H. Upmann Connossieur A Habanos Specialist Exclusive 2013

The H. Upmann Connossieur A was the 2013 entry in the Habanos Specialist Exclusives program; it’s not entirely clear what criteria qualify a store as a Habanos Specialist, although I suppose the idea of the program is that it’s a slightly broader version of the similar La Casa del Habano exclusives. In reality, cigars from both programs seem to be available to any store that has the wherewithal to order them from their distributor. The misspelling of “connoisseur” is apparently deliberate, or at least it’s consistent across the band, box, ribbon, and all of Habanos S.A.’s press releases. Why they chose this spelling for this release, and the correct spelling for the Connoisseur No. 1 has never been adequately explained: a cynical mind might speculate that perhaps they wrote it down wrong when they commissioned the bands, and in a display of good Cuban frugality, decided to just roll with it rather than scrap the run.

H. Upmann Connossieur A Habanos Specialist Exclusive 2013 unlit

I open the end with a fingernail and test the draw: classic Cuban, just firm enough that you feel it. Once lit it has a nice nutty, grassy beginning, with light, slightly floral tobacco. It thickens up quickly, and by an inch in the cigar has become quite strong – much stronger certainly than I was expecting from the first mild puffs, the taste now being rich tobacco and fresh-turned earth. It’s not totally typical of Upmann, but very pleasant nonetheless. A few millimetres further on and some cream enters the mix.

In Cuba, years ago, I lingered for a few days in a town called Trinidad, a well preserved colonial tourist trap a few hours from Havana. I was travelling with my friend Andre, and he had read in a guidebook that there were precisely two things to do at night in Trinidad: the La Casa del Musica, an outdoor live music venue in the centre of town, and some kind of nightclub in a cave in the hills just outside it. We had arrived in the late afternoon in the back of a beaten up Lada taxicab driven by two Cuban youths, who kept the tachometer needle firmly in the red at all times, save for the occasional moment when they would slam on the breaks to blow kisses at a comely female hitch-hiker. Tired from the journey, we decided that for night one we’d go with the quieter option, and so headed to La Casa.

The stage was at the bottom of a set of steps from which a crowd of forty or so tourists watched spirited renditions of Guantanamera and all the usual Cuban favourites. We joined them, and after a short while a heavily pregnant and decidedly rabid looking Dachshund stray weaved its way through the line of foreign ankles to us. I went to shoo it away, but Andre, ever the soft hearted dog lover, picked the thing up, put it in his lap, and began to feed it chips. I was just starting the process of chastising him, saying he was sure to catch rabies, or at least fleas, when I noticed that two female faces were leaning forward to look at us from a few seats down the aisle. At a break in the music they sidled over, a gorgeous blonde in her twenties who said she was Argentinian (although from her Aryan appearance I’d say her family had probably emigrated there around 1945), and a Cuban girl in her mid-teens, short and square, but with a cute enough face, made only more attractive by her fine, black moustache. After complimenting us on our dog, the girls suggested that we all head for the nightclub, and energised by the fragrance of foreign feminine pheromones, we instantly agreed.

The way to the club was a short hike up a rocky path through a graveyard and past a tumble down church, and as is natural with groups of people, we fell into two couples, Andre and the Cuban girl up front, and myself and the Argentine behind, each making idle chatter, getting to know one another. The disco was indeed in a cave, entered via a steep set of stairs and a long tunnel with walls worn smooth and waxy by the curious caress of a million tourists. The dance-floor itself was the only obvious construction, a flattened artificial floor laid beneath a soaring ceiling covered in stalactites. We found ourselves a table near the edge, ordered a round of mojitos, and lifted them in toast to our success: to unique atmosphere, the company of charming strangers, and to the Cuban night in general.

H. Upmann Connossieur A Habanos Specialist Exclusive 2013 two thirds remain

At the mid-point the cigar is very mild and crisply herbal, with an unusually white ash for a cigar of this age. With about two inches to go it takes on a sweet herbal characteristic reminiscent of cloves and dessert spices.

We weren’t seated long before Andre’s partner dragged him to the dance floor, and quickly began to gyrate lasciviously against his more or less motionless form. Still in my early twenties and a native son of Australia (one of the world’s least rhythmic countries), I was not much of one for dancing. My typical move was a sort of arrhythmic shuffle: I would shift my weight from foot to foot and shake my shoulders back and forth occasionally, my arms hanging like salamis in a butcher’s window. Still, the thing that was happening against Andre’s crotch looked like a lot of fun to me, so I offered the Argentine my hand, and led her to the floor.

She may have been from Bavarian stock, but this girl was no Schuhplattler dancer: no, her moves came straight out of a Buenos Aires tango club. Grinning, she took my hand and pressed her lithe form against me, and I watched her smile fade as I nervously giggled and shuffled and attempted some ridiculous impersonation of a waltz. Soon she released me and took a step back, and as soon as she did an oiled Cuban lothario in tight pants and a shirt unbuttoned to his navel stepped in, taking her authoritatively within his personal space as he dipped and spun and thrust himself against her. Emasculated, I shuffled a few minutes more, before heading back to the table and sulking, looking on in increasing despair as first the Argentinian, and then Andre, began to make out with their native counterpart. Dejected, I finished my drink and headed back to the hotel alone.

I didn’t see a lot of Andre over the next few days: he came home at six in the morning that night, and disappeared immediately upon rising in the mid-afternoon sometime, and kept similar hours the next day. I wandered the streets alone, and read a good deal of War and Peace in a local park. Trinidad is a tiny place, and more than once I saw the Argentinian reading a book or writing in her diary in a café, but we didn’t acknowledge one another.

On our fourth and final day in Trinidad, Andre joined me for breakfast and informed me that we had an invitation to his girl’s house for lunch, and told me where to find it (we had bus tickets departing in the early evening). I prodded him for details of his activities over the last few days, but he wasn’t forthcoming, and disappeared immediately after breakfast. I took my final walk around the town, and at the appointed hour found the address I was given, a ramshackle but charming colonial house on the outskirts of town. I knocked, and was greeted at the door by bare chested Cuban man with a large, hairy belly. He regarded me for a minute before bellowing “Alejandro!” as if I were an old friend, slapping me on the back, and escorting me into the house, where I found Andre taking tea with the Cuban girl and her mother in the airy dining room.

We were served a fine meal of pork and rice, although the conversation was entirely in Spanish (Andre’s Spanish, which had previously consisted only of four years’ worth of Italian classes, seemed to have improved markedly over the last few days), and I was never able to really divine what relationship these people thought we had with their teenage daughter. After the meal the father (whose name was Mario, it turned out) took us into the backyard and showed us his pig, a massive sow lying on her side in a muddy pen. She showed no interest in us, so he threw rocks at her until she squealed, hauled herself upright and trotted over to receive an apple.

When it was time to go the daughter walked us out alone, and after one last passionate embrace, slipped Andre an envelope. He opened it on the bus: it contained an airbrushed glamour photo of her dressed as a Southern belle; hooped skirts, bonnet, parasol, moustache and all.

H. Upmann Connossieur A Habanos Specialist Exclusive 2013 final third

When the burn reaches the wide band I remove it, and unfortunately damage the wrapper in the process. From that point on the cigar begins to unravel, and I cannot cool the burn. It becomes bitter, and tar filled, and any nuance is lost. An unfortunate end to a fine cigar, but nevertheless this was a fine, mid-level smoke that is decidedly better than an H. Upmann Petit Coronas.

H. Upmann Connossieur A Habanos Specialist Exclusive 2013 nub

H. Upmann Connossieur A Habanos Specialist Exclusive 2013 on the Cuban Cigar Website.

H. Upmann Magnum 50

The H. Upmann Magnum 50 first appeared in 2005 as an Edición Limitada, and in 2008 it made the rare leap into general release. The cigar I have with me today is the penultimate single from a box I purchased in 2009, on the recommendation of a merchant who proclaimed them to be “fantastic right now.” He was right, as twenty three of this cigar’s incinerated sisters can attest; they’ve never let me down once.

H. Upmann Magnum 50 unlit

Upon ignition the very first notes are harsh and bitter, asphalt and burning plastic. It takes a little longer than usual – almost a centimetre of cigar – for the bitterness to depart, and a delicate, creamy, light tobacco flavour to emerge. Some grass. Very nice.

I’ve made myself a cheeky Pimm’s Cup to go, that resembles nothing so much as the glass jar of tea leaves that every Chinese construction worker has slung from his belt at all times. Well, I say Pimm’s Cup – it’s really a very poor rendering of the drink: a few shots of Pimm’s, a tray of ice, half an orange (sliced), a few dashes of ginger syrup, and topped up with ginger beer. If I lived in a home with a better equipped refrigerator it would also contain lemonade, strawberries, and most critically, cucumber, but alas, it isn’t to be. The cucumber is key. It gives it the ‘fresh’ taste.

H. Upmann Magnum 50, two thirds left

At the midpoint the cigar has thickened slightly to medium tobacco with a light spice, and a nutty sort of undercurrent of almonds and the occasional cashew. An element of cream still remains.

As long as I’ve been a drinker I’ve always been a bit of a Pimm’s man: there’s nothing finer on a summer’s afternoon. Back in the day when we were insecure nineteen year olds I would get a lot of funny looks when I would show up with a bottle; it was widely considered to be a drink for old ladies, and was certainly the antithesis of the masculinity that our standard drink of the day – the warm Victoria Bitter tinny – represented. Once I poured out a few cups though it wouldn’t take too long before we were all sipping Pimm’s in the sun and having a gay old time.

I had one bad experience on the stuff. I was in my mid-twenties, and was invited to spend the afternoon at a friend-of-a-friend’s place, the pre-party to a house party elsewhere that evening. I arrived my customary two hours late, Pimm’s bottle in hand, and found only two other guests in the place. I knew my host only a little, and his friends not at all, and I quickly found myself on the outer as they reminisced about old times to which I had nothing to contribute. My lips unoccupied with conversation, they occupied themselves with sipping, and Pimm’s sips very easy. By the time my friends arrived, which was more or less when everyone was getting ready to move to the house party, I had gotten myself on the outside of more or less the entire bottle.

The party was banging, with a hundred or so people, all in elaborate costume. It was centred on the lounge room where a DJ was laying it down for a packed, sweaty dance floor. I wasn’t really in a dancing mood, and it was much too loud for much chit chat, so I was just sort of standing in the centre of the dance floor, perhaps tapping my toe enough to seem appreciative. I finished the final slug of my current cup – there was just a little swill left in the bottle, perhaps enough for one more – and glanced over to the stairs where my bag (and bottle) was stashed. Crouched on the landing overlooking the room, and focusing a hefty digital SLR, was a boy dressed as Wally (Waldo, American readers). He seemed to be focusing it directly on me, and so without much thought, I tossed my now empty plastic cup at him. He gave me the finger and I laughed.

A few minutes later I retrieved my bottle and made the final Pimm’s cup before returning to the dance floor. I stood around a while longer tapping my toe, and again my unoccupied lips made short work of the elixir. Ten minutes later I tossed back the last mouthful, glanced around the room, and, spotting Wally over by the kitchen counter, I tossed my cup in a fine ballistic arc, right into the side of his head. Furious, he marched straight over. “What the fuck is your problem?” he demanded. I didn’t have much of an answer, so I shoved him, and when he shoved me back I tried to throw a head-butt. I messed it up, and some people pulled us apart, told me I was being an arsehole and bundled me quickly into a cab.

“What was I doing” I asked myself in the clear light of the morning after the night before. I think at the time I thought I was being funny, but in retrospect, it was pretty obvious: I was trying to start a fight, something I have never done before or since. What a liquor to bring out your fighting drunk! Pimm’s! The Queen drinks Pimm’s (although if she’s not a bit of a rowdy behind closed doors I don’t know who is). Not whiskey nor tequila, not vodka nor absinth, not bathtub gin, nor any other liquor exclusively designed to make you unafraid of the police, no, for me, the one elixir that can turn me into an animal, is a Pimm’s No. 1 Cup. These days I treat it with respect.

H. Upmann Magnum 50, final third

Towards the end the cigar has comes to full, spicy tobacco and rough, mildly bitter tar. A bit of a breeze has picked up and I think it’s burning too hot. I put it on the seat in my lee in the hope that it will cool down a little, and sure enough it does, ending with a very crisp, clean, full tobacco and light straw.

A fine, but not earth shattering cigar; better than a Petite Coronas but worse than a Mag 48, it falls somewhere in the middle of the Upmann line.

H. Upmann Magnum 50 nub

H. Upmann Magnum 50 on the Cuban Cigar Website.

H. Upmann Robustos 520 Aniversario

It is mid-December, and although I am on holidays, today was supposed to be a work day. I have things to do! Errands to run! A life does not maintain itself! Some days, however, are made for cigars, and this is one of them: not a cloud in the sky, the gentlest of breezes, mid-20s in the shade. The call of the leaf was irresistible.

2012 was the year Habanos chose to mark the 520th anniversary of tobacco coming to the new world, and they celebrated in fine style with the Montecristo 520, the excellent Edición Limitada of that year. That cigar, however, was not the only dusky beauty to commemorate the event: there was another, much more obscure commemorative skulking in the shadows: the H. Upmann 520 Robusto. An extremely unusual release, treading the line between a legitimate member of the Habanos catalogue and an under the counter custom put out by an unscrupulous factory manager to value add some of his stock, the Upmann 520 Robusto was available only at the Habanos festival in the form of 1,000 dark varnished 10 count boxes. I can only think of one precedent: the legendary Habanos 2000 festival boxes (more on those later). Of course, in 2012 there was also an H. Upmann robusto released as a ‘standard’ Edición Limitada, which raises the real question of the day: is the Upmann 520 robusto an undiscovered legend, a rare cockatrice lurking in plain sight as a Habanos Festival value-add, or is it just an EL with an alternative band? Only in flame is there truth.

H. Upmann Robustos 520 Aniversario unlit

The first puffs are bitter, a sign of perhaps a few moments too long in the dry box, but it quickly loses its edge and settles into light tobacco with a grassy flavour over light herbs and Christmas spices; nutmeg, cinnamon and so on. Really very pleasant.

Once I had committed myself to setting aside my labours and spending the afternoon at smoke, it only followed that I would also get myself a little toasted. Toward that end, I’ve mixed myself an Old Fashioned cocktail, which is about as nice a way as I know to consume a glass of whiskey (the Mint Julep being the other obvious contender). I’m using pretty mediocre whiskey in Jim Beam Rye, which, although of a considerably higher standard than their bourbon, is nonetheless very much distilled to a price point. The thing that makes it though, is the Fee Brothers barrel aged bitters. The one I am using is a limited edition product in its own right, celebrating 150 years and four generations of Fees, but honestly I can’t tell the difference between this and the regular stuff, which is always exceptional. If aromatic bitters figure in your life, and those bitters are currently a decade old bottle of Angostura, it is imperative that you track down a bottle of Fee brothers: one sniff and you will never look back. It’ll cost you twice as much, but as bitters are typically a product that passes from one generation to the next, you can afford to invest the extra ten dollars. After whiskey, bitters and ice the drink is just a little sugar, a twist of lemon, and a maraschino cherry. Only trust a person that has a half empty jar of maraschino cherries in their fridge: if they have no jar at all then they’re plainly too square for your time, if they have an empty jar then they are definitely an alcoholic bounder.

H. Upmann Robustos 520 Aniversario, one third smoked, with a Jim Beam Rye

At the mid-point the cigar is very dry. The tobacco is still light, with a grassy flavour, and a hint of umami – mushroom or soya bean. There is still a mild spice on the tip of the tongue. At this point I think I can rule out legendary, but it is definitely in the upper echelon of excellent.

The courtyard I am in is mainly gravel and throughout the entire time I have been sitting here, which is more than an hour at this point, I have been listening to the rhythmic sound of rocks being rearranged, like there is a monk just out of view who is quietly raking a pattern into the stones. More accurately, it is the exact sound I woke up to each morning during a week I spent in Singapore, where the asphalt car park outside my window was constantly being swept with a hard bamboo broom. Finally, the culprit has come into view: a large black bird is hunting through the stones along the edge of a garden bed with his beak. He is moving systematically, and while it’s not clear exactly what he’s looking for (he certainly doesn’t seem to be finding it), I can see exactly where he has looked: nearly twenty meters of uninterrupted, arrow straight path stretch all the way back to the car-park entrance, the stones dislodged in two neat rows.

H. Upmann Robustos 520 Aniversario, an inch left, with a Fee Brother's Bitters

Toward the end the cigar thickens to mid-tobacco, and the mushroom takes over, a full, vibrant shiitake, pan fried with a little butter. As I move into the nub it never grows bitter. A little tart, maybe. Thick tobacco over dry earth. My drink is finished, but I’m saving the cherry until the cigar is done. A little dessert to cleanse the pallet. The sun is gone, but the warm air remains. Sometimes life is not so bad.

Overall, the H. Upmann 520 Aniversario Robusto is an excellent cigar: not a legend, but extremely good, sitting somewhere in the upper echelon of Upmann exotics. The real revelation is this: it’s definitely not the same cigar as the 2012 Edición Limitada Robusto, and for my money, I don’t think it’s quite as good. Close though. EL by a nose. Photo finish. It’s definitely a damn sight better than the Petite Corona.

H. Upmann Robustos 520 Aniversario nub

H. Upmann Robustos 520 Aniversario on the Cuban Cigar Website.

H. Upmann Robusto Edición Limitada 2012

There are certain voices in the cigar aficionado community that loudly decry the Edición Limitada series, and particularly their trademark dark wrappers, which they (the aficionados) contend make them (the cigars) all taste the same. Perhaps as the years go by and the Harem begins to develop strong horizontals (reviews of every cigar produced in a particular year) in addition to its verticals (every cigar produced in a particular brand), I will be able to provide a conclusive position on one side or the other, however, for the moment I must content myself that for all their faults, the EL wrappers look gorgeous, and the 2012 H. Upmann Robusto is no exception: dark and rich and smooth, a fine cylinder of the best ebony.

The first notes are spicy, hot on the tongue. There is a strength here, full tobacco, and rich aromatic saddle leather. Once it settles down a bit there is a hint of cocoa and Mexican black bean. Within the first centimetre or so the thick umami of shiitake mushrooms emerges. This is shaping up to be something special.

H. Upmann Robusto Edición Limitada 2012 unlit

Like most young men I have occasionally found myself in love, and like all young men in love, I have occasionally found myself heartbroken. It was London in July and she was gone. The whole damn city stank of her, her perfume oozing out of the Underground, that oppressive womb that worms beneath the old town, and permeating the streets and parks and most of all my room beneath the stairs in a Paddington flophouse. I had once found that smell so comforting: six months earlier and a continent away I used to place a scarf she’d worn on my pillow, so that her scent and my dreams of our future together could lull me to sleep. Now it sickened me. There was a serpent in my stomach and a boulder on my shoulders. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t think. The galleries and museums held nothing for me, so I just wandered the streets aimlessly day and night. My beard was growing out, but I spent an hour or more each day lying face down on the shower floor, so at least I was clean. When I went to a pharmacist and asked for something to settle my stomach she tried to nail me down on symptoms.
“Is it acid?” she asked. “Or gas? Perhaps a virus?”
“No, no” I replied. “It’s just love.”
She didn’t have a pill for that.

Eventually I split for Paris, taking rooms across from the Gare du Sud, and in a nearby café I managed my first food in a week, a pain au chocolat. Everything in Paris was an improvement: the wine was cheaper, the weather warmer, the food better, and her smell was drowned out by the cheese shops and the garbage heaps. During the day I was largely cured, but at night, once the shadows lengthened in the narrow streets, I found the City of Lights to be haunted by an altogether different ghost, and my malaise returned. Running low on options I took the only logical step: I headed for Disneyland.

About an hour on the train from central Paris, Eurodisney, or Disneyland Paris as it is known these days, is among the least of the world’s Magic Kingdoms. The problem is that the French just don’t take things as seriously as the Americans (or the Japanese for that matter). My ticket was dispensed with the same sneer that accompanies most acts of customer service in France, and while the waitress who told me that the register was broken and that I wouldn’t be able to eat at the Lone Star Saloon that day was certainly flummoxed by her predicament, she was also totally unapologetic. At no point did anybody take the time to wish me a magical day.

I’ve never quite understood what children see in Disneyland, and honestly, the place would be vastly improved without them. For children a day there is about seven hours of standing in lines screaming and an hour or so of riding rides. To a solo adult rider like me though it’s not such a bad time. I take a book to read while standing in the lines, which are usually shorter because I’m alone and can fill in the empty seat next to a group of three. The food is good, and they sell beer. I enjoy the nuances of the design of the place, the little details and jokes hidden in every ride, and I like to try and spot the concealed doors and functional elements that make the whole place work. There is a special atmosphere in Disneyland that you don’t find anywhere else on earth; perhaps it’s because of the constant subtle background music, or the unrelenting attention to detail, or maybe it’s the chemicals they pump out into the air, but the unreality of the place just makes me feel happy. It’s the perfect destination for the heartbroken.

At around 9:30 they had the parade, and at 10:00 the fireworks, and after that the Galician peasantry began to thin considerably. I always save my favourite ride, Space Mountain, until last, and after 10:00 there are not even enough passengers to fill one shuttle, so you can ride it several times without disembarking. If you close your eyes while you’re in the lobby they adjust enough to the dark of the ride that you can see the track and maintenance gantries. With my final ride complete, I took one last lap of the park and grabbed a crepe in Main Street. The midnight parade was just wrapping up, so I lingered a moment to admire the French Jasmine and Ariel, before finally calling it a day, cramming my mouse ears into my pocket, and heading for the train station.

The station was totally dark, the doors locked, and a sign in French indicated that there hadn’t been a train here for some time. I considered my options. There were a row of taxis parked in the nearby plaza, but across the way a group of people were waiting at what appeared to be a bus terminal, and loath to fork out the taxi fare all the way back to Paris, I wandered over there. I inspected the signs thoroughly as several buses came and went, but did not find in any of them a destination I recognised. Finally one arrived that had a picture that looked remotely like a train on it, and the name of a station I thought I remembered passing through on the journey up. “Ah” I thought “I’ll go there. The trains must only run all the way to Disney until a certain hour, after which they stop part way up the line and this bus connects you.”

I handed the bus driver a 10 euro note, and when he asked me something replied “le gare… fin… le fin gare.” He looked at me with contempt, but handed over eight euro or so in change. The route meandered through the dark streets of the Parisian suburbs slowly, stopping regularly to let off another of my ten or so fellow passengers, and I became increasingly anxious as it became clear that this was not the popular and direct bus to the station that I had anticipated. Finally I was the only passenger left, and the bus driver began to drive quicker, everything dark outside. Eventually he stopped and open the door. “Fin” He yelled “Out.” He barely waited for me to alight before speeding off.

I considered my surroundings. A single fluorescent light flickered above a hard bench in the bus shelter, which was situated in the centre of a giant, empty parking lot. Off in the distance was a building that I presumed to be the station and a few shops, all unlit and plainly closed. I listened for some sound of humanity, but found nothing. No voices. No passing cars. No busy roads. Nothing. I checked my phone. No data. I sat on the bench and contemplated my options. As I saw it they were twofold, and neither was much good: I could wander randomly out into the night and hope that I found a taxi or kindly citizen before a gang of French street toughs, or I could sleep on this bench. I spent the next twenty minutes composing a text message to my two nearest friends, one across the channel in Bristol, the other in Berlin. They both began the same way: “I’m fucked.”

H. Upmann Robusto Edición Limitada 2012 two thirds remain

At the midpoint the cigar is thick and earthy, with rich dirty espresso and cocoa bean. A bit of a squalling breeze has sprung up, and despite spending its time between puffs in my lee, in a fort I have made for it with my jacket, I am unable to stop the cigar burning a little hot. If anything, this cigar seems a little young: five more years are needed to take the edge from the richness. I’m sipping on a lukewarm Coca-Cola, whose cloying sweetness surely dulls my palette, but nonetheless takes out the hint of bitterness in the cigar. Cocoa is okay on its own, but you don’t get chocolate until you add a little sugar.

I was still sitting on that bench, contemplating my dubious future, when out of the dark, softly at first, but growing closer, came a sweet siren song: the lilting laughter of American girls. They emerged from the darkness and sat down on the bench next to me, two blondes in their early twenties, and two swarthy Frenchmen, all dressed for a night on the town, and passing around a bottle of vodka. They paid me no heed, but I didn’t mind: wherever they were going, I was going, and where they were going there would be people and light and noise and probably buses, or at least taxis. Soon a bus came, and we all embarked. I let them get on first, and when the bus driver asked where to I casually pointed at them and nodded, as if to say “same place as them, we’re all together.”

Again the bus meandered through the darkened streets, this time picking up passengers as it went along; most were young and dressed for dancing. Finally we reached our destination, and all piled off, one happy crowd. With a smirk I glanced around the plaza, recognising it instantly. We were at Disneyland.

I followed my young friends as they stashed their vodka bottle in some bushes and joined the thickening crowd of young people that were all streaming, not toward the main, closed entrance to the park, but to an auxiliary area of shops and restaurants on one side, and a western themed bar within. The place was packed with kids, young, good looking, and largely Americans. I thought I recognised the flummoxed waitress from lunch. It was almost two in the morning, but the party was just getting started, people dancing, hooking up. “This ain’t so bad” I thought to myself, “and the taxis outside aren’t going anywhere. I might as well have a beer.”

The crowd at the bar was five wide and three deep, so I waited politely for a while, slowly making my way to the front. Almost everyone was flashing an ID card or something, some kind of discount card, I presumed. I reached the head of the queue, and stood there for ten minutes while it became plain that I was being ignored, so I began leaning further and further over the bar, waving at the bartender. Eventually he begrudgingly came over. I ordered a Corona, and he banged it down with a lot of contempt, even for a French bartender.

I did a lap and found a nook from which I could watch the girls dance without making too big a spectacle of myself, and was about halfway through the beer when I saw the bouncers coming for me, two burly men who took the drink out of my hand, put an arm around my shoulders and escorted me to the door.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“No,” he replied. “Disney party. Disney staff only.”
“I’m Disney” I protested. “I.T.”
He smirked at me and stroked his face. “Your beard.”

Defeated, I stole the bottle of vodka from the bushes and headed to the taxi stand. The drivers laughed when I said I wanted to go to Paris, but eventually I found one who would do it. 100€.

The next day I looked it up. All Disney staff must comply with the Disney Look, and facial hair is strictly forbidden.

H. Upmann Robusto Edición Limitada 2012 half remaining

The cigar ends surprisingly well, without any real bitterness: in a rich little bomb like this you expect a certain bitter tar finish, but no, this one ends very smoothly with a deep, rich, coffee note. As always, I take it till I burn my fingers, and only in the very final puffs do I feel a need to spit. It’s a great cigar right now, and is better than the travel humidor and the Royal Robusto, and in a whole other league to the Petite Corona, and think it will be better still in a few years’ time. Does it edge out the Magnum 48? Yes, I’m inclined to think it does. Nice work, Upmann brothers.

H. Upmann Robusto Edición Limitada 2012 nub

H. Upmann Robustos Edición Limitada 2012 on the Cuban Cigar Website

H. Upmann Royal Robusto La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2011

The second Upmann Robusto is not really a robusto at all, but rather a Royal Robusto, an edmundo: a couple of millimetres longer and a few points softer round the middle. It was extremely well received when it first came out: so well, in fact, that I bought into the hype and a box. They smoked great straight off the plane, and I went through most of mine in the first month or so. A few singles lasted long enough to get covered over in my humidor, and there they have languished until today. How has four years in the dark affected a once fine piece of Cuban vegetable matter? Today we’ll find out.

H. Upmann Royal Robusto La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2011 unlit

The very first note is bitter, hard on the back pallet, but it quickly mellows to a grassy coffee cream. There is a touch of the barnyard in there, straw and animal notes, and the pleasant, fruity part of the fragrance of cow manure.

Although this is not the first published review for the year (I try to publish in an order that makes a loose thread of some sort, groups similar releases and so on), it is, by some definition the first Dusky Beauty of the season. The Harem runs, of course, from January until about June, which corresponds notionally with the summer months in my home town of Melbourne, Australia. For three of these months (January to March) the weather can be more or less guaranteed to be reasonably pleasant for at least one day per weekend, however, three months does not a season make, and so even when I’m not actively publishing I will take any opportunity that presents itself to burn a dusky beauty, to be published when I have a gap to fill.

Today is such a day, an unseasonably warm afternoon in late September, and this will be my first cigar in many months. The temperature is in the high twenties, the breeze light and squalling, and the sun full and undimmed by clouds. Like many of my countrymen, I harbour an erroneous conviction that my leathery hide will never burn, and will instead simply take on the tan hue of a ligero leaf with the first light of summer. It’s not true, of course, and I will very likely emerge from this review lobster pink and peeling. I have at least taken the precaution of a wide brimmed Akubra bush hat.

H. Upmann Royal Robusto La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2011, two thirds left, with a Lipton Ice Tea

By the halfway mark the cigar has mellowed; it’s very sweet, with a sugary, caramel aftertaste, preceded by grass, almond, and perhaps a little peanut shell. I’ve been sipping on a Lipton Ice Tea for the duration, and honestly it tastes like nothing compared to the Royal Robusto. I back off it for a time to see if it’s the source of the sweetness on my back pallet, but no, it’s all the cigar. Fantastic.

It’s a good hat, this: an Akubra Pastoralist in fawn. I purchased it some years ago (why Australia doesn’t yet issue each of its sons and daughters with a cake and an Akubra on their 15th birthday I’ll never know) when I used to regularly attend Young Member’s events at the local racing club – I wanted a country hat with a slightly aristocratic air. In my mind I would be a young farmer from an old family fallen on hard times, in fresh from the Western District, hoping to make my name and win back the family honour with a promising young filly. I was wearing it to a meet once, where while the hat looked great, the rest of my ensemble looked like shit: an ill-fitting Chinese suit, a worn-out white shirt (had I removed my jacket the yellow stains under the armpits would have been visible), and a knock off Ralph Lauren tie, made of even thinner, cheaper silk than the real thing (hard to imagine, I know). In contrast, the friend I was with (a big tobacco executive) was immaculately attired in an impeccably tailored shawl-collared linen suit and double-breasted waistcoat, so it was somewhat surprising when, after signing in with the girl who was running the event, she singled me out for an invitation to the ‘best dressed’ competition.
“Do I have to do anything?” I asked.
“No, no” she said. “Just make sure you’re around for the drawing at 3:00.”
I got a look at the entry sheet as she took my name down: there was only one other name on the list, a girl, and it didn’t look like she’d left a lot of room for others.

As we walked away I said to my friend “I think I’m going to win this thing,” and sure enough, when three o’clock rolled around, after a bit of patter about how their specialist judges had been moving through the crowd and picking out the best of the best, my name was called. The prize? Five hundred credits at a local department store. Some other acquaintances heard my name being called an emerged from the crowd as I was having my photo taken for the Racing News.
“How’d you win that?” they asked. “You don’t look that good.”
“I dunno” I shrugged. “Must have been my lucky hat.”

H. Upmann Royal Robusto La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2011, final third

Getting into the grit now, the cigar has thickened up, heavy tobacco and a bit of tar. It has been relit twice, which probably didn’t help matters, and is generally burning on the hot side. For a seasoned smoker though this level of an ending is nothing, a nice kick to finish the thing off. A sip of the Lipton Lukewarm Tea thins it out nicely. The last inch has notes of coffee, leather and new car.

All in all the Royal Robusto is a great cigar, a slight bit better than the Duty Free Exclusive Robusto, and much better than the Petit Coronas, even if it doesn’t quite make the lofty heights of the Magnum 48.

H. Upmann Royal Robusto La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2011 nub

H. Upmann Royal Robusto La Casa del Habano Exclusivo 2011 on the Cuban Cigar Website.

H. Upmann Travel Humidor Robusto Duty Free Exclusivo 2007

Every Cuban cigar marque has its own character in its distinctive flavour profile, but a few novelty brands aside (Cuaba comes to mind), when it comes to sizes they generally sell a pretty standard line-up. Every brand has got to have its take on a Churchill, on a Petite Corona, on a Pirámides and a Dalia, and every brand has got to have its version of a Robusto.

Except, predictably, for one: H. Upmann.

The duty free exclusive release series is not a series where you typically expect to find very good cigars, mainly because duty free shops are not the kind of places you typically expect to find very good cigars. Yes, there are a few big, modern hub airports in luxury oriented destinations that have dedicated, premium cigar stores, with trained staff and properly respected stock – I think Dubai has one, and probably London – but in general airport cigars are stored at ambient humidity and temperature, and pitched to you by leggy sales girls whose expertise lies in 2L bottles of Baileys Irish Cream and cartons of Menthol Super-slims, not the nuances of fine Cuban leaf.

Perhaps because of this, when the H. Upmann Robusto travel humidor came out in 2007 – a handsome leather 10 cigar travel case – it didn’t get a lot of play in the aficionado scene. For a few years they were widely available, but I guess some people bought them – most likely big collectors seeking completeness, or perhaps one or two took a fancy to the case, and bought it with the intention of swiftly refilling it with something more to their taste – because eventually word got around the aficionado community that the cigars inside were fantastic. The run didn’t last long: a few non-duty free retailers picked up the unsold stock, and flipped it as quick as they could. I’ve had a few of these cigars over the years and they’ve always been great. This is my last one, and today it burns.

H. Upmann Travel Humidor Robusto Duty Free Exclusivo 2007 unlit

The first puffs are fantastic, light toasted, spicy tobacco with a grassy, herbal finish. After about puff number six it develops a sour note, but fortunately this quickly fades and the cigar comes back with the same herbal grassiness in a thicker, richer tobacco note.

It would have been around the time that the travel humidors started to run out that the Upmann robustos started to come in thick and fast: I’m not sure if it was the sudden success of the travel humidor that prompted it, or if the powers that be at Habanos S.A. simply decided that the Upmann robusto void remained sadly unfilled, but in 2011 there arrived the Royal Robusto as a La Casa del Habano exclusive, and then in 2012 there were two, a special 520 Aniversario Robusto, alongside that year’s Edition Limitada, another Upmann Robusto.

H. Upmann Travel Humidor Robusto Duty Free Exclusivo 2007 an inch smoked

In the early days of the Harem I would rant ad nauseam about my distaste for gourmet beer; today, it seems that times have changed. Australia, along with the rest of the developed world, has been deep in the craft beer craze for years now, and the humble, mass-market corporate swill of my youth barely exists anymore. Once every six months or so I sip a Carlton Draft at a racetrack or stadium and am instantly struck by what tasteless, sour swill it is. Today I’m drinking a Leather Britches Brewery Hairy Helmet golden ale, a beer I’d never heard of until I saw it in the Bottle-O just now, and it somehow seemed the most appealing of their mid-priced imported beers. I don’t know why I buy golden ales. The first one I ever had – from Two Birds Brewery, or something like that – was fantastic, but every one I’ve had since then has been a disappointment. This one is a beer for beer nerds:  too hoppy! It’s bitter, with an undercurrent of compost heap. It doesn’t pair so badly with the robusto though. The bitterness of the hops brings out the sweetness in the cigar, and it mixes with the herbal aftertaste quite nicely, and adds a depth to it.

That said, I do have to rinse my mouth out with water and puff out through the cigar to get a decent tasting note: light to mid tobacco, touch of cream, touch of spice, a little sweetness, and something of the aroma of an ancient hay wain.

The beer might have been a mistake, as more than anything else right now I need a bathroom. As a ten year old in red China, I remember vividly what constituted a public toilet at that time: a cinder block hut containing a row of faeces caked concrete holes that drained (by the power of gravity alone) into an open cesspool behind the structure. Periodically, the local peasantry would visit the pool and shovel its contents into wheelbarrows to dump on the nearby fields. I took one look and said “never again.” (I also refused to eat any more Chinese watermelons). For two years I held it from early morning until late evening every single day, and in the process I developed a bladder so strong that in six years of high school I visited the bathrooms only twice: once to hang posters for my ill-fated student body presidential campaign (more on that later), and once as a quiet place to replace the photograph of an honoured famous old boy with one of our more infamous alumni, mass murderer Julian Knight, as an end of year prank. Those days are long passed, however, and like a football left too long in the sun, my bladder has withered, and half a litre of beer is now too much for it.

H. Upmann Travel Humidor Robusto Duty Free Exclusivo 2007 two inches remaining

With a bit over an inch to go the cigar has thickened up a little, heavy tobacco now, with still a slightly sour note. It ends well. Not bitter, but sour on the back palette. Rich raw tobacco. A touch of charred whisky barrel. This was not, unfortunately, the best of travel humidor robusto that I’ve ever had, but still, the sky is blue, the sun is warm, and the beer is cold. A boy can’t complain too much, at least not after he finds a bathroom.

Upmann Travel Humidor Robusto: better than the Petit Corona, not as good as the Magnum 48.

H. Upmann Travel Humidor Robusto Duty Free Exclusivo 2007 nub

H. Upmann Travel Humidor Robusto Duty Free Exclusivo 2007 on the Cuban Cigar Website.

H. Upmann Magnum 48 Edición Limitada 2009

Eight PM on a Monday night finds me indoors and lounging, deep in a soft leather armchair and the company of stalwart fellows, a high-end rum before me. The room rolls with the viscous smog of sixty or so fine cigars being puffed on heartily. I’m in Baranows Lounge, and these are the final days of Melbourne’s last true cigar bar.

Between my own lips hangs an H. Upmann Magnum 48, Edición Limitada 2009, a smoke that drew considerable praise at the time of its release. The first notes are extremely light, almost indistinct from an inhalation of air not through a flaming faggot of dried leaves. If anything there is a slight grassy taste, mildly sweet. If the current profile continues throughout the cigar it will have to be deemed a flavourless failure, but to my reckoning mildness at this point in a short cigar like this bodes well for the future. The rum I’m pairing is a Diplomatico, the trademark of the house (they’re the local distributor), and it goes very well indeed.

H. Upmann Magnum 48 Edición Limitada 2009 unlit

At one time Baranows was the best brick and mortar cigar store in Melbourne: their vast humidor held not only the city’s best range of Cubans, but a large selection of non-Cuban trash to boot. Those days, unfortunately, are long behind it, and they haven’t restocked in several years. When I stopped by a few afternoons ago to check the lay of the land before this soirée, the proprietor, Wal, seemed disinterested, most of all in showing me the humidor. He shook his head slowly when I asked what he had in the way of H. Upmann limiteds.
“Nope, none of those at the moment.”
“How about a nice aged Upmann or something… Sir Winston, maybe, or something discontinued?”
The head shake continued.
“Nope, no Upmann at all at the moment.”
He sighed, and waved me lackadaisically toward the walk-in.
“Take a look around if you like.”
It was my turn to shake my head.
“Sorry mate, I’m only interested in Hupmann.”

In the months leading up to the ban of indoor smoking in Melbourne there was much uproar about what it would do to the hospitality industry, about all the bars that would be driven into bankruptcy, but in reality there was only one real casualty: Baranows. I’m sure that many bars and clubs saw a brief decline in profits as the smokers headed outside and didn’t drink so much, but they all soon fenced in their loading docks and put decking on their rooftops, and with them developed a culture of lazy afternoons spent drinking summer punches in outdoor bars, rather than warm VB tinnies around barbecues in the suburbs. The three other serious cigar stores in Melbourne at the time were Alexander’s in Toorak, which had one or two armchairs for smoking, but did most of their business in the takeaway trade, the LCDH in the Hyatt, that never had a smoking area, and Fidel’s in the casino, which closed almost immediately, but put their stock under the counter in the high roller’s rooms of the casino. Fidel’s, though, was always just a side business of a major corporation, and never anybody’s livelihood, and it doesn’t count. I dated a former clerk from Fidel’s briefly, and the day it closed she was simply transferred to being a cashier in the casino cages.

H. Upmann Magnum 48 Edición Limitada 2009 two thirds left

At the midpoint the cigar is fantastic: the tobacco is still very light, but there is a wonderful, changing undercurrent of flavours in the back of the palette, first leather, then coffee, and then a sweet cocoa that I think will build to chocolate in the final third. The construction is perfect, with a razor sharp burn and pure white ash which remains intact for more than half of the cigar, before inevitably winding up on my pants.

No, the only casualty of the smoking ban was poor Baranows. They’d opened their lounge a couple of years prior to the ban, no doubt at great expense, taking a beautiful old bank on a corner block in a nicer inner suburb. They’d renovated it and done it right: big cane arm chairs and comfortable couches, overhung by slow moving fans. Behind the long mahogany bar stood a world class collection of scotches and exotic rums. A friend of mine fell in love with the place not long after it opened, and spent almost $2000 there in a fortnight, enjoying three cigars a day and working his way through their entire menu of $40-a-glass rum. But then came the ban. At first Baranows respected it, hoping that once the smoke had blown over an exemption would be granted for cigar bars. Eventually they put a shade-cloth around their parking lot and wheeled out a few plastic auditorium chairs, offering it as a very humble sanctuary for the smoker.

Some years in they decided to flout the ban, and smoking moved back to the main room, but this soon ended with a handful of council citations, a large fine, and a threat on their liquor license. From there they became a non-smoking cocktail bar, and then a member’s only smoking lounge, with an initial membership fee somewhere around $200. The fee soon lowered, and was eventually dropped entirely. With every change of local government they had to renegotiate the rules – I think for a time in the middle they may have returned to a late night non-smoking venue that did most of its business serving coffee to the after theatre crowd. I subscribed to their mailing list, but could never follow it.

In the meantime the anti-smoking movement went federal: a health minister whose father had died from emphysema was in office, and she made it her personal mission to stamp out the vile habit wheresoever it lurked. The taxes on tobacco almost doubled in four years, and the plain packaging legislation stripped cigars of their ornate bands and cedar boxes, leaving Baranows’ humidor a sea of non-descript olive grey.

If you are reading this, then Baranows is gone: my smoke takes place about two weeks before its final day of trading, December 31st, 2014. The scuttlebutt is that old Wal is retiring to Cuba and a salsa dancer girlfriend several decades younger than himself, and leaving the lounge in the charge of his son, who will reopen it as a whiskey bar. Goodbye old friend. You gave it your best shot. Sorry I didn’t visit you more often.

H. Upmann Magnum 48 Edición Limitada 2009 final third

The cigar thickens toward the end, showing me a hint of tar before it puts itself out with three quarters of an inch to go. I blow out through it and relight and am rewarded with dense, rich chocolate (95% cocoa) and deep espresso. The flavours fade on my palette, leaving almost no aftertaste. Some light spice, maybe. Slight grass. It is a fantastic finish to a wonderful cigar.

Much better than an H. Upmann Petite Corona.

H. Upmann Magnum 48 Edición Limitada 2009 nub

H. Upmann Magnum 48 Edición Limitada 2009 on the Cuban Cigar Website

H. Upmann Petite Coronas

And so it begins, Dusky Beauties, season three: we open on a shirtless boy in the bush, dirt on his pants, blisters on his fingers and sweat on his brow; alone but for a small fire, a bottle of dark rum, and a H. Upmann Petite Corona.

It was a hard decision, the comparison cigar for the H. Upmann vertical that will form the first dozen or so posts of the season, as there isn’t really a default Upmann like there was with Montecristo and Partagás. At first I thought about the Connoisseur No. 1, a cigar fits the size requirement (which is to say it is neither exceptionally short, nor long, nor fat, nor skinny, and not oddly shaped in any way), and is very widely held by the members of Cuban Cigar Website. I didn’t have one in stock and time was of the essence, so I took a tour of the major brick and mortar stores in Melbourne, all of whom turned out not to carry them. I was in my final choice of store, the La Casa del Habano in the Grand Hyatt, and marvelling at a fellow customer spending $3500 on 60 regular production cigars, by the time I realised that I would have to make a compromise. The LCDH didn’t stock my second choice, the Magnum 48 and so I settled on choice number three, the well sized but not especially well known or well liked H. Upmann Petite Corona.

H. Upmann Petite Coronas unlit

The construction of the cigar is good, the draw firm but not overly so. The first notes aren’t great; bitter, with tar predominating and a chemical aftertaste. After the first few puffs it mellows to a sort of vague straw flavour. Mid-tobacco. A very generous soul might claim a coffee note.

Upmann is one of the oldest current Cuban cigar brands, having been founded (as Min Ron Nee tells it) in 1844 by the hermanos Hupmann, two of four German brothers who had all emigrated for the island to make their fortunes. The business was a big success, and prospered under the brothers and their descendants until the First World War when German businesses were blacklisted in Cuba. By 1922 the bankrupted Upmann factory and the brand were sold off to a major tobacco conglomerate. Upmann languished until 1937, when the Menéndez family, flush with cash from the recent launch of their power house brand, Montecristo, purchased the Upmann factory and propelled it back to greatness.

As a brand Upmann sits somewhere at the bottom of the top tier of Cuban cigars: it doesn’t have the brand recognition of Romeo or Montecristo, the prestige of Cohiba, or the popularity of Partagás, but it is still a global brand with a large market share. It has had a lot of discontinuations over the years, but it hasn’t been cut to the bone like some of the smaller brands, and even gets the occasional new release. Overall, I think it should make for good vertical: the typical Upmann profile is one of light, clean tobacco, with the occasional hint of straw, leather, and creamy sweetness. With a bit of age they can be fantastic, and some real gems lurk in their special releases. Finally (and most importantly), the Upmann line is short enough that I won’t be stuck smoking the bloody things all the way into June.

H. Upmann Petite Coronas, one third smoked

By the mid-point the Petite Corona has improved, and is cruising along as a decent, but by no means excellent cigar. It is dry grass and leather, vaguely nutty, but still with tannic tang. I’m down in the backblocks of my ancestral sprawl, where I’ve lit a small fire that is a particularly poor example of the art. The wood is far too green, and more than a little wet, and I couldn’t be bothered with proper technique, choosing instead to ball up some paper, throw on the odd piece of damp bark and leaves, and hit the mess with my jet lighter until the flames caught on something more substantial. As always in life, you get what you deserve, and I have gotten a smoky, sputtering mess that is not much good to anyone, and a row of blisters across my knuckles where I got a little too fresh while rearranging some burning sticks. As is typical at the Groom compound, I’m sipping on a Bacardi Gold and ginger beer, that is taking the edge off my afternoon pretty nicely. Normally I find it a good match with cigars, being sweet enough to take the bite out of the tar, without being cloying on the palette like some other soft drinks. I’m not sure what it’s doing to the Petite Corona, but certainly isn’t improving it much.

H. Upmann Petite Coronas, half smoked

The end of the H. Upmann Petite Corona is surprisingly mild, dropping to light tobacco. As always, I smoke it down to a punched nub: the smoke is scorching in these final moments, but not all that bitter. Overall it has been a mediocre cigar; not hugely complex, and not offering any especially interesting notes, but also fairly smooth and inoffensive. It would be perfectly acceptable as a cigar at a drunken poker game or barbecue, anywhere where the principal focus isn’t on the smoke. It does not set the bar high for the rest of the Upmann range, and it certainly wasn’t as good as either a Monte 4 or a PSD4.

H. Upmann Petite Coronas nub

Upmann Petite Corona on the Cuban Cigar Website

H. Upmann Magnum Especiales Colección Habanos 2007

Throughout my retrospective of the Colección Habanos, I’ve felt that there’s been a shadow hanging over every review. I don’t have a basic cigar, a Montecristo or Partagás Serie D. No. 4, to hold these against, so I’ve increasingly been comparing them against each other, but there is one comparison I’ve refrained from making, one giant, who, silent on his lofty pedestal, nonetheless looms over every review: the Montecristo Maravillas No. 1. Regular readers will recall that in my Montecristo retrospective I awarded this cigar a considerable accolade: I declared it to be the best of all the Montecristo cigars. If the weather holds I’ll revisit the Monte before this jig is up, but even so, the existing review makes the Montecristo the one to beat as far as the Colección goes. The Cohiba, obviously, is the favourite to upset it, but no good punter plays favourites, and if I were to have an outside bet at longer odds, I’d put my money on today’s cigar, the H. Upmann Magnum Especial. Cohiba cigars rarely disappoint, and their price bracket reflects this, but Upmann cigars more than any other brand in my experience, exceed expectations.

H. Upmann Magnum Especiales Colección Habanos 2007 unlit

Like most of the Colección Habanos, the 55 ring Magnum Especial is too big. Fans of big ring cigars like to say that the thicker rings are manlier, but it’s not a statement that makes any sense to me, except in the Freudian sense. It is glorious looking though, very new Habanos, with a beautiful smooth wrapper. The oversize Upmann band is vividly coloured and cleanly embossed – night and day from the scrappy printing of the Hoyo. The draw is loose – not quite a wind-tunnel, but a distance from the classic Cuban draw that is my preference. Through the first inch the flavours when drawing are excellent, full-bodied top quality tobacco that tastes like the breeze in Vuelta Abajo, over lashings of cream, and dessert spices: nutmeg, cinnamon, cocoa and vanilla. In the very last aftertaste, however, something is badly wrong: a bitter, soapy, vaguely chemical taste. I have twice in my life consumed stale pine nuts, which left me with a bitter taste in my mouth at the end of every swallow for three or four days, and more than anything, this reminds me of that. That and soap.

H. Upmann Magnum Especiales Colección Habanos 2007 one third smoked

Passed the halfway mark, and the tobacco has lightened considerably, now mid-strength at best. With it, the flavours have become more delicate and sweeter, strongly gingernut cookies, hot from the oven. The bitter soapy aftertaste has lightened too, but it’s still present. There is something strongly green in it, perhaps pine sap. Once in a while you see a report of a cigar that tastes soapy, allegedly as a result of a roller who failed to entirely wash the cheap soap they have in Cuban factories off her hands before returning to work, but I don’t think this is that, as it’s way too subtle a flavour. It’s not the chemical rubbery bitterness of a cheap non-Cuban, it’s not the bitterness of tar, or smoke build up, or the hot bitterness of tobacco burned too fast, and it’s only present in the aftertaste; there is nothing of it in the initial puff. Honestly I think the cigar might just be way too young. I had such hopes for this cigar that I’m starting to make excuses for it, to seek out an environmental cause: I’m sitting down on the docks, and a few construction sites are nearby… perhaps some odourless gas is being emitted from a solvent or glue at one of them, and somehow causing a soapy taste on my tongue, or maybe I’m in the midst of some kind of physical problem, and the soapy taste is a symptom of an issue with the brain or heart. Just to be certain I pour out the cappuccino I was pairing this with, and fill the cup with water from a nearby drinking fountain.

Within ten minutes or so of ditching the coffee, the soapy aftertaste is gone, so perhaps it was that. The barista at the chain coffee shop that sold it to me certainly didn’t come across as the pinnacle of professionalism (he did a French accent and asked “would you like a baguette with that?,” and when I looked at him blankly he pointed to the Dutch flag on the shoulder of my light, military surplus jacket and asked “are you French?”). An inadequate cleaning of the machine perhaps? Laying the blame on the coffee is a big leap, honestly, as when I was drinking it it tasted fine; the soapy taste was the very last flavour on my palette after either a sip of coffee or a puff of tobacco, the flavour left once all other flavours had melted away. Oh well, another mystery of the leaf. Good riddance.

H. Upmann Magnum Especiales Colección Habanos 2007 final third

Throughout the final third the cigar is strongly herbal, with star anise and dry grass dominating. In the final inch it turns a little bitter and sours on the tongue, with a doughy sort of element in the aftertaste. It leaves a thick coating on the pallet, not unlike an under ripe banana in texture. I’m not entirely sure what to make of this cigar: it has greatness within it, no question about that, and in its own way was unlike anything I’ve ever smoked before, but it’s also pretty flawed. If you’re offered one today, accept it politely but make an excuse for not smoking it, and leave it in cedar for five years or so. Or maybe you should smoke it. If ever there was a Dusky Beauties to take with a grain of salt, it’s this one, as I strongly suspect the soapy taste that so ruined my experience came from something outside the cigar. As with all things though, I have no experience but my own to go on, and to me, the H. Upmann Magnum Especial is a lot of things, but it’s no Montecristo Maravillas No. 1.

H. Upmann Magnum Especiales Colección Habanos 2007 nub

H. Upmann Magnum Especiales Colección Habanos 2007 on the Cuban Cigar Website.