last trip to Cuba—during the Habanos Festival in February—was a blur of
dinners, meetings, interviews and cigar after cigar. I left many great
stories in my notebook. This is one of the best.
of the wonderful things about the annual Cuban cigar festival is the
amount of free time built into the schedule. For every night with a
festival event, there’s a free night that follows. That leaves time for
visitors to enjoy Havana, gather with friends they’ve made over the
years, and to meet new ones.
calm, beautiful, free night during the week I joined the crew from
Sautter of Mount Street, a London cigar store that is celebrating its
50th anniversary this year. The shop was long-owned by Desmond Sautter, a
gentlemen I had the pleasure of meeting many times during my years
working for Cigar Aficionado. Sautter built a business that was known by cigar aficionados, and
he always seemed to have a knack for finding rare and old Havanas. One of
his customers was a man named Laurence Davis.
bought cigars every day,” Davis told me while we were puffing away on
Partagás Festival Edition cigars made a few years prior, while sitting
on the very spacious balcony of the Presidential Suite of the Nacional
Hotel in Havana. The Churchill-sized smokes had a delicious toasted
almond flavor with a faint hint of chocolate, and with a little kick of
leather. “I phoned Desmond every day for 25 years, saying ‘Desmond, it’s
time to sell,’” said Davis. Finally, his persistence and phone calls
paid off, and in 2008 Sautter sold Davis the store.
smokes cigars at an amazing rate. He told me that he puffs 14 cigars a
day (!), a figure that puts him firmly in the league of cigar-smoking
legends, including the near-insatiable level of smoking perfected by the
late, great statesman Sir Winston Churchill. Which brings us back to
this particular story.
We all know that Sir Winston smoked Cuban cigars with great enthusiasm. In our Autumn 1995 story about Sir Winston, author Peter Welsh included a Churchill quote that went like this: “…my rule of
life prescribed as an absolutely sacred rite smoking cigars and also the
drinking of alcohol before, after and if need be during all meals and
in the intervals between them.”
back at my desk after a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. I’m a little
more tan, a little more achy yet far better rested then when I left the
office on Friday.
in the United States, Memorial Day serves as the kickoff to summer,
even though summer doesn’t begin for 22 more days. Here in the
northeast, the weather complied. It was as if a switch went off, with
the mercury zooming. We immediately went from a rainy spring to
summertime temperatures, and just in time.
spent much of the weekend outdoors, with several parties and family
activities that worked well for smoking cigars. My first great cigar of
the weekend was an old classic, an Arturo Fuente Don Carlos No. 3. This
is a cigar that’s been on the market since the 1970s, and it’s one of
the best made by the Fuente family, who are celebrating 100 years of
history this year. It’s cigars like this that have made Fuente cigars so
popular—the Don Carlos is rich, refined and balanced, with a touch of
orange peel flavor. What a wonderful cigar. I smoked it on a leisurely
car ride on Saturday morning, just before watching my son march with his
fellow Little Leaguers in our town parade.
that day, I took the family to a nearby beach. At first I thought it
would be a rainout—thunderclouds were threatening, but the storm stayed
clear. One of my friends, who loves cigars, saw a few stogies in my
shirt pocket and suggested we fire up. Soon there were about five of us,
pulling together chairs on the beach and smoking cigars. I lit a Flor
de las Antillas Robusto, a great new cigar made by the Garcia family in
This may sound funny, but my best cigar moment of the weekend involved a cigar that I didn’t smoke.
I played golf with my brother, my cousin and a friend. The day was
spectacular, very hot, with not a cloud in the sky. My brother is a
chef, so he works most weekends and holidays, and his schedule makes it
hard to him to get out on the course as often as I do. I always love a
day on the golf course, but when I get to play with my brother it’s a
very special day indeed. He was hitting the ball very well. We chose a
long drive hole on the back nine, and our two drives were considerably
farther than those of our playing partners. I thought I had him, and I
joked that my ball took a photo of his as it flew over. When we got out
to where the balls had landed, his was 15 yards past mine. And I was
proud to lose to him.
Day was a little colder than normal, but the cloudy skies were
predicted to hold their rain throughout the day, making me and my
friends smile. We were heading to Derby Day at the Harris Household.
and Tammy Harris throw an incredible party for the Kentucky Derby.
Tammy, a southern girl, typically makes country ham and biscuits, which
is as delicious as it sounds. Jay ensures there are plenty of bourbon
mint juleps to get everyone in the true spirit of the day. And the two
of them have the amazing talent of making everyone feel like they’re the
most important person at the party. They are, in short, the consummate
of the party takes place outdoors, making it smoker friendly, so I
brought a selection of cigars for a variety of tastes: some H. Upmann
classics for those looking for something easygoing, Partagas 1845s for a
solid medium body, and some Viaje Super Shots for those looking for a
showed up late (my son was playing baseball) and the party was in full
swing. The women were decked out in their derby best, with big, colorful
hats and vibrant dresses. A few of my friends were wearing seersucker
suits (perfect for the day) and I put on a pair of red shoes to add a
little color to my ensemble.
found my lovely wife, Manuela, and we clinked our glasses, just as the
charity auction to benefit the local firehouse was beginning. People
were bidding on each horse. She liked the name of one in particular, and
she bid heavily to get it—“I’ll Have Another.” (Those of you who read
Jack Bettridge’s pre-Derby Day story on bourbon will remember that the
horse was his call, too, based on the name alone.)
know how this story ends. “I’ll Have Another” won, from the 19th
position, taking down the heavy favorite. Manuela and I celebrated, and
she was so exuberant I fear I spilled my drink more than one time on the
feet of one of the guests standing beside us. I lit another cigar to
spent some time yesterday smoking with two of the biggest names in
cigars from General Cigar Co.: Johnys Diaz, vice president of operations
for the company’s main Dominican Republic cigar factory, and legendary
cigar man Benjamin Menendez, who is working in his 60th year around
cigars. They were bringing Greg Mottola and myself an exclusive first
taste of the new Partagas 1845, which goes on sale April 9.
is a storied brand. Created in Cuba in 1845 (hence the name), it was
overseen by Ramón Cifuentes until the Cuban government nationalized the
country’s tobacco and cigar industry. Cifuentes later helped create the
non-Cuban version of his brand with General Cigar, making a cigar with
Cameroon wrapper. This “main” Partagas brand is still sold to this day
and comes in a familiar yellow box.
Cigar felt Partagas needed something new, something with more oomph
than the “yellow box” Partagas and something with a story, something
distinctive. About a year ago Diaz, Menendez and the General Cigar
Dominicana team started testing new products, set on making a Partagas
with a wrapper leaf other than Cameroon that would make people sit up
“We wanted something medium in strength,” Diaz told me, “but with robust flavor.”
handed me a dark corona gorda, and the first thing that I noticed was
the band. Designed to be looked at when you hold the cigar horizontally,
rather than vertically, it has a beautiful gold eagle in the center,
printed by Vrijdag in the Netherlands. The dark, oily wrapper was
Ecuador Habano grown by the Oliva Tobacco Co. of Tampa, Florida. The
binder is a leaf of Connecticut Habano that General has been tweaking
for nine years, and the filler a mix of Dominican and Nicaraguan
took 50 blends before they decided upon this Partagas 1845, the first
new Partagas in years and the first one made with Ecuador Habano
wrapper. It was very tasty, with a sweet, nutty flavor, good balance,
and—as intended—a medium body. The smoke was quite pleasant. Look at
this video to hear Johnys and Benji describe the project, and to get a
look at the cigar.
I visit Havana, one of my greatest joys is walking through the humidors
of a Casa del Habano and taking a look at the selection of cigars. On
my last trip a few weeks ago, I found that many of the shops were in
the (notable) exception of the Montecristo Gran Reserva, which I didn’t
see on sale anywhere, and Cohiba Behikes, which were hard to find in
most stores save for that in the Habana Libre Hotel, there were plenty
of good cigars from which to choose.
The 2011 Edición Limitadas were in
good supply, including plenty of Cohiba 1966 (they scored 94 points in a
recent Cigar Insider; wonderful smokes), plenty of Hoyo de Monterrey
Short Hoyo Piramides EL 2011, and Ramon Allones Allones Extras. The
regular production new smokes from last year’s Festival were also there,
such as the Partagas D5s and E2s.
I shot this video inside the humidor of the always superb Casa del Habano at Club Habana. Take a look at the stock in the video below.
were tons of Montecristos, and a huge amount of one of my favorites,
the Montecristo Petit Edmundo, including some 2008 production.
had every size of Cohiba, but the Lanceros and Esplendidos were in short
supply. There were also low stocks of Cohiba Maduro Genios and Secretos
(no Magicos in stock). There was also a very large number of Cuaba
Salomones in stock.