Romeo y Julieta 109 130 Aniversario Humidor

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

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

Romeo y Julieta 109 130 Aniversario Humidor unlit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romeo y Julieta 109 130 Aniversario Humidor a little smoked

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

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

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

Romeo y Julieta 109 130 Aniversario Humidor final third

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

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

Romeo y Julieta 109 130 Aniversario Humidor nub

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

Romeo y Julieta Aguilas 130 Aniversario Humidor

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

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

Romeo y Julieta Aguilas 130 Aniversario Humidor unlit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romeo y Julieta Aguilas 130 Aniversario Humidor an inch smoked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romeo y Julieta Aguilas 130 Aniversario Humidor nub

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

Romeo y Julieta Romeos 125 Aniversario Humidor

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

Romeo y Julieta Romeos 125 Aniversario Humidor unlit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romeo y Julieta Romeos 125 Aniversario Humidor with one inch smoked

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

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

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

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

Romeo y Julieta Romeos 125 Aniversario Humidor with one third remaining

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

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

Romeo y Julieta Romeos 125 Aniversario Humidor nub

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

Romeo y Julieta Romeos Réplica de Humidor Antiguo 2008

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

Romeo y Julieta Romeos Réplica de Humidor Antiguo 2008 unlit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romeo y Julieta Romeos Réplica de Humidor Antiguo 2008 nub

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

Romeo y Julieta Pirámides Habanos Añejados 2014

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

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

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

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

Romeo y Julieta Pirámides Habanos Añejados 2014 unlit

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

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

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

Romeo y Julieta Pirámides Habanos Añejados 2014 somewhat smoked

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

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

Romeo y Julieta Pirámides Habanos Añejados 2014 final third

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

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

Romeo y Julieta Pirámides Habanos Añejados 2014 nub

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