We’ve touched on the plethora of “special” cigars that flood the market from Cuba in past articles.
There are the Limited Edition cigars first introduced in 2000. Largely a success, there have been some questionable releases (Montecristos from 2003, anyone?) but also some of the finest cigars ever made. We have the Habanos Collection cigars, typically coming in the form of a book. The Reserve Series, and even more impressively, the Gran Reserva Series. The Aged Habanos Series and special releases. Antique humidors, commemorative humidors, duty-free specials.
Then the Añejados range, which for me has been the only consistent disappointment. I very rarely toss a stick, believing that even a poor cigar should be given a fair chance, but I’ll confess that I pitched the latest, the Romeo & Julieta Churchill Añejados, into a potted plant well before the end (that evening a curious possum decided it might make off with it but only got a few feet before he, too, dumped the cigar – quite why a possum wanted a cigar I have no idea, but at least it had good taste).
Then we have the Regional Release Program first offered in 2005 with four different cigars – two each for the Swiss and Italian markets. By my count, since the first releases under this program, between 2005 and 2018, there have been 208 different cigars and one more announced for 2019, though no doubt more to come (like many Habanos releases they do not necessarily arrive in the year promised, so we are only seeing some of the 2018 releases now).
It is a wonder that there is any decent tobacco left for the regular production cigars!
Keeping track of these Regional Releases is a nearly impossible job. They are all destined for individual markets, so you would need a network of extraordinary contacts to source them, for starters. The markets range across Turkey, Andorra, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Peru, Russia, Portugal, Spain, the UK, Asia-Pacific, South Africa, and on and on. There have even been five Regional Releases for Cuba, which I am not sure I understand.
There have been some crackers – Diplomaticos Norteños for Canada recently, and some years earlier in 2007 the Bolivar Simones (also for Canada) impressed. There have been many others. Diplomatico Bushidos are rightfully famous.
To make the selections for what will be offered, the ten brands considered global and niche are excluded (so we don’t see Partagás, Montecristo or Cohiba, for example – though an Edmundo Dantes was released for Mexico in 2007, which was really a Montecristo under a different guise), so there are some 17 other brands used.
The cigars are limited. Production varies but usually ranges from a few thousand cases to close to 10,000, though the size of the box varies – might be 10 or 25 or whatever they decide. The minimum number of cigars made for any Regional Release is usually 25,000 (the Por Larranaga Belicosos Extra was at least 185,000 cigars, and other releases may have been even more).
The cigars will be from vitolas not already in production from that brand. Local markets/distributors have a say in what is offered, and they underwrite costs. In the early years of the program, some markets received several releases a year.
Since 2012, that has been limited to a maximum of one per year. The cigars have two bands, the standard band and one indicating that it is a Regional for “xxx” market. Boxes are numbered, with the total number made also indicated – hence, you might have box 345/6,500.
Needless to say, prices vary greatly, but they are “elevated” from what you might pay for the normal production cigars. That does not mean quality will exceed that of the better standards, though some certainly do.
Asia-Pacific’s Punch Regional Release 8-9-8: tasting notes
The latest for the Asia-Pacific region is the Punch Regional Release 8-9-8 (a 2018 release, but not yet on the shelves).
It is a curious name. The most famous 8-9-8 is from Partagás, coming in boxes of 25 layered eight upon nine upon eight (there have been boxes of Partagás 8-9-8 in tens). These are in boxes of ten. Such a shame.
Indeed, it would be brilliant if these had been in cabs of 50! A total of 8,888 boxes have been made – I’m sure that it is pure coincidence to have that number for the Asian market (and if you happened on box 1, 8, 88, 888 or 8,888, hold on as the price will skyrocket).
What might put some off is that these are what has become known as “skinnies.” Technically they could be even thinner, but these days one takes what one can. Fans of the skinnies, and there are many though they seem to have been swept aside by the trend to go fat, will love them at 43 x 170 mm.
The price? Can’t help you, I’m afraid. At the time of writing, these have not actually been released, let alone priced. Some Regional Releases can be rightly criticized for representing rather poor value. Obviously, without knowing the price I can only suggest that they would want to be horrendously expensive not to be a value buy, such is their quality.
So, how do they smoke?
Construction was fine, the draw also. I was advised that these were only finished in June of this year (despite being a release for 2018), which meant they were exceedingly youthful. We were prepared to grant it some slack because of that, but no need. I smoked it with a local importer, who had also not seen them before.
From the first puff, it was clear that this was something seriously special. There were immediate and rich notes of roasted nuts, toasted biscuits. No issues with youth, no “elbows and knees.” Immaculately balanced from the word go!
This lovely toasty richness continued for the first third. Utterly delicious. The cigar was around medium-full in power.
One of the key indicators of quality and potential in a young cigar is to follow its evolution as one smokes through it. We both said that, despite the desire to see such an evolution, it was so enjoyable that we didn’t care if it stayed exactly the same the entire way through (normally, that gets a bit boring).
As it happened, we did not need to worry. The richness and toastiness became a little more moderated after a third. There was a creamy note that then became apparent, creamy coffee, some fudge. A hint of caramel. The power had calmed down and the cigar was medium at best at this stage. Again, we’d have been more than happy with that.
After around two-thirds, through, it reinvented itself yet again with the rich and roasted nut flavors coming back. The power also returned. Such a joy and a never-ending surprise.
It was not done yet. One would expect that the finish of such a young cigar would have been a little harsh, perhaps a little hot. Hard to keep that balance right through. None of that: the power ramped right up and finished absolutely full blast, full power. The finish went for a very long time. We both had very similar experiences, so one can hopefully assume that these experiences will be reasonably standard.
I believe that this is also a cigar that will age and even improve, not just mature, for at least a decade. And if stored well, a lot longer.
Scores? I thought a lot on this and I gave it 97. My friend went 95, thinking I was a smidge generous (he had declared it the best young cigar he had ever enjoyed with the exception of the Cohiba Gran Reserva, so I was thinking he was a bit miserly).
You can approach scoring from two angles. What builds the score up; what diminishes it. I tried both ways. This was a gorgeous, fabulous cigar, so despite its youth I was happy to go that high. And then I looked at what dragged it down. Not really anything.
One of the best, if not the best Regional Release I have seen. I loved it. For me, this is a staggering success.
Keep an eye on punchcigars.com for more information (website not presently working in the EU).