With a 49 ring and a length of 7.6 inches, the H. Upmann Prominentes, scion of the H. Upmann 160th Aniversario humidor, is an intimidating smoke, no question about it. The nice, red, Colorado wrapper is slightly damaged – my own stupid fault, of course. While setting up my opening photograph, I tried to balance the cigar on the railing in order to capture something of the vista of treetops that I am overlooking, and a gust of wind caught me unawares and tossed the cigar down five meters or so to the tanbark flowerbed below. It could be worse, I suppose: I could have a pool down there. It’s a classic example of the reviewer’s hubris: this is a huge cigar, and over the four or so hours it’ll take to smoke, a tiny bit of wrapper damage could make a huge difference. I have changed the result by measuring it.
I light the thing, and if the wrapper damage is having an effect, it feels like it might be a positive one. Perhaps extra fresh air is being sucked in through the open side of the cigar and softening the smoke, in much the same way as certain old cars beat emissions tests by pumping fresh air out with their exhaust. The first flavours are divine, silky smooth, with as light a tobacco note as I’ve ever had. There is a thick, toffee sweetness, almost cloying, on the back of the palette.
Released in 2004, and hence relatively early in the anniversary humidor program, the H. Upmann 160th Aniversario humidor seems like one of Habanos S.A.’s more lacklustre efforts. It contains one hundred cigars in total: thirty each of the H. Upmann Connoisseur No. 1 and the H. Upmann No. 2 (both popular regular production sizes), and forty of this, the uniquely dimensioned Prominentes. As with all these humidors that contain production sizes, the question of whether they are just regular production cigars, plucked straight from the standard production line and placed in special boxes, or whether they are something special, perhaps the very highest quality that could be found in the regular production, or even some special blend made in the traditional sizes, must be asked. I’ll attempt to answer it in the next few weeks as I review those cigars, but the Prominentes is safe; she is a unique beast, and will live or die on her merits.
The box itself – a squat tower with three drawers behind a glass door – is nice, but not especially imaginative, and resembles nothing so much as the little display humidor that sits on the end of the counter at every 7-11 and decent liquor store. One can only hope that unlike those humidors, the Upmann 160s of the world are not kept constantly at either 100% or ambient humidity. If the cigars it contains are not particularly unique, and the humidor is not especially interesting, then who, I wonder, is the target market for these things? Is Habanos really cynical enough to release a product entirely for people who collect for collecting’s sake? In my travels throughout the community of high end cigar aficionados, I’ve met very few who pick and choose their commemorative humidors, buying only particularly lovely examples from their favourite brands. They either buy none, or they buy everything, and usually by the dozen. I would estimate that the 160 examples of this humidor have fewer than twenty owners.
At least the bands are nice, a tasteful riff on the classic Upmann band, with bright shiny gold in place of the usual dull brown one.
At the mid-point the cigar has thickened, and the smoke has become a little harsh. The taste is very woody, a component of freshly felled sapling. There is an ashy component to it I don’t particularly care for. I blow out forcefully through the cigar for a few seconds to remove any stale smoke and ash that has worked its way into the centre of the cigar. This cleans it up somewhat, but doesn’t add a huge amount beyond a slightly grassy flavour. The construction is fine, the burn very even, but the ash falls extremely easily; it has twice fallen on my pants at a length of no more than a centimetre each time and with no particular provocation. I finish my Stella Artois and switch to a brandy and ginger beer (I’m out of rum), in the hope that the sweetness will knock off the rough edges. It removes the roughness, but does little for the complexity – if anything, the sugar will dull my palette and mask some of the subtler notes, although there’s precious little to mask at this particular juncture.
Into the final third and the cigar is still mild with a slightly dirty edge to it, and no particular flavour to speak of. We’re past the point where the wrapper was damaged now, so that can’t be to blame any more. The cigar this reminds me of most is the Hoyo de Monterrey Extravaganza, the 2003 Colección Habanos entry: there’s nothing particularly negative I can say about it, it doesn’t taste like soap, rubber, or chemical solvents, but it doesn’t taste of too much else either. This would be a great long cigar to have in your hand at a poker night or at a long afternoon barbecue with friends – anything where your focus was not 100% on the smoke. It is mild and inoffensive, but unfortunately given the rarity and cost of cigars like these, few will be smoked lightly, and you have to expect more from them.
This falls on the low end of Upmann exotics. I rate it better than the Petite Coronas, but not much better, and were I to develop some kind of price to quality index, this cigar would do very poorly indeed.