When offered the choice between an aged classic cigar or a limited production cigar I feel a moral call to choose the classic.
This column has often focused on rare cigars, for example, those produced only once in a limited run. I’ve written about Davidoffs that are no longer produced, 12 years of Edición Limitadas, and quite a few other rarities. But there is a disconnect between what I’ve written about and what many of us like to smoke.
The Montecristo #2, Cohiba Lancero, Partagás Short and tens of others are what we choose to age in our humidors. So when the time comes to enjoy a special cigar, we open the cabinet doors and the alternatives present themselves.
Should we pick a limited edition or a classic? I am going to present a case for why you should nearly always select the aged classic cigar rather than something of limited production.
Right now I’m at a friend’s vacation house. Really, it’s a series of buildings, a compound, in the mountains of Nicaragua. It’s perched on the edge of a mountain with amazing views of the coffee plantations that surround us. Mocha, the chocolate Labrador follows wherever we go but keeps her distance when cigars are lit. The oldest building in the compound is made of stone. It contains all the things that one would want to keep cool and steady — like cigars. When the cabinet doors opened up, so did a question: should we smoke ten-year-old Montecristo #2s or a recent regional release?
Sending a Message to Cigar-Makers
What’s new? Too often this is the question we ask at a cigar store. Sure, I’m always curious to know what the latest creation is. But when I go to Spain, I visit cigar stores many of which have nothing new. It’s a relief. I don’t have to try something untested. It’s a great pleasure to go through the cigars. These are the brands with history, ones I smoked five, ten or more years ago.
Sweet memories come to mind. Nostalgia could cause me to buy the great-grandson of the first cigar I ever enjoyed, the Romeo y Julieta Corona. Or perhaps it would make me buy the cigar I enjoyed when I first visited Cuba.
As time goes by, historic vitolas of cigars are being discontinued. It seems like limited editions take more and more shelf space by the year. Habanos has told me that they only discontinue a cigar when not enough people buy them. Fair enough, so I guess we need to buy them.
It’s a shame that we have lost so many slender vitolas of cigars, like the Partagás Connoisseur Selection.
But I suppose that it is as much our fault as it is theirs. We did not send them the message that even though cigars like the Ninfa are strange in shape, we still want to smoke them once in a while. So when I choose which cigar to smoke, or which box to buy to make sure the humidor has sufficient stock, a regular production cigar is high on the list. This is the best way to tell cigar-makers what I want them to keep making.
What’s so Special?
Pick up two cigars, both aged 10 years. Usually it is the one with the natural wrapper that has matured best over time. Those with thin wrappers, maduro wrappers, or which have been aged a long time before rolling, usually do not mature as well. It is the standard cigars, with thicker colorado (natural) colored wrappers, that mature the best.
Limited release cigars often have embellishments. The tobaccos can be aged a long time before rolling. These cigars are usually at their peak when they are released. The maturity of the tobaccos is timed to be great when released and they often fall out of balance or weaken as time goes by.
Many have maduro wrappers. These deliver interesting tastes, often sweetness, when released, but if the wrappers have been processed too intensely, they will age rapidly and not gracefully.
As we know, a Montecristo #2 will age slowly and gracefully. The tastes will evolve slowly as they shed the coat of youth. I recently enjoyed a Montecristo #2 that was rolled in the 1950s. It still contained its unique character of woodsy and leathery notes but with a more pronounced essence of flowers. I doubt very much that one of today’s dark maduro cigars will taste so good at over 50 years old.
Let’s take a look at three different brands that have been around for some time and are likely to be with us a long time in the future. These may have been aged in your humidor for a long time already or maybe you should buy some now.
This brand requires no introduction. It is a young brand in Cuba but it is at the pinnacle of prestige. For those of us interested in aged cigars, Cohiba is a short-term ager. This may be a surprising statement. But Cohiba cigars tend to smoke best between zero and fifteen years of age. The fatter vitolas, like Siglo VI or Robusto are known for excellence within their first five years of life.
But because Cohibas are made of long-fermented tobaccos, they’re near their peak upon release. Time usually only serves to make them softer and milder. If you want Cohibas that age well, the best options are those with small ring-gauges like the Lancero or Panetela.
For more than a century, Partagás has been an icon in Havana and around the world. This strong cigar keeps its flavor for decades. Some connoisseurs of the brand will only smoke these after a decade of storage. The spicy Partagás becomes quite different as it matures. It keeps its strongly spiced character for a long time. This characteristic only mellows after long aging.
Because this is such a strong aspect of its identity, some of the more delicate but interesting tastes and aromas are hidden until the spice mellows. When it does, a remarkable complexity is revealed that includes a wide array of floral, citrus and tea tastes and aromas.
Simon Chase opened my eyes to the aging potential of the H. Upmann brand. It is often overlooked by agers because lighter cigars have the reputation that they don’t become more exciting over time. This is a fallacy. If a cigar has flavorful tobaccos, it has the potential to mature interestingly, no matter its strength.
That’s why H. Upmann matures so well. Those warm cereal notes are overtaken by other light tastes and aromas. Cedar wood aromas, Provencal herbs, and a number of other interesting tastes have been noted in cigars from this brand older than 25 years of age.
In History’s Chain
Smoking cigars is one of those rare things that connect us with the past. This passion has been enjoyed by people for centuries. Some of the brands that we enjoy today have in some way been part of this connected chain.
JFK smoked his Petit Upmanns, others, such as Winston Churchill, Fidel Castro, Groucho Marx, Ernest Hemingway, all had their favorite cigars. Today we can still enjoy the same brands of cigar that these characters enjoyed. They didn’t smoke the special edition cigar that had just arrived in their local cigar store. It’s only the classic cigars that open this connection between us and history.
So here in the mountains of Nicaragua I am faced with this question: should we smoke the limited edition cigar or one of the cigars that has a connection to history? Some of the cigars in this humidor were purchased by my friend’s father, several decades ago, before Nicaragua’s revolution.
Cigars have the unique capacity to place you in the past or even in someone else’s shoes. For many of us, smoking a pre-revolution Cuban cigar gives us a way to transport back to that country when it was thriving.
In the case of my friend, he can smoke one of his father’s cigars and reminisce about the brave man who died during Nicaragua’s revolution.
Sacrifice or Triumph
Are limited production cigars better? I don’t think so. They are usually just different. Only rarely does a special cigar use tobaccos that are better than those used in high-quality regular brands.
In my experience with aged cigars, there’s no difference in quality between regular and special production editions of high quality cigars. If anything, the regular productions are more enjoyable because I like to keep notes on the characteristics of the same cigar when smoked at different ages. My Montecristo #2 notes could nearly fill a book.
So in the end, the decision was simple. We grabbed some old Montecristo #2s and headed down the path with the chocolate Labrador to a building at the edge of the complex called the mirador (lookout).
We looked over the valley that grows rich coffee and which has seen decades of family history and fierce fighting during the revolution. The cigars helped us to view that history with an immediate connection to my friend’s father and the craftsmanship of the now gone period. Soon it will be time to replenish the humidor and send a message to the cigar-makers that we want more of these classic cigars.
Tracking a Cigar’s Aging
For the past six years I have been tracking a box of Montecristo #2 cigars. Every year I smoke one of the cigars from the box and make detailed tasting notes. My goal is to track the progress of the cigar over that time. I want to know when the cigars are at their peak of taste. Here are some excerpts from my notes:
The cigars were made in 2007 and that‘s when I purchased them. The first smoked was surprisingly good despite its youth. It had great flavors of cocoa, black pepper and woody aromas.
Disappointment overwhelmed me in 2008. The cigar seemed to have been overtaken by signs of youth. It was hard to taste the flavors because the cigar overheated and seemed blander than previously, with more notes of ammonia.
There was less ammonia, but it was still strong in 2009. It was disappointing, but on the bright side, a creamy texture started to come through.
Finally in 2010, the cigars seemed to have shed their extreme youth. Flavors were still muted compared to what I hoped they would be, but oakiness, cedar and creaminess were there.
Not much change since 2010. Still evidence of youth but also nice, balanced flavors of wood and a bit of sweetness.
The youth has become less noticeable. The core seems now to be woodiness, light sweetness and a creamy texture with bits of black pepper, cedar, and maybe some floral notes peeking through.
I suspect that these cigars are still improving and are yet quite young.
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Summer Edition 2013. Read more