What are the Habanos ‘special productions'?
In addition to the standard range of Habanos from each marque, from time to time you will come across non-standard releases with special bands. Some are relatively straightforward, for example those marked Edición Regional are only available in limited numbers in the country specified. Similarly, Edición Limitadas carry a release year, are usually limited to a relatively small production run and are always made from tobacco that has been aged for at least two years prior to rolling. Others are slightly more confusing. Habanos denoted as Añejados have been aged for at least five years after rolling prior to release, those marked Reserva or Gran Reserva have been made with tobacco that has been aged for either three or five years respectively prior to rolling.
What does ‘Maduro’ mean?
In Spanish, the word ‘maduro’ simply means ‘mature’, however when talking about cigars it is used to describe a colour classification of particularly dark wrapper leaf that has been fermented and aged for an extended period of time. For example, the wrapper leaves used for the Cohiba Maduro 5 line have all been aged for at least five years prior to rolling.
What is plume or bloom?
Plume (or bloom, as it is sometimes called) is a dusting of tiny white crystals that can form on the wrapper leaf of a well-aged cigar. Industry wisdom says that this is caused by oils and sugars escaping and crystallising on the surface of the leaf as the tobacco ages, and that this is a sign of a cigar that is ready to be smoked. True plume or bloom should wipe away with a finger leaving no residue or mark. However, this issue is made more complicated by the fact that the vast majority of suspected plume is in fact mould that has grown on a cigar due to it being stored in conditions that are too humid. Sadly, there is much conflicting information on the internet and, either due to honest mistake or wilful ignorance to reduce customer returns, even some producers, retailers, and journalists have incorrectly identified mould as plume in their FAQs. The rule of thumb is: if it’s coloured, looks at all ‘hairy’ or is appearing in patches then it is almost certainly mould.
What is a vitola?
This term is used to describe the unique proportions of a particular cigar, including its length, ring gauge and shape. Confusingly, in Cuba each cigar carries two vitola names: one for the factory (vitola de galera) and another for the marketplace (vitola de salida). For example, the Partagas Presidentes is the brand name (Partagas) and vitola de salida (Presidentes) of the cigar paired opposite, but in the factory it is referred to by its vitola de galera: ‘Tacos’. To make things more complicated, in Spain ‘vitola’ refers to the cigar’s paper band.
What is a figurado?
Most cigars have straight sides and a domed (or rounded) head. Figurados are cigars that do not conform to this shape, they may have one or two tapered ends. In Cuba, cigars with two tapered ends are referred to as a ‘double’ figurado.
Where to smoke
One of London’s leading cigar retailer, JJ Fox also has a superb indoor sampling lounge at their flagship St James’s Street store that can hold up to 25 people seated or up to 60 for events. As one of the few places left in the London where a cigar can be enjoyed indoors, it has become a popular hunt for cigar aficionados.
19 St James’s Street, London SW1A 1ES
Glengoyne 12 Years Old and Partagas Presidentes
Partagas cigars are favoured among those who favour slightly stronger smokes and this 6 ¼” x 47RG figurado delivers exactly that. Although it packs a bit of a punch, there’s still plenty of complexity to the flavour profile with notes of cashew, bitter dark chocolate, and some meaty, gamey flavours from the second third onwards.
This cigar’s tapered foot is easily lit with a normal match, which makes it less fiddly to light outdoors, and its attractive shape is certainly a conversation starter, but sadly it can lead to some construction issues if the roller wasn’t on top form.
The tapered tip means that the first few draws deliver flavour solely from the wrapper and binder, with the influence of the filler blend growing as the smoke goes on.
Prime examples offer a long and indulgent smoke that benefits from a whisky with a sweeter but robust flavour profile.
The Glengoyne 12 Years Old is perfect in this regard, with its balance of both ex-sherry cask and ex-Bourbon cask maturation delivering luscious notes of chewy toffee apple, coconut and fresh citrus zest. This really is a pairing of pure, unashamed indulgence.
Off the beaten track
Kirin Whisky Fuji-Sanroku 50˚ and Quai D’Orsay Secreto Cubano Edición Regional Francia 2017
Trying lesser-known brands of both cigars and whisky can be a risk, but may also yield some stellar results. Introduced in the mid-1970s, Quai D’Orsay is a Cuban brand that was created at the behest of former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who petitioned the state tobacco monopoly to introduce a French cigar. This led to a partnership with Cubatobaco, with whom a new cigar marque was launched that was blended to suit the French palate. Named for the wharf on the Seine where the tobacco offices were located, to this day Quai D’Orsay is the only brand of Habanos made at the request of a foreign nation. This ‘secreto’ may be tiny, but is nevertheless bursting with sweet and creamy flavours, with some white pepper and a hint of heavier, leathery notes coming to the fore in the final third. Pairing with the similarly obscure Fuji-Sanroku 50˚ from Kirin Whisky is a delight. This high-ABV, non-chill-filtered blend from Fuji-Gotemba Distillery delivers lashings of biscuit, honey and custard, with an earthiness in the finish that lends structure. A drop of water reveals coconut and black tea. This pairing is an example of why it’s worth going off the beaten track from time to time.