Review: H Upmann 1844 Reserve
Two things I love about cigar culture is (1) you can have a great time with just cigars and friends and (2) your friends share their cigars. Hey, hey – before I’m pelted with a barrage of “moooooch!”, I share too. So there. Anyway, my wife and I hosted our best friends, Raph’ and his wife, one evening and before we could hit the back patio, Raph’ and I shared some quick reviews of cigars we had tried. Some good, some bad. I already had a stick picked out for the evening’s festivities, but Raph’ hooked me up with a Dominican H. Upmann 1844 Reserve. One reason I chose the H’Up over my selection was simply because the H. Upmann was one of the many sticks I’d yet to try. In addition, because it is one of the iconic Cuban brands and because I had a vague knowledge of it’s heritage, I thought this might be the more interesting of the two. I wasn’t disappointed.
The saga behind one of the oldest cigar makers in existence plays out like a Frederick Forsythe novel. It began with a German businessman, Hermann Upmann, setting up matters for his company’s import/export business in Havana in 1843. Upmann discovered a wealth of other import opportunities, including cigars, so he purchased a cigar factory and began making cigars in 1844. Although the elder Upmann retired in 1890, his nephews and business partners continued to grow the business for the next 60 years. During WWI, the Upmann heirs began to use their booming banking and cigar businesses to hide a German intelligence network within Cuba and the US which earned them blacklist status on trading and merchandising with the US. It also earned the two Upmann nephews a Cuban prison cell in 1918. The business consequences were dire and once released from prison, they attempted to recoup their losses by defrauding bank depositors using their funds to speculate on Mexican currency and oil futures. No, I’m not making this up.
After surviving 2 world wars, espionage, blacklists, a laundry list of legal issues, bankruptcy, and the 1959 revolution, the brand stumbled through a revolving door of ownership, perhaps inevitably ending up in the hands of the Cuban State-owned tobacco firm, Habanos SA. After the revolution, the Menéndez- García Co moved one piece to the Dominican Republic, now part of Imperial Tobacco, with the Cuban-based H Upmann brand still in operation. H. Upmann is largely credited with inventing the idea of packaging cigars in cedar boxes adorned with the company name which brought the company global recognition and appeal. Prior to signing the Cuban Embargo into law, it is rumored that JFK assigned an aide to purchase as many of his beloved H Upmann cigars, the H Upmann Petit (Demitasse in the US), as possible (about 1200).
As luck would have it, of the 9 available vitolas of this slick looking cigar with its sumptuous oily Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, mine is a toro – my favorite. Ring gauge is a solid 54. The cigar is beautifully constructed with limited seam visibility, uniform firmness along its girth and well humidified – not dry nor swollen. I used a cutter instead of a punch and got just enough of the cap off. The draw is excellent. The aroma from the shaft offers molasses and earth with hints of hay. The bouquet from the foot is floral with hints of raisin and pepper.
- Profile: Medium
- Vitola: Toro
- Length / Ring Gauge: 6.0″/ 54
- Purchased: Gift
- Origin: Dominican Republic
- Wrapper: Ecuadorian Habano
- Binder: Nicaraguan
- Filler: Dominican
- Cutter: Xikar XO Cutter
- Lighter: Colibri Firebird 4-jet
- Price Range: $7 -$8
The cold draw is packed with complexity which includes pepper, earth and toasted nuts. I’m getting excited as I light this thing and I can’t keep my hand from shaking. Finally, we have ignition and the first draw is a spinning flavor wheel. It is a powerful first couple of draws. This babe is listed as a medium smoke by H Upmann, but she comes out of the gates swingin’ – more like medium-full.
The first thing I notice is how savory the flavors are – earthy profile with salt, pepper and charred wood. Meat! If I could smoke an 8 oz., seasoned filet mignon, this would be it! The 1st third is dominated by this flavor profile. It is smooth and savory producing voluminous plumes of smoke the aromas of which tantalized my guests as I begrudgingly pass it around like a bong. Jeez.
The second third offers similar strength, but she’s finishing with some toastiness. The burn is slow and even, a testament to the role quality. The flavors never diminish suggesting good balance between wrapper, binder and the delicious Dominican long fillers. I have to admit I have not enjoyed a cigar with this type of profile and body, but this is absolutely captivating. I found myself craving onion soup, garlic and horseradish. S-a-v-o-r-y and bold. Not kidding.
Personally, I felt the final third was more of the same. The woody character developed into an oaky flavor, enhancing the whole steak persona. Perhaps by this time my palate was simply overrun or I’m simply not used to this type of blend. I’m thinking to myself, French onion…green onion? Hmmm…maybe Worstershire? I’m still trying to nail down the complex flavors hiding in this baby, so I’ll simply leave some mystery, which is sometimes a good thing. The bottom line is that this smoke was highly enjoyable and I definitely need to take this baby out for another test-drive.
The pitch on the construction is a bit of a head scratcher. The official H Upmann stats report the filler is strictly Dominican however several large online retailers list Brazilian, Peruvian and Nicaraguan leaves present as well. H Upmann also uses the term “Cubano” instead of Habano when describing the wrapper, but I’m gonna go out on a limb here and assume they’re synonymous.
This stick is solid in construction, presentation and burn. The flavor profile, to me, was heavy on the earthy side which became a bit overwhelming after a while. Just my palate. Aficionados across the land hail this stick (CA gave it a score of 93) as pretty damn good, so take this review with a grain of salt. I’m a fan of Dominican smokes, and I’ll definitely give it another try and in fact will be trying the H Upmann 1844 Vintage Cameroon coming up. I’ll count this as homework for the Cameroon, but in the meantime, this stick must be experienced. Just have some garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus handy. – In Fumo Pax!