On Hiatus

Update: The hiatus referred to below ended on January 1st, 2014.

The endless summer of 2013 has ended, and, having completed the combustion of every special edition Montecristo cigar, A Harem of Dusky Beauties is on hiatus. We shall return when the birds begin to lay, or when the summer sun shines, or when I complete My Disgusting Life: An Erotic Autobiography, whichever comes first or feels right. I encourage you to subscribe to the RSS feed.

In the meantime I have provided you with the below bonus episode, my very first attempt at one of these articles, written in Paris in July 2012. A word of warning: it is also chapter six of the above mentioned autobiography. Hopefully it will give you some solace through the many frigid nights to come.


A. T. Groom.
June, 2013.

This Cuban is on Hiatus

Ramón Allones Gigantes

Paris. City of lights. City of love. City of an all pervasive and indefinable stink.

I’ve just had a big meal in a small café. A few glasses of wine. An apéritif. A digestif. A cigar feels about right. I have with me a Ramón Allones Gigantes with some age on it. Eight years, maybe ten? I wouldn’t think more than that, it burns too black. It has the old band at any rate, so at least five.

Ramón Allones Gigantes unlit and the house wine

Don’t expect a lot of tasting notes on this one, readers, as honestly, I’m well in the bag already. I can tell from the first puff though that this is bueno tobaco. Very smooth, with a hint of spice. Who are we kidding, cigars taste like tobacco, and so does this one. Beautiful, rich, smooth Cuban leaf.

The sun goes down as I survey the square, puffing occasionally as the French go about their business. In the window of the café an old French woman smiles at me. “Habana?” the waiter asks. “Oui. Si bon.” I order une café. Espresso.

The coffee is a good compliment. Strong notes of it is what I’m getting. It’s hard to say if it’s coming from the cigar or not. Certainly tastes like it. I’m also enjoying the wine, a cheap Bordeaux. I’ve never been a huge fan of red wine with cigars, but on a balmy summer night in Paris what else would one have?

I set off for a walk, down who knows what Parisian boulevard. I’m headed for the river. A black man accosts me. Afro-French? What’s the politically correct term? I’m sure the French would say negro. Emphasis on the neg. He says a lot of words to me in French, but the only two I understand are “cigar” and “hashish.” I assume he either wants one or is trying to sell me the other. I wave him away. I used to have a friend once, years ago, in China, who would occasionally ask me for a cigar so that he could pack it with alternating layers of cocaine and hashish. It was quite a party.

I find myself outside a church I recognise. It’s not a famous one, and not much by Parisian standards, but something in its familiar silhouette cuts through the fog of wine and tobacco and good times, and takes me back, back five years, back to the last time I was in Paris, and back to Audrey.

Ramón Allones Gigantes with an inch smoked, and a church

Audrey was an underwear model and perfect in every way. I had dated her for a year or so two years prior, but ultimately we’d grown apart, our relationship devolving into a continuous, passive aggressive argument. They say that for every impossibly beautiful woman there’s a man who’s sick of putting up with her shit, and for Audrey, I was that man. Or perhaps it was her who was sick of putting up with my shit, I don’t recall. Probably a bit of both. By the time world turned and took me to Paris we’d been broken up long enough that we’d forgotten about the arguments, but not long enough that we’d forgotten about each other. I knew that she was in London – once upon a time we’d planned to take that trip together – and so when I got to Paris I sent her an email. “Meet me under the Arc de Triomphe at noon” I wrote “or, if you don’t want to see me, steer clear, because that’s where I’ll be.” I picked the Arc because it was the only French landmark I knew with an eternal flame. I thought it could be symbolic.

She didn’t steer clear.

I got there fifteen minutes early, and she was there before that, sitting on the grave of the Unknown Soldier in a short red coat. It was cold, just before Christmas, and she had a flush in her cheek and that same old sparkle in her eye. I had a small heart attack when I saw her, and as I touched her shoulder and she turned to me I think she might have had one too, but once my arm slid around her familiar waist, once I’d kissed her velvet cheeks (both of them: we were in Europe), I knew that we were back, back to the best of our relationship. We were back in love.

We held hands, and ran up the stairs of the Eiffel tower. We made love for the first time in her shithole hotel room, just as the sun went down over the Parisian rooftops. She was looking out the window at the sunset and I stood very close behind her, just barely touching her, just barely smelling her hair. Without speaking she walked away from the window, lay down on the bed and looked at me, so I went over and undressed her. I remember she wore matching underwear, sort of a mottled green pattern. She’d planned this. As we reached the sweat drenched climax of our passion the phone starting ringing, the front desk trying to tell us that we’d have to pay an extra 15 euro to have two people in the room.

She was perfect and Paris was perfect. Three days we spent together, walking around, young and in love. This cigar is good, but that was better. She had a mole underneath her right breast. A small waist, and hips that were cantered slightly to one side, but you only noticed from behind.

We didn’t want to go back to the hotel and face another round of angry ringing, so instead we walked the streets at night, finding dark little boltholes in which to devour one another, the thrill of icy fingers sliding beneath warm garments, probing, seeking ever warmer, deeper crevasses in the flesh, giggling and gasping with the chill and excitement; carnal pleasures in alleyways and parks, deserted stairways and banks of the canals.

Ramón Allones Gigantes half smoked, with Notre Dame

I find myself at Notre Dame. Where else would I end up? There’s a star on the courtyard here that indicates the starting point of all distances in France or something like that. The cigar is getting bitter now. Tar and nicotine. The best part. It has been burning unevenly for two inches now, but as I sit and contemplate the old cathedral it evens itself up. A good Havana. Castro would be proud. Off to one side some girls are drinking wine, swigging from the bottle. Outside a church in the middle of the night. The most famous church in the world. Paris.

On our last night together she blew me in an elevator. It was three in the morning and we’d been spooked out of half a dozen other places by security guards and midnight ramblers, when we came upon some apartment building with a door that was slightly ajar. We took the elevator up to the sixth floor, but didn’t disembark. I remember the head of my penis was very red and the eyes that looked up at me were very blue. We weren’t quite finished when the elevator began to move. I pressed every button while she did up my fly. We got out on three and walked the rest of the way down, arm in arm and laughing. We passed the middle aged man who had pressed the button in the lobby. He didn’t look impressed. Paris: the city of lights, but the streets are dim in the night-time.

And that was that. I walked her back to her hotel, kissed her goodnight, and a scant few hours later was on the TGV to Zurich, she on the Eurostar back to London. I saw her again a few times over the years, in London once, and Tokyo, but it was never the same as Paris and after a while she emailed to say she’d decided not to see me anymore.

I head back to my hotel. The ash is jet black. This is not an aged cigar at all. Tar and nicotine.

Ramón Allones Gigantes nub, and a bin

The nub of the cigar finds its final resting place in an anonymous trash-bag on the Boulevard de Strasbourg. Maybe Rue, I can’t remember. You should always nub a cigar, people. You hear cigar aficionados say all the time that they tossed a cigar after two puffs because it wasn’t up to their exacting standards; “life’s too short for bad cigars,” they say. They’re wrong. It’s disrespectful to the farmers. Think of Alejandro Robaina, that one hundred year old sea turtle. It’s the oil from his palms that give cigars their sheen. How could you throw that away?

Ramón Allones Gigantes. A great cigar. Tastes like tobacco.

Audrey, I miss you. My Paris will always stink of you.


Ramón Allones Gigantes on the Cuban Cigar Website.

Montecristo Roundup

Presented below is a list with which I attempt to place every Montecristo cigar reviewed in this column into an extremely subjective ranked order, from best to worst.

Should another Montecristo cigar ever appear in these pages, I will update this list to include it.

It’s worth noting, I suppose, that while you should certainly take this list as absolute gospel (and conduct no purchase without first referring to it), the greater pleasure in cigar smoking is to be found in good company, in warm afternoons outdoors, and in the bottom of quality glassware (not to mention in the composing of self-indulgent prose). Your experience may vary is what I’m getting at. I’ll endeavour to revisit a few of these from time to time and report back if mine does.

  1. Montecristo Maravillas No.1 Colección Habanos 2005
  2. Edmundo Dantes El Conde 109 Edición Regional Mexico 2007 (possibly)
  3. Montecristo No. 2 Gran Reserva Cosecha 2005
  4. Montecristo Grand Edmundo Edición Limitada 2010
  5. Montecristo 520 Edición Limitada 2012
  6. Montecristo B Compay Centennial Humidor
  7. Edmundo Dantes El Conde 109 Edición Regional Mexico 2007
  8. Montecristo Sublimes Edición Limitada 2008
  9. Edmundo Dantes Conde 54 Edición Regional Mexico 2011
  10. Montecristo A Montecristo Humidor
  11. Montecristo Double Corona Edición Limitada 2001
  12. Montecristo No. 4 Reserva Cosecha 2002
  13. Montecristo Dunhill Selección No.1
  14. Montecristo Robusto Edición Limitada 2006
  15. Montecristo Robusto Reserva del Milenio
  16. Montecristo Double Corona Réplica de Humidor Antiguo
  17. Montecristo No. 2 510 Aniversario Humidor
  18. Montecristo No. 4 Compay 95 Aniversario Humidor
  19. Montecristo No. 4
  20. Montecristo Salomones II Montecristo Humidor
  21. Montecristo Salomones II Compay 95 Aniversario Humidor
  22. Montecristo Robusto Edición Limitada 2000 (construction issue)
  23. Montecristo D Edición Limitada 2005
  24. Montecristo C Edición Limitada 2003
  25. Montecristo Open Regata

Montecristo Logo

Montecristo 520 Edición Limitada 2012

The Montecristo 520, Edición Limitada 2012: at the time of writing this is the most recently released special edition Montecristo; at the time of writing this is the last remaining true special edition Montecristo that this column has not reviewed. I’ve saved it till last for a reason: I’m preparing a ranking, a definitive ordered list of all the Montecristo cigars, and I wanted to save something till the end that might just cause a last minute upset. This cigar has a lot of competition to stare down: Edición Limitadas with a decade more age on them, the rarest of super exotics, and cigars made without compromise for just this kind of competition, and yet, if anything can upset the field I think it might just be the 520. Not many cigars have had the kind of rave reviews that the 520 has had.

Montecristo 520 Edición Limitada 2012 unlit

It’s a sunny winter’s afternoon, 13 degrees in the shade, and I’m out in my backyard. I’m joined via satellite by an old smoking buddy, one of my first journeyman companions in the world of Cuban cigars. He has washed up as a clerk in a cigar store in Canada, and today he will be smoking a Montecristo 520 alongside mine; a herf just like old times, despite one third of the earth’s circumference being between us.

I light the 520 with a match (I ran out of liquid butane about three months ago, and have gradually exhausted the chambers of all the jet lighters that are scattered about my house. It really is getting to crisis point), fairly unevenly. The early notes have a strong oak flavour, with a little dry spice.

Construction is adequate, if a little on the loose side; the burn evens up nicely after my very irregular light. It does, however, suffer from the 55 ring gauge mouth feel. Aficionados object to the rise of the 55 ring gauge for a lot of reasons: the fatter cigars deliver a much bigger punch, fuller flavoured with more nicotine, which means they trend less elegant, less delicately flavourful; the fat boys are also a break from the ancient traditions that make up the mystique of Cuban cigars; and their rise has been indomitable, with many new fat cigars released at the cost of many thin ones discontinued. It also seems like with fat cigars Cuba is chasing the one market in the world that doesn’t sell their product: the USA. For me though, the main objection I have to the 55 is the mouth feel. I don’t know what it is, the difference between a 55 and a 52 is so small that I can’t see why I’d notice it, and yet I do. Those three extra sixty-fourths of an inch are a bridge too far. They make my jaw ache.

Montecristo 520 Edición Limitada 2012 two thirds remaining

The old Mercedes 600 Grossers in the ‘60s had a three pronged star hood ornament that was twenty per cent larger than the one on the standard car, for no reason other than that the fastidious German engineers felt that the smaller size looked out of proportion atop that gargantuan grill. Typically a fat Cuban cigar will wear the same band as its more svelte brethren – it might be longer to accommodate the gauge, but the detail will be the same size. On this particular Montecristo cigar though, the crest itself is huge – I’d say about twenty per cent bigger. Perhaps they felt it was out of proportion atop this gargantuan ring gauge. It’s funny, because Cuban engineers are usually anything but fastidious.

Memories linked to smell and taste are the most powerful, and when a tang forms in the cigar one hits me like a truck. I was about eight years old, traveling with my parents. We had spent a few days staying with some friends in Singapore, and they’d given us a gift of a bag of lollies, presumably to keep my sister and I quiet on the flight. They were lemon sugar drop things, but coated in a white powder that gave the lolly an intensely sour taste for a few moments, before the sweet of the sugar relieved it. The powder was dusted on the sweets, and so a good deal of it collected in the bottom of the bag, such that when my father opened it, particles of the powder would become airborne, giving off a distinct, chemical lemon tang. That is the flavour I taste now in the Montecristo 520.

Montecristo 520 Edición Limitada 2012 one third remaining

On the other side of the world my colleague tastes chocolate. I am all around it, but not there. There is cocoa, sure, and coffee, and some other beans, but it lacks the sweetness needed for me to call this chocolate. There is a bitterness one might confuse for a very pure chocolate, but to me it’s coffee, the bitter end of a Turkish cup.

As I burn into the final third the flavour of cream is present. The cigar is so mellow that I can barely taste the tobacco. Tar pokes through from time to time for the penultimate inch (quite reasonable for the business end of a large cigar like this), but as the coal crosses into the final one the tar dissipates entirely. It is simply sweet and creamy, with a hint of spice.

The final notes are of a well-used leather wallet. I smoke it all the way to the end. People sometimes ask me what the secret is to smoking a cigar all the way. “How do you not burn your fingers?” they say. “You don’t” I tell them. “The secret is not to care.”

So here’s the straight dope: the Montecristo 520 is a great cigar. You can still buy boxes if you’re prepared to look around for ten minutes, and you definitely should.

I can say with every confidence that in 2013, with less than a year of age on it, this cigar is better than the 2000 Robusto EL with thirteen. It’s also better also than the C, the D, the 2006 Robusto, and even the 2001 Double Corona and the 2008 Sublimes (although, interestingly, of these the Sublimes comes the closest).

There is, however, one Montecristo EL that the 520 is not better than: it’s immediate predecessor, the 2010 Grand Edmundo.

Why, I wonder, in 2013 are the three most recent Montecristo Edición Limitadas the three best Montecristo Edición Limitadas? Have the older ones peaked, and are on their way out? Do ELs not age well? My major complaint about all the old ELs was of an overriding bitterness, which is not usually a symptom of a cigar that is past its prime (usually quite the opposite in fact). Perhaps it’s just that the new ELs have been made to peak as they’re sold, and will fall off dreadfully in the near future.

Or perhaps those Cuban tobacco engineers have become a little fastidious in the last few years. Perhaps their hard work has paid off, and the cigars are simply reflecting that. Perhaps the Montecristo 520 is progress.

Montecristo 520 Edición Limitada 2012 nub, ashes, and lots of matches

Montecristo 520 Edición Limitada 2012 on the Cuban Cigar Website

Montecristo No. 2 510 Aniversario Humidor

The 510 Aniversario Humidor commemorates the 510th anniversary of Christopher Columbus bringing tobacco back to the old world. I’m not sure why it was released in 2003, as Cuba seems to date this event pretty soundly at 1492 (the holy grail of exotic Habanos is the 1492 Humidor – more on that later). Perhaps it was an afterthought.

The 510 examples of this nice wooden humidor contain 100 cigars a piece, 20 each from five brands: Cohiba Espléndidos, Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No.1s, Royals de Partagás, Romeo y Julieta Hermosos No.3 and Montecristo No. 2s, one of which will burn this afternoon. Of the five, three were existing sizes and two were unique to the humidor (the Partagás and the Romeo y Julieta). Trivia fact: in some of the humidors they messed up the bands, swapping the Partagás and the Romeo bands. There was an apology letter.

Montecristo No. 2 510 Aniversario Humidor unlit

Another trivia fact: there appears to be a typo on the band, which reads “De la llegada del Habano al viejo munddo”, the mistake being the double D in mundo. My Spanish isn’t the best (in fact, it’s the worst), and there’s every chance that munddo is an entirely distinct and valid word to the mundo I’m familiar with (it means ‘world,’ as in ‘El Rey Del Mundo’, ‘The King of the World’). Google Translate agrees with me though, and the fact that on the outside of the humidor proper it’s spelt with a single D is probably a point in my favour. I’ve tried looking for a clean scan of the band to see if it’s a common problem, but the only good image I can come up with is from my own encyclopaedia.

The cigar is constructed perfectly, nice wrapper, nice draw, although once alight does not begin especially well. Throughout the first inch a bitter sulphur flavour dominates the pallet, although the aftertaste is nice, a creamy mid-tobacco.

I have four or five go-to cocktails that I can shake up with a few moment’s notice, and of these the most complex is the Blood and Sand; equal parts cherry brandy, sweet vermouth, scotch whisky and fresh orange juice, the tarter the better. I had one of these last night, which unfortunately killed the last of my whisky without slaking my taste for it, so I’ve shaken it again this afternoon except with dark rum substituting the scotch. It’s not bad, although I like the scotch version better. I tend to use the best scotch I can find in this cocktail (which is to say I tend to shake it from someone else’s cocktail cabinet); a good peaty scotch, Laphroaig, Lagavulin et al, adds a delicious smoky aftertaste to the sour cherry mess that is the main flavour.

Montecristo No. 2 510 Aniversario Humidor two thirds remaining

I’m not sure if it’s just a factor of my changing tastes and ever increasing operating budget, but it seems to me that there’s been a rebirth of the bitter, complex cocktail in the last few years (I think it started with that Old Fashioned craze a few years back, itself started by fans of Mad Men wanting to look cool). When I were a lad cocktail bars were a lot fewer and father between than they are now, and upon entering one you would typically be presented with a book containing twenty or so different options, from which you would select a gooey mess of chocolate and cream called a “Toblerone” or something like that.

There was a girl I used to see around this time who had a taste for such concoctions, and our standard Saturday was to find a dimly lit lair where we could order expensive drinks and make out. I would generally order beer, or sometimes whisky (you must remember that this story takes place in an era before Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and cocktails were still widely seen as ‘for girls’), but on one occasion we entered a particularly dark basement bar called Bambu, where the waiter wasn’t satisfied with that. “C’mon” he exhorted, “Have a cocktail. I’ll make you anything you want – doesn’t have to be on the menu. What do you like?” “Well,” I said “can you make me a cocktail that’s tasty but still manly?” He said he knew just the thing, and returned with something that I think he called a Bollo. He described it as containing four Italian liqueurs, and presented me with a balloon filled almost to the brim with a pitch black liquid, a few pieces of orange rind barely visible somewhere in the depths. It emitted a heavy, bittersweet, musky complexity. It was wonderful. The first real cocktail I’d ever had.

Bambu fast became our regular haunt (it didn’t hurt that they had a curtained off section that was the most private make out space in any bar in the city), and each time he would produce the same drink, more or less unbidden, until six months later I returned and my bartender was gone. I asked his successor for a “Bollo, I think it has four Italian liqueurs” but he didn’t know what I was talking about. I then asked for something “tasty but manly” and got some sour lemon thing in a Hurricane glass that was neither.

Montecristo No. 2 510 Aniversario Humidor final third

I’m sorry to say it, but throughout this whole exercise this Monte 2 never really came alive. It was a decent enough cigar, don’t get me wrong, but not particularly complex and always very rough around the edges. If I had to reach for tasting notes I’d say there was a little coffee in the middle, and the bitterness of cocoa, although none of the sweet it needs to make chocolate. All things considered it is a Monte 2; no better or worse than a good quality standard production (and considerably worse than the standard production Monte 2 I previously enjoyed alongside the Gran Reserva). It’s better than a Monte 4 only because it is longer and a cooler shape.

That said, you’re not buying the 510 Humidor because it’s the cheapest way you can think of to get some Monte 2s. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from these last six months, it’s that the further a cigar deviates from regular production, the more effort the Cubans put into it. Pure speculation, but I’d guess that the Romeo and the Partagás are the picks of this litter. And let’s face it, this more so than almost anything else is a collector’s piece: these bad boys are not for smoking.

Montecristo No. 2 510 Aniversario Humidor nub and ashes

Montecristo No. 2 510 Aniversario Humidor on the Cuban Cigar Website