Cuba’s Ghost Cigars

Cuba’s Ghost Cigars
The Montecristo Linea 1935, left, was announced at last year's Festival del Habanos but has not arrived in global markets. The Cohiba 50th, right, was the star smoke of the Festival in 2016 and is one of the more elusive cigars in the Habanos portfolio.

The cigars get talked about in whispers. Have you seen any Talismán here? Do you know when the Monte 1935s are coming? Have you smoked the Montecristo 80th Aniversario? Did you ever get a Cohiba 50th?

Sometimes, the question is followed by the person furtively looking over his shoulder, reaching into his pocket or bag and handing you a cigar, with a “here, try it now.” Sometimes the cigars don’t have bands, and the gifter explains that the cigar came “right off the bench in El Laguito,” or was given by a friend who “works in Habanos.” And, when you’re in Cuba during the Habanos Festival, talking to people in the know, many times, those cigars are legitimate, even though they’ve never seen a retail shelf here inside Cuba. They also can be rare to find outside the country, because these special-edition cigars have been produced in extremely limited quantities and often are pre-sold to retailers’ best customers.

That’s why I call them ghost cigars. Most everybody has seen one or smoked one, but apart from the lucky few with close ties to the supply chain, very few have actually bought them. I know people who have spent years developing those secret links to factories and shops, so they are always able to get a few boxes, or even as many as they can afford. For the rest of us, we have to be content with the largess of those insiders.

That’s how I came upon a Montecristo 1935 Leyenda, a big cigar from a special release that was announced a year ago at the Festival del Habanos. They have not arrived in global markets, nor are there any available here this week in Havana. But when a retailer friend asked me, “Have you tried the 1935s? I’d like to give you one.” Well, I’m no fool. “Of course,” I said. “I’d love to try it.”

The cigar is beautiful, with a wrapper that has a medium, reddish-brown color. The foot carries a band with the 1935 logo. I lit the smoke, and discovered immediately that it was a cigar still fresh from the factory. There was a slight sharpness to the smoke, and the burn was uneven for the first inch of the cigar as it burned off some of the production humidity. I commented on this to my benefactor and he smiled and nodded and said, “Yes, it needs more time.”    

As I smoked it, the Monte began to take on the characteristics that will emerge after a year or two of box age. It’s a medium-strength cigar (not as strong as the Montecristo 80th Aniversario) with a solid core of coffee notes, and some pleasant earthiness. I think it will be a fabulous cigar with five to 15 years of age, but I couldn’t really make any guesses for its longterm aging potential. (As an aside, I believe the 80th Aniversario is easily a 50-year cigar, if kept well) The good news is that the tobacco in this 1935 is of high quality, and there were no construction issues with the cigar I smoked.

So, I can check another one of the “ghost cigars” off my list. Now, if I could just find another Cohiba 50th to see how it’s evolving. Or how about a Talismán? That shouldn’t be too hard.