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Cigar Review – Aging Room M356 Rondo by Habana Cuba

Of all the new cigars revealed at the 2011 IPCPR tradeshow, Aging Room M356 by Habana Cuba probably has my favorite back story. It’s not a Cuban-esque recreation blend, it’s not a birthday blend, and it’s not a “this-cigar-will-kick-your-ass” blend. It’s a genuine “because-we-felt-like-it” blend.

According to a video posted by Rafael Nodal of Habana Cuba, the leaves used in Aging Room were originally set aside for their Swag line. Due to its rarity, though, there wasn’t enough of this tobacco to meet the level of production they were going for. Instead, Rafael Nodal, president of Habana Cuba, set the leaves aside for a new line, because they were too good to gloss over altogether. On Monday, December 22, 2008 (which is the line’s namesake—M stands for Monday, and December 22 was the 356th day of 2008, hence M356), Aging Room M356 was born.

One of the most noticeable things about these stogies—the prominent use of brass knuckles in the artwork—is another story in itself. According Hank Bischoff from Habana Cuba, he and Rafael were visiting the aging room to grab a few cigars to smoke once the blend was done. One of the rollers had left a set of brass knuckles on one of the shelves, and rather than freaking out like any other employer would, they interpreted it as a good omen. “The knuckles were looking out for our blend,” Hank explained, “So we included them on the band, box, artwork, etc., so they can keep looking out for us and this great blend.”

So with a story like that, these cigars have to be good, right? Right, thankfully. Today I smoked the Aging Room M356 Rondo, and while it was nothing like what I expected, it was definitely my favorite smoke from Habana Cuba so far.

The first thing I noticed when I cracked open a box was the aroma. These things smelled like vanilla, caramel, and pepper right out of the cellophane, and the pre-light draw echoed that. The construction was excellent, with a beautiful, golden-brown wrapper and even firmness from head to foot, and the draw was effortless.

Anxious to smoke this well-made, sweet-smelling smoke, I hastily toasted the foot with my crappy, $8 single torch lighter. To my surprise, the thing lit on its own after about 10 seconds under the flame. Expecting something sweet and somewhat mild, I took a few draws and got one of the most powerful pepper blasts I’ve ever experienced. This thing would give any Joya de Nicaragua a run for its money, at least in the first inch or so. Once the pepper subsided a little, I started to pick up some butter and woody sweetness.

About halfway through, the butter came to the forefront, and a faint caramel note complemented it. Still clinging to the smoke, though, was some of that initial black pepper, which was not harsh but still fairly powerful.

The last two inches of this smoke were by far my favorite. The pepper mellowed substantially and only really ramped up when I puffed too quickly. I started tasting a little bit of bitter cocoa, along with a heightened caramel sweetness and some leather in the background. At this point I noticed that the cigar was still firm, despite the fact that three inches of it had burned. Also noteworthy were the consistent 1-inch ashes that exploded into fine dust as soon as they hit the ground. From this point on, the pepper never got quite as intense as it was at the very beginning, and I put down the nub only when puffing started to burn my fingers.

I have to stress again that this was by far my favorite Habana Cuba smoke yet. I have another one of these at home, and I’m definitely going to give it some time in the humidor before smoking it just to see what some aging will do to it. But if this sample was any indication of the quality of the rest of the line, this could be the company’s most successful smoke. I recommend getting some of these as soon as possible, because if the tobaccos in the blend are as rare as they’re being made out to be, this line will disappear pretty quickly. Thanks to Hank Bischoff for giving us the back story on the brass knuckles!