The third release of the Colección Habanos, 2003’s Hoyo de Monterrey Extravaganza is an odd looking brute; the wrapper changes shade significantly along the length of the wrapper leaf, which gives the cigar something of a barber-pole stripe pattern not unlike the one you see on exotic fakes from time to time. In true Cuban style the embossing on the band’s crest is appalling, which is to say that it is essentially not embossed, just a nondescript gold blob on a white background. The consensus seems to be that the name of this cigar is the Extravaganza, although there is some room for doubt, as the official Habanos web page for the release refers to it as the Lusitania, which was the name of a long departed HdM Nro. 109. Is this a recreation of that cigar? The sizes are the same, but are the blends? For me, the point is moot: the Lusitania was discontinued in the 1980s and I haven’t had the pleasure, and were I to acquire one now the age difference would spoil the comparison.
I set the cigar alight and lean back, closing my eyes and luxuriating in the pale autumn sunlight. The opening centimetre or so is pleasant, giving a very mild tobacco with strong grass and herbal notes, particularly in the aftertaste, which includes a sharp nasturtium tang. There’s quite a bit of wood, the sap from freshly split logs. It’s not entirely my thing, to be honest, but you can tell that this is a first class cigar, and I’m sure it would be right up the alley of someone with a slightly different palette to my own.
I’m pairing the Extravaganza with a bottle of muscat from 2007. I was poking around in the back of my wine cupboard this morning looking for some port to make a coffee cocktail, when my hand fell upon the muscat and I decided that today would be the day. It bears a label from the Cigar Society of Australia and New Zealand, with the subtitle “The Final Chapter: 28-June-2007.” The Cigar Society of Australia and New Zealand was a club run out of a cigar store in Melbourne that once upon a time would host an annual dinner in the ballroom at the Grand Hyatt, packing the place with a few hundred aficionados, and giving them a heavy meal and three cigars a piece. By desert the ballroom was filled with a fog so dense that visibility was reduced to just a few meters, and staggering aficionados would loom suddenly out of it like ships in the night. I acquired this muscat at the last of dinners, where the society held a mock funeral for their order, and cigar smoking in general. The president of the order was brought in in a casket; his burial presided over by a famously outspoken Catholic priest. Three days later smoking indoors was banned in Melbourne. I think the Cigar Society persisted for a few years with smaller events, just drinks on a rooftop patio some place, but it wasn’t the same. Nowadays their URL times out, and Google only returns ancient news articles. The cigar shop still exists, so perhaps the society is still around in some form, their internet presence toned down for an age where cigar smoking is an activity allowed only behind firmly closed doors.
The muscat is pleasant enough, a simple fruity drink for a simple fruity man. With a strong plum flavour and a smack of honey in the aftertaste, it’s not overly complex, but is better than you’d expect from a free wine. The cloying sweetness on my palette is enough to knock off whatever sharp edge the Extravaganza was presenting (or perhaps it has mellowed of its own accord: the edge is gone at any rate), leaving a very nutty, barnyard sort of flavour, a simple, approachable cigar for the gentleman farmer to puff off as he casually surveys the fences on the back of an old, faithful work horse. His aging retriever follows a while, but eventually gives up and returns to the house to lie on the battered wicker loveseat on the porch.
That final cigar dinner fell on a Thursday night (I remember it because I wore a suit jacket to work that day in anticipation of it, and as soon as my boss saw me he pulled me into his office and demanded to know where I was interviewing: we were not normally a formal workplace). The smoking ban came into effect at midnight on Saturday night, which worked out well for everybody, one glorious last hurrah for the social smoker. Myself, three friends and four Montecristo Number 2s got ourselves prime position, a table right in the middle of the dance floor of a particularly fashionable young nightspot. It was a chilly night, as June nights in Melbourne are, but we were left more or less alone in our cloud of blue smoke, the bulk of the bar’s population of pretty young things choosing to shiver out on the semi-enclosed patio rather than enjoy the aroma of fine Cuban leaf. They’d walk past us to refresh their drinks, more than one giving a dirty look or sneering “that stinks.” At midnight we had a small ceremony and tossed our nubs into the ashtray, which the wait-staff promptly cleared, never to return. Like a ruptured dyke the pretty young things flowed indoors, filling the dance floor, and put off by the noise and constant jostling we smokers decamped to the now vacant patio, where we began the first evening of our never ending exile.
In the final few inches the tang returns, along with a peaty taste and something not unlike a coffee factory burning down. It’s still very smokable to the last. The burn throughout has been perfect, with not a single touch up or relight. The Hoyo de Monterrey Extravaganza is not an amazing cigar, but it’s very pleasant on a mild day. The price of admission on these is well over $100, and it’s definitely not worth that, but if you can find one at an estate sale for $25, you shouldn’t hesitate for one moment.