Wednesday 2 March 2016

Cuaba Divinios

Sometimes my benevolent employer requires my scraping servitude on his routine journeys around Australia, with the most common being to Sydney. We drove up, from Melbourne, in a cramped Japanese death-trap that skated around the Hume Highway in the wake of heftier craft (the result of his Mercedes being in the shop, and me bungling the car hire) and arrived sweaty and sore on a Friday night. The weekend’s weather is sunny and humid, and I have a surprise for my employer. It’s not my first rodeo, but it is the first time I’ve brought some cigars of my own, and I sheepishly present a Cuaba Divinios as I collect him from the hotel. He scoffs at my tiny little perfecto, but snatches it from my shaking paw and stores it roughly next to his own giant stogie, before handing me the travel case. We reach the destination, a cheerful smoke-friendly pub called the Annandale, where I am joining him and his friends for cigars. I set the Divinios alight and, through the almost unworkably tight draw, taste the sourness of bad home-brewed beer. My eyes flick from person to person as my cheeks billow and cave with the tightness, until a fellow smoker slams a cutter in front of me, and insists that I re-cut. I sense I am value-adding to the afternoon.

Sydney has recently developed some draconian nanny-state garbage laws that all but prevent the sale of alcohol after around 7:30pm, and I recall a recent desperate mission around the inner suburbs to find an obliging bar. It had just gone dark on a Sunday night, and my companion and I, suffering the early stages of alcohol withdrawal, were lurching from bar to pub to diner, only to be apologetically denied service everywhere we went. We passed the brightly-lit lobby of the Church of Scientology, which was teeming with people and promise, and I asked an emerging old lady if there was a bar inside. “IT’S A CHURCH!”, she shrieked, both dumbfounded and angry, and we continued our Godless quest for booze into the main drag of Glebe.

After an inch the Divinios starts to loosen up, and I'm met with bitter coffee bean, like the foam of a burned latte, which mingles with a light, dry, dusty taste, like an old person's home. It's a lot better than I expected, with no tar, and leaves a tang on my tongue as the first inch ends. Eventually the Divinios stars to burn harshly, and the light dust gives way to thick woodsmoke, and I feel like I'm sucking air from the embers of a loosely burning fireplace. As the cigar fades to the midpoint I get notes of old urine and musty old blanket, until the cigar starts burning hot and gets a little tarry and rough.

We eventually found a dingy hipster bar that had an extended liquor license, and the bartender, a chatty and attractive blonde with bad teeth, empathised with our quest and lamented the barbarity of the new laws. “We’re about to close bar service ourselves”, she chirped, “so I’ve poured you guys doubles”. It was 9pm. The chairs in the smoking area were stacked on the tables, and I smugly took two chairs to the ground, and plonked myself down. A raucous squawk of “he’s gonna hate that, the black fuck” broke through the night air, and a wrinkly old hag started cackling through drags of her cigarette. “The bouncer. He’ll come, and he’ll upturn that chair and smash ya, but you must refuse” she continued, and after a long draught of her Cooper’s Green, added “he’s fuckin’ black”. The hag was accompanied by a well-dressed gentleman in his early 60s, who sat in embarrassed silence throughout, while she made me promise to refuse to leave my seat, emphasising that I must simply say "no". I was excited at this rebellious prospect, and enjoyed the contrast of the drunkenly screeched orders with the gentleman's silence, and decided that I would stay put, no matter what.

At the midpoint, and due to less meddling on my part, the cigar's heat fades, and I taste the distinct malt of chocolate left in the sun for too long. My employer and his friends are sharing stories and listening to each other intently, when my friend Buckley arrives. He tries my cigar, and concurs with me on the malty chocolate notes that I'm tasting. My employer hears this and, eyeing first my little Cuaba, then regarding Buckley then myself with unfeigned scorn, declares us both morons. The malt soon fades as the cigar heats up, and I get renewed strong tobacco and some tar, leaving a burn on my lips. As the cigar draws toward the final inch I get bitter, harsh tobacco, and my fingers scald on the soggy wrapper.

Eventually a very tall, very authoritative and, indeed, very black man entered the courtyard, and with a voice teeming with power and gravitas, informed all present that we must move indoors. I gripped my seat, looked at him with a shit-eating grin, and said "no". He laughed, but with a casual point of his finger, had me scurrying inside, leaving the hag whooping and rasping behind me. We found some seats indoors, and I laboured away at my awful double G+T while making some feeble excuses for my cowardice. Eventually the hag staggered inside, pointed at me and emitted a mixture of Mutley-esque laughter and dry coughing, before beaming at her patient companion and staggering off. I looked sympathetically at the gentleman, thinking us allied against a common antagonist, and he stared stone-faced back at me. Finally he pivoted toward me and, with a sneer forming under his wispy grey mustache, grunted his first word of the night: "pussy".

In the final inch the cigar tapers toward its tip and and the heat reduces, and gives me delicious, light tobacco and a tangy, Sichuan-pepper spice on my palate. My fingers and mouth are chapped and raw with the heat from the Divinios's tiny nub, and I smoke it until it flops without ceremony from my tired mouth, completely spent. The burn on this little Cuaba was razor sharp, and I'm loathe to wash the lingering Sichuan tang down my gullet with beer, but I do anyway. Complex and delicious, punching well above its weight, and wholly endorsed.

Cuaba on the Cuban Cigar Website.

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