We know them. We see them in every cigar store. But now, there have been ten years of Ediciónes Limitadas. I think it is time to review the past decade with a tasting.
Every afternoon here in Havana the rain hits the streets and the people scatter under awnings. From the 7th floor they appear to be running away from tear gas. I have been researching Ediciónes Limitadas here for a few days and lamenting that the 2012 release is several months away from being released.
But when a knock on the door revealed a friendly face and a pile of Montecristo Maravillas from the 2012 edition, I didn’t ask any questions. I just picked one out of the bundle, inspected it, still moist from rolling, cut the cap and lit it up. It has that classic sweetness and smoothness that I expect from a good Edición Limitada but with a handful of woody Montecristo flavor. From fresh rolling and from the weather, it is a little wet but with a ring gauge of 55 it is drawing very well. But let’s dig into it.
Cuban cigar brands have always made special productions for anniversaries, special retailers, even special customers. This changed when Cuba’s revolutionary government took control of the industry. Manufacturers suddenly had to ask permission before producing a new cigar. From the 1960s to the 1990s, only rarely would a limited edition cigar find its way to the market.
But then, after a flurry of releases in the late 1990’s (Cohiba 30th Anniversary, H. Upmann 150th Anniversary, Habanos 1994, and others), a new category of cigar was released, the Edición Limitada (EL). The concept behind EL was that the cigars would be based on current brands in the Habanos portfolio. But an Edición Limitada would be different in vitola and also in its wrapper. The first in the series were released in 2000. These are distinguished from the heard because the secondary gold and black ring does not list a year. It simply says, “Edición Limitada”. From 2001 until today, the gold and black band declared a year.
The second release of EL cigars was meant to be sold in 2001. But due to delays in Cuba, the cigars did not reach store shelves until well into 2002. This left Habanos with a difficult decision. They decided to skip 2002. But in 2003 they were ready to hit the market again with a set of EL cigars. Since then the cigars have been released every year. It has to be said though that the series seems to be released slightly later in the year with each coming year. We do not expect to see 2012 EL cigars on retail shelves until the holiday shopping season.
It is important to remember that in 1999 there were no maduro, oscuro, or even many dark colorado wrapped cigars. The natural way to obtain a dark tobacco leaf is to choose it from one of the highest primings on the tobacco plant. Those leaves are the thickest and can sustain longer fermentation. When you ferment those leaves for a very long time they become very dark. The taste of the dark leaf often has a sweet note, and is much smoother than its brothers in the filler that were not fermented as long.
Using these wrappers, aged for two years, the Edición Limitada concept was born. A two year old wrapper was the fundamental difference in EL cigars until 2007 when the concept changed. From 2007 all the tobacco (wrapper, binder and filler) in EL cigars was aged for at least 2 years. The result was not very much noticed. But when you smoke older and newer examples of EL cigars you can tell that the newer cigars start life with a smoother taste.
Through the Years
At the dawn of the new millennium, Cuba needed to resurrect its image. It had sold terrible cigars into the international markets over the preceding two or three years. Ediciónes Limitadas were the first foot across the line in a long walk to restoring their image.
Over time, the Edición Limitada program has created a handful of truly extraordinary cigars. Because these are limited in production (see information box below) it can be difficult to find prior year releases. So collectors must smoke the cigars when they first arrive on shelves and determine the number of boxes to buy at that point because in a year the next year’s cigars will be on the shelves.
Some of the very best cigars from the EL program were not excellent early in their lives. Of course this complicates the purchasing decision but a good retailer or this magazine should be able to help you select cigars for aging.
The very best cigars from the EL program are fairly easy to name. Here are some of the names and notes about the cigars.
2000 Romeo Y Julieta Exhibición No. 2
In the past, this cigar was good but with 12 years of age it is spectacular! It is dense, makes lots of smoke and is full of flavor. It is all spice, a bit like an aged Partagás with red-pepper spice and undertones of sweetness, barley and other grains. It retains its flavor while all the harshness of youth has disappeared.
2004 Cohiba Sublime
It truly is … sublime. It has a reputation as one of the best EL cigars ever and it is well deserved. After years of age it tastes very smooth but has a vastly complex bouquet of flavors and aromas wrapped around that classic tobaccoish Cohiba taste. Flavors include coffee, mesquite, acidity, and dark chocolate. A true classic that has improved with age.
2004 Partagás Serie D No. 1
Though not perfect as a youngster, this cigar has become a butterfly with age. It is beautiful, sweet, creamy, chocolatey, with hints of classic Partagás spice. A hint of acid and salt bring the flavors and aromas around into a very well rounded cigar that has become a classic with a little age in the humidor.
In 2011 a Ramón Allones cigar was released called the Allones Extra. What makes this EL different from others is that it not only came dressed with its gold and black EL ring but the primary brand ring was non-standard. A historic ring was re-created for use on this EL. The cigar itself is very good though not, perhaps, a classic. But collectors have purchased quantities of the Allones Extra for its clean and crisp green over white ring.
As I finish my Montecristo and the rain slows to just drips from the apartment above, it is time to consider the point of this story. Clearly, the EL cigars have been a success for Habanos and have brought some more diversity to the range of Cuban cigars. Sure, there have been a lot of ho-hum EL cigars and even a few dogs. But there has been enough frequency of stellar EL cigars to make me smoke each new release and think about each one as a candidate for long term storage and smoking.
Edición Limitada cigars from Habanos are some of the least limited special cigars that the company sells. They are not limited by a fixed production number but rather, they are limited to the number of boxes ordered by international distributors. We cannot determine exactly how many EL cigars are made each year but since any Habanos retailer in the world can easily order as many boxes as they would like during the year they are available, these are a fairly large production of cigars.
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Autumn Edition 2012. Read more