertones, and a good amount of dry straw. There is a bitterness there that I strongly suspect will become cocoa before too long. The tobacco strength is on the higher end of medium.

The reason for my trip for Brisbane – the aforementioned night before – was the Havanathon; a bi-annual bacchanal hosted by a local cigar retailer. It takes place in the shed that doubles as his headquarters, and consists of about two hundred large men carousing as only large men can. Four cigars apiece are included with admission, as is a buffet lunch, all the beer you can stomach, some lightly mixed mojitos and heavily mixed sangria.

The whole thing has the atmosphere of an extended buck’s night: a testosterone fuelled carnival of masculinity. There were waitresses in sequined bikinis, and the throng ogled them unabashedly. One of the girls seemed to be enjoying herself, or at least she was enough of a professional to pretend, all smiles and banter as she handed out the beers. On her buttock there was a tattooed lipstick mark, and she giggled coquettishly as guys posed as if they had just planted it. The other girl was less pleased with her lot in life, plonking each bottle down with a sneer, and shooting a poison glare at anyone who talked to her with anything more than a drink order. “She’d be pretty if she wasn’t such a bitch” a colleague observed to me. “That’s what makes her pretty,” another rejoindered.

Hoyo de Monterrey Regalos Edición Limitada 2007, two thirds remaining.

About a third in, and the cigar has mellowed, yet still the mustiness predominates, with a strong hint of a closet in a ramshackle ‘70s beach house. I’m sipping a Bundaberg Ginger Beer (luckily, the 7-11 didn’t carry the rum), and its sweetness takes any harshness from the cigar very nicely.

As the afternoon wore on, the shed grew stifling, as much from the combusted phlogiston of a few hundred Habanos as from the tropical sun beating on its iron. Most of the attendees migrated out the front, where the breeze provided welcome respite from the heat, even as it striped us of our ability to sustain a coal.

Soon our host called us back inside, where a trio of salsa dancers had materialised, all high kicks and swivelling hips. After a few numbers they lead us in a dance lesson, the moves to which more resembled the Hokey Pokey than the serpentine writhing they had shown us a few moments before. It ended with a conga line through the shed and out into the street. Cigar smokers have their talents: each of these men can hold down a drink, tell a tall tale, and wax lyrical about the tannic sting on the back-palate, but dancers they are not.

The afternoon wore on in much the same fashion: ribald conversation with the brothers of the leaf, punctuated by musical acts. By 6:00pm, with the third cigar fully combusted, my head was spinning from the nicotine and I needed a break. The crowd was starting to thin a bit, with most of the locals heading home to their lives. The men who stayed were the ones from interstate: true degenerates, with nowhere better to be. I stayed outside for about an hour, holding my fourth cigar, but leaving it unlit. The evening air cleared my head. I ate a light dinner of cold meats leftover from lunch, and drank more than one glass of water.

Hoyo de Monterrey Regalos Edición Limitada 2007 with one third remaining.

Into the final stretch and the cigar is firmly in the mid-strength. There is a strong tannic sting on the back-palate. The fungal mustiness has given way to muddy earth tones. The forecast cocoa has failed to eventuate.

The conclusion to the evening, naturally, was the karaoke contest. In Melbourne today, karaoke is somewhat popular. The expanding Asian influence of the last few decades has opened the bars, and those have gradually permeated the broader Australian culture, to the point where most youths of bar-hopping age would have had cause to belt out a rendition of Don’t Stop Believing on at least a few occasions. This was not always so. Even in my own salad days, karaoke was confined to the rare Wednesday night at the pub. At the Havanathon, where I fell on the younger end of the age scale, the level of experience was not high, and volunteers were few and far between.

The MC filled in the blanks with Elvis numbers, and a friend who is in a band gave us some very passable versions of ‘80s pop-songs, but after that the roster started to run dry. Eventually the MC took to wandering through the hall, offering each person the microphone, and declaring “pussy” when they turned it down. When he offered it to me I lingered for a second, then accepted.

My own karaoke repertoire was honed not with Australian youths, but with Japanese barflies. They have a machine over there that gives you an estimate of the amount of kilocalories you expended during your track, the algorithm for which seems to be based mainly on how loud you sing and how much your voice cracks. It trained me into a one trick pony: I sing power ballads and pretend to cry. It is an act utterly unsuited for this room, but nonetheless, I performed it, belting out Total Eclipse of the Heart with all I had, my voice mellifluous after three and a half cigars. Occasionally through screwed up eyes I would glance out at the crowed, who watched, stony-faced, unsure of what to make of the performance art. “Are you okay?” someone asked me after. “Just passionate,” I told him.

By ten the host had had enough, and led the assembled in a rousing chorus of that most proud Australian anthem, Thunderstruck, before turning on the lights. The stragglers stacked the chairs and stole the lighters, and embraced one another warmly. “Till next time, brother.” “Next year in Havana.”

There was an after party, of course, and a fifth cigar, and then a sixth, and somewhere along the way I found some Port wine, and somewhere else some KFC Popcorn Chicken. By four AM I was in bed, the fourteen hours of heavy drinking just enough to drown out the nicotine and put me straight to sleep.

Hoyo de Monterrey Regalos Edición Limitada 2007 nub and bands.

The cigar ends nicely, never bitter, but still with the dry, musty note that has predominated throughout. In the end there is nothing wrong with the Regalos, but when I tell the story of this afternoon, the details I relate will be of the bush turkey scratching in the dirt at my feet, and how he puffed his chest, and then charged, head lowered, to drive off flock of Ibis who came too near; of the big lizard who emerged from the brush to sun himself on the road, and almost got clipped by a cyclist; and of the two Japanese girls, who strolled by languidly, wrinkling their noses at the smell of my cigar. The Regalos, alas, is ultimately forgettable. The Havanathon, not so much.

Hoyo de Monterrey Regalos Edición Limitada 2007 on the Cuban Cigar Website.

Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2

Your intrepid reporter is deep in the jungles of Northern Australia, where the white noise of the cicadas is loud enough to make conversation difficult. My hostel has the aspect of a safari lodge: the bar is a few roughhewn wooden benches under a great green tarpaulin, strung between three ancient trees. My fellow travellers all speak with different accents, none of them Australian.

The place bills itself as a ‘wilderness retreat.’ My room, some fifty meters away down a narrow path through the dense foliage, is a meagre hut, with flyscreen walls and a tarpaulin roof. There is no power after they shut the generator off at 10pm. We are several hours north of the nearest mobile phone coverage, and there is a sign by the bar that gently advises us not to bother enquiring about the WiFi: “The best connection you can make” it suggests, “is with each other.”

I feel like there is no better way to bond with my compatriots than by lighting up a cigar: after all, what could a bunch of eco-tourists possibly object to about a Cuban cigar, the most natural product on earth?

Like its thinner sister, the Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2 is an ancient cigar, having survived since the revolution. Once upon a simpler time, these came in cabinets of 50, and wore no bands. Since 2008 they have two, giving this example less age than that. It is the oldest of the still extant robustos, an early forebear of the fat-cigar trend.

As an accompaniment, I order a glass of the highest shelf local spirit in the house: Bundaberg Black, neat. The bartender makes a show of carefully measuring out the shot. “You don’t want me to give you too much of this stuff, mate.”

He’s not wrong. Pure gasoline.

 Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2 unlit, on a glass of Bundy Black.

Set ablaze, the cigar opens in a pleasant but inoffensive manner. The predominate flavour is mid-strength tobacco, tending towards mild. It is grassy, with strong notes of hay, accompanied by saddle leather and a hint of wet animal, to complete the barnyard melange.

I arrived in the jungle yesterday, and slept only fitfully: not only is there the constant cacophony of the cicadas, which only the mating calls of the bush turkeys and cassowaries can break through, but also every ten minutes a nut falls from the tree above my hut and lands on the tarpaulin like a gunshot. My wakeup-call this morning came in the form of a marsupial mouse, who crawled onto my pillow from places unknown. I was dozing when I felt his hot breath in my ear, and inquisitively rolled over to find us face to face. With a primal yawp I leapt out of bed, and he fled. Unable to locate either the point of the critter’s entry or of his exit, I decided the best strategy was to vacate the hut myself. On the porch I found a four-foot iguana, and I encouraged him inside to ferret out the rodent, but the slovenly lizard didn’t seem interested. 

By midday I found myself in the local swimming hole. Some kids were downstream of us, swinging off a rope, laughing, and cursing like sailors at their disobedient Blue Heeler, Gypsy. Eventually they left, with most of them roaring off in their beaten up four-wheel drive. One of their number, however, came towards us to collect his things – a towel and a short digeridoo – that lay on the river bank near where we were swimming.

He was a lanky teen, with a pile of red hair. His skin was parchment white; his pants would have been a similar tone, but had been rendered transparent by the water, making the chestnut thatch of his mons pubis distractingly visible. He hailed us from the shore with a ponderous drawl of the Australian bush philosopher.

      “Youse from around here?”

I told him I was from Melbourne, and he sighed.

      “I don’t like the city” he told us. “I’m from the Daintree, born and raised for nineteen years. I went to Sydney once. I thought the jungle had made me a man, but that city made me a little boy.”

My companion is from California, and she told him so, and he seemed to like that a little better. “Yeah, I reckon that’d be alright. I reckon California would be like the Daintree.”

I laughed, and told him that I’d been to both, and they were similar. “Wouldn’t you like to go somewhere a little different though? See the world?”

      “Why would I ever want to go anywhere else, when it’s so beautiful here?”

I asked about his digeridoo. “Oh, I love me dige,” he told us. “Can I play you a tune?”

The lad was good, conjuring from the dige at least as tonal a sound as I’ve ever heard from one, with a syncopated section reminiscent of an electronic dance track. For his finale he plunged the end of the stick into the water of the creek, slowly pushing it deeper and deeper, muffling the sound, but creating a maelstrom of bubbles around it. Finally, he withdrew it, gasping for air.

      “I do that to improve my lungs” he told us. “If I could play my full size dige when it was all the way in the water like that, I’d have the strongest lungs in Australia.” 

Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2, two thirds remain. 

Just past the midway point the cigar starts to get bitter and ashy, but is somewhat redeemed by a very mild sweetness on the aftertaste. The flavours, in the rare place where anything definable penetrates the bitterness, are much unchanged: tobacco and dry grass. Some cedar.

Without warning the heavens open, a torrential downpour that pounds on the tarpaulin roof, competing with the white noise of the jungle. The low-point of the roof is nearby, forming a spout where the rain cascades off like a waterfall. A fast-flowing creek immediately forms on the ground beneath, disappearing off into the bush. Toads emerge, seemingly from nowhere, splashing about on the riverbank.

Within fifteen minutes it is over, and the air returns to its regular warm and humid state. The bush turkeys resume their cries.

Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2, smoked to just above the bands.

The final inch of the cigar reveals the life in the thing. The tobacco grows from medium toward strong. The sharp bitterness is gone, replaced by the richer, and much more pleasant bitterness of heavy tar, with nuttiness (peanuts), and some tropical fruit notes in the back of the thing.

Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2 is not a terrible cigar by any means, but nor is there especially much too it. I’d take it before the Epicure No. 1, but it still runs a distant second to Partagás Serie D No. 4.

Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2 nub.

Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2 on the Cuban Cigar Website

Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 1

The passage of time, my friends, is inevitable. Grains of sand, crushed from once mighty mountains, cannot help but fall through the neck of the hourglass; the quartz crystal inevitably resonates with precise frequency when an electrical current is supplied; and my own Omega Seamaster’s mainspring coils and uncoils with much the same rhythm today as it did when my grandfather first wore it in 1969. Eighteen months have passed since we last spoke. Battles have been won and lost. Loves have come and gone. And Dusky Beauties, has returned.

Hoyo de Monterrey is the least of the big five global brands, and it’s not one I have terribly much affection for. The name translates to “the Hole of Monterrey,” and refers to a valley in Cuba, once famous for its tobacco. They are generally mild cigars, with a bit of wood and grass. The single example to appear previously on The Harem was 2003’s Extravaganza, smoked as part of my Colección Habanos roundup. It came in a mediocre 7th out of 10.

For the quintessential, entry level Hoyo, to which I shall compare all the exotics, I have selected the Epicure No. 1. It’s a corona gorda, and is as popular as any Hoyo. Normally they wear a second band, but mine has lost hers, a tithe to the god of plain packaging.

Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 1 unlit and in the shadows.

I light it, and the early notes are of mid-strength, vaguely sour tobacco. Somewhere in there there is a slight note of something chemical. It doesn’t overwhelm: just a little hint of Cuaba coming through. The aftertaste is quite pleasant. Buttery.

December 6th 2016 began like most days. I woke up late, and had a leisurely shower. I did a few push-ups, and drank my nutrient slurry, and by mid-morning had wandered into the office, where I noticed that my email wasn’t working. This in itself was not entirely unusual. Since some time in the early 2000s I have run my own email server, and from time to time, things happen. Most usually, the hard disk on the server fills up, and manual intervention is needed to clear things out, but occasionally the hosting company goes down for maintenance or something along those lines. I tried to log into the server, but it wasn’t responding, so I went to the Hotmail account that I use when other emails fail to see if they had sent me a downtime notice or anything. There was an email there, and it was brief and to the point.

Dear Mr. Groom,

Earlier today the server hosting your VPS crashed, and the backup could not be recovered. It has been reset. You will be refunded for downtime (approximately 8 hours) on a prorata basis.

They provided a new username and password, and when I logged in it was as they had described. The server was as a new, virgin install. CubanCigarWebsite, with its 40 gigabytes of files, was erased, along with all 125,000 words of Dusky Beauties, my personal website, the website I had in high-school, the site where I posted my erotic fiction in the early 2000s, my cocktail recipe database, my Michael Jackson fan site, the website for my friend’s home portraiture business: all were gone. My four email servers, with 10 years of correspondence, both private and professional, erased. It amounted to the complete annihilation of my lifetime creative output.

Denial, as always, was my first response. Computer data is rarely ever completely lost. In the very worst case, if even a portion of a disk drive survives, it can be picked over by men in white coats with microscopes. There was no indication that the loss was caused by a fire at the data-centre, so most likely it could be recovered with considerably less effort than that. I fired off a help desk ticket: priority 1, urgent. It would be the first of many. Their reply was similar to their original email: apologetic but nonchalant, and absolutely clear that the data would not be coming back. I fired off an increasingly panicked response, but my hope was starting to fade. It felt like it was time to call Trevor.

Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 1 in the bright sun, a quarter smoked.

At the midpoint the cigar is light-to-mid strength, with dry straw alongside freshly cut lumbar. There is a bit of a herbal taste there that leaves a tang on the back of the tongue.

In 2008 I was a bare neophyte in the world of Cuban cigars, when I found myself in a blind tasting contest. I had no business being there, as my experience was far too narrow, and I knew that whatever I picked was going to be a guess, but I wanted to at least make it an educated guess. I headed to CubanCigarWebsite.com, which was then (as now), the best online reference for Cuban cigars. The site at that time was flat HTML. Each cigar appeared in several locations that would all have to be updated manually, and most importantly, it wasn’t searchable. If you had the approximate dimensions of a cigar, and wanted everything that fit within that, it just wasn’t possible.

And so I emailed Trevor, the proprietor, and suggested that he put a database behind the site. In not so many words he replied: “good idea. Why don’t you do it.”

And so I did.

For the next four years we worked on the site together, our relationship pretty similar to your standard consulting gig. Once in a while Trev would have an idea for a change, and I would implement it. Every now and again he’d send a few cigars my way. It was at least three years and 150,000 words of emails before we ever met in person.

Between 2012 and 2014 Trevor gradually retired to a quiet life of philately, and I took over the running of the thing. I have changed very little during my tenure, beyond keeping it up to date and adding the odd technical feature. The truth is that by the time of Trev’s retirement, the site was basically complete, and could remain forever as a legacy to his efforts. Cuban cigar smoking is not a field that has changed terribly much over the last 500 years. Every year some more special releases come out, and once every 20 years or so there is an event of historical significance, but other than that, there isn’t a lot of innovation: most of the time, you still light them at the foot and puff from head.

It was not an easy call to make. Once I’d passed on the news that everything was gone, and unlikely to be recovered, Trev and I tried to make small talk, but we were both too shaken up to think of anything to say. All in all the call lasted about three minutes.

Later that night I went to a concert with an old friend. When she asked me how my day was I told her that I’d lost everything I’d ever created in my life. She asked how I felt. “Empty.” I replied.

Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 1 final third.

Into the final third, and the cigar is much unchanged: grass and sap, with a woody element and the strongly tannic tang of tang of cheap sauv blanc. It is starting to get bitter, which does not bode at all well for the smoke to come.

Like most things, it all worked out in the end. After I circulated an impassioned essay about the situation to the cigar community, there were a great many offers of assistance. My donation link saw more use than it had for the entirety of its existence. Technical experts had recovery advice. Lawyers were willing to send letters to the hosting company.

Most importantly, several people came forward offering me complete (if slightly out of date) copies of the site they had made “so they could browse it locally.” It was suspicious, but it saved me. Between February and April, I rewrote the backend software of the site, and then built a bot to repopulate it from the copies. Dusky Beauties was restored a little later, largely from caching sites and my own archives. My email was all still on my computer, and I was smart enough to back it all up before it resynced with the new blank servers. Not everything was saved. My rants about the faculty at my high-school and clumsy erotica of my early 20s were lost to the dust of all things. But perhaps that is for the best.

The Epicure No. 1 ends better than expected, grassy and nutty, and with the bitterness lurking just out of the fore-palate, I never once feel the need to spit or take a sip of water. In the end, this is not an overly complex cigar, with no flavour ever really emerging that could overpower mid-tobacco and vague grassiness, and barely any change throughout its passage. I’d take a Monte 4 over this, and a PSD4, and even a Romeo Petit Coronas. Between this and the Upmann Petite Coronas there’s not a lot in it. Both are inoffensive but unremarkable. Pick whichever is closest.

Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 1 nub.

One final note: once removed, the band bears a size mark for a 50-52 ring cigar: curious on a 46-ring gage smoke. I guess they were out that day.

Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 1 on the Cuban Cigar Website.