Wednesday 24 February 2016

Cohiba Siglo IV

It's the same sunny Melbourne afternoon as it was last week, where one might recall me waxing pathetic about the almost unworkably tight, but relatively decent, 2002 Quinteros Panetelas. After I'd finished smoking I sat, dejectedly, while my companions billowed mighty smoke clouds and buried the remnants of my little Quinteros in giant piles of chunky coal. One of the group regarded me with pity and, leaning forward with one eye squinting shut, mouth cocked in a salesman's smirk, asked if he could offer me a cigar. I sadly nodded, and received my welcome alms. It's with this act of noble charity that I, pilfering my benefactor's jet lighter, put the Cohiba Siglo IV to the flame.

Some years ago I, in a Godless attempt to add at least wealth to my wretched life, took a job as a labourer in a coal mine. The mine was one of several that could be found in the fundamentalist, redneck, xenophobic dominion of tropical northern Queensland, and there I toiled and sweated and served my twenties away like a cowed brute. The mine pulsed with angry testosterone, from the pickup-packed carpark to the weekly mess-hall brawls, and talk was focused exclusively on jaunts with the well-worn sex workers that littered the mine's hinterland. My boss was a fat, hairy, disgusting cretin in his late-forties, who constantly had dried snot caking his protruding nose-hairs, and who used to brag, ad-nauseum, about his increasingly humiliating treatment of the girls.

The IV starts with a very loose draw, and I taste distinct barnyard over light tobacco. To be specific, I taste and smell cow, and I experience inexplicable and vivid imagery of swaying udders and discoloured, drooping, hindquarters. There's even a distinct brindled shade in the cigar's dappled Jersey hide, and I admire the torcedor's beautiful, bovine, leaf selection. After an inch of good mid tobacco the Cohiba starts to leave a banana pith dryness on my palate, which intensifies until I wash it down with some whiskey. This is an excellent cigar.

"Stuck this finger" he'd say, brandishing a thick and calloused pointer in my face, "this fuckin' finger straight up that crying cunt's arse, hahahaha", and would recount the subsequent events as if calling a boxing match, detailing his hateful violations that contrasted awfully with the girls' obvious terror. His treatment of the working girls was legendary around the mine site, and ranged from the clear-cut simplicity of blackened and gouged eyes, to the nauseating and deliberate cross-cavity infections he loved to impart. Now, I was no saint back then, and I may have chased my share of women from the accommodation blocks with a fire-hose, but I was a new-age human-rights campaigning care-lord compared with this guy. But, like the ticking diesel engines that laboured constantly around the work site,  I considered the constant stories an inescapable background noise, and sadly submitted to his degrading narrative.

At the midpoint the IV develops distinct notes of rotting wood, accompanied by a saccharine cloy that I've determined not to be caused by the dry Japanese whiskey I'm sucking down. It's still wonderful. One of my companions volunteers that my intoxication may have spoiled my palate, but I shriek in protest and start to sulk. They may have a point though; this is my second cigar of the afternoon, and my head is swimming from the alcohol and nicotine. This aside, and with my senses heightened by this scathing attack, the Siglo IV surprises me with some brief floral notes that fade into ever-increasing tar in the final third.

One morning I was using a forklift to load rusted metal scrap onto the back of a flatbed truck while my boss, moving erratically between the neatly stacked piles I was making, barked insults and orders at me. I was getting increasingly flustered at his muddled and contradictory instructions, and angrily released a load of the twisted steel onto an existing stack. It was just as I'd dropped the load that my boss had, emphatically, brought his hand down onto the bottom pile, and he let out a piercing shriek as he strained to pull free the hand that I'd just crudely pulverised. I felt bile rise in my throat, and I tried to re-insert the tines between into the scrap to lift, and ease, the half-tonne load that was bearing down on his hand. However, in my panic, I'd unknowingly speared the metal below where his hand was trapped. My well-intentioned and rapid raising of the load made the poor wretch lose his footing, and left him floundering by one trapped finger as it was crushed from above and below.

Eventually I was hauled from the forklift's cabin by a burly colleague, and he lightened the towering top-load enough for my boss, now trying to yank his hand free between frenzied screams, to go toppling back from the truck, a trail of blood arcing through the air behind him. He looked like a dreidel in its final ponderous spins as he, on his elbows and knees on the ground, tried to get to his feet without releasing his shattered finger from the palm of his opposite hand. In the panic he'd pissed himself, and was eventually thrown into a car and driven to the first aid post. I'd stood dumbly and watched as this unfolded, and was startled back to reality by the site manager, an impatient old Geordie, who was fitfully hitting me with every insult he could muster. I was paying him little mind, however, and was staring silently at the still-teetering scrap metal on the truck. The old man's tirade eventually gave way to the same stunned silence as he followed my gaze to what looked like a used condom sticking out between the steel, with only the dripping blood and protruding bits of connective tissue revealing the grotesque reality.

In the final inch the Siglo IV's tar is starting to dominate, but there are distinct peppery undertones that add a nice complexity to the sting that's being left on my tongue. My universe is spinning and I'm short of breath, and my entire head is pulsing from the combined nicotine of two dusky beauties. This cigar started as a mere consolation, but I can see myself filling a humidor with these one day. Recommended.

Cohiba on the Cuban Cigar Website.

Wednesday 17 February 2016

Quintero Panetelas

It's a beautiful summer day in Melbourne, and I'm joining some seasoned cigar smokers in the courtyard of one of the city's hotels. My companions open their travel cases and humidors and produce fat, dark cigars and, with deft precision, decapitate them with bespoke cutters. They are also armed with whiskeys of imposing rarity, which they lazily chat about as I, apologetically, plop a six-pack of pilsner on the table. I complete the contrast by coaxing a Quintero panetelas from my zip-lock bag and, hat in hand, beg the use of my neighbour's cigar cutter. I knock the top off a pilsner, gratefully accept an offered jet lighter, and crudely set the Quintero ablaze. 

Many years ago I lived in Canberra, where there's nothing to do besides work, drink and, if you're lucky, do casual sex. I used to do said casual sex with Carol, who was a beautiful but loathsome character of 45 - twice my age - who held a stratospheric opinion of herself, but didn't have a single characteristic of which it was worthy. We had two common interests, however, being drinking and sex, and we'd regularly meet to do both with fairly unchecked abandon.

Carol had two teen aged children who were both dirtbag vandal fuckups and we, with my living situation being agonisingly communal, were wholly reliant on them being out of her house to achieve our awful coitus. One night I received her usual garbled text message, and made my way promptly over. The house - a dilapidated semi-detached in the badlands of Canberra - reeked of ashtray and alcohol, and she smiled at me through a hungover fug as I entered the lounge room. My sole form of transport at the time was an old motorcycle, and she asked me to carry her to bed with my jacket and helmet on. I took her awkwardly in my arms and wobbled her to the bedroom where, after a brief pause, I went to throw her on the bed. Unfortunately she'd held onto my thick leather jacket, so I went tumbling after her, and ended up slamming into her face with my helmeted head.

The first thing I notice about the Panetalas is the draw's extreme tightness, akin to sucking ice-cream through a straw. I keep recutting the cap, but the tightness continues, and each draw requires me to suck and squeeze until my cheeks hurt just to coax its smokey load through the thin shaft. When enough effort is applied the Quintero rewards me with very mild tobacco and a hint of straw, and leaves a citrus tang on my tongue. As the final inch draws to an agonising close, the Quintero gives me the subtle sweetness of lactose, and I rue the effort it takes to extract. It would be a fine smoke if it could be smoked properly, and I notice my companions squinting pityingly down their crooked noses at me between easy draws of their smouldering donkey-dicks.

Carol recovered from the battering, and we commenced our usual loathsome hatefucking. In our first few sessions she would ride me while slapping my face and throttling me, which I later found out was her way of saying "slap my face and throttle me, idiot". On this particular night I gave her a playful smack on the ass, at which she flew into a rabid fury, clawing my face with her harpy talons and reproaching me for degrading her. I apologised and, with the skill of a creep who made women angry more often than not, went back to making her retch and moan with my angry strangulation. It was during the throes of one of her loud orgasms that I heard a faint cough coming from the adjoining lounge, and promptly told her about it. She sat bolt-upright and, extracting herself from me and throwing on her dressing gown in one movement, went out to argue with her son.

My struggle resumes past the midpoint where, through ever-strengthening mid tobacco, I still taste the occasional hint of orange zest. There is no tar, and the pilsner, though one of the worst examples I've ever had, complements it well. I have tobacco all over my lap from where I've attacked the the Quintero with my fingernails and car keys in vain attempts to clear whatever's blocking the airway. It is useless, however, and just leaves me with sour tobacco as I strain at the Panetela's soggy nub. I interrupt the table's talk of tobacco and whiskey with a raucous belch, and the beer I bring up mixes with the cigar's dry residue, and floods my mouth with the ashy sweetness of a sodden beer coaster left in an ashtray.

I gathered from their domestic blowup that the son had returned early from whatever vandal fuckups do, and I lay impatiently on the bed and nursed my outrageous and persistent erection. She eventually returned and, shamefacedly, attended to my cock, but kept pausing in her ministrations to discuss her son with a resentful, almost Jocastan, jealousy. I quickly tired of it, and rolled, loins burning, into my jeans, and wandered out into the lounge room. Her son, an over-pierced FUBU-clad burnout, was laying on the couch, and I regarded him with a sneer. Surprisingly, he bounded up, politely introduced himself, and curiously offered his hand on which, after brief hesitation, I gravely left his own mother's musky dregs. He went to open the front door for me and, as I was pulling on my helmet, told me that he liked my motorbike. I paused, as curious about this kid's gentle manner as I was annoyed by its application, and turned on my heels. "Thanks" I smirked, still bitter about the orgasm I'd been denied, "I liked fucking your mum". The slam of the door heralded their scumbag quarrel anew as my bike spluttered to life and bore me, irrevocably, into the night.

In the final inch the cigar strengthens, and I detect tar for the first time. I'm breathless and spent from an afternoon of dutiful sucking, and my cheeks ache with each strained draw. Still, the Quintero remains delicious, and I consume every smokable millimeter. I understand that the Panetela's slender size, short-filler tobacco, and a possible manufacturing anomaly might have caused my draw problems, but my aching mouth leaves me conflicted about giving it a second chance. It's unfortunate, but this is one interesting little cigar that I have to advise against.

Quintero Panetelas on the Cuban Cigar Website.

Wednesday 10 February 2016

Phillies Titan

One of my favourite cities on Earth is the stinking, sprawling, completely corrupt, Phnom Penh. It has a fun lawlessness about it that's been lost by the other big South-East Asian cities, and I strongly suggest its exploration before China develops it into oblivion. I'm only stopping by for a few days, and I've managed to purchase myself a cigar from a toothless, octogenarian, street vendor. I'd initially waved her off, but then spied a light-tan little beauty towering above the soft-packs of Texas 5 and Marlboro. I asked her if it was a cigar of unrivaled finery, at which she ran it under her nose and smiled, knowingly, saying "best cigar, sir, American! Very best". I produced two crisp US dollar bills, and stole away with my prize. The addition of flame will tell if the Phillies Titan I've procured is indeed the splendid smoke I was promised.

I wasted years of my late twenties working on a depressing and dangerous plant in rural Queensland, where my social life involved attending dive bars with other sad workers, where we'd occasionally meet even sadder girls. One of my colleagues, Joey, was a patched Neonazi who waxed fantastic about his hatred for all non-whites, which somehow included communists and homosexuals. Joey was well below average height, walked with a limp, had facial ticks, and was floored by basic annunciation. None of these shortfalls held him back with women, whom he chatted up with the ease of a much more competitive specimen. They would coo with delight at his swastika and totenkopf tattoos, even finding agreement with his well-rehearsed schtick about the New White Genocide. One night, at our usual haunt, Joey came bounding over with two girls in their mid-20s; one bouncy and blonde - Sara - and a sour looking brunette - Mara - with her bottom lip turned out into a grotesque scowl. We all made chit chat, with Sara and I making very nice, and Joey deliberately antagonising the already upset Mara.

The Titan is a wonder to behold, beautifully wrapped and constructed in sheets of what looks like fresh vinyl. Unlit, it smells like a cigarette, and under the flame gives initial hints of clove and extremely mild tobacco. I notice a sudden saccharine tang on my lips which, after investigation, turns out to be from the wrapper. A sweetened wrapper? It's like pairing a cigar with a glass of Fanta and, with the clove's sweetness already cloying on my palate, makes for a strange first inch.

Some time later, Sara and I walked home with linked arms as Joey, who was angrily questioning the scowling Mara's lineage, deflected Mara's retaliatory threats of getting her bikie brother down to 'sort him out'. We ended up walking home past the high walls of a park which was known town-wide as 'Rape Park'. Sara and I skipped about 100m inside to take care of some business, while Mara screamed at her to come back. We found a seemingly quiet patch, and started to undress each other while sloppily making out. After two minutes I looked up and saw a group of six delinquents staggering our way, making "ooooo a-what have we HERE" comments, and laughing loudly. I hauled Sara to her feet and started to walk her briskly back to the entrance, just as one of the group ran up and grabbed me by the arm.

Rapist: Hey bro, nice work on the pull. How about laying her down so we can all run through her?
Me: Ahhh man, we don't want that. Have a good night, okay?
Rapist: *standing in front of me, arms folded* NO. Lay that slut down, so we can fuck her. NOW.

The most remarkable thing about the Titan is the burn which, though belied by the photos, creeps on a symmetrical plane down the shaft as if cut by laser. Whichever master rolled it should lend their skilled hands to a marque of much higher quality. At the midpoint there is no flavour development, except that the clove has given way to mild tobacco, and the sugar has dissolved from the cap, leaving the Titan tasting like the big, fat, cigarette that it essentially is.

I pushed the rapist aside and jogged with my terrified charge back to the entrance, with the angry baying of the pack echoing behind us. Joey and Mara were screaming at each other, when the distinct clatter of Harley-Davidson engines reverberated through the muggy night air. "THAT'S my brother, and youse two are FUCKED" screamed Mara. Now, Neonazis may be bad, but they confine themselves to smashing shop windows, and attacking lone immigrants in dark alleys. Bikies are the real deal and, with a group of them moments away, Joey and I left the girls, and retreated into Rape Park to hide. Eventually the roaming V-twins were heard rattling back down the highway, and we crept home through the backstreets.

I later found out that Mara, thinking I was about to assault her friend, had in fact called her brother to impart some vicious and prejudicial revenge on me. It's only struck me now that I'm writing it down, but had the group of rapists not roused us from our little recess, we would have been dealing with more than a simple scare.

In the final 3rd the Titan's perfect draw loosens, and I taste and smell kerosene, which quickly gives way to heavy tar and scorched hair. I try to keep smoking, but I wretch and gag with each draw. The Titan has turned into a pulsing rubber fire, and I deem it an unsmokeable abomination, not even worth the pittance I paid for it. Avoid.

Wednesday 3 February 2016

Ashton E.S.G.

It's a hot night in Ho Chi Minh City, and I've been seated outside a restaurant that specialises in not only cooking crab, but also having staff that, according to the menu, are "trying to be better".  My  waiter has been topping up my beer after each swig, and during dinner removed each piece of crab the instant I'd sucked the flesh from it. As he cleared the table I removed an Ashton Estate Sun Grown from my pocket, and he squawked for an ashtray in rapid Vietnamese. It's a handsome, Dominican, brute, the ESG, with a deep, tight, heavily-veined maduro wrapper, and a huge, garish, gold band that I can't help but like. Its 52 ring gauge fills my mouth and makes my eyes roll back in my head as the flame licks playfully at its foot.

I was last in Vietnam many years ago as a stupid 22 year old. I recall little of the trip between binge drinking tasteless lager and chain smoking third-world cigarettes, but one event is with me to this day. It was my final night in the city, and my traveling companion, Connor, was extremely sick, and had holed up in our room to alternately heave and strain into our leaking toilet. I'd left the room just to get some food and, in the days before WiFi-equipped devices, the promise of my swift return was all he could go by. I did have dinner, but then wandered down to our regular dive bar for some beer. I had long, greasy, hair and a beard of sparse pubes, and I smelled like a mixture of old smoke and body odor. This combination, strangely, was attractive to a certain class of woman. Enter Lexi.

In the first inch the Ashton knocks me back with heavy tobacco and even heavier tar. It makes me drink the Saigon Lager I've paired it with too fast, as I try to quell the acrid burn on my tongue. I like the refreshing simplicity of Vietnamese beer, and I feel it would nicely accompany a more complex cigar, rather than be swilled down to dilute this chemical burn.

Lexi was a charming and attractive Scottish lass who, after some cajoling, joined me for some bar-hopping. Vietnam had won a regional soccer tournament, and we purchased some little Vietnamese flags from some street kids and watched the locals celebrate. At the age I was, no lure of the flesh could compete with my alcohol seeking, and I was ignoring Lexi's suggestions of going to her hotel in favour of getting increasingly liquored up.

As my miserable carcass dragged this nice, disproportionately patient girl into yet another bar, the Vietnamese flag I'd tied above my elbow fluttered to the ground, in full view of a group of Vietnamese youths. "WHAT. DA. FAAAACK, America?" pierced the air just as a bottle whizzed past my head. Dumbstruck and scared, I could only shrug my shoulders and make apologetic noises with my slack mouth. Lexi picked up the flag and, under the cover of some actual Americans who fancied a brawl, whisked me away to her hotel.

At the 3/4 mark the bitterness fades, replaced with mild tobacco. It's not bad, but there's no complexity. My temples are already tight from the nicotine, and I'm letting the eager waiter dictate my beer consumption. I knock the ESG against the tiny ashtray and a great wedge falls off which, on investigation, was due to the woefully uneven burn beneath the wrapper that no amount of touching up has remedied. I also note with disappointment that the wrapper is dislodging and peeling off in two places along the veiny shaft, but isn't affecting the draw. I relight and the bland, mild, tobacco returns, and endures beyond the midpoint.

Lexi and I were standing outside her hotel and I, as she was arguing with the owner about her rights to take a non-guest inside, was struck with the urgent need to urinate. I ducked quickly around the side of the hotel, and unleashed my hot piss into the muggy tropical air. "WHAT. THE. FUCK" rang out behind me, and I dropped my limp noodle and stood sharply upright, my penis acting like a pendulum and spraying my cargo shorts and ankles with urine. It was Connor who, after my long absence, had been searching our district for hours, looking for me. He reeked of shit and vomit, and was ghostly pale. It was also 4am, and we had a flight to quite urgently catch. I snuck gutlessly away from Lexi, and lived through my hangover on the ten-hour flight back to Melbourne.

In the final inch, and after 2.5 hours of solid smoking, I am bored through. The cigar has remained tar-free until the end, and I find myself greedily sucking on it to increase my nicotine buzz. I note that I'm also shitfaced and staring angrily at other tourists. In the absence of anything to taste, I've been hammering beer into myself, and yet I don’t feel I’ve denied the ESG any justice. For what it's worth, the Ashton brand is 30 years old, and has been produced in the Dominican Republic since the Cuban Embargo stemmed U.S. import opportunities. That is, effectively, it. It's a boring history, for a boring cigar.