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.
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.
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.
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 on the Cuban Cigar Website.