Mr Arnaldo Ovalles Brinones, 39, is a Level 9 Master Roller, the Assistant Manager of the Romeo y Julieta factory in Havana, Cuba. He was recently in KL, Malaysia as part of his tour of the region, performing cigar rolling exhibitions at each stop. I managed to spend some time interviewing him when i met him. Some of his insights were quite revealing about the cigar industry in Cuba.
Brinones rolled a collection of 25 cigars for me — some truly incredible looking cigars: 109s (a discontinued, rare, vitola), salamones (Brinones loves rolling these), robustos, and double coronas. It was interesting to note that the uniformity on these sticks weren’t 100% — length and shapes varied from each stick (perhaps its because i insisted he not cut off the foot of each stick to ensure the same length), though the ring gauge for each were incredibly consistent. Quite a feat considering no tools were used — no molds, no wooden bunches, no scales, no rulers, no gauges — everything, 100% of the production of each stick of cigar was done by hand, measured movements from 17 years of remarkable experience at the hands of Master Brinones.
The robusto i purveyed last night was an interesting, unique cigar in so many respects.
1. It was damp — it literally felt wet in my hands. To roll a cigar, the roller needs the leaf to be quite damp in order to work the leaf; if its dry, the leaf will tear.
3. The wrapper had this weird, oily feel to it. My fingertips were left with a silky feel after i ran my fingers along its body.
4. While there was no ammoniac scent to the leaf (thus indicating well fermented, cured tobacco), it had this really strange “grass”, “soil of the earth” scent. It was certainly a pre-light aroma i’ve never encountered before.
Perfect burn, razor thin burn line
Looking at this strange, wonderful stick with a befuddled look, eyesbrows raised, i took a Davidoff cutter and circumcised it with a perfect round snip. Defrocked, the pre-light draw was very loose — i don’t particular fancy loose drawing cigars. A bit put off, i put the flame to it, and patient allowed the damp tobacco a chance to catch. It took a minute or two to carefully singe well, a few quick draws, and it was away!
Pleasant, dark grey ash
The smoke volume was mesmerizing — thick, billowing clouds of meaty smoke — perhaps attributed to the looseness of the roll (my experience with loosely rolled sticks is that smoke volume has always been high). Its also been my previous experience that loose drawing cigars burn quick and hot — but not this one. The Brinones burn was at a snail’s pace — it took more than 75 minutes to take it to the nub. But the looseness of the draw bothered me — i normally prefer cigars with a bit of “resistance” to them.
By this stage, i was nearly unconscious!
Flavour wise, this cigar was an interesting mesh of criss-crossing treats. Very nice, but strange. Woodiness reminiscent of a classic Partagas, grassiness of a Cohiba, the alert cedary delights of a Hoyo de Monterrey, the spicy bite of a young, full bodied Bolivar. The funny thing is: each flavour could be picked out individually as the cigar progressed. Now while some people would enjoy its seeming complexity, for me, this was more a sign of how absolutely young this cigar was — its almost painfully apparent that the tobacco has not had any time at all to marry and meld into a finished product. In comparison, a 1 year old Hamlet Robusto Extra, was marvelous and delectable. In comparison, a 1 day old Brinones is like an unbroken stallion — all kick and muscle and hew, and very much unridable.
The aroma of the cigar smoke — that was the only part of it i truly, truly enjoyed. It was unbelievable: a sweet, woody fragrance that filled up the house, a combination of tangy, earthy aromas — imagine the finest aroma from a well aged RyJ Churchill, and you will have some idea of what i’m talking about. It was intoxicating, i tell you and almost worth the hefty price of admission, just on its own.
Verdict: This cigar, this custom blend of Brinones mucho ligero (that’s what i requested for), is destined for greatness one day. Given time, i believe the tobacco will settle in place, the loose draw will thicken up, and the dampness will disappear. Given time, i believe the strange mish-mash of flavours, of uncertain direction, and purpose, will marry and create a truly unique experience. Right now, this cigar, in my opinion, is smokable but would be a waste to do so. The nicotine buzz is very, very significant, the power and body, almost overwhelming. 1-2 years is the bare minimum to wait.