There was a time, in the 1980s, when the Robusto format was all but extinct. Mirabile dictu, but in 1984 Cuba
produced just 5,000 of its then only current Robusto, the Partagas Serie D No.4, and when the Cohiba Robusto
launched in 1989, just 25,000 were made for the world. With its 50-ring gauge I remember it seeming an
unconscionably indulgent cigar, but, in a ribbon–bound bundle of 25 cigars and their oily toffee-coloured wrappers
almost glowing, it was incredibly seductive. Still, it took me some time to work up the courage to tackle one. I
feared the strength, but I need not have done, for the power was like that delivered by the effortlessly
turbocharged V8 of a Bentley; smooth and controlled. In the cigar's case, that was down to the quality of the
tobacco harvested from the five best plantations in the Vuelta Abajo area as well the additional fermentation
undergone by the seco and ligero leaves; a process that lowers the nicotine and acidity.
It was a Montecristo No.4 offered to me by my wife’s stepfather that got me into cigar smoking and it was the Cohiba
Robusto that kept me there. I was at the dinner at Claridge’s in 1992 when Cohiba's Linea 1492 range was launched.
The Linea range was the successor to the Cuban Davidoffs, which had been made at El Laguito. Davidoff subsequently
relocated production to the Dominican Republic. The new range of Cohibas, Siglos IV (one for each century since the
arrival of Columbus in the New World) promised a slightly lighter style and the Corona Gorda sized Siglo IV (46 ring
gauge by just over 5.5 inches) became a rival to the Robusto in my affections.
Nowadys, the taste is for cigars of ever-increasing girth, so a Siglo VI (52 ring gauge x just under six inches) was
added, and most recently the best just got better with the arrival of the Behike. Until a few years ago, I was only
aware of three types of leaf from the tobacco plants that often grow to the height of man: volado, from the bottom,
for combustibility; seco, from the middle for aroma and some of the flavour and, further up the plant, the
slower-burning ligero, which imparts strength and accounts for the steeple of ash that forms at the end of a lit
cigar. Then I learned about Medio Tiempo, which comes from the very top of the sun-grown tobacco plant. I was told
that there are just two leaves per plant and that they cannot be relied upon to appear every year. It is these
leaves that give the Behike range their unique potency. But while these are rich and flavourful cigars, their large
ring gauges 52, 54, and the hard-to-manage 56, mean that the blenders have a bigger canvas on which to balance the
flavours to provide an experience that, at its best is close to sublime. I say close to sublime, because of course,
the best cigar so far this century is actually sublime, the Cohiba Sublime, a limited edition from 2004 and
highly sought after, although the Cohiba 1966 limited edition of 2011 comes a close second.
Not every Cohiba has been brilliant. I am not a fan of the Maduros, and they cannot always be smoked instantly: the
Robustos Supremos limited edition of 2014 needs time to sort itself out, and even after a short time it has improved
from when I first tasted it upon its U.K. arrival (let's put it down to jet lag). However, given that, when you
include the limited runs and special editions, there are around three dozen different Cohibas (where there used only
to three) it is little short of miraculous (given the difficulties that the Cuban cigar industry has to face) that
they are as consistently enjoyable as they are.
And when it comes to important anniversaries, such as the 50th birthday celebrations for Cohiba, the Cuban cigar
industry really put on a show. At the festival of Havana cigars in the same year, the first of a series of 50
celebratory humidors fetched $320,000 at auction, which works out at $6,400 for each of the 50 cigars it contains.
But for that money, at least they are big cigars - very big cigars. In fact a relatively new vitola, called Cohiba
50 Anniversario (60 ring gauge x 178mm length), is a real beast, the first in the Habanos portfolio with a 60 ring
gauge (23.80mm) and treated to both a new band and a gold foil-covered foot.
Of course, for that sort of money, you get a nice box, a very nice box: a cabinet humidor made of different precious
woods, including Macassar ebony, sycamore and Scented Guarea. Its doors are decorated with ligero leaves from the
Vuelta Abajo coated with 24-carat gold leaf. Extras include a travel humidor, a handmade leather cigar case, and an
ashtray decorated with the same technique as the door. It can also be connected to the internet, as there is an app
(of course) to control temperature and humidity (although wi-fi in Cuba is a bit hit and miss).
I am sure that these are splendid cigars, but considering the price, I doubt I will taste them. However, I am not too
worried about that, as even 'ordinary' Cohibas have a habit of being remarkable cigars, especially when they have a
bit of age on them.
I had the good fortune to come across a box of Siglo VI from 2004. I lit one and was reminded of why I got into cigar
smoking: the rich aroma, the almost textbook progression and development of body and flavour. As I pondered the
aroma, I could not help feeling slightly grateful towards the Americans. After all, if the Comandante had not had to
take such extreme measures to safeguard his production against the C.I.A.'s exploding cigars, we might never have
been given the Cohiba.
This article originally appeared in Issue 46 of The Rake.