H. Upmann No. 2 Reserva Cosecha 2010

It was utterly predictable, of course, that when I last presented you a treatise and promised to return with another “in a few weeks,” that you would not hear from me again for many months, if ever. The thing is, winter came. The days got short and cold. If there’s one thing that can suck the joy from a delicate Cuban leaf it’s burning it outdoors, in the dark, with a chill wind nipping at you.

Prolonged, unexplained absences might be acceptable on other Internet websites, but at A Harem of Dusky Beauties we hold ourselves to a higher standard. By way of compensation, our season, usually scheduled to run until the end of June, will be extended until the end of July, or somewhere thereabouts. Apologies.



I’m in a courtyard bar up at the corporate end of town. It’s a Tuesday night in winter. Some ways down the hill one might find a few bars that are livelier than this one, but those are young people bars. This is a bar for adults, and the entire cross section of suit wearing Tuesday drinkers are represented. In the far corner, two men huddle conspiratorially, engaged in a half soused deep and meaningful. In the centre of the room is the work drinks, five people celebrating some deal or other; one is the enthusiastic boss, the others four underlings who are wondering when the polite time to leave is. On the table next to me an older woman is drinking white wine and working her way through a deck of Dunhill Blues while she reads a book. In the other corner a couple in their forties are enduring an internet date: he wears a suit, she a rictus grin. The youngest people here are the staff.

And, of course, there’s me. Heavily bearded, with dark circles under my eyes, and wrapped in an overcoat, drinking a cocktail and rolling an exotic cigar between my fingers.

The Upmann No. 2 Reserva Cosecha 2010 was an omission from my H. Upmann retrospective of 2015 mainly because at time of writing, they hadn’t been released yet. They finally arrived on the scene towards the end of that year, and a few singles made their way into my custody shortly thereafter. This will be my first time smoking one, but if my experience with the past reservas is anything to go by, it should be basically just a really good Upmann No. 2. As it happens, I’m a fan of even sub-par Upmann 2s, so this one should be quite a treat.

H. Upmann No. 2 Reserva Cosecha 2010 unlit

Upon lighting the first notes are sweet and sour: a citric tang on the front palate, and toffee on the back. Somewhere in there is a little eggy thickness and desert spices: nutmeg and cinnamon. It’s really very decent. Just what you’d expect from a top notch Upmann 2.

I’m drinking a Boulevardier, which is basically a Negroni with whiskey in place of the gin (so Campari, Sweet Vermouth and bourbon, for those playing at home). It has the amaro bitterness from the Campari, but is thick and sweet where the Negroni is crisp and clean. Perhaps the drink is contributing to the sourness on my palate.

In the centre of the room the sole woman has abandoned the work celebrations. Her glorious leader made a big show of imploring her to stay, even dropping to his knees at one point, but with a tired smile she resisted, and fled into the night. Now all men their tone has changed. There are less smiles.

No stranger to internet dating, the one that is progressing in the far corner is familiar to me. If you know someone for years then it’s possible to gradually warm up to them, to appreciate new facets, or even to witness that rarest of beasts: genuine human change. If your entire relationship with someone is two drinks in ninety minutes on a Tuesday evening, though, first impressions tend to last. I remember my first ever internet date, a dirty blonde, who was heavier than her picture. She was nice enough, but from minute one it was completely clear that we had no interest in each other. Two cocktails, and we never got beyond small talk. I think the last question I asked her was “so, do you have any siblings?”

When we had served our time, I walked her to the train station. For a moment we stood there, each fishing for our own goodbye, each searching the other’s eyes for something that wasn’t there. “See you soon” didn’t seem appropriate, nor did “that was fun.” “Well, goodbye” I eventually settled on, and left. No embrace.

H. Upmann No. 2 Reserva Cosecha 2010 somewhat smoked

At the mid-point the cigar is getting thicker. The tang has gone, along with the sugar, and the tobacco taste is on the fuller side of medium. The desert spices are still dominant, and there is a bit of grassiness on the back-end. It is a very nice, smooth, classic Upmann profile. First rate.

Years later, on another date, the experience was the same, but one sided. I knew from the moment I saw her that I could marry this girl. In every way, she was an angel. Perfect body. Lily white skin. The glow of intelligence sparkling behind her blue eyes and wry smile. She looked just enough like my mother to trigger my Oedipal complex, but not enough to creep me out. As we chatted I only came to love her more. She was so sweet and charming, a cup running over with the milk of human kindness. It was also obvious from the moment I saw her that she was utterly unimpressed with me. For two drinks I desperately tried to show her a side of myself that she hadn’t seen, to impress her with my mighty works, but it was not to be. Being an internet famous cigar aficionado and author of a lecherous, autobiographical website might be impressive to some, but it wasn’t to her.

At the end of the night I desperately clambered for something more. “Well that was fun,” I said. “Perhaps I can see you again soon?” She smiled weakly. “Goodbye.” The next day I sent her an SMS, espousing her many virtues, and practically begging for a second chance. She took two days to reply. “You’re a nice enough guy,” she said “but I just don’t see it going anywhere.”

I still look her up on Facebook occasionally.

H. Upmann No. 2 Reserva Cosecha 2010 smoked just above the band

In the final third I switch over to an American whiskey; Hudson Rye, neat. It’s woody and sweet. The cigar is thick now, and a little bitter, much of the complexity faded into a mess of earth tar and tobacco. The whiskey takes the edge off nicely. In the corner, the date is over, and the couple part with the coldest of embraces. The work crew, too, have all departed, the last stayer helping his boss to a cab. The two conspirators stagger out not long after, arms around each other’s shoulders. Finally, the bar is just me and the woman with the book. Not taking her eyes from the page, she fumbles absentmindedly for a Dunhill Blue. Finding the packet empty, she closes the book, throws down the last of the wine, shoots me a haughty glance, and departs. I toss my nub in the ashtray and wrap my scarf tight around my neck.

The Upmann 2 Reserva? A great cigar. In the Upmann line I’d sit it above an old Sir Winnie and below the 520 Anniversary. If I’d smoked it on a warm summer’s morning rather than a frigid winter’s evening, it may have gone even higher.

H. Upmann No. 2 Reserva Cosecha 2010 nub

H. Upmann No. 2 Reserva Cosecha 2010 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

H. Upmann No. 2 160th Anniversary Humidor

The afternoon is turning to evening, but the weather remains a disgusting thirty eight degrees centigrade and overcast. It’s completely still, and the air is soupy and stale, thick with humidity. Occasionally a thunderclap rumbles in the distance, a hint of the storm that will break this warm front later on tonight, so I’ve chosen the balcony (which should remain fairly sheltered in even the most vicious of maelstroms) rather than the yard, just in case the gale comes on sooner than I expect. It feels familiar: in my youth I’d often come up here during summer storms with a big bowl of cherries to spit into the wind as I watched the lightning flicker over the suburbs. My habits may have changed a little, but occasional spitting is still involved.

H. Upmann No. 2 160th Anniversary Humidor unlit, on a cocktail

The final cigar from the H. Upmann 160th Aniversario humidor, the noble No. 2 piramides, begins with an unusual sort of bitterness that only manifests on the aftertaste. The inhale is very pleasant, mid-strength, high grade tobacco and dried foliage (specifically the aroma released by the cracking underbrush as heavy boots tramp through the bush at the height of summer). Once that inhale mellows on the palette, however, it turns tart, bitter and sour: the dreaded tar.

It’s very rare when smoking outdoors that smoke rings hold their shape for any duration; even indoors there is often a fan or vent or some other agitator that pulls the rings apart. Not so today. The air is so thick and still that every puff hangs about my head until I wave it away, and smoke rings drift intact long into the distance.

The H. Upmann No. 2 was one of the early, seminal cigars in my smoking journey: the first cigar I smoked in Cuba. I had been smoking cigars occasionally for years, first at stag nights, then at birthday parties, and I had acquired a taste for the habit to the point where the things were starting to make an appearance at most special occasions. Shortly before departing for The Island I had purchased my first humidor, a cheap desktop that I hoped to fill with a few boxes on my return. All told, on that first night in Havana my total cigar smoking experience probably encompassed about three dozen cigars, almost all of them Montecristo No. 4s. At the time I could probably have named five cigars from three brands, and H. Upmann wasn’t one of them.

I arrived in the early evening and, tired from my journey, I planned for a quiet night. Cuba is Cuba however and (after a simple spaghetti meal in Havana’s Chinatown), I soon found myself in a bar on the Malecón with more than one Cuba Libre inside of me and another on the way. Resigning myself to the Havana night, I decided that it was time for a cigar. I asked at the bar, and they directed me to an old man in the corner, who smiled, murmured something about “bueno tobacco,” and produced for me a handsome pirámides.  He snipped the end with a worn brass guillotine (very rare in Cuba). Four pesos.

Like most cigars in Cuba, it was glorious, but its significance in my evening was lost in the soup of rum and dancing. In the morning I found the band in my pocket and filed it in the pages of War and Peace, the book I was reading on my journey. Years later, after I had become a fully-fledged cigar aficionado, I skimmed through War and Peace again looking for some quote or other, and out fell an old Upmann band. I suppose it was probably fake – it was from a tout in Havana, after all – but it seemed pretty fantastic at the time.

H. Upmann No. 2 160th Anniversary Humidor two thirds remaining

Past the mid-way point now, and the cigar is not offering much; light to mid tobacco, and a vague, ashy, burning grass. A hefty puff out through the cigar cleans some of the ash from it, but doesn’t add a lot. There’s no complexity here, no subtlety.

I’ve been drinking a sidecar, a simple little drink of two parts brandy, a little less than one of lemon, and a little more than one of Cointreau. In the interests of efficiency I made a double before I came up to smoke, and left half of it in the freezer. I figured it would be alcoholic enough not to freeze, but apparently I was incorrect, as the second glass has the consistency of a 7-11 Slurpee or a hen’s night strawberry daiquiri. It’s not diminished for it.

H. Upmann No. 2 160th Anniversary Humidor final quarter

The cigar ends as it has travelled, light, a little tart, and not particularly noteworthy in either direction.

While there’s nothing really wrong with the H. Upmann 160th anniversary cigars, they have to a stick been disappointing. When you see a limited edition humidor that contains standard production sizes like this does, the question you must ask is “are these a special blend, or are they merely standard cigars in a special box?” All three cigars here have exhibited exactly the same profile, and I feel that I can say absolutely that they are all a unique blend rolled for this humidor. Unfortunately, while it begins well and is very smooth, and is obviously composed of high quality tobacco, that blend is bland, slightly bitter and, by every measure, mediocre. In the case of the H. Upmann No. 2 and the Connoisseur No. 1, the 160th anniversary cigars are worse than I would typically expect from their standard production counterparts. These are not terrible cigars: if they were a cheap cigar that I could reach for when I wanted an uncomplicated smoke for an evening that was complicated enough already, these would definitely be on my list, but compared to the Partagás 150th (or indeed any of the Partagás aniversarios), and compared to the heights to which cigars at this level should aspire, they are garbage. I place the Upmann 2 between its sistren purely based on length. It is better than the Upmann Petite Corona mainly because that base cigar was a particularly poor example.

H. Upmann No. 2 160th Anniversary Humidor nub

H. Upmann No. 2 160th Anniversary Humidor on the Cuban Cigar Website

H Upmann Connoisseur No. 1 160th Aniversario Humidor

It’s hot. Damn hot. Beneath the oppressively low cloud ceiling the air is thick and still and viscous. I don’t know if it’s good weather for cigars. I doubt it. It’s not good weather for humans, that’s for sure. Nonetheless, I have the time, and these dusky beauties aren’t going to smoke themselves, so I have crawled out from under my rock with the shortest cigar left on my Upmann list, the Connoisseur No. 1 from the H. Upmann 160th Aniversario humidor.

H Upmann Connoisseur No. 1 160th Aniversario Humidor unlit

I light it, and the smoke begins wonderfully, very light on the palette and very sweet. The aftertaste is woody, with strong notes of almond and walnut. The Upmann tobacco flavour is only slight, the strength low.

The weather in Melbourne is famously erratic, but generally the worst of it is accompanied by winds. In the summer they blow from the north, dry and dusty from the deserts of central Australia, and usually filled with bushfire ash. In the winter they blow from the south, and carry the scent of the ice caps. The still, hot mugginess of today is unusual, and reminds me of nowhere so much as Osaka, a town I lived in for a while and which has a summer season where every day is exactly as stifling and oppressive as this one.

I recall a weekend when, about a month into that disgusting summer, I got the itch, and spontaneously caught the train south to Shikoku, where it was hotter, but at least it was sunny and there was a breeze blowing. There was some kind of dance festival in town, and the main thoroughfares were all blocked by an endless parade of troupes of uniformed dancers in tightly marshalled phalanxes, executing highly choreographed steps to blaring Japanese rap. I met up with Yoshi, a local Japanese cigar aficionado, and a gaijin pal, and after some fine Romeo Churchills and whale meat at an izakaya, us foreign devils dragged our poor host out with us in pursuit of dancing girls. Yoshi kept trying to steer us toward capsule hotels and net cafes and so on – places where we could spend the night – but assuming that his urgings were just a distaste for our debauchery we ignored him and carried on until he abandoned us to the night without fanfare, and several hours thereafter. It was four AM by the time we finally gave up on the girls and, by this time substantially inebriated, stumbled into the net-café he had recommended to us some hours earlier.

Typical Japanese net café accommodations include a comfortable leather recliner in a private cubical, along with a small TV and computer, but we were told that because of the dance festival the place was completely full, as would everywhere else be. For $10, however, we could sleep in the lobby on a couple of plastic bucket chairs, such as one might find in a high school auditorium, under the restful flicker of a fluorescent light, and lulled by the dulcet tones of a TV playing J-Pop videos. We stuck it out until 6am or so, when, having added stiff necks and dry mouths to our troubles, we caught the bus to the beach, watched the sun rise, and then laid down in the shade of a tree for a kip.

H Upmann Connoisseur No. 1 160th Aniversario Humidor two thirds left

At the mid-point the cigar has thickened. The burn has not been great, requiring the occasional touch up and relight. The best way a cigar can begin is the manner in which this one did, light and sweet and deep. From that good beginning you expect the cigar to grow, to thicken up and become richer, which this cigar has not. It is a little thicker, surely, but it is no longer especially complex, with light-mid toasted tobacco and a sort of vague, grassy flavour. By no means unpleasant, it is also by no means spectacular. I’m drinking a mid-priced Australian Shiraz, which is not my habit with cigars, but I had half a bottle sitting around and it seemed like less effort than mixing a cocktail. Like the cigar, the beverage is light and uncomplicated.

I awoke around eleven to find myself in the full sun, with my legs already bright red below the knee (in the coming days they would blister and the skin would peel off in great sheets, the worst sunburn I ever experienced, despite a lifetime of Australian summers and little regard for sunscreen). My companion was stirring as well, so together we strolled along the waterline a ways toward a distant cluster of buildings that we hoped would include somewhere for breakfast. Upon arrival we found what appeared to be a gift shop, specialising in stuffed dogs that looked like Saint Bernards wearing samurai gear. My friend’s Japanese was better than mine, and after a moment considering the signs he came to a verdict: “this is a dog sumo ring” he said. “There’s a show in five minutes.”

We joined the gathering crowd and were soon shown into a well-worn auditorium, with battered seating and paint peeling from sloppily welded steel beams, the classic décor of an aging carnival attraction. Underweight and dishevelled, with a cigarette dangling from his lips and with more than one tooth missing, the ringmaster was the classic aging carnival attraction operator. With little fanfare he brought in the yokozuna, the name given to the highest rank of sumo wrestlers. He was a mighty beast, massive, with a glossy coat, and a suit of armour reminiscent of the ones his human contemporaries wear at the beginning of a sumo tournament. With squeals of delight, the audience, which was mainly made up of Japanese school girls, dancers drifted over from the contest in town, gathered around the ring to take pictures of the animal. He stood there sedate and solemn, posing for them.

After a few minutes the yokozuna was walked out, and the lights dimmed in preparation for the bout. The two dogs they brought in were mangy, scarred mongrels from the worst garbage dump in town. Even before they entered the ring they were snarling at each other, pulling on their chain leashes. The referee held a piece of burning newspaper between them to keep them separated until the bell rang. When it did he dropped it, its sputtering remains keeping the dogs apart for the few seconds he needed to climb to the top of the ring fence and began a jovial commentary. All of a sudden we were watching a dog fight. The animals obviously did this several times a day, but hated each other nonetheless, and held nothing back as they tore and clawed at one another. They didn’t have teeth, but both creatures were covered in old wounds, many of which soon opened and bled profusely. For a time one of them had an erection. Uncomfortable with the display I turned away, surveying the crowd, where it became apparent that it wasn’t just us ignorant foreigners that had been misled by the cutesy gift shop: I have never seen so many looks of abject horror as I saw on the faces of those Japanese schoolgirls.

After three minutes it was over: the promoter lit another piece of newspaper, and his assistants dragged the dogs out to lick their wounds, next show in an hour. In silence we exited through the gift-shop, and soon found a little ramen place, but for some reason we weren’t so keen on breakfast any more.

H Upmann Connoisseur No. 1 160th Aniversario Humidor final third

With the cigar in the final inch it begins to rain slightly. The smoke is mild all the way to the end, never growing overly bitter, and never filling with tar. All in all it has been an unexceptional but completely inoffensive cigar, reminiscent of nothing so much as it’s big brother, the Prominentes: I rate it better than that cigar mainly by virtue of its comparative brevity.

H Upmann Connoisseur No. 1 160th Aniversario Humidor nub

H. Upmann Connoisseur No. 1 160th Aniversario Humidor on the Cuban Cigar Website

H. Upmann Monarcas

Homewood bound, The Blue Valkyrie, a 1990 Mercedes-Benz 300CE coupe cruiser, charges through the empty brown fields of rural Australia, my maladroit manservant, Davidé, at the wheel. It is hour five of a Sydney-Melbourne run, a journey of some 900kms, and having recently completed our rest stop at Wagga Wagga, my driving duties are over, and I recline in the passenger side with a tubed H. Upmann Monarcas.

The exact difference between the proletarian Monarcas and its upper crust cousin, the Sir Winston, has never been entirely clear to me: they are the same size, and particularly with some age, present similar notes, yet it is always the Winston that aficionados speak of in hushed and reverent tones. This particular Monarch comes from the final run of tubos before their discontinuation. Eight remain in my possession: the dearly departed were all excellent, elegant smokes, and this one promises to be the same, with its mid-brown glossy wrapper and perfect texture.

H. Upmann Monarcas unlit

For appearances sake I attempt to light her with the provided lighter (which, I note, the manual refers to exclusively as a cigar lighter), but alas, the quarter-century old electrics provide only enough heat to slightly blacken the foot. I switch to my trusty mini-blowtorch, which does the job, but, Australian country roads not being as smooth as the autobahn to which The Valkyrie is accustomed, my juddering hands blacken most of the first inch. I chastise Davidé, but he is unrepentant. The first notes are mild, light, smooth tobacco with a heavy sweetness on the back palette. Davidé notes that the aroma is like beer freshly spilled in a country pub, and he’s right, there is an element of malt in there that I have often tasted before in Upmann cigars but never thought to name. As the first inch burns away a light spice appears.

I bought this car five years ago, choosing it because a friend (perhaps sarcastically) told me that the 300CE was the best car ever made, and because as an aspirational youth I felt an urge to trade in my aging Honda Civic hatchback for something with some heft to it. I initially aspired slightly higher even than the humble E-Class, looking instead to this car’s Sir Winston, the 560SEC, which adds some rear legroom, and more importantly replaces the 3.0L V6 of the CE with a 5.6L V8. In the twenty-teens there is precisely one kind of Australian male who drives an old Mercedes coupe: an ethnic thug from the suburbs, and so although I spent a few months visiting car yards in the outer suburbs looking at SECs, I was unable to find one that hadn’t been lowered and had the once ample boot space diminished by a phat woofer. Eventually I found a CE in light blue at a lot out in Werribee: the miles were low (suspiciously low, a more experienced used car buyer might have noted), but everything seemed to be original (right down to the unopened first aid kit), it boasted a full service history, and the price was right. A boy with an unbroken voice answered when I rang up to enquire: “oh yeah, the blue one? Yeah, that’s a real beauty, come on down.”

H. Upmann Monarcas, two thirds gone, in a car ashtray

At the midpoint the cigar remains mild, slightly thicker than the first puffs, but still on the light side of medium. The sweetness has faded a little, but still remains. To my palette the malt has been replaced by heavy cedar and grass; Davidé notes that beer is still the chief aroma he is detecting, although it’s highly likely that his palette (along with everything else) has been dulled by decades of heavy indulgence in the stuff.

The dealership, like many of the suburban used car yards with which I had developed a recent familiarity, was a chain-link fenced paddock filled with the classic cars of yesteryear in varying stages of decomposition: some pristine, some that had obviously recently been an integral part of a heavy impact, and others on blocks, rusting hulks stripped for parts. Leaning next to the door of the fibro shack that passed for an office was a gypsy boy in his early teens, casually smoking a cigarette. He hailed me as I approached: “can I help you sir?” Dubiously, and expecting that the request would be immediately relayed to some authority figure, I asked after the blue 300CE, and he immediately lit up. “Ah, yeah, the blue Merc, a real beauty, just over here.”

He led Davidé and I over to a corrugated iron barn, where The Valkyrie reposed under a thick layer of dust. Lighting a fresh cigarette from the butt of his fast diminishing one, he found the keys and a jerry can of fuel, and pulled her around for me, waxing lyrical all the while about her low miles, intact accessories, and general status as a real beauty. The previous owner, he claimed, was the flamboyant publican of a fashionable inner-city night spot, and were I to mention the purchase of this machine to the bouncer there I would no doubt be whisked immediately passed the lengthy line and straight to the owner’s table, where he would be delighted to receive a fellow connoisseur of the finer things in life. As we departed on our test drive he sucked his lip wistfully. “Great car,” he said. “Lot of potential. You just gotta drop it a couple of inches and put a big sound system in the back.”

We ran around the block, and parked in the parking lot of a local school to get up close and personal with the engine. Despite a lifetime of buying used cars, Davidé’s assessment only ran as far as a glance at the underside and the observation of “no drips.” When I reminded him that he was here precisely because he was my deputised expert, the oaf merely shrugged, and said “you should have brought one of my friends, they’d be pulling parts off the car right now.”

H. Upmann Monarcas half left, on some Ray-Ban 42 Round

Perhaps it’s the confinement of the small ashtray that is doing it, but the cigar is having a lot of trouble staying lit, and my shaky road relights are not doing it any favours. With two and a half inches remaining it comes back from the relight spoiled, its elegance replaced by sour ash and bitter tar. I try the old smoker’s purge, a hearty exhale through the cigar in an attempt to blow out the crap, but it is ineffective. In desperation I hold the cigar head first up through the open sunroof for a few moments to see if the 120kph headwind can do what my feeble lungs cannot. I bring it back in and am delighted to find that it has worked: the bitter ash is gone, replaced by a thick, toasted mid tobacco, balanced and strongly herbaceous.

We arrived back at the dealer to find our young salesman waiting for us, his trademark Holiday between his lips. I said I was interested, and after a little coy banter, where I tried to established whether or not he really had the authority to negotiate, we settled on a number about twenty per cent below the asking. He spat in his palm, and shook my hand gleefully when I told him that I would be paying with the only currency that really talks at used car dealerships in Werribee: folding cash. He walked me back to the office, and it was only there that I finally encountered an employee of an age legally able to enter into a contract.

About three days passed before I realised that the odometer wasn’t turning, and after sober examination of the ‘full service history’ concluded that it hadn’t turned for more than a decade and presumably 150,000 kilometres. Nonetheless, The Valkyrie has for five years been as reliable a whip as any man could ask for, never leaving me stranded or requiring a major repair. Even now, as we approach the outskirts of Melbourne, having covered the better part of 2000 kilometres in the last two days, she purrs along with power, grace, and most importantly, heft. Whenever I pass through the outer suburbs her elegant, swooping  lines still attract the odd longing stare from a certain type of ethnic thug, no doubt mulling how she’d look an inch or two lower, and with a booming woofer in the back. We come from different worlds, these men and I, but we still have something in common: I didn’t choose the thug life, the thug life chose me.

H. Upmann Monarcas final third, on an honest lighter

The cigar ends quite wonderfully, thick tobacco but never bitter, the sweetness remaining to the end in the form of a thick musk, with the woody tang of Speyside whisky. A great cigar, that is the poor cousin of no one.

H. Upmann Monarcas nub

H. Upmann Monarcas on the Cuban Cigar Website.

H. Upmann Prominentes 160th Aniversario Humidor

With a 49 ring and a length of 7.6 inches, the H. Upmann Prominentes, scion of the H. Upmann 160th Aniversario humidor, is an intimidating smoke, no question about it. The nice, red, Colorado wrapper is slightly damaged – my own stupid fault, of course. While setting up my opening photograph, I tried to balance the cigar on the railing in order to capture something of the vista of treetops that I am overlooking, and a gust of wind caught me unawares and tossed the cigar down five meters or so to the tanbark flowerbed below. It could be worse, I suppose: I could have a pool down there. It’s a classic example of the reviewer’s hubris: this is a huge cigar, and over the four or so hours it’ll take to smoke, a tiny bit of wrapper damage could make a huge difference. I have changed the result by measuring it.

H. Upmann Prominentes 160th Aniversario Humidor unlit

I light the thing, and if the wrapper damage is having an effect, it feels like it might be a positive one. Perhaps extra fresh air is being sucked in through the open side of the cigar and softening the smoke, in much the same way as certain old cars beat emissions tests by pumping fresh air out with their exhaust. The first flavours are divine, silky smooth, with as light a tobacco note as I’ve ever had. There is a thick, toffee sweetness, almost cloying, on the back of the palette.

Released in 2004, and hence relatively early in the anniversary humidor program, the H. Upmann 160th Aniversario humidor seems like one of Habanos S.A.’s more lacklustre efforts. It contains one hundred cigars in total: thirty each of the H. Upmann Connoisseur No. 1 and the H. Upmann No. 2 (both popular regular production sizes), and forty of this, the uniquely dimensioned Prominentes. As with all these humidors that contain production sizes, the question of whether they are just regular production cigars, plucked straight from the standard production line and placed in special boxes, or whether they are something special, perhaps the very highest quality that could be found in the regular production, or even some special blend made in the traditional sizes, must be asked. I’ll attempt to answer it in the next few weeks as I review those cigars, but the Prominentes is safe; she is a unique beast, and will live or die on her merits.

The box itself – a squat tower with three drawers behind a glass door – is nice, but not especially imaginative, and resembles nothing so much as the little display humidor that sits on the end of the counter at every 7-11 and decent liquor store. One can only hope that unlike those humidors, the Upmann 160s of the world are not kept constantly at either 100% or ambient humidity. If the cigars it contains are not particularly unique, and the humidor is not especially interesting, then who, I wonder, is the target market for these things? Is Habanos really cynical enough to release a product entirely for people who collect for collecting’s sake? In my travels throughout the community of high end cigar aficionados, I’ve met very few who pick and choose their commemorative humidors, buying only particularly lovely examples from their favourite brands. They either buy none, or they buy everything, and usually by the dozen. I would estimate that the 160 examples of this humidor have fewer than twenty owners.

At least the bands are nice, a tasteful riff on the classic Upmann band, with bright shiny gold in place of the usual dull brown one.

H. Upmann Prominentes 160th Aniversario Humidor, a quarter burnt, with some car keys

At the mid-point the cigar has thickened, and the smoke has become a little harsh. The taste is very woody, a component of freshly felled sapling. There is an ashy component to it I don’t particularly care for. I blow out forcefully through the cigar for a few seconds to remove any stale smoke and ash that has worked its way into the centre of the cigar. This cleans it up somewhat, but doesn’t add a huge amount beyond a slightly grassy flavour. The construction is fine, the burn very even, but the ash falls extremely easily; it has twice fallen on my pants at a length of no more than a centimetre each time and with no particular provocation. I finish my Stella Artois and switch to a brandy and ginger beer (I’m out of rum), in the hope that the sweetness will knock off the rough edges. It removes the roughness, but does little for the complexity – if anything, the sugar will dull my palette and mask some of the subtler notes, although there’s precious little to mask at this particular juncture.

H. Upmann Prominentes 160th Aniversario Humidor, final third

Into the final third and the cigar is still mild with a slightly dirty edge to it, and no particular flavour to speak of. We’re past the point where the wrapper was damaged now, so that can’t be to blame any more. The cigar this reminds me of most is the Hoyo de Monterrey Extravaganza, the 2003 Colección Habanos entry: there’s nothing particularly negative I can say about it, it doesn’t taste like soap, rubber, or chemical solvents, but it doesn’t taste of too much else either. This would be a great long cigar to have in your hand at a poker night or at a long afternoon barbecue with friends – anything where your focus was not 100% on the smoke. It is mild and inoffensive, but unfortunately given the rarity and cost of cigars like these, few will be smoked lightly, and you have to expect more from them.

This falls on the low end of Upmann exotics. I rate it better than the Petite Coronas, but not much better, and were I to develop some kind of price to quality index, this cigar would do very poorly indeed.

H. Upmann Prominentes 160th Aniversario Humidor nub

H. Upmann Prominentes 160th Aniversario Humidor on the Cuban Cigar Website. 

H. Upmann Noellas La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2009

I debated this one long and hard: the day is perfect for a dusky beauty, the sun is shining, the temperature ideal, it’s very still, and I have nothing in particular to do for four or five hours. There is only one problem: it is the morning after the night before, and I am hung-over like a dog.

I have selected the Noellas for two reasons, and they’re both related. As a smoker of more or less exclusively exotic and esoteric cigars, my smoking roster tends toward trophy smokes: long, thick, precious cigars. There is a very real possibility that a cigar right now will make me throw up, and Noellas is among the smallest I have waiting for me. I also have more than one in stock, so it’s replaceable in the event that I have to ditch it.

H. Upmann Noellas La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2009 unlit

I lift the cap and light the cigar. It begins very well, mid-tobacco, with a sharp herbal tang and an aftertaste of hot buttered toast. The draw is on the firm side, a perfect, classic Cuban.

The Noellas was an old cristales, packaged not in a box but in a glass jar that resembles a preserve jar crossed with a milk pail. At one time these were common, particularly in the Upmann line, but today they are all long discontinued; the Noellas was the last of them, surviving up until the mid-1980s, but this particular example comes from a 2009 rerelease of 5,000 units, theoretically exclusive to the La Casa del Habano chain of stores. They have gone to a great deal of trouble with the replica – not only is the jar pretty much spot on, but the printing on the La Casa del Habano band is some of the worst I’ve ever seen, with blotchy, smudged gold and misaligned embossing: a true example of 1980s Cuban print quality.

H. Upmann Noellas La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2009 two thirds remaining

At the mid-point the cigar is full and punchy, but still smooth, with notes of hot grass, heavy tobacco, and a hint of incense; that first heavy breath as you walk into a Buddhist temple.

I’m a good drunk, in that it doesn’t take too much to get me feeling jolly, but I don’t really show it: in the habitable zone of six to ten drinks my decision making is certainly impaired and my inhibitions are lowered, but I never really slur or stagger, and when I throw up it’s always discreet and doesn’t really slow me down. Many is the time I’ve been granted service at or admittance to a bar when an equally inebriated cohort has been refused it. The downside to this is that I never really have bad experiences while I have a bottle in hand, and because of that I never really think about my hangovers until it’s too late.

I’ve had bad hangovers my entire drinking life: rough things where I wake up with a foul taste in my mouth that won’t go away and an ice-pick driving into my temple that no remedy homespun or pharmaceutical seems to cure. The worst part is the sickness, a churning mix of acid and gas that the intake of anything, even an innocuous glass of water, will provoke until I retch up spurts of bitter, toxic yellow stomach acid. On the bad days there’s blood.

Despite all this, I’ve only ever had one real moment of clarity. I had been out to a friend’s birthday about fifteen minutes’ walk from my house, and when it was over I decided to go for a kebab. The kebab shop that lay between my friend’s house and mine was closed (permanently, some years before, as a more sober man might have recalled), but by the time my nose was pressed against its dusty window I was very committed to the kebab idea, and so I decided to go well out of my way to the kebab van at the petrol station down the hill.

It was a straight shot from the closed kebab shop to the van, and I made it without mishap, but there were no arterial roads on the way from the van to my home, and I was much less familiar with the route. A man with common sense could no doubt have navigated it easily, but common sense was in short supply on this journey, and so I spent the next hour wandering the streets, climbing fences, drinking out of the taps in people’s front yards, making wrong turns and lengthy detours, before finally finding my way to bed.

The next morning I woke up slowly and contemplated my situation, the rancid bitter taste in my mouth and the drill-bit that felt like it was boring into my skull just behind my right eye socket. My stomach churned. “Don’t move” I thought to myself “just lie here. Stay as still as possible and maybe it will pass.” For a few minutes I lay there, but soon a cold sweat broke out on my forehead and saliva began to trickle down the back of my throat, a sure sign of an impending expulsion. Too late I leapt out of bed and ran for the bathroom: half way there it came. I tried to catch the warm, liquid mass in my hands, but the volume was too great, and my cupped palms only forced it up and out, back into my face and all over the room. I didn’t stop to survey the damage, but continued to run for the bathroom, cradling what I was able to catch before me.

Once my stomach contents were expelled and the immediate threat was over, the toilet flushed and my hands rinsed off, I walked gingerly back to my bedroom to survey the damage. A perfect circle of vomit covered the centre of the room, two meters in diameter. I paused to look at myself in the full length dressing mirror: drips of garlic sauce ran down my face, and undigested bits of lamb and tomato were in my hair and clinging to my bare chest. As I stared into my bloodshot eyes and deeply creased forehead a sliver of lettuce peeled itself from my earlobe and flopped gently to my shoulder and from there to the floor.

“What am I doing to myself” I asked aloud. “This has got to stop.”

And that was it. My moment of clarity. I think I stopped drinking for about a week.

H. Upmann Noellas La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2009 final third

The cigar ends exceptionally well, with no tar at all, just a light, crisp, herbaceous tobacco, with slight aniseed notes, a little sour citrus. Very pleasant, and somewhere in the top echelon of Upmann, the farthest distance from the Petit Coronas.

It’s even done wonders for my hangover.

H. Upmann Noellas La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2009 nub

H. Upmann Noellas La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2009 on the Cuban Cigar Website