My years of involvement with the Cuban Cigar Website (the world’s best online Cuban Cigar encyclopaedia), my travels, and the generosity of my friends and benefactors, has given me a diverse and interesting collection of exotic cigars. They are singles in the main, many taken from commemorative humidors and the like, and at first I saved every one that came into my possession, either for my collection or perhaps to enhance some significant life event in the future. As the stack grew I began to wonder why. What was I saving them for? One can only have so many 50th birthdays and give birth to so many masculine children.
I have decided, therefore, to smoke them, and so they don’t burn entirely in vain, I’ll journal the process and publish the result. The cigars I will smoke here are rarities and exotics, things one only rarely sees reviewed, and while I don’t pretend to have the palate to offer any valid criticisms (and besides, what’s the point, as in the main they’re not things you can rush out and buy based on my recommendation), perhaps from time to time I might be able to offer a little insight.
All of which brings us to this, the first smoke of the journal, the Montecristo No. 4.
Alright, I concede, it’s not the most exotic of cigars. It’s not a Montecristo No. 4 from the 21st Century Humidor (more on that later), or a Compay Segundo Monte 4 (more on that later), or some other strange beast, no, this is instead the humblest of creatures, purchased from a liquor store. I couldn’t see the dial on the hygrometer, but I’m fairly sure it would have read the same as the ambient humidity.
I light up the cigar, and immediately inhale the smoke into my nose far too closely and deeply, burning the inside of my nasal passage. When I’ve recovered I take a few puffs. The first notes are acrid and bitter. It’s too hot, too soon after lighting, and the cigar itself is a little dry.
For decades the Montecristo No. 4 has been the most popular cigar in the world (although I heard once that the Partagás Serie D. No. 4 was catching up), and this is how they are smoked, from liquor stores and head shops. No aficionado bullshit here, this is the everyman cigar, the absolute most common cigar experience, and the bar to which the lofty exotics to come shall be compared.
My first cigar in life was some three dollar Nicaraguan piece of shit that came in a plastic tube. I bought it for a buck’s night, and not having a cutter, I bit the end off with my teeth, removing about an inch of cigar in the process. Shards of tobacco came away from it whenever it touched my lips, and I found myself spitting after every puff, the flavour something akin to a rubber fire.
I don’t recall what I enjoyed about that experience, but I must have taken something from it, because a few months later I purchased a small plastic cutter and my second cigar in life, a Montecristo No. 4.
Oh what a difference, the flavours of Cuba, that delicious tang of finely toasted tobacco. Rich and spicy, bitter toward the end from the tar, but never that chemical rubber tang of an inferior smoke. There are echoes of that cigar in this one. There is certainly nothing unpleasant about it. The tobacco is slightly tannic, a little spice on the back pallet. Perhaps it’s all my talk of the everyman, but I feel that there’s a flavour of something rural that I just can’t quite put my finger on. It’s not the barnyard, or the earth, or the sweat of calloused hands, nor motor oil or sheep dip. Honestly, the more I try and pin it down the only thing I think I can taste is ketchup. Not sure where that’s coming from, but probably not the cigar or the glass of water that I’m pairing it with.
For years I kept a box of Montecristo No. 4 cigars in stock at all times, and presented them freely to anyone who was curious to try their first cigar. Once, in the early days of my habit I stumbled upon a website that seemed to offer prices well below those found in other online retailers. I bought a box, and as much as it hurt me to admit it at the time, I eventually had to face the fact that they were obviously fakes. Still, sunk costs are sunk costs, and so I mixed them one to two into my stock to hand out at parties. They were awful those fakes, real strips of tyre rubber, and I could tell more or less who had gotten what entirely by whether or not they ever asked for a cigar again.
More than halfway now and there’s a little tar, a little bitterness. A little nicotine too, no doubt. I include these photos to add some visual interest and because every cigar blog seems to do it, although I’m not entirely sure I see the point.
I remove the band, which comes away very easily. It’s embossed, which makes this cigar post-2006, although given its very dubious origins and storage history, I wouldn’t put a lot of stake in anything that can tell us. Here’s an aficionado tip: if you care about box codes, you shouldn’t be buying your cigars at liquor stores or petrol stations. Honestly though, this cigar has been pretty good. The burn has been dead even the whole way, no relights or touch-ups, and the draw is perfect, a good firm Cuban draw.
The bitter end; every puff leaves a tingle on my tongue and makes me salivate. I rinse and spit, but keep smoking. Perhaps it’s the nicotine, but while the end of a cigar like this is objectively unpleasant, I can’t help but love it. I find myself puffing deeper and more often at the end, making the cigar burn hotter and bitterer. I have a small head rush at the temples.
With a centimetre to go the cigar is burning both my fingers and lips, and shows no signs of extinguishing itself, so finally I make the call and toss it; it lands in a patch of wild mint that grows near the fence. Perhaps the mojitos of my future will take one some of the flavour of this Monte 4. I rinse the last puff from my mouth with the water, and the bitterness removed I am left with the aftertaste that follows the last swig of strong coffee.
I don’t have an especially well developed pallet, and honestly, I like everything, and so I don’t feel qualified to rate cigars at 94 out of 100 or anything like that. It is therefore my vague intention to rank all future cigars against this one (a device that I image will be discarded, perhaps as early as the next entry). One would hope, given the exotics that I plan to compare it with, that this cigar will remain perpetually at the bottom of the list, however, at this moment I feel like the bar has been set fairly high. A thoroughly enjoyable experience. I see why these are so popular.