Montecristo C Edición Limitada 2003

“Inconsistent” is the aficionado consensus on the C. There are a few very vocal maligners, there are a few staunch proponents, and in the middle there seems to be a general agreement that there were some good boxes and some bad; that at their best they were cocoa and cream, and at their worst they were bland and flavourless. One certainly can’t fault their pedigree: they shared the rolling bench with the legendary Cohiba Double Corona EL, which for my money are probably the best Edición Limitada and one of the best cigars ever to grace the virgin’s thigh (more on these later).

Montecristo C Edición Limitada 2003 unlit with a Peroni beer

Cigars are best appreciated alone and best enjoyed with friends, so perhaps this afternoon – a glorious summers’ one that finds me drinking beers and talking shit with two old friends in my backyard – is not the best venue to tackle a controversial cigar like the C. The die, however, is cast: the cap is cut, Caesar has crossed the Rubicon, and smoke it I will.

(Historical Aside: I read once that alea iacta est, Caesar’s famous words upon crossing the aforementioned Italian waterway are a misquote, and should in fact read alea jacta esto; “throw the dice high” as opposed “the die is cast.” So it is, Monte C: you will burn today, but your flavours are by no means set in stone… wavering humidity… accompanying beverages… my own fickle moods… anything could happen. Let’s play.)

The draw is loose; not a total wind tunnel, but a long way from a Cuban draw, and there is a light, gusty breeze blowing also that will do it no favours. The first puffs are tannic and bitter, surprising for a cigar this age. I let it settle, hoping the bitterness is an artefact of the lighting and will pass, but it continues well beyond the first puffs. The only detectable flavour behind it is a sort of smooth, medium tobacco.

Montecristo C Edición Limitada 2003 two thirds remaining

My friend Argus is smoking a Monte 3 with some age on it, and Stevespool, who “can’t handle a whole cigar” sits with us, occasionally sneaking a puff from one or the other cigar as it sits in the ashtray. After one such pull on the C I ask his opinion. “It tastes like a cheap cigar,” he observes. I somewhat concur. There is definitely none of the stink of Nicaragua in this cigar, but the sentiment is correct. It is not especially pleasant.

We suckle sweet Peroni in the sun, talking shit and telling ribald anecdotes. Argus is a historian by training, and laments the self-sabotaging nature of his industry, where there’s no private sector to speak of and jobs for academics are limited to a fraction of the students studying under them, so by definition most graduates will be unemployed. Oscar Pistorius is in the news, and conversation about him quickly degenerates into jokes about robot killing machines.

With half remaining Stevespool takes another drag. “That’s got a lot better,” he observes “with kind of an interesting aftertaste.” When pushed for a taste he eventually lands on “fluffy tires… like fairy floss made from rubber… it’s not offensive, but just sort of an airy tingle.” He giggles. I’m not sure I see the sweetness myself. The rubber is certainly there. Of the two he prefers the Monte 3.

Montecristo C Edición Limitada 2003 one final inch

We wander across hopes and dreams and money making capers. We’re all at an age where things are getting serious: Argus has a child on the way, Stevespool a wedding, I am dabbling in home ownership, and for us now is the time when schemes must be enacted. If we want to be drinking our own single-malt at our son’s 21st birthdays, we really have to consider putting it under oak immediately. Stevespool has a chemistry degree somewhere in his shady past, and we interrogate him as to the possibilities for creating a chemically perfect scotch not with centuries of tradition but with science. He isn’t very helpful, although he does offer quite a few insights into how alcohol alters brain chemistry.

The afternoon is turning to evening and we order a pizza. I’m a little drunk, but just afternoon drunk; even priests are drunk on Sunday afternoons.

One or two brief moments aside the Monte C has tasted plain and bitter, with perhaps a little straw and medium tobacco detectable somewhere in the aftertaste. If this is cocoa then it’s unsweetened cocoa powder eaten straight from the tin. Bitterness in cigars is usually a fault I assign to the smoker; he is smoking too fast, the cigar is burning too hot, scorching the smoke. In this instance, however, I don’t think this is the case. For one, the C has lasted a good 30 minutes longer than Argus’ comparably sized Monte 3, and for two, this thing has been so bitter that I’ve found myself instinctively giving it a lot of space between drags.

I let it go a few puffs sooner that I otherwise would. The pizza is here. Perhaps if I had smoked this cigar alone I might have been able to appreciate it, but as it stands, whilst I enjoyed this pleasant afternoon with my friends, I would have enjoyed it more so with a Monte 4.

Montecristo C Edición Limitada 2003 nub in ash tray

Montecristo C Edición Limitada 2003 on the Cuban Cigar Website

Montecristo D Edición Limitada 2005

Honestly, I remember nothing about this cigar. I was on the scene when they were released and I’ve had them before, but I don’t remember the reviews, I don’t remember the consensus, and I don’t remember any tasting notes. I remember the C, that controversial little cracker, and I remember the Robustos, and of course the more recent entries, the Sublime and the Grand Edmundo but the D? Nothing.

Montecristo D Edición Limitada 2005 unlit

It’s a beautiful size, a elegant Lonsdale, with a nice wrapper, dark and oily. It has punch right from the start. Strong coffee and cream, with a real espresso hit on the back. Beautiful.

I’m drinking a Coca-Cola with it. At one point in my life I lived in China, and in Shanghai’s cigar lounges by far the most common accompaniment to a fine cigar is an icy glass of Diet Coke. Many Chinese have an allergy to alcohol, strong liquor especially, and that excludes them from the whiskey and rum cults we find in western cigar lounges. Outside the lounges they drink a lot of tea, but I’ve never seen it inside one. Perhaps it doesn’t have a strong enough flavour to complement the cigar. In any case, I asked a Chinese friend about it once and he told me that they drank Coke to “cut some of the bitterness.” I’ve drunken it with my own cigars on many occasions, and he’s right, it does remove a lot of the tar and compliments a cigar quite nicely. If it has a fault it’s that it is perhaps a bit too cloying, drowning the tastebuds a little, and were I compiling a definitive tasting notes guide I would probably avoid it, but for a casual smoke I think it works. I will also add the proviso that it should also be watered down with ice, and please, Coke only, no Pepsi. Pepsi is sweeter than Coke and doesn’t have the same complexity; in Coke if you concentrate you can taste the three citrus flavours – lemon, lime, and orange – as well as cinnamon, vanilla and whatever the secret ingredient is. I also have my reservations about Coke in America, which uses high-fructose corn syrup rather than the sugar we have in the rest of the world. I understand you can get proper Coke with sugar around Easter, Americans: it’s called “kosher for Passover” or something like that. Maybe one of those froufrou high end natural colas would work as well. I’ll have to try it.

Montecristo D Edición Limitada 2005 half smoked

It’s a wonderful day, blue skys, high twenties, but the wind is a little squally and I think it’s stoking the cigar a bit, because at a little over halfway an ashy, bitter taste begins to creep in, a sure sign that the cigar is burning too hot. Once I let the flavour fade on my tongue I’m left with a medium tobacco flavour, some hint of bean. Perhaps the Coke is ruining this cigar: it began so well, but is getting worse as it goes on. From the first puff this was shaping up to be a magnificent cigar, those full lashings of coffee has me convinced that into the second half I would be in a world of chocolate and sweet spice, but instead I just have bitterness over a little tobacco.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, this is still obviously a cigar of the highest quality, burn has been impeccable, and you can taste the obvious quality in the leaf – I’ll take the Pepsi challenge with this and a non-Cuban any day of the week – but it just disappoints a bit when compared to my high expectations.

By the end of these reviews I’m usually a little tipsy, and I wonder if my enjoyment of the cigar is coloured by insobriety; my best self is the one with two to four standard drinks inside him. No, that can’t be it; I had that first Monte 4 cold sober and that was a cracker. As I toss the nub of this cigar, I observe that I have no buzz at all from the nicotine, and, in fact, I kind of want another cigar. Something short and punchy like a Cohiba Panatela. I wonder if I have any left.

The Montecristo D: begins well, ends less so. Perhaps it’s in a sick period.

Montecristo D Edición Limitada 2005 nub

Montecristo D Edición Limitada 2005 on the Cuban Cigar Website.

Montecristo Maravillas No.1 Colección Habanos 2005

The Montecristo Maravillas No.1, from the 2005 Colección Habanos series: the book humidors. They’re great looking things those book humidors, and I love them as collectables; I imagine those lucky few who have the entire set arrayed on a bookcase somewhere (presumably in their gothic library of leather-bound volumes, concealing the secret entrance to their walk in humidor) feel a great sense of personal satisfaction, but I could never buy one myself because of what they contain: Habanos S.A.’s annual experiment into the upper limits of cigar ring gauge. 55 by 182! I can’t put this thing in my mouth! I have to hold it between two fingers and puff at it through gently pursed lips!

Montecristo Maravillas No.1 Colección Habanos 2005 unlit on a glass ashtray

I light it and puff at it through gently pursed lips and it begins excellently. The draw is a little loose; the flavour classic high end Montecristo, more Especial than Edmundo. Cream, straw, a little nutty (almonds, maybe?), all over a wonderful lightly toasted tobacco of the highest grade. The thesis of this blog was originally the smoking of exotics, the unsmokables, and in my mind I often imagine the readers complaining about the cigars I smoke not being exotic enough (“Monte Open! What is this rubbish!” the imaginary critic cries, navigating away in disgust). Well, this cigar is a true exotic: 500 humidors, 20 cigars per humidor, 10,000 in total and it’s eight years old to boot.

I’m pairing this with a Hahn Millennium Ale. In the heady days of 1999, Hahn released these beers in a longneck under a champagne cork, with the yeast still in the bottle so that it would get better with age. Thirteen years later and I think it’s probably time. The angels had taken most of the neck. Moments after opening I realise my mistake: I should have paired this with a Millennium Jar cigar (more on those later). Ah well. At any rate, it’s a lovely colour, dark and red, and very sweet and rich, with a good amount of fizz, given its age. Burned hops. A little port. The surprising thing really is its origin: I would expect this beer from some Dutch microbrewery, but Hahn? The favourite beer of New South Wales (Australian state, capital Sydney), Hahn is very much a lowest common denominator inoffensive everyman lager. That they have the ability or even the aspiration to produce something like this is astounding. I’ve heard this described as the best beer every to come out of Australia, and thirteen years ago, before the microbrewery boom, that was probably true. Well, perhaps not the best – this beer is unpleasant in a lot of ways – but certainly the most complex.

Montecristo Maravillas No.1 Colección Habanos 2005 a quarter smoked and with a Hahn Millenium Ale

The cigar is delightful, a real mellow, contemplative cigar. Not as in your face complex as the beer, but then, there is no element in the cigar that is unpleasant. The cream has gone, and I am left with a light tobacco and cedar flavour. Aromatic. A little floral.

I read on the internet that the Hahn Millennium Ale is based on Chimay Red, a Trappist Ale with which I have a more than passing familiarity. Perhaps it’s the thirteen years it spent in the bottom of my laundry cupboard, but they are nothing alike, the Hahn possessing a far richer flavour. I mention it though, because this seems like the only opportunity I’ll ever have to tell the story of Nathan, and confess to a crime that has been weighing on me for five long years.

In 2008 I lived in Japan, and there came into contact with Nathan. He was the flatmate of one of my high-school friends, an American in his mid-30s, and an alcoholic. We all partied pretty hard in Japan – it’s that kind of a place. Booze is cheap and available everywhere, and you can drink it openly on the streets. You can buy beer from vending machines, you can smoke in hospitals, and there’s not really such a thing as a bouncer. Nathan though, he took it to another level. He drank hard in bars, always beer, and would lock you in a corner and insist on telling you about his problems; about his ex-wife, about his disabled sister, and about the problems with his father and things of that nature. When the bar closed and his friends had all abandoned him he would go home and drink a bottle of Jack Daniels alone and in the dark, muttering to himself.

There was one bar in particular that Nathan liked, the Hub, where he was known as Mr. Chimay. Years before he’d requested that they stock it, and they kept a case behind the bar especially for him. He’d walk in, wave to the bartender, and take a seat, and moments later his Chimay would materialize.

I’d known him six months, and honestly, I didn’t like him and he didn’t like me, but we were in the same circle and so on Halloween I found myself dressed as Hugh Hefner and smoking a pipe in his living room. It was early, and almost all of the guests were planning to leave before too long and go to a better party. Nathan was inexplicably in his street clothes until about 9:30 when he called for silence and dimmed the lights. He turned on the TV, pressed play and disappeared into his bedroom. The Star Wars theme began to blast, and on the TV screen began, in the style of the Star Wars opening scroll, an essay telling the story of Nathan’s life in Japan. For minutes it went on, while the assembled throng stood around awkwardly, wanting to be polite, but utterly disinterested in this presentation. The final words of the scroll read “…and his name was DARTH CHIMAY”, and as they appeared on screen the theme transitioned into the Imperial March and Nathan emerged, now clad in full replica Darth Vader costume, and clutching a Chimay Red in each hand.

The lengthy pause had been the death knell of the party, and ten minutes later everybody began to make their excuses. As I prepared to walk out the door it occurred to me that I had a lengthy train ride ahead of me and no alcohol on my person, so I opened the fridge, and there on the shelf was the only booze left in the house: two Chimay Red. As I pocketed them both I looked over my shoulder, and there for a moment caught Nathan’s eye (he’d removed the helmet almost immediately). There was such a look of disappointment on his face, perhaps more at his rapidly imploding party than at my criminal act, but nonetheless, I felt bad, at least for the two minutes it took me to walk down the stairs. The Chimay was nice. It tided me over all the way to the bar. Sorry Nathan.

There’s no tannin at all in this cigar, and if I had a book of them I’d seriously consider smoking them all right now, as it seems perfectly aged. I detect a little buttered toast, and maybe a hint of salt. In a cigar this thick one expects a certain robustness, a dose of nicotine and spice, but this is really very elegant. I’ve been smoking for two hours now, and at least two smokable inches remain.

Montecristo Maravillas No.1 Colección Habanos 2005 two thirds smoked

Forty five minutes later, and with less than an inch to go the cigar offers me a little tar, although very little considering the amount of fragrant leaf that has been burned. I’ve finished the Millennium Ale, and honestly, I’m quite drunk. It advertises itself as 8%, although with 13 years of evaporation and distillation who knows what it is today. Perhaps 14%, perhaps 4%. I feel quite woozy. Perhaps it’s the nicotine. There’re a lot of factors involved, really.

Either way, both were magnificent. The best Montecristo? The best Australian beer? Honestly, in this moment I can’t recall one better alternative to either, but then, in my current state I’m very much a biased narrator. The nub burns my fingers and gets thrown over the balcony, but I instantly regret it. Please, just one more puff. In any analysis it has been a marvellous way to spend a lazy afternoon.

Montecristo Maravillas No.1 Colección Habanos 2005 nub and ash

Montecristo Maravillas No.1 Colección Habanos 2005 on the Cuban Cigar Website.

Montecristo Grand Edmundo Edición Limitada 2010

It’s 11am and I’ve just fixed myself a nice rum and ginger beer. I’m lying on a banana lounge in the lee of the house at the Groom compound, and have positioned myself so that the sun falls over exactly half my bare torso. I have done this because yesterday I smoked a cigar on the other side of the house about this time, and as a result one half of my body is quite pink, while the other remains its usual fish belly white. I’m trying to even out the pink.

Such is the life of the cigar aficionado; it’s not all high quality smokes and rum drinks in the sun, you know. Well, okay, that is all it is, but sometimes you get sunburned.

I estimate that in about an hour and a half the sun will have moved in the sky and my chest will be entirely in the shade, and so I have looked through my travel humidor to find the cigar that would most closely match that smoking time, and settled on this, the Montecristo Grand Edmundo. Also my harridan mother is expected to show up at 2:00, and I’d like to be done by then.

Montecristo Grand Edmundo Edición Limitada 2010 unlit

This is the seventh Montecristo to wear the EL band, and one of the best received, and as of this writing it is still available at a somewhat reasonable price if one sets one’s mind to it.

I light it, and it opens like a lily to the light; a rich, powerful cream, the froth from a cappuccino with a dusting of nutmeg. Wonderful.

It’s an ugly looking stick. There is a split part way down the side which is very probably my fault, but there is also a smear of what looks like glue about halfway down (probably Habanos’ fault, although I suppose it’s plausible that one of the middlemen whose hands it passed through before mind did it), and a discolouration in the wrapper near the end (definitely Habanos). I can’t say I mind: the cigar is perfectly constructed and smoking wonderfully; these blemishes are maker’s marks, testament to the hand wrought nature of the Cuban cigar.

Montecristo Grand Edmundo Edición Limitada 2010 on a glass of rum and ginger

The ash is a nice pale colour, matching with some exactness the weathered boards of my deck. I let it keep it a while, and it holds strong, the mark of good construction.

The eye of heaven has moved, and now only my arm is in his light. I inspect it, and it glistens slightly, moisture present between the hairs. Is that sweat, I wonder, or my jus, leaking out of me like it leaks out of a roasted chicken. I question for a moment the logic of this decision. I’m used to laughing in the face of mouth cancer, but is it sensible to bait melanoma as well?

The cigar is great, wonderfully rich, with sweet vanilla bean and cream dominating. I’m a sucker for an EL. A lot of aficionados don’t like them, and their criticisms – that they all taste kind of the same, that they cost too much, that the sizes are unimaginative, and that it’s a shame they have to come at a cost of so many discontinuations – are all perfectly valid, however, that EL flavour, that richness, the sweetness and notes of coffee and chocolate, I just love it.

The wind has shifted. Previously it was a hot wind, blowing from the landward side, and I was sheltered from it on this side of the house, but now it blows from behind me, from the ocean. It’s cool, and provides a nice relief for my roasted flesh, however, it is no longer possible to leave my cigar perched on the rim of my dark and stormy; now I must shelter it with my body, lest the wind steal my puffs, and set it to burning too hot. Sometimes to hot doth the cigar of Cuba burn.

Montecristo Grand Edmundo Edición Limitada 2010 on a cheap plastic cutter

Twelve forty five, and I wanderest entirely in the shade. I move my lounger over a little to catch the last of it. No sense in half measures.

Every fair from fair must sometime decline, and in the last inch the cigar shows its tar and nicotine. It’s not unpleasant, and what remains of the rum and ginger cuts it nicely. I like a little sweetness against a cigar, it offsets the bitterness, and especially at the end it… well, it cuts it nicely. Ginger too. Little tip when making cocktails: add a little ginger syrup to anything remotely fruity, and the reaction you get will inevitably be “mmm! That’s amazing! What is that?” Goes a lot way toward disguising a triple shot of gin, and even further to hiding a large amount of cheap rum.

I’m burning my fingers, a state I cannot brook, what with all the other burns that my body is enduring, and so this cigar must meet its maker; over the rail it goes, down, down, to the sandy soil.

Truly a delightful cigar, and by far the better of the Sublime I smoked recently. Perhaps not quite the equal of the possible Edmundo Dantes, but that speaks more to the quality of that cigar than any inadequacy in this one. Grab a box if you can.

Montecristo Grand Edmundo nub

Montecristo Grand Edmundo Edición Limitada 2010 on the Cuban Cigar Website.

Montecristo Open Regata

I was sent a single of each of the Open series shortly after their release in 2009, and have never smoked any of them (although I lost the junior to someone who said “oh, do you have anything smaller” at a party where I was handing out Mag 50s). When selecting this one my hand lingered for a moment on the Eagle, but I just couldn’t face the 54 ring gauge. This then, is the Montecristo Open Regata, a Petit Pirámides, and, I suppose, another failure in this blog’s stated mission of smoking exotic cigars. I make no apologies.

Montecristo Open Regata unlit with a James Boags bottle

I’m having the cigar with a beer – not usually a good choice with cigars, but to my mind a casual, simple, unsophisticated drink, and the one most consumers of the Opens will have in their hand on the golf course, at the buck’s night, or outside the maternity ward where this cigar will be smoked. Beer is an everyman’s drink.

I clip it, light it, and begin. The draw is good, the construction un-reproachable. The flavour is fairly mild, but there’s nothing unpleasant about it; nothing to complain about.

Montecristo Open Regata on a cigar cutter

NEWS FLASH! With around a millimetre of cigar burnt, as I placed it back on the table, the ash fell off, which is highly irregular in well-constructed Cuban, which usually maintain the integrity of the ash for several centimetres (and even then, it usually requires a vigorous tap before it falls). Furthermore, as I was taking this picture a slight breeze picked up the diminutive clump of ash, blowing it onto my sleeve. I can really see what the aficionados are talking about with this one. Poor ash retention: a big negative for the Montecristo Open Regata.

A few minutes later a second, slightly larger clump of ash fell, unbidden from this cigar, although the third held on sufficiently.

Half a burnt Montecristo Open Regata on a plastic cigar cutter

The first release of a cigar generally fetches a premium on the aged market because in many cases the first release is better. The Cohiba Siglo VI is the classic example of this: 2002 boxes are highly sought-after and command large premiums at auctions. Well, this Open, with three years of age, is a member of their first release. I don’t really know what to say about tasting notes. It achieves its stated intention, in that it is a mild cigar, with no complexity. There’s no spice, no cream, no mild bean or coffee, and at over half way there’s no bitterness or tar. What taste there is is the taste of smooth, mid tobacco. Honestly, the thing it reminds me most of is the Dunhill Mild cigarettes I used to smoke from time to time. I don’t consider that too much of a criticism; Dunhill Milds are a quality cigarette. I am enjoying the beer. Crisp. Hoppy.

Nub of a Montecristo Open Regata on a plastic cigar cutter

In the final inch or so it gets bitter – not the bitter of tar and nicotine that I like, but an overly more chemical bitterness. It’s giving me a headache, honestly. Please note in these photographs the shittiness of my free cutter. I don’t usually use a cutter, honestly, but there’s really no other way to open a piramides and I can’t find my Xikar. Still, it did the job.

Ugh, actually, this is awful. I’m tossing it.

After tossing the cigar I notice a small melted ring on the edge of the cutter on which it had been resting, perhaps accounting for the chemical taste right at the end. Honestly, I really wanted to like this cigar, to come out against the reviews and say “no! The everyman has it right! Simple but great! The Monte Open is the way forward!” The reviews are right though. At best, this is an unremarkable cigar. At worst it is an unpleasant cigar. In either case it’s worse than a Monte 4.

Cheap plastic cigar cutter, lightly melted

Montecristo Open Regata on the Cuban Cigar Website.