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.

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.