Partagás Selección Privada Edición Limitada 2014

Of the three brand retrospectives that have composed the majority of the harem, my sophomore effort was by far the weakest. At the time of writing fully seven Partagás cigars were missing, and for the most part the absentees weren’t even that exotic: I could have obtained at least a few of them by walking into a local brick and mortar retailer and handing over some folding cash. The list was incomplete mainly because I was lazy, and for that I apologise. As a small contrition today I offer you the Partagás Selección Privada, Edición Limitada 2014. There is a case to be made that it’s too early to smoke a cigar like this. Havanas used to ship with a note that said they should be smoked either immediately or after at least a year, and much has been written about sick periods, acclimatization times and so on. Then again, much has also been written about how modern limited editions are designed to be smoked straight off the boat, and don’t age as well as the old ones did. When all is said and done these cigars are less than a year old and still widely available: if I decide it hasn’t reached its potential I can always walk into a store and buy another one.

Partagás Selección Privada Edición Limitada 2014 unlit


I light the cigar and it begins very well, light and creamy with a strong bean note, cocoa and coffee. After a centimetre or so it becomes peaty – wet earth and charcoal. When I’m down at the compound I will often have a fire in the evening and leave it to burn itself out overnight. In the morning the fire pit will contain nothing but snow white ash but will still be hot, and if I throw a few sticks on it it will immediately begin to smoulder again. If I’m staying another night I will use the heat to cook my lunch, but if not I will usually get a hose and a shovel and water the coals as I turn them. Great clouds of steam billow up, and a very specific scent fills the air; the scent I am getting from this cigar. All the best things trigger sense memories.

I like oysters for precisely the same reason. There’s nothing inherently pleasant about them: it’s tricky and undignified slurping them off the shell, and the slimy yet chewy corpuscular texture is nothing to write home about (a very shady Russian ‘businessman’ I shared a few shots with in a Japanese coastal resort one night once told me that he liked to see people eating raw oysters because “anyone who can swallow a raw oyster can swallow a condom full of heroin,” a piece of street knowledge I’ve retained but never had cause to use). The taste, though, is precisely the melange of dead birds, seaweed, and salt that I used to smell on the beaches of my childhood as I poked around the rock pools at the bases of the Mornington Peninsula’s sandstone cliffs.

Partagás Selección Privada Edición Limitada 2014 lightly consumed

At the mid-point the cigar is much the same as it was an inch in: a deeply earthy, rich and creamy smoke. Tar, tobacco and nicotine are all very light. Some might regard this lack of a change in flavour as a negative, but the one note is a deeply complex and enjoyable one, so I’m not too bothered. A really first rate smoke.

At one point in my life I had the misfortune to find myself in a mussel eating contest. It was Australia Day, my nation’s national holiday, which falls at the height of our summer. Like many Australia Days it was stinking hot, 45 degrees in the shade, and I was at an outdoor beer café with my friends. It was a big venue that took up about a quarter of a city block, and maybe 500 people were crammed into the place. The trestle tables with the umbrellas were long gone by the time we got there, as were the premium spots under the trees, so my friends and I sprawled out with the unwashed masses on blue tarpaulins in the full gaze of the sun. Some radio station or other was running a stage and, in between musical acts and banter from the disc jockeys, the feature entertainment of the day was the mussel eating contest. There were to be six heats in all, with six contestants per heat, the winner of each heat getting a small prize and an entry in the final to compete for the grand prize of a $1,000 bar tab. It was heat four by the time the leggy blonde with the clipboard arrived at our tarp to see if anyone wanted in, and with four beers inside me I couldn’t resist her sales-model charms. Ten minutes later I was on the stage.

It didn’t seem so bad at first. We were each given a bowl with fifty mussels in a brine soup: the first person to finish was the winner. “I’ve eaten things before” I thought to myself. “Matter of fact, I’ve been doing it for years. How hard can it be?”

I was about ten shellfish in when the commentator made a derogatory comment about my speed, and I glanced up to see how the others were doing. It quickly became clear that they wanted it more. To win a mussel eating contest you really have to put your body on the line: my opponents on either side of me both had chins ripped raw from slurping the creatures directly off the shells, and were way ahead of me with my comparatively dainty technique of plucking each one out with my fingers. From then on I was only in it for the lunch, and by the time I finished the prizes were already being awarded. I was placed a notional fourth, only because fifth and sixth couldn’t get through their bowl.

It was some hours and numerous pints later, and the place had cleared out considerably when I heard my name being called over the PA system. I wandered over to the stage to see what was up, and the leggy blonde informed me that the top three placers from my heat had gone home and I had made the final. My stomach churned at the thought, but my blood alcohol level and her very white teeth got the better of it, and yet again I found myself on the stage with fifty mussels before me. As the disc jockey gave his spiel I checked out my opponents: none of them looked like they wanted to be here. “Alright, Groom” I thought, “this is it. You don’t deserve this opportunity, but fate has given it to you. Now is the time to shine. Now it the time to put your body on the line. A few scratches on your chin will heal, but $1,000 is a big deal. You’ll be a hero to your friends. You’ll see your enemies driven before you. This is it. Do or die. Step up.”

I got about fifteen mussels in before I threw up and the bouncers tossed me out.

Partagás Selección Privada Edición Limitada 2014 heavily consumed

By the last inch and a half of the Selección Privada I’m spitting occasionally and have cracked open a beer to wash the tar away a bit. It’s not terrible, but is a full nicotine and tar bomb. Peat bog would be the only flavour note I could nominate. I purge it vigorously enough that the wrapper splits, which works to some extent, getting rid of most of the tar and leaving a toasty sort of flavour. Slightly burnt wholemeal. Perhaps a sign of its youth, the cigar has had burn issues throughout: although it has been very sharp and straight, it has required four or five relights.

Right now this is a very good cigar. It might be better in a year, but I wouldn’t wait five. Sits below the anniversary cigars but above most of the other ELs in the Partagás lineup.

Partagás Selección Privada Edición Limitada 2014 nub

Partagás Selección Privada Edición Limitada 2014 on the Cuban Cigar Website.

H. Upmann Roundup

The below list, ranked in order from best to worst, comprises the definitive, essential guide to exotic and limited H. Upmann cigars. One note: compared to my Partagás and my Montecristo roundups, this Upmann one covers a much narrower field. The highly ranked cigars are excellent, but not life changing; the lowly ones are mediocre, but not disgusting.

  1. H. Upmann Magnum 48 Edición Limitada 2009
  2. H. Upmann Robustos Edición Limitada 2012
  3. H. Upmann Noellas La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2009
  4. H. Upmann Robustos 520 Aniversario
  5. H. Upmann No. 2 Reserva Cosecha 2010
  6. H. Upmann Sir Winston
  7. H. Upmann Royal Robusto La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2011
  8. H. Upmann Tacos Imperiales Réplica de Humidor Antiguo 2006
  9. H. Upmann Monarcas
  10. H. Upmann Travel Humidor Robusto
  11. H. Upmann Connossieur A Habanos Specialist Exclusive 2013
  12. H. Upmann Connoisseur No. 1
  13. H. Upmann Magnum 50
  14. H. Upmann Connoisseur No. 1 160th Aniversario Humidor
  15. H. Upmann No. 2 160th Anniversary Humidor
  16. H. Upmann Prominentes 160th Aniversario Humidor
  17. H. Upmann Petite Coronas
  18. H. Upmann Magnum Especiales Colección Habanos 2007*

The only notable absentee from this list at time of writing is the Magnum 50, Edición Limitada 2005. It, along with the as yet unreleased Butifarra, will be added just as soon as I can lay my hands on them. On that note, the exotic fires described in Dusky Beauties are made possible entirely by the generosity of the collectors who contribute them: they have my eternal gratitude. If you would like to contribute something yourself, please reach out.

*although in fairness, I think my example may have been contaminated.

H. Upmann logo

H. Upmann Connoisseur No. 1

And so we end where we really should have begun: with the H. Upmann Connoisseur No. 1.

Many moons ago when I began my Upmann chronicles I lamented my inability to find a Connie 1. As the cigar you most often hear talked about by cigar aficionados, I think of it as the consensus building Upmann, and presumed that were I to run a simple query of the holdings of the members of the cigar encyclopaedia I edit, the Connie 1 would be by far the most widely held Upmann. As it turns out however, I was mistaken: the honour goes to the H. Upmann Half Corona (at 8th overall), followed closely by the Magnum 46 (9th); even the Royal Robusto (22nd), an exotic cigar, outranks the humble Connie 1 (25th).

I didn’t seek the Connie 1 out after that first fateful day, content to run with what I had and keep the mediocre Petite Corona (a miserable 81st) as my comparison point, but as it turned out a Connie 1 found me. I was at a herf, a small gathering of friends and brothers in the leaf when, as often happens at these events, everyone started handing out cigars. I’m not sure who handed this one to me, but whoever you are: thank you. The afternoon is sunny and I’m in the courtyard with a friend, a few beers and a mostly full bottle of mid-range blended scotch, an environment where the Connie 1 is sure to thrive.

H. Upmann Connoisseur No. 1 unlit

The cigar is a little hot on the light, and feels a bit dry. I neglected to give this one a rinse before smoking, which I think might have helped it. I puff enough to make sure it’s fully lit, and then let it sit awhile. When I return the cigar has mellowed out to a light tobacco with barnyard notes and a herbal tang.  At this early stage it has all the makings of a very pleasant casual smoke.

The whisky of the day is Johnny Walker Gold Label, a drop I’ve had both more and less than my fair share of over the years. In Japan Gold costs less than Black Label does in Australia, and I used to drink a ton of the stuff in the time I lived there. My apartment in China had a feature wall that was boldly decorated with a swirling pattern of red paint and gold leaf, and to complement it I maintained a bar of only red and gold labelled bottles, in which Johnny Gold figured heavily. It’s not a great scotch, but it is a very easy scotch: not very challenging, but it goes down quietly. A little like the Connie 1, come to think of it.

In Australia Gold Label is too expensive to buy casually. If I want a nice scotch then my coin is better spent on an interesting single malt, and if I want to put scotch inside of my coke at the movies then the Red Label will do just fine. On rare occasion though I will bring a bottle back through duty free, and it was such a bottle that many years ago figured in the crime.

Throughout my teens and early twenties, I was blessed with the two key elements for the youthful party host: a large house and parents who went away a lot. I’ve never quite understood my parents’ thinking in their renovation schemes; they are barely drinkers, and have little interest in entertaining. Over the thirty years they’ve owned their home I can think of maybe five occasions when they hosted a gathering of more than ten people there, and yet, over the years they have consistently and methodically renovated a ramshackle, pokey mess of a place into a party palace. The house today has huge, open rooms, two big enough for dance floors, and a large billiard room complete with a bar, wood panelling, and bench seats set into the walls. The big rooms are at the back of the house, far from the street and the neighbours’ bedrooms, so nobody ever complains about the noise. At the front of the house there are many small nooks, intimate spaces with couches and beds where people can slip away to. Outside there is a big area with tables that can be covered in summer and heated in winter. There is a spa for goodness sake! Suffice to say, the bacchanals of my late teens were legendary.

H. Upmann Connoisseur No. 1 two thirds

I was about twenty two on the night of the crime, and was burning the party card pretty hard, throwing at least ten a year. Perhaps because of this, enthusiasm for my elaborate themes was waning, and attendance had dropped considerably from the days when I could expect at least a hundred guests at any bash I threw. The night in question was in the middle of winter, cold and wet, and just sixteen guests showed up, all of them close friends. I had recently returned from Singapore, and so my already substantial bar had been bolstered by the booty of duty free, one bottle of Glenfiddich 21, and my first ever bottle of Johnny Walker Gold. I stashed the whisky in the oven, my traditional hiding place for the good stuff, the theory being that I could point those I considered worthy in the right direction, but that the hoi polloi could content themselves with the plentiful cheap booze that had been laid out, and not pour my $100 scotch into their glasses of coke. By the night in question the scheme was compromised somewhat as most of my intimates already knew about the hiding place, but I didn’t fret it: “once worthy, forever worthy” I decreed.

Like most good parties, my memory of the morning after is clearer than the night before. I was going about my usual ritual, collecting the bottles that were scattered around my house, when I came upon the first offence: the bottle of Glenfiddich 21 on the floor in the library, half empty. I snorted in disgust at the presumption, but let it go. A little while later I was in the billiard room where, on the bar, I discovered a far greater crime. My father had, years before, inherited a large collection of old wine from my great uncle. It had been kept without much care in a damp garage, and much of it had spoiled, but he had hung onto a few bottles anyway, including the bottle of 1970 Penfold’s Grange that now sat, open on the bar. It was two thirds full, and the remains of the cork were floating on the top of the liquid, having been pushed into the bottle. I sniffed it: pure vinegar. I was sure my father would never notice – to him they were just a few old, mouldy bottles, but still… the presumption! The final crime I didn’t discover until the clean-up was complete: the bottle of Johnny Gold, unopened at the start of the evening, was gone. No empty bottle. No box. Nothing. A straight up abduction.

That afternoon I fired off a furious email to the sixteen attendees, outlining the offences. Eight replied with denials. There were no confessions. Had it been one of my regular bacchanals I wouldn’t have given it a second thought, but this was not: each of the sixteen guests was an intimate friend, and many of them remain so. Over the intervening decade I have eyed every bottle of Johnny Gold that they have produced with great suspicion, but I am still no closer to an answer than I was that first morning; the thief, the vandal, the wolf: they walk among us still!

H. Upmann Connoisseur No. 1 final inch

My friend catches me inspecting the bottle of Johnny Gold he has brought for us, looking for a mark that would indicate its date of manufacture, and knowing the story well, he winks at me. “Nah mate,” he says, “I filed off the VIN.”

The Connoisseur No. 1 ends extremely well with no tar and a lighter tobacco note than it has had at any point before. It’s not the richest smoke in the world, but it isn’t supposed to be, and is fantastic for it. I always smoke faster when I’m talking, and I demolished this one in less than 45 minutes. Generally the faster you smoke a cigar the hotter it burns and the worse it is, but this one did not suffer at all for the brevity; it was better, say, than the 160th Anniversary version of the same thing that took me at least twice as long. A great, business like smoke. Better than the Petite Coronas.

H. Upmann Connoisseur No. 1 nub

H. Upmann Connoisseur No. 1 on the Cuban Cigar Website.

H. Upmann Sir Winston

And so we come to the Sir Winston.

There are only about six famous cigar smokers in history (seven if you count Bill Clinton, although his tobacco habit is more infamous than famous), and of them none more so than Sir Winston Churchill.

Cuba’s contribution to the Second World War involved the sinking of one U-Boat, the execution of one bumbling spy, arming Ernest Hemmingway’s fishing sloop and, most importantly, sending the British Prime Minister case upon case of cigars. The most famous is Romeo y Julieta, but almost every factory offered Churchill a similar deal: an unlimited supply of gratis custom cigars as a small token of thanks to the leader of the free world. After the war many of these brands released Churchill’s customs to the general public, and at one time Romeo, Bolivar, Hoyo de Monterrey, Saint Luis Rey, Partagás, Punch and H. Upmann all had a cigar named after him, and the Julieta No. 2, the vitola that he preferred, and of which nearly every marque has a representative, became forever known as the Churchill.

All of which seems a bit excessive to me, as by all accounts he smoked ten cigars a day and dipped them all in cognac, a perfectly good way to ruin any nuance that fine tobacco might possess.

H. Upmann Sir Winston unlit

The H. Upmann Sir Winston is the flagship of the Upmann line. It comes in a substantial box, especially designed for aging, and commands a higher price than its colleagues for its allegedly superior tobacco. This particular example is about fifteen years old: not quite the twenty that the Min Ron Nee encyclopaedia recommends for the cigar to reveal its full character, but well beyond the minimum eight.

The cigar begins badly: for the first few puffs it is bitter, the sting of my botched light leaving it hot with a chemical note. Once the initial heat fades I would expect an Upmann this old, especially a Sir Winston, to become mild, but it doesn’t at all. Once it settles down it is dark and brooding, medium strength tobacco and earth notes. Strong coffee. Cocoa. Floral on the aftertaste. Fantastic.

There’s an olive grove that sits on a hill an hour or so out of Melbourne, and I am vaguely acquainted with its owner, Samwise. He’s seventy five or so now, with three divorces and two strokes under his belt, and his faculties aren’t what they used to be. His estate is large and very beautiful, with the long, straight lines of the groves sweeping down from the house to the lake far below, and he rules it like something of a demented king. Once I enquired about the trap on his porch, a steel cage big enough for a lion, baited with a hefty chunk of steak. “It’s for the neighbour’s cat” he told me. “If I catch him I will shoot him.”

Samwise is a true epicurean, who maintains a full bar, a comprehensive wine cellar, and can casually throw together a feast in a matter of minutes, but it is in his humidor that our interests primarily intersect. I have great fondness of our time together, long evenings looking out over the valley with the leaf, him sharing the tales of his lifetime of adventures, and me sharing mine of the imprudence of youth. It is bittersweet, however, as his decline is plainly visible: his stories ramble or trail off, or repeat themselves, and sometimes his jokes don’t make a lot of sense.

There is, however, one sure fire way to get old Samwise back to the top of his game: introduce the scent of a woman.

H. Upmann Sir Winston somewhat smoked.

At the mid-point the cigar has weakened, light herbaceous tobacco with an aromatic, hoppy aftertaste. It is very pleasant.

Samwise is always at his best around women, if your version of best is a quick witted, flirtatious letch. Once I watched him spruiking his olive oil at a farmer’s market, proclaiming it as the oil of a thousand uses. A middle aged woman enquired as to what they might be, and when she looked put off by his first suggestion of “massage oil” he simply winked and said “well, if you don’t like that one I’d better not tell you the rest.”

My favourite moment came as we enjoyed some cigars (for the sake of cohesiveness let’s say they were Sir Winstons) outside a café in town. The waitress was in her early twenties, blonde haired and blue eyed, with that freshly scrubbed country charm. “That smells great,” she said, as she cleared away our coffee cups. “Is it a good one?” Samwise grinned. “Yes, yes, it’s the best” he said. “I got it from Bill Clinton.” The smile falling from his face, he looked at her intently. “Would you like to try it?”

The girl turned beet red, and giggled nervously, and stood before us for fifteen seconds or so. Searching for a retort but not finding one, she turned and went back inside, giggle all the way. I congratulated Samwise on his joke, and he looked at me seriously. “Did you see her reaction?” he said. “I think she is in love with me.” A guy brought out our cheque.

H. Upmann Sir Winston final third

Throughout the last half the cigar has been growing steadily thicker, and with a third left it has a heavy, smoky note that borders on tar. It feels a little ridiculous to say that a burning leaf tastes like smoke, and then to opine that one kind of smoke is superior to another, but that’s exactly what I propose to do. This is smoky in the same way that Highland scotch is smoky: there is a hint of charcoal, of iodine, and of long dead monsters. It is an acquired taste, but I have acquired it. It does not taste like a tire fire.

In the last inch or so it does begin to taste like a tire fire: it is bitter, with ash and tar, although not unreasonably so for a two and a half hour cigar. The lingering aftertaste is straw and oats. It is notable that I have had two cold beers in my bag this entire time, and never felt a need to touch them.

The real cigar to compare this one to is not the H. Upmann Petite Coronas, but rather the Romeo y Julieta Churchills that I smoked last year. Both cigars are exactly the same size and of a similar vintage, have been kept in similar conditions, and were combusted in a similar way. The difference between them, however, is night and day. Where the Romeo was bland and papery, the Sir Winston is punchy, rich, and anything but tasteless. The Upmann wins.

H. Upmann Sir Winston. Lives up to the hype.

H. Upmann Sir Winston nub

H. Upmann Sir Winston on the Cuban Cigar Website

H. Upmann Tacos Imperiales Réplica de Humidor Antiguo 2006

The first half of the Dusky Beauties season is always a lot of fun; the days are warm, the nights are long, and I have the full spectrum of whatever series I’m working on before me and can pick whatever suits me most at the moment of combustion. When I begin publishing in January I have a hefty buffer of completed articles ready to go, and so for the first few months there is no pressure to write each week; if the weather doesn’t comply, or if I’m busy, or just don’t feel like it, I can always run one of the buffer. The second half of the season is miserable. The only cigars that remain are the ones I never had time for before and, my buffer exhausted, I have to find the time to smoke no matter what the weather. Inevitably I wind up spending four hours a week wedged into some nook, sheltering from the driving rain while I choke back a Salomones II.

This afternoon seemed sunny, and as sunny days are an increasingly scarce commodity in Melbourne this time of year, I thought I’d get the H. Upmann Colección Habanos Magnum Especial review out of the way. It’s one I’ve been nervously anticipating, as I reviewed it last year with the rest of the Colección Habanos and it was garbage. Would a second example be the same, or was that one somehow contaminated? I pulled the cigar from my exotic singles humidor, headed down to a nearby park, photographed it, rinsed it, cut it, and was just applying the first flame when I observed that the cigar had a ring gage of at most 50, practically a Lanceros by Colección Habanos standards. Of course, I had made my first mistake: it was not the Magnum Especial at all, but rather, the Tacos Imperiales: the 2006 replica antique humidor cigar.

H. Upmann Tacos Imperiales Réplica de Humidor Antiguo 2006 unlit

It begins very nicely, with a great sweet, nutty cream and salted toffee, a high end dessert in a good restaurant. The ash is a very deep grey, almost black. It is, in fact, probably the darkest ash I have ever encountered and highly unusual in a nine year old, super premium cigar. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that my second mistake was coming out here this afternoon. The day may be sunny, but the long shadows of the approaching sunset fall increasingly on my little table, and the icy wind that blows off the polar icecap and into Melbourne has numbed my necessarily bare fingers.

I’ve spiked my ginger beer with a hefty dram of Buckeye Rum, the cheapest dark rum available in Australian liquor stores; “Buckeye Rum, a classic Caribbean rum,” the bottle proclaims, and then in smaller text “made in France.” Mixed it’s not bad at all, but when filling my flask earlier I accidentally got a little on my fingers: pure methanol, with the chemical sweetness of gasoline.

The barbeque area in which I am seated is gradually filling up. On the bench to my left a man in a beanie plays with his phone while enjoying a surreptitious beer that he carefully withdraws from and returns to his side pocket between draughts. On the right hand bench a couple, he in fluorescent green shorts, her in thin leggings, snuggle together sharing a cigarette. We are all of us vice worshiping exiles, cast out from society and into the frigid wilds of an inner city park at dusk.

H. Upmann Tacos Imperiales Réplica de Humidor Antiguo 2006, partially smoked, with a bottle of Bundaberg Ginger Beer

At the halfway point the cigar is thickening up a bit, a hint of cream still apparent but the sweetness largely replaced by a complex herbal tang, with notes of straw and oregano.  It goes out while I’m faffing about with the photos, the first sign of anything remotely wrong with the burn, and with my numb fingers and the wind, relighting it with my Bic lighter it proves almost impossible. I have a jet lighter with me but as usual it’s out of gas. For a moment I almost consider giving up, an absolutely criminal act with a cigar this rare. Eventually it comes good.

The lovers have left, but my friend with the beer has found another can in his other jacket pocket and soldiers on. I wonder why: his is a vice that could happily be indulged in any number of warmer places than this. Periodically he switches phone hands, rubbing the relieved one heartily before jamming it deep in his pocket. From the very dimmest corner of the park, that grim land beneath the railway viaduct, the sharp odour of marijuana smoke drifts by. I glance over to see two young men in business suits sharing a joint. A passing derelict gives them a pained expression.

H. Upmann Tacos Imperiales Réplica de Humidor Antiguo 2006 final third

With an inch or so to go the cigar has strengthened and roughened up a bit, the taste now heavy burnt tobacco with a note of forest fire (as distinct from the rubber fire of an inferior cigar). The aftertaste is strangely thin and almost seems to disappear on your tongue like Tab cola. I have smoked this cigar quicker than I would like, a hair under two hours: on cold, windy afternoons there is no time to linger on fine Havanas. In any event, the Tacos Imperiales is a really good cigar. She’s not up to the standards of some of the really fantastic Upmanns, but she is better than her sisters in the Replica Ancient humidor series, which I have previously lambasted as mediocre cigars in fancy packaging. I may have to reconsider.

Finally, of course, she’s much better than the H. Upmann Petite Coronas.

H. Upmann Tacos Imperiales Réplica de Humidor Antiguo 2006 nub

H. Upmann Tacos Imperiales Réplica de Humidor Antiguo 2006 on the Cuban Cigar Website