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

Romeo y Julieta Churchill Reserva Cosecha 2008

Life has a funny way of working out. For this week’s dusky beauty I was in need of a sidekick. For the final cigar in my Romeo y Julieta retrospective I had lined up a Churchills Reserva and, much as I did a few years ago with the Monte Gran Reserva, I wanted to smoke it side by side with someone smoking its regular production equivalent. Davidé (the swine), was off in the tropics indulging his baser urges in some sweltering hive of scum and villainy, and nobody else seemed too interested. The weather was perfect and I was seriously smoking the two cigars simultaneously when a text message came through. It was my friend Bogus’ birthday, he was feeling depressed, and was wondering if I wanted to get a drink and talk. “I can do you one better” I replied. “Eat a banana and head over. I’ve got the sure-fire depression cure for you: nicotine and Vitamin D.”

Romeo y Julieta Churchill Reserva Cosecha 2008 unlit, alongside a regular Churchills

“Holy shit,” my companion remarks, moments after lighting. “Now that is a delicious cigar.” The reserva at this point is just getting its legs, and is still a little bitter from the light, so I have a puff of the regular Churchills. The boy is right. The cigar is amazing. One of the sweetest, creamiest cigars I’ve ever had the pleasure of. Tastes like butterscotch. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last. By two centimetres in the Churchill regular is black coffee, with dirty earth notes. The reserva is a much lighter (and, frankly, superior) version of the same thing: smooth coffee cream and cedar.

Bogus today is an upstanding member of society: he’s married with kids, runs his own business, and is deeply involved in the political fundraiser networking circuit. It was not always this way. I’ll never forget the first day we met. I was sitting in a university tutorial at the start of second semester, waiting for class to begin, when a gungy looking skinhead thug sat down next to me. He really had it all going on – heavily studded leather jacket, ripped jeans, boots, tartan flannel shirt, and he offered me his hand, saying “hey man, I’m so glad there’s somebody I know in this class.” I had never seen this person before in my life, and was about to say so, when the second words out of his mouth gave me pause: “I’m so happy today, man. It’s the last day of my suspended sentence.”

We became fast friends, and ten years later, long after his rebellion against society had ended, he sent me a text. It was Grand Final Day (the final match of the year for our home grown football code), which is a sort of public holiday in Melbourne, when your average male traditionally has a barbecue and watches the game, or go to a pub and watches the game. Bookish nerds like me traditionally stay home and play video games in protest. Bogus’ text was inviting me to a pub crawl. “Just me and some friends,” it read. “It’s okay but they’re a bunch of punks.”

Assuming he meant “punks” in the same sense as “kids,” I decided to dress in the most neutral way I could, so as not to affiliate myself with any football team. The final ensemble – a beige guayabera, chinos, and a calf-length chestnut coloured overcoat – looked good, but it was weird as hell. I looked like a moneyed eccentric, home from the equatorial colonies. When I walked into the pub and found myself in a room full of leather, tartan, Mohawks and piercings, I looked even more out of place; in a room full of non-conformist weirdos, I was the non-conformist weirdo.

The event turned out to be the annual Punk Crawl, a decades long tradition on Melbourne Grand Final Day, where a hundred or so punks trek around the CBD, occupying various bars. Outside each venue, and accompanying the walk between them, was a heavy police presence. I had joined the crawl at pub number three. We stayed there for about forty-five minutes before walking down the street to pub four, only to find that the cops had phoned ahead, and the owner had closed the place in anticipation. The thing about punks is that they’re anarchists. They lack strong leadership. With the planned venue closed to them, the crawl pretty much disbanded. Some punks went to the next pub on the list. Others went back to the place we had just come from. Some scattered to various nearby bars, while a final group stayed outside the closed bar, yelling indignantly that it was a free country and they were just trying to have some fun. For my own part I wound up around the corner at a university bar that did not feature on the official list.

Romeo y Julieta Churchill Reserva Cosecha 2008, an inch is smoke

The Churchills Reserva has a bit of tighter draw than the regular production model and, perhaps because of this, or perhaps my more practiced smoking technique, it is burning a good deal slower. Its flavours are light, with coffee and a distinct sour cherry note. It’s an artificial cherry flavour – red Starburst, specifically. By contrast the regular Churchills is much fuller tobacco, with bitter coffee and earthy tones.

There were ten or so of the punks that came with us to the university bar, and I was hanging out chiefly with Bogus and his friend Moby. Like Bogus, Moby wasn’t really a practicing punk any more. At one time he had been as punk as they come, with leopard print and ACAB (“All Cops Are Bastards”) tattooed around the base of his Mohawk. The Mohawk had gone years ago though, and he’d grown his hair out to cover the tattoos, which were now starting to show again as his hair thinned with the approach of middle age. He wasn’t quite as square as Bogus – he worked at a combat gym, selling custom made knives and non-lethal weaponry to security guards, hunters and martial artists. At first he eyed me with suspicion, but when I started to smoke my cigar (Upmann Monarchas), much to the distaste of the straights in the outdoor dining area, he started to come around. “You dress like a fascist” he told me, “but actually, you’re pretty punk.”

The Punk Crawl had been scheduled to end with a concert at the Grey Duke Hotel, a dive bar in a bad area that was known for its heavy metal shows, and that seemed as good a place as any to rendezvous with the main body of the crawl. We arrived about 8:30pm, just as the second act was about to go on. By all accounts the first act hadn’t been much good, but the second were shaping up to be better, and the place was starting to fill up, as the scattered groups of punks began to trickle back in. The band started to play, a few people started to head-bang, the beer was flowing, there were some cute baby-punk girls in little tartan skirts around – all in all it was a good vibe. Yes, the crawl so far had been a bit of a disaster, but now we were back together. It felt good to be punk.

Just as things were starting to come together, Moby walked up to Bogus and I with a huge grin on his face. “Well guys,” he said, “it’s been fun, but I gotta go.” “Where are you off to?” asked Bogus. “Oh, nowhere. Just things are about to get a bit rough in here.” He winked, and handed Bogus something. “Enjoy yourselves.” Bogus inspected the item Moby had handed him. It was a small aerosol can on a keyring. Bogus sniffed it gingerly, and recoiled. “It’s a pepper spray can” he said. “And it’s empty.”

It quickly became obvious that the contents of the can had gone into the air-conditioning intake. Forewarned somewhat, Bogus and I were two of the first out the door, but we were still exposed enough that my eyes and nose were streaming, a feeling like the worst hay-fever imaginable. Within a minute the place was empty. On the footpath outside punks were coughing. Punks were crying. The dance floor seemed to have gotten it worst. One of the cute-baby punk girls throwing up in the gutter, while her friend sat next to her, crying and hyperventilating hysterically. The punks were upset. “It was the bastard cops,” I heard one say. “They must have maced someone right outside the window.” “Nah,” his friend replied. “It was the owner. He saw we were starting to have fun so he shut it down.” “C’mon man,” said Bogus. “Let’s get out of here before the cops show up.”

We headed up the road to a different pub, Bogus disposing of the mace can in a storm water drain along the way, and had a beer on the deck and watched while fire engines, ambulances and cop cars arrived one after another. After a while Moby showed up and joined us. “Why did you do it?” I asked him. “Those are your friends, shouldn’t you stick together?” “Because it’s punk” he replied with a sneer. “Those poseurs just don’t get it. Of course punks pepper spray other punks. Nothing is more punk than that.

Romeo y Julieta Churchill Reserva Cosecha 2008, final third

By the last two inches the Reserva Churchills has gone much the same way as its brethren: bitter coffee, rough tobacco and tar. It’s not terrible, and I don’t need to spit, but I do need to take more regular sips of rum. These are big cigars, and a lot of crap is going to build up in two and a half hours of smoking. You have to expect that they’ll end like this.

And so the verdict: the Churchills Reserva is a way better cigar than the regular production Churchills, but it probably isn’t worth twice as much. When compared to the wider cigars of the world, it’s good, but it’s not transcendental. You could probably find a better use for your $100 in an aged EL or commemorative box. Way better than a Petit Coronas though.

Romeo y Julieta Churchill Reserva Cosecha 2008 nub

Romeo y Julieta Churchill Reserva Cosecha 2008 on the Cuban Cigar Website

Montecristo No. 4 Reserva Cosecha 2002

When these cigars first came out I was a sceptic. “What is the point,” I asked, “of rolling an $800 version of the Monte 4?” The Monte 4 is the most popular smoke in the world, and with more than a billion sold since 1935 it is the very definition of the everyman’s cigar. The Monte 4 comes from liquor stores and petrol stations and it gets smoked at dog tracks and stag nights. It’s not a trophy smoke, some seven inch phallus with which one can luxuriate over a summer evening, but a smash and grab cigar, a kick in the teeth delivered with the morning coffee or that one last brandy. When the offer came into my inbox to purchase a box of these my reply was simple: “pass.”

And then two years later came the Cohiba Siglo VI Gran Reserva. The concept was the same, new standard size cigars rolled with old tobacco, except this time there weren’t 20 of them, there were 15, and they weren’t $800 a box but $1700. There was one other difference: the reviews. 100 points they got! Best cigar ever smoked! The cigar aficionado community was cleaved evenly in twain between those who declared the Gran Reserva far too expensive, and vowed never to smoke it, and those who had smoked it and declared it the finest cigar ever rolled. I admit it: I caved, and somewhere at the bottom of one of my humidors lies a box of 14 cigars that cost me more than the sum of the hundreds of other dusky beauties that sit on top of them. The fifteenth cigar? Well, I smoked it. It was fantastic.

All of which got me to thinking: perhaps there’s something in this ‘new cigars with old tobacco’ malarkey. Perhaps there’s something in the Montecristo No. 4 Reserva.

Montecristo No. 4 Reserva Cosecha 2002 unlit with a Havana Club bottle

The draw is a little loose; the first puffs pure Monte 4, dusty straw, bean, and a touch of spice on the back of the nose. It could be all in my head, but I also feel like there’s a slight refinement, a touch of cream. From puff three I notice the aftertaste, a musky ash that is very familiar to me as the taste that no amount of brushing will remove from my mouth the morning after I drunkenly sucked down a Monte 4 nightcap. I’m not complaining – if it weren’t invariably accompanied by a splitting headache and general queasiness that taste would be not at all unpleasant – but I mention it as evidence that this cigar runs true to its roots. Fancy band or no, this is very much a Monte 4.

Montecristo No. 4 Reserva Cosecha 2002 partly smoked

I’m never sure quite how far I should go in this blog. Cigars the world over are an aid to meditation, a ritual to occupy the hands so that the mind can relax and contemplate, an idea I try to convey on this website with my meandering anecdotes (I started it as much for their sake as any serious attempt at cigar criticism). I do however, share the dream of every cigar aficionado who posts his smoking diary on the internet: that it is the beginning of a path that decades from now will lead me to the stage of the Karl Marx Theatre on a sultry February evening where I will modestly wave as a dusky Cuban beauty hands me a small statue and an announcer booms “Ladies and Gentlemen… your Habanos Man of the Year.”

What will the selection committee say when they look over my archive? Will they say “no, not him, we can’t have an animal like that as our man of the year”? Or will they perhaps say “him, he’s the only voice in Habanos that tells the truth”?

Well, the truth is that I am in pain. Not physical pain (although I did crack a rib wrestling last weekend), but mental pain; the anguish one acquires when one isn’t as young as one used to be, and so many dreams have yet to be fulfilled. The pain of lost love. The pain of cowardice and regret. The pain of living. With the Montecristo 4 Reserva half smoked I take 20mg of Oxycodone, and wash it down with a little rum and apple juice.

Montecristo No. 4 Reserva Cosecha 2002 bit less than half

The cigar at this stage is very nice because Monte 4s are very nice, but if you asked me to take the Pepsi challenge between this and one with a couple of years of age on it, I honestly think I’d struggle. I was expecting a cigar with a bit of finesse, a Monte 4 with the edges smoothed, but this is all Monte 4: woodsmoke, straw and bean, over the bitter grounds from the bottom of a Turkish coffee.

The opiate is in my temples and my fingers, and pressing out from behind my eyes. I probe my rib: still tender. I feel slowed. Each click of the keyboard is pleasant, and each puff of the cigar more so. I let the smoke curl from my lips, a gently wafting, twisting ectoplasm. It’s a good match, the opiate; one contemplative relaxing drug paired with another. 20mg is a lot of opiate for someone with my emaciated frame and no built up tolerance for the stuff (I haven’t had so much as a Panadine Forte since 2005); the equivalent of 200mg of codeine, 30mg of morphine, 30mg of heroin.

Montecristo No. 4 Reserva Cosecha 2002 final inch

In the last inch the Reserva shows what may be its distinction: it hasn’t turned bitter. Monte 4s traditionally offer you a lot of tar toward the end, but just millimetres from my fingers this has none. Perhaps it’s the drug. Great waves of relaxation are washing over me, crashing breakers of content. They have forced me to the floor where I lie on my back, the smoke wafting straight up as I exhale. I feel very slow, every action laborious, and perhaps that is slowing down my smoking, cooling the cigar. It’s hard to say, my sense of time may be a little off. I probe my rib again: no pain at all. I probe my soul: no pain there either.

Eventually I become aware of one pain, although it’s not unpleasant per se, just a polite signal from my brain that something might be wrong in my fingertips. The cigar is burning them; its end has come, although the bitterness still eludes it. I solider on a moment longer, but it extinguishes itself and I let it go.

These cigars are still available on rare occasion: just this week I was offered a box at an asking price of a thousand dollars. In no sense is it worth that kind of money, and I can’t recommend that you buy them, but they’re better than a Monte 4.

Montecristo No. 4 Reserva Cosecha 2002 nub

Montecristo No. 4 Reserva Cosecha 2002 on the Cuban Cigar Website