It’s a glorious day in Melbourne, the last hurrah of an Indian summer, and my errands concluded I can’t think of a better way to spend the afternoon than on a bench by the river, watching the passers-by, enjoying the sun, drinking a milky coffee and smoking the Montecristo B from the Compay Centennial Humidor.
The Montecristo B was released in 1971 and supposedly discontinued in the mid-1980s, although by all accounts they are still produced in small numbers. They come in humidors of 50, and aside from the addition of a second band and an inscription on the inner panel, the Compay Centennial Humidor is identical to the ‘standard’ production.
I’ve never quite been able to understand where the B fits in the Montecristo line-up; I’ve never quite been able to understand who it’s for. I understand the numbered cigars, those are for everyone (they deliver the Montecristo flavour in a range of reasonable sizes), and I also understand the Especiales (for the connoisseurs), the Opens (teenage punks), and even the Edmundos (Americans whose mouths have become distended from chewing too much gum, a condition that leaves them tragically unable to smoke anything thinner than a 52 ring). Even the A has a place (people with too much time on their hands), but the B, who is that for? It’s 6mm longer than the Monte 4 and 7mm shorter than the Monte 3 – is this a niche that needs to be filled?
I suppose that’s why they’re so rare.
The cigar has a very rounded head, verging on a bullet tip, with a good thick cap. Construction is perfect, the draw nicely firm. The first puffs are tangy and herbal over strong tobacco, very heavy and rich, and obviously of the highest quality. I like the bands on this cigar, which are much less flashy that those on the 95 – just the standard Cuban personalised band below the regular Montecristo one. The effect is that of an affectionate birthday gift rather than a slick exercise in integrated marketing.
As I was taking the pre-light photograph a courting couple took up residence on the seat downwind of me, and as I light the cigar and the first billows of smoke drift in their direction the female of the species begins to cough and glare at me (her boyfriend is on his phone, oblivious). Doesn’t she realize what a special thing it is to inhale the smoke of a cigar like this? Only 7500 of this edition were produced, and even the regular B is a very rare beast. How would poor Compay feel to think that his birthday present would bother someone so? It’s a shame they couldn’t get him to roll the cigars for one of these humidors (well, it’s a shame he died five years before this one was released, but perhaps they could have tried it for the 95). Imagine what a collector’s item those would be.
She has reached the end of her boost juice, and slurps the bottom of it furiously in between hacking coughs and sidelong glaring. I admit it, I am at a stage where I am deliberately exhaling larger clouds in her direction than is strictly speaking necessary. They taste of strong coffee, with notes of hot roasted vanilla bean.
I am resting the cigar on my sunglasses between puffs, and they’re surprisingly well suited to life as an ashtray, at least at this ring gauge. The nose pads grip the cigar exactly tight enough, and the arm folds down just right as a retaining guard. It allows me to rest the cigar in the lee of my body, sheltered from the very slight winds that gust occasionally, and protects the cigar from whatever filth is on this public bench. I think would protect it from all but the most violent of accidental jostling.
It’s really a very nice cigar, this Montecristo B. Perfect burn, with woody notes over full tobacco. A hint of barnyard and some kind of sour fruit… grapefruit maybe, or bitter orange, that sour herbal aftertaste of Chinotto and Campari. A family of Scandinavians has replaced the couple on the bench downwind, and for a moment I feel slightly guilty exhaling my bilious clouds toward their clutch of fresh faced Aryan children, but they don’t seem to be bothered. There’s certainly no glaring going on. The smallest boy is coughing, but I think he has a cold.
In the bottom third of the cigar I begin to find myself swimming a little from the nicotine, its pressure on my temples. I’ve read that the B is a mild cigar, but for this example at least that is definitely not the case: this example is much stronger than a Monte 4, and stronger inch for inch than any other Monte I can recall. It really is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon though, out here by the water, fresh air and a nicotine buzz. The cigar ends in a very classy way, dark chocolate mixed in with the tar, the quality of the tobacco obvious to the last. This will not be a cigar that leaves a bad taste in my mouth tomorrow morning. I eschew the provided smoker’s bin, and instead lob the nub into a garden bed; a noble cigar like this deserves a better resting place that a cylinder of discarded cigarette filters.
[Author’s note: a draft of this article was published a few weeks ago on a major international cigar forum, where several members took umbrage with my quip about Americans with mouths distended from chewing too much gum, seemingly under the impression that I was characterising their entire race as slack jawed ruminants who chew constantly at sugarised rubber much as a cow chews her cud. For this I would like to offer a heartfelt apology. The comment was intended in jest, but it is a poor example of the type, depending on both an inaccurate stereotype and a cheap shot for what little humour it contains. I fully and unconditionally apologise for it, and beg humble forgiveness for any offense caused. In my limited experience, I have always found Americans to be possessed of extremely small mouths that are rarely in motion.]