In the early 1900s, two of the leading brands of Havana cigars in the United States were Henry Clay and Villar y Villar, both owned by Gustavo Bock’s Havana Tobacco Company. In the wake of the Spanish American War and the American occupation of Cuba, tobacco trusts were created to establish a foothold in the industry. I always wondered why a Havana cigar would be named after a prominent American statesman like Henry Clay — that’s why, or at least partly why. Gustave Bock, along with establishing several brands which would survive into the next century (if in name only) is also credited with creating the first cigar band. Why is still up for debate.
Rudyard Kipling took note of the brand as well in his poem “The Betrothed.” The line is repeated so often in cigar literature that it’s almost become a cliche, but here it is for the millionth time:
There’s peace in a Larranaga, there’s calm in a Henry Clay
But the best cigar in an hour is finished and thrown away.
Henry Clay came to mind the other day as I was reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s recent book about Abraham Lincoln: Team of Rivals. Lincoln called Clay “the man for a crisis” because he was primarily responsible for the Missouri Compromise which saved the United States from civil war for forty years. He was one of the great mediators between the North and South; in fact his headstone in Lexington Cemetery reads “I Know no North – No South – No East – No West.” If Kipling found calm in a Henry Clay, Clay himself must have been remarkably even tempered.
And while many other cigar bands bore the names of eminent politicians, Henry Clay survived as a brand up to the revolution in 1959. Evidently Castro didn’t care for the name. (Actually, Castro wanted to “communize” cigars as well as people and have ONE brand only. Che Guevara wouldn’t hear it.)
So today there is no Henry Clay Havana, but there are two others, a Dominican and a Honduran. The Dominican line is easily distinguished because the entire line is maduro only. The Honduran version is made in Danli, but the components are mostly Nicaraguan. The wrapper and binder are both Nicaraguan, and the filler is a blend of Honduran, Nicaraguan, and Peruvian leaf. At one time there was also an H2000 line, but unfortunately they appear to have been discontinued. (Too bad really. They were nice smokes.) The Hondurans are produced for Santa Clara cigars (JR) while the Dominicans are made by Altadis. How they can use the same brand name is somewhat mystifying, but trademark law is not exactly my forte.
“Hermosos No. 4” is a Cuban commercial vitola which is actually a little bit narrower than this Hermoso. The Henry Clay Hermoso is a traditional robusto at 5 inches by a 50 ring gauge. The Cuban vitola is the same length, but a 48 ring gauge.
This cigar has a rough, somewhat dry wrapper. Not the most attractive stick around, but the draw is good and it takes an easy light. The construction on this robusto is quite good all the way around: even burn, solid gray ash, the works.
This is what I’d call a real stogie. It’s a medium bodied easy smokin’ seegar. A nice aroma with a mild spice to it that is very pleasant — nothing fancy, but pleasant. The flavors fall in the earthy category, bordering on metallic at times. I have to say I wasn’t crazy about the flavor, but it’s mild enough not to be overbearing in that regard. The aftertaste follows suit.
The last third of this cigar gets into tarry territory, so it’s not one I’ll ever nub, but the first half to two-thirds was a decent everyday smoke. I doubt I’d ever spring for a box of these guys, but having a few around for in-between times could be a good thing.
Henry Clay was the master of the compromise. While brokering a peace between factions that were destined for a bitter and violent war was no mean feat, I’d have to say this cigar is a compromise of sorts as well. It’s a middle of the road cigar that won’t compromise your budget. At around $2.50 a stick it’s a pretty good deal.