First off, a thank you to Aizuddin for allowing me to ‘express opinions’ on his site! I should probably say a few words of introduction, and to give a little context of where I’m coming from. My name is Ming Thein. I’ve actually been smoking cigars seriously longer than I’ve been doing any other hobby; including photography (I plead guilty to the set of images from the Maduro opening party in an earlier post).
As a young boy, I remember the smell of the cigar section at one of the department stores in London; a savory, tantalizing aroma that smelled like nothing else. An association with the serious ‘adult’ world which was at that time very much a mystery. One day sometime before I turned fourteen, I saved up some of my allowance and bought my first cigar: a Cuaba Divinos. I think I was attracted more by the shape and the smell than any real knowledge about the taste or strength or providence, though I did know Cuba was famous for its cigars. Fortunately most Westerners can’t put an age on us Asians – I wasn’t even ID’d, which I was slightly nervous about. In hindsight, I don’t think there could have been that many fourteen year olds who bought cigars!
The anticipation: I cut it with a penknife, and lit it with a match pilfered from the toolbox. Sitting behind the house on a sunny summer afternoon, I lit up – it was a bit windy and took a few tries, and I somewhat mangled the end – and puffed. Whoa! My eyes watered with the first puff, and I realized I probably shouldn’t have inhaled it. Getting used to drawing but not inhaling took a bit of practice – probably about half of the cigar – but by that time, it was enjoyable. I don’t really remember what the flavors were like – probably some combination of the usual coffee/ chocolate/ leather/ nuts notes – but it left an impression on me, and so I begun.
Since then, there have been a few such memorable moments for me – all involving cigars of some sort. Those may be the subject of future posts; I hope this will be the first of many. I’ll try to build on Aizuddin’s excellent review selection, as well as add in some thoughts on other related matters such as paraphernalia (we’re all gearheads at heart) and such. I can’t pretend for a moment that my palette is sensitive enough and my experience sufficient to describe things as well as the more experienced comrades amongst us, but I’ll try. For me, construction and draw are important, but taste takes top priority. I don’t mind relighting something half way though – although I’d prefer not to – if it tastes good. I’m currently working my way through a box of Partagas D4s that look manky but smoke wonderfully. It’s a small price to pay. I like strong cigars – what most might find strong I’d probably class as medium; again taking the D4 as an example, I’d say that’s full bodied but not super-strong. On the other hand, the Bolivar Royal Corona starts out mild, then in the final third goes all the way to a super heavy kick to the back of the head.
Friday’s opening party at Maduro was possibly one of those cigar-related events that I will remember for a while. Five of us – myself, my wife Nadiah, and my friends Pein, Asha and Tyler – turned up in anticipation of smoking something. Not sure what, but something. We raided the humidor – initially we were going to go for a selection of classics – Hoyo Epicure Especial, Monte 2, Cuaba Salomones…but then I spotted a little wooden coffin: a virgin 10-box of Montecristo D 2005 Edicion Limitadas! We had to have them. And tonight would be a good time to crack the box open.
The Monte D was produced in limited quantities and sold in cabinets of 10; it’s a Dalia (close to a Lonsdale) with a length of 170mm and gauge of 43. This box had been stored under optimal conditions for nearly seven years, which showed in their excellent condition. We smoked five of the ten, which is a decent enough sample size.
Construction/ draw: 8/10
The cigars were not uniform – all wrappers showed signs of smooth veining, and were a dark chocolate brown – a good maduro color. The heads were well packed and surprisingly difficult to punch – we had to resort to punching some of them. Four out of five drew perfectly, and were able to grow long ashes; one had some minor plugging issues that improved after recutting. We noticed some inconsistency with the ash – whilst four of the five had firm gray ash, the fifth – which burned surprisingly unevenly towards one side – grew a tight, smooth, white ash; draw was no different to the others – medium, and for me, the perfect amount of resistance. Smoke time ranged between 1.5-2 hours.
Appearances can be deceptive: we were expecting a strong powerhouse of a smoke, but instead the overwhelming impression was one of smooth creaminess; the power was definitely there (we had one KO’d casualty, and I definitely felt the nicotine hit afterwards) but not in the same upfront way as, say, a Romeo Short Churchill. The first third was smooth and creamy, dominated by a dark chocolate taste. At the halfway mark, the chocolate faded into coffee and nuts; by this stage, the flavors were a complex but well-match blend, making it difficult to identify any one dominant factor. I remember thinking that this stogie was something of a chameleon – there was definitely a hint of Monte 2 at this point too.Towards the back third, the strength increased but not overtly so; hints of aniseed gave way to bok choy and spice, developing into a slightly more powerful hint of kerosene – much like a smoother, creamier version of the Partagas D4. A brief puff or two of bitterness – reminiscent of licking a rubber band – and the cigar finished on strong notes of something warm, toasted and spicy. I smoked it down to a 1cm nub and would have gone further if my fingers weren’t burning – surprisingly, the smoke was neither too hot nor spicy.
I have a few benchmark cigars that have constantly impressed me over several samples, several years, and been consistent in both taste and construction throughout – one of these is the Trinidad Ingenios 2007 LE, and another is the Romeo Escudos 2007 LE. I think after that night, I can add the Montecristo D 2005 LE to that list. It has the requisite complexity of taste, with enough power to make a seasoned smoker feel satisfied afterwards, yet smooth enough that you want to smoke it to a nub. Although we had one out of five perhaps wasn’t as good as the others – I’ll leave it to Pein to say if it was truly a dud – the other four brought big smiles to our faces. No doubt the occasion and company helped it along, but the Monte D is without a doubt an excellent smoke worthy of being a limited edition, and worthy of sampling – if you can find any left!