It’s 9 a.m., and I’ve just lit up a new Montecristo Petit No. 2. Too early for a cigar? Not here. Not in Cuba.
I was given the cigars last night at the opening party for the Habanos Festival, a gathering of several hundred people at the historic Morro Castle, a sturdy fortress festooned with massive cannons that stands guard astride the Malecón. It was quite a dramatic setting for the launch of a pair of new Montecristos, the Montecristo Petit No. 2 and the Montecristo Double Edmundo. The cigars were handed out at the start of the evening. I smoked a Double Edmundo during the event, but I didn’t want to pass judgment on it or take notes while smoking it outdoors in the wind. It’s impossible to get all the nuances of the smoke in most outdoor settings, and this was less than ideal: breezes make cigars burn improperly, having a conversation means you don’t spend enough attention on your cigar, and all that open air ensures you lose the aroma of the smoke. So this morning I’m sitting down after coffee and breakfast with a clean palate to give you an idea about the new cigars of Cuba.
Of course, what I was given last night isn’t necessarily what will end up on store shelves later this year when these cigars officially go on sale. These are samples. Sometimes the final product smokes better, as prototypes like this one might be rushed into production to make a deadline, such as a grand party. Sometimes they smoke better in preview. There have been times when a preview cigar has been made at one factory, and the final product is rolled at another, or several others. Either way, things might change.
One thing that won’t change is the shape, and the shape of this Monte Petit No. 2 is quite attractive. It measures 4 3/4 inches by 52 ring, with that picture perfect Monte 2 head. I love the shape, as if someone made a Montecristo No. 2 and just sliced off a few inches. It feels quite natural in the hand, and the draw is spot on right away.
The cigar might be short, but it very quickly takes on big flavor. It quite quickly develops that big coffee bean note and touch of sweetness, with a bit of leather in the nose. (OK, those of you who are saying, “I don’t eat leather,” remember that taste and aroma are forever linked. And take a sniff of your belt or your kid’s baseball glove.) The finish has a sweet, spicy character, and it’s a fairly long one, lingering on the palate in a quite charming way. The burn isn’t perfect, and there’s an herbal quality in there as well, but I think that’s a sign of the freshness of the smoke.
At Cigar Aficionado, we don’t give scores to cigars that we smoke in this way (I’m not smoking blind, and this is not an aged smoke for Connoisseur’s Corner) so you won’t get a number from me on this Monte. But it’s a superb smoke. With this vitola, this brand and this type of flavor, I think it’s going to be a hit.
Now for the Double Edmundo. The Edmundo line has been a tremendous success for Montecristo, and we’ve certainly enjoyed them at Cigar Aficionado. We named the Montecristo Edmundo our No. 2 cigar of 2005 and have given big scores to the plump, short version, the Petit Edmundo.
The start is fairly herbal, and the draw in the beginning is more firm than on the Petit, but it quickly opens up, and blossoms in flavor. It’s rich, with cappuccino notes, toffee and nougat. Sweet and tasty. It doesn’t have the leather of the little guy, but much more sweetness. The finish is toasty and slightly woody. Another fine smoke in the Edmundo line.
A word about smoking here in Cuba. At breakfast, I noticed a small sign on the table. “The courtesy of choice satisfies the preferences of individuals by offering both smoking and non-smoking areas in the spirit of co-existence and mutual respect.” It was a sign alerting people that it was the no-smoking section of the restaurant. I’m quite fine with that, and I wish places in the United States could choose the same policy. Offer a choice for smokers and a choice for non-smokers. No cigar smoker wants to bother a non-smoker with his or her cigar, we just want a place to smoke in peace. They abound here in Cuba, but there are also areas for those who wish to escape the smell of a cigar. Trust me, they’re here. I’ve overheard a few conversations in the elevator from visiting Americans complaining about people smoking, then marveling at the notion that the hotel has smoking floors as well as non-smoking floors. They seemed appalled.
Of course, they probably wouldn’t enjoy what I’m doing right now. Somehow I was booked on a no-smoking floor here at the Melia Cohiba. When I called the desk, they fixed the situation—they brought me an ashtray and welcomed me to light up.
Smoking sanity, Cuban style.