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Old Havanas

The best aged cigars, from 30 to 60 years old, are refined, stylish powerhouses of flavor.
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
maduro issue, Winter 93/94

(continued from page 1)

That's less the case with London cigar merchants. They sell Havana cigars almost exclusively, and they cost two to four times the price of those sold in the United States from other countries. It is a major investment for cigar lovers to start laying down cigars there. For example, a cigar lover in the United States may spend $750 to $1,250 for putting on reserve 10 boxes of 25 Dominican or Honduran robusto-sized cigars, but doing the same thing in London with Cuban robustos may cost $2,350 to $3,500.

Buying old cigars is even more expensive. A cigar with 20 or 30 years of age in good condition can be double or triple the retail price for a currently available one in a similar size or shape. Sautter says that five years ago he would have sold most of his pre-Castro cigars for half of today's price. He recently sold a box of 100 Montecristo No. 1 from the late '50s for about $4,650. It would have brought about $1,100 five years ago and $1,860 a little more than a year ago.

Because of the high cost of cigars in Britain, Sautter says that more people bought cigars for reserve about 20 or 30 years ago in London, which is why there are still relatively large stocks to be found. "A shipment of a particular cigar would come in and the customer would be notified," says Sautter. "Then we would say, 'take 10 boxes, sir, but don't smoke them yet. Give them a chance to improve.' Don't forget that in those days cigars would have cost about £2 to £3 a box. So, a guy would come and say, 'I will put down £100 worth of cigars.' "

Of course, it may mean more business for them, but most cigar merchants still think it makes good sense to put cigars on reserve. With most premium markets increasing cigar prices and taxes, one London merchant predicts that it's not going to get any cheaper to buy cigars.

If you decide to invest, larger cigars are always the best sizes to put on reserve. Generally speaking, the fatter and longer the cigar, the better. Cigars such as Churchills and double coronas are ideal, but robustos, although shorter, also store well. "You will lose some of the intensity of flavor when the cigar ages; so it's better to take fuller, richer styles of cigars," says Chase.

In addition, it's always a good idea to buy the cigars in cedar boxes called cabinets. Instead of being pressed or held in cardboard-lined cedar boxes, they are loosely held together in bundles of 25 or 50 cigars and then placed in a cedar box. The cigars seem to improve better with age in this packaging.

How many cigars to put away every year depends on how many you smoke. If you smoke only a few cigars a week, then four or five boxes a year should do. Daily smokers will have to buy more. By the fifth or six year, you should have a great collection of aged cigars. The cigars you first bought will he ready for smoking and your next reserve purchase will replace them. Most cigar collectors recommend, however, that you try one or two cigars from each box after their second or third year in storage to see how they are evolving. If you like them after a shorter period of time, smoke them. Rules on when to smoke an aged cigar don't exist.

If you are looking for older cigars, then the only way to be sure is to consult cigar merchants. They may have boxes of mature cigars available. To be certain of their age, some London merchants used codes or marks to indicate in what year they were bought, although this was not an industrywide practice. Pre-Castro or pre-embargo cigars are usually packaged somewhat differently from current cigars from Cuba. For instance, most of them are printed with MADE IN HAVANA-CUBA on the bottom of the box instead of the standard HECHO EN CUBA used today. In addition, there are styles, sizes and brands of cigars that have not been made in Cuba since shortly after the Revolution. These are obviously very old and the most valuable.

For example, the Belinda corona cigars from the late '30s were bought at a Toronto auction last June for about $2,500, or $100 a cigar. Granted, the auction was for charity, so prices may have been slightly inflated. But other pre-Castro cigars from merchants have been selling for even higher prices. Are they really worth the price?

For devoted cigar aficionados like Jacobs, the answer is an unequivocal yes. "Of course it's worth the money," he says. "When I smoke a good one, it is amazing to me that they are still smokable. They are delicious. I thought they would have been like tasting old dust."

Tasting Notes

1. MONTECRISTO NO. 1 SELECCION SUPREMA
It was a shame to break up the cedar box of 100 cigars, but what cigars. The draw was so good they almost smoked by themselves, and the rich, creamy flavors filled your mouth. They were good down to the last inch.
Estimated production date: 1958. 98

2. CABANAS NO. 751 ALFRED DUNHILL LTD.
In a cedar cabinet box of 50 cigars, these were amazingly good to smoke. The cigars showed beautiful, oily, dark-brown wrappers and smoked beautifully as well. Medium-bodied with a superfine, nutty character, they caressed our taste buds with every puff.
Estimated production date: 1960. 97

3. ROMEO & JULIETA NO. 758 ALFRED DUNHILL LTD. SELECCION SUPREMA CEDRO DELUXE
The packaging of this lonsdale cigar is wonderful, with each cigar individually wrapped in cedar sleeves. The cigars themselves are equally impressive, with loads of rich coffee-and-spice character yet in a very harmonious style.
Estimated production date: 1959. 97

4. H. UPMANN NO. 4 ALFRED DUNHILL LTD.
This is a deceptive old cigar that starts off slowly with medium-bodied tobacco and almost minty aromas and flavors, but ends with a burst of spicy character.
Estimated production date: 1961. 95

5. H. UPMANN NO. 22 ALFRED DUNHILL LTD. SELECCION SUPREMA
What an experience to smoke. Fondly called the Flying Pig in the trade in the late '50s, this is a thick-girth cigar with a lot of character. It burns evenly and easily with a rich yet delicate tobacco, nutmeg flavor and a long aftertaste.
Estimated production date: 1958. 94

6. LA CORONA CHURCHILL
Another aged cigar with a gorgeous, silky, medium-brown wrapper and a slightly silvery sheen to it. Mellow and refined, these Churchills delivered lots of tobacco flavor and a hint of spice on the finish.
Estimated production date: 1957. 93

7. PARTAGAS NO. 6 SELECCION SUPERBA ENGLISH MARKET SELECTION
What a gorgeous small cigar. It's a virtual spice box of flavors. Medium-bodied with mellow, elegant aromas and flavors of pepper, mint and tobacco, it gives all the smoking pleasure you need and more.
Estimated production date: 1959. 93

8. BELINDA BELINDAS
This cigar tasted as wonderful as it looked. Its wrapper was dark brown, verging on a maduro, but it delivered smooth, mellow tobacco aromas and flavors that went on and on.
Estimated production date: 1936. 92

9. FLOR DE FARACH PALMERAS
A secondary brand of Cuban cigar, this came from a batch sold in the early '80s at a New York auction. They were surprisingly good for a thick, panatela-sized cigar. Mild and spicy, they delivered plenty of flavor and character.
Estimated production date: 1958. 92

10. MONTECRISTO NO. 4 ALFRED DUNHILL LTD. SELECCION SUPREMA
Another old, mellow Monty. This petit corona smokes like a dream with light, smooth tobacco character and a cedary, savory finish.
Estimated production date: 1961. 92

11. RAMON ALLONES IDEALES
Beautiful to look at, this is a pencil-long perfecto cigar--pointed at both ends. It starts out a little harsh, then develops into a full-bodied but quite mellow smoke. Very spicy.
Estimated production date: 1958. 89

12. ROMEO Y JULIETA ALFRED DUNHILL SELECTION SUN-GROWN BREVAS SELECCION SUPREMA
A high-octane smoke with tons of flavor, this cigar was originally designed to be smoked outside during a country walk. It still burns with ease and produces rich, powerful flavors. The only problem is its slightly tight draw.
Estimated production date: 1961. 89

13. RAMON ALLONES NO. 66 ALFRED DUNHILL LTD.
We have smoked numerous of these thick, perfecto-shaped cigars, and the two for this tasting were not as good as previous ones. Although they showed medium-bodied, cedary tobacco character, they both seemed slightly dried out. Other cigars have been rich and creamy with loads of flavor.
Estimated production date: 1961. 87

14. HENRY CLAY CORONAS
Not as good as the others in this group. One of these coronas we smoked seemed rather musty and off-character, but the other cigar was medium-bodied with a rich, nutty and coffeelike character.
Estimated production date: 1958. 86

- J.S. with Marvin R. Shanken


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