Romeo y Julieta Exhibición No.2 Edición Limitada 2000

Dusky Beauties has always been about the verticals, the tasting of every special cigar across an entire marque, but in this our fourth season, the horizontals are starting to come together too. We already have two of the 2000 Edición Limitadas, the Monte Robusto and the Partagás Pirámides, and today we add a third, the Romeo y Julieta Exhibición No.2. The horizontals are really more meaningful than the verticals; some harvests are better than others, styles change, and the men working in the blending room sometimes get colds and can’t smell properly. You can guess more about how a cigar will be by looking at other cigars made in the same year than by cigars from the same brand made six years later. Unfortunately, this does not bode well for the Exhibición No.2: its siblings were both nice, but ruined by their fireproof Habanos 2000 wrappers. It’s a lovely looking thing, a silky and rich cocoa black but, at 7.6 inches long, if this cigar doesn’t burn it is going to be a brutal afternoon.

Romeo y Julieta Exhibición No.2 Edición Limitada 2000 unlit, basking in the sun

It lights without too much trouble, and begins as well as any cigar, with sweet floral notes over a pungent mid-tobacco. I don’t know much about flowers. In general, when I say “floral notes,” I mean the smell of a florist: a generic, rose heavy mélange. With the floral notes in the Exhibición No. 2, however, I can be more specific: it’s hibiscus. To be more specific still, it’s the hibiscus that grew on the pergola at my childhood home in Papua New Guinea.

I lived in PNG during my earliest years, ages two – five. My memories from that time are just snippets, coloured perhaps, but the oral traditions of my family, and the few grainy home movies that my dad made, where I can be seen babbling about my Lego, and in one chewing vigorously on a hosepipe while my sister recounts an anecdote. I remember that we had a lot of animals: Ernest, a placid tortoiseshell cat who we adored (mainly because he would let us kids pick him up and drag him around without ever showing any ill will), and Mathilda, a less cooperative tabby (she disappeared one night, and my parents told me that someone from the squatter’s village down the hill had turned her into soup). There was also Crumpet the dog and her short lived litter (mentioned previously), and two turtles, whose names I forget, but they were great, fat things, with rolls of blubber where their flippers emerged from the shell. We would feed them dry cat food, tossing a handful into the turtle tank, where the pellets would engorge in the water, and the turtles would nipple at them from underneath. The cats would sit on the edge, trying to fish the pellets out with their paws.

The menagerie continued in the backyard with two sheep, Oscar and Rosie, one each for me and my sister. Oscar (named for the grouch) was mine, and at some point he got sickly, and was taken away. My mum told me years later that when they cut him open he was a mess of tumours inside. Finally, in a cage under the house there was Gus, a vicious tree-kangaroo who I don’t remember much about, except that I was told he was very dangerous, and was under strict orders never to approach his cage.

Romeo y Julieta Exhibición No.2 Edición Limitada 2000 somewhat smoked

At the midpoint the cigar is very light, slightly dry, with some earth and straw notes, not unlike the inside of an Asaro Mudman’s mask. You want a cigar like this to be light in the middle – too much kick now and the end would be too bitter. Its fifteen years are showing, too, bringing out the subtleties. Very pleasant.

From my point of view, life in PNG was an idyllic frolic, playing in the mud with my friends, throwing rocks and climbing trees (my parents worked, leaving me in the care of a local nanny, who didn’t see the need to supervise the white boy any more than the other children in the village). Sure, every now and again someone would have a two-foot parasitic worm crawl out of them, but that was just part of life, wasn’t it? There was always a bit of an undercurrent of danger, though, that I don’t think I was fully aware of.

In the hills outside of town, for example, there was occasionally a checkpoint where men in traditional warrior garb and brandishing spears would stop our car to demand a donation for the local boy scout troupe. I remember another incident too, where mum hit a pig on the road, and the entire tribe showed up at our house to negotiate a settlement. The closest brush I ever had though came when we weren’t even at home.

My family and I were back in Australia on holiday, and we had left the house and our menagerie in the care of Helen, a single woman friend of my mother’s. The house stood on stilts, in the Queenslander style. In the cavity underneath there was (aside from Gus’ cage) all manner of junk, including a pair of huge packing crates (that at one point had contained industrial sized generators for the school my parents worked at). The generator crates sat directly under the floor to the bedroom that my sister and I shared, with perhaps a twelve-inch gap between. Under my bed and, therefore, above the crates, was a long forgotten trap door, now screwed down.

About a week into Helen’s residency, a rascal from the squatter’s village wandered up the hill and, snooping about the junk pile for something to pinch (he was undeterred by Gus’ hissing), discovered the trap door. We can only speculate how long he lay on the crates, or what his intentions were, but in the morning they found a little bed he’d made for himself down there. In the evening, once it was dark, he unscrewed the trapdoor and climbed up into our bedroom.

Helen was watching TV in the lounge-room when she heard some odd scraping noises coming from the kid’s room and, thinking it was one of the animals, she went to investigate. She opened the door and snapped on the light, startling the man who was standing in the middle of the room. Helen screamed and ran, and the man chased her, brandishing the screwdriver. In the lounge room she had a flare gun that a neighbour had lent her, half-jokingly, for self-defence. She fired it at the intruder, hitting him in the hand. He dropped his screwdriver and fled. The flared ricocheted and left a burn mark in the hallway. As the man ran back to the trap door she fired again, this time catching my bedroom door, that he was in the act of slamming behind him. The flare left a small round hole with blackened edge, right about my eye level. I used to play that it was a peep-hole.

Helen ran screaming to the neighbour’s place, and the police came, but the man was gone, and there wasn’t a lot the cops were inclined to do. “Forget it, Helen, it’s PNG.”

The epilogue to the story is the death of dear Ernest. After the incident, Helen understandably wanted a little more protection around the house, and borrowed a giant brute of a Rottweiler from a neighbour, which she chained up on the front porch. Ernest, normally a free range cat, was confined to the indoors while the dog was in residence. One evening she opened the door and Ernest, evidentially eager for some fresh air, came darting out. The dog got a hold of him, and a beloved childhood pet met his end.

Romeo y Julieta Exhibición No.2 Edición Limitada 2000 final third

The cigar has remained mostly very mild, but in the last two inches it starts to bitter up a bit, with a sweet and nutty spice. Some cinnamon. This is a fantastic example of a mature cigar. It is not dried out and tasteless (like the aged Romeo Churchill I smoked some years ago), but instead has a sweet, nuanced mildness. It will barely leave an aftertaste.

Very interesting here is that the burn has been utterly unimpeachable: it lit in moments, has had no relights, no touch ups, and been straight all the way, a miracle compared to the Monty and the Partagás of the same year. Evidentially some decent wrapper existed back then.

Better than the Petit Coronas.

Romeo y Julieta Exhibición No.2 Edición Limitada 2000 nub

Romeo y Julieta Exhibición No.2, Edición Limitada 2000 on the Cuban Cigar Website

Romeo y Julieta Escudos Edición Limitada 2007

As far as Cuban Edición Limitada cigars go, 2007 stands out as probably the least interesting year to date. The Trinidad Ingenios was the standout, being that rarest of beasts, a long, skinny cigar in the limited edition program, but the other two, the Hoyo de Monterrey Regalos and today’s smoke, the Romeo y Julieta Escudos, were neither fat nor skinny not short nor long. They weren’t oddly shaped, and were from brands that sit in the meaty part of the bell curve; neither global powerhouses nor cult aficionado favourites. None of them sold particularly well, and all are still reasonably easy to come by eight years later.

Romeo y Julieta Escudos Edición Limitada 2007 unlit

It’s a perfect spring day and, for the sake of variety, I have crossed the river to the park that overlooks the riverside boulevard where I often enjoy my cigars. I find a place in a little sheltered horseshoe that in Europe would be an ancient burial mound, but here I suspect was just a convenient way to dispose of construction rubble and call it landscaping. The cigar lights well, and after an initial bitterness mellows into mid-tobacco with a nice floral note. A little almond maybe, with a sting on the back-palate. Some coffee.

Of all the adventures on my journey, of all the half remembered drunken tableaus, of all the brief encounters with desperate souls in varying stages of personal crisis, there is one vignette that often comes to mind.

It was the night of the Brownlow medal, the most prestigious award for the fairest and best in Australian Rules Football, that is celebrated with a gala at the Casino, just a little way up-stream from where I am sitting. At around about 10:00pm my phone rang. “Mate, what you up to? You want to go to the casino, check out all the trim from the Brownlow?” AFL footballers, being peak physical specimens, tend to attract females that are similarly well put together, and the Brownlow is their night of nights where, with ball gowns and diamonds and a lot of double sided tape, they compete for adoration of the gossip magazines. “Sure” I said. “Why not?”

The Brownlow is held on a Monday night, and if anything, the casino was quieter than usual, with all the action well off limits in a distant ballroom. We did a lap of the casino floor and found the serious punters in the sports bar; the television broadcast of the Brownlow medal is about as unbearable as you can imagine, an endless stream of numbers as they tally the votes for the umpire’s favourite players at every game of a season, but there they were, a silent room full of dead-eyed men watching television. They disliked our intrusion.

Romeo y Julieta Escudos Edición Limitada 2007 two thirds remaining

At the midpoint the cigar is on the lighter side of medium, with just a hint of that cherry note that one looks for in Romeo ELs, along with coffee bean and saddle leather. There still persists a vegetal tang that I can’t quite put my finger on… perhaps the cyanide of bitter almonds, or the capsaicin taste of capsicum peppers.

We left the sports bar and headed out to the terrace for a cigarette, and then back indoors for another lap. The casino has an effect on you: we were listlessly wandering, watching the gamblers at their high and low points. Eventually we wound up at the cocktail bar. There are three bars on the gaming floor, and theoretically, the cocktail bar is the classy one. It has a lot of chrome and red leather. The lighting is dimmer. There are less televisions. We were mainly there for the quiet, alone except for a clutch of girls in the back booth who appeared to be consoling a weeping friend.

We were chatting idly and sipping our beers when a man sidled up to the bar. He was probably in his 50s, and in every way unremarkable: he didn’t look drunk, he was dressed nicely, but not fancily. He didn’t look crazy or homeless or anything like that. Ethnically he looked Australian, as much as one can look such a thing – perhaps a second generation European migrant. I wouldn’t have given him a second glance, and didn’t, and until my friend said “hey look… this guy is pissing on the bar.”

And so he was. The bartender came over and took his order, two rum and cokes, while his urine flowed freely down the textured paint of the under-bar, and pooled around his shoes. Unsuspecting, she set his drinks before him, while he deftly extracted $20 from his pocket using his free hand. She left to get his change and, just at that moment, by pure chance, a floor manager walked by. He didn’t see the man at first, just my friend and I, wide eyed and mouths agape, awestruck by the spectacle. He followed our gaze to the man standing in the puddle, just shaking out the last few drops. He did a double take, and turned back to us. “Is this guy pissing on the bar?” “Oh yes.”

The floor manager bolted behind the bar and poured the drinks down the sink. The man looked bewildered as he was handed his money back, and even protested for a few moments before shrugging his shoulders exasperatedly and heading back onto the floor, where I assume he was ambushed by security and beaten up in an alley. My friend and I stayed for a few moments as a few groups of people came to order drinks, unaware that they were standing in a puddle of urine. When we had finished ours I mooted the idea of another, but my friend replied that there was no point, our night wasn’t going to get any better from here.

It’s the logic of the vignette that haunts me to this day: if he’d pissed on the floor by his slot machine, so as to preserve an imagined hot streak, I would think him demented but I would understand it. As it was he had left the floor, left his machine or his table, and the bathroom was only ten meters further away. It also sticks with me how cool he was: to look another person in the eye and engage in an everyday financial transaction while you surreptitiously urinate is a level of cool that I will never possess. He was truly the fairest and the best.

Romeo y Julieta Escudos Edición Limitada 2007 a touch above the band

The cigar ends with a little tar, and the same vague cherry/coffee/tang triumvirate it has had throughout. I don’t want to come down too hard on it: it was well constructed and pleasant throughout. That said, a lack of complexity keeps it from the top of the pack. Out of respect, I rate it higher than the Petit Coronas. Nowhere near as good as the Ingenios though.

Romeo y Julieta Escudos Edición Limitada 2007 nub, with an empty Sail and Anchor bottle

Romeo y Julieta Escudos Edición Limitada 2007 on the Cuban Cigar Website

Romeo y Julieta Cedros de Luxe No. 2

Measuring in at 42×142, the Romeo y Julieta Cedros de Luxe No. 2 is the same ring and only a centimetre or so longer than the Petit Coronas and Mille Fleurs that I have written about over the last few weeks. The Cedros de Luxe No. 3, on the other hand, is exactly the same size as those cigars. Why didn’t I stick to the theme and review that? I’m not sure, I guess I ordered the wrong one.

The Cedros de Luxe line is interesting mainly because they come wrapped in thin cedar sheets, a feature found almost nowhere else in the Habanos line-up. It protects the cigar to some extent, but mainly the theory is that with many years of aging, the cedar will impart a delicate cedar spice to the cigar. This example is not particularly old, three or four years at most, but one hopes for a decent smoke, even without the wood.

Romeo y Julieta Cedros de Luxe No. 2 unlit

The cigar begins with strong tobacco and a rough, campfire edge. It lightens up a bit within the first inch, revealing wet, earth flavours, the smell of the bush first thing in the morning, while the underbrush is still damp. A little heavy for my tastes, but not unpleasant.

I’m sipping a mint julep, bottled from a recipe I created in a backyard some years ago while celebrating Australia’s national day. The backyard in question had a large supply of wild mint, but a somewhat limited supply of grog: one bottle of white rum, another of Bullit Bourbon. Mojitos seemed the natural choice, but, being a forward thinking individual, I knew that the rum wouldn’t hold out forever, and so decanted the whiskey into a jug, added a goodly bushel of mint and a cup of sugar, and left it to infuse a while. Mint Juleps are not a popular drink in my part of the world, and in all honesty, mine is the only recipe I’ve ever tried. I’ve no idea what the genuine article is supposed to taste like, but mine is delicious, like a glass of bourbon that someone has spat their chewing gum out into.

I was celebrating that particular Australia Day with two old friends: one, who we called the T-Rex (sadly departed, RIP), was the last of the great bachelors, a moneyed satyr of the highest order; the other, Sebastian, was the archetypal castrated husband; once a proud disciple of Bacchus himself, he had married a Korean harridan, and these days was essentially a character from Everybody Loves Raymond. By the early evening we had gotten ourselves on the outside of both the rum and the julep, and were rummaging through the liquor cabinet wondering what Malibu mixed with Yellow Chartreuse would taste like, when Seb piped up with an idea. “Y’know, there’s this club in the city we could go to… Kim told me about it… she said it’s like a proper hostess bar her bosses go to where they’ll sing karaoke and strip and you can feel ‘em up and stuff. She said I must never ever go there, so you have to keep it a secret if we go. They probably wouldn’t let white guys in though.”

A quick phone call confirmed that they would, in fact, let white guys in, and twenty minutes later we were ringing the discreet doorbell of the Ladybird Club.

Romeo y Julieta Cedros de Luxe No. 2 somewhat smoked

At the midway point the cigar has strengthened, and is honestly pretty mediocre, the dominant flavour being strong tobacco and ash, with some dirt on the back end. It bears all the hallmarks of burning too hot, but I don’t see how that can be as I am smoking at a very leisurely pace, and the draw and construction are perfect. The condition feels about right, neither too wet nor too dry, and it lived a very similar life to the Petit Coronas and the Mille Fleurs, both of which were much nicer than this.

We were buzzed in and rode a dingy elevator up to the top floor, where we stepped into a lavish lobby, dripping with marble and fake gold. Behind the reception desk there was a gorgeous girl in a black blazer and four inch skirt. She eyed us very suspiciously, gestured for us to wait, and went to fetch the manager, a gangster with a t-shirt and a lot of hair-gel. I explained that we had a booking, and with one eyebrow raised he asked us if we knew what kind of club this was. We said we did, and he nodded at the girl who led us briskly down the hallway to our private room.

Shortly thereafter the waiter arrived and explained that this bar was bottles only, and after a brief discussion we ordered a Johnny Black at $220. He brought it with a jug of coke and another of green tea, and shortly thereafter returned with the girls. They paraded in, fifteen strong in cocktail dresses, and assembled in a line in front of the TV. We hemmed and hawed a little (our expectations had perhaps been raised a little high by the receptionist, a yardstick which these girls fell well short of), but eventually settled on our three. As he led the train of rejects out the waiter paused for a final word “girls eighty dollar per hour two hour minimum, okay?”

The evening degenerated from there. The girls were pretty shy, sitting quietly for the most part, and needing considerable egging on before they would sing us Chinese love ballads. I had my arm around mine, which she tolerated, but politely moved my hand away whenever it crept too close to the hem of her dress. Certainly there was no strip tease. It was about 10:00pm when we ordered our second bottle of Johnny and I had the briefest moment of clarity: “guys,” I said “do the math. We’re about $700 in at this point. I cannot afford this shit. If we’re staying it’s on one of you.” T-Rex waved it off. “Don’t worry about it.”

Sometime around 4:00am the waiter came in to tell us the place was closing up, and it was time to settle the bill. The girls bolted out of there like high schoolers at final bell, without goodbyes. It was almost as if they were eager to be done with us. The gangster was on the front desk, and he grinned at us while the invoice was printing. “You guys have a good time?” The total was $2600. T-Rex threw down his Platinum card.

Outside we were remorseful. “Rex, I’m so sorry man, I’ll pay you back, but it’s going to take me a few months, I can’t take it out of the joint account and I only get $400 a month spending money” said Seb. “Guys, please, Kim can never know about this ever… no jokes, don’t tell anyone she knows… never.”

I took a different tune. “Man, do you know what we could have bought for $2600? We could have had a party at my house with fifteen models! We could have gone to a strip club and had an eight hour lap-dance! We could have gone to a brothel and had three hookers sing karaoke with us all night! We could have bought a bottle of Louis-tres and used that to pick-up some skanks! Screw you Rex, that is your bill, you’re not getting a cent out of me!”

T-Rex was feeling good. His girl had given him her number. He wouldn’t find out it was fake until morning.

About three hours later I was awakened by the insistent peel of my telephone. I ignored it a first, but whoever it was kept calling and calling, so eventually I fished it from my pants pocket on the bedroom floor. It was Sebastian. “Hey man, so the story is that you and T-Rex had been to that place before and you knew it wasn’t dodgy, okay?”
“For Kim, she’s gonna ask you.”
“How will she find out?”
“I told her.” I sighed an exasperated sigh.
“She would have found out anyway… whatever man, just tell her you guys went there before, okay? Tell her you knew it wasn’t dodgy.”
“Whatever, man, whatever.” I rang off.

She asked me about it a week later, and I gave her the party line, my voice hollow with untruth. She didn’t buy a word of it, and I didn’t have much of an answer for her follow up question. “But why would you go back and spend $2600 dollars if you knew it was just karaoke?”

The epilogue came eleven months later, when Sebastian got to talking with one of his wife’s drunken bosses at her work Christmas party. “Oh yeah, that’s what they always do, bring in the ugly girls first, you just have to send them away and they’ll bring in a new set… what do you mean, just karaoke? No, the girls don’t get paid by the bar, they get a percentage of your drink bill, but mainly they make their money from tips. You just have to pay them, strip show, blow jobs, sex, whatever you want. No wonder they didn’t like you, you made them work all night for free!”

Romeo y Julieta Cedros de Luxe No. 2 mostly gone

The cigar ends much as it has been the whole time: strong tobacco, tar and ash. A very mediocre smoke, with little complexity. Much inferior to the Petit Coronas and Mille Fleurs. A pity. I’ll try and revisit it at some point with an older model.

Romeo y Julieta Cedros de Luxe No. 2 nub

Romeo y Julieta Cedros de Luxe No. 2 on the Cuban Cigar Website

Romeo y Julieta Mille Fleurs

I was invited to four office’s Christmas parties this year: my current workplace, two former workplaces, and the only one I am actually attending, a big tobacco company where I have some connections. They have rented out a warehouse down in the docks, and created a bastion for their product: the space is divided into two areas, the ‘outside’ (which is heated, air-conditioned, and fully enclosed by plastic sheeting), and the smaller inside, where the dance floor and the bar is. Smoking is only allowed on the outside. The inside is deserted.

There was a time when it was very common for Cuban cigar brands to have in their range multiple cigars of identical dimensions. Each of these cigars would follow the general flavour profile of the marque but, in theory at least, there would be subtle differences in their blends. The true connoisseur could not only tell the difference, but could no doubt find the perfect cigar for the moment among them. The classic example of this is Punch, which at one time had seven different cigars of the same size in their range.

All this changed in 2002. In 2000, Altadis (then a Spanish tobacco giant) had purchased a 50% share in Habanos S.A., the Cuban government quango responsible for bringing Havana cigars to the world, and the Cuban tobacco industry (along with the Cuban economy in general) was undergoing a harsh transformation from a Marxist satellite of the Soviet Union to an independent participant in the capitalist free market. Profitability was king, and the lowest common denominator had to be pandered to. Aficionados refer to this as the great dumbing down of Habanos: blends were simplified, and many of the more esoteric cigars were discontinued.

But not all. This week’s cigar is the Romeo y Julieta Mille Fleurs, a cigar that is size identical to last week’s Petit Coronas. They come in the same boxes. They wear the same bands. The only difference is the taste.

Romeo y Julieta Mille Fleurs unlit

Right away, the Mille Fleurs is a very different animal to the Petit Coronas; where that cigar was mild, this one is strong and rough, brutally nutty with thick tobacco notes that leave a dryness on the back of the palate. Both cigars were purchased at the same time from the same vendor, and have lived identical lives once in my custody. I don’t know box codes or ages, so perhaps there’s something there. In any event, condition does not account for the difference.

Like most boys my age, I’ve occasionally had occasion to try a spot of internet dating, and being at this corporate tobacco soirée has brought to mind my biggest internet dating failure.

I should have known something was up from the start: her profile was an exercise in vague anonymity, a string of dark photos that did not clearly show her face, body type, or even hair colour. The description was slightly defensive essay about people who shouldn’t message her. She liked wine, travel, her cat, family and friends. Normally I wouldn’t have bothered, but she reached out to me. She liked my style. She’d met a lot of jerks lately and she felt I might be different. She wanted to get together for a drink. “What the hell,” I thought. “What have I got to lose?”

Romeo y Julieta Mille Fleurs an inch smoked

At the halfway point the cigar goes through a rapid series of changes; the initial nuttiness had mellowed into a strong, toasted woody note, but that rapidly turns into a bitter, ashy tar. This lasts for ten puffs or so, before it flips again, becoming very mild, strongly buttery, with a mild cedar afterword. The DNA of the Petit Coronas is there, but there are many differences: ironically, the Mille Fleurs is the less floral of the two.

We agreed on a time, and she nominated a bar, which turned out to be a brightly lit hole in the wall with high stools the only seating. It was not the kind of bar that a man goes to drink alone, and the other patrons gave me increasingly quizzical glances and I nursed my scotch and dry and waited for first ten, then twenty minutes. Twenty five minutes late she walked in, gave me a curt nod, and walked straight to the bar. She was evidentially acquainted with the bartender, because the two of them exchanged pleasantries and laughed for a few minutes before my date finally wandered over, glass of white in hand. As she did, I signaled the bartender for a refill of my now empty glass.

The girl was an angel, a perfect hapa, with the best elements from both sides of her ancestry, along with that nebulous quality that Old Groom delights to find in both women and Lanceros: elegance. She spoke with a clipped, slightly plummy accent, and held her wine with a casual but slightly practiced hand. She smiled and made eye contact. I was a little bit in love.

At around minute three of our small talk, she revealed that she was the maître d’ at a well-known Melbourne cigar and cocktail bar, and, delighted to have discovered a common interest, I volunteered that I edit a cigar encyclopaedia, and had been to many tobacco industry events at her bar. It was a slight exaggeration: I had been to the bar to smoke cigars on at least fifty occasions, sometimes with friends, but many more times with small groups of cigar enthusiasts. On three occasions I had been part of a large group organised by a tobacco vendor; twice we had a few tables booked, but were there alongside the general public. On the third occasion I was the guest of a multinational tobacco group and they booked the place out.

She cocked her head and gave a pained smile. “Sorry, but I’m going to have to call you out on that one.” I was taken aback. “What?”
“I’ve taken every booking in the last five years, and I don’t recall a tobacco industry group ever coming through.” Shaken and defensive, I began to stammer through the names of the cigar store owners that I had been there with, and she acquiesced, plainly not buying it. Our conversation was downhill after that. Feeling like I’d been caught in a lie I was the worst combination of awkward, nervous, and snide. Having made her mind up about me she was cold and haughty. Two minutes later she gave another pained smile. “Look, this isn’t going very well, is it?” I laughed.
“No, well, you kind of called me a liar a minute ago, it’s hard to come back from that.”
“I’m going to go.”

She polished off her drink, picked up her bag, waved to the bartender and left. My new drink arrived five seconds later. Our date had lasted less than ten minutes. I haven’t been to Supper Club since.

Half an inch from the end I encounter a flavour I’ve never had in a cigar before, the distinct salty tang of smoked tuna. It lasts for a few puffs before settling into the familiar bitter finish. The Mille Fleurs is a fine cigar, but not as good a Petit Coronas.

Romeo y Julieta Mille Fleurs nub

Romeo y Julieta Mille Fleurs on the Cuban Cigar Website

Romeo y Julieta Petit Coronas

And so, as it is wont to do, the great wheel of time has turned. We who were lifted on its spokes have had six months of adventure, of journeys great and small, of loves won and lost, and we have been deposited back; back at the height of the Australian summer, back at the open lid of the half-full humidor, and back at the start of a new season of A Harem of Dusky Beauties.


As our ancient customs dictate, I shall, over the coming weeks and months, examine one of the great Havana tobacco houses: in this case, Romeo y Julieta. As always, I begin the horizontal with the marque’s lowliest member, so that I might have a marker to compare her most exalted special releases against, and by doing so provide the consumer with useful purchasing advice. So it is then, that the Romeo y Julieta Petit Coronas today must burn.

Romeo y Julieta Petit Coronas unlit

The first puffs are very mild, with no hint of bitterness from the heat of lighting. It is strongly herbaceous, vegetal even, with something of the compost heap in there, and the tang of five dollar chardonnay.

Romeo is one of the great old marques, with a history dating back to the 1850s. As recently as fifteen years ago it was a powerhouse, the second highest selling brand behind Montecristo, but unlike H. Upmann and Partagás, the subjects of my last two verticals, Romeo is a brand on the decline. More than any other, Romeo has suffered from the rise of Cohiba. In a world of conspicuous consumption, the consumer of today is more interested in the cigar of Jay-Z than a brand that bases its marketing around a 75 year old association with Winston Churchill, and is named for a play whose principal conflict seems trivial in the age of sexting. Each Romeo dress box is emblazoned with 16 gold medals, the hallmarks of her pedigree. The most recent was awarded in 1900.

More than most brands, Romeo suffered during the great rationalisation of 2002, when Habanos S.A. tried to make the line-up more approachable for the neophyte. Fifteen cigars were wiped out that year, although it was not all without justification, to be honest; five of the discontinued models were variations on the petit corona, and even today there are still two other cigars in the catalogue with the exact same dimensions as the one I am smoking, and several others that are so close you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference without a ruler and a gauge measuring tool.

The real problem began in the late 2000s though, when Romeo lost her mother factory, and production of the cigars was split amongst many workshops all over the island. Consistency fell. Quality fell. In 2015, Romeo y Julieta cigars just aren’t very good any more.

All that said, the Romeo No. 2 in a tube is still the cigar you are second most likely to find in a liquor store or petrol station, ceding only to the Montecristo 4.

Romeo y Julieta Petit Coronas a quarter smoked

At the midway point the cigar still trends mild, with a slightly spicy, buttery note. Somewhere in there I detect a hint of wildflowers, the sweetness of a daisy filled meadow, along with the stinging chlorophyll that those blossoms emit.

Typically I enjoy my dusky beauties alone, not because in the company of like-minded fellows is not an objectively better way to enjoy a fine Havana, but because in that environment I find myself too distracted by ribald anecdotes to really examine the finer points of flavour tasting notes that this column demands, and I am nothing if not devoted to my craft. Today, however, is a rare exception.

I began the morning with a long bath and a brief vomit, the accrued debt of an evening that ended at the bottom of a bottle of Johnny Walker Red in a karaoke bar at 4:00am. I wanted nothing so much as to spend the day in bed, but being a man who follows through on his commitments, I dragged myself down the street toward a revitalizing bowl of wonton noodle soup and then a bar where several of my cigar aficionado brethren were meeting to smoke on the rooftop terrace.

I found them on a secluded table in a little crow’s nest above the bar proper, and soon felt much revived, first by a Bloody Mary and then by the first puffs of a Cohiba Siglo III. Before long though, our serenity was interrupted by the hostess, who explained very apologetically that we would have to move; there was a baby shower happening down wind of us, and the expectant mother was none to pleased. The hostess moved us to a shared table in the centre of the main bar. The place was packed, and our new table sat under a shade cloth, and even I, as unrepentant a smoker as exists in this world, felt some pangs of guilt as I watched every exhalation get caught by the cloth and funnelled directly into the indoor section of the bar. Before too long the hostess returned: we were bounced. As we skulked out another patron, no doubt the complainant who had triggered our eviction, could not resist a parting jab: “it really is disgusting, you know. It’s going to kill you.”

And so we have adjourned to the courtyard of my private residence, where the whisky is cheaper and the aggrieved parties fewer and less vocal. Even here though, the smoke is under threat. If there is any ongoing theme to this season of The Harem, it will be my struggle with the owner’s corporation, an existential battle for the last sanctuary of the smoking man. It is not our world anymore.

For today though, the sun shines, the whisky glows with a certain inner warmth, and the pungent smoke of five Havana cigars wafts skyward.

Romeo y Julieta Petit Coronas smoked just above the band

In the final inch or so the Petit Coronas grows bitter, losing all flavour to the rubber fire. While very pleasant for an entry level, and setting a strong standard for the exotics to be compared against, it’s not as good as a Monte 4.

Romeo y Julieta Petit Coronas nub

Romeo y Julieta Petit Coronas on the Cuban Cigar Website