Cuban-cigar Top Trumps

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Bo­li­var won­ders whether it’s worth chas­ing all the special re­gional edi­tions man­u­fac­tur­ers re­lease

THERE was a time, a few years ago, when Cuba’s re­gional edi­tions were get­ting slightly out of hand— there were just so many of them, re­lat­ing to coun­tries that I never knew ex­isted.

Much of the ex­cite­ment around these limited runs of un­usual sizes of cigars from ob­scure brands seems to have been fu­elled by in­ter­na­tional col­lec­tors play­ing a sort of Cuban-cigar ver­sion of Top Trumps, as­sem­bling col­lec­tions from other ter­ri­to­ries and then telling their friends that they had the lat­est Rwan­dan or Poly­ne­sian limited edi­tion.

Of course, oth­ers felt th at limited edi­tions would be an in­vest­ment and be­gan to spec­u­late in them, build­ing up great stocks. The truth was that not all of them were good cigars, but their pop­u­lar­ity as brag­ging tools or po­ten­tial money mak­ers meant that their num­bers mush­roomed and some canny mer­chants re­alised that reis­su­ing a suc­cess­ful re­gional edi­tion al­most im­me­di­ately meant eas­ier sales.

I sup­pose that this is a great ex­am­ple of be­com­ing the vic­tim of your own suc­cess and Ha­banos S.A. de­cided to change the rules, in or­der to make re­gional edi­tions special again. Now, each ter­ri­tory is only per­mit­ted to make one re­gional edi­tion per year and a repetition of a brand is per­mit­ted only af­ter five con­sec­u­tive re­gional edi­tions, each from dif­fer­ent brands.

For the mo­ment at least, the mar­ket is a calmer place than it used to be and, if the new Bri­tish re­gional edi­tion is any­thing to go by, this is a very good thing. To be fair to my friends at Hun­ters & Frankau (H&F), the UK’S Ha­vana cigar im­porter, they have al­ways made an ef­fort with their re­gion­als, re-cre­at­ing an­tique bands as well as vin­tage pack­ag­ing. Some of the cigars have been truly spec­tac­u­lar and their Por Lar­rañaga Mag­nifico of 2007 and So­bre­salientes of 2014 aren’t just great re­gional edi­tions, they are great Ha­vana cigars full stop.

The Bo­li­var Bel­gravia, al­though not, to my mind, the blow to the back of the head with a blunt ob­ject that I have come to ex­pect from H&F, does jus­tice to any hu­mi­dor and de­liv­ers a won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence that I find more like a Romeo or a Punch.

The 2016 re­gional edi­tion for the UK, which ar­rived in ap­pre­cia­ble num­bers so close to the end of the year as to be ef­fec­tively a 2017 cigar, has the sort of grand name that one tends to find at­tached to a Bri­tish re­gion—as well as the Mag­nifico, we have seen the Glo­rioso and the Medalla de Oro. Even the Bel­gravia is pretty swanky— some­how, the Bo­li­var Bal­ham doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. How­ever, H&F haven’t run out of su­perla­tives just yet, as the Juan López Selec­ción Su­perba shows.

As is fash­ion­able these days, the ring gauge is a hefty 54 and it’s a whisker un­der 6in long, but don’t be over­awed by the over­all di­men­sions—this is a tractable, medium-strength cigar, which has calmed down from the rather feisty and pow­er­ful young­ster that I first en­coun­tered last sum­mer, when a small batch landed. The heavy ring gauge gives the blender a bit more space in which to de­velop a cigar that, de­spite its size, is re­mark­ably sub­tle.

It be­gins with a tangy, agree­ably bit­ter ristretto taste to the tip of the tongue, but, af­ter a while, the flavour fills the mouth in a way that’s al­most creamy. The fin­ish is woody, but not ex­ces­sively; it has pres­ence, but doesn’t overdo it.

The brand La Flor de Juan López first ap­peared in 1876, made by Juan López Díaz. It pros­pered and, by the time of the rev­o­lu­tion, it was among Cuba’s best-sell­ing brands. How­ever, it would ap­pear that’s when its rep­u­ta­tion peaked and its pop­u­lar­ity de­clined steadily un­til re­cently, when it started ap­pear­ing as a re­gional edi­tion. The Selec­ción Suprema—another ex­am­ple of self-ef­fac­ing, mod­est nomen­cla­ture—was the first Juan López I’d had the chance to en­joy, which prob­a­bly has a fair bit to do with the fact that it was made at the Seguí fac­tory out­side Ha­vana, in the small town of Guira de Me­lena.

It is some years since I vis­ited Seguí , but the mem­ory is a fond one and, al­though the 2016 batch of Juan López doesn’t come from there, but rather another pro­vin­cial fac­tory in San An­to­nio de los Baños, the Selec­ción Su­perba demon­strates the same care and at­ten­tion. Of­ten, re­gional edi­tions ap­pear on the mar­ket too young and there is per­haps the very tini­est si­nus-clear­ing ef­fect when I wave the lit cigar un­der my nose, but, on the whole, I would say this is one to en­joy now, rather than to lay down.

One day, I in­tend to tour all 11 of the out-of-town fac­to­ries, but, while I’m wait­ing for the op­por­tu­nity, I have the Selec­ción Su­perba to en­joy. Scan this code us­ing the QR Reader app on your smart­phone to watch our COUN­TRY video ‘How to smoke a cigar’

‘I would say this is one to en­joy now, rather than to lay down

The Juan López Selec­ción Su­perba: hefty and flavour­some

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