“Inconsistent” is the aficionado consensus on the C. There are a few very vocal maligners, there are a few staunch proponents, and in the middle there seems to be a general agreement that there were some good boxes and some bad; that at their best they were cocoa and cream, and at their worst they were bland and flavourless. One certainly can’t fault their pedigree: they shared the rolling bench with the legendary Cohiba Double Corona EL, which for my money are probably the best Edición Limitada and one of the best cigars ever to grace the virgin’s thigh (more on these later).
Cigars are best appreciated alone and best enjoyed with friends, so perhaps this afternoon – a glorious summers’ one that finds me drinking beers and talking shit with two old friends in my backyard – is not the best venue to tackle a controversial cigar like the C. The die, however, is cast: the cap is cut, Caesar has crossed the Rubicon, and smoke it I will.
(Historical Aside: I read once that alea iacta est, Caesar’s famous words upon crossing the aforementioned Italian waterway are a misquote, and should in fact read alea jacta esto; “throw the dice high” as opposed “the die is cast.” So it is, Monte C: you will burn today, but your flavours are by no means set in stone… wavering humidity… accompanying beverages… my own fickle moods… anything could happen. Let’s play.)
The draw is loose; not a total wind tunnel, but a long way from a Cuban draw, and there is a light, gusty breeze blowing also that will do it no favours. The first puffs are tannic and bitter, surprising for a cigar this age. I let it settle, hoping the bitterness is an artefact of the lighting and will pass, but it continues well beyond the first puffs. The only detectable flavour behind it is a sort of smooth, medium tobacco.
My friend Argus is smoking a Monte 3 with some age on it, and Stevespool, who “can’t handle a whole cigar” sits with us, occasionally sneaking a puff from one or the other cigar as it sits in the ashtray. After one such pull on the C I ask his opinion. “It tastes like a cheap cigar,” he observes. I somewhat concur. There is definitely none of the stink of Nicaragua in this cigar, but the sentiment is correct. It is not especially pleasant.
We suckle sweet Peroni in the sun, talking shit and telling ribald anecdotes. Argus is a historian by training, and laments the self-sabotaging nature of his industry, where there’s no private sector to speak of and jobs for academics are limited to a fraction of the students studying under them, so by definition most graduates will be unemployed. Oscar Pistorius is in the news, and conversation about him quickly degenerates into jokes about robot killing machines.
With half remaining Stevespool takes another drag. “That’s got a lot better,” he observes “with kind of an interesting aftertaste.” When pushed for a taste he eventually lands on “fluffy tires… like fairy floss made from rubber… it’s not offensive, but just sort of an airy tingle.” He giggles. I’m not sure I see the sweetness myself. The rubber is certainly there. Of the two he prefers the Monte 3.
We wander across hopes and dreams and money making capers. We’re all at an age where things are getting serious: Argus has a child on the way, Stevespool a wedding, I am dabbling in home ownership, and for us now is the time when schemes must be enacted. If we want to be drinking our own single-malt at our son’s 21st birthdays, we really have to consider putting it under oak immediately. Stevespool has a chemistry degree somewhere in his shady past, and we interrogate him as to the possibilities for creating a chemically perfect scotch not with centuries of tradition but with science. He isn’t very helpful, although he does offer quite a few insights into how alcohol alters brain chemistry.
The afternoon is turning to evening and we order a pizza. I’m a little drunk, but just afternoon drunk; even priests are drunk on Sunday afternoons.
One or two brief moments aside the Monte C has tasted plain and bitter, with perhaps a little straw and medium tobacco detectable somewhere in the aftertaste. If this is cocoa then it’s unsweetened cocoa powder eaten straight from the tin. Bitterness in cigars is usually a fault I assign to the smoker; he is smoking too fast, the cigar is burning too hot, scorching the smoke. In this instance, however, I don’t think this is the case. For one, the C has lasted a good 30 minutes longer than Argus’ comparably sized Monte 3, and for two, this thing has been so bitter that I’ve found myself instinctively giving it a lot of space between drags.
I let it go a few puffs sooner that I otherwise would. The pizza is here. Perhaps if I had smoked this cigar alone I might have been able to appreciate it, but as it stands, whilst I enjoyed this pleasant afternoon with my friends, I would have enjoyed it more so with a Monte 4.
Montecristo C Edición Limitada 2003 on the Cuban Cigar Website