Cohiba Novedosos Especialista en Habanos Exclusivo

The Cohiba Novedosos is a 2019 release exclusively for Habanos Specialist stores, making it a far younger cigar than most that appear in these pages. It is the first cigar from a global brand to get a Habanos Specialist band, and the prestige of a new Cohiba adds considerable weight to the desirability of that programme. At 50 ring by 156mm it is a surprisingly respectable size, finding a home with smokers for whom the Robusto (50 by 124mm) is too little and the Siglo IV (52 by 160mm) too much. Whether that narrow void needed to be filled is debatable, although I am a proponent of variety in all things. The surprising part is that Habanos didn’t choose to cater to the end of the spectrum that craves the meatier 60+ ring gauge (having learned from past indiscretions, I decline to speculate on who that market may be).

The cigar begins with considerably more kick than a normal Cohiba: bitter for the first few puffs, then relaxing into a strong, creamy tobacco flavour, with barnyard notes on the back palate.

Cohiba Novedosos unlit in the afternoon sun.

Life is a complex road, and it’s interesting at times to note that the smallest event in my life could be the biggest in somebody else’s. For me, the is no butterfly wing that caused a tornado more than the night I took Ben to Club Pure.

When I first lived in Japan in my mid-twenties, Buckley, a friend from high school, was living there also. The apartment Buckley lived in was run by the English school he worked for, who operated it as a first apartment for their newly arrived teachers. Buckley had the top floor, which he shared with an American named Nathan. Below them lived two girls: Madeline and Cassie, and the five of us, along with various other English teachers and hangers on, all became a friendship group more or less by default. As it turned out, Nathan was ten years older than us, and the worst kind of melodramatic alcoholic, so within a few months Buckley moved into a place of his own.

Buckley was replaced in Nathan’s apartment by Ben, a sweet boy at barely 20 years old. He had grown up in a small town in rural Australia, and was handsome and enthusiastic, and excited for this new adventure. Nathan had been furious when Buckley left, seeing the departure of another roommate as a personal attack, and so didn’t bother to interact much with Ben, choosing to spend his time drinking alone in his room instead. With Buckley out of the block, and on bad terms with Nathan, our young friendship group had fallen apart. Ben, by default, fell into the clutches of Madeline and Cassie.

The early 20s expat experience in Japan is vastly different for men and women. There is a persistent and wildly exaggerated myth that Japanese women are insatiably attracted to western men, which, coupled with the first-time-out-of-home exuberance of men in their early 20s, draws them into a world of binge drinking and bar hopping. Women tend to get the opposite; all the pressures of being an alien in a foreign country, without the invincible party boy comradery. The proportion of women and men who arrive in the country on an English teaching gap year is about the same, but the number of women who leave after a few months is far greater than the men; equally, the number of men who become “lifers” and stay beyond their planned year or two is far larger. The effect of this is that the expat ‘scene’ becomes ever more masculine, and ever more uncomfortable for new girls.

And so, for the first few months of his new life in Japan, Ben didn’t get the expat fuckboy life he’d heard about. Instead he hung with the girls. They went on cultural trips to see Japan’s castles and natural wonders. They had tea ceremonies in cute cafes, saw art galleries and temples, and played dress-up under the cherry blossom trees. I didn’t see too much of him, but I knew him casually, so when we had a chance encounter in the street early one Monday evening, I invited him for a beer in a nearby Izakaya.

“So how are you liking Japan?” I asked him. “You’ve been here what, three months now?”
“Ah… yeah… it’s okay… I thought it would be a lot wilder though.”
“What do you mean?”
“Ah, well, just I’m hanging with Maddie and Cassie all the time, we mostly do cultural stuff, just thought there’d be more parties and stuff. Haven’t really even spoken to any Japanese girls.”

I had been in Japan for three months longer than Ben, and been with two more girls, but nonetheless we were men, and my bravado kicked in.

“You mean you’re in Japan and you’re not fuckin? Shit man, what a waste. Japanese girls love white guys like us.”
“Yeah, I heard that before I came, but I dunno man, how do you meet them.”
“Bro, it’s Monday night. Ladies Night at Club Pure. We’re going to get you laid.

Cohiba Novedosos, about half burnt.

By the mid-point the cigar has mellowed off, but still has a pleasant creaminess. There is a roasted espresso flavour, walnut and a good woodiness. Somewhere in there I detect the smell of the shellac used in French polish. 

Club Pure was the ‘it’ shitty gaijin­ club in the Osaka of the late-aughts. Seemingly the only place in the city with bouncers, it was in a basement off the main drag in the red-light district. The décor was a bit confused. Around the dance floor there were a number of small ‘caves’ with stone floors, rendered walls, and plaster stalactites. Upstairs was a VIP area, decorated with fake books, polished wood and red velvet that evoked a 19th century Parisian bordello. Behind the bar was a taxidermized stag head and neon bar lights. On the dance floor there were go-go cages, laser lights, and a DJ who ran Fatman Scoop’s Be Faithfull on very heavy rotation.

The standard entry fee for Pure was $20, which included every watered-down drink you cared to drink. On Monday nights, entry was free for ladies. Ben and I paid our money, walked in the door, and paused for a moment on a landing overlooking the floor. The place wasn’t empty, but it wasn’t full either. A few groups of girls were half-heartedly dancing together on the floor. Unusually for Pure, the patrons were mostly Japanese and mostly women.

“Now what?” Ben asked.
“Now we get some Malibu and Cokes.”

After we’d had the Malibi, a Midori Lemonade, a couple of Jager Redbulls, and a tequila shot, the place was starting to heat up, and the dance floor had filled to the point where it wasn’t possible to transit the dancefloor without bodily contact.

“Now what?” Ben asked.
“Now we go dance” I told him. “Just find a girl you like and dance near her. If she notices you and moves closer then she’s interested. If she moves away then go dance near somebody else.”

We moved onto the floor, and separated, and after fifteen minutes of cold shoulders I returned to the bar. I glanced back for Ben. He was dancing with a girl, his hands on her hips, and her backside grinding against his crotch.

I had a highball at the bar, and did another lap of the dance floor, again meeting nothing but rejection. This time when I checked on Ben he was making out with the girl. By the time I’d finished another lap and another drink, they were holed up in one of the caves and his hands were inside her shirt.

I poked my head inside the cave just long enough to indicate that I was going to leave.

“I’m off. You alright here, mate?”
“Yeah” he laughed. “Thanks for everything, man.”

At home, I was pleased with myself. I may have struck out, but at least somebody was getting laid in Japan tonight. I jerked off and went to sleep, and didn’t give the incident much more thought until three days later when Cassie called me.

“Hey” she said. “What did you do with Ben?”
“What do you mean?”
“He hasn’t come home in three nights and his phone is switched off.”
“Ahh… well I took him to Pure. I think he probably went home with a girl.”
“What girl?”
“Ahh… she had denim shorts on? White top? I dunno, I didn’t really look at her.”

Cassie hung up in frustration.

Ben did eventually resurface, coming home mostly to pick up his phone charger before he moved in with the girl from Pure. No word on how Nathan felt about that. About a year later they got married and moved back to Australia, and had a baby shortly thereafter. Within three years they had two more. I haven’t spoken to Ben in years, but from his occasional appearances on my Facebook feed, he is still married, and seems to be a normal, happy dad in a small town in rural Australia; the road of his life walked entirely because of one moment of my fuckboy bravado.

Cohiba Novedosos, burnt to the bands.

The final two inches of the Cohiba Novedosos remain very smooth; remarkably so for a cigar so young, regardless of the marque. The final notes are of dry, sweet cocoa powder.

A great cigar, and a marked improvement on the Siglo II.

Cohiba Novedosos nub.

Cohiba Novedosos Especialista en Habanos Exclusivo on the Cuban Cigar Website.

Cohiba Siglo II

The tradition of this column, as the old timers tell it, is that the first cigar I light in any a new season is the fundamental example of the breed. The quintessential cigar that sums it up for any occasion. The “go to.”

Cohiba, however, is not a brand for just any occasion. Once the private marque of Fidel Castro, today it is mainly for the Chinese nouveau riche. The occasion when you reach for a Cohiba is when you want somebody to know that you’re the boss.

The Siglo II is by no means the quintessential Cohiba, and I doubt anybody much reaches for it very often. If you want a Cohiba, you want one with a bit of heft to it. You want a Behike 56. A Siglo VI. Maybe a Robusto if you’re pressed for time. Maybe a Lanceros if you’re an educated man.

I am giving the Siglo II the first smoke, however, purely because of its vitola de galera. The Siglo II is a Marevas; 42 ring by 129mm. The same size as the Montecristo 4, and a great many other quintessential cigars besides. It is long enough that you know you’re smoking a cigar, but short enough that you’re not back too late from lunch.

The example in question has a perfect domed marble head; a construction style that was once the standard for all Cuban cigars but since the 1970s has been rare, remaining only as a signature flourish for master rollers.

Cohiba Siglo II unlit

Lit, the first notes are a little more bitter than I’d like, but obviously first class, with black coffee over toasted grains. The draw is perfect.

One Easter Sunday some years passed I was coming off about three months of heavy internet dating; two nights a week walking the never-ending trail in search of something better than bachelorhood. Some dates were terrible, and ended with a hasty skolling of the first drink and pressing ‘unmatch’ on the app on my way out the door. Other dates went a little better, and we’d laugh and stay out late, and although things weren’t so good that I’d kiss her at the end, I’d still walk away thinking there might be something there. The next day I’d message to see if she wanted another go around, and in reply she’d say she liked me but “not in a romantic way.”

Once in a while, the dates would go very well, and the girl would end up in my bed. In the morning when she was gone, I’d lie there, my pillow still rich with her scent, and I’d try and imagine a life with her. Inevitably I would find some imperfection that seemed like it would drive me to insanity when subjected to a lifetime of it. Somewhat regretfully, but not wanting to waste her time, I’d send her a text: “I had a great time with you last night, but just being totally honest, I don’t really see it getting serious with you. Would be happy to see you a couple more times though if you’re keen.”

It was generally met with outrage. I couldn’t fault them for it.

The same cycle had played out time and time again, and I had resolved to end it. No more would I cast girls aside for some perceived minor flaw. It was Easter Sunday, and it was time that I became a better man. From now on I would see that the beauty of a rose is perfected by its thorns.

To be honest, I didn’t need a date that night. On Easter Saturday I had been out all night at a very druggy party. I hadn’t had a lot of sleep, and my dopamine levels were low. Elspeth and I had been chatting online for a week or so, and we were at the point where it was time to either meet in person or ghost her, so when she messaged with “how about we get together tonight?” I was a coinflip whether to accept the date or spend the night at home alone watching a movie. I decided that now was as good as any time to get it over with.

We met on the steps of the State Library and headed to a cocktail bar a few blocks down the road. She had chin length brown hair and a Mediterranean nose, and came off as shy, running through her chit chat with a wide-eyed hesitation. At first glance she looked like any Melbournite, dressed in black and grey, but if you looked a little closer, you’d see that she had some style. I would later learn that she shopped exclusively from Japanese fashion websites and it showed. Her things were just cut a little better than we see in Australia.

At the end of the first drink I was surprised when she consented to a second. My energy levels were through the floor, and she seemed nervous and uncomfortable. At the end of the second drink, I was even more surprised when she suggested we move to another bar. After six drinks at three venues I suggested we head to my place, and wasn’t at all surprised when she agreed.

Post coital, with her head nestled on my shoulder, I felt a deep affection for her.

“You know” I said, running a finger down her flank, “I’m sure you don’t think it, but you’re really very pretty. You have your little imperfections. Your nose. Your butt is too big. But you have nice eyes, and your stomach is flat, and your legs are long, and your tits are perfectly shaped. It might not be the Vogue Magazine idea of beauty, but everything is in proportion, and added up you look better than any of those bitches. You’re beautiful.”

She blushed and kissed me.

Cohiba Siglo II, about half smoked

Halfway gone, and the Siglo II is coming along nicely, with the classic Cohiba notes of grass and hay up front, and honey sweetness in the aftertaste. Above all it exhibits the smoothness that is the hallmark of Cohiba, and all true premium tobacco.

Elspeth was the artistic sort, a museum curator, and on our first date, somewhere after the third drink, I had tried to boost my intellectual credentials by mentioning The Harem. “It masquerades as cigar reviews” I had said, “but really I use it to tell my life story, one anecdote at a time, with poetic prose and a literary sensibility. I elevate the form.” When she told me she would read it, I grimaced, immediately regretting my braggadocio. “Please don’t.”

The second date went well enough, but for one incident. She mentioned in passing that she was bad with money, deep in credit card debt from years of unsustainable spending. Ever the attack dog, I teased her about it, taking care of the bills from then on, but never without a smirking “I’d better get this.” After the fifth time, she put on her serious voice and asked me to stop.

The third date was magical. Using her connections at the museum she took us to the warehouse where the exhibits not on display are stored, and we held hands as we walked down long aisles of curios, while she pointed out her favourites. In the taxidermy section we kissed, observed by the glassy eyes of a thousand staring creatures. I liked her a lot in that moment. She had her flaws, to be sure, but they were just part of her easy charm.

Later that night we had our first fight.

We were post coital again, preparing for sleep. There are two varieties of pillow on my bed, some low loft ones made of hard latex, which I prefer for sleeping, and some puffy king-sized ones made from a honeycomb foam that I use when reading in bed. I tossed the big one on my side to the floor.

“Choose whichever you like” I said. “I prefer to sleep on the hard thin one because I’m a hard thin man.”
“Mmm…” she said. “I think I’ll take this big squishy one…”

She trailed off, leaving the thought uncompleted. I grinned and poked her in the stomach. “You’re not that squishy.”

She went to the bathroom, and when she returned started getting dressed with the abrupt motions of a woman scorned.

“Are you going?”
“Because I called you ‘squishy’?”

There were tears in her eyes. I pulled her back onto the bed, and held her.

“I’m sorry.” I said. “It was just a joke… and I didn’t actually call you ‘squishy’… I sorta said you weren’t squishy.”

I felt her begin to relent.

“I’m sorry” I said.
“I’m sorry” she said.

We held each other a while longer, before she began a monologue.

“You remember the other night we when were in bed, you were saying such nice things about how beautiful I was… I don’t think anyone has ever said something so nice to me, but the next day all I could think about was the other side of it, how you didn’t think I realised it, and it just really upset me, thinking that that must be the way I present myself.”

I deflected. “I’m sorry,” I said. “That was just pillow talk.” The look in her eyes said that hurt her even more.

The next morning I walked her to the station, and once she was gone I mulled the situation over. My instinct was to end it; to send her some text saying I’d had fun but it wasn’t going to work, and quietly block her number. But this was the new Groom. Love is about tolerance. The girl was probably a bit thin skinned for a vicious predator like me, and tears on the third date are never a good sign, but I did like her. She was sweet, and smart, and funny, and had a bit of a flair that set her apart from all the other fans of wine and adventures. And I had meant what I said: her nose was a bit big, and her hips a bit too good for child bearing, but her eyes were bright and clear and she was beautiful. “This is the one, Groom” I said to myself. “Love is a many faceted stone, made perfect by its flaws.” I can make this work.

But the Groom of the past had other ideas.

Later that day, she sent me a text:

“I’ve been thinking about you a lot.”
“I’ve been thinking about you too.”
“I read your blog…”

Not one to be provoked by a hanging ellipsis, I left her text unanswered. There was no need. I knew it was over.

Some hours later she got tired of waiting and confirmed it.

“I don’t think we should see each other anymore. I don’t want to wind up as just another one of your stories.”

Cohiba Siglo II, final third.

The Siglo II ends mostly with fairly clean tobacco and dry grass; there is nothing too revelatory about it, but it is smooth and delicious and a first-class smoke in every way. I’ve been smoking alongside Davidé, and have made him a gift of a Siglo II to smoke alongside me. His tastes and budget run more often to White Owls than Cohiba, and he is rightly blown away by it. He declares it the best cigar he’s ever smoked. I hope that most of the aged and limited Cohibas that are to come resoundingly defeat the Siglo II, but it sets a high bar that few cigars from lesser marques would clear. If you need a perfect sized cigar for a daily smoke, and you have the means, you can’t do much better than a Siglo II.

Cohiba Siglo II. Finished.

Cohiba Siglo II on the Cuban Cigar Website.

On Hiatus

A Harem of Dusky Beauties is on hiatus, at least in so far as the concept of a ‘hiatus’ holds meaning for a website that has updated sixteen times in three years.

It will return of course. Over the past half-decade, I have spent time in all the best houses in Havana except for one. The finest mansion of them all stands at the top of the hill, and every night as I pass I see the fine brown faces of twenty or so dusky beauties peering from its lighted windows. Each one is more beautiful than the last, but whenever I lock eyes with them, I sense a deep longing. They are hungry for the flame. The name etched in iron about that house’s gate? COHIBA.

For the time being though, they must wait. The road is long, the night is cold, and I have places to be and promises to keep. Fret not though, my friends. Before you know it, the bright summer sun shall find me reclined in a pleasure boat, idling on a millpond with one such beauty. “My love, won’t you take the till a moment?” I shall say. “I just need to light a little smoke.”

I encourage you to subscribe to the RSS feed.

Until we meet again, old chums, may all your smoke rings be round.

A.T. Groom
May 2019

Dusky Beauties is on hiatus.

Partagás Lusitanias Gran Reserva Cosecha 2007

When a stranger first learns that I am the proprietor of the world’s leading resource for collectors of Cuban cigars,* they quickly probe the economics of the thing.

“Do you get paid?” They ask.
“No, not really. A donation here and there. It doesn’t cover the cost.”
“So you must love it.”
“Well, cigars, sure, but there’s not too much love to be had in website administration.”
“Then why do you do it?”
“Well, mostly because it opens a lot of interesting doors.”

Today I am in Hong Kong, and the door that has opened leads to a private smoking lounge. I am a guest of the owner, with whom I had exchanged perhaps 150 words of email before he suggested I stop by next time I was in town. I should think of his humidor, he told me, as my humidor. He said he had “some good stuff.”

He wasn’t wrong. After a brief tour of the club, he opened the door to the walk-in, and told me to pick out anything I liked. The spread on offer contained fully two per cent of the world’s supply of original Behikes, along with a 1492 humidor, and most any other Cuban treasure one would care to name. Respectful of my host, I didn’t want to reach for either the top or bottom shelf, and finally settled on the Partagás Lusitanias Gran Reserva Cosecha 2007: a $150 cigar, but humble in this company.

Partagás Lusitanias Gran Reserva Cosecha 2007 unlit, with a Katana cigar scissor.

As you’d expect from one wearing the GR band, the cigar is perfectly constructed, and once a pair of hand-beaten Japanese cigar shears has circumcised the cap, the draw is a perfect Cuban. Lit, there are notes of medium tobacco of the highest quality, with yeasty bread up front and chocolate out the back. There is a little woodsmoke. Chocolate chip damper.

Another door opened in 2012 when Nic Wing first reached out to me. At the time he was working as a publicist for a cigar store in London, but on the side he was putting together a walking tour of the local “historical cigar sites.” He wondered if I wouldn’t mind putting a link to his tour somewhere on my website. Ever a jealous guardian of my SEO juice, I replied thanking him for his email, and asked after some mutual acquaintances, but ignored his request. We exchanged gossip for a few weeks, and he promised to send me some pictures of some fancy old bands, but never did, and eventually the thread dropped off.

I suppose he forgot the exchange, because in 2015 when he emailed me next, he reintroduced himself. By this time though, he was well known to me. I’ve always dreamed of being Hugh Hefner in 1957, the slick magazine publisher in the sharp suit, smoking cigarettes and drinking whisky over next month’s layout book. Nic evidentially shared that dream, and unlike me, he had done something to actualize it. He had started a magazine earlier that year, and it was doing well with the aficionado set. UK Cigar Scene was a good read, with interviews, reviews and gossip, and wasn’t swamped by puff pieces for the non-Cuban advertisers like every other cigar periodical. (My version would have included fiction, hard-hitting investigative journalism, and a centrefold, but you can’t have everything).

Nic wanted to do a piece about Cuban Cigar Website, and in service of that we exchanged emails regularly for a few months. I even suggested at one point that perhaps he’d like to reprint the odd Dusky Beauty in his magazine – a proposition he politely ignored.

Six months after my piece ran, UK Cigar Scene quietly stopped releasing new issues, and four months after that I learned that Nic had died, the loser in a short fight with the dragon cancer, at the age of 58.

We think of the internet as a gorgon that never forgets, and in a sense that’s true. If you know what you’re looking for, there are archive websites that still host the most bestial of my teenage slash fiction. In any practical sense though, the internet forgets you the minute you stop paying the bill. For Nic, the domain of his magazine now hosts a vape blog, no doubt bought cheap by a Chinese store looking to exploit the SEO juice of Nic’s hard-won link exchanges. His walking tour, which existed only behind a paywall that archive websites could not breach, is down, and presumably lost forever.

Partagás Lusitanias Gran Reserva Cosecha 2007 with one quarter smoked.

Most notable about the Lusitania is the smoke, heavy and blue, which curls from the lip. It’s a good cigar for blowing smoke rings. Halfway through, the tobacco has mellowed a little and coffee notes dominate the foretaste. The chocolate is still around, as is the yeast, but best of all is that there is something of the lactic note familiar from the very best of the Partagás Aniversarios in the back palate.

When Simon Chase first reached out to me in 2014, he gave a humble introduction: “I don’t know if my name means anything to you” he wrote, “but I’ve been kicking around the Havana trade for a few decades.”

Of course I knew him. Simon was the author of some of the best books on the minutiae of Cuban cigars, and countless column inches. He was the closest thing we ever had to an investigative journalist; when something took his interest, he would probe the archives held in the deepest vaults of the UK importers, and fly to Havana to interview the Cubans, and eventually produce a treatise, well written and funny, and usually presenting facts that differed vastly from the common mythos. Over the years we went back and forth many times, him reaching out to me to correct some error on the site, and I to him to ask a question, the answers to which he would seek out like a terrier, coming back with an essay as well written and researched as any of his columns.

Of all the ghosts of the internet, these strangers that appear in my inbox with a few words about a shared hobby, Simon was one of the ones that I was fondest of. He died this March, aged 74, after a long walk with the self-same dragon.

Simon won’t be soon forgotten. For one, he was published in enough different places that a great many sites must go under to erase his oeuvre, and for another because he had more than one book in print, and widely circulated in the cigar world; dusty tombs for some young smoker to find when cleaning out his grandfather’s library. What is lost though, is his brain, which held uncountable titbits of cigar ephemera, and his letters, of which I’m sure I hold only the smallest fraction.

Cigar smoking is a hobby that attracts the gourmand. I know of few aficionados for whom tobacco is their only vice, and many who are just as enthusiastic about wine, rum, whiskey, brandy, cocktails and obscure French liqueurs. We also like Papuan coffee, roasted just right, with only the finest Swiss chocolates on the corner of a saucer, and Iberian suckling pigs in truffle sauce, and slow roasted goose, and bone-in rib eye steaks, and day smoked brisket, and house-made sausage, and much other decadence besides. Best of all, we like it when all these things are served at once.

At any cigar function I am the youngest by twenty years, and the lightest by thirty kilograms, and yet even I have regularly thrown up blood from excess for most of my adult life. Nic and Simon are just the most famous of my internet friends; when the others succumb, will I even learn their fates? Or will the emails one day simply cease? There are plenty of old correspondents who I haven’t heard from in a while… perhaps already they are lost.

And of course, myself. There will sometime come the day when my own sent box sees its last new message. What then?

To the cigar aficionado of tomorrow I have one request – put a watch on my domains, and if they ever expire, pick them up. If you can’t restore the sites, put up something of your own, or a simple tribute, or even leave them blank. Just as long as my hard won Page Authority doesn’t wind up going to some vape store.

Partagás Lusitanias Gran Reserva Cosecha 2007 final third.

The Partagás Lusitanias Gran Reserva Cosecha 2007 ends beautifully, not bitter for one instant, with notes of leather and freshly turned earth. The logic with the Gran Reservas is that they are a regular production cigar in its very best expression; I’ve not smoked enough Lusitanias to really comment, but if they can be this good then I’ll be reaching for them more often in the future. One thing I can say that it is unmistakably a Partagás. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of the Anniversaries, which remain among the best cigars I’ve ever had in this life, but it isn’t too far away, and is a truckload better than a PSD4.

*I refer, of course, to, not The Harem, which deserves the antithetic title.

Partagás Lusitanias Gran Reserva Cosecha 2007 nub.

Partagás  Lusitanias Gran Reserva Cosecha 2007 on the Cuban Cigar Website.

Hoyo de Monterrey Roundup

Vale the vile Hoyo! As is tradition for the Harem, I provide you now with an essential piece of consumer advice: a mostly complete ranking, from best to worst, of the special edition cigars from the hole of Monterrey.

Of course, when it comes to Hoyo there is one piece of consumer advice I should offer you before all others: “do not buy.” To your host they have near unanimously proved to be insipid cigars: cedar, light tobacco, and nothing much else. When considering a purchase of any Hoyo, my recommendation is that you take a few steps to the left and buy a Monte 4 instead. If they’re all out of those then I guess you need to hope that they still have the 2004 HdM Humidor.

  1. Hoyo de Monterrey Monterrey Hoyo de Monterrey Humidor 2004
  2. Hoyo de Monterrey Grand Epicure Edición Limitada 2013
  3. Hoyo de Monterrey Le Hoyo de San Juan
  4. Hoyo de Monterrey Le Hoyo des Dieux
  5. Hoyo de Monterrey Extravaganza Colección Habanos 2003
  6. Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure de Luxe La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2012
  7. Hoyo de Monterrey Petite Robustos
  8. Hoyo de Monterrey Piramide Edición Limitada 2003
  9. Hoyo de Monterrey Double Epicure Duty Free Exclusivo 2010
  10. Hoyo de Monterrey Regalos Edición Limitada 2007
  11. Hoyo de Monterrey Elegantes La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2016
  12. Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2
  13. Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 1
  14. Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure Especial
  15. Hoyo de Monterrey Particulares Edición Limitada 2000

Notably absent: the 510 Humidor cigar, the 2004 Epicure Especial LE, the 2011 Short Pirámides LE, the Replica Ancient humidor Maravillas No. 1, the Maravillas from the 2015 Habanos Collection, the Aged Habanos Hermosos No. 4, and the Epicure No. 2 Reserva. Feel free to send the cigars if you really must put me through that.

Hoyo de Monterrey logo

Hoyo de Monterrey Particulares Edición Limitada 2000

2000. A chaotic year for Cuban cigars. A decade prior the Soviet Union had collapsed, and forty years of a Cuban economy propped up by subsidised sugar had come to an end. The last two tobacco harvests had been bad. Hurricanes Georges and Irene had flooded fields and demolished curing barns, and the crop was almost completely lost. The nineties had been a boom decade for cigars, and its legacy showed in Havana’s empty tobacco storehouses.

What was lacking most of all were the wrapper leaves. Traditionally, the wrapper for a Habano comes from a single large middle leaf of a shade grown plant, pale brown, and thinner than paper. In Havana in 2000, these were in short supply. They did, however, have a few of the upper leaves. Thicker and much darker, these sun exposed leaves were normally deemed unfit for the export grade Habanos, and were used instead for domestic cigars. But times were hard, and quotas had to be met.

This is the origin story of the Edición Limitada program. Those first four cigars, wrapped in thick, dark, and oily domestic wrapper leaves, pumped out to fill out a quota. Today, the program is considered a great success, and the black and gold bands signal high prices, low supply, and a good opportunity for a speculator to flip them at margin. Back in 2000 though, the sticks were priced very reasonably, and the bands were more of a scarlet letter. “Don’t worry too much about these” they read. “There aren’t many of them. They’re only here for a year.”

An ‘A’ size cigar is always a journey, and at 12:33 in the afternoon I touch the flame and begin this one, the Hoyo de Monterrey Particulares Edición Limitada 2000.

Hoyo de Monterrey Particulares Edición Limitada 2000 unlit

The first few centimetres surprise on all fronts: of an old cigar, of a giant cigar, and of a Hoyo de Monterrey, one expects mildness. Instead, the cigar is quite punchy, high medium tobacco notes, with burnt toast and charred mushroom. There is a touch of cedar, and just a little bitterness to the aftertaste.

The blue smoke curling ever upward, my memory strays to Victoria Sargent, the next in my half-decade long reminiscence of girls I liked in high school; of that which could have been, and wasn’t.

I first became aware of Victoria when we were fifteen or so. My school was boys only and she went to McRobinson’s, our all-girls sister school down the street. It was considered very cool to complain about how ugly the McRob girls were (“McDog” got thrown around a lot), and yet we all seemed to wind up dating them. My clique at school was the film geeks crew; a bunch of greasy dorks with long hair, who talked a lot about the twin idols of every teenage film nerd in the ‘90s, Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith. I wore a beret completely unironically on more than one occasion.

We were a band apart, but at parties there was a lot of overlap with a few of the other cliques who didn’t take scholarship too seriously: the stoners, the music club, and the theatre kids. The theatre kids’ parties were the ones you wanted to go to. The theatre kids did a lot of mixed productions, and the theatre kids knew girls.

At some point I had would up with a McDog of my very own. Minh Nguyen was short and squat, with bad skin and braces, and my friends teased me relentlessly for dating her. I was fifteen though and she smelled like shampoo and let me French her and that was good enough for me. Besides, those dudes were gay, anyway.

Minh wasn’t one of the theatre clique. I’d met her at one of their parties, but she was a film geek through and through. Somehow, she and a few of her friends managed to infiltrate themselves into our movie nights, where the etiquette remained unchanged, despite the addition of females. No drinking, no drugs, and no public displays of affection; just eight guys and three girls soberly watching art-movies until late, then all sleeping on somebody’s parent’s loungeroom floor.  Once the lights were out, the couples would exchange furtive caresses, while the others pretended to be asleep, and stifled giggles at any unconcealed noises.

A taken man, and still subscribed to the fairytale of monogamy, I would appreciate Victoria only from afar in those early days. Minh was very much a creature of this earth. Her short legs were purpose built for squatting in the gutter in a south-Asian market, and her powerful forearms were ideal for separating the heads from chickens with a cleaver. Victoria, by contrast, was an ethereal. Victoria was built for the lobbies of luxury hotels. She was tall and lithe, with perfect teeth and sparkling green eyes, and a smile that raised her high cheekbones and lit up her flawless white skin. She was a ballerina, trained since childhood, and the practice was evident in her every move. She glided across rooms. She reached for drinks en pointe. Usually at a theatre party I would be slumped in a beanbag in some darkened corner with the other movie nerds, when across the room I would catch Victoria throwing out a spontaneous arabesque, her friends laughing, and falling over trying to imitate her. Her form was perfect.

After high-school, and with Minh long behind me, I began to develop something of a friendship with Victoria. She went to a ballet university, and once in a while I’d see her clomping around the city in her leg warmers, and she would smile and hug me and if nobody was in a rush we’d get a coffee. When I saw her at parties we would always gravitate to each other, the two of us on a couch in some quiet room, our easy conversation flowing unceasingly. She always seemed to be dating a much older guy, or an athlete, or someone else beside whom I was grossly inadequate, but she was always polite enough not to mention him when we were together.

Eventually I would lose track of Victoria for a year or so, and somewhere in there I started dating Audrey (who, by the way, was also a McDog, although she was far too aloof and standoffish for even the theatre clique). Our relationship was about eight months in, and the cracks were starting to show a little, when out of the blue Victoria started chatting to me on MSN Messenger.

It turned out that I had lost track of Victoria for a reason: she was overseas. She had graduated from ballet school and, having already been rejected from all the big Australian ballet companies, had moved to London to try out for the European ones. She was alone, house sitting a flat that belonged to an aunt, and was lonely. Her days were filled with training, try-outs, and eventually rejection. She was struggling with the looming reality that most of those who devote their youth to a high aspiration must someday face: that she wasn’t going to make it. At 24, she would have to completely rebuild herself.

We talked most nights, often for hours. As ever, the conversation flowed easily and unceasingly, me about my life of IT drudgery, and her of her trails and fading dreams, and it began to become clear that she was developing a pretty big crush on me. She would send me pictures of her on her travels, en pointe in front of European landmarks. Once in a while there would be one that seemed like it was taken just for me, her in a leotard in her messy bedroom, an arabesque with perfect form. We made plans together, of things we would do when she came back, keeping a list of restaurants and bars and sights that we should see together. In my head I was doing the calculation of Victoria’s return date verses my lengthening cracks with Audrey. Of course, I was polite enough to never mention her to Victoria.

One night I found myself at bar with the old set, the film geeks, the stoners, the music club, and the theatre kids all strongly represented; mostly people I hadn’t seen in years. It was a farewell party for Julia, a theatre kid from way back, who was off on a European gap year. First stop: London. “Are you going to see Victoria?” I asked her. “Sure,” she replied. “I’m staying with her tomorrow night.” With her typical grace, Minh barged into the conversation. “Oh my God, Julia” she squawked. “Have you the goss about Alex? He’s dating Audrey Cates.”

Two nights later I saw Victoria online at the usual time, and sent her my normal greeting. I could feel her hurting through the screen. “You didn’t tell me you were dating Audrey Cates.” I fumbled a response: “Oh, didn’t I? Well, it’s not that serious.” It was to no avail. We were through. She never messaged me again.

Hoyo de Monterrey Particulares Edición Limitada 2000, somewhat burnt

The initial robustness of the Hoyo de Monterrey Particulares lasted longer than you’d expect, and even at the halfway there are still some signs of it. The Hoyo wood has arrived, as always, but there is a strong char to it – a campfire in a cedar forest. In the aftertaste is a sweetness that is not at all unpleasant. Although not as bad as either the Monte or the Party of the same vintage, the Particulares does suffer from the famous flame-retardant tobacco of the early 2000s. It has extinguished itself perhaps five times already, and been touched up a few others, and even when it remains lit I feel like I must puff more than usual in order to keep it so. I suspect that all this is keeping the coal too hot, and is probably the source of some of the cigar’s strength.

It was about three years later when I next saw Victoria. She had circulated an open invitation to her Facebook friends to come up to her family’s hobby vineyard to help with the annual harvest. I was probably the last person she was expecting to respond, but time had passed and wounds had healed, and when I messaged her to ask if I could come she said “sure.”

It was a big mistake.

In the intervening years, Victoria had given up on ballet, and like every person who gives up on something they love, had gone for the most practical choice possible. She was doing an Information Systems degree. The other takers for this winery invitation were three of her friends from uni, all nineteen-year-old guys. Worst of all, Victoria was clearly smitten with one of them.

Although Victoria and I were the same age, in the eyes of the others she was one of them and I was some random old man. In deference, I was given the front seat on the drive up, and watched jealously in the rear vision mirror as Victoria leaned into her beau far more than was necessary with each bend in the road. Once we had arrived at the farm, the four of them mostly ignored me, leaving me to chat with her brother and parents, while they gossiped about people in their course.

The bedroom we were to share had one bed and a few camping mattresses on the floor. “Victoria should have the bed” I declared, “it’s her place,” but the others we adamant it should be me. One of the guys snored loudly all night – loud enough to keep me awake, but not enough to drown out the sharp intakes of breath, and slurps and squeaks and moans and muffled giggles of Victoria and her guy exchanging furtive caresses on the floor below me.

The final twist of the knife came the next day. I was standing with Victoria and her mum, watching Victoria casually do a few barre exercises on the side of a plastic grape bin.

“Alex changed my life, y’know mum,” She remarked, offhandedly. “When I was in England we used to chat a bit, and he gave me the idea to go into IT. It just seemed like pretty easy work.”

Hoyo de Monterrey Particulares Edición Limitada 2000, mostly burnt

By the three-quarter mark, the strength has faded out of the Particulares, and smoking it is a constant struggle. If I puff on the cigar to keep it lit then the coal will core. When I touch a flame around the edge to burn the wrapper, it will become too hot, and the flavour will be bitter tar. If I leave it a moment to let it cool, the cigar will extinguish itself, and I’ll need to relight it, and the process will begin again. Perhaps a more skilled smoker than I am could get something out of it, but for me it fluctuates between bitterness and tastelessness.

It is 4:45 in the afternoon by the time I finally lay it down, a little over four hours since the flame first touched the foot. It has never really been unpleasant at any point during the journey, but it also has never been easy. With a better wrapper I’d take this over two Epi. 1s, but as it stands it’s only really better for the novelty value.

Hoyo de Monterrey Particulares Edición Limitada 2000 nub

A postscript: Years later, Victoria would wind up marrying Rod Plumber, another from the periphery of the old set (one of the stoners), and as undeserving a doofus as could win a girl like Victoria. Their courtship? She was working as a product manager at IBM, and he was doing a multi-month walking tour down the east coast of the US. He had downtime in the evenings, which coincided with the time when she was bored at work. They did a lot of chatting online.

Hoyo de Monterrey Particulares Edición Limitada 2000 on the Cuban Cigar Website

Hoyo de Monterrey Piramide Edición Limitada 2003

In 2003, when the Hoyo de Monterrey Piramide came into this life, the Edición Limitada program had yet to fully find its feet. Habanos was still releasing five EL cigars a year, one from each of the big marques, and none from the 2003 cohort are remembered especially fondly. The stand out is the Cohiba Double Corona, a cigar for which I have a very soft spot indeed, but even that is deeply overshadowed by the 2004 Sublime when people reminisce about the Cohiba limiteds of yesteryear.

The Hoyo de Monterrey Piramide I have with me today has been badly abused, having spent several weeks rattling around in the bottom of my day-bag, unloved and unhumidified. As a result, it is a bit on the dry side. The wrapper crackles when I roll it between my fingers. Lit, the initial notes are spicy; hay, with a dusty mushroom scent underneath, and most of all tobacco.

As I moved from my mid-twenties into my late-twenties, one by one the great bachelors started to disappear. Where once my weekends had runneth over with parties and card nights and trips to the dog-track, now, more and more, they stood empty. Where once a text sent into the ether on a Saturday night would have immediately discovered a brace of good-ol’-boys at a nearby bar, all delighted to welcome me amongst their number, now any such plea would come back two days later with “sorry mate, fell asleep early,” or “was at dinner with my wife’s family. Hope you had fun.”

Hoyo de Monterrey Piramide Edición Limitada 2003 unlit

And so it came to pass that by my thirtieth birthday I found myself with just a single bachelor friend left. T. Rex and I went back fifteen years, although we’d only been friends for ten. For the first three years I outright hated him. He grew on me through years four and five, before becoming a firm friend around the start of year six. T. Rex was an acquired taste, but also, he’d improved with age.

For the most part T. Rex’s problem was that he wasn’t great at reading a room. When a joke had run its course and everyone had finished laughing, T. Rex would always throw out one more zinger. Other times he’d make a crack that referenced some obscure piece of knowledge, and insist on explaining it at length. There were some landmine subjects that you needed to learn to avoid at all costs with T. Rex, because at the slightest whiff of a segue, he would deliver an insufferable lecture on them (European royal bloodlines were a particular favourite, but there were many, many others). I would get a lot of complaints about him when I invited him to parties.

By the end of my twenties though, T. Rex had sanded most of the corners off his obnoxiousness. Over the preceding half-decade, he had been on a perpetual self-improvement kick. He’d taken intonation lessons to liven up his monotone voice. Singing lessons had given him a karaoke setlist (mostly Chris Isaak, but it was something). He’d been to pick-up classes, and was very good at walking up to girls and saying some stupid shit and then turning that into a conversation. He was able to take them home more often that you’d expect. He was still obsessive and weird, and his room reading still wasn’t great, but he’d learned to go light on the royal bloodlines.

My thirtieth birthday party was sparsely attended, with most of the invitees texting in a last-minute excuse about kids been sick or having had “a hell of a day.” Amidst the rubble, T. Rex and I struck a deal. From now on, there would be no more Saturday nights wasted hanging around our bachelor pads. The great fear of every bachelor, that a routine slip-and-fall will lead to a lonely death and partial consumption by one’s housecat, would be eliminated for one night a week. We had a standing date for Saturday Night Bullshit.

Hoyo de Monterrey Piramide Edición Limitada 2003 somewhat consumed

Halfway through and the Petite Piramide has mellowed out to nothing. If I stoke the coal and blow the smoke out through my nose I can get a slight hit of tobacco spice, but in the normal course of things there is almost no flavour at all. A slight butteriness on the aftertaste. 

It didn’t take long for Saturday evenings to settle into a familiar routine. T. Rex and I would meet at my apartment around eight, wearing tuxedos. We would make ourselves at least three drinks from The Savoy Cocktail Book; classic cocktails, from an age before Midori, when drinks were mostly a question of whether you wanted sweet or dry vermouth in your gin. By about nine thirty we would be ready for some dinner, and would head to a restaurant where the staff, already starting to relax as their last customers finished their desserts, would roll their eyes as we strode through the door. “Table for two!”

After the restaurant, we would head to a bar or two. We liked the karaoke bars, most of which didn’t get busy until later in the evening, so we could get in a song or two without too long a wait. Sometimes we’d try a whisky bar, or whatever new cocktail place had come to our attention. It didn’t matter much. We were just killing time until midnight and last drinks at The Columbia Club.

In Melbourne, everybody knows that the coolest bars are found down alleyways, and The Columbia was down an alley off an alley. It was standing room only, capacity of ten. The staff were always quick to let you know that it was a classic cocktail bar, in the tradition of the 1920s. They didn’t sell vodka, they didn’t sell beer, there was no tequila, and you couldn’t have an anything-and-coke. There was a short menu of the usuals – Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Negroni, Aviation – but once you’d been there a few times you would generally just tell the bartender how you were feeling and they’d make something up for you. Drinks started at $22.

We became fixtures at the place: the guys in the suits who come around midnight. After two months we were exchanging knowing smirks with the bartenders whenever a drunk winced through the Americano they’d given him after denying his request for a rum and coke. After six months or so we were allowed to remain for a little while after closing for a couple of last amari on the house. After a year the bartenders would invite us out to a hospo bar afterwards, the kind of place that doesn’t really get started until bartenders and waitstaff get off work at 3:00am, and where the people would give us puzzled looks of semi-recognition.

Over three years and $15,000 in bar-tabs, T. Rex and I outlived many generations of Columbia bartenders, but as they worked in pairs there was always someone to let the new guy know that we were alright. The first to leave was Andre, a soft-spoken Spanish giant. Next was Henry, a hospitality lifer, who would tell us more than we wanted to know about his struggles with his battle-axe ex-wife, and who eventually left to open a bar even cooler than The Columbia Club (down two alleyways and up a fire-escape). Elsa was a boyish lesbian, who invited us to her art exhibition of nude self-portraits, modelled after ancient Greek athletic paintings, and showing off her impressive musculature. Florence was twenty, and filled with the radiant energy of the newly adult. She only lasted at the bar a few months, but after her departure she invited herself to my home one night, showing up at 11pm on a Wednesday. Together we shared at least twelve drinks, and she talked a lot about her boyfriend, before going home, apparently with no other intentions, an incident that still perplexes me to this day. Longest lasting of all was Rudy, Germain perfectionist, who introduced us to the Last Word and much else besides.

We were the most regular of regulars, and then we skipped a couple of weeks. I had a wedding, T. Rex had a family thing, and when we came back there were two guys behind the bar we had never seen before. “Good evening sirs, have you been here before? We’re just about to call last drinks. Do you know what a classic cocktail is?”

With that, the magic was gone. We’d spent thousands of dollars and endured a lot of hangovers, but in the end we were just two wankers in overstuffed monkey suits. The next week I told T. Rex I was busy while I stayed home, read for a while and went to bed early. The week after was the same, and the week after that. The week after that he stopped calling.

Hoyo de Monterrey Piramide Edición Limitada 2003 burnt just above the bands.

The bands come off the Petit Piramide. The tobacco level is still very light, with a slight vegetal taste, mild tannins, cedar, not much else. Put delicately, the cigar is delicate. A more forthright man might say it was flavourless.

I saw T. Rex just one more time after the end of the Bullshit. It was some years later, and I found myself in a karaoke bar we had been together from time to time. He was seated the corner with half-a-dozen Chinese people, drinking whiskey and green-tea. He wore a salmon pink dinner jacket that I remembered from when it was an immaculately tailored garment worn by a man at his wrestling weight; today he bulged out of it, the sleeves tight around the shoulders, and a roll of white bellyfat visible where his shirt buttons buckled open. Clinging to his side was what I took to be his new girlfriend, her face as flat and broad as the Yangtze floodplain she had so recently departed. I watched him for a while. He didn’t seem to see me. For the most part he just started vacantly in to the middle distance, his expression only interrupted by a grimace every time his girl shouted mandarin into his ear. The closest he came to an emotion was when she tried to feed him cake from a spoon. “No!” He snapped at her. “Too many carbs!”

When his song finally came on, he took the stage and belted it out with the same passion he always had, while his girlfriend vogued behind him, her friends yelling at her to pose for a photo. Finally, he acknowledged her presence, looking right at her as he howled the chorus. “What a wicked game you play” he sang. “To make me feel this way.”

As he left the stage I approached him, and we chatted for a minute. “Nice girl,” I said “been together long?”
   “Oh, six months or so. She’s actually going back to China next week… her visa ran out. I’m going to bring her back on the spouse ticket though… just need a couple of months to sort out the paperwork.”
   “Oh, congrats man. Another one bites the dust. Last of the great bachelors.”

He smiled a vague sort of smile and went back to his table.

A few months later word arrived that T. Rex had passed. He’d slipped while carrying some glassware down the stairs, and bled out on the living room floor. They didn’t find him for more than a week. No word on the housecat.

In 2018 the Hoyo Petite Piramide is probably dead. When great cigars sail beyond the sunset – think an old Lanceros or 1492 – they can become light and delicate. With the tar and bitterness of the tobacco all gone, they reveal new and complex flavours; milk, vanilla, egg white, and honey; notes that would be drowned out in a younger cigar. When lesser puros make the same journey, they can be flat and unpleasant, with ash, old newspaper, and musty attic notes. The Petite Piramide falls somewhere in-between. It’s not unpleasant, but there’s not a lot too it. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em. They aint getting any younger.

Still better than an Epicure No. 1.

Hoyo de Monterrey Piramide Edición Limitada 2003 nub in ashes.

Hoyo de Monterrey Piramide Edición Limitada 2003 on the Cuban Cigar Website

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

Hoyo de Monterrey Monterrey Hoyo de Monterrey Humidor 2004

In each season of The Harem, there is inevitably at least one entry where I smoke a novelty-sized cigar and suffer through a final two hours where afternoon has turned to evening and smoking weather has turned to shit. The Hoyo de Monterrey humidor of 2004 was a series of 500 bland looking boxes in light wood, that would match nicely with your Ikea cabinetry. They were exclusive to La Casa del Habano stores, and any other retailers that cared to order them. The boxes contained 100 cigars, 50 pieces each of a Gran Pirámides and a Diademas. The Pirámides is notable for being an early example of the 57 ring; the Diademas has some history. Named the Monterrey, it is a return of a grand old cigar that was discontinued in the 1980s. Unfortunately, these aren’t wrapped in foil like the old ones were.

I have long contended that the Diademas vitola is not really for smoking. They’re there to admire. Show your friends. Pose for a photo with one clenched between your teeth. Take a moment to appreciate the skill it takes to roll something like that. But leave it at that. Nobody really needs to spend four hours smoking the one cigar.

Hoyo de Monterrey Monterrey unlit.

Like all Diademas, when I light the Monterrey it begins very smooth, the cool smoke well filtered by nine inches of leaf betwixt coal and lip. There is the slightest cinnamon note, and a grain or two of sugar. Somewhere in there is a hint of tobacco, of coffee, and the lactic edge of cream. In order to make these cigars bearable, they need to roll the foot with the lightest leaves they can find as all the tar from the journey will build up in the head. If they were to use a stronger leaf at the foot, the final few inches would be unbearable.

I was thirty-three years old in the year I attended Ted’s twenty-second birthday party. Ted (born Téodor) was a friend from work; my opposite number in a business that shared our offices. We were similar personality types, both nerds with a taste for degeneracy, and had bonded over coding computers and getting lit. At work, our age difference wasn’t normally a factor. We were colleagues, and related as such. At the party though, it was being thrown into stark relief. The room was full of people ten and fifteen years my junior. The music was loud and unfamiliar. Drug use was abundant, and the way the reckless youth were making a mess of somebody’s parents’ house was causing a lot of tension in my homeowner’s stomach. People were leaving marks that weren’t going to come out. I hadn’t seen even one coaster.

My case of impostor syndrome was terminal, and I found a couch in the darkest, quietest corner with the only other middle-aged man in the place. We were discussing the merits of variable vs fixed-term interest rates when Beatrice presented herself before us.

She was five-foot-ten wearing a four-inch skirt and a singlet top. The couch we were on was badly collapsed, and slumped in it, we were at eye-level with her kneecaps. Strawberry blonde, with a button nose and bee-stung lips, I would later learn that she was a model. At that moment she was only a humiliating manifestation of our departed youth.

“Get up.” She said, “I can fix those cushions for you.”

We hauled ourselves from the pit, and watched as she scrabbled about on all fours, vigorously plumping the cushions and adjusting the covers until the couch stood firm and erect.

“Jesus Christ” I muttered under my breath as she flounced back into the crowd. “So that’s how they’re making them these days.”
“You know who that is?” my sofa-mate replied. “That’s Beatrice. That’s Ted’s kid sister. Nineteen years old.”

Six months later, the workplace that Ted and I shared organised a trade mission to Silicon Valley. Five days. Ten tech entrepreneurs, along with a couple of dozen public servants and academics would be touring campuses, attending talks, eating free lunches, and networking with whatever Valley barnacles they could scrape up for something like this. A proper junket.

I checked into the hotel and, already in full junket mode, headed down to the lobby bar to get a head start on the cocktail meet-and-greet. There, playing with her phone next to a pile of Autumnal gourds (it was November), was Beatrice.

I sipped my beer in a nearby lounge chair and contemplated her a while. She glanced at me a few times, but if she recognised me she gave no indication. Eventually her brother materialised.
     “Hey man, how’s it going? Have you met my sister before? She’s going to stay with me for a couple of days. Free hotel, right?”

Hoyo de Monterrey Monterrey, two thirds remaining.

As the Monterrey crests its widest point, it becomes a little bitter for a moment, with full notes of roasted coffee. The upsurge soon passes, and the cigar slips back into the mild range. The coffee note is still present, now more cappuccino than espresso, with cream and vanilla bean joining it. The day is sunlit and lazy, and ninety minutes in, the novelty cigar is turning out to be really very enjoyable.

Ted was by far the youngest of the entrepreneur contingent, with the others ranging from late twenties to early forties. The academics and journalists were in their fifties and sixties. It was the standard demographics of a tech convention. Ninety percent men. One-hundred percent nerds.

Beatrice mostly sat out the lectures and the campus tours, but she joined us for our nightly bar-crawls, and was the source of many raised eyebrows. She had a fake ID, liked to drink, liked to smoke, and wasn’t afraid of shots. She also wasn’t shy about arguing, and didn’t have a lot of respect for the corporate hierarchy. For her nineteen years, she’d lived a life, and had some very bawdy stories to share.

When she and Ted weren’t present, the gossip often turned to Beatrice. One night a few of us were having a nightcap back in the room, when someone pulled out a phone. “Check this out guys. Have you seen her Instagram?”

It was what you’d expect from a 19-year-old model. Pages and pages of cheesecake shots in lingerie, sheer tops and glamour nudes. A lot of pictures of her butt. “Huh,” Luuk, a dutchman, observed. “She has a nipple piercing.”

When it comes down to it, Palo Alto is a very small town. The downtown strip has only four bars, and three of them close at eleven. Every night of the junket saw us propping up the bar in one that says open late, and every night we would have a run-in there with one or other character of the valley: senior executives from Samsung Korea, drunk and very merry; Stanford AI researches who’d just got a big grant; and briefly Ariel Zuckerberg, who looks exactly like her brother. It wasn’t until the forth night though that we had our most memorable encounter.

It was about 9:30pm. Luuk, Geoff and I were in a western saloon themed bar. Ted and Beatrice had been out front having a smoke, and returned, full of laughter. Some guy and his girlfriend, they told us, had been getting into a BMW i8 outside the bar. “Nice car,” Ted had remarked. “Nice girlfriend.” The guy had retorted. “She’s my sister,” Ted had yelled as the guy peeled out. He’d found the exchange highly amusing. Beatrice substantially less so.

Twenty minutes later the guy, having dropped his date off, walked into the bar and seated himself at our table. He was built like a thug, bald and heavyset. His name was Nathan. He was as big an arsehole as has ever been found on this earth. “Sorry about that guys” he said to Ted and Beatrice, by way of an introduction. “I should have noticed you looked pretty similar. I was on a Tinder date with some stuck-up boring bitch. I thought she was a hippy chick, that’s why I brought the electric i8, but she was just some dumb gold digger. I should have brought my McLaren.” Three minutes later he told us he was employee number 41 at Google. “Yeah, y’know, it’s sad,” he reflected. “Google really changed after the IPO… all us early guys got over a hundred million, and people changed.” He flashed his AMEX black card about minute ten. “Yeah, this is the plastic one… y’know, they give you a metal one as well with it, but it doesn’t fit in the machines, you just use it to impress waitresses.” At minute fifteen he showed us the pictures of him as an MMA fighter. “Yeah, I had a few fights. Dana said I could have gone all the way in the UFC, but you never know with that shit. One bad hit and you’ve got brain damage. Venture capital is just more fun.”

In the start-up jungle the apex predator is the venture capitalist. VCs can make companies, and they can break companies, and so each of us kowtowed to this arsehole unremittingly. One by one, he had us give our pitches, the little spiels about our businesses. One by one we were rewarded by the ceremonial presentation of his business card. My own subjugation came when I asked about his car and he took me out to have a look. For a couple of minutes we were just two guys admiring some exotic iron. He opened the scissor doors and had me sit in the driver’s seat. Gave me the spiel about how it was the pre-production version, and how that meant it was better than the one most people had. As we walked back into the bar he announced loudly “Alex just blew me in the car. Dude could suck-start a lawnmower.” I smiled weakly and said nothing.

Most of all, he was boorish to the women. He complimented the waitress on her arse repeatedly. She smiled along, with a deer in the headlights look. They work for tips in America. He told Beatrice she was hot at least a hundred times, interrupting every anecdote she told with lines like “because you’re so fucking hot”. When she turned down a drink saying “I’m fine,” his response was instant. “Oh, I know you’re fine. But would you like a drink?”

When Nathan went to the bathroom the table was split. Luuk, Ted and Beatrice were livid. “This guy is the biggest arsehole I’ve ever met in my life” Beatrice hissed. “If he says one more thing to me I’m going to throw my drink in his face.” Geoff was pragmatic. “It’s just how this town works” he said. “This guy can open a lot of doors for us. You just need to put up with it.” For my own part, I was entertained. “Yeah, this guy is a huge dick” I said, “but don’t you want to see where it goes?”

The others left, and Geoff and I remained. Nathan was disappointed, but was up for the late-night bar. It was around 200m away, but he insisted on driving, somehow managing to break the speed limit in a block and a half. He parked illegally right outside the door. Bouncers in America ask for ID from people obviously decades older than legal drinking age, and sure enough they stopped us on entry. He thumbed at the car. “That’s my ID.” They let us in.

In the bar we did a couple of Fernet shots, and Nathan buttonholed me. “Man, that chick was so fuckin hot. You know her well?”
    “Beatrice? Ah, well, she’s Ted’s sister, she’s a model, she’s a student, she’s nineteen.”
    “Ah, so that’s why! Nineteen! Too young to be impressed by money. Give her a couple of years, she’ll come around. You got any pictures?”

I laughed. “You should see her fuckin Instagram though.” I fumbled with my phone for a few minutes, but couldn’t get it up.

“That’s fine” he said. “You send me it tomorrow.”

The next day, ever the networker, I sent him an email.

G’day Nathan,

Great meeting you last night – let me know if you ever get down Australia way and we’ll do it again.

In the meantime, my business partner will be in Palo Alto in a couple of months and I’d love to hook you guys up.

The response made it clear that this was a transactional matter.

Nice meeting you to, bro. Sounds good. Don’t forget to send those pictures of that girl.

It was a clear moral test. Here I was, a humble bonobo, with a chance to curry the favour of an apex predator. And yet, for all her bluster, Beatrice was a sweet young girl; she didn’t need me to invite some Silicon Valley creep into her life. In the end I took the high road. My follow up email politely ignored his picture request. There was no reply.

And later I heard that he found her Insta anyway and sent her a bunch of creepy messages, so I guess it all boils out in the wash.

Hoyo de Monterrey Monterrey, final quarter.

The final third, thickened with the bitumen of a double corona’s worth of tobacco, is punchy and bitter. Coffee and chocolate. 95% cocoa. Some salt. Somehow, it manages to avoid the acrid tar taste, and I take it right the way to the nub.

Perhaps the most notable thing throughout this entire experience has been the absence of cedar, usually the predominant trait of Hoyo de Monterrey, along with a general blandness. Perhaps the Diademas vitola, whose very nature dictates a mild beginning and a punchy end, and forces a bit of character into even the most milquetoast of cigars, suits the HdM profile well.

An excellent cigar, nonetheless. Well worth the time. And much better than an Epicure No. 1.

Hoyo de Monterrey Monterrey, nub and ashes.

Hoyo de Monterrey Monterrey Hoyo de Monterrey Humidor 2004 on the Cuban Cigar Website.