Hoyo de Monterrey Double Epicure Duty Free Exclusivo 2010

In the main, Habanos SA doesn’t put a lot of effort into the Duty Free Exclusive line, and frankly, why would they? These are cigars that will sit for years in an unhumidified plexiglass cabinet in the perpetually airconditioned day-night of an airport, tended to by sales people more accustomed to moving jumbo-sized bottles of Malibu and cartons of discount Holiday cigarettes than fine Havana leaf. When they are finally purchased, it will be as a last-minute gift; “oh, we forgot Groom! He likes cigars, doesn’t he? Get him this fancy white box.” For most duty-free exclusives, Habanos simply commissions a lacquered box from China, drop-ships them a few master cases of whichever regular production cigar they have spare, and calls it a day. Once in a while though they decide to make an effort. The Hoyo Double Epicure is only found in this one release; 4,000 units of fifteen cigars. That makes it rarer than most anything else out there. Rarer than Grand Reservas. Rarer than most regionals.

How they arrived at “Double” for this Epicure I’m not quite sure – it’s the same ring and twenty per cent longer than an Epicure 2, and a little under ten percent longer than an Epicure Especial. With the ring a comparatively classy 50 though, it’s better not to ask too many questions.

Hoyo de Monterrey Double Epicure unlit

Once lit, the cigar is mild, with a perfectly pleasant aroma of light tobacco and buttered toast. My cut, unfortunately, was a little vigorous, and I have damaged the head, causing it to unravel somewhat. Once my saliva has thoroughly soaked into it, everything will be fine, but for the moment though I must sip the smoke ever so gently.

Perhaps not for society as a whole, but amoungst my friends I think I sit about two thirds of the way down the dodginess scale. Sure, I’ll have a puff or two of a joint if someone is passing one around, and I’ll attend a cockfight if it’s Brahma night, and I probably know a guy who can get what you’re looking for, but in general I am a productive and clean-living member of society. I have a job. I own a home. I pay taxes. My arrests are rare and never lead to any charges.

I’m sure some of my friends, those lily-livered tenderfoots, consider me their dodgy mate. They should see my dodgy mate. Lance Hendrix is an unemployable drug addict, and he’s the guy I call when I’m trying to get you what you’re looking for. And yet, on the scale of dodgy mates, he’s not really all that dodgy. Sure, he is high all day every day, but he rarely causes anybody any trouble. He lives in his parents’ middle-class home and watches a lot of conspiracy-theory videos on YouTube. He manages to get by on the dole money without committing too many crimes to supplement it.

Lance’s dodgy mate is Pete, and Pete is a proper lowlife. My occasional run-ins with him generally all begin the same way: I’ll be meeting Lance for coffee, and afterwards he’ll ask if I can drive him down to Fitzroy to run an errand (Lance, understandably, doesn’t like to drive). The errand is to buy weed from Pete.

Pete is half-Thai and half Caucasian. He’s about five-foot-tall, and weighs all of 40kg. His front teeth are dead and blackened, and he has a nervous twitch and stutter. He likes to punctuate his sentences with a cry of “yeeeaah booiiii.”

When Lance calls Pete to announce our imminent arrival, Pete always asks the same favour: “can you bring me a couple of bottles of coke?” He lives deep in a block of low rise housing commission flats. We park in a nearby alley, and then wind our way through the complex, through the overgrown courtyard with an abandoned couch, and past some rusted play equipment. The place always seems empty. People keep their blinds drawn.

Pete lives with his mother, who is sometimes there and sometimes not. When she’s there, she’s usually on the couch watching TV and doesn’t acknowledge us as we walk past her on the way to her son’s room. Their house is overflowing with stuff: in the kitchen every counter is covered with groceries. In the lounge room, every surface is home to a vast community of little animal figurines. Pete has a small white dog with a bad skin condition, that sniffs at us as we pass through. He treats it very gently.

As soon as you enter Pete’s room, he immediately lays a rolled-up towel in front of the door gap, I assume as a concession to his mother, who otherwise doesn’t seem to question why he has a string of people visiting him for ten-minute intervals at all hours of the day and night. His room is small and decorated with posters of Asian women with implausibly full busts. Across one shelf is his collection of My Little Ponies. He usually seems to be watching a movie and will skip back and forth to show you the good bits.

I usually enjoy these little visits: a refreshing glass of Coke, a bit of a chat about the “clever girl” scene in Jurassic Park, some insights into the life of an interesting character. Lance, however, does not. As soon as the deal is done, he’ll start looking for an excuse to leave. Pete is too dodgy for him.

Hoyo de Monterrey Double Epicure with about a quarter smoked

After a bitter spell ten minutes in, the cigar has slackened off, and if it wasn’t for the visible smoke I would wonder if it was even lit. The flavours are extremely mild. Somewhere in there I can detect the slightest hint of tobacco. Perhaps, if I’m pushing it, there’s something sweet. Vanilla maybe. Full disclosure, I am enjoying this cigar with a Bloody Mary. I make my Marys with fresh tomatoes rather than concentrate, and as such they are a much milder beverage than is typically had over brunch. They do, nonetheless, have plenty of Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce, so it’s more than possible I’ve ruined my palate for a delicate cigar like this.

Pete may be a weed dealer but, like most people, he likes to look outside his business for his recreation. His real passion is for crystal methamphetamine. As a casual acquaintance, who only really knew him in a professional capacity, I was only dimly aware of this hobby until after coffee one Saturday, when Lance asked me to drive him on an errand. He wanted to go visit Pete in the hospital.

Pete, it eventuated, had suffered a collapsed lung. Crystal meth is hard stuff, and Pete had been enjoying it on a more than casual basis. Eventually, he’d caused a part of his lung to rot and a hole had developed. Having a hole in a lung is not ideal, but it’s survivable: Pete, it seemed, had been carrying his around for some time without too many issues. The problem came when one of his clients bought around a new bong for show and tell. It was a glorious double chambered thing, eighteen inches long, and made of lab-grade Pyrex. Dishwasher safe. He insisted they christen it together; Pete huffed in a giant hit, some air got out through the hole in his lung, and when he exhaled the pressure differential between the air outside his lung and the absence of air inside it caused it to collapse.

Short of breath, with a racing heart and stabbing pain in his chest, Pete thought he was just too high. “Man” he said, “that is an awesome bong.” He delayed seeking treatment for almost a day, but eventually had his mum drive him to the hospital.

When Lance and I saw him, Pete was a miserable customer indeed, lying in bed with a tube of bloody fluid coming out of him, and numerous other tubes of (less bloody) fluids going in. He was watching American History X in bed. We sat with him a while as he skipped around, showing us the good bits, and loudly speaking along to the dialogue, either unaware of unconcerned that the ward of people around him could hear every word.

A few weeks later, Lance and I visited Pete again, now back at home and seemingly fully recovered. As always, he weighed Lance out his ounce, and then rolled us a joint, before waxing philosophical: “Guys” he said, “I’ve learned something from all this. Nothing wrong with smoking, nothing wrong with a little meth, but stay away from the fuckin bongs. Yeeeaah booiiii.”

Hoyo de Monterrey Double Epicure smoked just above the band.

In the final third the cigar grows coffee bitter, never acrid, and honestly, it’s a welcome change from the bland two thirds that proceeded it. My over-enthusiastic cut, which hasn’t troubled me at all after the first few minutes, finally catches up with me in a sloppy nub that falls apart.

There’s not too much to the Hoyo Double Epicure, but what there is is no way offensive. If you’re in the duty-free shop looking for a gift and the Upmanns are available, take them every day of the week. If they only have Hoyos? Well, get me these over the Epicure 1s.

Hoyo de Monterrey Double Epicure nub

Hoyo de Monterrey Double Epicure Duty Free Exclusivo 2010 on the Cuban Cigar Website

Hoyo de Monterrey Le Hoyo de San Juan

Hailing from 2014, the Hoyo de Monterrey Le Hoyo de San Juan is a comparatively recent addition to the Serie Le Hoyo family of cigars. As such, it naturally has a 54 ring and a double-sized band. Like all cigars this heavy, it feels overweight both in the hand and on the lips. The unfired draw is a touch looser than Cuban, but acceptable. My luck with the Serie Le Hoyo line having being somewhat better than with the Epicures, I have some hopes for this one.

Hoyo de Monterrey Le Hoyo de San Juan unlit

Once lit, it begins delicately, with some sweet dessert spice behind the typical cedar. Nutmeg, perhaps. Some vanilla.

After the US, Beatrice and I were friendly acquaintances. Once in a while she’d show up at some event, or come by the office to see her brother, and if she happened to pass me in the corridor she’d say “hi.” Our relationship stayed at this level for about six months, until on one of these encounters she mentioned that she was looking for a job, and as it happened, I could get her one.

We had a need in my business for someone to call beauty salons and book appointments for people. It was a pretty thankless task. There were no set hours, and you could do it from anywhere you wanted, but basically when someone filled in a form on a website wanting to book in a treatment, the faceless machine would ping your phone and had to call all the parties involved and arrange the details, ideally within about half an hour. Payment was based on the number of bookings you organised. At the time Beatrice enquired, the role belonged to a Taiwanese boy who fitted it in around his life as a professional online poker player. He had gotten the job via a pretty similar mechanism to Beatrice: he was some guanxi connection of my colleagues in the senior management. By all accounts he was fucking it up. His English was broken, and his male voice creeped out the women who were booking bikini waxes. Over the next week or so I made a point of highlighting it on the corporate communications channel whenever he missed a booking, and made the case for Beatrice to whoever would listen. Within a fortnight she had the job.

She worked from home, but over the next few months I made a point of making sure she was included whenever there was a team meeting or bonding exercise or other excuse to have her into the office. I wasn’t motivated by my attraction to her per-se – certainly I thought she was attractive, but at fourteen years my junior she seemed of a different species entirely to myself, and I never countenanced the idea that something might happen between us. I did like her though. She was fun to have around, and she seemed to appreciate the invites.

After a while the spring came. A few nights a week Thadd and I and some others would head out to the terrace in the evenings to drink beer and smoke joints, and more often than not Beatrice would join us. Sometimes we’d drink late into the night, and sometimes we’d go out afterwards. One Friday a few of us headed out to dinner, and then a pub, and by the time ten o’clock came around, the last standing were Thadd, Beatrice and I. Thadd bottomed his drink and announced his departure, clearly expecting the party to disband with him, but instead Beatrice looked at me. “I’m up for one more. You want to stick around?”

One more turned into three more. The pub closed, and we headed to a little cocktail bar I knew from my years of Saturdays. The bartender welcomed me by name, and he shook my hand as he showed us to the best seats in the house. Perhaps it was the booze, but somehow my rotted brain failed to make the connection that I was in; that this nymphet, this Helen of Troy in a see-through top, who could have any man she wanted, had wanted spent five hours of her Friday night sitting close with me and laughing at my jokes. She was attracted to me. When the bar closed and I had thrown down my platinum card, and we had stumbled out into the alleyway, I was actually surprised to find her arms around my neck, and her lips ravenous on mine.

Hoyo de Monterrey Le Hoyo de San Juan somewhat burnt

With about two thirds still unsmoked, the cigar remains a Hoyo. While the dessert spices have faded, the wood has intensified, and there’s now a touch of chemical tang; the sharp musk of a cockroach in its death throes. I’ve been smoking this cigar while sipping on a sugary iced coffee, which I thought might have enough sweetness and palate cloying dairy to mask the Hoyo’s lesser qualities, but it appears not to be so. Cedar sap. Tastes like a sawmill.

The whole affair lasted about six weeks, I suppose. At work it was a big secret. Beatrice would come to the after-work drinks, and we’d sit and converse like any other colleagues, except with ankles quietly linking underneath the table, and her fingers running stealthily across my lap while she pretended to look for something in her bag. She liked to give me hickeys, great welts on my arms and neck, and then in the break room would coyly ask where I got the bruise. Abusing my admin privileges, I created a private channel on the intraoffice chat, and we were on it constantly. It was a stressful time for me at work. I was deeply engaged in a power struggle with another manager, who eventually would go over my head with the principal complaint that I never did any work. In that era, she wasn’t wrong. All I did was chat to Beatrice.

The protestation from the December side of every May-December relationship is the same: “she makes me feel young.” It’s not inaccurate. Dating in your 30s is very transactional; there’s a sense that the music is starting to slow, and if we don’t all find a chair soon then we’ll be left forever standing. Everyone has a life behind them, with secrets to hide. You need to assess your partners quickly, and decide which compromises you’re willing to accept.

With Beatrice I felt like a teenager again. The last moment before I closed my eyes, I would text her “goodnight,” and the first thing I would do when I opened them again was check to see if she’d replied. During the day she never left my thoughts for more than five minutes. I had an energy I hadn’t felt in years.

Much as teens find it sufficient to spend a day loitering in parking lot, so we never felt the need to do anything much. We’d spend whole day together in bed, holding each other, love making interspersed with TV and chit chat and perhaps ordering in a pizza. On paper the sex wasn’t much; I was old and impotent, and filled with hang-ups, and she was shy and too beautiful to do any work. The reality of it was the best I’ve ever had. We’d lie there, legs entwined, her body supple and warm, melting into mine like a puzzle piece. She would nuzzle me with her button nose, and squirm with ticklish delight when I kissed her neck. Once in a while I’d get up to go to the bathroom, and the sight of her in repose on my bed would take my breath away. Long and lean, her strawberry hair unfurled on my pillow, she naturally hairless from the eyebrows down, with not scar nor a pimple nor a wrinkle nor a fold anywhere on this Venus’ alabaster body.

Even apart we were teens, staying up late watching early episodes of The Simpsons together in different homes and chatting about it online. “Lol” I’d type, at some joke about the Gulf War. “?” she’d text back. “Was that a joke? Who’s Norman Schwarzkopf?”

A few weeks into our relationship, the HR head pulled me aside after one of our regular team catch-ups. “Hey, just thought I should let you know because you’re friends with her brother – we’re going to let Beatrice go. She’s been letting half her bookings slip through.” I mounted as vigorous defence of her as I could, but he just shrugged his shoulders. “Take it up with Steph, she’s her manager.”

Back at my desk I checked the numbers. She wasn’t wrong. Beatrice had been missing a lot of bookings. I thought back to the weekend when, luxuriating in bed with me her phone had beeped. She glanced at it and ignored it. “Just stupid work.” Abusing my admin privileges yet again, I deleted a few posts, upping her percentage.

Over the next few weeks I waged a campaign of trying to point out Beatrice’s successes in public wherever possible. In private I was torn. I wanted nothing on earth more than to tell her everything, but it seemed like that would be crossing a line in our already dubious relationship. Instead I resorted to hints, which ended disastrously with a poorly timed joke. It was the end of a long day in bed, and we were watching Black Mirror, an episode where people are served by a digital version of themselves, trapped inside a computer. “That’d be so nice” Beatrice purred, her head nuzzled in my neck. “Well it wouldn’t work out well for you” I cracked. “Your assistant would be so lazy.”

She was furious, and stormed out, and was still giving me the silent treatment that Tuesday, when I left for a business trip. By the Thursday she had forgiven me enough to send me a panicked text. “OMG. HR wants to meet with me tomorrow! Am I fired?”

I tried to be as nice about it as I could, to say it wasn’t her fault, that she was great, but I told her what I knew to be true, that yes, she was fired. The next day she was mad again. “Why did you tell me that?” she said. “I’m not fired! I got promoted! I’m going to be working in the office now!”

That afternoon in Sydney I had lunch with Steph, Beatrice’s manager, and things became clearer. Steph had always been a provocateur. She was everyone’s best friend to their face, but lethal behind their backs. She had gone after me numerous times, for crimes both real and imagined, but I was far too well ensconced for it to make much of a difference. The real victims were always those who reported to her. “Did you here they promoted Beatrice?” She raged. “I can’t believe it! She’s lazy, she’s incompetent! I have to clean up her messes all the fucking time. I’ve been saying they should fire her for months, but they promoted her! They said they looked at her numbers and they weren’t that bad, but it’s fucking bullshit, I know she’s missed heaps.”

The next day, back in Melbourne, Beatrice texted me. “Come to Thadd’s party today.” She said “I miss you.”

When I showed up she was there on the lawn, sitting with her brother. “I can’t believe you told her she was going to get fired” was the first thing Thadd said. “Yeah,” I joked “well, she was… you should be careful, B, you’ve got enemies.”

She was cold to me the rest of the afternoon, and when I got home I texted to ask her why. Yet again, she was furious. “I can’t believe you said I have enemies. Why would you undercut me like that?” I tried to explain, to plead my innocence, but to no avail. We were through.

And so, for the next few months I would see her nearly daily, close but so far out of reach. She would flit past my desk, a flash of red in my peripheral, her head turned firmly away, or I would catch the scent that once lingered on my sheets in an elevator she had recently departed. Whenever conversation was unavoidable, when we found ourselves in the same circle at Friday Drinks, she would miss no opportunity to take shots at me, quibbling with anything I said. A few months later her name came up again as a prospective layoff, and this time I said nothing.

And then came the final curtain of any teenage relationship. It was her birthday. 21. Our time together had been short, and by then was long past, but I still remembered the date. I went to message her, a warm wish for old time’s sake, and there it was: this user has unfriended you and blocked you from sending messages.

In the final inch-and-a-half of the Serie le Hoyo, I catch myself leaning back to exhale a luxuriant cloud of smoke, and it suddenly dawns on me that the cigar has come alive. There is a lot of Islay whisky in here; it is an Islay Whiskey aged in cedar barrels, certainly, but there is also a pleasant smoky peat, and some nice caramel sweetness. It could be the iced coffee talking, but I think I might even detect a hint of cream in the aftertaste.

Hoyo de Monterrey Le Hoyo de San Juan final third

As far as cigars go, this one is still a Hoyo, but unlike most Hoyos, it has a bit of energy. I attribute it mostly to its youth. It’s invigorating. Intoxicating. Sure, an older Hoyo might be a bit smoother, and it might have some imagined subtleties that this one lacks, but for me, I’ll take the young one any day. It belongs high up in the roster as far as Hoyos go.

Better than a dusty old Epicure No. 1, that’s for certain.

Hoyo de Monterrey Le Hoyo de San Juan in ashes

Hoyo de Monterrey Le Hoyo de San Juan on the Cuban Cigar Website