Named for the lovers in William Shakespeare’s tragedy (1596) of the same name. The brand also is traditionally credited with the introduction of the “Churchill” shape in honour of the British leader Winston Churchill. Developed in 1875 by Inocencio Alvarez and Mann Garcia, this habanos brand immediately showed its quality by winning gold medals in four universal expositions between 1885 and 1900. But it really took off after its acquisition in 1903 by Jose Rodriguez Fernandez, known as “Pepin”, who introduce his cigars between the aristocracy and statesmen, making exclusive cigar band for his customers.

Romeo y Julieta Cedro de Luxe No. 1

I recently got my hands on the RyJ Cedro De Luxe No. 1 (165mm, 42 RG) during an event at Etoile, Hotel Equatorial. These cigars were being handed out as complimentary gifts for guests – never turned down a free cigar before, and won’t start now.

Visually, this cigar is excellent. Wrapped in individual cedar sleeves with the “Cedro de Luxe No. 1” burn-stamped in, the presentation of a cigar rarely gets better than this. With the sleeve off, an inspection of the wrapper shows it to be quite flawless – very smooth, simple natural colour and oily – all signs of a healthy tobacco. It should be – RyJ is one of the pre-eminent Cuban brands with a long-standing reputation.

*UPDATE* A reader has written in pointing out that the cigar should be stamped “Cedros” rather than “Cedro” — another example of Cuban inconsistencies or a fake cigar? Its almost inconceivable that the cigar is fake given the person who was hosting the event is the largest importer of Habanos in the country, but i suppose anything is impossible.

(Image lost) Flawless, beautiful wrapper

The scent test was very pleasing. Sharp, fresh tobacco scents from top-quality Cuban tobacco. Can’t really expect anything less from Romeo y Julieta. Its quite a stark contrast to the scents of a non-Cuban cigar. Non-Cubans, no matter how full-bodied, will almost always offer a milder scent, not too sharp in its tobacco tones.

Lighting this cigar didn’t take much effort, a few quick licks from the torch was enough. The draw was slightly on the tighter side, but was well within acceptable limits. Taste wise, this cigar is what you would expect from a medium-bodied Cuban: a bit spicy with clean tobacco tastes, with some playful bites on the palate, and not very creamy. Pleasing, though not outstanding, with a nice finish.

(Image lost) Problems with the aging of this cigar, Oct 2002 box

Problems with this cigar clearly lies in its construction and aging. The burn was terribly uneven and took a lot of effort to keep in check. As the tobacco burned, there was a “flower” effect as the burned edges “bloomed” outwards very uglily. The tobacco itself showed signs of immaturity and improper aging – a lot of unburned elements were left behind in the ash, and the “burn ring” (the part where the wrapper begins to burn) was very large. Quite strange for a premium Cuban cigar but perhaps not wholely unexpected from an industry that has is now producing more than 200 million sticks a year from just 17 million sticks 10 years ago. Checked the box date – Oct 2002 – just over a year old. Perhaps a few more months or perhaps a year in the humidor would correct some of these weaknesses.

Verdict: Nice scent, nice fresh tastes – from this perspective, exactly what you would expect from a Romeo y Julieta. But visually not very pleasing. For aficianados that judge a cigar on its total package, this cigar of this particular batch in this particular year is a bit of a let-down and perhaps even symptomatic of the larger problem of quality control plaguing the industry in Cuba. Good to try, but unless i can be convinced otherwise, i won’t have it again.