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.
(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.
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.
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.