Posted: Mar 22, 2013 3:30pm ET
I hope you’re smoking a handmade cigar as you read this blog. You know that the robusto, corona gorda or perfecto that you’re puffing was made by hand, but you might not have a full idea of just how much hand labor went into its creation. And I bet you didn’t realize that the hand labor started long before the cigar was a cigar.
I was going through some old files the other day, and I came across a video I shot two years ago, when I was in northern Nicaragua. I spent a day in the fields of Jalapa, a beautiful place known for growing some of Nicaragua’s finest wrapper leaves. It’s a gorgeous spot, with vibrant fields of green leaves, bright blue skies, clear and cold streams, and gently sloped mountains covered in vegetation. And it’s a fine place to grow tobacco.
I spent that day with Eduardo Fernandez and his team of tobacco men that lead Aganorsa S.A., one of the biggest growers of cigar tobacco in all of Nicaragua. Many of those videos ended up on this website, but this one never saw the light of day. And it illustrates my point about labor and cigarmaking.
Let me explain what’s going on in the video. You can see about nine men working with hoes on a very large field of young tobacco. The plants are only three weeks old, and they are getting close to knee height. The field has just been fertilized.
The men with the hoes are pulling the earth close to the plant on each side, a process that does several things at once. First, it brings the fertilizer toward the plant, where it’s needed. That move creates a ditch between the rows, allowing better irrigation. It also gives some structure to the plant and helps it stay in place for its very quick growth spurt—in another two months these little guys will soon be almost as tall as man. And finally you can see how hoeing disrupts the wayward stalks of grass that are beginning to grow. If you know your gardening, you know that a hoe is a farmer’s friend and helps get rid of weeds.
Posted: Mar 7, 2013 12:00am ET
One of the most exciting pieces of news from Cuba every year is the list of Edición Limitadas. Since 2005 there have been three per year (before that, there was as many as five) and our blind tastings in Cigar Aficionado and Cigar Insider have shown a general increase in the quality level of these cigars. In short, they’re smoking quite well lately, so let’s hope that trend continues.
I saw the lineup of 2013 Limitadas on display last week at the Habanos Festival and smoked one of the cigars. Cuba’s 2013 EL trio is considerably fat, with no cigar slimmer than 52 ring gauge. Remember back in 2002 when the Cohiba Siglo VI made its debut? The cigar was considered truly fat for a Cuban, a 5 7/8-inch long, 52 ring cigar known as a cañonazo, or canon shot. The Romeo y Julieta Romeo de Luxe Edición Limitada 2013 measures 6 3/8 inches long by 52 ring gauge, the same ring gauge as the Siglo VI but half-an-inch longer. Pretty big cigar. The Romeo de Luxes will come in boxes of 10.
The Punch Serie d’Oro No. 2 Edición Limitada 2013 is a traditional Cuban belicoso, known as a campanas. Measuring 5 1/2 by 52, it’s identical in dimensions to a Bolivar Belicoso Fino. Habanos S.A., Cuba’s cigar exporting company, has used Punch plenty of times for its Regional Edition program, but this is the first Punch Edición Limitada. Samples of the cigar looked particularly dark and oily.
Posted: Mar 2, 2013 12:00am ET
If you love Cuban cigars, there’s no finer place to shop than in Havana, which is loaded with Casas del Habano cigar shops. Gordon and I spent the day going shop to shop, visiting five of the best stores in Cuba. We were taking note of what was in stock (and what wasn’t) to get an idea of what you can expect when shopping for cigars in the heart of Cuba.
But first, let me flash back to last night. Gordon blogged about the Vegueros dinner, which featured a look at Cuba’s newest bargain-priced brand. I wasn’t impressed with the two Vegueros cigars that I smoked, but I truly enjoyed the sneak peek at one of the trio of Edición Limitadas for 2013, the Hoyo de Monterrey Grand Epicure EL 2013. This fat, short smoke had an ultra-dark, ultra-oily wrapper and big flavor. It was young, which is to be expected, but I think this cigar will be something wonderful when it hits shops later this year.
Do you like Cohiba Behikes? They seem to be everywhere on this trip. Every shop I visited had some stock of Behikes, from a few boxes to stacks and stacks of them. There are more Behikes than on any of my other visits to Havana. They start at 22 CUC per stick for the BHK 52 (or 220 CUC for a box of 10) to 32 CUC for a BHK 56. I passed on some rustic looking singles in the Casa del Habano at the Hotel Palco (the heads looked too rounded, not flat enough) and the shop with the deepest stocks of Behike had to be the Casa del Habano at the Habana Libre.
Cohiba Pirámides Extras are in fine supply throughout Cuba. But the hot cigar of the moment is our top-rated Cuban cigar of 2012, the Cohiba 1966 Edición Limitada 2011. We asked everywhere we went, but the only shop that had any in stock was the Habana Libre. Not only did they have a few singles on display (at 21 CUC per cigar) but when prodded they produced a few boxes from the back. It’s the holy grail of Cuban cigars right now, and I can understand—they’re smoking beautifully.
Most shops were well stocked with recent production smokes, mostly 2012 production, and some 2011. If you dug around, you could find some boxes from 2010, like the couple of Bolivar Coronas Extra I saw (127 CUC per box of 25) in two shops. Truly deep digging in off brands (think Fonseca, Rafael Gonzalez) and you could find 2009, and even some 2007 cigars.
Posted: Feb 28, 2013 12:00am ET
It’s my fourth day in Havana, and the sun has disappeared, blown away by the wind and the rain. The front seems to be wreaking havoc with the electricity in the hotel, as it keeps going off and coming back on. I opted to take the stairs this morning when I left, instead of risking 18 flights in an elevator, and I felt vindicated when the stairway was plunged into darkness somewhere in the teens. (iPhone flashlight app to the rescue—don’t travel without it.) But this is Cuba, and things like this sometimes happen. Comes with the territory.
Gordon Mott arrived yesterday, and he met me at La Fontana, a paladar we truly enjoyed a few years ago. (We recommended it in our cover story on Havana.) Rob Fox of J.J. Fox in London and Dublin had organized a lunch with a group of his friends and customers, and he handed me a cigar that was nearly as old as I am, a Ramon Allones Private Stock No. 1 from the early 1970s. “It could be newspaper,” he said, not wanting to get my hopes up.
Old cigars don’t always improve—sometimes they turn to nothing, and are flavorless. This one was far from newspaper, but it was past its peak. Mine had a tight draw, and was largely showing dusty almond notes with just a touch of cedar. Very pleasant but mild. At the very end, with less than an inch left, I revisited the smoke, and it was far more intense with a long, nutty finish.
I began my Wednesday with another aged cigar from another retailer from the U.K. Ajay Patel handed me a 2002 Cohiba Robusto Reserva, which I smoked to start my Wednesday. Wow. What a brilliant smoke. I won’t go into the details (you’ll read much more about it in an upcoming Connoisseur's Corner in Cigar Aficionado) but I’ll be hard pressed to find a better smoke on this trip. Then it was off to a showing of art and Louis XIII Cognac, then the launch of a book at the Partagás Cigar Factory, and then our traditional opening dinner at El Aljibe, with plenty of cigars throughout the night.
Posted: Feb 27, 2013 12:00am ET
It’s 9 a.m., and I’ve just lit up a new Montecristo Petit No. 2. Too early for a cigar? Not here. Not in Cuba.
I was given the cigars last night at the opening party for the Habanos Festival, a gathering of several hundred people at the historic Morro Castle, a sturdy fortress festooned with massive cannons that stands guard astride the Malecón. It was quite a dramatic setting for the launch of a pair of new Montecristos, the Montecristo Petit No. 2 and the Montecristo Double Edmundo. The cigars were handed out at the start of the evening. I smoked a Double Edmundo during the event, but I didn’t want to pass judgment on it or take notes while smoking it outdoors in the wind. It’s impossible to get all the nuances of the smoke in most outdoor settings, and this was less than ideal: breezes make cigars burn improperly, having a conversation means you don’t spend enough attention on your cigar, and all that open air ensures you lose the aroma of the smoke. So this morning I’m sitting down after coffee and breakfast with a clean palate to give you an idea about the new cigars of Cuba.
Of course, what I was given last night isn’t necessarily what will end up on store shelves later this year when these cigars officially go on sale. These are samples. Sometimes the final product smokes better, as prototypes like this one might be rushed into production to make a deadline, such as a grand party. Sometimes they smoke better in preview. There have been times when a preview cigar has been made at one factory, and the final product is rolled at another, or several others. Either way, things might change.
One thing that won’t change is the shape, and the shape of this Monte Petit No. 2 is quite attractive. It measures 4 3/4 inches by 52 ring, with that picture perfect Monte 2 head. I love the shape, as if someone made a Montecristo No. 2 and just sliced off a few inches. It feels quite natural in the hand, and the draw is spot on right away.
Posted: Feb 26, 2013 12:00am ET
I slipped the chocolate brown cigar out of my case, clipped its head and put its foot to the flame. I took a puff, exhaled toward the ceiling of the hotel lounge and smiled. Bienvenidos a Cuba.
I’m in Havana for the 15th annual Habanos Festival, that gathering of Cuban cigar retailers, distributors and unabashed fans from around the globe celebrating this island’s best export. I’m one of 1,500 people here just for the Festival del Habano, and for the next week I will be smoking cigars left and right and reporting on what’s going on in Cuba.
The first news is the introduction of several new cigars, and the rebirth of a discontinued brand.
Montecristo is one of the most important brands in Cuba, in terms of units sold, dollars raised and international prestige. Later this year the Cubans will unveil two new Montecristos: the Montecristo Petit No. 2 and the Montecristo Double Edmundo.
The Petit No. 2 is the first addition to the core “Línea Clásica” Montecristo brand. The Monte Petit No. 2, which I’ll smoke tonight at a dinner dedicated to the cigar, is a truncated version of the ever popular Montecristo No. 2. The Petit No. 2 measures 4 3/4 inches by 52 ring and will come in boxes of 25, boxes of 10 and in three-packs. The cigar will also sport the new version of the Montecristo band, which features a bolder gold on the fleur-de-lis and a few subtle changes meant to thwart counterfeiters.
“This is the first introduction in the Línea Clásica line in a long time,” said Ana López Garcia, current director of marketing operations for Habanos, S.A.
Posted: Feb 21, 2013 12:00am ET
For some, it’s that first glimpse of the lush, green fields sprawling beneath the wings of the 767 as ocean turns to land. For others, it’s the first sniff of aged tobacco leaves, flat and waiting to be rolled into cigars. For me, it’s that moment when you step from the airplane door into the gangway and feel the tropical heat and humidity hug your body in an embrace that says, “Welcome back, you’re in the Dominican Republic, cigar country."
I left my home yesterday long before the sun rose and landed in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic, around noon to join the 6th annual ProCigar Festival. This weeklong event brings cigar retailers and enthusiasts from around the United States and the world for immersion in the glorious world of handmade, Dominican cigars.
I’ve been coming to the Dominican Republic for 17 years, and I always enjoy coming here. Some of the cigar world’s best-known brands are made here, by members of the association known as ProCigar: Arturo Fuente, Davidoff, Macanudo, Romeo y Julieta, Fonseca, La Aurora, and the organization only recently added two new members, La Flor Dominicana and EP Carrillo.
The first function I attended was a press conference where representatives of each ProCigar company (save for Fuente, who was not here during this particular conference) sat on stage. In a sign of the expansion of the organization, the members were quite literally shoulder to shoulder, and one had to sit outside the confines of the table. February 20, as it turns out, was a birthday for ProCigar.
“ProCigar turns 21 today—we are legal drinking age,” said Manuel “Manolo” Quesada, owner of Manufactura de Tabacos S.A. (MATASA), one of the most prominent members of ProCigar. Quesada explained how 21 years ago that very day, six companies came together with a handshake and founded the organization, dedicated to ensuring the quality of Dominican cigar production.
Posted: Jan 25, 2013 12:00am ET
I’ve been doing quite a bit of research lately on man caves, the rooms that men dedicate to getting away, either all on their own or with friends and family. Not all of them allow cigars, but as you could imagine, I focused exclusively on the cigar-friendly variety.
There’s a cable TV program dedicated to man caves on the DIY Network, a cigar shop that calls itself the man cave and tons of great examples from around the United States and around the world. I’ve spoken to a cigar lover from Denmark who built a cigar-friendly man cave in an old house with a selection of old jazz playing on a turntable. I visited a builder in Connecticut who turned a new basement into a gorgeous cherry- and stone-lined “gentleman’s room” with a wine cellar and gas fireplace, and I interviewed a doctor who built a 2,600 square foot (!) man cave complete with a movie theater, bar and golf simulator, every blessed inch of it cigar friendly. And there are many more I’ve discovered. Each of these places are wonderful in their own way, and reflect the interests and passions of the individual owner.
Now I’d like your involvement. I bet many of you have man caves of your own. (I even have my own man cave in my basement. A friend of mine dubbed it The Bunker, and the name stuck. I’ll likely be there this weekend, smoking a cigar and enjoying a movie on the big screen.) It doesn’t have to be palatial or fancy—it just has to be your own special place where you go to smoke cigars. I’d love to see a photograph (or, better yet, a few) and hear in your own words what makes it special, and why you built it. It might become part of a gallery of man caves we’re putting together at Cigar Aficionado.
So let’s hear about—and see—your cigar-friendly man caves. Upload your photos and comments with our Moments to Remember tool.
Posted: Dec 12, 2012 12:00am ET
I turned 44 this year, so I don't consider myself old but I'm far from young. I'm reminded of my lack of youth on a daily basis, whether it's from looking in the mirror at my bumper crop of gray hairs or in the little reminders I hear from coworkers. One of them in particular (I'll keep him anonymous, but his last name rhymes with "Fittaker") enjoys reminding me that he was only eight years old when I started working for this magazine, more than 17 years ago. Funny guy.
An even more painful reminder of my fleeting youth came about a week ago, when I played in my annual football game. While I failed to shed blood on the gridiron (that was my friend Jim) and didn't need to be carried off the field (that dubious honor went to my buddy Tim), going head-to-head with a stronger, faster, 27-year-old player left me with a misaligned shoulder. Pass the Advil, and forgive me if I don't raise my arms above my head for awhile.
So my body isn't improving with age. But cigars certainly do. I'm reminded of this fact as I puff on a Davidoff No. 1, a gran panetela that was rolled in Cuba way back in 1986, the year I graduated from high school and went on to college.
Back in 1986, my hair was jet black, my knees were sound and I would have bounced back from that football game in about 15 minutes, rather than needing weeks of physical therapy. The years have taken a bit of a toll, you might say. But the Davidoff I'm smoking has fared quite well. The cigar burns absolutely perfect, and has developed notes of caramel, honey and almond, with exceptional balance. It was 7 1/2 inches long when I started, and I've just removed the band to keep on smoking. I'm not going to tell you the score—I'm saving that for the Connoisseur's Corner page in the February issue, which will be out in early January—but I think you can tell it will be quite high.
Posted: Nov 28, 2012 12:00am ET
November is always a busy month here at Cigar Aficionado. We hold the Las Vegas Big Smoke, finalize our top 25 cigars of the year, and throw a big party in our hometown: The Big Smoke New York.
The event takes place on Thursday night, and it allows cigar lovers to light up indoors and share a smoke with their fellow aficionados and some of the biggest names in the premium cigar industry. (Tickets are still available—click here for details.)
Big Smoke week means visitors from the cigar world in our offices, smoky meetings and late night dinners. It brings the cigar world to Manhattan and makes our office a very busy place. At any given time you might find Litto Gomez in one office and Jorge Padrón in another. Rocky and Nish Patel might drop by for a smoke and a chat, and Carlos Fuente Jr. or Alan Rubin might say hello and talk about their latest creations.
Big Smoke week is a high-energy stretch of cigar smoking and camaraderie. All of us from Cigar Aficionado will be there-come and join us.