It was more than ten years ago, January 1996, and I was in the middle of my first trip to Cuba. I was a newcomer to the magazine at the time, only on the job about six months, and I was tagging along with European editor James Suckling and George Brightman, at the time the magazine's director of business development. Both were cigar experts. I had smoked plenty of cigars, but to these two I was as green as a cigar-boom corona, and I was just happy to be along for the ride. I was soaking up information as best I could, and smoking more cigars a day than I ever thought possible. And I was in Cuba!
After spending a few days in Havana, we had driven out to Pinar del Río in this ridiculous purple Hyundai we were given as a rental car. We were there to tour the tobacco fields, and, of course, we were smoking dozens and dozens of great Cuban cigars.
But it was a tough time to buy Cuban cigars, even in Cuba. Double coronas were just about impossible to find, as were many robustos. This was, in part, our fault—Cigar Aficionado had built a worldwide demand for big and thick cigars, and even the shops in Cuba were out of stock on many smokes. It wasn’t easy to find Partagas Serie D No. 4s, and forget about Hoyo and Punch Doubles or Partagas Lusitanias.
But we made do. We had plenty of Bolivar Belicoso Finos from the Partagas factory store, incredible Juan Lopez No. 1s and 2s with some of the most lush, brick-red wrappers I had ever seen, plenty of La Gloria Cubanas in various sizes and just about every Hoyo de Monterrey Le Hoyo cigar that was made.
Among the collection was a box of Cohiba Siglo Is.
Now the Siglo I is an unassuming smoke, measuring all of four inches long with a pretty slim 40 ring gauge. It almost looks as if some clumsy cigarmaker has chopped about an inch or two from a lonsdale. I wasn’t expecting much from it. Hey, I had cigars three times that size to try, right?
We checked into a hotel called La Hermita in Pinar del Río, which cost each of us $17 for the night. It was a quiet place set amongst rolling hills and farmland, and the rooms were about what you could expect for such a price, complete with bedbugs for one of my co-workers and a mighty bullfrog that refused to vacate another's bathroom. Each room had a balcony, and Suckling and I cracked open beers and opened that box of Siglos as Brightman headed out for a jog.
The day was ending, and the temperature was perfect, maybe about 75 degrees. The sun was about an hour from setting, and all seemed right with the world.
I lit the Siglo, and it was impossibly rich for such a small size. Who knew so much flavor could be crammed into that little cigar? I remember rich, nutty flavors, zingy leather, some pepper—just all kinds of great taste that you expect from solid Cuban tobacco. We smoked the Siglos for about 40 minutes, then moved onto something larger.
That day alone I’m sure we each smoked some 10 cigars, but that little Cohiba stuck in my mind for its flavor, construction and great performance. On a trip where I smoked countless numbers of Cuban cigars, that one really stands out. And every time I light one up I’m brought back to that serene setting in western Cuba.