Does anyone really need an excuse for a top-tier cigar dinner? But it's always nice to have a theme, or maybe two, to expand the horizons of the evening beyond a piece of fancy meat, delicious red wine, a cocktail or two (or three), and the cigars.
Max Gutmann, the distributor for Cuban cigars in Mexico, had two good ideas. First, a few years back, he had a flood in one of his humidors that damaged some his cigars. Rather than throw the cigars away, he dried them out, and at his next barbecue, he crumpled up the cigars, and tossed them onto the smoker's coals—Steak á la Max was born. For this event in October, he engaged the chef at the Mexico City branch of The Palm, Luis del Sordo, to oversee the smoking of the meat, and the cooking of the meal.
But given his love of all things Cuban, he also paired up with Noel Adrian, the president of Pernod Ricard Mexico, the French spirits company that distributes Havana Club rums around the world. The dinner ended with a tasting of three special rums, orchestrated by Cesar Herrera, the global brand ambassador for Havana Club.
The dozen or so invitees included lots of Max's friends and true lovers of the leaf: a doctor; several top businessmen whose names would resonate in the world's financial pages; a wine importer; and a politician who couldn't make it because of a last-minute meeting at the presidential palace. And, yours truly.
Over mojitos mixed in the classic Cuban style—Havana Club 3-year-old, mint leaves, ice and soda—the group traded horror stories for about an hour about Mexico City traffic. It was enough hearing about it, but having it experienced the daily gridlock a couple of times in the last year, I can tell you, nothing was exaggerated and when everyone knows a one-mile drive can take two hours, the conversation was animated. Oh, and the first cigars had been lit, and were being enjoyed; a H. Upmann Magnum 56 Edición Limitada, a 2015 special release by Habanos S.A. and a Partagás Serie D No. 6.
Dinner was finally served. Steak á la Max was a hit. An overall smoky flavor dominated the tobacco taste, but there was definitely a note of tobacco on the palate; the side dishes were steak house classics, including a Caesar salad, grilled potatoes and asparagus. The wine, contributed for the evening by the wine importer, was a 2006 Châuteau Grand-Puy-Lacoste, which was drinking perfectly, like only a well-aged Bordeaux at its peak can do. Dessert was a baba au rhum, a cake soaked in Havana Club 7-year-old.
Then, the real fun began. Like any good Mexican festivity, it was after 11:30 p.m. when the waiters removed the plates from the table, set beautifully by Max's wife, Jennifer, in fantastical theme with small figurines of musicians. The cigars were passed again, this time a Cohiba Robusto Supremo, one of the Edición Limitadas from 2014. We had a quick taste of the Havana Club 7-year-old, and then moved onto the Selección de Maestros, a special bottling of Havana Club that goes through a careful vetting process by the company's master blenders. But the pièce de la résistance was a new rum called Havana Union (it goes by different names in different parts of the world, depending on local government regulations regarding tobacco trademarks on alcohol products—it is officially known as Cohiba Atmosphere). This $400 bottle of rum puts every other rum I've ever had in my life to shame; it is smooth and filled with strong notes of orange and vanilla and cocoa, topped off with a dark, dry molasses note on the finish. It is a truly spectacular rum, and worth trying to find in duty-free shops or any country where it is legally sold.
The conversation darted between Mexico's booming economy, the somewhat contentious social situation caused by pervasive drug violence, and the political dynamic between the country's two main political parties, the PRI (Partido Revolutionario Institutional) and the PAN (Partido Accion Nacional) and several upstart, more liberal parties. It was a fascinating conversation, especially for a foreigner newly arrived in Mexico, that kept the dinner party going until almost 2 a.m.
The final icing on the cake was a take-home bottle of Selección de Maestros and a gift pack of cigars. The pack consisted of three cigars that have a special relationship to Mexico; the Trinidad Fundadores 1998, which was commercialized in Mexico before any other country in the world, the Edmundo Dantes Conde 109, one of the first Regional Edition cigars and the Edmundo Dantes Conde 54, the second Mexican Regional Edition cigar. Each is a spectacular cigar and both the 109 and the Fundadores have been rated classics by Cigar Aficionado.
Quite a night.