Cuba has always played pretty fast and loose with the concept of a limited edition. In the early 2000s, when something that was advertised as “limited” sold out with demand left on the table, a new batch of units would quietly appear in the market shortly thereafter. If the first batch had been individually numbered, the second usually wouldn’t be. They’ve gotten a bit better in recent years, but in general limited editions out of Cuba should be considered to be limited to as many as they can sell.
The Edición Limitada programme cigars are officially limited by the year of their availability, not their quantity. The quantities are not disclosed, but for most releases they are thought to be between 150,000 and 250,000 sticks. The Talismán came out at an interesting time for Cohiba. A few consecutive years of poor harvests in the mid-2010s meant that in 2017 and 2018 the high grade wrapper leaf needed for Cohiba was in very short supply. At the same time, the veracious appetites of the newly-rich Chinese market had found cigars, and the only thing they liked better than a fat Cohiba was a fat Cohiba Edición Limitada. Edición Limitadas, famously, use only the lowest grade of wrapper leaf. In the months after the Talismán were released, all Cohiba boxes were going for 3-5x retail. Talismán were going for 10x.
In February of 2019 when participants in the Habanos Festival toured the El Laguito factory, it was widely reported that heavy production was underway of the 2017 Limited Edition Talismán. When the cigars hit the market a few months later, the Cubans at least were open about it: the cigar had been so successful, they said, that they had rolled another 200,000. The also claimed that these cigars had used tobacco from the same harvest as the ones rolled two years earlier, which seemed a little dubious. At the time of writing, the most recent box code for a Talismán that has found its way to me indicates a production date of April 2020. That the cigars were still in production more than a year after the second batch was known to be being rolled makes even the 200,000 number suspect. The cigars are in stock everywhere, from big La Casas to volume stores online and tiny boutiques that don’t normally carry the limiteds. They’re all asking at least $1000 a box.
To the Dusky Beauty reader, I say this: I do not condone or support this kind of behaviour. The Talismán I am smoking today is from the original 2017 batch. I will have no other.
I always give a cigar a single cold draw, but only to verify that the cut is okay and the cigar is not completely plugged. I never make much note of flavours. The cold draw on the Talismán, however, is one of the best I’ve ever had, with rich raisin fruit cake flavours. Lit, the opening notes are as smooth as would be expected from a Limited Edition Cohiba, but not particularly complex: there is mid tobacco, and some dry grassy notes.
Alongside the Talismán, I am enjoying a Mornington Porter, which obtained via criminality. Although certainly a degenerate, I am not generally of a criminal nature, and I agonised over this one. On the shelf in the First Choice Liquor there were two varietals of Mornington available: the Brown, which was deeply discounted in six packs, and the Porter, which came in fours and had a retail price higher even than six of the Browns. The issue came in the stock levels; there was only one six pack of the Brown remaining, and it only had four beers left in it.
I must have stood there for ten minutes mulling my options – long enough that the clerk came over to ask if I needed any help. I told him I didn’t, and eventually committed the most basic teenager level of shoplifting imaginable. On the edge of my 40s; a C-level executive; an owner of property; the chairperson of the body corporate; a former jury foreman; a pillar of society, respected by all, I put two Porters in place of the missing Browns.
I had some concern that the clerk would lift a few bottles and check the labels, and when I placed the six pack on the counter, I made sure to put the end with the Porters facing away from him. The cardboard shroud concealed all but a tiny sliver of the label, where the darker brown of the Porter’s graphic peaked above the edge (note for the Mornington Brewing Company; a minor design tweak to the height of your six pack holders or labels, or using differed coloured bottle caps on different lines, would make shoplifting of your high priced Porter’s much more difficult).
As soon as I placed it, the clerk immediately flipped the box around. My heart stopped for a brief moment. It was the same clerk as had asked me if I needed help, and I wondered if he had noted the stock level and knew exactly where the empty slots were on the one remaining sixer. He was just trying to get at the barcode, however, and once he’d scanned it I tapped my card and was on my way.
“Enjoy your afternoon!”
At the mid-point, the Talismán has thickened up somewhat, although it still doesn’t offer terribly much in the way of complexity. It is first rate medium tobacco, with some grass and bean. I think I may have over humidified it. The burn has not been great, requiring several relights, which is not the kind of thing you expect from a limited Cohiba.
My paranoia around casual beer theft, comes, like most things, from my formative years, and the experiences of my friend Jacob.
Jacob took a little longer to mature than the rest of us. When our friendship group first met at fourteen, the rest of us were gawky teens with wispy moustaches, while Jacob was a cherubic child; he remained at five feet tall, with pale skin, full red lips, and a voice that stayed unbroken well into year ten. Jacob’s parents were evangelical Christian teetotallers, and his previous school had been the same Christian college where his dad worked. We were his first real exposure to infidel teens and our pastimes.
Jacob didn’t get pocket money, and we mocked him for his poverty, encouraging him to shoplift instead, and mocking him doubly for his refusal to do so. Eventually, he came back big, stealing $1,000 in cash from the door proceeds from a gig his dad’s folk band had played. He spent it mostly on Warhammer, and concocted a cockamamie seconds bin to explain to his parents why he suddenly had the biggest miniature collection on the tabletop.
Jacob bragged to us about it at school the morning after his heist, but his pride would only last a week before his dad found the money missing, and called up Games Workshop to confirm that they didn’t sell their seconds. Jacob was grounded for several months, and had to sell his Warhammer (mostly to me at a deep discount).
After we had graduated high-school, Jacob worked a part-time job at Safeway while attending university. The poverty worm had turned: my own pocket money had been cut off after I turned eighteen, and my only source of income was the very occasional odd job helping neighbourhood shut-ins with their computer problems. Eighteen-dollars was precious, so I was delighted one evening when Jacob showed up with a six pack of James Boags Premium.
“On the house, my man” he said. “Five fingered discount. I just wrote it off as broken at work and put it in my bag.”
A week later, it emerged that Jacob had stopped working at the Safeway. He was coy about the reason why, but the abruptness of the severance seemed to imply that an incident had taken place.
It wasn’t until we were well into our thirties that Jacob would tell us the full story. When he’d gone into the supermarket for his next shift, his manager had taken him into the back office and shown him the footage of him putting the beer in his bag. Jacob was fired, and as per store policy, he waited in the stock room while the police were called to arrest him and take him to the station to be charged.
Jacob had to appear before the Magistrates’ Court, with his parents and five siblings lined up in their Sunday best in the front pew. He pled guilty, and before sentencing him to a fine and period of probation, the magistrate asked Jacob’s father if he would like to testify as to his son’s good character. He declined to do so.
Jacob has struggled with employment his whole adult life, mostly living on short-lived music teacher gigs in-between lengthy periods of tax-payer subsidised study. He seems content enough with it, but I’ve often wondered if the real reason for his unemployability is his criminal past.
Still, the Boags tasted sweet, and these Mornington Porters are even sweeter.
In the final couple of inches, the cigar gets strong, and I begin to tremble from the nicotine; the bitter end, where notes of coffee and mud linger on the palate. There is still something there though, with the occasional sweet fruit of the cold draw coming through.
Unquestionably, the 2017 Cohiba Talismán is a first-rate cigar, but it’s not a revelation. Between the Cohiba Limiteds I have smoked recently, it is worse than the DC and the Supremos, and on par or a hair finer than the 2006 Pyramid. Perhaps with four or five years in a humid box they may come good. In 2020 you can probably do better things with $100.