“Aficionado my ass….I just love to smoke cigars”. James Woods could not have summed up cigar smoking better. Sometimes we get bogged down in all the showmanship, titles and the great cigar debate but, we forget the simple pleasures a cigar brings. In solitude, a cigar allows oneself to get lost in thought, to literally meditate and focus solely on all the visual and olfactory stimuli a cigar gives you (this is how I like to do my tastings). It is a simple pleasure but, I’m glad there are a growing number of cigar smokers in the UK. With friends, cigars can become the focal point of discussion or encourage lively conversation.
Anyone who knows me knows I don’t like to call myself a Habanosommelier or even a cigar aficionado. I’m just a cigar lover. My CV is one thing but, I’m all about the pleasure and experience one gets from smoking a good cigar; sometimes alone or with friends; with or without alcohol.
When it comes to power, there are several Cuban brands that jump to mind. Partagás, Bolivar and Ramon Allones are the big three for me. A powerful cigar from Cuba is possible by adding (usually) more ligero filler tobacco than the other two. However, adjusting the amounts of volado and seco can also achieve interesting results in a Cuban cigar. Ligero is the most expensive filler leaf to produce as it requires the longest fermentation time. Ligero is used because of its combustibility and strength. It seems correct that all three brands are currently made at the Partagás factory in Havana.
This is the first Regional Cigar I have reviewed, so let me explain what they are. They are made with Cuban tobacco, 100% long filler and totally handmade in Cuba. They were created in early 2000’s, primarily down to Simon Chase (who was then, the Marketing Director of Hunters and Frankau, the UK Habanos cigar importer). Every Habanos distributing company in the World would be offered the opportunity to create (initially two cigars a year but then just one after 2008) a cigar for their region which was from a lesser known brand and was either a new vitola or a discontinued vitola). These have become very successful over the years and have given cigar smokers something new to buy on their travels. The first Regional release came out in 2005. Phoenicia is the name of the Habanos distribution company that looks after Lebanon, Greece, Cyprus, the Middle East, Turkey and anywhere in North Africa. This cigar is called the Phoenicia 30 to commemorate Phoenicia’s 30th year of trading.
Cigar: Ramon Allones Phoenicia 30th Anniversary Lebanese Regional
Release year: 2008
Country of manufacture: Cuba
Tobacco: Vuelta Abajo, Cuba
Vitola: Sublimes, 54 x 6.5” (164mm)
Smoke time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Box size: 1st release numbered varnished boxes of 30 cigars
2nd release in 2009 of numbered varnished boxes of 15
RRP: £500 box of 30 at release
Cutter: Xikar X8 double guillotine cutter
Lighter: Siglo double flame dragon lighter
The Phoenicia 30 is just beautiful. The shape and size of the Phoenicia 30 is exactly the same as the first cigar I reviewed for The Rake online, the Cohiba Sublimes LE 2004. It’s a big cigar for me, 54 x 6.5” is one of the largest sizes in the Habanos portfolio. The wrapper is a slightly darker shade than a regular Ramon Allones. You can see the oiliness of the wrapper shine. The quality of the wrapper is first class. The colour of the wrapper is about a Colorado with a hint of red. The veins you can see are fine and do not affect the look of the wrapper. The Ramon Allones band is the current band in use but, they have added a Regional Edition band which is silver and burgundy with “Exclusivo Libano” printed on it and has an additional crescent panel added to it with 30 Phoenicia anniversario. It’s a grand looking cigar. It has the classic Cuban triple cap finish.
I first check the cigar as usual by squeezing the foot gently, there’s a nice amount of give in the cigar which shows the roller has done a good job. It doesn’t crack under the squeeze, so it shows the cigar has been kept in a decent humidity and temperature. It also shows that it hasn’t been over packed or under filled. I repeat the gentle squeezing along the body, at the band and head. No hard spots or knots I can feel. I’m pretty sure this will be a good cigar to smoke.
The ash is a darkish grey, but just feels solid. I decide to do something a little unconventional for a tasting and that is to try a long ash. Long ashing is something some smokers do to check the construction of the cigar and also as a competition. Our very own Sir Winston Churchill was known to smoke cigars with a long ash and used it to mesmerise his audience as he spoke and waved his lit cigar around as he gesticulated. The audience often became transfixed on this amazing long ash that never fell, even when he moved his cigar hand wildly. Long ashing can become a bit of a chore as you cannot really move, plus you must smoke the cigar vertically. I was very surprised to be able to smoke this big cigar down to the band long ash style, at least 2/3 of the cigar as you can see from the picture. The ash that fell was very solid and shows the quality of the construction.
Apart from a little unevenness at the beginning, the Phoenicia 30 burnt very evenly throughout the smoke. During the long ash phase, I didn’t have to touch up the burn once. I only relit after the ash fell and I had to remove the bands.