It’s a slightly overcast Saturday, and, wandering down a local bike path that runs between the freeway sound wall and an urban drainage canal, I find myself in a pleasant little glade of pine trees, not so unlike the fens and spinneys of my youth. The central feature of the glade is a fallen tree – so perfect a seat that one suspects it was felled specifically for the purpose. Either way, it’s just the place to sit, to watch the cyclists, to enjoy a sly beer, and to smoke a Montecristo Double Corona, Edición Limitada 2001.
It’s a lovely looking thing this double corona, with the classic dark EL wrapper. This came out in only the second year of the EL program, and the Cubans still hadn’t quite decided what they were doing yet: there were five cigars that year, and this isn’t even the big one! Unlike the previous year, there is a number on this band, although it’s not embossed. Like most aficionados I lament the changes the last decade has brought to the Cuban cigar industry; whenever there is a band change like the one Montecristo will undergo this year (they’re making the fleur-de-lys gold) my voice is among the many saying “no, don’t tamper with a classic, Cuba lives and dies on its heritage,” but I will concede that these faded, thin, non-embossed, badly printed bands do feel very insubstantial when compared to their modern equivalents. Of course, that’s entirely the charm, the idea that your luxury cigars are a product of a shambolic command economy, but I will concede that the packaging of modern Cubans is better, if less charming.
I slice the cap and light it. The double corona has a real Cuban draw, tight and cool, and presents a wonderful elegance from the start, with a strong note of cedar and the slightest hint of coffee. Its age is very evident in the mildness of the tobacco throughout the first inch or so.
There was a period when I was a teenager and this drainage canal was equidistant from my house and the houses of three of my closest friends, and as it had the additional advantage of being dark and fairly private, we used to come down here from time to time to drink beers and get high. I have memories of cruising police officers occasionally shining their torches on us in the night, shouting across the water, demanding to know what we were doing and telling us to move along, although as the road only runs along one side, and that side was invariably not the side we were on, and the bridges are few and far between, their threats were largely impotent. I used to use the canal as a thoroughfare, too, when traveling home from my friend’s houses, and in that I encountered the same problem as the police: a lack of bridges. The width of the waterway at its narrowest point fluctuates between one and three meters across (dependent on how recently it has rained). When at its nadir the distance represented no challenge to a champion hurdler like me, and when at its zenith I knew not to test it, and would make the lengthy detour to the footbridge. It was when it was in about the middle, one and a half to two meters, that I got myself into trouble. The problem was not so much the distance – I was pretty good at gauging the length of my own leap – but that if the water was falling rather than rising it would have left a slippery sheen of invisible slime on the concrete of either bank, something I invariably failed to anticipate (remember I was usually undertaking this trek while at least mildly [and often heavily] inebriated). More than once I went to leap only to find my footing disappear from under me, and more than once I found myself waist deep in that foetid, slimy water. I’d have to hose myself off in the garden before going in the house. I ruined more than one pair of shoes.
After the halfway point the cigar shows some bitterness and a hint of the dark chocolate and coffee found in the C and D, although this cigar is much more refine and pleasant than either of those. The tobacco is thickening a little but is still very light. The ash is a lovely white, and, had I left it unmolested, I think it probably would have held for the entire length of the thing (although I value my pants too much to try).
My friends and I never used to come down as far as this glade, and I can’t imagine the rozzers doing it now, but nonetheless, discretion is the better part of valour and I’m keeping my beers concealed behind the log. They’re two beers from the Japanese Hitachino brewery, one a heavy and bitter espresso stout, the other a ginger infused ale. Neither is particularly good (or tastes particularly strongly of either ginger or espresso), but they both exhibit a similar sort of vaguely bitter, vaguely coffee, mild sort of taste that complements, or at least matches the Double Corona. A cyclist inspects me on my log with my beer and cigar and comments “very nice” as he zooms by.
As always, when six inches of tar have accumulated in the final one, the cigar becomes very bitter, real heavy 95% cocoa chocolate stuff; unpleasant, but in an enjoyable kind of way. The burn has been impeccable the entire length, requiring nary a touch up nor a relight.
The interesting thing to me about the Double Corona is how similar its flavour pallet is to the C and D, and how distinct those are from the Robustos and the later ELs. I’ve seen this cigar brought up as an example of how the early ELs are not aging well, but it’s not that; what it is evidence of is that the early ELs need a lot of age. The C and D are both mediocre at the moment, but I think with another few years they could be as good as this cigar, and with a few years to iron out its kinks, this cigar could be something amazing.
At present it’s better than a Monte 4, and a good deal of the rest of the field.