To start this review off, let me say that i’ve never been a fan of H Upmann as a brand, though i’ve smoked them all, multiple times, even the LEs of which i have several boxes (not sure why i bought those, did i mention i’m not a fan?)

But in my mind, H Upmann is a brand that i want to like, a brand that i want to be enamored with because of it’s rich history. One of the oldest brands to survive today, it was established circa 1840s. Quite a feat considering that literally hundreds of cigar brands have come and gone since.

The thing is that Upmanns tend to be less flavoursome to my palate, more herbal than most, and certainly not very punchy. It doesn’t take much effort to smoke an Upmann, they are characterized by their easy going, relatively mild blends. I’ve heard some aficionados label Upmanns “tasteless”; i wouldn’t agree but that tends to be the opinion of many.

Still, i was eagerly anticipating how the latest edition to the brand, the H Upmann Half Corona, would measure up. Slated by many, but loved by others, there is one universal truth about this cigar: it’s hard to find. There aren’t available yet in retail in Malaysia as of writing this, all the other REs and LEs from 2011 already are. Even on most other regular sources worldwide, they are on constant backorder. If they aren’t any good, why are they in such short supply, despite some scathing negative reviews? My curiousity was piqued.

With some luck and well planted seeds of friendship, a box of these ended up on my desk one day. I didn’t want to smoke these on my own, so i took them over to Maduro’s, called a few friends, and passed the box around. 5 sticks went up in ash last night, and all 5 were EXTREMELY well received, one person even asked for seconds and was even more impressed with the second stick than he was with the first.

The construction on these tiny flavour bombs is very good. Well packed, solid with a remarkably heavy heft for such a tiny cigar (90mm x 44RG), the draw was excellent. Just enough resistance to make it interesting. The burn was perfect, razor thin and even. Wrappers were good too, some of the smoothest wrappers i’ve seen on a regular production Cuban cigar in a long time.

The flavour is where this cigar received the most praise last night. I detected classic H Upmann leather, sea salt and fresh tobacco, very well blended, delivering a superb creamy and smooth flavour profile. Well refined, it certainly didn’t taste like a cigar that is barely 8 months in the box. Pleasant woody notes through the middle half, ending with a spicy vanilla kick. 2 of the 5 sticks smoked did offer a mild tannic bite, indicating the cigar is still a bit young and has room to improve over time.

One question i’m sure is on everyone’s mind is how long does it take to smoke such a short cigar. We had a “Last Stick Standing” contest last night, so for two of us, the cigar lasted a very long time indeed, more than 1 hr. But under normal smoking patterns, about 30-45 minutes would be expected. The cigar seems to burn quite slow naturally, i smoke through a RASCC or a Partagas Shorts or Diplomaticos #5 within 30 minutes. I would attribute this to the construction and rolling of the cigar — a lot of leaf gets squeezed into this tiny stick, so it’s small size can be deceiving.

Verdict: 89/100. A really very very good cigar, and given a year or two of age may push low 90s. Well constructed, packed full of quality leaf, and very classic H Upmann flavours. Partagas Shorts tend to be my favourite short format cigar, but this new entrant into the fray comes very close.

ps. “Last Cigar Standing” is an awesome fun game to play with friends. I won the pot last night after a grueling battle with Ming Thein in the last inch or so of our cigars; a Punch Royal #11 and a RyJ Churchill were my spoils!

pps. The other highlight of the night was the amazing food on serve. Spicy Lamb Balls and Chicken Pasta Carbonara capped off a great evening with friends. Massive kudos to the chef. Maduro has come a long way indeed since it’s opening in last year. Props to the fantastic service as well.