The Montecristo Maravillas No.1, from the 2005 Colección Habanos series: the book humidors. They’re great looking things those book humidors, and I love them as collectables; I imagine those lucky few who have the entire set arrayed on a bookcase somewhere (presumably in their gothic library of leather-bound volumes, concealing the secret entrance to their walk in humidor) feel a great sense of personal satisfaction, but I could never buy one myself because of what they contain: Habanos S.A.’s annual experiment into the upper limits of cigar ring gauge. 55 by 182! I can’t put this thing in my mouth! I have to hold it between two fingers and puff at it through gently pursed lips!
I light it and puff at it through gently pursed lips and it begins excellently. The draw is a little loose; the flavour classic high end Montecristo, more Especial than Edmundo. Cream, straw, a little nutty (almonds, maybe?), all over a wonderful lightly toasted tobacco of the highest grade. The thesis of this blog was originally the smoking of exotics, the unsmokables, and in my mind I often imagine the readers complaining about the cigars I smoke not being exotic enough (“Monte Open! What is this rubbish!” the imaginary critic cries, navigating away in disgust). Well, this cigar is a true exotic: 500 humidors, 20 cigars per humidor, 10,000 in total and it’s eight years old to boot.
I’m pairing this with a Hahn Millennium Ale. In the heady days of 1999, Hahn released these beers in a longneck under a champagne cork, with the yeast still in the bottle so that it would get better with age. Thirteen years later and I think it’s probably time. The angels had taken most of the neck. Moments after opening I realise my mistake: I should have paired this with a Millennium Jar cigar (more on those later). Ah well. At any rate, it’s a lovely colour, dark and red, and very sweet and rich, with a good amount of fizz, given its age. Burned hops. A little port. The surprising thing really is its origin: I would expect this beer from some Dutch microbrewery, but Hahn? The favourite beer of New South Wales (Australian state, capital Sydney), Hahn is very much a lowest common denominator inoffensive everyman lager. That they have the ability or even the aspiration to produce something like this is astounding. I’ve heard this described as the best beer every to come out of Australia, and thirteen years ago, before the microbrewery boom, that was probably true. Well, perhaps not the best – this beer is unpleasant in a lot of ways – but certainly the most complex.
The cigar is delightful, a real mellow, contemplative cigar. Not as in your face complex as the beer, but then, there is no element in the cigar that is unpleasant. The cream has gone, and I am left with a light tobacco and cedar flavour. Aromatic. A little floral.
I read on the internet that the Hahn Millennium Ale is based on Chimay Red, a Trappist Ale with which I have a more than passing familiarity. Perhaps it’s the thirteen years it spent in the bottom of my laundry cupboard, but they are nothing alike, the Hahn possessing a far richer flavour. I mention it though, because this seems like the only opportunity I’ll ever have to tell the story of Nathan, and confess to a crime that has been weighing on me for five long years.
In 2008 I lived in Japan, and there came into contact with Nathan. He was the flatmate of one of my high-school friends, an American in his mid-30s, and an alcoholic. We all partied pretty hard in Japan – it’s that kind of a place. Booze is cheap and available everywhere, and you can drink it openly on the streets. You can buy beer from vending machines, you can smoke in hospitals, and there’s not really such a thing as a bouncer. Nathan though, he took it to another level. He drank hard in bars, always beer, and would lock you in a corner and insist on telling you about his problems; about his ex-wife, about his disabled sister, and about the problems with his father and things of that nature. When the bar closed and his friends had all abandoned him he would go home and drink a bottle of Jack Daniels alone and in the dark, muttering to himself.
There was one bar in particular that Nathan liked, the Hub, where he was known as Mr. Chimay. Years before he’d requested that they stock it, and they kept a case behind the bar especially for him. He’d walk in, wave to the bartender, and take a seat, and moments later his Chimay would materialize.
I’d known him six months, and honestly, I didn’t like him and he didn’t like me, but we were in the same circle and so on Halloween I found myself dressed as Hugh Hefner and smoking a pipe in his living room. It was early, and almost all of the guests were planning to leave before too long and go to a better party. Nathan was inexplicably in his street clothes until about 9:30 when he called for silence and dimmed the lights. He turned on the TV, pressed play and disappeared into his bedroom. The Star Wars theme began to blast, and on the TV screen began, in the style of the Star Wars opening scroll, an essay telling the story of Nathan’s life in Japan. For minutes it went on, while the assembled throng stood around awkwardly, wanting to be polite, but utterly disinterested in this presentation. The final words of the scroll read “…and his name was DARTH CHIMAY”, and as they appeared on screen the theme transitioned into the Imperial March and Nathan emerged, now clad in full replica Darth Vader costume, and clutching a Chimay Red in each hand.
The lengthy pause had been the death knell of the party, and ten minutes later everybody began to make their excuses. As I prepared to walk out the door it occurred to me that I had a lengthy train ride ahead of me and no alcohol on my person, so I opened the fridge, and there on the shelf was the only booze left in the house: two Chimay Red. As I pocketed them both I looked over my shoulder, and there for a moment caught Nathan’s eye (he’d removed the helmet almost immediately). There was such a look of disappointment on his face, perhaps more at his rapidly imploding party than at my criminal act, but nonetheless, I felt bad, at least for the two minutes it took me to walk down the stairs. The Chimay was nice. It tided me over all the way to the bar. Sorry Nathan.
There’s no tannin at all in this cigar, and if I had a book of them I’d seriously consider smoking them all right now, as it seems perfectly aged. I detect a little buttered toast, and maybe a hint of salt. In a cigar this thick one expects a certain robustness, a dose of nicotine and spice, but this is really very elegant. I’ve been smoking for two hours now, and at least two smokable inches remain.
Forty five minutes later, and with less than an inch to go the cigar offers me a little tar, although very little considering the amount of fragrant leaf that has been burned. I’ve finished the Millennium Ale, and honestly, I’m quite drunk. It advertises itself as 8%, although with 13 years of evaporation and distillation who knows what it is today. Perhaps 14%, perhaps 4%. I feel quite woozy. Perhaps it’s the nicotine. There’re a lot of factors involved, really.
Either way, both were magnificent. The best Montecristo? The best Australian beer? Honestly, in this moment I can’t recall one better alternative to either, but then, in my current state I’m very much a biased narrator. The nub burns my fingers and gets thrown over the balcony, but I instantly regret it. Please, just one more puff. In any analysis it has been a marvellous way to spend a lazy afternoon.