Partagás Serie C No. 3 Edición Limitada 2012

Chief among the many oversights of my 2014 Partagás campaign was the omission of the 2012 Edición Limitada Serie C No. 3, a cigar that was (and remains) easily obtainable in any semi-decent cigar store. Thanks to a female friend who frequents a hair salon next to a La Casa del Habano, and thanks to her dye job taking longer than anticipated, it is an oversight that I will now rectify.

The band is ruined, courtesy of Australia’s brutal plain packaging regime. These days it is a little better: cigars are sold with a plain paper band that is cut to size and then taped over the existing band or bands. In 2012 though, it was still the early days, and the bands were covered over with a standard issue sticker. In the case of doubled banded cigars like this one, one band was removed. I tried to peel the sticker off the surviving band but ruined it in the process.

Partagás Serie C No. 3 Edición Limitada 2012 unlit

The cigar begins excellently, mid tobacco with a rich, burned espresso flavour. Behind it there might be some wood, but it’s hard to tell, so dominate is the coffee.

In Australia, and Melbourne in particular, we take smug pride in a few very dubious prepositions: firstly, that we are more serious about everything than those slackers up in Sydney; secondly, that we are more sophisticated than the Americans; and thirdly, that we have the best coffee in the world. The ultimate gratification of this collective conceit came in about 2008 when we ran Starbucks out of town. The corporation had arrived in force a few years earlier, opening stores in every major shopping strip across the city overnight. There they were, with their bright green branding, but I guess nobody went; I certainly never did – I couldn’t understand their sizes. When they shut up shop, closing all but a handful of venues at transportation hubs and tourist attractions (places where Americans tend to congregate), it was met with great fanfare. “Mission accomplished” the banners read! The media pounced on it with glee: Melbourne, the only city in the world to vanquish Starbucks.

I bring it up mainly because there is one thing in which Australia should take no pride: the iced coffee culture. Admittedly it’s mainly drunk by school children, but when you order an iced coffee in Australia you get a mess of ice-cream and whipped cream and sugar: a coffee milkshake more or less. When you order an iced coffee in America you get black coffee with ice in it. There was a period when I was in New York during their stinking wet hot summer and I lived on the things. Mostly from Starbucks. And that’s the coffee note that this PSC3 has; diluted, mass-market Arabica.

Partagás Serie C No. 3 Edición Limitada 2012 lightly burnt

At the midpoint the cigar extinguishes itself, something it will do repeatedly for the remaining few inches. I blow the smoke out of it before I relight, and it comes back very well, with rugged, burnt chocolate. The coffee has faded somewhat but is still present on the backend. A great cigar.

It was a dreadful summer, really. I had gone to New York in pursuit of my lady love and fucked things up completely within twenty four hours of wheels down. I had booked for six weeks. A more right thinking individual would have left, would have rented a car and wandered middle America, or headed home, or to Hawaii, or Cuba, or anywhere other than there, really, but I was heartbroken and desperate and hanging on for any slight chance of a reconciliation, and so I stuck around, alone. The temperature was 30°C+ daily, humid and sweaty. My room at the YMCA (which for some reason had exposed pipes a few inches below ceiling level, perfect for a noose) was un-air-conditioned and slightly more unbearable that the street. I couldn’t deal with real restaurants (too much human interaction, and besides, I couldn’t understand the tipping etiquette), so I lived exclusively on street hotdogs, pizza slices, and Starbucks iced coffee: foods that could be ordered with little more than a grunt from either party. I would have developed scurvy if not for the ketchup on the hotdogs.

Wanting to make the most of my ‘holiday,’ I looked up a list of the fifty best tourist attractions in New York City, and gradually dragged myself to each one of them. At the Empire State I stood in line for more than an hour, in Central Park there were topless girls, but the most notable incident was the small security scare I caused at the United Nations. The ground floor of the UN has an art gallery that (after scanning your bag and your person) you can wander for free, but Guernica was on loan, and the thing you really want to see, the General Assembly chamber is off limits unless you pay $16 for a tour. I stopped by the tour desk to investigate, but the next tour was 45 minutes away, and there was a sign saying that it would be abridged as the Security Council Chamber was closed for renovations. In my weakened state I was incapable of making decisions – wait the 45 and pay the 16, or leave and go see the Brooklyn Bridge – so I was wandering the gallery aimlessly when a set of elevator doors opened nearby. A perfect, blonde, Scandinavian family, each bedecked with security lanyards, embarked and, on a whim, I followed them. A middle aged African American elevator operator beamed at us. “Welcome to the UN.” Seconds later, we were in the General Assembly Chamber, completely unsupervised. I wandered down the aisle and up to the lectern. The Scandinavian youth smirked as I mock ranted from it, raising my fist like Mussolini. Afterward, I headed down a corridor, and before long found myself in the Security Council chamber, which had a few ladders scattered about, but didn’t appear to be under any serious renovations. I sat in the Russian delegate’s chair and spun around a few times. There were some papers there, but I couldn’t read the Cyrillic script.

It was only after I was finished and standing on the mezzanine outside the General Assembly Chamber inspecting a model of Sputnik suspended over the void that someone finally approached me. “Excuse me, Sir” she said “can I see your security pass?” I shook my head.      “How did you get up here?”       “I just came up in the elevator.”

She shook her head. “Fucking elevator guys. It’s not your fault. They should never have let you up here.” She pulled a radio off her belt and called somebody. The word ‘intruder’ was used. With a smile that brooked no mischief I was escorted back to the elevator bank. A pair of security guards would meet me at the bottom to duck-walk me off the premises, but before that I had a moment alone in the lift with the same middle-aged African American fellow who’d welcomed me so cheerfully to the UN not an hour before. “Who let you up?” he asked, and without waiting for an answer added “Must have been the new guy. Damn new guy, no respect for procedure.”

Partagás Serie C No. 3 Edición Limitada 2012 final third

In the final third the cigar gets a bit bitter, but a cheeky exhale expels the evil. At this point it is verging on strong, with rich earth notes, woody, and still a strong undercurrent of bitter coffee and bean notes.

Overall it’s a great cigar that sits at the high end of the EL series. For my money I’d probably take the Selección Privada today over the PSC3 at three years old, but there’s not a lot in it. It’s a long way better than the PSD4.

Partagás Serie C No. 3 Edición Limitada 2012 nub, with a John Boston Golden Ale

Partagás Serie C No. 3 Edición Limitada 2012 on the Cuban Cigar Website

Partagás Culebras

The Nicaraguan cigar industry, plagued as it is by small independent producers scrabbling to distinguish themselves from each other, produces a lot of novelty cigars; a quick perusal of any US based online cigar store will reveal cigars as long as your arm, cigars with two-tone barber-pole striped wrappers, cigars shaped like onions, square cigars, and a never ending quest for thicker and thicker ring gauges and darker and darker wrappers. Cuba, on the other hand, with its virtual monopoly of the premium cigar market everywhere outside of the States, doesn’t feel the same drive, and stays more or less entirely within the same basic shapes and sizes it has been producing for five centuries. As always there is one exception: the Partagás Culebras.

Once manufactured by a few different brands, the only surviving Cuban Culebras is the Partagás one (and that has been announced as discontinued more than once, although stock seems to keep appearing). It’s an odd duck, with three heads and three feet, and a twisted mess of tobacco in-between them.

Partagás Culebras unlit

I try to open it with a cutter, but can’t manoeuvre the thing in properly, and so wind up using my fingernail. Lighting is actually easier than you would expect; the feet aren’t quite level, so a narrow, precise jet-flame and a steady hand can light each one individually without blacking the side of another. I wouldn’t recommend trying to light this one with a match. Straight away I discover that it’s impossible to toke from all three heads at once – you can’t create a seal with your lips and end up just drawing in outside air. It is easy enough to draw on each one individually, however, and I quickly fall into a rhythm of puffing from one and rotating the cigar. This would probably be a good choice for the smoker who puffs too often and causes his cigar to burn hot; the staggered inhalations keep each coal relatively un-stoked. One head has a slightly looser draw than the other two, but all fall well within the bounds of acceptability.

The cigar is very mild with light earthy notes. Deeper in there is leather and coffee. It’s a basic, nice quality light Partagás profile – not as rich as a D4 or any of the banner cigars. Maybe the start of a Lusitania.

The fire is still a good millimetre above the first ribbon when I notice it (the ribbon) beginning to melt. I untie it as quick as I can, but it leaves a thin line of melted red plastic on the cigar. As it burns off I avoid inhaling, stoking the fire by alternately exhaling through the cigar and blowing directly onto the coal. Here’s a piece of trivia for all you aspiring aficionados out there to file away: Partagás Culebra ribbons are 100% polyester.

Partagás Culebras two thirds remain

As the cigar tightens in on itself the three coals become one, and each puff flares the entire coal. I slow my toke speed to match. I have been finding myself spending a lot of time following the paths of the cigar up, trying to figure out which end leads to which, but now that the cigar is tight and it’s all one coal, it doesn’t really matter. The flavour is still very light, mild tobacco, although the earthy tones have graduated to more of a grassy, woody note. It doesn’t offer all that much, but it is a very pleasant, no nonsense sort of cigar.

I’m about two thirds of the way through my second beer, a White Rabbit Dark Ale, when my manservant Davidé polishes off his fourth and proposes a run to the bottle-shop for some hard liquor. In a moment of weakness I toss him the keys to my cabinet upstairs and tell him to get himself a bottle of Jack Daniels. He returns ten minutes later with the most expensive scotch in the place, a Glenfiddich 125th Anniversary Edition that I bought duty free a couple of years back, having deemed the Daniels, along with various Johnny Walkers, bourbons, and the odd Islay Single Malt, unworthy of his distinguished palette. He promptly pours himself a double.

The beer, for what it’s worth, is excellent. I don’t have a palette for the stuff, but Davidé tells me it’s extremely chocolaty, and I tend to agree. It complements the cigar very nicely.

Partagás Culebras final third

Although I have been puffing on the triumvirate equally, the looser drawing pathway in the cigar is (fairly predictably) burning a little quicker than the other two, and as the cigar starts to tighten for a second time it begins to become a problem. I remove the main band and push the miscreant up so that the coal is level with the others. The unfortunate side effect here is that one head is now impossible to puff on. Hopefully the proximity of the others will keep it going but, if not, I suppose I can always relight. Overall the cigar is excellent, burning very cool and presenting not the slightest hint of tar, even at this late stage. The notes are lightly herbal with a faintly earthy finish. I retrohale and get a creamy note for a minute that is far above this cigar’s pay-grade.

I finish off the beer and pour myself a small dram of the Glenfiddich as Davidé helps himself to another full tumbler. The swine is shitfaced, and slumped in his chair he gurgles with wet mirth as I make snide comments about the forty dollar’s worth of whiskey he has just inhaled. It’s an odd duck, the 125th Anniversary, with a shocking amount of peat for the Lairds of smooth Speyside. It’s not quite the tar pit of a Laphroaig or Lagavaulin, but there is a distinct iodine note in there. I’ve never been a fan of smoky whiskies with cigars as I find that they tend to bring out the worst from the leaf, exacerbating the bitterness of the tar. Fortunately, in the Partagás Culebras there’s no tar to exacerbate.

Eventually I reach the inevitable point and have to untie the final ribbon, causing the cigar fall apart. Disassembled, it resembles three petite coronas, two in the final inch and one few centimetres longer. I smoke them down to three separate nubs, puffing in rotation.

In the end this is a very easy going, no-nonsense sort of a cigar. Were it a straight parejo it would no doubt be a sleeper favourite amongst Partagás fans. As it is it is a fun, perfectly smokable cigar that deserves more than novelty status. In fact, I really feel that should be more Culebras in the world: if you’re in the business of commissioning regional edition cigars, I strongly recommend you order up a paper-wrapped Fonseca Culebras, or at least a Ramón Allones one, because I certainly enjoyed this more than a PSD4.

Partagás Culebras nub

Partagás Culebras on the Cuban Cigar Website

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.

Partagás Roundup

Below is a list, ranked from best to worst, of the Partagás cigars smoked so far on this blog. It will be updated from time to time.

  1. Partagás 109 150th Anniversary Humidor
  2. Partagás Robustos Extra 155th Anniversary Humidor
  3. Partagás Grand Pyramid 160th Aniversario Humidor
  4. Partagás Piramides Edición Limitada 2000
  5. Partagás Serie C No. 1 Colección Habanos 2002
  6. Partagás 109 165th Aniversario Humidor
  7. Partagás Selección Privada Edición Limitada 2014
  8. Partagás Serie C No. 3 Edición Limitada 2012
  9. Partagás Serie P No. 1
  10. Partagás Salomones
  11. Partagás Culebras
  12. Partagás Sobresalientes Réplica de Humidor Antiguo
  13. Partagás Serie D Especial Edición Limitada 2010
  14. Partagás Serie D No. 2 Edición Limitada 2003
  15. Partagás Serie D No. 5 Edición Limitada 2008
  16. Partagás Serie D No. 4

The list above does not represent a complete roundup of the Partagás special releases, even at the time of publication, as unfortunately, I have yet to obtain some cigars. These are listed below, and will be added to the ranked list if and when I smoke them. A fan of Dusky Beauties? Here is your chance to perpetuate it: send cigars. I can be contacted at atgroom@cubancigarwebsite.com.

Partagás Serie D No. 3 Edición Limitada 2001
Partagás Royals de Partagás 510 Aniversario Humidor
Partagás Serie D No. 1 Edición Limitada 2004
Partagás Serie D No. 4 Reserva Cosecha 2000
Partagás Serie D No. 3 Edición Limitada 2006
Partagás Serie C No. 3 Edición Limitada 2012
Partagás Lusitanias Gran Reserva

Partagás Logo

Partagás Sobresalientes Réplica de Humidor Antiguo

I’m on the waterfront, the docklands, Melbourne’s great urban renewal project of the 1990s. It’s widely derided in Melbourne as a failure, a soulless ghost town, and a disaster of urban planning, but failure is a relative term that rather depends on what you set out to accomplish. The docks, after all, were renewed, were they not? Luxury apartments and frozen yogurt shops have definitely taken the place of the cavernous warehouses and the greasy chip shops that the stevedores of yesteryear frequented. The main criticism is that nobody comes down here, that the streets are empty, but I’m sure the young professionals who live in the luxury apartments here aren’t too bothered by the rural serenity of their inner city suburb. To me, about to enjoy a Partagás Sobresalientes from the Replica Antique Humidor on my own private pier on a wonderfully still, cloudless day, the lack of foot traffic doesn’t seem like such a bad thing at all.

Partagás Sobresalientes Réplica de Humidor Antiguo unlit

I open the end and puff a few times with the cigar unlit, testing the draw. It is very loose, right on the cusp of unacceptably so. I bring a flame to the foot, and after a few sour puffs it turns quite velvety, with a heavy, herbal taste that is reminiscent of a good quality gin. There is a light dusty dryness in the aftertaste.

An old blanket is draped on the slime covered rocks below my position, and has been there so long that it appears to have become one of them, soaked in the same mud that has coloured the rocks, and sharing the same patina from the tides and the same slime pattern. I watch a dozen or so bright orange crabs as they move about, grazing on the muck. There is something going on under the water as well: for the first few meters off the shore it is punctuated by columns of air-bubbles rising to the surface. I can’t imagine what from – they seem far too regular and vigorous to be the work of crabs or photosynthesizing algae, but there’s so many of them that if they’re from a leaky pipe or tunnel then somebody has a big problem on their hands. A black swan, tag number G10 swims sedately by. He spies a floating apple, and, smart enough to pick it out from the non-edible flotsam, has a go at it. It’s too big for him, and after a dozen or so attempts he gives up and drifts away. He leaves the crabs unmolested.

When I lived in Shanghai I always used to marvel at the subsistence economy that existed on banks of the Huangpu and its tributaries, undoubtedly one of the most polluted waterways in the world. I’d often walk the banks of the river during my lunch break, and when the tide was low the rocks would be covered in scavengers, picking them clean of crabs and mussels and other shellfish. When I was a boy it was not unusual to see bodies floating in the Huangpu, presumably belonging to onetime scavengers who had lost their footing on the river’s slimy edge. By the time I returned to China as an adult the corpses were a lot rarer, presumably fished out at one of the gargantuan new dams upstream (or perhaps ground up in their power turbines).

Partagás Sobresalientes Réplica de Humidor Antiguo, two thirds left, with a coffee and some Ray-Ban Aviators

Part way through and the cigar is very mellow, a light tobacco flavour with a lot of wood and straw. There’s not a huge amount to it at this point, especially for a cigar of this ring gauge, but it’s an extremely pleasant, mild and elegant smoke, and perfect for an afternoon like mine. I was enjoying a cup of coffee with this but I finished it a little quicker than I meant to and am enjoying the later part of the cigar on its own – my main observation is that it would go extremely well with a dry, non-threatening cocktail, or perhaps a light white wine.

The Shanghai waterfront was anything but deserted. Once, late at night, I was in need of a romantic spot to canoodle with a girlfriend, and with Melbourne’s desolate waterfront in mind I headed for the river. It must have been one in the morning, and it wasn’t even a weekend, but the place was teeming: a thousand other canoodling couples were there, occupying every bench, bollard, and railing. They were serenaded by cacophonic street musicians and serviced by a range of food carts and several hundred hawkers who zipped back and forth on LED lit roller-skates, each flogging the same selection of laser pointers, electronic toys of the yapping, back-flipping dog variety, and glow-in-the-dark toy helicopters. One particularly stubborn girl selling roses latched onto us, following us for five minutes along the embankment, repeatedly trying to force a rose into my pocket despite my increasingly irate protestations. Eventually driven to breaking point I yelled at her, and made to throw her product into the river, and she skulked away. My girlfriend grew cold on me after that: she denied it at the time, but I suspect that she secretly wanted a rose.

Partagás Sobresalientes Réplica de Humidor Antiguo, two thirds smoked, with a coffee and some Ray-Ban Aviators

The cigar remains mild to the last, never turning bitter, but also never offering the dirty old Partagás flavour of the better Partagás exotics, or terribly much else of note. It’s a very pleasant cigar, a mild, cruisy smoke for mild, cruisy days. It’s totally inoffensive, and better than a PSD4 and some of the lesser limiteds. If you have a box I wouldn’t treasure them. If you don’t have one I wouldn’t seek one out.

Partagás Sobresalientes Réplica de Humidor Antiguo nub, on a coffee cup

Partagás Réplica de Humidor Antiguo on the Cuban Cigar Website

Partagás Piramides Edición Limitada 2000

Today’s dusky beauty comes to you from a very rare place indeed: my kitchen. About once a year the old juices begin to boil within me, and I decide that it’s time to cook again my favourite dish: French onion soup. The juices would boil more often, but it is a very fundamental belief of mine that to do French onion properly you need to go long and slow, with low heat and constant stirring. Four hours is the absolute minimum amount of time required. I usually do eight. The first couple of hours, while the onions are browning, those are the hardest, because if one onion burns and sticks to the bottom of the pan it ruins the whole thing. The soup that is bubbling away on my stove at the moment is in around hour three – the broth has just been added – and can now be left more or less unsupervised while the flavours marry. It might not be strictly necessary, but I do like to stir it every fifteen minutes or so. If nothing else it gives me an opportunity to taste the broth and see how it’s coming along. Anyway, as I have a couple of hours with not much to occupy myself before dinner, it seems like a good time to enjoy a Partagás Piramides, Edición Limitada 2000. I wonder which scent will bother my neighbours more, cigar smoke or frying onions?

Partagás Piramides Edición Limitada 2000 unlit

The cigar begins extremely well, very creamy and nutty, with coffee notes. It’s sweet, spicy, and amazing. This thing has layers. It’s a tiramisu. I was going to drink cheap red wine with this – I have half a bottle left from the soup – but these flavours are far too subtle and far too good to drown out like that. The only appropriate accompaniment for this cigar is a glass of water.

I’d had soupe à l’oignon before, but the first time I really had it done right was in Paris in the early 2000s sometime. It was mid-afternoon and had been raining on and off all day, when, as much to get out of the wet as to fill my stomach, I wandered into a little crêperie on the Île Saint-Louis and ordered the lunch set menu, which began with a bowl of French onion. To say the soup was good could not understate it more: it was life changing. I’ve tried to find the place every time I returned to Paris since, but I’ve never been able to.

The first time I tried to cook it for myself was a few months later, back in Australia. I’d been at a party with a French friend where I’d raved about my new-found love of le soupe only to have him sneer at me derisively: “this food, you know, is for the peasants. Maybe you eat it at night when you are drunk, like kebab, but is not for lunch.” I stumbled home about midnight, drunk on far too much of his homemade pear liquor, and some soup seemed like just the ticket. I didn’t look up a recipe or anything – it’s peasant food, how hard can it be? – and basically just boiled an onion in white wine. Total time from raw vegetables to consumption would have been around thirty minutes. I spent around forty five throwing up.

Partagás Piramides Edición Limitada 2000, one third smoked

The burn of this cigar is just appalling. Every time I get up to stir the soup it goes out. Every time I set it down for more than about 30 seconds the wrapper goes out and only the core burns. When I do get the wrapper alight for a little while it burns unevenly. I have to touch it up almost with every puff. I feel like I’m smoking a pipe. I’ve only ever encountered one other cigar that burned as badly as this: the Montecristo Robusto EL 2000. This then, is another of the infamous Habano 2000 fireproof wrappers. All that said, it is delicious. Halfway through it is stronger, a heavier coffee and earth. The cream is mostly gone, but a really first class cigar remains.

In 2009, now living in Shanghai, I used to haunt a steakhouse that was popular with the gourmet set. It was housed in an old mansion in the French Concession, and featured a lavish cigar lounge and a well-stocked wine cellar in addition to their restaurant. Their pride and joy was the steaks, and particularly the one at the top of the menu, a bone in rib eye of genuine prime US beef, that the owner would smuggle in in his suitcase personally on monthly meat runs. The trademark side dish was mac and cheese with shaved truffles that cost about the same as a week of lunches at my work cafeteria, but my special favourite was the onion soup gratinée, a variation served with a flaky pie crust rather than the usual croutons – I love a nice soggy, onion soaked baguette, but a buttery mess of onion and pastry has lot to offer as well. A gratinée followed by a nice little filet mignon, a few glasses of wine, perhaps an aged port and a cigar to round things off? It was a very civilized way to spend and evening, and worth any price in a savage place like Shanghai.

Partagás Piramides Edición Limitada 2000, final third

The end of the cigar is strong and dirty, but never bitter; fresh mud, straw, and rawhide leather, a barnyard in the rain. I never knew the old Partagás and its earthy charm, before the blend change in the mid-90s, but those who ought to know opine that this is reminiscent of it. To me it’s consistent with the anniversary cigars, and, were it not for the fireproof wrapper, it would be on par with them. On flavour alone it’s as good as anything out there. Of course, it’s almost impossible to smoke, which has to subtract a few points. I’d definitely take one of these over a PSD4, but I’m not sure that I could deal with a whole box.

The soup is ready.

Partagás Piramides Edición Limitada 2000 nub, with French onion soup

Partagás Piramides, Edición Limitada 2000 on the Cuban Cigar Website

Partagás 109 165th Aniversario Humidor

I’m seated on a bench in a public park overlooking a small lake. In the small lake there is a small island, and on the small island there is a small paved area with a bench and a large stone monolith that has a familiar silhouette carved into it: Melbourne’s memorial to John F. Kennedy. My plan coming here was to enjoy a cigar on that bench, and to share a little of my fine Cuban tobacco smoke with a man well known for his enjoyment of the same (and a man who did more to keep the prices of Cuban cigars down than anybody else in history), however, upon arrival I found the bench occupied by a young couple paying tribute to Jack with another of his favourite pastimes, and so me and my Partagás 109 from the 165th Anniversary Humidor are exiled to the far shore. It’s a big risk starting a three hour cigar in a park on a day like today; the sky is overcast, and rain is a definite threat.

Partagás 109 165th Aniversario Humidor unlit

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there are few sizes nobler than the Nro. 109. If I really had to choose I suppose I’d take one of the long and thin panatelas, the Laguito No. 1 or No. 2 over the 109, but not much else. I pick the end of the cap off with my fingernail and torch the tip with my bic. The first notes are very sour, although right from the start there is a distinct heavy cream note trying to creep through. The sourness well and truly ruins it. The tobacco flavour is very light, almost undetectable. I often wonder if it’s my trained palette at work when the flavours are distinct like this, if I have spent so many years trying to taste something beyond the tobacco that my brain is now able to block it out. I need an amateur for a blind test.

The qualities that make the JFK memorial ideal for cigar smoking – namely that it’s sheltered from the elements and quite private (you’re invisible unless someone actually walks into the area, and you can usually see them long before they see you) make it ideal for heavy petting, something I did quite a bit of there in my teenage years. In my early twenties I also used to go there to smoke a different vile weed: the daemon marijuana.

It was never really my thing, the daemon. I used to take it occasionally to help me sleep, but as the years went by it stopped being a peaceful hand that lulled me into dreamland, and instead would keep me awake all night staring hatefully at myself in the mirror. There was a period though, in the back-end of my university days, when a few of my friends were enthusiastic marijuana smokers and drinks in bars seemed awfully overpriced, that we would occasionally get stoned and wander through the city on a Saturday night seeking adventure. The JFK memorial is typically where we would start from.

It’s funny how being inebriated seems to attract adventure. I’ve never been sure how I act when I’m in that state, with every hair on my body alive and prickling, aware of the sensation of my clothes brushing against my body as I move; when time seems to reset every five seconds or so, and conversations become impossible to follow, but as far as I can tell it’s pretty normal. In the early stages I suppose I might babble a bit and lose my train of thought in conversation, but not very far into the second university cigarette I get paranoid that I’m babbling and tend to clam up, answering only to direct questions and only monosyllabically then.

I remember one Saturday night we watched a shopfront burn. The neon sign had shorted out and caught fire, and as we watched the flames spread to some bushes out the front, and then the doormat. It peeled the stickers off the glass windows but didn’t do a lot beyond that. I called the fire brigade, but by the time they arrived it had mostly burned out, and they didn’t even stop their truck, just crawled by slowly checking it out before deciding it wasn’t a threat and tearing off to some more pressing emergency. Singing with strangers was a popular theme on these nights. Once when we were replenishing our buzz in a dark alley we came upon some girls who were trying to break into the back door of an apartment complex. They said they knew somebody who lived there, and we ended up having a sing-a-long with them, some discarded bread crates serving as a stage. I can recall at least five other occasions when we’d run into someone in a similar (or worse) condition to ourselves, who serenaded us with their freestyle rap. Once I wandered into a karaoke bar and attempted to sing Total Eclipse of the Heart, a song I crush when alcohol is the cause of my insobriety, and found myself totally butchering it. I wasn’t able to follow the key changes at all.

Partagás 109 165th Aniversario Humidor partly smoked

Halfway through the cigar is very pleasant, with a heavy cream note. There is a distinct coffee flavour as well, which is accompanied by some bitterness, but it doesn’t detract from it. In the aftertaste there is a slight orange citrus note. The draw is a tiny bit tight. It’s entirely my fault. When I opened this cigar I picked off just the cap, which with a regular shaped cigar would have been fine, but the 109’s conical head should probably be cut a little lower. To rectify the situation I periodically put my nail into the nub and wiggle it a bit, freeing up the tobacco. It makes a world of difference.

I remember one night on the herb we made friends with a group of black guys. We were walking along the street, stoned out of our minds when they stopped us and asked us where a certain club was. They weren’t blackfellas like we have in Australia (which in Melbourne are few and far between), but African Americans like you see in the movies, with baggy pants and baseball caps. They sniffed out our weed pretty fast, and soon we were sitting on a stoop passing around jazz cigarettes feeling like we were in a Spike Lee joint. They took us to the club, where at first the bouncer didn’t want to let the white boys in, but the leader of our new friends explained that we were “aight,” did a complicated handshake, and in we were, the only white faces in a room that was wall to wall in baggy pants, snapback caps and girls with juicy butts in tight leopard-skin dresses. It was straight out of South Central LA, a place I never would have imagined would exist in the middle of Melbourne. I say we were the only white faces: I mean we were the only white male faces. There were a lot of white girls there, every one of them looking at my friend and I with undisguised distain. My friend went off to dance, and when he did one of the white girls came up to me. “I don’t think you should be here” she said, looking down her nose. “I don’t think your friend is okay.”

The condescension and blaring hip-hop was too violent an assault for our messed up brains, and so within ten or so minutes we were back outside in an alley with a few of the black guys, passing joints around. One of our new friends wandered into the circle and held out his hand for me: “check this out.” His woollen fingerless glove was soaked through with something thick and viscous. I tentatively touched it with my finger. Blood. “Are you alright bro? Did you cut yourself?” He smiled a toothy smile. “Nah” he said “I just beat the shit out of some white-boy around the back.”

We parted company shortly after.

Partagás 109 165th Aniversario Humidor final third

The ending of the cigar is very dry and dusty, like sandy soil. It actually makes you thirsty. In the final inch or so it grows bitter with the tar, but in that bitterness there is a very distinct powdered chocolate note – the kind you get on the top of a cappuccino. Ten years of age improves most cigars, but typically when you say a cigar needs more age you mean that it’s too strong, which is not the case here. The tobacco is very mild, and the whole thing is well balanced, but it’s not terribly elegant. Ten more years should round off the rough edges and make it a smooth, elegant, coffee and cream bomb.

In 2014 this is the weakest of the four Partagás anniversary cigars, but it’s the one that has the most potential to improve in my eyes. If you have a box I’d leave it alone and check back in 2020. Even now, it’s still better than a PSD4.

Partagás 109 165th Aniversario Humidor nub

Partagás 165 Aniversario Humidor on the Cuban Cigar Website

Partagás Grand Pyramid 160th Aniversario Humidor

With each passing lustrum the Partagás Aniversario humidors grow more and more complicated: the boxes more elaborate, the bands better printed, the sizes more unusual, and the release more numerous. So it is for 2005’s 160th Anniversary Humidor; 250 editions of an ornately carved little box, 100 cigars in each, 50 robusto extra and 50 grand piramides. The latter of these I will combust today.

Partagás Grand Pyramid 160th Aniversario Humidor unlit, on a Japanese knife

I open the end of the cigar with a sharp knife and take a match to the foot. It begins very well, a smooth, mild tobacco. “Pepper” is often sighted a characteristic of Partagás cigars, and it’s a term I try not to use in my own tasting notes because I’m never sure exactly what people mean by it. Sometimes I taste capsaicin in a cigar, the tang that gives chilli peppers their heat (and their flavour), while other times there is a definite note of cracked black pepper, or a non-specific spice that lends it a “peppery” heat. On this occasion there is a note of peppercorns in the back-palette, the aroma of the green berries that I used to crush into puddles to see the oil rainbows at the age of five or six.

For a long and complex cigar like this, I thought it might be time to tell a long and complex tale of revenge, which begins, as most such tales do, with two pubescent boys, me (who at that time was known as Shroom, thanks to my trademark bowl-cut hairstyle), and David Poplar, who everybody called Dropbear. We were friends for a time, but – as is usual for hormonal dorks – we had a falling out, and became the bitterest of enemies. I don’t remember what we fell out about, but I remember the aftermath: six months or so of putting gum on each other’s lockers and stealing things from each other; pens, rulers, compasses, the power cables to each other’s laptops, that sort of stuff. More than once these thefts brought us to the principal’s office, where I would tell my version of the truth, Dropbear would lie through his teeth, and we’d both end up in trouble. At one point I shot him in the leg with a crossbow (it had a rubber safety tip on the bolt and didn’t break the skin, but it left a hell of a bruise). By far the worst and most lasting skirmish though, was when Dropbear got me kicked out of the Advanced Maths class. In later years I would emerge as a wordy, artistic type, barely able to do math beyond simple arithmetic, but at one point I was a promising mathematician, well deserving of my place among the twenty or so scholars of Advanced Maths. It was inspection day, when all of us had to submit our workbooks from the past term so that Mr. Patterson could make sure we were doing our homework, and fully confident in my pages of neat calculations, I spent the period we were given to finish off anything messing about with my friends, leaving my workbook unguarded my desk. At the end of the period I turned it in with confidence, totally unaware that Dropbear had spent that fateful period defacing it, tearing out pages, writing in mistakes, crossing things out, and drawing obscene cartoons in coloured marker. The next day my parents were called, and despite my protests, my tearful scene in Mr. Patterson’s office, I was demoted, an advanced math student no longer. I changed schools a few months later, but that night I swore that one day I would destroy Dropbear, not with some simple act of revenge, not with an act of petty theft or a defaced maths book, but with a Machiavellian plot that would see him utterly crushed and ruined forever.

Partagás Grand Pyramid 160th Aniversario Humidor, two thirds remaining

Progressing, the cigar grows stronger with a bitter espresso note. It’s very pleasant, really. Very balanced. You can taste the care. The burn remains dead straight.

Fifteen years after I’d last seen the Dropbear I was living in Japan. It was an Autum night, just on the cusp of jacket weather, and I had been invited out to a chankonabe restaurant to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Chankonabe is what the sumo-wrestlers eat, a high protein, high fat soup of fish, squid, and prawns, cooked in a rich sake broth. Once the meat is eaten the pot is filled with rice, making a tasty, carb heavy stew for weight gain. The logic goes that the senior wrestlers need to build muscles, so they eat first and get all the meat. The junior wrestlers need weight, so they get the rice. The restaurant that night was all you can eat and drink, and being an epicurean of the first order, I took full advantage, filling myself to capacity with rich food and jug after jug of beer and sake. After the meal, well and truly lit up, the party moved to an Australian themed bar where I was a well-known regular. The bartender there was a middle-aged alcoholic Japanese man named Mori-san. When I first started going to that bar I would order my trademark whiskey-ginger, and would argue each time with the amount of whiskey he put in my drink. At first Mori-san would take this with good humor, adding perhaps an extra thimbleful to my glass, but once I was well established as a regular (I was at the point where I would occasionally tend bar while the proprietor had a nap on the couch), he decided to try a different tactic to ween me off large drinks: he would hide my glass beneath the bar and pour me a full six shots of whiskey with just a splash of ginger and see what happened.

My second whiskey drink rendered me insensible, or at least incapable of joining society without making a spectacle of myself, and my embarrassed friends propped me up at a corner table. I guess they felt a little bad about it, because after a half hour or so of mumbling to myself, somebody brought over a guy I didn’t recognise. “Hey Groom, why don’t you talk to this guy… he’s fresh off the boat from Melbourne.” I lifted my head a little, and focused a bleary glaze on the newcomer. “What suburb are you from?” He looked utterly disinterested in a conversation with a soak like me, but replied nonetheless “Prahran.” “Oh really? I went to school there for a couple of years.” “Yeah, me too.” I focused on him a little more intently. There was something familiar about this guy. “What did you say your name was?” “Dave… but ah… everyone called me Dropbear.” I laughed a long, malicious laugh. “You don’t recognize me? It’s Groom, you dick! Shroom! Do you remember what you did to me in Advanced Maths?”

I berated him for about twenty minutes, fifteen years of pent up pubescent anger, outlining each of my many grievances, and being quite open about my oath of vengeance. He sat there awkwardly, a sober bystander unable to extricate himself from the ramblings of an angry drunk. Eventually he found an excuse, he was travelling with another of our high-school alumni, who he had to go meet at a different bar. As with most drunks, once it seemed like I was going to be abandoned my tone shifted. “Wait wait,” I said “I’d love to see you again while you’re here, what’s your number?” He was traveling and didn’t have a phone, but to placate me he gave me the card the hotel had given him in case he got lost. The hotel was just nearby. The card had his name and room number written in pen on the top.

Not long after Dropbear had left, one of my friends sidled over and suggested that it might be time for me to do the same, and asked whether I needed any help to travel the 200m or so to my home. I took the hint, told him to get fucked, and stumbled out into the night on my own.

Partagás Grand Pyramid 160th Aniversario Humidor, final quarter

The coffee has sweetened, the bitterness become cocoa. With two inches left, there is a sort of grassy, herbal note, some freshly mown lawn. The strength has lightened, if anything. Above all, this is a classy, classy smoke.

My apartment was right in the centre of the red-light district, where no right minded Japanese person would ever choose to live, but it suited a party-boy foreigner like me perfectly. It was a former building manager’s apartment, and occupied the entire fifth and sixth floors of the building, with floors one to three being hostess bars, and four a happy-ending massage parlour. I had a playful relationship with the massage girls, mainly Filipino women in their 40s, who would be outside the building soliciting when I came in at night. When I first started living there they would clutch my arm whisper “massagi, massagi” in my ear, but as the months went by they had gotten to know my face and realised that I wasn’t a prospective customer. Nowadays it was me, who, rambling home in the early hours with a buzz on, would yell “massagi, massagi” at them. On the night in question I encountered one of them in the elevator on my way up – my favourite one, the one who played along with my silly game the most, and dragged her all the way up the stairs and almost across the threshold of my place before she escaped back down to the parlour below.

Finally home, and nearly spent from an exhausting evening, I slid the bolt across on the door, emptied my pockets onto the hall table, undressed, and turned on the shower. The bathroom was a Japanese style wet room, with a drain on the floor and no shower enclosure to speak of. With a well-practiced hand I removed the drain grating, and slowly lay down on my side next to the hole. I began to gently throw up, my retching scarcely more violent than breathing, the peaceful release of an undigested soup of fish, squid, and prawns, cooked in a rich broth.

I had been at it maybe twenty minutes when I became aware of a pounding on my door. My house was so centrally located that it was not unusual for me to receive late night visitors, friends who didn’t want to spring for a cab home and wanted a couch to sleep on, and so I yelled out “I’m in the shower, I’ll be there in a minute” and kept on with my expulsions. The pounding continued unabated, so eventually I got up, wrapped a towel around my waist, and dripping wet threw open the door to dress down this late night caller. Standing on my doorstep was the massage girl from the elevator a few minutes earlier. She grabbed me by the arm and started to pull me down the stairs. “No, no,” I protested “I was just kidding around! I don’t want a massage!” but she continued to pull until we got to the parlor below. Five girls in bikinis and three very sheepish looking Japanese businessmen in various stages of undress stood in a circle around the center of the room where a few overflowing plastic containers were failing to hold the deluge that was pouring through the ceiling at a similar rate to my shower above. Plainly visible floating in the tubs were chunks of fish, squid, and prawns. I laughed, explained as best as I could that I understood and would stop my shower, and then went back upstairs and passed out.

I awoke around midday to find my landlady (a sweet elderly Japanese woman) and a tradesman in my kitchen. With broken English and sign language she communicated that my shower’s drainpipe had clogged and burst in the ceiling. The tradesman brought over in a bucket the clog, a ball of prawn and squid, the suckers still visible on the tentacles. She looked at me quizzically. She picked up a frying pan from the bench and gestured to it and the shower. “You wash in there?” I grinned. “No no no.” I pointed to my mouth and made the universal gesture of throwing up. She lit up with understanding. “Okay, next time…” she pointed to the toilet. I bowed. “Okay.”

Two days later I was sitting on my balcony smoking a morning cigar (it was a Trinidad Reyes, if I recall correctly) and enjoying a can of coffee when two long, black S-Class Mercedes-Benzes came up my street and double parked in front of my building, disgorging a number of large, heavily tattooed men with sunglasses. The Yakuza. Japanese gangsters. The baddest men in Japan. Although not an uncommon sight in the streets of the red light district where I lived, this was the first time I’d seen the Yaks in mine. They were met at the door by my harried looking landlady. A few minutes later she rang my bell.

She explained in her broken English that because I had thrown up in the shower, the pipe bursting was my fault, and although the insurance company would pay for the damage I would need to apologise to the owner of the property below whose business had been hurt by the incident. I mimed confusion. “Oh no” I said “it wasn’t me who threw up… it was my friend.” From the hall table I picked up a card with the address of a nearby hotel, a name and room number written in pen on the top. She took it and scurried back down the stairs.

I returned to the balcony and to my still smoldering cigar, and watched as out in the street the large men piled back into their limousines and drove off in the direction of the nearby hotel.

I never heard from Dropbear again.

The cigar finishes very nicely without tar, the tobacco never peaking above medium. A wonderful elegant finish to a first class cigar, that is on par with the 155th Anniversary, even if it doesn’t reach the heights of the 150th. In an absolute ranking I’d have to give put the 155th higher than this, but that’s mainly just because it’s older. The 160th Anniversary Grand Piramides is a great cigar, and much better than a PSD4.

Partagás Grand Pyramid 160th Aniversario Humidor nub

Partagás 160th Aniversario Humidor on the Cuban Cigar Website.

Partagás Robustos Extra 155th Anniversary Humidor

If last week’s cigar, the fantastic Partagás 150th Anniversary 109, was history, well, so is this week’s, the Partagás 155th Anniversary Robustos Extra. Where that was a snapshot of a glorious past when anniversary cigars were epics made with passion out of extinct tobaccos found after decades lost in long abandoned silos, and put to use in the making of singular, never to be repeated smokes, this represents the moment when everything started to go wrong, when the capitalists began to take over, and when everything became about money.

Partagás Robustos Extra 155th Anniversary Humidor unlit

Well, perhaps that’s a little unfair. While the release comes far too hot on the tail of the 150th for my taste (a century and a half in business is one thing, but a century and eleven twentieths?), this release is still a far cry from the slick anniversary humidors that today come at a rate of one a year. The box is a presidencial, a humidor that might have otherwise ended up as a diplomatic gift for a head of state, with a Partagás logo hastily glued on the lid, and is a far cry from the slick humidors made by international luxury brands that we see today. The band is basically a prototype for the mafia special bands that adorn so many of the unofficial production cigars that come out of the Partagás La Casa del Habano, and like them it features a large, gaudy landscape of the Partagás factory façade – for the panels on the sides someone has used the Photoshop gradient tool to good effect. Like the mafia specials, this band has not rolled of the giant, antique presses at Vrijdag in Holland, and is not made from the premium stock of the regular Habanos band. I’d say it was probably printed at the copy-shop down the road from the Partagás factory, but I don’t think that there were any copy-shops in Cuba in 2000. I’m not sure there’re any now, for that matter. Perhaps someone flew over to Mexico. Either way, there is no embossing, the gold is faded and peeled off in places, and I can clearly see the grid pattern from the Inkjet printer on the panels. It seems to have been made for the salomones size that is also found in the humidor, with no thought for how it would look on the smaller ringed cigars – the word “Cuba” is obscured by the overlap.

From the get go the cigar is much heavier than the 150th, with an early tannic bite and heavy tobacco. It quickly mellows out, with a strong coffee and bean flavour. The draw is perfect, classic Cuban. I’m sure that a fan of non-Cuban, 60 ring gage cigars (n.b.: to avoid further accusations of racism, I cast no aspersions as to where this hypothetical cigar smoker might originate from, or what rubbery treats he and his countrymen may or may not enjoy) would consider this to be completely plugged, but to me it’s perfection in a draw – it takes about the same amount of pressure as to get the smoke through this cigar as it would take you to get a McDonalds thickshake through a straw: enough to make you earn it but not so much that you hurt your jaw.

Partagás Robustos Extra 155th Anniversary Humidor one third smoked

An inch in and there is a strong, dominating cream flavour (the true mark of elegance in a cigar) over a slight, sandy earthiness. The day is a lot breezier than it was when I was enjoying the 150th, and my ash has fallen more than once, never holding on for more than five millimetres or so. I’ve managed to get a chunk on my pants. Low points for construction (I jest of course; with a perfect draw and straight burn, the construction of this cigar could not be improved upon. The low points here belong to the smoker and his inability to move a delicate object from an ashtray to his lips and back again without mishap.)

I don’t often taste nuts in a cigar, but they’re there in this one: almonds, lightly toasted. Overall this is a much fuller, stronger, and rougher cigar than its compatriot in the 150th, although that’s not to take anything away from it, as it’s still first class in every way. I wonder what five years more will do to it.

Partagás Robustos Extra 155th Anniversary Humidor final third

I don’t fully understand the process by which a big cigar remains mild until the end. Cigars essentially act as a filter for their own smoke, and just as the filter in a range hood over time becomes soaked with the evaporated oil of a thousand stir-fry dinners, three hours of smoking will drench the nub of a long cigar in oil and tar and cause it to become bitter. Except sometimes it doesn’t. While the last inch of the 155th Anniversary is not the light, practically refreshing finish that I found in the 150th, it is nonetheless very clean. I feel no desire to spit, and am not reaching for my iced-coffee any more than I have at any other point during the smoke. The age of the cigar plays a part: fifteen years in a cool dark box have caused the oils to evaporate and distil into a cleaner fuel than they were in their youth, but the lion’s share must go to the tobacco, the quality of which is unrivalled. The final notes are of grass and wet mud. The last few puffs reveal for the first time a heavy, dark cocoa. I’d love another inch to explore the flavour, but my fingers are being scorched. Despite being a little shorter than the 150th 109, this cigar took me quite a lot longer, with a smoking time of three hours forty-five.

It’s no 150th Anniversary 109, but the Partagás 155th Anniversary Robusto Extra isn’t too far off, and it’s a whole lot better than a PSD4.

Partagás Robustos Extra 155th Anniversary Humidor nub.

Partagás 155th Anniversary Humidor on the Cuban Cigar Website

Partagás 109 150th Anniversary Humidor

The Partagás 150th Anniversary Humidor: a bland wooden box, containing 150 gaudily banded cigars split equally over three sizes: a robusto, a coronas grandes, and an old school bullet tipped Nro. 109, one example of which will meet its maker today.

Partagás 109 150th Anniversary Humidor unlit

Produced in 1995 the Partagás 150th Anniversary Humidor is arguably the first of the official commemorative humidors. Yes, there were a few that preceded it, namely the 1492 (much more on that later), and the 1994 humidor – but these were created by the Cuban tobacco industry to celebrate the leaf itself, and not designed with a particular brand’s flavour profile in mind. Lost to the ages there were also probably some fairly special branded humidors – I’ve no doubt that in 1945 a few 100th Anniversary cigars did the rounds – but as far as official Habanos production, as far as the modern commemorative humidors, as far as things you could buy without a strong connection in the Politburo: this is the first. There won’t be any fucking around today, readers, no stupid stories of hedonism past or present. No, today we’re smoking history.

The day is mild, the coffee is warm, and the cigar is fantastic from the first puff. I honestly didn’t even want to smoke a cigar today, but I found myself with a few hours and thought I had better get the jump on a dusky beauty. One puff has completely turned me around. I’ve often described cigars as elegant, and this is a quintessential example of that: a light tobacco taste over a bucket of cream. More than anything it’s reminiscent of a well-aged Cohiba Lanceros. Smooth, smooth tobacco with a cake aftertaste. Vanilla sponge cake. More my grandmother’s than my aunt’s.

Partagás 109 150th Anniversary Humidor an inch smoked

Clouds of great heavy smoke hang in the air, fragrant and luxurious. I lay it down as long as I can between puffs, let it cool, let it burn at its own pace. Smoking this too quickly would be a crime. About an inch in there is a change, razor sharp between puffs. The cigar becomes fuller, with more of the dirty, woody note familiar to Partagás.

Handling it delicately I let the ash on this cigar get very long, over two inches. The long ash game is not one I usually play because it only has one ending (a pile of hot ash on my crotch) but for some reason I feel compelled today. The burn is a little uneven, and a long stretch of unburned wrapper on one side supports the column. I could even it up with the application of the tiniest flame, but I don’t want to interfere with this cigar at all, lest I spoil it. Cigars are much hardier beasts than they are generally given credit for – more than once I have had a cigar fall from my lips into a swimming pool to find it still lit and perfectly smokable when quickly fished out – but certain things deserve respect, and this is one of them.

Partagás 109 150th Anniversary Humidor half smoked

The ash eventually starts to crack and tremble a little way past the halfway mark of the cigar, and I apply a match for just a second and let it down gently. Fantastic construction: for the first time in memory I have played the ash game to its limit and had my pants return unscathed.

With three inches remaining the cigar goes out, and when I bring it back it has changed. A strength is evident now, although there’s no hint of tar or bitterness, but the profile is fuller, more tannic, robust mud and earth, some pepper and spice, dry dark cocoa beans, and just a hint of that drip you get in the back of your throat when you do a line of good cocaine.

Very notable is that more than two hours and five inches into this cigar I still have a quarter of a cup of coffee left. I am not at all drunk (alright, I admit that there was a small amount of rum in the coffee, but we’re talking two thirds of a shot over two hours here) as I was for some of the other very highly rated dusky beauties. I am sitting on a hard wooden floor. I am alone. My laptop is uncomfortably hot against my legs, but when I move it to the floor the Wi-Fi drops out (I think my body is acting as an aerial.) This cigar was sitting in my travel humidor for more than a week before I decided to smoke it. I didn’t even want to smoke a cigar today. So much of cigar smoking is about the environment – a Monte 4 can beat almost any other cigar when it’s paired with good drink, a warm night and interesting company – and everything about this environment is against the cigar, and yet it exposes its greatness with every puff. By far the best Partagás at this stage of the horizontal, and it’s up there with the very best cigars I’ve had the pleasure of combusting. I would love to have a cigar neophyte try this, preferably the kind of person that would make derisive comments about wafting cigar smoke at a social gathering, and see how they felt about it. When it comes to cigars I am as spoiled as they come: I smoke exclusively Cuban cigars, and more or less only exotic collectable ones. I’ve never claimed to have an especially sensitive or well-trained palette, but to me nothing is more apparent here than the excellence on the tobacco: utterly, obviously, and indisputably first class. I wonder if a non-smoker would feel the same.

Partagás 109 150th Anniversary Humidor final third

Even at the nub with my fingers close to burning there is no bitterness in this cigar, just the full heady flavour of wet earth and well charred whisky barrels. I have absolutely no inclination to spit. I don’t even want to take a sip of my drink. The smoke isn’t even hot! It’s practically refreshing! More than six inches smoked and if someone offered me another one of these right now I wouldn’t hesitate for a second. There is a salty taste on my lips, which might be an unusual quality of twenty year old tar build-up in the end, or more likely the jus from my scorched fingers has soaked into the leaf.

A little over three hours since I began, and the cigar is gone, reduced to so much ash and scattered on the lemon tree that grows under my balcony. At one time there were 7500 of these in the world, and now there is one less. Is the world worse off? I like to think the atmosphere was improved by the smoke.

If this is a cigar, I don’t even know what to call a PSD4. They’re not the same thing. If you have the means I highly recommend you pick one up.

Partagás 109 150th Anniversary Humidor nub

Partagás 150th Anniversary Humidor on the Cuban Cigar Website