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The Robusto Generation

Once the province of Cuban-cigar connoisseurs, the short, stout smoke is one of today's most popular sizes
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Tom Selleck, Nov/Dec 2007

Cigar sizes and shapes—or vitolas as the Cubans call them—are a very personal thing. It's sort of like saying you prefer blondes, brunettes or redheads. And it may even be more personal than that.

My bread-and-butter cigar is a robusto. I have been into robustos for a long, long time. When I go down to my wine cellar in Italy to find a cigar or take a quick look in my Dunhill humidor for something to smoke, nine times out of 10 I grab a robusto. It's normally a Partagas Serie D No. 4 or a Ramon Allones Specially Selected. Occasionally I light up a Cohiba. I am also fond of the Arturo Fuente Don Carlos Robusto and the Bolivar Royal Corona, which was Cigar Aficionado's Cigar of the Year in 2006.

In the last couple of years, I have become a big fan of Montecristo Edmundos. Although they are slightly thicker than the standard robusto, at 52 ring gauge instead of 50, I think they still fit into the robusto category. Relatively short and fat, the cigar delivers a lot of flavor and pleasure in a short time. It's been a great addition to the Montecristo line and may one day become a classic like the legendary Montecristo No. 2, or torpedo, as cigar aficionados call it. The other great robusto is the Cohiba Siglo VI. This may be the most serious new cigar the Cubans have produced in the last 20 years. It is a blockbuster, with loads of spicy, cedar, tobacco character yet balanced and refined. It's expensive, but I have a small stash in the cellar for special occasions.

The introduction this year of the Montecristo Petit Edmundo significantly affected my addiction to classic robustos. I now can't get enough of the 4 1/3-inch smoke. It's a powerhouse of a cigar, with loads of spicy, coffee and tobacco character. It's also quick to smoke, which is important if you don't have time for something longer.

Robustos are a recent phenomenon. I remember a well-researched speech that English cigar maven Simon Chase gave a couple of years ago during the annual cigar festival in Havana. Chase is one of the world's most knowledgeable guys on Cuban cigars and he's been in the British cigar trade for decades. He is the marketing director for Hunter's & Frankau, the British agent for Cuban cigars.

In the speech, Simon rightly referred to the current popularity of robustos as the "robusto revolution." But I wonder if maybe he should have called it the "robusto generation." I think that most people who started smoking cigars seriously in the last 15 years are robusto lovers. I deliberately use the time frame of the last 15 years because it coincides with the creation of this magazine, in 1992. No one can deny that Cigar Aficionado created a massive consumer base around the world for great cigars, as well as educated and upgraded the tastes of established cigar lovers.

But it's fascinating to think that when Chase entered the cigar trade back in the late 1970s, he says "the word robusto did not exist. In fact, it did not make its first public appearance until 1989."

This doesn't mean that robustos were not made in Cuba before the late 1980s. The Partagas Serie D No. 4 apparently made its public debut sometime in the 1930s, while other popular robustos such as Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2, Bolivar Royal Corona and Ramon Allones Specially Selected date back to the 1950s and 1960s. But these smokes were not widely available and only the most select connoisseurs bought them, particularly in the U.K. market.

At the time, Chase said, most premium cigars were thinner and longer than robustos. "It started with the new 38-gauge sizes created at El Laguito for Cohiba in 1966. Known at the factory as Laguito No. 1 and No. 2 [now the Lanceros and Coronas Especiales] and measuring 192mm [7 1/2 inches] and 152mm [6 inches] in length, respectively, they were first introduced to the public around 1970 as Montecristo Especial No. 1 and Especial No. 2 and also as the Davidoff Nos. 1 and 2."

He said that Hoyo de Monterrey also had its Le Hoyo Series range and Partagas had its Serie du Connaissuer. "Even Dunhill, when they launched their short-lived Cuban brand in 1984 [production ceased in 1991], they chose to include the 175mm [6 7/8-inch], 28-gauge Atado in their lineup."

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