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.
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.
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.
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.
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.