An overcast but pleasant day at the Groom compound, where the ancestral lands are under threat; once a sizable pastoral holding, generations of divided wealth have whittled the family seat down to just a few blocks, and a dispute between my immediate forbears has led to the subdivision of those. Just off the deck I can see a line of new saplings cutting through the old front lawn, demarcating the new border of the property. Of course, that which remains is still very pleasant, but what’s the point of having a family compound if it’s not a vast fiefdom where your indolent sons can take drugs and throw parties without having to worry about the neighbours? The new neighbours are a long way from starting construction, but someday soon there will be a house just beyond those saplings, possibly even overlooking my smoking chair.
Today I’m smoking a custom cigar from Ranier, a level eight roller at the Partagás factory, and brother of Hamlet, himself a level eight roller (and now a big wheel at the Romeo y Julieta factory). Hamlet is a darling of the custom cigar aficionados thanks to a period when he toured the world regularly, rolling in bigger cigar shops. Professional Cuban cigar rollers fall into four categories: the level fives who roll the domestic production, the sixes who roll your Monte 4s and whatnot, the sevens who roll the middle size cigars, the Corona Gordas, Edmundos etc, and the eights who roll the perfectos and the big cigars. Levels one through four are strictly amateur hour. At one stage there were level nines as well (and indeed, Ranier was one of them), but they don’t have those any more.
I never entirely got the point of custom cigars. There’d be a great deal of pleasure to be found in making your own brand, with custom blends and packaging, but few have the skill or the resources to do that, and as it stands the vast majority of customs are commissioned as singles. If you’re only buying one or two cigars you’re hardly going to get a petite corona (I’ve had difficulty even getting Lanceros rolled), and so custom cigars generally all end up the same: double coronas (although Hamlet has been known to make flying pigs, short fat little things from time to time). I didn’t measure the cigar in question, but it’s a double corona or something very similar. It does have a pig tail and a shaggy foot, I suppose, both things you’d be hard pressed to find in production double coronas.
Of course, as is the cliché on A Harem of Dusky Beauties whenever I spend a paragraph tearing down a particular cigar, I must now admit that this one is delicious, with a light to medium earthy tobacco flavour and a little cream. It reminds me of a less refined Cohiba.
I’m considering this cigar in my Partagás horizontal because Rainer rolls at the Partagás factory (or at least the La Casa Del Habano store at the site of the former Partagás factory, which is being converted into a museum), but really it doesn’t belong there. In 1980 an outbreak of blue mould wiped out virtually the entire Cuban tobacco crop and with the factories sitting idle, a massive reform and rationalisation of the industry occurred. Many small factories were closed, many small volume sizes were discontinued, and the big factories all began to produce each other’s cigars. Partagás cigars today are mainly produced at the El Rey del Mundo Factory, at the same benches that put out Bolivar, Ramon Allones, La Gloria Cubana and a much else besides. I didn’t commission this cigar myself – it came to me though a friend – but it would have been rolled with whatever tobacco happened to have been issued to Ranier that day, and so the blend could be absolutely anything. A roller may ask you what sort of cigars you like as a bit of lip service, but in the main the only thing you can get by way of an altered blend is if you tell him you like strong cigars and egg him on until he slips an extra ligero leaf in there.
I have built a little fort out of my various bottles to protect my cigar from the ocean breezes, although it’s hard to say with surety how effective it is. About halfway down the cigar is still very earthy, and a little bitterer than I’d like.
With two inches to go it extinguishes itself, and when I relight it does not come back well, bitter and ashy with a lot of sulphur on the nose. Ten minutes later it starts to tunnel something hard-core. I touch up and persist, but it gets worse. I’m sorry, Ranier, you’re a good roller, the problem here is all on the smoker, but this cigar is quickly becoming very unpleasant.
The last few centimetres are awful, just bitter, bitter tar. I’m sipping on my sarsaparilla often, but even with that cloying sweetness on my palette, or perhaps because of it, I can’t help but spit between each puff, my saliva falling onto a section of the deck that is sheltered from the rain where it will petrify, a white indelible stain on the wood. It’s mostly my fault, I’m sure of it. I let the cigar go out and then left it to sit for a while, and the smoke pooled in the nub, ruining the tobacco there. One could make the argument that a good cigar is balanced and that Ranier should have balanced this one, rolled the cigar such that the meat, the heavier sun ripened part of the leaf, was at one end so the accumulated tar would be lessened overall. One could also make the argument that double corona cigars are not supposed to be smoked down until you burn your fingers. I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the level eight roller and blame the smoker on this one. I take the cigar down as far as I am able and let it go. Disgusting.
All told the Ranier custom was a good cigar, and had I extinguished it after a PSD4’s 4.9 inches it would have been by far the superior of that cigar, but unfortunately I let it go too far and paid the price. As it stands, with the last forty-five minutes tarnishing the memory of the first hour, I have to rate it worse than a PSD4.
You won’t find a Ranier Custom on the Cuban Cigar Website.