With each passing lustrum the Partagás Aniversario humidors grow more and more complicated: the boxes more elaborate, the bands better printed, the sizes more unusual, and the release more numerous. So it is for 2005’s 160th Anniversary Humidor; 250 editions of an ornately carved little box, 100 cigars in each, 50 robusto extra and 50 grand piramides. The latter of these I will combust today.
I open the end of the cigar with a sharp knife and take a match to the foot. It begins very well, a smooth, mild tobacco. “Pepper” is often sighted a characteristic of Partagás cigars, and it’s a term I try not to use in my own tasting notes because I’m never sure exactly what people mean by it. Sometimes I taste capsaicin in a cigar, the tang that gives chilli peppers their heat (and their flavour), while other times there is a definite note of cracked black pepper, or a non-specific spice that lends it a “peppery” heat. On this occasion there is a note of peppercorns in the back-palette, the aroma of the green berries that I used to crush into puddles to see the oil rainbows at the age of five or six.
For a long and complex cigar like this, I thought it might be time to tell a long and complex tale of revenge, which begins, as most such tales do, with two pubescent boys, me (who at that time was known as Shroom, thanks to my trademark bowl-cut hairstyle), and David Poplar, who everybody called Dropbear. We were friends for a time, but – as is usual for hormonal dorks – we had a falling out, and became the bitterest of enemies. I don’t remember what we fell out about, but I remember the aftermath: six months or so of putting gum on each other’s lockers and stealing things from each other; pens, rulers, compasses, the power cables to each other’s laptops, that sort of stuff. More than once these thefts brought us to the principal’s office, where I would tell my version of the truth, Dropbear would lie through his teeth, and we’d both end up in trouble. At one point I shot him in the leg with a crossbow (it had a rubber safety tip on the bolt and didn’t break the skin, but it left a hell of a bruise). By far the worst and most lasting skirmish though, was when Dropbear got me kicked out of the Advanced Maths class. In later years I would emerge as a wordy, artistic type, barely able to do math beyond simple arithmetic, but at one point I was a promising mathematician, well deserving of my place among the twenty or so scholars of Advanced Maths. It was inspection day, when all of us had to submit our workbooks from the past term so that Mr. Patterson could make sure we were doing our homework, and fully confident in my pages of neat calculations, I spent the period we were given to finish off anything messing about with my friends, leaving my workbook unguarded my desk. At the end of the period I turned it in with confidence, totally unaware that Dropbear had spent that fateful period defacing it, tearing out pages, writing in mistakes, crossing things out, and drawing obscene cartoons in coloured marker. The next day my parents were called, and despite my protests, my tearful scene in Mr. Patterson’s office, I was demoted, an advanced math student no longer. I changed schools a few months later, but that night I swore that one day I would destroy Dropbear, not with some simple act of revenge, not with an act of petty theft or a defaced maths book, but with a Machiavellian plot that would see him utterly crushed and ruined forever.
Progressing, the cigar grows stronger with a bitter espresso note. It’s very pleasant, really. Very balanced. You can taste the care. The burn remains dead straight.
Fifteen years after I’d last seen the Dropbear I was living in Japan. It was an Autum night, just on the cusp of jacket weather, and I had been invited out to a chankonabe restaurant to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Chankonabe is what the sumo-wrestlers eat, a high protein, high fat soup of fish, squid, and prawns, cooked in a rich sake broth. Once the meat is eaten the pot is filled with rice, making a tasty, carb heavy stew for weight gain. The logic goes that the senior wrestlers need to build muscles, so they eat first and get all the meat. The junior wrestlers need weight, so they get the rice. The restaurant that night was all you can eat and drink, and being an epicurean of the first order, I took full advantage, filling myself to capacity with rich food and jug after jug of beer and sake. After the meal, well and truly lit up, the party moved to an Australian themed bar where I was a well-known regular. The bartender there was a middle-aged alcoholic Japanese man named Mori-san. When I first started going to that bar I would order my trademark whiskey-ginger, and would argue each time with the amount of whiskey he put in my drink. At first Mori-san would take this with good humor, adding perhaps an extra thimbleful to my glass, but once I was well established as a regular (I was at the point where I would occasionally tend bar while the proprietor had a nap on the couch), he decided to try a different tactic to ween me off large drinks: he would hide my glass beneath the bar and pour me a full six shots of whiskey with just a splash of ginger and see what happened.
My second whiskey drink rendered me insensible, or at least incapable of joining society without making a spectacle of myself, and my embarrassed friends propped me up at a corner table. I guess they felt a little bad about it, because after a half hour or so of mumbling to myself, somebody brought over a guy I didn’t recognise. “Hey Groom, why don’t you talk to this guy… he’s fresh off the boat from Melbourne.” I lifted my head a little, and focused a bleary glaze on the newcomer. “What suburb are you from?” He looked utterly disinterested in a conversation with a soak like me, but replied nonetheless “Prahran.” “Oh really? I went to school there for a couple of years.” “Yeah, me too.” I focused on him a little more intently. There was something familiar about this guy. “What did you say your name was?” “Dave… but ah… everyone called me Dropbear.” I laughed a long, malicious laugh. “You don’t recognize me? It’s Groom, you dick! Shroom! Do you remember what you did to me in Advanced Maths?”
I berated him for about twenty minutes, fifteen years of pent up pubescent anger, outlining each of my many grievances, and being quite open about my oath of vengeance. He sat there awkwardly, a sober bystander unable to extricate himself from the ramblings of an angry drunk. Eventually he found an excuse, he was travelling with another of our high-school alumni, who he had to go meet at a different bar. As with most drunks, once it seemed like I was going to be abandoned my tone shifted. “Wait wait,” I said “I’d love to see you again while you’re here, what’s your number?” He was traveling and didn’t have a phone, but to placate me he gave me the card the hotel had given him in case he got lost. The hotel was just nearby. The card had his name and room number written in pen on the top.
Not long after Dropbear had left, one of my friends sidled over and suggested that it might be time for me to do the same, and asked whether I needed any help to travel the 200m or so to my home. I took the hint, told him to get fucked, and stumbled out into the night on my own.
The coffee has sweetened, the bitterness become cocoa. With two inches left, there is a sort of grassy, herbal note, some freshly mown lawn. The strength has lightened, if anything. Above all, this is a classy, classy smoke.
My apartment was right in the centre of the red-light district, where no right minded Japanese person would ever choose to live, but it suited a party-boy foreigner like me perfectly. It was a former building manager’s apartment, and occupied the entire fifth and sixth floors of the building, with floors one to three being hostess bars, and four a happy-ending massage parlour. I had a playful relationship with the massage girls, mainly Filipino women in their 40s, who would be outside the building soliciting when I came in at night. When I first started living there they would clutch my arm whisper “massagi, massagi” in my ear, but as the months went by they had gotten to know my face and realised that I wasn’t a prospective customer. Nowadays it was me, who, rambling home in the early hours with a buzz on, would yell “massagi, massagi” at them. On the night in question I encountered one of them in the elevator on my way up – my favourite one, the one who played along with my silly game the most, and dragged her all the way up the stairs and almost across the threshold of my place before she escaped back down to the parlour below.
Finally home, and nearly spent from an exhausting evening, I slid the bolt across on the door, emptied my pockets onto the hall table, undressed, and turned on the shower. The bathroom was a Japanese style wet room, with a drain on the floor and no shower enclosure to speak of. With a well-practiced hand I removed the drain grating, and slowly lay down on my side next to the hole. I began to gently throw up, my retching scarcely more violent than breathing, the peaceful release of an undigested soup of fish, squid, and prawns, cooked in a rich broth.
I had been at it maybe twenty minutes when I became aware of a pounding on my door. My house was so centrally located that it was not unusual for me to receive late night visitors, friends who didn’t want to spring for a cab home and wanted a couch to sleep on, and so I yelled out “I’m in the shower, I’ll be there in a minute” and kept on with my expulsions. The pounding continued unabated, so eventually I got up, wrapped a towel around my waist, and dripping wet threw open the door to dress down this late night caller. Standing on my doorstep was the massage girl from the elevator a few minutes earlier. She grabbed me by the arm and started to pull me down the stairs. “No, no,” I protested “I was just kidding around! I don’t want a massage!” but she continued to pull until we got to the parlor below. Five girls in bikinis and three very sheepish looking Japanese businessmen in various stages of undress stood in a circle around the center of the room where a few overflowing plastic containers were failing to hold the deluge that was pouring through the ceiling at a similar rate to my shower above. Plainly visible floating in the tubs were chunks of fish, squid, and prawns. I laughed, explained as best as I could that I understood and would stop my shower, and then went back upstairs and passed out.
I awoke around midday to find my landlady (a sweet elderly Japanese woman) and a tradesman in my kitchen. With broken English and sign language she communicated that my shower’s drainpipe had clogged and burst in the ceiling. The tradesman brought over in a bucket the clog, a ball of prawn and squid, the suckers still visible on the tentacles. She looked at me quizzically. She picked up a frying pan from the bench and gestured to it and the shower. “You wash in there?” I grinned. “No no no.” I pointed to my mouth and made the universal gesture of throwing up. She lit up with understanding. “Okay, next time…” she pointed to the toilet. I bowed. “Okay.”
Two days later I was sitting on my balcony smoking a morning cigar (it was a Trinidad Reyes, if I recall correctly) and enjoying a can of coffee when two long, black S-Class Mercedes-Benzes came up my street and double parked in front of my building, disgorging a number of large, heavily tattooed men with sunglasses. The Yakuza. Japanese gangsters. The baddest men in Japan. Although not an uncommon sight in the streets of the red light district where I lived, this was the first time I’d seen the Yaks in mine. They were met at the door by my harried looking landlady. A few minutes later she rang my bell.
She explained in her broken English that because I had thrown up in the shower, the pipe bursting was my fault, and although the insurance company would pay for the damage I would need to apologise to the owner of the property below whose business had been hurt by the incident. I mimed confusion. “Oh no” I said “it wasn’t me who threw up… it was my friend.” From the hall table I picked up a card with the address of a nearby hotel, a name and room number written in pen on the top. She took it and scurried back down the stairs.
I returned to the balcony and to my still smoldering cigar, and watched as out in the street the large men piled back into their limousines and drove off in the direction of the nearby hotel.
I never heard from Dropbear again.
The cigar finishes very nicely without tar, the tobacco never peaking above medium. A wonderful elegant finish to a first class cigar, that is on par with the 155th Anniversary, even if it doesn’t reach the heights of the 150th. In an absolute ranking I’d have to give put the 155th higher than this, but that’s mainly just because it’s older. The 160th Anniversary Grand Piramides is a great cigar, and much better than a PSD4.