Pleasure / September 2015

Unlimited Pleasures

Our intrepid cigar connoisseur attempts to break down the bewildering varieties of cigars on the market, and generously points us to the smokes that are worth splurging on – that…

When I first got into cigars at the beginning of the 1990s, the world of the Havana was an altogether far simpler place. Brands tended to have been around for a while, they made their cigars in familiar sizes and that was about it. Davidoffs were still made in Havana at the El Laguito factory and were considered the best, and the biggest news was the introduction of the Cohiba a year or two before I started to take an interest. Strange to think that the black and yellow livery of the Cohiba - now a universal talisman of prosperity - was something a little out of the ordinary; and as for sizes, the Robusto with its 50-ring gauge was considered an absolute whopper - a leviathan.

However, shortly thereafter, things began to change rapidly. Davidoff, so long the apotheosis of the cigar, relocated production to the Dominican Republic; that was when I first met Zino Davidoff. And then the new brands started pouring out of Havana: first the Cohiba Siglo range, and then, towards the end of the 1990s, Trinidad, Cuaba, San Cristobal and Vegas Robaina.

However, things started getting really complicated at the start of this century. Rather like that game of Three- Card Monte, or the trick with the bean under the cup that used to be played on New York street corners before even the hustlers in Manhattan went upmarket, the Cubans started making cigars in shapes that belonged to other brands. It first happened at the millennium with three commemorative jars of cigars: a Cuaba, a Cohiba Piramide (the single-end torpedo) and a Montecristo Robusto. What was fascinating was that the torpedo was best known as a Montecristo No. 2, while the Robusto was a Cohiba icon. Of the two, I seem to remember that the Monte was delicious, while the Cohiba Piramide did not linger in the memory.

And in those two cigars we can see the embryonic concept of what would eventually become the Edición Limitada - cigars carrying a vintage, and in a format not in the normal run of production. Shortly after the millennium jars, the first Edición Limitadas appeared. One of the earliest was the 9.3- inch telegraph pole of tobacco that went by the name of Hoyo de Monterrey Particulares, the same format as the Montecristo A, the fabled Sancho Panza Sancho and the long-discontinued Romeo y Julieta Fabulosos.

What distinguished these early limited editions, apart from their unusual sizes, were the wrappers, which were darker than usual and were aged for two years. However, since 2007, all the tobacco in cigars bearing the second band of the Edición Limitada - wrapper, binder and filler - has been aged for a minimum of two years, giving rather more meaning to the concept of an identifiable vintage.

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Nick Foulkes