Montecristo No. 2 Gran Reserva Cosecha 2005

The theory behind the Grand Reserve series goes that once in a great while (a great while being every two years) an especially good tobacco harvest might produce a small amount of absolutely peerless leaf, leaf that will be aged for as long as it takes to perfect it and then rolled by the highest ranking torcedoras into cigars that are the best of the best; into cigars that are absolutely without compromise. The theory behind the Grand Reserve series goes that Habanos can charge six or seven times as much for them as they do their single banded analogues.

The cigar I consider today, the Montecristo No. 2 Gran Reserva Cosecha 2005, is the second release in the Gran Reserva series, following 2009’s Cohiba Siglo VI. The third instalment has been announced, but has yet to surface: the Partagás Lusitania. Of the three the only one I really get is the Lusitania: to me, if you’re going to roll the best of the best for a given brand, it should be that brand’s flagship, which for Partagás is the Lusitania. The Siglo VI makes some sense for Cohiba, I suppose – while my Cohiba flag carrier will always be the Lanceros (or maybe the Espléndidos at a stretch), but I understand that it might be the Siglo VI as far as Habanos SA is concerned. Montecristo is a hard brand to pick a flagship for; you’ve got the A, which is their most expensive and impressive cigar, but is too big for even aficionados to smoke with much pleasure; you’ve got the Especiales No. 1, which is a beautiful, elegant thing, but I don’t think sells very well; you’ve got the Edmundo, but it only came out about five years ago… what else, the No. 1?

At any rate, it’s anything but the 2.

Perhaps they have no choice what Gran Reserva they roll? Perhaps the blenders say “no, no, this peerless tobacco is only suitable for Montecristo No. 2s.” I hope so. I hope in a few years they say “no, no, this peerless tobacco is only suitable for a Fonseca Cosacos.”

Montecristo No. 2 Gran Reserva Cosecha 2005 unlit

I’m joined this evening by my colleague Tybalt, and have issued him with a cigar to smoke alongside my Gran Reserva: a Montecristo No. 2, box code DEB OCT06. 2006 was the first year of Habanos’ new ageing policies – all leaf is aged for at least one year before rolling (certain varieties are aged for two and three years, but let’s not complicate things) – so a box date of October 2006, therefore, means that most of this tobacco comes from the 2005 harvest – cosecha 2005, if you will. The point is that these cigars are the same cigar, made of the same tobacco, aged for the same period of time (albeit one aged in a warehouse pre-rolling and one aged in a box after it). If any test can reveal whether or not the Gran Reserva is worth the premium, this is it.

And, to its credit, the Gran Reserva opens wonderfully, with notes of cream, and very, very smooth tobacco. We’re smoking outside, but the evening is perfectly still: both cigars lit effortlessly: we used separate matches, but could easily have shared one, as neither of us burnt more than a third of the wood.

We’re drinking a Grosset Pinot Noir 2002, which Tybalt informs me is a Very Good Wine. I’m not much of a wine aficionado, but judging this purely by the look of the label I’d put it in the $10 – 15 range. Tybalt takes a sip and grimaces, saying that it needs to breathe. He’s right: the opening nose is vinegar mixed with high fruit compost.

Montecristo No. 2 Gran Reserva Cosecha 2005 two thirds

An inch or so in we swap cigars for a few puffs, and, my main observation being that the regulation Monte 2 has a much tighter draw, I suggest to Tybalt that he take a few hairs’ breadth from the pyramid tip to open it up a bit. Flavour wise, the cigars are honestly on par; if anything the regular 2 is the more flavourful, if heavier on the tobacco. Tybalt describes it as “more sulphurous,” but I’m loath to pin such a loaded adjective on it as it really is an excellent cigar. Cedar predominates both, with a splash of cream and mild kidney bean.

We swap war stories for a while, and then, washing down a hearty guffaw with a drizzle of pinot down the back of my throat, I suddenly have what alcoholics refer to as a “moment of clarity”; it suddenly occurs to me that everything is excellent. The wine has opened like a lily to the light, a delicate, pungent fruit bowl that pays good compliment to the smooth, refined tobacco of the Gran Reserva. It’s sweet; earth, leather, coffee… the whole bag.

I spend a long moment absorbed in my screen writing this bullshit, and when I come to Tybalt suggests that I try both cigars again. I try the regulation 2 first, and am amazed at how good it is; a smooth, perfect 2. Next I try the Gran Reserva, and am shocked: it’s very good, but of the two, it is by far the rougher. I hem and haw a moment… this is the Gran Reserva, the hot tip to top the full ladder of Montecristo cigars that I’ll publish in a few weeks… how can I admit that a humble standard issue No. 2 is its better? As soon as I stammeringly articulate the thought Tybalt’s smirk betrays him: he has switched the bands on me. It’s a good test, that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is more to the Grand Reserva than the psychological bump from the fancy band, but it will sow a seed of doubt in me the rest of the evening, especially once we get down to the business end and the bands come off… am I smoking the cigar I think I’m smoking?

Montecristo No. 2 Gran Reserva Cosecha 2005 last inch

In the last few centimetres the regular No. 2 shows a quite a bit of tar, then the Reserva shows some, and then the tar dissipates from both. Neither cigar has required a relight or touch up, and they both get smoked till we burn our fingers.

The main problem with the Gran Reserva was the Monte 2 I put it up against. I don’t know what happened here – maybe 2005 really was a great year for Montecristo No. 2 tobacco – because this one was one of the very best I’ve ever encountered. The Reserva was better, don’t get me wrong, and if what you want is an absolutely flawless Montecristo No. 2 every time, then the Grand Reserva version is exactly what you should buy. If you were to shop around though, if you were to buy well reviewed box codes, and stock up during the good seasons… well, there are some flawless regular Monte 2s out there that don’t have the Reserva band, and there’s a lot of room for trial and error in that price margin. Also, when all is said and done, this is just a perfect Monte 2. If you have a little coin to drop and are looking for something that’s better than an average Monte 2, why not try a Cohiba?

All that said, I really don’t want to disparage the Monte 2 Gran Reserva at all; it is a flawless cigar that delivers everything that can be delivered within the scope of its responsibilities. It’s not the best cigar in the Montecristo line-up, but it’s in the top few, and it’s a lot better than a Monte 4.

Montecristo No. 2 Gran Reserva Cosecha 2005 nub

Montecristo No. 2 Gran Reserva Cosecha 2005 on the Cuban Cigar Website

Edmundo Dantes Conde 54 Edición Regional Mexico 2011

For the first release in Mexico’s regional program they created a truly interesting cigar in the Edmundo Dantes el Conde 109. It was from a new brand, Edmundo Dantes, a sort of faux-Montecristo created for the occasion, and had all the trimmings of that in its unique packaging; it was also a beautiful size, a 109, an old classic size from the distant past that is no longer present in any current production, recent examples existing only in the most exclusive of special production humidors (it has since appeared in a few other regional editions, but Mexico got it first). Based on this alone the collector’s market would have sold out as much as they could produce, but on top of everything it was also a great smoke.

So what of the sequel? How do you follow up a classic like the el Conde 109? Perhaps with something bold, like a Montecristo Culebras? Perhaps reach into the archive and bring back the Montecristo No. 7, something like that? No. For the second release in their regional program they chose to do another cigar from Edmundo Dantes, this time the Conde 54, a 54 x 164mm Sublime, a size that was invented in 2004 to fulfil what demand I can’t say, an by 2011 had already appeared in five regional editions and two limiteds.

Edmundo Dantes Conde 54 Edición Regional Mexico 2011 unlit

For reasons I’m not totally clear on, I’ve decided on this pleasant morning to hang up the hammock, and to subject myself to the unique set of physics problems one encounters when trying to balance a small fire, a full cocktail and a laptop (not to mention my ungainly frame) in a sack hanging between two trees. Access to additional rum and ginger beer are also important considerations: they’re on the ground next to me, at a height where reaching for them will take me right to the edge of my centre of gravity.

The cigar takes a while to light (I can’t keep everything steady enough), but once it’s going it begins very well, light tobacco over a gentle, herbal spice and alfalfa sprouts. Draw is a little modern (read loose) for my taste, but perfectly workable.

I used to associate at one point with a man named Job, a nine fingered deviant of the highest order, who would occasionally travel to Mexico on business. He told me that before each trip he would pack a large cleaver in the outer pocket of his checked baggage, withdrawing it immediately upon picking up his bag from the carousel. This, he said, was an important security measure that would give him enough of a weapon to get through the arrivals hall to meet his driver, who would offer him a gun before a handshake.

Job was in liquor, and perhaps the tequila factory towns that he frequented were more dangerous Mexico City, where I spent the entirety of my two visits to that country. I never felt in danger, staggering through the dimly lit streets, drunk as much on altitude as the 1L bottles of Corona I bought for less than a dollar at every 7-11. It’s definitely a dangerous city: cops carry automatic shotguns and wear bandoliers, whether they be on beat patrol or horseback riding lawmen in elaborate sombreros… but day to day? Violence on the streets? I don’t know, seemed safe enough to me.

Edmundo Dantes Conde 54 Edición Regional Mexico 2011 half smoked in a hammock

With the second half gone the cigar has become woody, not cedar, oak maybe. It’s definitely thicker, anyway, and there’s a little peaty whisky in there. I wish I could say that the predominant flavour in this cigar was chorizo and agave, but alas, much as the German regionals rarely evoke flavours of beer and sausage, the Mexican ones taste only of Cuba. I suppose the Swiss ones do occasionally have some chocolate.

The Lucha Libre, Mexico’s acrobatic masked wrestling code, is held at a colosseum in Mexico City. The cheap seats are in the dress circle, where a cyclone wire dome above the ring prevents the screaming fans from falling onto the mat below. The beer seller quickly clocked my friends and I as foreign party-boys out for a good time, and kept the five peso (50c) plastic cups of Sol in ready supply. My favourite wrestler was Mr. Mexico, who looked like Freddy Mercury in silver pants; I hoped that at the end he would be revealed as the President of Mexico performing a publicity stunt, and perhaps he was: my Spanish is mediocre at best, and my knowledge of Mexican politics even worse.

I remember that on the walk back to our hotel my friend observed that the streets were very dimly lit, and that the guidebooks had characterised this area as “rough.” He suggested that we had best be on our guard. I also remember that we stopped at a street vendor for chorizo tacos, and that those tacos were more or less the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten in my life. I’ve ordered chorizo tacos at every opportunity since then, but have never been able to recreate the experience.

Edmundo Dantes Conde 54 Edición Regional Mexico 2011 final third

In the final inch the nicotine begins to catch up with me, a slight wooziness and pain around the temples – one should never underestimate the amount of leaf getting burned in these fat boys. I also have a huge crick in my neck from trying to type in a hammock. It ends well, not nearly as bitter as I’d expect, with final notes of grass, wood, and a sweet herbal tang.

At the risk of drawing a very long bow, I’d say that like Mexico City, the Conde 54 is a safe cigar, and more or less indistinguishable from many similar regional editions (major metropolises). Perhaps it’s in the countryside that you find the real Mexico, the dangerous, beautiful, crazy Mexico; the El Conde 109 Mexico.

Overall the Conde 54 falls somewhere at the upper end of good, not as good as it’s predecessor, but better than a Monte 4, many of the collector’s humidors, and the more lacklustre LEs.

Edmundo Dantes Conde 54 Edición Regional Mexico 2011 nub

[Note on hammocks: I debated making this article entirely a blow by blow journal of things falling out of my hammock, but decided ultimately that writing about Mexico would be more interesting for the reader. Suffice to say that after I spilled my cocktail on my crotch for the third time, I went and dragged over a seat on which to rest my various apparatus. From there, the following steps repeated ad nauseam:

1)      The cigar would blow off the seat where it was resting.

2)      I’d lean over to get the cigar, and the cushion that was doing a very lacklustre job of preventing neck pain while using the laptop would fall out.

3)      I’d pick up the cigar and place it on the bench, then go for the cushion.

4)      While dusting off the cushion, the hammock would start swinging, and I’d knock the cigar back onto the ground.

An ashtray really would have helped. You don’t even want to know the process involved in balancing the cigar on the edge of the hammock for the photos.]

Edmundo Dantes Conde 54 Edición Regional Mexico 2011 on the Cuban Cigar Website

Edmundo Dantes El Conde 109 Edición Regional Mexico 2007

Mid-May, readers, and I’m exactly where I was four months ago: the Groom compound, shirtless with a dark and stormy. What a summer! (For the foreigners, shirtlessness in Melbourne typically ends in March, or at the absolute latest, with Daylight Savings in April). Today I’m smoking an Edmundo Dantes el Conde 109, a cigar regular readers may recall from earlier in the season. That one was an unbanded single, an Edmundo Dantes only in my mind; this is the real deal. Will my hypothesis hold up?

Edmundo Dantes El Conde 109 Edición Regional Mexico 2007

The opening photo from that issue showed the Dantes on a table, wet and glistening in the sun. Nobody enquired as to why my cigar might be wet, but nonetheless I’m about to tell you: my name is A. T. Groom, and I am a rinser.

The rinsing technique did the rounds of the cigar aficionado community a few years ago, and we divided pretty firmly along the lines of ‘people who’ve tried it and sort of believe in it’ and ‘people who thought it was a joke.’ I’m not sure who started it, but it got a big boost when Min Ron Nee, the author of the definitive work of Cuban cigar aficionadoism, An Encyclopaedia of Post-Revolution Cuban Cigars, came down firmly in favour (so much so that since then it is usually referred to as “Min Ron Nee’s Rinsing Technique”, even though he is plainly not the progenitor) . The technique involves running the cigar head first under a tap for a few moments immediately before lighting. The oils in the wrapper repel most of the water, but that last minute dose of moisture supposedly helps the cigar burn cooler and more evenly throughout. I haven’t been too scientific about it, but I can confidently say that if it doesn’t help it at least does no harm. Well, not much harm: if you handle it roughly while it’s wet the wrappers are a bit prone to tearing, but that’s on you. At any rate, rinsing is fun, and while I don’t do it with every smoke, I do do it when it’s convenient and when I remember. I did it with that cigar, and I did it with this one.

The Dantes begins excellently, low-medium tobacco with a hint of spice and cream. Throughout the first inch the cream grows, and although it never quite reaches the velvety decadence of the possible Dantes 109, it is nonetheless excellent. There is a very strong sweet undertaste that is just delicious. Reminds me of a pavlova, a sweet mess of sugar and cream. And, y’know, fire and tar and whatnot.

Edmundo Dantes El Conde 109 Edición Regional Mexico 2007 a bit less than half smoked

Now that I think about it, I nearly discovered the rising technique by accident six or so years ago when I was smoking a Monte 4 in a Jacuzzi and the cigar fell from my lips during a particularly uproarious guffaw. I fished it out immediately and was surprised to discover that the cigar was still lit, and appeared to have suffered no damage from the experience. It had also had enough heat in it to singe my chest hair underwater. I didn’t think to note whether or not the flavour was improved post-dunking, but in retrospect I’m sure that it was.

Into the second half the draw tightens considerably and grows a bit tar flavoured  although I’ve no idea how that’s possible. The tightness of a cigar’s draw is a product of its construction: how tight the leaves are rolled together, and how much smoke can pass between them. I don’t see any way that a cigar can grow tighter as it burns – if anything it should grow looser as the tightly bound portions are combusted – and yet this one has. The only solution I can offer is that perhaps only a portion of the cigar is burning, and I am having to puff harder to fan the smaller coal, although upon inspection that does not appear to be the case.

Curious, I take to the business end fairly vigorously with the bottom of the lighter, scraping out a lot of ash and messing the thing right up, but not finding a coal. The leaves are blackened, but not on fire. Is it smouldering? Although smoke still draws, I apply some flame, which improves things a little, although not as much as I’d hope. Perhaps the breeze is bothering it, or perhaps the proximity of the heat caused something lower in the cigar to expand, and tighten the draw.

Edmundo Dantes El Conde 109 Edición Regional Mexico 2007 final inch

For a fleeting moment I wonder if perhaps the rinsing technique is the source of my troubles. Surely not. In the final third the cream has gone, and with it much of the sweetness. The flavour at this stage is a broad bitter coffee.

Whatever ever else has resulted, my physical abuse of the nub has removed a good deal of tar from the business inch, and the cigar ends quite lightly, bittersweet, with a murmur of cream and coffee.

This Edmundo Dantes was not nearly as good as the last one, although the flavour profile was similar enough that I’m willing to conclude that they were the same cigar, and chalk the differences up to storage, climate, mood, variation within boxes, how long before rolling the dusky torcedora had washed her hands, what I had for breakfast and so on.

It’s a good cigar: not the classic it can be when it’s on, but nonetheless excellent. Better than a Monte 4 and a great deal else, sitting somewhere at the upper end of the middle echelon.

Edmundo Dantes El Conde 109 Edición Regional Mexico 2007 nub

Edmundo Dantes El Conde 109 Edición Regional Mexico 2007 on the Cuban Cigar Website

Montecristo Double Corona Edición Limitada 2001

It’s a slightly overcast Saturday, and, wandering down a local bike path that runs between the freeway sound wall and an urban drainage canal, I find myself in a pleasant little glade of pine trees, not so unlike the fens and spinneys of my youth. The central feature of the glade is a fallen tree – so perfect a seat that one suspects it was felled specifically for the purpose. Either way, it’s just the place to sit, to watch the cyclists, to enjoy a sly beer, and to smoke a Montecristo Double Corona, Edición Limitada 2001.

Montecristo Double Corona Edición Limitada 2001 unlit

It’s a lovely looking thing this double corona, with the classic dark EL wrapper. This came out in only the second year of the EL program, and the Cubans still hadn’t quite decided what they were doing yet: there were five cigars that year, and this isn’t even the big one! Unlike the previous year, there is a number on this band, although it’s not embossed. Like most aficionados I lament the changes the last decade has brought to the Cuban cigar industry; whenever there is a band change like the one Montecristo will undergo this year (they’re making the fleur-de-lys gold) my voice is among the many saying “no, don’t tamper with a classic, Cuba lives and dies on its heritage,” but I will concede that these faded, thin, non-embossed, badly printed bands do feel very insubstantial when compared to their modern equivalents. Of course, that’s entirely the charm, the idea that your luxury cigars are a product of a shambolic command economy, but I will concede that the packaging of modern Cubans is better, if less charming.

I slice the cap and light it. The double corona has a real Cuban draw, tight and cool, and presents a wonderful elegance from the start, with a strong note of cedar and the slightest hint of coffee. Its age is very evident in the mildness of the tobacco throughout the first inch or so.

Montecristo Double Corona Edición Limitada 2001 one quarter smoked

There was a period when I was a teenager and this drainage canal was equidistant from my house and the houses of three of my closest friends, and as it had the additional advantage of being dark and fairly private, we used to come down here from time to time to drink beers and get high. I have memories of cruising police officers occasionally shining their torches on us in the night, shouting across the water, demanding to know what we were doing and telling us to move along, although as the road only runs along one side, and that side was invariably not the side we were on, and the bridges are few and far between, their threats were largely impotent. I used to use the canal as a thoroughfare, too, when traveling home from my friend’s houses, and in that I encountered the same problem as the police: a lack of bridges. The width of the waterway at its narrowest point fluctuates between one and three meters across (dependent on how recently it has rained). When at its nadir the distance represented no challenge to a champion hurdler like me, and when at its zenith I knew not to test it, and would make the lengthy detour to the footbridge. It was when it was in about the middle, one and a half to two meters, that I got myself into trouble. The problem was not so much the distance – I was pretty good at gauging the length of my own leap – but that if the water was falling rather than rising it would have left a slippery sheen of invisible slime on the concrete of either bank, something I invariably failed to anticipate (remember I was usually undertaking this trek while at least mildly [and often heavily] inebriated). More than once I went to leap only to find my footing disappear from under me, and more than once I found myself waist deep in that foetid, slimy water. I’d have to hose myself off in the garden before going in the house. I ruined more than one pair of shoes.

Montecristo Double Corona Edición Limitada 2001 half smoked

After the halfway point the cigar shows some bitterness and a hint of the dark chocolate and coffee found in the C and D, although this cigar is much more refine and pleasant than either of those. The tobacco is thickening a little but is still very light. The ash is a lovely white, and, had I left it unmolested, I think it probably would have held for the entire length of the thing (although I value my pants too much to try).

My friends and I never used to come down as far as this glade, and I can’t imagine the rozzers doing it now, but nonetheless, discretion is the better part of valour and I’m keeping my beers concealed behind the log. They’re two beers from the Japanese Hitachino brewery, one a heavy and bitter espresso stout, the other a ginger infused ale. Neither is particularly good (or tastes particularly strongly of either ginger or espresso), but they both exhibit a similar sort of vaguely bitter, vaguely coffee, mild sort of taste that complements, or at least matches the Double Corona. A cyclist inspects me on my log with my beer and cigar and comments “very nice” as he zooms by.

As always, when six inches of tar have accumulated in the final one, the cigar becomes very bitter, real heavy 95% cocoa chocolate stuff; unpleasant, but in an enjoyable kind of way. The burn has been impeccable the entire length, requiring nary a touch up nor a relight.

The interesting thing to me about the Double Corona is how similar its flavour pallet is to the C and D, and how distinct those are from the Robustos and the later ELs. I’ve seen this cigar brought up as an example of how the early ELs are not aging well, but it’s not that; what it is evidence of is that the early ELs need a lot of age. The C and D are both mediocre at the moment, but I think with another few years they could be as good as this cigar, and with a few years to iron out its kinks, this cigar could be something amazing.

At present it’s better than a Monte 4, and a good deal of the rest of the field.

Montecristo Double Corona Edición Limitada 2001 unlit

Montecristo Double Corona Edición Limitada 2001 on the Cuban Cigar Website

Montecristo Double Corona Réplica de Humidor Antiguo

The Replica Antique Humidor series is an annual release of a few hundred humidors: one brand per year; fifty cigars in each box. The cigars are generally large, a trophy smoke, but nothing too spectacular: normally it’s a repeat of something that appeared a few years prior in an LE or commemorative humidor. The humidors themselves are always very beautiful, classically styled things, supposedly modelled on ancient humidors, although the provenance of these has never been explained to my satisfaction. Are they custom humidors from private collections? Old special releases? I’ve wandered around the Tobacco Museum in Havana, I don’t recall seeing an old humidor and thinking “that looks just like a replica antique!” I like to think that there’s a humidor sleuth, travelling the garage sales of the world, looking for a particularly choice old box to bring back and copy.

I often think that the market for these things is people who want to buy themselves a nice humidor rather than cigar collectors. As releases they’re not that significant, but the humidors are beautiful. I’ve had the pleasure of inspecting a few firsthand: exquisite marquetry. Set fire to those pesky double coronas and you’d have yourself a very nice desktop.

Montecristo Double Corona Réplica de Humidor Antiguo unlit

I set fire to the pesky double corona, and find the draw on the firm side but very acceptable. It opens mildly, dry paperbark tree over light tobacco, a hint of earth and dusty haylofts.

I’ve mixed myself a rough mojito; a few leaves of mint from the garden (placed in a palm and heartily slapped – releases the menthol), a spoonful of sugar, and a few chunks of old fridge-dried lemon (I didn’t have any limes or even fresh lemons), macerated together, then topped off with a free poured slug of rum and about twice as much soda. It’s surprisingly not bad. Not bad at all.

The rum in question is a cheap Cuban rum that appeared in Australian markets with the rum boom of the last few years, named for Santiago de Cuba, an industrial shithole on the opposite end of the island to Havana. When travelling in Cuba I tracked the price (and mainly subsisted on) Cuban ‘pizza,’* and found that it decreased linearly the further I got from the tourist towns. Nowhere was it cheaper than in Santiago de Cuba.

Santiago de Cuba was once the seat of the Bacardi Empire – there’s a Bacardi museum there, and a statue of their patriarch, and I think I saw the old family home. On the waterfront is the old Bacardi rum factory, atop the pinnacle of which is a giant bottle, visible from all over town. The factories have been nationalised, of course, and I had always assumed that they were making Havana Club in there; Havana Club, after all, seemed to be the national rum, and what else would they produce in their nationalised rum factories? I realise now that that assumption was incorrect. I realise now that they were producing Santiago de Cuba.

Montecristo Double Corona Réplica de Humidor Antiguo one third consumed, with Santiago rum

In the middle the cigar has thickened up into heavy tobacco, bit of tar. Bitter coffee is certainly present, and some note of vanilla.

It was Saint Valentine’s Day the day I first set foot in Santiago de Cuba – I was having dinner with a male friend, and I remember that we’d remarked on the date in passing (he’d mentioned trying to call his girlfriend back home later on when the time zones were right). Unlike Havana, Santiago doesn’t get a steady trade of tourists, and English speaking private restaurants are few and far between, and rather than seek one out we decided just to take the easy way out and dine at the main tourist hotel, a beautiful old place on top of the hill.

The waiter was overjoyed to see us, and ushered us into an intimate little dining room where he seated us at a lace covered corner table, a single rose between us. We ordered a bottle of red and two steaks, and while we waited the entertainment came over, two elderly Cuban men, one with a violin, who serenaded us with Spanish love songs. The wine that arrived was a good deal sweater than we’d anticipated, and a perfect pale rose pink, and was served in very dainty glasses, and the steak, when it came, had suffered the unfortunate Cuban treatment of being battered with cheese and ham. The other treatment the steaks had received was slightly less usual: they had been cut into love hearts. We ate quickly and quietly, and summoned the bill as soon as the last morsel had been swallowed, but the waiter wouldn’t bring it. Dessert, he told us, was on the house. One slice of cheesecake. Two spoons.

Montecristo Double Corona Réplica de Humidor Antiguo one third remaining

We quickly skulked away after dinner, down the hill and into the dimly lit streets, looking furtively for somewhere where we wouldn’t look quite so much like a homosexual couple on a special Valentines date. We followed the sound of music and voices to a dank little low ceiling club, where the kids were smoking unfiltered cigarettes and grinding against one another. It would do. “Dos mojito, por favour.”

The bartender was sceptical of my convertible pesos, but eventually we reached an accommodation and two mojitos arrived, served in old jam jars. They were rough mojitos, free poured, with old limes, undissolved sugar, flat soda and too much rum. They were surprisingly not bad. Not bad at all. A lot like my mojito today.

Maybe it’s the rum.

The double corona is a good cigar, but in the field of Montecristo super exotics there is little to distinguish it. The tobacco is obviously first class, and it presents a good Montecristo profile, but there’s not a lot to distinguish it in either direction. It’s better than a Monte 4, and the C, and D, and the others that I had problems with, but it’s not up there with the greats like the Maravillas No. 1 or the Edmundo Dantes.

Montecristo Double Corona Réplica de Humidor Antiguo nub and ashes

*Allegedly, Fidel Castro’s favourite foods are pizza, ice-cream and Coca-Cola, a facsimile of all of which is universally available on the island. The Coca-Cola equivalent is Tu Cola (English: Your Cola), and tastes kind of like Pepsi Max; the ice-cream is sort of watery soft serve (I only had one, it tasted like rose water); and the pizza is a thick, doughy slice of bread with melted cheese on top. Very occasionally you find it offered with ham or some other additional topping at a higher price. The standard procedure is to fold the slice in half and pour about a cup of scalding hot cheese oil from the fold before eating; you usually burn your mouth anyway, but it helps. Prices ranged from twenty five local pesos in Havana (one euro, approximately), to five pesos in Santiago de Cuba.

Montecristo Double Corona Réplica de Humidor Antiguo on the Cuban Cigar Website