Cuban-cigar Top Trumps
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