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Havana Corner: New Cigars, New Identities

Captain Jack Fantastic and Don Juan Coyote were two happy campers indeed. The two Americans were smoking their brains out over five days in Havana and they had just about reached cigar-smoking heaven by the last day. They have been coming to the island for years to enjoy a good smoke.

The names are obviously made up to protect them from the wrath of the U.S. Treasury Department, which recently stepped up its enforcement of travel restrictions to Cuba. Some people have been fined as much as $10,000 for traveling illegally to the island.

But for some it's worth the gamble.

"Taste this," said Captain Jack, who was simultaneously smoking two Hoyo De Monterrey Double Coronas, that came from two different boxes that he had just bought from the cigar store at the La Corona Factory in old Havana. "These are un*!?#ing believable! This is how Hoyo Double Coronas should taste."

I took a drag off the cigar, like one might have tried Maui's or Humbolt's finest in the 1970s, and it was really good...oh so good. I had not smoked a young Hoyo D.C. like that since the mid-1990s. It was not powerful or rough. It was smooth, refined and flavorful. It was an example of an outstanding cigar and underlined why it was an icon in the mid-1990s in the premium cigar world. Strangely, now you can barely give the cigar away because few want to smoke a cigar of such immensity. But they are wrong. The cigars Captain Jack had bought were clearly first-class.

What struck me the most about my trip last week to Havana was the taste of the new crop of cigars - those with box dates primarily from August 2004 - in the local marketplace. They are really excellent as a whole. The Bolivars taste like Bolivars, the Hoyos taste like Hoyos and the Partagas cigars taste like Partagas...that is, rich and strong, smooth and refined, and earthy and spicy, respectively. It reminded me of going to Havana in 1995 when you could buy any box you wanted and it would be excellent quality, and the cigars showed their respective style and character. Back then, the only concern was finding the color of wrapper that pleased you.

We may not be quite at the level of 1995 yet in Havana today. One still has to spend a good amount of time sorting through boxes to find cigars that look good. Moreover, I also have a tendency to push on a cigar or two in a box with my thumb to check that they are not overfilled, which often leads to tight draws. But overall, the stuff I saw last week was very, very good.

In addition, I smoked nearly all the new limitadas for this year and they were very good to excellent. I particularly liked the Cohiba Sublime, which measures 6 1/2 inches by 54 ring gauge. It was a massive smoke with loads of coffee and tobacco character. It burned perfectly due to its large girth. The Sublime was not officially in the market yet but Don Juan had scored a few from friends in factories. I was also offered a number of boxes right in front of La Corona from cigar jockeys, but I am sure those were fakes!

I was also impressed with the Romeo y Julieta Hermoso No. 2, which measures 6 3/16 inches by 48 ring gauge. It was a soft, round smoke with lots of coffee and spice character. It was rich and delicious on the palate. I gave it 94 points, but it will be better in two years or so. The Partagas Serie D No. 1 also needs some time to come together and seemed to lack a finish. Maybe it is too young? Or the blend is not perfect? The final limitada for 2004 will be a Hoyo De Monterrey Epicure No. 1, which measures 5 1/2 inches by 50. I was given a prototype of the cigar and it was rich and powerful, although I have not smoked the final product.

Captain Jack and Don Juan were very keen on the new Petit Robusto from Hoyo, which measures 4 inches by 50. They liked the idea of a thick, quick smoke. But I found the two I smoked rather hot and peppery due to the burning ash being so close to the palate. Maybe it was a question of being too young, but I will try them again on my next trip to Havana - and probably next time Captain Jack and Don Juan will be on the island again.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Havana Corner: New Cigars, New Identities