Romeo y Julieta Double Corona 125 Aniversario Humidor

There is an interesting bit of trivia about the Romeo y Julieta Double Coronas from the 125th Anniversary Humidor. Romeo had two notable releases in the year 2000, the aforementioned humidor and, from the first generation of Edición Limitada cigars, the Exhibición No. 2. The Exhibition No. 2 has a 49 ring gauge and a 194mm length. The Double Corona has a 49 and an 180mm length. If you look at the 125 Humidor, the layout is very hap-hazard. The cigars are in four compartments, in uneven numbers. For the most part the compartments are the right size for the cigars, and are divided by double walls of cedar, but in some places a single wall is used, and one of the compartments is about 15mm too big for its contents. The rumour is that the humidor was originally supposed to contain Exhibición No. 2s and Romeos, but they messed up their estimates and accidentally made the humidors too small. The solution they came up with was to lop 14mm off the Exhibición and call it a Double Corona.

Once lit, the cigar exhibits a light mid-tobacco note that leaves a little lactic stickiness on the cheeks. There is a slight note of whiteboard marker. The aftertaste is grassy straw.

Romeo y Julieta Double Corona 125 Aniversario Humidor unlit

When we last visited with my friend Lance Hendricks, he was in Taipei, living out the fugue spiral of an unemployable foreign cripple. Things have changed. A few years ago he returned to Melbourne, occupied the garden shed in his parent’s house, and began anew the fugue spiral of an unemployable cripple in Australia. His primary aspiration in life seems to be to upgrade from the regular unemployment benefit to the ‘super-dole’ (the disability pension).

Somewhere along the line he managed to ingratiate himself with a crowd of people – mainly female – in their early 20s. To peers in his own age group he is a fuckup; no career, no wife, no kids, living with his parents, with nothing more to show for his life than a few thousand views on his YouTube videos. People in their early twenties don’t care about that stuff though. To them he is an artist, a free spirit, living life outside of society’s norms. They don’t care that he still lives with his parents. Half their friends still live with their parents.

I welcomed his new friends with open arms, delighted at the prospect of ani influx of new life to my parties, which had become a bit dead since all my friends got married and had babies. Besides, if the girls were impressed with him, imagine what they’d think of me and my myriad accomplishments!

It was a beautiful dream, but it perished fast. A few months after he joined their circle I hosted one of my blowouts, and sure enough, the girls were impressed. “Wow,” one of them remarked. “I thought parties like this only happened in the movies.” Deep in my host state, and resplendent in my white dinner jacket (an exact copy of the one Humphrey Bogart wears in Casablanca [I’d had a tailor make it for me in China]), I was shaking up a cocktail for one my friend’s girlfriends when Jill (one of the 20 year olds) asked if I could make her something. The drink I was mixing was fairly weak already (its intended recipient was known to get rowdy) but nonetheless, I diluted it a little, and split off a glass for Jill.

Some hours later there was a tap on my shoulder, and a guest informed me that a girl was throwing up in the bathroom. I went to investigate, and found Jill in as bad a state as anyone has ever been. She was face down in the empty bathtub, bleary eyed, throwing up, and babbling incoherently about how she was going to die. She refused my offer of a bed to pass out in, and didn’t want me to call an ambulance, so I summoned Shortcake, a nurse and fellow guest. For the next few hours we sat together in the bathroom, assisting Jill through her crisis. I missed out on most of the bash, but it wasn’t so bad, really; Shortcake is extremely charming, and I enjoyed the intimate moment with her, if nothing else. In the end we drove Jill home together and put her to bed.

A week or so later Lance came to me and said he had bad news. “You know that Jill chick?” he asked.
“Sure, how’s she doing?”
“Well… ahh… she’s telling everyone you spiked her drink because you were trying to rape her.” I was mortified, but what was I to do? The arrows of injustice had been cast. I had no forum to defend myself. The 20 year olds never came to my parties again. From time to time I would see them sometimes at his soirees, and to be honest, they always seemed to be fine with me, friendly and easy going, but Lance would assure me that they all hated me. “You should hear what they say behind your back” he’d say. “They basically think you’re a paedophile rapist creep.” Over time, I grew to reciprocate their alleged feelings. When Lance would ask me if I wanted to go to one of their parties with him I would reply “No. Fuck those two-faced pricks.”

Romeo y Julieta Double Corona 125 Aniversario Humidor somewhat smoked

At the mid-point the cigar is very light, with slight notes of cedar and slighter ones of balsa wood. There remains a slight, chemical trial on the back end that is reminiscent of PVA glue. I’m drinking a beer, which is never a great pair with cigars, but this particular beer is an especially strong hoppy thing that completely drowns out anything more delicate that the cigar might have to offer. For an aged cigar like this, where delicacy is everything, it was a terrible choice.

One evening, after some years of animosity between myself and Lance’s young friends, I found myself in a nightclub, and at the bar I ran into one of their number. Her name was Sara. She was twenty-two years old, and looked happy to see me. We chatted for a few minutes before she took my hand and pulled me onto the dance floor, where she gyrated against me, hot and slow. Soon we were necking, and not too long after that we were lying sweaty on my bed in a state of post-coital bliss. “Wow,” she murmured. “That was amazing. Exactly like I imagined it.” I looked at her quizzically.
“You’ve been imagining it for a while?”
“Oh yeah,” she said. “I’ve wanted you for years. Since the first moment I saw you. I never thought it would happen though because Lance always told us you hated us.”
“What? I don’t hate you. He told you I hated you?”
“Yeah, all the time. He says you look down on us. You think we’re drug addicts and fuckups and you hate us because we’re poor.” I laughed.
“He always told me you all hated me because Jill told everyone I tried to rape her.” She laughed.
“What? That’s not true. I never heard that. When?”
“At that party of mine where she was throwing up in the bath.”
“Really? I don’t think she ever said that.” I laughed, as the nature of Lance’s betrayal became clear to me. That son of a bitch.

Sara and I continued our affair for some weeks, and together we would delight in Lance’s continued duplicitousness. Once she showed me one of his texts: “I know you’re having fun with Groom, but he’s not all he seems. Don’t trust him.” As the weeks wore on, it became clear that Sara was falling for me a little bit. Coyly, she would sound me out. “Do you like me?” she’d ask. “I like you.”

And then, as quick as it began, it ended. She stopped returning my texts. After a week or so of silence I took the case to Lance. “So”, I began, accusatorially. “Sara has stopped returning my texts… any idea why that would be?”
“Yeah,” he said. “That chick isn’t interested in you. She was just using you for sex, she said you were getting too clingy so now she’s with some other guy.”
“That’s not true,” I told him. “That girl is halfway in love with me. I know you’ve been trashing me to her, c’mon, be honest, what’d you tell her?”
He got all embarrassed and stammered out half an admission, but wouldn’t go into specifics. A few minutes later he made an excuse and left.

Finally, I sent Sara a text. “I get that you don’t want to see me anymore and that’s fine, I won’t hassle you again, but please, just tell me, was it something Lance said? What did he say to you?” The reply came a few hours later, at two in the morning. “He showed me your Facebook chat you two-faced arsehole.”

In the morning I scrolled through years of Facebook chat with Lance, and found what I think might have been the offending text. It had been sent two years prior, and at the time had seemed more flip than it did in retrospect. “Hey man, that chick Sara is having a party tonight if you want to come and hover awkwardly.” “Thanks, but I think I can live without an evening in a squat with a bunch of crack addicts. Besides, I don’t think I have enough clothes from Savers to fit in there.”

Romeo y Julieta Double Corona 125 Aniversario Humidor, with a bit less than half remaining

In the final few inches the Double Corona thickens up nicely, with burnt caramel and wood-smoke, and some nice, earthy vegetal notes. On the whole, it’s a nice, old cigar that I suspect is a few years past its prime. The same, admittedly, could be said about the Exhibición No. 2, but to me that cigar had just a little more elegance. Perhaps it’s the extra 14mm.

I’d take the Double Corona over a Petit Coronas, but under an Exhibición 2 or 125 Romeo.

Romeo y Julieta Double Corona 125 Aniversario Humidor nub

Romeo y Julieta Double Corona 125 Aniversario Humidor on the Cuban Cigar Website

Romeo y Julieta 109 130 Aniversario Humidor

It’s a temperate evening in the late summer, still, and not too humid. A good night for cigars and white wine. Let’s hope the fragrant smoke keeps the mosquitos at bay. I’m in a backyard and, lit only by a dim yellow spotlight from the porch, there is one element of the experience that won’t be up to par: the photos. Apologies for that, friends. I simply can’t bear to use a flash.

The cigar of the moment is the Romeo y Julieta 109, from my 130 Aniversario Humidor – at least, that’s what the official literature calls it; really a Nro. 109 vitola cigar should have the trademark bullet tip, which this cigar does not. Then again, the official literature also says there were 500 humidors released (actually 250). Official literature has never been Habanos’ strong suit.

Romeo y Julieta 109 130 Aniversario Humidor unlit

Alight, the cigar begins well, somewhat reminiscent of its baby brother, the Aguilas: nutty, very light tobacco, with hints of dessert spices: nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves. There is a deep creamy sweetness that bodes well of things to come.

In the summer of 2006 I was still somewhat new to cigars. I had been a fan of the leaf for around three years, and although my regularity was increasing, I was still smoking no more than once a month. In the world of exotic cigars I was a complete neophyte, with perhaps three Edición Limitadas in my ashtray. My knowledge though, was definitely on the upswing. In June of that year I had been given the bible: Min Ron Nee’s An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Post-Revolution Cuban Cigars, and read it cover to cover and lustfully. I had a lot of free time that summer, much of it in front of a computer with a high speed internet connection, and I read voraciously of an online cigar forum run by a local merchant.

In 2006 Texas Hold ‘em Poker was also on the upswing, and at some point that summer the forum added a new feature: a poker room. It was an online Flash based thing, with daily games at midday Australian time (playing mostly against Americans in their evening).  I’ve always had a good instinct for games. To this day my boyhood next door neighbour Matias still complains about how relentlessly I used to beat him at Monopoly, Cluedo and The Game of Life (I had to cheat to win Life). In any event, I won the first poker game ever played on the forum, and was therefore the first incumbent of the no. 1 slot on the leader board, something I wouldn’t relinquish for almost four years. I was hooked, and when I wasn’t reading about cigars that summer I was reading about poker strategy.

In November the proprietor of the forum announced the first occasional poker tournament, with ten rounds, the winner of each moving on to a final table to play for a winner-takes-all grand prize: the Romeo y Julieta 130 Aniversario Humidor, number 244 of 250. Retail price $4500USD. $8000AUD, thanks to our taxes. My qualifying round was the first one played, and I won. It would be three weeks until the other rounds were finished and the final was played, however, and in that I was headed on a vacation.

It is here that this story picks up from an old Dusky Beauty: it was Paris in the intermingling into one puff of steam. A lone snowflake fluttered down and caught in her hair. “Won’t you stay the night with me?” she whispered. “Sorry babe,” I replied. “I want to, but I really have to play this poker game.” I kissed the girl goodnight, and bolted the 200m or so back to my hotel, logging into the poker room at 12:03pm Australian time. I was late, but they had waited for me.

In the end the game really came down to one hand. There were four players left, all with about even chips. I was dealt the ace and six of spades. The player with the least chips folded before the flop, which included two spades. All players bet, and the turn revealed another spade, giving me a flush. Again, the betting was strong, but nobody went all in, nobody folded, and we saw the river. An inconsequential diamond.

Coolly I assessed the table. There were no pairs among the shared cards, which meant that nobody had a four of a kind or full house. The spades were spread enough that it was impossible for anyone to have a straight flush. With the ace high flush then, I had the mathematically best hand that could be made from these cards. The other players obviously liked their hands. Perhaps they had king and queen high flushes, cards that on any other day would take the pot, but not today. Today I was going to win. I went all in. They followed. I won. That one hand eliminated half the table and gave me a stack of chips more than three times the size of my last remaining opponent. Five minutes of aggressive play later and I was the owner of an $8000 commemorative humidor.

Romeo y Julieta 109 130 Aniversario Humidor a little smoked

At the midpoint the cigar is progressing wonderfully, with a rich, creamy sweetness that sits viscous on the lips. The spice palette is much the same, and reminiscent of hot cross buns or mother’s bread and butter pudding. With three inches to go, however, disaster strikes. The cigar goes out, seemingly of its own accord, and when I relight it it is ashy and tasteless. Desperately I huff through it, trying to purge out any stale smoke – I even cut the coal off and start the blaze afresh at one point – but nothing I can do brings the old flavours back.

A month or so later, after I had returned to Australia, the humidor arrived. It came in a crate. A proper wooden crate! I had to open it with a crowbar! Inside, packed in shredded copies of Granma (the Cuban state newspaper), was a custom made leather satchel, and inside that, the humidor. It really is a lovely thing. The red lacquer is thick, and silky to touch, the hue richer than any plastic. The thin gold plated handles are strong and solid, more than able to take the weight of the full humidor, and even ten years later they swing smoothly and silently. It holds temperature and humidity perfectly, almost never needing maintenance. I’ve never had the pleasure of owning a high end humidor from Elie Bleu or the like, but compared to my $150 eBay job, the 130th Aniversario humidor is a league apart.

One criticism: the little magnetic hygrometer it came with is total garbage. I guess there must be a short circuit in it or something, because while it does work, it drains any battery you put in it in less than a day.

Romeo y Julieta 109 130 Aniversario Humidor final third

The Romeo 109 never recovers from its extinguishment, unfortunately, remaining bitter and ashy till the last, despite my considerable efforts to restore it. I suppose it was largely user error: a man with a better smoking technique would have kept it ablaze, and had a better experience for it. I apologise, Romeo 130 Aniversario Humidor. A creature as lovely as you deserves better than a ruffian like me.

The first half was very nice, though. I’d take that over a Petit Coronas any day.

Romeo y Julieta 109 130 Aniversario Humidor nub

Romeo y Julieta 109 130 Aniversario Humidor on the Cuban Cigar Website

Romeo y Julieta Aguilas 130 Aniversario Humidor

The cigars that are immolated on these pages are very often among the rarest collectable Cuban cigars, coming from limited release humidors of which only a few hundred are ever made, and which retail for thousands of dollars each. In my custody, unfortunately, most of these cigars exist only as singles; gifts from benefactors with pockets far deeper than my own who can afford to buy the humidors and break them up. There is one exception: the Romeo y Julieta 130 Aniversario Humidor. There are 249 like it, but this one is mine.

The humidor comes with 100 cigars, 50 each across two sizes, a 109 (that isn’t actually a 109 – more on that later), and an Aguilas, a nice mid-size perfecto, which is what we shall examine today.

Romeo y Julieta Aguilas 130 Aniversario Humidor unlit

The cigar lights well – I love a good perfecto. The dominant flavor at the outset is very nutty, walnuts over hazel. The tobacco is medium strength with smooth, rich smoke. The quality of the leaf is undeniable.

There was a time in my life, early in my career, when I worked two days a week in the sheltered workshop of a university administration building, keeping the faculty’s website up to date. It was a simple job. From time to time, subject administrators and professors would send us an update to a webpage – a revision to a timetable, an article about their new research project, things like that – and we had to apply these updates to the website. For me, a boy of twenty-three with a fairly advanced knowledge of HTML, one of these updates would typically take less than five minutes. On a busy day, we might receive ten updates. There were four of us in the team. I was hired because my three colleagues were having trouble getting through the entire workload each day.

Florence was our team leader, a very sweet Filipina who took the job extremely seriously. She did, admittedly, spend about four hours of every day drinking tea and gossiping in the break room, but during the other four she was hard at work, staring worriedly at her screen and wrestling with the update jobs. I mentioned earlier that a knowledge of HTML was helpful. It was. Without HTML, you would have to deal with the ungainly custom editing software that the university had provided us. It was an extension for Microsoft Word that was supposed to make editing web pages simple for anyone with basic computer literacy, but unfortunately, the software wasn’t very good. It would leave odd gaps and font changes everywhere. Bullet points were a real mess. The issues were simple enough to correct if you knew HTML – you just had to go into the code view and remove a few erroneous tags. If you didn’t know HTML, then you had to figure out a few tricks. Remove the fonts from everything and then reapply it in a big block, that kind of thing.

Florence, despite four years in this job, had not learned HTML or figured out the tricks, and her computer literacy was questionable at best. For her, the job we were doing was a difficult, technical one. She genuinely tried hard at it, and often stressed about the workload, sometimes working late to make up the difference. I think in all honesty, she was genuinely unaware that she was staggeringly incompetent.

Stephen, on the other hand, was just lazy. About my own age, he was a sly, pudgy fellow, who regarded me with suspicion. He had somehow convinced all and sundry that he had a medically diagnosed health condition, and must not be allowed to get stressed. Whenever Florence tried to give him work she would do so apologetically, with platitudes like “don’t let yourself get stressed, take your time, if you can’t do it that’s fine, just let me know.”

The highlight of my time with Stephen came on a pleasant spring day. It was about 10:30am, and he’d been at work for perhaps 45 minutes when he announced that he was feeling stressed, and was  going to go to the break room for a bit. “Oh yes, of course, take as long as you like, your health is the most important thing” Florence told him. Five hours later I happened by the break room: he was still there, slouched on the couch, watching the cricket.

Finally, there was Asha, a sort of vague hippy who kept her computer covered in the detritus of Eastern spirituality: little Buddha statues, various charms, a portrait of her yogi, that sort of thing. Her job was to answer the phones. Every now and again – perhaps twice a day – a professor would call up rather than log a page alteration through the system. Maybe the change they wanted was so small that they couldn’t be bothered sending it, or maybe their own computer literacy wasn’t up to figuring out the change request system: either way, Asha’s job was to take their request and either do it or log it in the system for one of us to do. In the hierarchy she was considered to be less technical than Florence or Stephen, so most of the ‘difficult’ jobs she would assign to them. It worked out fine. Asha was chatty and personable, and the professors liked her. Even if she didn’t do all that much work, she gave us a good public face.

About midway-through the spring Asha sent an email around to entire department. “Hi guys,” it read. “I’m taking a vow of silence for the next twelve weeks, so please don’t think I’m ignoring you if I don’t answer when you talk to me around the office. I’ll also be trying to minimize written communication during this time, so if at all possible please don’t email me.” Essentially she was saying “I’ll show up and collect cheques, but I’m not going to be doing my job for the next three months.” Nobody seemed to mind. Florence took over the phone answering duties, and fretted all the more about the amount of work that was piling up.

Romeo y Julieta Aguilas 130 Aniversario Humidor an inch smoked

Midway through, the cigar is mild but luscious, with thick notes of cream. It is an after dinner cigar, really, one that leaves a sweetness on the lips, and has the slight zap of dessert spices, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Above all, nut notes still dominate. Mainly almond.

My interview was as much a farce as the rest of my employment there. I showed up a bit drunk, being as the interview was at 4:00pm and I was twenty-three and still had the habit of drinking beer with my friends on sunny afternoons. The interview panel policy dictated that four people must be present: the immediate supervisor (in my case, Florence), someone higher up the chain (David, the coordinator of the communications section of the department, and the only hardworking and competent person I encountered in my time there), someone from HR, and an entirely disinterested person, preferably from another department. In the best case scenario, therefore, there would be one person on the panel that could assess whether or not the candidate was qualified for the position. With Florence as my supervisor, there wasn’t even that. Most of the questions were about my hobbies, and vague HR nonsense. I guess they liked my drunken swagger, and were able to overlook my slight slur, because they hired me in the room.

Once I started, my colleagues soon came to hate me. The first task Florence gave me was a simple clean-up exercise of a lot of old pages. “Just go through and familiarize yourself with the system” she said. “Ask me if you have any questions.” There was a thirty minute or so learning curve while I figured out how the software worked, and after that I started chewing through them. Three hours later I brought my results to Florence. She was horrified. “Oh my God” she said. “That was supposed to take you a month.”

Initially I was hired full time, but more or less immediately they cut me down to two days a week, Thursday and Friday. A pattern soon emerged: on Thursday mornings I would arrive at 9:00am, and start on the backlog of jobs that had accumulated over the first three days of the week. I would normally be finished by 9:45 when the others began to trickle in, mouthing the same platitudes each week about how the “trains were hell today.” There would then be an hour or so while they settled in, got their coffees, said hello to everyone, but by 11:00 each of us would be at our desks, silently browsing the internet, trying to look busy, all fully aware that there was absolutely nothing any of us had to do, and them seething with resentment with me for doing it all. When something new would arrive, it would ping into all of our inboxes simultaneously. I would glance around, making sure that Asha had made no attempt to close her organic food blog, or that Stephen hadn’t alt-tabbed off the footy scores, and then I would do the work.

On Fridays they just didn’t show up. For the first few weeks Florence would send me apologetic emails, saying that she was sick and she hoped I wouldn’t have too much work, but after a while she just stopped showing up. Once the others realised that their supervisor wasn’t coming in, they followed suit. I would blatantly read books at my desk, and take four-hour lunch breaks. It was that kind of a gig.

I never actually quit. Eventually I just stopped going in. There was never any phone call asking “where are you?” No email. Some months after I left I was passing the office late one night, and decided to see if my key still worked. It did, and there was my computer, still set up with my post-it notes, just how I left it. I’ve often wondered, in the intervening decade, if I should just start showing up again. Start submitting timesheets. The pay was pretty good.

There is a greater point to telling this story than simply to slam my long lost coworkers – I’m setting up the idea that over the spring and summer of 2006 I had a lot of time on my hands, and that free time set in motion the sequence of events that led to my acquisition of my Romeo y Julieta 130 Aniversario Humidor. That is a story for another time, however – next week, specifically – with my review of the 109 from that same box.

Romeo y Julieta Aguilas 130 Aniversario Humidor final inch and a half

The cigar ends sweet and mild, with just a slight taste of tar that tarnishes its perfection. Overall though, a fantastic, top notch smoke, that falls only barely shy of the pinnacle of Romeo y Julieta.

Romeo y Julieta Aguilas 130 Aniversario Humidor nub

Romeo y Julieta Aguilas 130 Aniversario Humidor on the Cuban Cigar Website

Romeo y Julieta Romeos 125 Aniversario Humidor

It is the summer and Davidé and I are on our customary trek north. We have made it as far as Sydney and, as one usually does when spending any amount of time in this humid sweatbox, we have wound up by the water. In much the same fashion as a young boy will mimic his father, strutting around impersonating his swagger and talking into a pretend telephone, Davidé has recently developed an interest in cigars. Ever the evangelist, I’ve brought him down here to show him a thing or two about the leaf. His cigar is a Romeo 2 from an olive green Australian plain packaged tube (he bought it from a suburban bodega this morning – I had to literally step behind the counter and rummage through their cabinet to find him something better than the vanilla flavoured nub the shop keep was recommending). For my own part I have something lovely – a Romeo y Julieta Romeos from the 125th Aniversario Humidor. It’s a nice, perfect perfecto, and it already has something on the last one of these I smoked: the printing on the band is excellent.

Romeo y Julieta Romeos 125 Aniversario Humidor unlit

It’s windy by the water, and with a flight in my near future, I have neglected to bring anything more serious than a Bic lighter. Getting the Romeos lit is a long and frustrating process, with a lot of crouching against the seawall, my hands cupped around the sputtering flame. Once I finally get it ablaze it starts light, but moves rapidly to full as the coal widens. Sour cherry notes dominate, with herbal undertones and a bit of dry spice on the back end.

It’s a Monday afternoon, and being young men on vacation, last night found us out on the prowl. I don’t want to cast aspersions on this fine city – certainly, in Melbourne you wouldn’t find a lot of action on a Sunday night either – but in this town they seem to have a certain anal retentiveness for the rules that we don’t share. Our first port of call (having wandered past several closed or empty bars), was what seemed like a busy pub. It was 9:30pm on the knocker when we approached the bar keep, never thinking that we might be rebuffed. “Sorry guys”, he told us. “Legally this till has to be locked at 9:30. I can’t serve you.”

Dejected, we returned to wandering, finding few options. In desperation, Davidé poked his head in the door at the Church of Scientology, where a crowd was milling, holding plastic cups (a banner read “Happy Birthday LRH.”) “Is there a bar here?” Davidé asked. The woman who answered him looked horrified. “No! This is a church!”

It was 10:15 by the time we found another place, a cool jazz bar that seemed to attract the local bohemians. We ordered gin and tonics, and the barmaid proffered some advice. “Guys” she told us. “Legally I have to lock this till in fifteen minutes. Why don’t you order triples?”

Pint glasses of gin in hand, we headed out to the beer garden. The only occupants of the place were a couple in their sixties, and all the seats save for theirs were leaned up against the tables. The place was obviously closed or closing, so we started to head back inside when the female half of the couple, obviously in the advanced stages of drunkenness, hailed us. “Sit down,” she said. “It’s not closed. That old black bastard just put them like that. Sit down. He’ll come out here in a few minutes and tell you to move, and you just tell him ‘no.’ What’s he gonna do? Can’t throw us all out.”

We sat, and as we sipped our drinks she engaged us intermittently, repeating the same general instructions: “when the old black bastard comes tell him ‘no.’ Refuse to move.” I was on board, and Davidé is always keen for some civil disobedience, but when eventually someone did approach us, it was a well-dressed and charming black guy in his early forties. “Hi guys,” he said, smiling, “sorry, but we have to close this area now, would you mind moving inside?” I had already complied by the time I realised that this was the bastard of legend. The couple held their ground, the woman heckling us with vigour as we skulked indoors. Ten minutes later they passed us on their way out. The woman gave us a haughty silence. The man, who heretofore had been silent, and I assumed must be the designated driver, gave us one word. “Pussies.”

Romeo y Julieta Romeos 125 Aniversario Humidor with one inch smoked

The wind got the better of us, and Davidé and I have moved around the coast a few hundred meters, improving the situation immensely. Our new nook is a sheltered platform with benches, a view of the setting sun, the yacht marina, and the jogging track where firm young things are exercising. The cigar responds well, with any bitterness falling away. At the midpoint the tobacco is light with a herbal tang, some straw and barnyard, and some saltiness on the lips.

As the evening began to wind down, we found ourselves in the front bar. At this point the bar was technically closed, the blinds drawn and the door locked, but the owner was not as much of a stickler as some of his compatriots, and kept the liquor flowing for us. He had an ulterior motive: aside from us, the only other remaining customers were two women, Amiee and Shana, and he needed someone to keep the more boisterous Amiee busy while he chatted up her friend. The girls were in high spirts, flush with success. They had arrived in Sydney two days ago for some trade show, hawking the produce of their candle business, and were going home with $20,000 in orders. They were a lot of fun, the very epitome of stereotypical rural Australian women, with no compunction about bellowing phrases like “where’s me phone, ya moll?” at each other in mixed company.

Amiee clearly wanted to take her celebrations further, complaining to us at length about her boyfriend, Brett, about how he didn’t love her, and about his tiny dick. She gave us both her number, and asked for each of ours. Multiple times she told us breathily “I let guys do anything to me… anything,” and when Davidé went to the bathroom she squeezed my thigh and said “are you going to let your friend have me all to himself? You need to be more aggressive.”

The night was suddenly aborted by the barman, who approached us quietly. “Sorry guys… Amiee, your friend is throwing up outside.” I had noticed them doing Sambuca shots before, but obviously he’d miscalculated her capacity for Italian liquor. Amiee rushed out, while Davidé and I settled the tab for everyone. By the time were got outside (the barkeep locking the door firmly behind us), the girls were gone, a puddle of watery vomit on the steps the only sign of their passing. “C’mon man,” said Davidé, “let’s do it. Call that chick. We’ll double-team her. She’s up for it.” I shook my head slowly. “Sorry friend, not this time. Some wallabies it’s better to let hop away.”

Romeo y Julieta Romeos 125 Aniversario Humidor with one third remaining

The construction of the Romeos has been fantastic, holding its ash in a perfect, solid cone. Davidé is in the final centimetre or so of his Romeo 2, and has been spitting incessantly for a while now, complaining of acrid tar. As he tosses the nub I give him a puff on my cigar, which still has a good two inches left, and is exhibiting sweet honey notes. He pronounces it a “whole different ballgame.” And it is.

The ending is woody, with the pleasant bitterness of coffee. The Romeo Romeos from the 125th Aniversario humidor is quite a different cigar to the Romeo Romeos from the Replica Ancient Humidor, but by no means its lesser. It’s certainly better than the Romeo Petit Coronas.

Romeo y Julieta Romeos 125 Aniversario Humidor nub

Romeo y Julieta Romeos 125 Aniversario Humidor on the Cuban Cigar Website

Romeo y Julieta Romeos Réplica de Humidor Antiguo 2008

Regular readers will know that I have had a bit of a mixed experience with the Replica Ancient Humidor cigars. As a release I don’t really believe in them: more so than anything else Habanos comes out with they are pure collector’s pieces, and in my book, cigars are for smoking, not collecting. The Romeo y Julieta version is more interesting than most, only because the cigars within are an old discontinued production size, that also crops up occasionally in other special releases. It will give me a few interesting points of comparison. Named the Romeos, they are a great fat perfecto, the classic cigar of the 1920’s cartoon millionaire. Mine is a pleasant looking thing, with a rich red wrapper. I’m pleased to observe that it continues the long tradition of crappy printing on the bands of ultra-premium cigars.

Romeo y Julieta Romeos Réplica de Humidor Antiguo 2008 unlit

Set alight, it begins very mild, with a light, almost buttery spice. The beauty of a perfecto is that you can have the draw any way you like it, and mine is perfect. After about a centimetre, the smoke thickens and sweetens, rich honey with a herbal note – the tang component of oregano.

I’m smoking this cigar on the deck down at the Groom Compound, and I’m joined by two companions. One is Stevespool, an old school friend who has featured several times before in these pages, and the other is Troung, who has wound up on the deck because he’s dating one of Stevespool’s wife’s girlfriends. It is the first time that either of us have met him, and it is with some surprise that we discover that we all attended the same high school at the same time. We run though names of friends and teachers, trying to establish where we all fitted in the school’s social hierarchy, when suddenly something clicks in Troung’s eyes. “Wait” he says to me. “Were you the People’s Champion?”

For the first two years of my high school education – years seven and eight – I attended an elite private school. It was an expensive education, but worth it in my parents’ eyes, because of the vast array of extra-curricular activities afforded the students – orchestras, plays, a closed circuit television station, a vast array of sporting teams and so on. My parents’ son, unfortunately, did not see the same value. In my first two years I begrudgingly sang in the chorus of a few musicals, and mimed my way through the duties of third cello in the string orchestra, but beyond that, I did as little as possible. For me, playing video games with my friends took much higher priority than anything school could offer me.

So it was that at the end of year eight they offered me a choice: participate more in the expensive private school, or leave and attend a cheap government school, where I could waste as much time as I liked. I chose to leave.

The school I wound up at was Melbourne High, which is unique among high schools in my part of the world in that rather than take students from the local area, the sole criteria for admission was an entrance exam. Because of this, in a city where about 7% of the population comes from an Asian background, more than half of the student body at Melbourne High was Asian. How much the races interacted depended a bit on what classes you took – if you were a white guy who did physics, accounting and specialist maths, then you probably wound up friends with a few of the Asian guys. If you were a white guy like me who took theatre, media studies and literature then you more or less attended a school that was 100% white. This is why, despite having spent four years together in the close confines of a high school, Stevespool and I had never heard of Troung.

It was an interesting change for me, arriving at such an academic high school. At my previous schools I’d always been two things – the smartest guy in the room, and the biggest nerd. Not any more. At Melbourne High I was suddenly kind of a jock. I still remember orientation day – I was chatting with Raffaele, a guy I had met a few times before at a friend’s birthday parties, when he suddenly got up and walked over to some little Asian dweeb with glasses who was eating a bucket of hot chips. Raff took a chip out of the kid’s bucket without asking, ate it, and sneered “thanks for the chip.” The dweeb looked on silently, filled with impotent rage. I looked on in awe. “Holly shit,” I thought. “At any other school that would have been me getting picked on. In this place I’m one of the bullies.”

Troung was one of the bad boys of the school, the Asian gangsters. They hung out down behind the library, smoking only semi-covertly. I guess they must have still been doing their physics homework, because the school had a pretty rigorous expulsion policy for guys who didn’t make the academic standard, but at the time it seemed like they were just about hair gel, smoking, and (allegedly) dealing drugs. The only evidence I ever saw of it was that I once caught Allan Cho surreptitiously slipping a pill bottle full of brown liquid into his bag and he told me to “keep my fucking mouth shut.” At the time I assumed it was heroin, but in retrospect one doesn’t usually carry 200ml of heroin in solution, so I guess maybe it was decanted whisky, or perhaps a nice dark rum.

Romeo y Julieta Romeos Réplica de Humidor Antiguo 2008 two thirds remaining

At the mid-point the cigar remains mild, light tobacco with nutty undertones. It is really quiet excellent, a delicate, elegant smoke, that is perfect for relaxed afternoons in the sun like the one that I am having. My first beer is still in front of me, while my compatriots are both well advanced in their second. Beer would only tarnish the delicate flavours of the Romeo.

By year 11 I had settled into my clique of vaguely arty kids, and was generally labelled as a stoner. I had had maybe two puffs of a university cigarette at that point in my life, but I was going for a sort of bohemian vibe, so I was happy to play along. I had long, boofy hair and a laid back attitude. On casual clothes days I wore trench coats and a lot of army disposal gear. I carried a Chairman Mao pocket watch.

The Student Representative Council President was elected in the final weeks of year 11, after the year 12s are off doing their exams. For reasons I don’t fully recall, I decided to run. It might have been a dare. The first step was to get approved by the faculty, which involved a letter to the Vice Principal, Mr. Woodful. I may have been a mediocre student, but I knew how to write an obsequious letter, and my application was long and heartfelt, speaking of the three generations of my family that had attended the school before me, and telling the story of my mum’s cousin, who had dropped dead during the fun run in the 1960s. I was delighted when I got called to the office: my candidacy had been accepted.

I got my first look at my opposition when I attended a briefing with Mr. Woodful, and he tried to instilled in us the seriousness of what we were doing. He told us that the SRC budget was $150,000, and that our peers would be devastated if we squandered it. There is a long tradition of embezzlement in the SRC, and he wanted us to know that it wouldn’t be tolerated in our year. Looking around at my fellow candidates, I started to wonder if maybe I had a shot at winning. There were five of them, and they looked like every other SRC candidate that I could recall, which is to say they were the dorkiest bunch of Asian dweebs imaginable. One candidate was clearly the establishment choice: Willard Hong, an A+ accounting student who had been heavily involved in SRC for years, and was the incumbent Vice President.

The week of campaigning launched on a Monday, with a special assembly for the speeches. The first to speak would be Willard, and then Brandon Chow (maybe not the least popular boy in the year level, but in the bottom five), and then me. The hall was packed that day: three year levels, nearly 1000 boys and teachers. Every seat was taken, and the overflow was sitting in the aisles. I hadn’t been on a stage since I stood on the back row of the chorus in Oliver, and I had never spoken in front of more than about thirty. I don’t think my heart has ever beat faster than when I was waiting my turn to speak.

Willard spoke softly and confidently, recounting his record as a faithful administrator. His sole election promise was to put a suggestion box in the cafeteria. Brandon read flatly from his prewritten speech, and lost the crowd completely about five sentences in, and soon couldn’t be heard above the cacophony of boys chatting. Mr. Woodful had to cut him off while he yelled at the school to pay attention. Brandon wrapped his speech early and slunk back in disgrace. It was my turn, and as I walked to the mic my leg was shaking so hard that I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to stand on it. I leaned heavily on the podium, took my speech out of my blazer pocket and dramatically tore it up (it was all theatre – had someone collected the scraps of paper they would have found the first line – “tear up speech”). About three sentences in I got my first laugh, and from there it was plain sailing.

The crux of my argument was that every SRC was always the same: no matter what we got eight sausage sizzles, three casual dances, and one formal. At the end of the year the year 12s got a t-shirt. There wasn’t enough responsibly in the position that anyone could really fuck it up, so you might as well elect someone with a bit of style. It wasn’t much of a case, but it didn’t matter because I made jokes, and more than that, I got the crowd a bit pumped up. “We will have a sausage sizzle!” I yelled, waving a finger in the air. “We will have some dances! And, yes” I said, turning smugly to Willard, “I’ll even give you a suggestion box!”

By the end of my speech the crowd was on their feet, stamping and cheering. The next three speakers were booed off the stage. I was ecstatic. I was going to win.

The rest of the week was campaign time. Officially we were allowed seven A4 sized posters on sanctioned notice boards around the school, and each one had to be stamped by the coordinator. I came up with seven different designs, had those stamped, and then photocopied them, blanketing the school. My slogan was “the same, but different.” Inspired by Mussolini, almost all of the posters featured my face on them somewhere. Willard Hong’s posters (he stuck to the regulated seven), featured the word “WHO?” in big bold letters, and in tiny font underneath, not visible from more than two meters away, “Willard Hong One.” Next to each one I hung an A3 blow-up of my face, answering his question. It was glorious.

I spent all my lunchtimes that week walking around, shaking hands and kissing babies. For four days I was king of the school. Wherever I went crowds formed around me while I fielded questions and signed year books. The vote was cast  during first period on Friday, and at recess I wandered up to the Vice Principal’s office to scrutineer, as we had been told in the briefing that we could. Mr. Woodful intercepted me at the door. “Sorry Alex,” he said. “You can’t come in right now. Come back later.” Over his shoulder I could see that the count was in progress.

I came back later, but the office was empty. By mid-afternoon the rumours were flying. Willard had won, with Brandon second. Boys were coming up to me, some offering commiserations, the others taunts. “Bullshit” I told them all. “Maybe Hong won, maybe I didn’t anticipate the Asian vote or something, but there’s no way I came in after Brandon Chow.”

On Monday morning the results in the school bulletin made it official: Hong for President, Chow his vice. Almost in tears, I went to see Mr. Woodful, demanding to see the votes. He told me they had been destroyed. “There’s just no way, Mr. Woodful,” I said. “I just don’t see how I could have lost.” He closed the door conspiratorially. “There’s something you need to understand about democracy, Alex” he told me. “Sometimes the right candidate isn’t the one people vote for.” I looked at him, puzzled. “Are you saying you guys rigged the vote?” He opened the door, showing me out, smiled obliquely, and turned his palms skyward. The universal gesture of ‘who knows?’

Filled with impotent rage, I declared myself The People’s Champion, and for the next year I wrote an anti-establishment column of the same name in the school paper. It got a few good laughs, but nothing more. The was one epilogue though that gave me some satisfaction: at the end of the year I happened to be in the school, having just finished my literature exam, and I walked past the packed auditorium where the SRC President speeches were in progress. I stuck my head in. At the lectern a boofy haired white guy gesticulated wildly. On the chairs behind him slouched five other white guys, each with boofier hair than the last.

Romeo y Julieta Romeos Réplica de Humidor Antiguo 2008 one inch remaining

Right to the end the Romeo remains mild, with not a hint of tar, an astonishing feat in a smoke of these dimensions. In the final inch the predominate note is toasted caramel and butterscotch, with just a little vegetal chardonnay on the back of the throat. A really quite excellent cigar, that will number amongst the very best Romeo y Julieta has to offer. Much better than a Petit Coronas.

Romeo y Julieta Romeos Réplica de Humidor Antiguo 2008 nub

Romeo y Julieta Romeos Réplica de Humidor Antiguo 2008 on the Cuban Cigar Website

Romeo y Julieta Pirámides Habanos Añejados 2014

One of the great rituals of our hobby is the herf, the coming together of cigar smokers to indulge their raison d’etre. In the modern day they are organised online, on forums and chat-groups. I’ve been to many over the years, and I used to fret before I attended one; “what will I talk about with these strangers,” I would wonder, “strangers with ages up to four decades distant from my own?” Now an old hand, I know the answer. At every herf the attendees instantly find common ground in two subjects: taxes and the nanny state. Specifically, how the nanny state draws ever closer; whichever local law has recently come into effect, or whatever venue that once allowed smoking no longer does.

Well, today, that venue is my own home. I live in a complex of around 300 apartments, a heritage building that straddles most of a city block, and has a pleasant courtyard in the centre. Shaded by large trees, the courtyard gets too little light for grass, and has gravel instead. The gravel makes it not much good for children to run about in, or for picnics, and the trees shade it too much for sunbathers. It is, therefore, the singular domain of one group of liches: the smokers.

But not today. The nanny state has intervened! The body corporate committee has a member whose windows open directly onto the courtyard, and she has little appreciation for the aromas of delicate Cuban leaf that waft into her lounge-room on warm summer days. Justified by a dubious interpretation of some legislation about smoking around swimming pools, the committee has decreed that smoking in the courtyards shall be banned, and exiled us to a desolate laneway underneath the carpark access bridge. The ruling is universally disobeyed, but, not being the law-breaking type, I decided to check the smoking area out. It’s not so bad – fairly sheltered, and there are ferns, seats, and ashtrays provided.

It’s a ghastly day: 35 degrees, overcast and windy, so I have selected a cigar that I expect to sink comfortably to the bottom of the pack: the Romeo y Julieta Pirámides Habanos Añejados 2014.

Romeo y Julieta Pirámides Habanos Añejados 2014 unlit

Finding a sheltered spot in the lee of a concrete support column, I examine the thing. It definitely is aged, with a fragile wrapper, and pronounced box-pressing. I set it alight, and all things considered it begins pretty well; very light, toasted tobacco, with a hint of butter and a slight nutty, floral back to it.

The reason for my scepticism about the Añejados Pirámides, and the Añejados cigars more generally, is that their release was so unusual. Typically, when a new cigar comes out, it is first announced in a provisional list circulated to distributors in June or July. These always leak, and are variously confirmed or denied by insiders until the Habanos Festival in February of the next year, when the complete cigar programme for the year is officially announced, and pre-release samples are handed around. The cigars begin to appear in stores from July of that year onwards (although sometimes they can take up to two years before they are widely available).

The inaugural Añejados series came out of nowhere: it was announced in November, and was in stores three weeks later. Supposedly these are regular production cigars, aged in their boxes for five to eight years in Cuba, which means that this programme must have been well underway since at least 2008, with little or no word making it to the cigar aficionado community. How did they keep it under wraps that long? Aficionados, your host included, speculated that the whole thing was a ruse, that someone had simply found a cache of unsold Pirámides (discontinued 2003, these were an unexceptional cigar at the best of times, and hit new lows in the early 2000s), sitting at the back of a warehouse somewhere and decided to slap on a fancy band and release them at a premium. Even more suspicious were the Montecristo Churchills released at the same time, as the Churchill is not a size found in the regular production of Montecristo, implying that the found cache was probably of Sancho Panza Churchills or some another similarly unpopular marque, and Habanos figured that re-banding them as Monte might make them sell better.

Romeo y Julieta Pirámides Habanos Añejados 2014 somewhat smoked

All that said, this one aint so bad. At the mid-point it is still very light, floral and sweet. Burn is good. To be honest, this is an excellent cigar, and wears its age gracefully: the punchiness is gone, but an elegance has emerged.

As I smoke my cigar under the parking lot bridge, a fellow resident wanders out, well known to me as the building agitator. Once upon a time he ran this place, and he has enough votes in his pocket that he could again, but he has one small problem: over the years he has made a lot of enemies. He has enough votes to decide the committee if it comes to an election, but for it to come to an election there needs to be more nominations than there are seats, and he’s short on friendly nominations. In the smoking area we make a deal: I’ll run for committee if he helps me get smoking back into the courtyards. Stay tuned, gentle reader, the election is only a few weeks away, and the nanny may be seen off yet.

Romeo y Julieta Pirámides Habanos Añejados 2014 final third

After the bands come off there is a momentary, sickly sweet note of sarsaparilla or fairy floss before it goes downhill fast, bitter, a bit chemical, dirty. All I have to drink is a tepid flask of water that I brought down for the rinse, and it does not help at all. I wince and spit my way through the final inch.

All in all, the Añejados Pirámides is a very decent smoke. Better than the Petit Coronas any day of the week.

Romeo y Julieta Pirámides Habanos Añejados 2014 nub

Romeo y Julieta Pirámides Habanos Añejados 2014 on the Cuban Cigar Website

Romeo y Julieta Hermosos No. 1 Edición Limitada 2003

The day is pleasant, high twenties and humid, and I have spent much of it on foot – so much, in fact, that my pedometer has crested 25,000 for the first time in living memory. Now, however, I have reached my destination. I am in the back corner table of a nice suburban pub, my friends and I well shaded beneath an umbrella. The beers are cold, and there are no other patrons to bother. It’s a fine afternoon for cigars.

The dusky beauty in question is the 2003 Romeo Edición Limitada, the Hermosos No. 1. From what I recall, these were well received in 2003, but thirteen years changes a cigar, so in 2016? Who knows. 2003 was such a mixed bag for ELs – the phenomenal Cohiba DC, the reviled Monte C, and the not-especially-memorable Partagás D2. The Romeo could go either way.

Romeo y Julieta Hermosos No. 1 Edición Limitada 2003 unlit

I’m lighting the cigar with a Bic lighter – there was a plane journey before my walk, and I didn’t like to bring a torch lighter in case it was confiscated – so it takes a little while to coax a coal from the Bic’s fitful fires. Eventually I get there. Perhaps a symptom of the slow light, the first puffs have no heat to them, and no bitterness at all. The tobacco is extremely light, the flavour slightly lactic, slightly herbal. All those things are marginal. Mostly it tastes like nothing. I wonder if perhaps this cigar is a little old.

The friends I’m with are old friends, school friends, and as we puff and laugh away, an ancient anecdote comes to mind. The year would have been around 1998, and I was in year 9, the youngest of the four forms at my high school. I was pimple faced pubescent with hair that was just marginally too long (by year 12 it would be a greasy mop that frequently earned me uniform citations for crossing the collar limit) and a voice that still cracked occasionally. My parents had become friendly with the parents of Fabian Swann, a classmate of mine. Fabian and I were largely ambivalent toward each other, but I guess it was convenient, so the Swanns had brought him over to my house, notionally so that we could do our homework together, while our parents attended the school’s Parents Trivia Night.

Fairly predictably, not a lot of homework was getting done, but Fabian and I felt that we had to at least make some show of it, so we were spreading our books out on the kitchen table when something fell out of Fabian’s diary. “Oh yeah,” he said “check this out.” It was a proto-selfie, taken on a disposable camera some weeks prior at school camp. The subject was one of our classmates, Stavros Dimitriadis. Even by the standards of a teenage boy, Stavros was enduring a particularly brutal puberty; he was overweight, with pale skin that acted as an ideal canvas to extenuate his acne, a big, nobly nose, thick glasses and braces. Stavros always copped a lot of shit (it didn’t help that he had an identical twin brother, lived above a fish and chip shop, and proudly wore the Christian fish symbol on his blazer lapel), but at the moment in question he was undergoing an especial moment of fame. A few weeks prior, at the aforementioned school camp, we had gone caving (essentially writhing through foot high tunnels in close quarters with your classmates). Stavros was one of the last of the class to exit, so we were all standing around in a circle watching when he popped out of the ground, his glasses fogged up, and wearing a miner’s helmet with a light on it. Somebody yelled out “it’s a mole-man,” and that was it: Stavros would never be known as anything else. Being still relatively fresh, any reference to moles, mole-men, or Stavros had the class in stiches.

The photo that Fabian produced was about as unflattering as any that has ever been taken: low angle, it captured both Stavros’ double chin and his nose, and the sun gleamed equally off his greasy skin and his braces. “Let’s put it on a chick’s body,” I suggested.

The year being 1998, my family internet connection was restricted to a 28.8 baud modem that connected to a server at my dad’s work (he worked at a university). He had cautioned me repeatedly that every site would be monitored by their IT department, so an AltaVista search for something like “female body” was completely out of the question. Instead we leafed through a coffee table book until we found a picture of Chloé, a rubenesque nude that famously hangs in a pub in Melbourne, and scanned her. Using a trial version of some editing software that I had gotten on a shareware CD, we successfully planted Stavros’ head on Chloé’s body. The editing was awful, but good enough: the dichotomy between the pale nude’s body and the Greek boy’s greasy face was hilarious.

We printed out two copies, and the next day at school Fabian had one in his folder, and discreetly we began to show our friends, who all found it just as funny as we did. It was all going swimmingly until Cameron Sprague got a hold of it and stuck it up on the whiteboard. The whole class pissed themselves except Stavros, who snatched it down and fled the room in tears. Half an hour later the year-level coordinator came to get me.

Romeo y Julieta Hermosos No. 1 Edición Limitada 2003 somewhat smoked, on a bic lighter

The cigar at the mid-point has thickened considerably, although it is still only barely a mid-strength cigar. There are a few vague notes, some floral elements, the occasional lactic hint, but mostly at the moment it is dominated by a Mānuka honey taste stronger than I recall finding in any other cigar.

They only knew about me, but in the hopes of a lesser punishment, I immediately rolled on Fabian. It didn’t work. After a lot of shouting I was given a one-day suspension, a week of detention, and I had to have my parents sign the offending picture. I thought my parents would be the worst part of the punishment, but in the end it wasn’t too bad. They yelled at me a bit, but mostly they seemed mildly amused.

After I had served my detentions the incident died down. Stavros seemed to forgive me. Classmates would reminisce about it occasionally, and ask if I still had a copy, but alas, a condition of my parent’s punishment was that I delete the files from the computer, and the signed copy that I handed to the coordinator I never saw again.

There was something of an epilogue some years later, however, when Miss Kok (Miss Kok [she insisted it was pronounced “Coke”] too was the butt of a lot of our jokes, but also our pubescent fantasies: she was blonde, busty, wore a lot of singlet tops, and did a lot of jumping, leaping and jiggling around in her role as a drama teacher) asked me about it.
“Hey Alex, do you still have that picture of Stavros on the girl’s body that you made in year nine?”
“No, they made me destroy all the copies. How do you know about that?”
“Oh, we had that up in the staff room for weeks – that was hilarious.”

Romeo y Julieta Hermosos No. 1 Edición Limitada 2003 final third

In the last few inches the Hermosos No. 1 firmly establishes itself as mid strength, but as it does the honey fizzles out and is replaced by a sort of chemical tang, not unreminiscent of high-quality fly spray. As it progresses the tar gets stronger and stronger, until I’m basically just smoking for the nicotine. It is neither bad nor good.

Overall, the Hermosos No. 1 is a fine cigar, and what notes there are are delicate and delicious. In 2016, however, there is not a whole lot to it. I suspect it may be five years too old. If you have a box and are saving them for something, now is the time.

Still better than a Petit Coronas though.

Romeo y Julieta Hermosos No. 1 Edición Limitada 2003 nub

Romeo y Julieta Hermosos No. 1 Edición Limitada 2003 on the Cuban Cigar Website

Romeo y Julieta Hermosos No. 3 510 Aniversario Humidor

I messed up a little with the selection of today’s cigar. As I have opined before, the 510 Aniversario Humidor contains five cigars from five different marques. Three of those cigars are essentially regular production with a fancy band, no different to any cigar that you could pick up in any petrol station the world over. The other two, the Royals de Partagás and the Romeo y Julieta Hermosos No. 3, are unique to this humidor, and only 10,200 examples of each ever existed on this earth.

I smoke today at a suburban barbecue while drinking beers, eating flesh and telling tall tales. As I was leaving the house I thought “I should grab a cigar… nothing too precious, I probably won’t be concentrating on it too much. How about the 510, isn’t that just a regular production?” I was wrong, of course, but I wouldn’t realise until it was too late.

The first great disrespect of the Hermosos No. 3 came pre-light. I was setting up a nice photo with the cigar balanced on a fencepost, the barbeque going on behind, when a gust of wind dashed the cigar earthward and its foot smashed on the pavement. To add insult to injury, the more stable platform that I opted for as my second choice was the lid of the garbage bin.

Romeo y Julieta Hermosos No. 3 510 Aniversario Humidor unlit, resting on a bin

(A note on cigars with broken feet: they’re not really that bad. Any other damage and you can have unravelling, burn issues, ruined draw for one reason or another, but the foot? Not such a big deal. If anything it’s easier to light, and the issue burns itself away before too long. Shaggy foot unfinished cigars are even sought after in the customs market. Many cigar shops offer deep discounts on damaged stock – if the only problem is that the foot is a bit cracked, I say go for it.)

The cigar begins a little bitter, hot, no doubt, from the ventilated foot, but quickly mellows out into something light and sweet. There are strong vegetal notes, some herbs, a little flowery. Very nice.

I’m drinking a Brooklyn cocktail, which a friend brought to this party pre-mixed. It’s basically whiskey and vermouth, a little sweet, a little dry, and it goes nicely with the cigar; sweet enough to cut the bitterness, but not so cloying as to ruin the palate. Being essentially the same strength as whiskey but not much less drinkable than Coca-Cola, it is also laying a good foundation for what is to come.

Our host today is Kurt. He’s an excellent cook. He’s a decent carpenter. He’s an absolutely abysmal home distiller. In very simple terms, when you make any distilled liquor what you do is take a liquid that has been made mildly alcoholic by the digestive processes of yeast and boil it until you separate the alcohol out. This alcohol will be pretty dreadful when it comes out of the still, but if you took time and care with your mash, made it with the water from your nearby mountain stream, and with barley smoked with the unique peat of your backyard bog, then it might just have some subtle nuance to it that 10 years in a barrel (and some water) will enhance to the point of drinkability. If you didn’t take too much trouble then you can always mix your grain alcohol with some herbs and spices and call it Gin, or with sugar and fruits and make some kind of liqueur.

What Kurt does in the production of his flagship product, Colonel Kurtz’s No. 1 Special, and what most backyard distillers do, is make his mash out of what amounts to a bag of sugar and a sachet of commercial yeast and then add store bought flavouring essences to it that will allegedly make it resemble whisky or what-have-you. What he fails to do, I theorise, is properly separate the poisonous methanol from the somewhat less poisonous ethanol. The No. 1 Special tastes foul, gives you a headache, makes you anti-socially drunk, and leaves you with as bad a hangover as anything on this earth, but because I am a foolish, foolish man, I know that as soon as I finish this Brooklyn I’m going to go looking for some.

Romeo y Julieta Hermosos No. 3 510 Aniversario Humidor, somewhat burnt

The cigar is burning with a nice white ash, showing its age. As the smoke combines with the Brooklyn on my tongue it brings out a strong, sweet coffee note. Very smooth and pleasant.

I find the No. 1 Special, Batch #3 (a good year), in the bar and have a snoot. It takes me back. The last time I was in this home I had a few belts of the stuff, and then walked back to the train with a couple of friends. Being out in the suburbs, the nearest train station is a kilometre or so away, and we walked merrily along, slugging from a plastic takeaway bottle of the No. 1 Special as we did. The train station in question is built with the platform in the centre of the two sets of tracks, so in order to gain access you walk across the tracks (literally across, the rails run right through the footpath), and then up a ramp in the centre of the platform. Being full of No. 1 Special, I decided on this particular night to take the more efficient path, and simply climb the two-foot rise directly onto the platform.

Waiting for me at the top of the cliff were two PSOs – Public Safety Officers – a variety of jackbooted thug that has emerged in Victoria over the last five years or so. They’re basically cops without the training (they do have the guns though). They asked me what I was doing, and if I’d been drinking, and if I knew there was a $2000 fine for being on the tracks. They asked what was in the plastic bottle. I didn’t handle the interrogation well, replying to every question as belligerently as I was able. “Yes, yes, but I wasn’t on the tracks, I climbed up from the footpath, it was paint thinner, but it’s empty, and I was just about to recycle it.” When they asked me if I’d ever been in trouble with the police before, and I replied that I wasn’t in trouble with the police now, they asked to see my license. They called my name into the police switchboard to check for warrants, but were still waiting on a response when the train arrived (real police don’t have a lot of time for PSOs either). “Thanks guys” I said, reaching over to take my ID. They looked at me unhappily as I got on the train and left, another arsehole off into the night. I guess it wasn’t worth shooting me over.

In the city twenty minutes later my friends were keen for a cocktail, but I was rapidly entering the final stage of the No. 1 Special effect, and insisted on McDonalds. The nuggets didn’t help. “Guys,” I said “you gotta go on without me. I’ve got a splitting headache and my whole body feels toxic. I need to sit on this bench for about twenty minutes.”

In the end I got a cab to drive me the six blocks to my home. I woke up with as bad a hangover as I’ve ever had.

Romeo y Julieta Hermosos No. 3 510 Aniversario Humidor, final third

Perhaps it’s the No. 1 Special burning my taste buds off, but it seems like the Hermosos No. 3 gets bitter before its time, with almost two inches remaining. There are two main kinds of bitterness at the end of a cigar, the pleasant bitterness of coffee and chocolate, and the astringent bitterness of tar. This lies somewhere in-between. I’ve had worse.

When it comes down to it, the Hermosos No. 3 is a fine cigar, with plenty of flavour and a good balanced elegance. It falls somewhere in the upper echelon of the Romeos I have had thus far. I apologise, 510 Romeo, you probably deserved a bit more respect.

In any event, it’s better than the Petit Coronas.

Romeo y Julieta Hermosos No. 3 510 Aniversario Humidor nub

Romeo y Julieta Hermosos No. 3 510 Aniversario Humidor on the Cuban Cigar Website

Romeo y Julieta De Luxe Edición Limitada 2013

Of the Romeo y Julieta De Luxe, Edición Limitada 2013, I have nothing to say. To be honest, when I plucked this cigar from my humidor, I had no idea what it was. “2013 Romeo EL?” I thought “Never heard of it.” A brief Bing does not reveal much: it appears to be another EL that has failed to distinguish itself, either in excellence or mediocrity. Ah well. The facts, as they say, will be in the fire.

Romeo y Julieta De Luxe Edición Limitada 2013 unlit

I lift the cap and toast the foot. It begins very dry on the palate, mid-to-light tobacco with notes of straw and dry dusty earth. Somewhere in the back of it there is the tang of fresh basil.

For all my lifelong debauchery, I’ve never really got that much into food. Drink, women, drugs, cars, boats, watches, racehorses, fine clothes, finer tobacco, and all the other pursuits of the epicurean? Sure. Food? Not so much. It’s not that I don’t like it – a good meal is a good meal – but I never really saw the need to seek it out. The maximum threshold of deliciousness can be reached for $10 at the local Chinese greasy spoon. Beyond that I don’t much see the point. Particularly my meals at home – the ones I consume as a solitary bachelor, in my underwear, slumped in front of the television – those meals I get no pleasure from. I resent every aspect of the experience: the time spent in the hellish supermarket, the time cooking, the time eating, the time cleaning up: it’s all a waste! An hour a day at least, spent in the service of a joyless calorie obligation! You can imagine my delight, therefore, when Soylent burst onto the scene.

Soylent is a nutrient slurry, designed by a tech entrepreneur to take humanity to the level beyond food. Essentially it is a beige powder that, when mixed with 3L of water and drunk throughout the day, gives the body 100% of what it needs. Nothing more. Nothing less. On a diet of Soylent there is no shopping, no cooking, no washing up and minimal preparation. Meeting the food obligation is reduced to minutes in the day. Most people with whom I discussed the idea were offended by it: “food is a fundamental part of the human experience” they would say. “How can you forsake it?” What they don’t get is that it’s not replacing all food. Lavish banquets with friends? Sure, I’ll eat those. But the miserable tin of baked beans on a Tuesday night? The tuna, spooned unheated from the can on a Wednesday? Give me the slurry. A month of Soylent costs about $350, which seems like a lot of up-front cost, but is pretty cheap when you consider that’s it’s your entire caloric intake for a month.

Soylent is not available in Australia (our nanny does not only disapprove of tobacco), but they make the recipe freely available, so I was able to cook my own (it’s basically oats, protein powder, and 50 or so vitamins and minerals). Like most of the innovations I bring about in my life, it eventually trickled down to my manservant Davidé, who fell in love with the stuff.

Romeo y Julieta De Luxe Edición Limitada 2013 somewhat smoked

At the midpoint the cigar is very dry, with a slight umami flavour, shitake mushroom. The straw still lingers, as does the dust. It is dry, very dry.

As long as I’ve known Davidé, the brute has always had a terrible digestive constitution. If we go out on the town, it is guaranteed that at some point he will be running for a public toilet in a state of desperation. If he comes to my home, his first demand is to immediately use my bathroom. Very often he regales and disgusts me with anecdotes about soiled clothing. When I began my post-food lifestyle I threw him a few tubs, and a week or so later he came to me, glowing. “Mr. Groom” he said “this stuff is a goddamn miracle. I’ve never done shits like this in my life. Solid perfect lumps that sink like stones. Regular as clockwork. I don’t even have to wipe anymore!” His questionable personal hygiene aside, I also felt pretty good. Strong. Lean. I was never hungry, and always energetic. It was my first experience of having a balanced nutrient intake, and it was good stuff.

Davidé has always had a very specific taste in women, which is to say he likes girls who are deeply, deeply damaged. At the moment in question he was dating a Singaporean diplo-brat named Jade. They’d met on the internet, and rapidly become lovers. She was gorgeous, a pouty, fine boned Asian. She had shaved her head completely bald, and wore an ever changing series of brightly coloured wigs. Needing something to get her through the day, she huffed nitrous-oxide bulbs constantly (she had started on the NoX because she didn’t want to take an addictive drug, but was on them to point of complete addiction, psychologically, if not chemically. She needed ten to get herself out of bed in the morning. She had them delivered weekly in industrial quantities, and there was a basket of empty canisters in every room in her house. Davidé referred to her home as Da Nang.) Ringing her arms and legs were rows of scars, and whenever Davidé angered her she’d tell him she was going to add another. It was a promise, not a threat. She hated to sleep alone, and would demand that he stay over nightly. When he refused she would threaten to cut him, or failing that, herself. If he spent more than an hour or two away from her he would start getting hysterical messages accusing him of cheating. She was deeply, dangerously damaged.

Because of her separation anxiety, Jade, therefore, was present when we cooked our second batch of Soylent. They’d just recovered from one of their frequent splits – Davidé had announced that he was leaving her, and she’d sent him a constant stream of alternatingly sexy and suicidal images until he’d relented and gone over to her house, where they’d had wild sex while she screamed abuse at him. At the cook-up she mostly just brooded in the corner. Soylent is mostly cooking by spreadsheets – it’s just a matter of figuring out ratios – and Davidé, in an attempt to include Jade, gave her the job of crushing up the various pills that make up the micronutrient quotient of the Soylent with a mortar and pestle, while we handled the “man’s work” of reducing several kilograms of oats to flour, and mixing in great sacks of protein and maltodextrin. She performed her task diligently, but silently, watching something on her computer. When she was finished she handed us the mortar filled with grey-brown powder and wordlessly disappeared into Davidé’s room. He rolled his eyes. “She doesn’t like it when I talk to other people.”

A week or so into the new batch, I came to the conclusion that something was definitely wrong. I felt weak and lethargic. When I stood up too quickly I would get dizzy. In the shower I would feel myself starting to black out, and have to sit down and run the water cold. There was a constant slight feeling of nausea. For the first few days I just thought I was coming down with something, but as it continued to get worse, I eventually began to wonder if something might be wrong with the Soylent. I called Davidé, who by this stage had broken up with Jade again (for what would prove to be the final time) and asked him how he was feeling. “Shit,” he replied.

We returned to our spreadsheet and did an audit of our left-over ingredients, comparing the amount left in the containers from the amounts that should have been expended in a proper, balanced cook. The big stuff all seemed fine, the oats, the maltodextrin, but when we got to the micronutrients the issue quickly became clear: she had given us almost thirty times the recommended daily dose of chelated molybdenum (a mineral that, among other things, leeches copper from the body), and no copper, iron, zinc or vitamin B12. We were in the advanced stages of copper deficiency. She was clearly trying to kill us.

We Googled for hours looking for a solution, and debated at length the merits of adding a large copper supplement to offset the molybdenum, but eventually decided it was too risky. We snuck out at night and dumped great garbage bags of Soylent into a skip at the construction site across the road. The post-food experiment was over.

Romeo y Julieta De Luxe Edición Limitada 2013 an inch or so left

In the final third the cigar gets ashy and a bit tannic. The is a strong herbaceous quality, that is not entirely unpleasant. It ends without tar, but very tannic. A fine cigar for any occasion, and better than a Petit Coronas, but the least of the three Romeo ELs I’ve had in the recent past.

Romeo y Julieta De Luxe Edición Limitada 2013 nub

Romeo y Julieta De Luxe Edición Limitada 2013 on the Cuban Cigar Website

Romeo y Julieta Duke Edición Limitada 2009

Osaka, Japan: hot, humid, overcast, with just the occasional touch of drizzle. A fairly typical afternoon at the end of the Osaka summer.

I lived in this city for a little over a year, mainly in 2009, and have returned here many times since. Today I am on vacation. My friends in this part of the world are all either bartenders or English teachers, but either way, they live the same lifestyle: rise at noon, work until late, drink until dawn. Now in the third week of my vacation, my body has entered a kind of toxin survival state where I no longer get hangovers, which means my afternoons are free. I have decided to take a walk.

Despite living here, I really have no idea about the geography of this city. There are no hills to speak of, and the whole place is tall buildings, there’s never anywhere you can get a clear line of sight. I know certain areas quite well, but only in relation to their nearby subway stops – how the districts fit together into a city I really have no clue.

I have decided to head to the aquarium, starting near my hotel on the Dōtombori canal. I know that the aquarium is by the harbour, and my logic is that the canal must eventually wind up at the water. The aquarium has the world’s largest Ferris wheel right next to it, so once I’m on the waterfront I figure I should be able to spot the wheel and head toward that.

It’s not a sound plan, but the point is the journey, not the destination. I’m bringing a traveling companion with me, a Romeo y Julieta Duke, Edición Limitada 2009, a handsome brute with a deep red wrapper.

Romeo y Julieta Duke Edición Limitada 2009 unlit

The Duke begins well, sharply floral, like chewing on rose petals rather than sniffing them. Somewhere behind there is a nice, beany coffee and more than a little cream. There’s no EL chocolate here yet, but you can clearly see the dust of its approach on the horizon.

Like most people in their mid-20s who wash up in a foreign land, I came to Japan mainly to get away from my mother. At the time I had just spent two years working in my first real job, eight hours a day sharing a cubical with a guy who crunched sunflower seeds unrelentingly throughout the entire workday. The money was great, and I was basically running the show, which is an unheard of career progression for a guy my age, and yet, I had come to ask myself that inevitable question, “what am I doing with my life?” My mother had the answer, “you have a good job, you’re doing well, you need to work hard, get some security, buy a house, meet a nice girl maybe.”

She was right, of course, but my young brain couldn’t see that. “Why is my mother trying to enslave me,” I wondered. “Why would she want me to spend all day in that prison?” I was a lost soul, and I needed to find myself. And so I fled.

A friend had recently moved to Osaka, so I applied for a job with his company, teaching English. They told me I had it, but after a month or two of messing around, they changed their minds, so I decided to wing it and just left. Tourist visa. One-month booking in a foreigner friendly flop house. No plans.

It was cold the night I arrived: January in Osaka is a marked shift from January in Australia. Somehow I found my way to my guest house and checked in. It was around 10pm, I think, by the time I settled in and ventured out. I found a pay phone around the corner and called my friend. “Hey man,” he said “I’m a bit busy right now. I’m in Hiroshima having a bath with an old lady. I’ll be back in three days.”

It was an odd three days. I had no phone, no internet access, I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t speak a word of the language, and I knew nothing about the city. If I got lost there was a non-trivial possibility of my dying on the streets, so I wasn’t too willing to venture far from my home range. Japan has one of the lowest levels of English in the world, but it is a strangely friendly country for the non-vocal illiterate. The western idea that Japan has a vending machine for everything is a myth (they do have a block of vending machines every ten meters, but they all just sell drinks and cigarettes), but in most mid-range restaurants you order from a machine that has pictures of every item, and don’t have to interact with your waiter beyond a curt head nod. In any event, I think I spent the next three days mostly in my room watching Japanese television.

Romeo y Julieta Duke Edición Limitada 2009 somewhat smoked

Back in the present, all is lost. The canal I was following branched, and then zig-zagged, and then I came to an industrial district where the walkway along the canal bank ended, and large warehouses obscured my view of it long enough that I lost it. I am walking in the direction that I think is toward the bay, but really I have very little evidence to back up that theory. The Romeo is holding together nicely though. Earthy. Christmas pudding. Cherries. Nice fruitcake. Strong coffee notes. Eventually I find my way to one of the huge bridges that span the harbour, and scale it, and from there I am able to determine the magnitude of my navigation issues. The Ferris wheel is visible, but several kilometres away. The only landmark that looks attainable is the giant IKEA on the next island, so I head towards there. The new goal is a $1 hotdog.

Romeo y Julieta Duke Edición Limitada 2009 half smoked

When my friend finally returned to Osaka he picked me up at my guest house and took for a tour of the surrounding district, which I would later come to know as Shinsaibashi, the main entertainment district. At the time it seemed completely alien, a maze of crowds and tall buildings. That night he took me to a club. I was delighted, my first social interactions in three days, my first exposure to Japanese girls, and the nightlife scene. I was a little tipsy and chatting in broken English to a girl in short shorts when my friend tugged me on the arm and said he was leaving with a girl.
“Should I come too?” I asked. “I don’t know how to get home.”
He shrugged it off, plainly not wanting to chaperone me when he had a female in his sights. “Just go outside and go straight, it’s just down the road. You’ll be fine.”

An hour or so later the girl I was talking to left with her friends, and I decided it was my bedtime too. I headed out to the street, and instantly realised I was in trouble. I had no idea where I was, or which of the four cardinal directions he meant by “straight.”

For the next four hours I wandered, first by heading about a kilometre or so in each of the cardinals before deciding it was wrong and heading back, and eventually just roaming at random, hoping to find some landmark I knew (which at this point in time was essentially limited to the 7-11 down the street or my guest house door). Eventually the sun rose, the trains resumed their service, and I was able to find one to take me to the station that I remembered as the one I had got off at upon my arrival. I didn’t have the map I had had then, so there was still a little random wandering before I found my bed, but I got there eventually.

I saw a lot of the city that night, and over the next year I was constantly finding familiar things, landmarks from my ramblings. If you want to find yourself, you first have to get lost. It’s a good way to get away from your mother, also.

Romeo y Julieta Duke Edición Limitada 2009 final third

In the final third the chocolate emerges, deep, bitter swathes of it. The coffee remains resilient also. The burn has not been great, requiring several relights, but I blame that mainly on the humidity. The ending could be smoother, but it’s not as rough as some. All in all, the Romeo y Julieta Duke is a fine cigar, and much better than the Petit Coronas.

Romeo y Julieta Duke Edición Limitada 2009 nub

Romeo y Julieta Duke Edición Limitada 2009 on the Cuban Cigar Website