The Montecristo Millennium jar Robusto; arguably the first Montecristo special release. This was released in the fledgling days of the new Habanos S.A., the ink from Altadis’ 50% buyout was still wet on the page, and the very first sprouts of capitalism were beginning to emerge from the fallow fields of the Cuban cigar industry. Collectables were the order of the day. Special releases! Same cost to produce, higher price at the register! Lower the expenses! Increase the margins! Find the equilibrium on the supply and demand curve!
The cigar begins well, with a nice firm Cuban draw. The first notes are woody, a lot of cedar, and also something heavier, maybe oak. What does mahogany taste like? Birch? The larch? It’s definitely not pine or maple, that much I’m sure of. I feel I can also safely eliminate the Australian Red Gum, which I imagine tastes like eucalyptus oil, although there is a certain hint of the Australian bush in this smoke; the bush in the morning, after heavy overnight rain. I remember one afternoon in Cuba my bus stopped for a few hours in some nondescript village halfway between Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba, and there, in the shadow of a grim Soviet apartment block and a billboard of Castro I found a wattle tree. There was no context as to how it got there, but the flowers were unmistakable. Perhaps a few spores from that lonely specimen were taken by the trade winds and deposited in Pinar del Rio, where they made their way into my cigar? It’s plausible, but it seems like a heavier wood than that.
I’ve made myself a cheeky martini. I have in my home a serious liquor collection (certainly enough to open a decent bar or suburban bottle shop), but for some reason all I ever drink is beer and the occasional Dark and Stormy. Well not today. Two shots of Hendricks, a half of Noilly Prat and a half of Grey Goose, poured over a shaker of ice. Not shaken, not stirred, but allowed to sit, just for a moment, just long enough to chill it or until I get a sliver of peel off a lemon and place it in the bottom of a chilled martini glass: whichever comes first. I’m not sure why I don’t drink more of these. Unadulterated alcohol, a crisp, clean taste. It’s not a bad pair with a cigar, really. Very neutral. A little herbal. Definitely dissolves the tar.
The cigar is changing with every puff, the draw loosens then tightens. An inch in and it’s delicious, very rich and creamy. Medium tobacco dominates, with a hint of the barnyard, and a nice sweetness. Honey perhaps? Nectar?
I remember the 1999 into 2000 New Year’s Eve (I’m avoiding writing “the dawn of the new millennium” or anything like that, because as was explained to me at great length in the build-up to the 2000-2001 new year, “there was no year zero” etc etc. In 1999 we didn’t care about that stuff; for us, 1999 was the last year of the second millennium). A few of my punk friends and I were at my dad’s work, a 10th floor balcony overlooking Flinders’ Street Station and the fireworks barges that were floating on the river behind it. My friends and I spent most of the night in my father’s office, doing what I don’t recall, but I know that at 11:55 or so we wandered out onto the deck in preparation for the countdown. At 11:58 Dad took me aside. “Xan, can you make sure the computer is shut down?” he said. “The IT guy wants all the computers shut down… just in case.” He didn’t have to say in case of what; I knew: the Millennium Bug! The dreaded apocalypse was nearly upon us! I scampered inside, but the computers of 1999 did not shut down so quick, and so that’s where I was as the clock ticked over: in an eight square meter cubical, looking at a 15” cathode ray tube monitor displaying something like “Windows NT is shutting down…”. Every New Year’s Eve I think about how much bigger the resolutions have gotten since then (humour).
(Part of me hoped I’d find the husk of a long dead tobacco in this cigar, which would have enabled a Millennium Bug pun in that last paragraph, but alas, it was not to be.)
Is this cigar a gateway to another time? To an age before September 11th 2001, before the unending war on shadowy enemies, and the ubiquitous security and surveillance that goes with that; an age before the rise of China; an age when there were people who hadn’t used the internet yet; and an age where I was just a lad, taking my first (largely abortive) steps into adulthood? The flavour seems about right. Cedar. A little nutty.
Here’s a trick I just made up: when you’re smoking in the wind, rest the cigar in a champagne glass between puffs – nothing is worse for cigars than the constant agitation of a gusty breeze. There is a downside, of course: the sticky brown residue that rapidly begins to coat the inside of the glass. This is what we’re putting in our lungs? They say that age and Cuba’s intensive hand wrought process of fermenting and drying the tobacco reduces the tar, and yet twenty minutes of un-stoked smouldering from a 13 year old Cuban super-premium is enough to thoroughly coat the inside of this champagne glass with patchy brown molasses! Imagine what a fresh-from-the-table forth rate Nicaraguan would do to it!
Toward the end the cigar grows tangy… it seems that some tar has avoided the glass and wound up in last inch of the cigar, where I gingerly combust it. Bitter. Ashy. Awful. It’s the end. The bitter end of a nice cigar.
Certainly better than a Monte 4, although perhaps not quite as good as the giants of the breed.