One of our last stops on the book tour took us back through Sherwood Park and Edmonton, where we visited some outstanding Nottingham tobacconists, and we were fortunate enough that our good friend Erin came to my book signing there, and she brought with her a kingly gift; a box of Cohiba robustos, acquired directly from the Havana Airport. We waited until we were home from the east portion of the tour, and in the week before we went off to the Island, to partake of them. Our plans for the evening: cigars, scotch, and Postmodern Jukebox for atmosphere.
At 5 inches long and a 50 ring gauge, this is a lot of punch in a relatively small package. Cigar Aficionado gave this baby in particular a 96 rating and named it among their All-Time Top Cigars. You can not get more habano than this (except maybe when a Cuban cigar roller comes to your local cigar shop). CanadianCigar.com had this to say (and what an origin story):
A new brand of Cuban cigars which was introduced only in 1968, Cohiba quickly became the flagship brand of the Cuban cigar industry. Developed initially as a medium bodied protocol cigar for presentation only by officials of the Cuban government, Cohiba was marketed widely beginning in 1982. The initial sizes were the Lancero, the Corona Especiale and the Panetela, with the Esplendido, Robusto and Exquisito added in 1989. In 1992, in salute to the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of the Caribbean, the Siglo series was introduced.
It was created in 1966 for President Fidel Castro himself and was made at the then top secret but now world famous El Laguito factory. At first, it was only seen outside Cuba as gifts for heads of state and visiting diplomats. Since 1982 Cohiba has been available in limited quantities to the open market. The name is an ancient Taino Indian word for the bunches of tobacco leaves that Columbus first saw being smoked by the original inhabitants of Cuba — the earliest known form of the cigar.
The leaves for Cohiba are the “selection of the selection” from the five finest Vegas Finas de Primera in the San Juan y Martinez and San Luis zones of the Vuelta Abajo region. Uniquely amongst Habanos two of Cohiba’s filler leaves, the seco and ligero, undergo a third fermentation in barrels, which adds smoothness to the blend. There are two distinct Lineas (Lines) of Cohiba: the medium to full flavoured Linea Clasica introduced between 1966 and 1989; and the medium flavoured Linea 1492 brought out in 1992 to mark the 500th Anniversary of Columbus’s epic voyage of discovery. Ten years later in 2002, a new size, the Siglo VI, was added to the Linea 1492.
It’s unfortunate that avoiding counterfeits often requires the discerning cigar smoker to shop exclusively at the duty-free in Cuba, because these ones sat for some time before they made it to us. As a result, the ligero wrappers were dry and there was some cracking near the foot of mine, and their wrapper note was diminished. It reminded me of iron and clay and not much else. However, that iron scent is part of what makes a Cuban a Cuban; it’s that unique terroir. Again due to age, Erin’s cigar cracked and almost fell apart when he clipped its triple cap with his guillotine cutter, so he ended up with a severely reduced cigar, more of a gordo than a robusto. Jamie’s, however, sliced perfectly; and my bullet punch handled mine without incident.
Three robustos in a distinctive bright yellow package made it to us, which was perfect – one for each of us! The cigars are also individually boxed inside the package, and their label is a distinctive yellow, white and gold affair, decorated with a black strip dotted with white squares.
The dryness did not deter us, however! The pack was tight, firm, and almost perfectly seamless and veinless. Toasting the foot revealed a room note of red earth and butter; definitely not for the in-laws! Erin explained as we were lighting up that in addition to that unusual ligero wrapper, there were double ligeros in the first third, the usual ligero presence in the second third, and none in the last third. Ligero leaves are the ones near the top of the plant. They get the most sun exposure, and as a result they tend to be coarser and more oily than other parts of the plant. They are the essence of full-bodied cigars. This meant that we could anticipate a buttery beginning, a smooth middle and a (relatively) milder finish, and it was guaranteed to be strong.
The initial draw had me making mmmmm noises. Butter, red earth, clay and goodness. I simply sat and drew a few good strong draws for a few minutes. As Jamie said, “The Force is strong with this one!” The strength of the nicotine was apparent immediately, and it was surprisingly oily. I corrected to make sure my light was perfect and leaned back, humming happy mmm noises to myself.
About a half hour into the cigar I noticed that the draw was beginning to get difficult with my punch; not an uncommon problem for robustos, I have learned, and certainly one that I half-anticipated with the firmness of the Cohiba’s pack. It probably doesn’t bother the Cubans much (I think they smoke cigars with their breakfast and just keep lighting them whenever North Americans smoke cigarettes, puffing like steam engines,) but my inexperienced little lungs couldn’t handle it, so I attempted to clip the cap. In the process I knocked the ash off and it went out. Trying to relight was a bad idea with the edge of the ash still on the end; it tasted like an ashtray! I clipped off the burnt bit and re-lit, and this emergency amputation salvaged the cigar; but at the cost of probably ten or fifteen minutes worth of smoke time. From this I learned two things: 1) do not use a bullet punch to smoke Cohiba robustos, and 2) do not relight without clipping off the burnt bits.
However, I found it to be well worth the effort. Truly it was proving to be a delicious smoke! You just can’t beat that habano terroir. As Angela was explaining to me at the Havana Room earlier in 2014, habanos are what we would call completely organic. It’s not entirely by design; the US trade embargo prevents the acquisition of chemical fungicides and insecticides that are available elsewhere in the world. However, as a result the Cubans have developed a completely natural process of using the “waste” parts of the tobacco plant to brew spray-on fungicides and insecticides distilled entirely from the tobacco itself! Nicotine developed in plants as an insecticidal adaptation and remains an important ingredient in many chemical sprays. But the end product of this is that nothing that was not tobacco or water touches Cuban-grown tobacco plants. And you can taste the results.
Erin finished his at about the halfway point for the rest of us. Jamie smoked his really hot so he kept up with me, even though mine had been diminished by the clipping accident. Erin said that he wasn’t a cigar reviewer, but he sure knew what he liked and you could sure tell a Cuban. Jamie joked then that he was resisting the urge to bite into it and chew it. He then proceeded to do an excellent impression of J. Jonah Jamieson (we were pretty drunk by then.) He let his burn out not long after, thoroughly satisfied.
Under normal circumstances I notice clear transitions between thirds of the cigar these days. Now granted, this was a little obscured by the clipping, but really, the transition was so smooth that I forgot to note when the first third ended and the second third began! Normally there is a marked loss of butter flavour at the beginning of the second third of a cigar, I find; but in this case, there was no such thing. Cigar-makers, take note; I think this is the way to do it.
So mine, despite its surgery, turned out to be the last Cohiba standing. I allowed it burn out about an hour after I lit it. I am convinced that it might have lasted even longer if I had not been puffing steadily at it like a choo-choo myself. Near the end it became mushy and it sort of fell apart before it died. Again, I assume that’s the dryness that’s responsible.
Overall, even dry, I found this to be a prince among cigars. There is a reason why habanos are so popular the world over and why even Americans are willing to dare the wrath of their government to get them. You can’t beat it. It wasn’t very complex in its flavour profile, but the science of ligero placement was perhaps even more significant, and made this cigar quite possibly the most delicious smoke I have ever enjoyed. As I exclaimed on my first draw, “Mmm! Yep, that’s a Cuban!”
I should mark it down due to the breaking issue. I really should. But I can’t because that would not be fair to this fine piece of artistry. In this lady’s perspective, I have no choice in my heart but to give it:
You can get Cohibas anywhere that habanos are sold, except that demand means you may have to order them (they are currently out of stock at Cigar Chief.) My deepest condolences to our neighbours to the south for whom this would be a criminal offence to import!