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.