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Cigar Diary: In the Box

Cuba has created lots of excitement with its limited-edition cigars and humidors
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
10th Anniversary Issue, Nov/Dec 02

(continued from page 1)

Partagas 150th Anniversario Humidor (1995) -- 150 humidors with 150 numbered cigars: 50 robustos (4 7/8 inches by 50 gauge), 50 corona gordas (5 5/8 inches by 46 gauge) and 50 109s, a tapered double corona (7 5/8 inches by 49 gauge). My ratings: 92, 94 and 96 points, respectively. Current value: about $14,000.

Cuaba Salomon (1999) -- 45 humidors of 47 cigars, exactly the same as the Partagas Salomon II. My rating: 97. Current value: about $2,100.

The only negative aspect of these cigars is that they are very expensive and hard to find. Basically, no one but the superrich can afford them.

But there is an alternative. I believe that much of the same pride and celebration is now going into the production of the limited-edition cigars that began in 2000, or as the Cubans call them, Edición Limitada. These new entrants into the market sell for reasonable prices, from about $10 to $30 per cigar, and are still readily available. I am not sure how limited the production is, since I have seen figures of about 10,000 boxes of 25 cigars. But they are still produced in smaller quantities than some of the other limited-production cigars, such as the Montecristo No. 2 or Punch Double Corona, which have annual production quotas of between 40,000 and 80,000 boxes.

Edición Limitada cigars began to arrive on the market late last year. The concept behind the smokes was to produce a small number of cigars in a shape normally not found in a particular brand using aged filler and wrapper. According to Fernando Lopez, the head of all Cuban cigar factories, the limitada range was never designed to be a maduro line of new smokes, like many Cuba cigar lovers believe. Rather, he said, it's always been the aim to make the limited sizes with an aged wrapper of two to three years that shows a slightly darker brown color than the norm.

The leaves come from the upper part of the tobacco plant, which get the most sun and are picked last. This makes the leaves richer and riper -- more maduro, as the Cubans say -- so they come out darker following curing and fermentations. They do not come out black, as many maduros do from other countries after the wrappers have undergone heavy fermentations. Some manufacturers, who will remain nameless, even paint their leaves with dye to make them black, which is completely bogus -- but that's ammunition for another column.

So far, most of the two releases of Cuban limitadas -- four new cigars the first year and five the second year -- have been produced in the Partagas factory in Havana. They include, according to Partagas factory manager Hilda Baró, the Partagas Pirámide and Serie D No. 3, Montecristo Robusto and Double Corona, Romeo y Julieta Double Corona and Cohiba Torpedo. I am not sure where the Hoyo Particulares was made, but probably H. Upmann because that's where Montecristo "As" are made, which are the same size. "I have heard that some people say that we simply changed the bands on some cigars to come up with our limitadas, but I can assure you that each size has been made according to the traditional blend for each brand but with aged tobacco," Baró says.

Here are the cigars that have been released so far, with my personal ratings when I've been able to smoke them:

In December 2000, the Cubans released four limitadas: Romeo y Julieta Exhibicon No. 2 (7 5/8 inches by 49 gauge, 90 points), Partagas Pirámide (6 1/8 inches by 52, 88), Montecristo Robusto (4 7/8 inches by 50 gauge, 92) and Hoyo de Monterrey Particulares (9 1/4 inches by 47). I never had the chance to try the latter.

The second batch of limitadas was released this year, some of which included a band that reads Edición Limitadas 2001. They were: Cohiba Piramide (6 1/8 inches by 52, 90), Montecristo Double Corona (7 5/8 inches by 49 gauge, 90), Romeo y Julieta Robusto (4 7/8 inches by 50 ring gauge, 90), Partagas Serie D No. 3 (5 5/8 inches by 46 gauge, 95) and Hoyo de Monterrey Particulares (9 1/4 inches by 47, 92). The latter was re-released because the first production was very limited.

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