Spending last week in Cuba gave me the opportunity to smoke many of the island's current production cigars. Gordon Mott and I puffed away each and every day, starting early in the morning (I joked that our Cuban breakfast was a Cohiba and a cup of Cuban coffee) and ending sometimes fairly late in the evening.
These were hardly scientific tastings. The cigars were not smoked blind, as we do here in our offices. We smoked them in various places, sometimes during or after meals, sometimes with libations and some cigars were bought in stores or bars while others were given to us in factories or by officials from Habanos S.A. I don't give scores for cigars that we taste this way, but I will give you a description of the smokes to provide you with a snapshot of how the current production Cubans are smoking right now, in the country in which they're made. And I even added a little video footage taken from one of Cuba's best shops so you can see some of the cigars we smoked.
We puffed two of the three Cuban ELs for 2010, the Trinidad Short Robusto T Edición Limitada and the Montecristo Grand Edmundo Edición Limitada (we didn't smoke the Partagas Serie D Especial EL 2010 while in the country.) The Trinidad was, for me, a slow starter. It measures four by 50 and had some oily notes at first and was fairly aggressive, but it warmed up beautifully about a half an inch in and really improved. The dark, thickish wrapper didn't burn so well throughout the smoke, but I'll forgive some burn problems for good flavor. Gordon and I both enjoyed the cigar.
I enjoyed the Montecristo Grand Edmundo even better. From the first puff this cigar wowed me with balanced, intense flavors. The Grand Edmundo is a canonazo size, same size as the Cohiba Siglo VI, and Cuban cigars in this size always seem to impress me. This cigar was delicious from start to finish, very flavorful and nicely balanced with a medium to full body. The construction on these (I smoked two while in Cuba) was also exceptional. If I had been scoring these, it would have rated "outstanding."
The first disappointing cigar I smoked in Cuba was actually the first cigar of the trip. The Punch Punch, an old reliable I chose from the small humidor at El Relicario in the Melia Cohiba, was tart, with a slightly firm draw and somewhat lackluster flavor. It had a gorgeous dark wrapper, but it turned out to be an empty suit without much else to make it appealing.
A second disappointment was another old reliable, the H. Upmann Magnum 46. I bought one in a tube at the new Casa del Habano at the Habana Libre, and while it was good, it wasn't great, and I'm used to top-tier experiences from the Mag 46. It was a bit acidic, and not as rich as I have come to expect from those cigars.
Thankfully, it was far from the norm. The other cigar I bought at the Casa was a Romeo y Julieta Cazadore, which I smoked while working on some blogs in my hotel room.
This crusty looking, homely cigar tends to have big time flavor, and this Romeo worked just fine for me. I love the taste, and simply cannot resist buying one whenever I see one. It didn't disappoint.
I puffed a Montecristo No. 4, and it was fine—as Monte 4s tend to be. It didn't blow me away, but it was far from lousy, just a decent quick smoke. Gordon seemed to get a better one, as he liked his a little more. But you shouldn't expect miracles from a Monte 4, just a good smoking experience. If you get a great one, consider yourself lucky.
For great smoking, you should turn to Cohiba Behike BHKs. I smoked many on the trip, the 52, 54 and 56 and all impressed. I didn't have a bad one while in country. I've always been impressed with the 52 and 54, but the 56 hasn't smoked as well, in my opinion. On this trip, in Cuba, they smoked very well indeed. Still not as tasty as the 52, but tasty enough.
One of the best cigars of the trip was a Montecristo Double Corona. These big, long smokes were produced in 2009 for a special humidor made to look like a replica of an old humidor. Cuba made only 350 of these humidors, each containing 50 double coronas. I saw a few for sale in Cuba, and you can see the packaging in the video I shot at the Club Habana cigar store. This cigar was quite a charmer, big and bold, rich and round, and immensely satisfying from start to finish. Gordon and I each smoked one after dinner high atop El Gijones. Gordon and I have conferred, and this one could have rated in our "classic" category in a blind tasting.
Finally, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to grab a three-pack of Montecristo Petit Edmundo Tubos. (Love this size.) Big flavor, approachable size and when tubed so easy to carry. These cigars were rich and bold, with a sweet, leathery flavor, notes of coffee and gorgeous construction despite being hidden in a tube. I wish I had more right now.
Overall, Gordon and I found the cigars available right now on Cuban cigar shelves to be very fine quality smokes. Draw problems were minimal, if any, the flavors were very solid and on top of it all the selection of cigars in the stores was superb. Behikes were in short supply, but aside from that virtually everything was available, which made us very happy indeed.