Posted: Mar 13, 2012 12:00am ET
recently spent 10 days out of the office, bouncing between the
Dominican Republic, Miami and Cuba. The weekend in Miami gave me the
chance to take in part of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. Our
company is a sponsor of the event, and my colleagues at
Wine Spectator have long participated, but my schedule never allowed me to take part. This time, I was in.
landed in Miami on a Saturday afternoon and checked into the Biltmore
Hotel in Coral Gables. This is one of my favorite hotels—they adore
cigar smokers. I began with lunch by the pool (one of the world’s
largest) while waiting for my room, and when I finished I was really in
the mood for a cigar. A group of poolside tables, mere steps from the
restaurant, had cigar ashtrays. I sat down, fired up a Tatuaje Havana
Cazadore, and all was right with the world. If I was out of cigars, I
could have bought one in the well-stocked Biltmore cigar shop.
Biltmore isn’t on South Beach, but it played a major role in the
festival, hosting the event closest to my heart—Swine & Wine. This
was a pig roast, where 14 teams of chefs would each roast a pig and
compete against the others, with the hungry audience serving as judge. I
be up for any pig roast, but I knew one of the competitors, and so do
you—Jorge Padrón, the president of Padrón Cigars Inc. of Miami. You know
Jorge as a man who knows his cigars, who learned the art of turning
tobacco leaves into delicious smokes at the side of his father, the
legendary José Orlando Padrón. But you may not have known that Jorge is
also quite the pitmaster. He cooks a pig almost as well as he can make a
cigar. I’ve had his
lechon asado on several occasions in Nicaragua, and it’s always been delicious.
a 60 pound pig is a slow process. Jorge woke at dawn to get started,
and since all the pigs were being cooked at a courtyard at the Biltmore,
where I was staying, I was able to get a view of lengthy process, from
near-start to finish. Each of the teams started with a Duroc &
Hampshire pig from Pat LaFrieda Meats, and most opted to cook on a La
Caja China box, but the Padróns were cooking on their own rig, an
impressive steel roasting box they made themselves. I went to the
courtyard at 9 a.m., lit up a Padrón Serie 1926 No. 35 (it’s never too
early) and checked in with Jorge and his team, called the Bar-B-Cubanos,
which included Richard Pérez and Willy Pujals. They had marinated their
pig in the traditional Cuban mix of sour orange, salt, garlic and
oregano, was on the fire, basking in the Padrón’s custom-made metal
roasting box. A grill at the side was the staging area for starting new
charcoal. There were tools, and a tent above (scattered showers were in
the forecast.) Plenty of beers were on ice—these were clearly
professionals with a plan.
Posted: Mar 2, 2012 11:00am ET
of the excitement surrounding the annual Habanos Festival surrounds new
cigars. The Festival is a stage for Habanos S.A. to present their new
creations to the hundreds from around the world who gather for this
event. Some of the cigars are available for preview, but it will be many
months before they appear on store shelves.
year, Cuba releases Edición Limitada cigars. They’ve done as many as
five in a year, but now the number is fixed at three. The 2012 Limitadas
will be all big brand smokes: a Partagas Serie C No. 3 (5 1/2” by 48),
H. Upmann Robusto (4 7/8” by 50) and Montecristo 520 (6 1/8” by 55).
Monte was one of many cigars handed out last night at the 520 dinner.
(If you didn’t read about the wonderful performance by Jim Belushi, read
Gordon Mott’s blog.) At first glance it appeared similar to the 2010
Montecristo EL, the Grand Edmundo, but this new cigar is a few ring
gauges fatter (a very odd 55—a fact that Gordon and I each checked
against different members of Habanos) as well as a bit longer. I really
enjoy the Grand Edmundos, so I was happy to light this one up.
think the Monte 520 EL (named for the 520th anniversary of Columbus
coming to the Americas) will be a fine smoke in the future. It was a
gutsy smoke, with tons of nose spice, but it tasted fresh. With time, a
cigar like this should be wonderful. Expect it in the fall along with
the two other ELs.
my blog about the trade fair, I spied a lovely box in the
style of a book filled with giant Cuabas, their upper ends wrapped in
foil. To my delight, my bag for the evening included one of those. I
slipped off the foil of the nine-inch-plus smoke, which is an immense
figurado known as a diadema. It bears the name Bariay. I clipped the
pointed end and lit up.
loved the cigar. Full of wood, leather, earth and mineral notes, with a
ton of coffee bean flavor, especially after it warmed up, it went on
and on with full flavors. It’s a book edition smoke for 2012, and it
won’t be cheap, but if these samples are the same as the regular
production smokes they are cigars worth aging and savoring. We don’t
give a score to cigars that we smoke in this type of non-blind tasting,
but I can tell you it was considerably impressive.
Posted: Feb 29, 2012 4:00pm ET
was a bright, sunny day here in Havana, but the weather would have to
wait. It was time for the Habanos Festival trade fair and seminars about
Cuba and the world of Cuban cigars.
a simple breakfast with hearty coffee (and another aficionado lighting
up at 8 in the morning in the restaurant, with no complaints) Gordon
Mott and I headed to the convention center in Miramar. We began walking
around and getting the lay of the land.
Habanos Festival is quite the international affair, with visitors from
70 countries. The trade fair and seminars take place at the Palacio de
Convenciones, which is attached to the Hotel Palco. The trade fair is an
interesting mix of booths with various products aimed at the many
retailers from around the globe who attend.
an intriguing mix of products, from high-quality humidors and jewelry
to antique cigar labels, boxes and prints. It’s a mix ranging from the
luxurious to the downright odd. One booth had an artistic rendering of a
map of Cuba, where the island was represented by two (or three, it was
hard to tell) intertwined naked women—I’m not sure that one is ready for
the home or office.
as can be expected, had the largest booth, with a display of the new
cigars coming to market and a cigar roller showcasing the art of making a
cigar by hand. There was also a book edition of Cuaba diademas
measuring at least nine inches long that looked amazing.
took seats in the seminars to listen to the presentations. Gordon’s
Spanish is beautiful, so he didn’t need a translator, but I partook of
the headsets and clicked onto the English feed. A row of interpreters
above gave translations in English, French, Russian and German. I lit a
Montecristo Edmundo, as the seminars allow smoking, and began to listen.
featured speaker for the morning was Eusebio Leal Spengler, the
historian of the city of Havana, who spoke emphatically at length (and
without notes) about how tobacco was intertwined with the history of
Cuba. He spoke colorfully and poetically (describing the Caribbean as a
“necklace of islands”) and spoke against the demonization of tobacco
despite the fact that he doesn’t smoke. “I am obligated as a man of
Havana,” he said, “to defend the art of choice.” He received a standing
Posted: Feb 29, 2012 12:00am ET
My first full day in Cuba is behind me. As I sit in my room pecking away
at this blog, it’s a bit past midnight, and I’m reminiscing after a
long, smoky start to my trip.
My first cigar of this Habanos Festival was one that’s been around for
some time, a Montecristo Edmundo. I’ve long preferred its truncated
cousin, the Petit Edmundo, but this Edmundo smoked beautifully, full of
rich wood notes, touches of leather and a long, succulent finish. One of
the best Edmundos I’ve smoked. It is a current production smoke and
indicative of the high quality of new Cuban cigars.
I heard many people complain about the lack of cigars in shops, but the
two I visited today had cigars in good supply. The Casa del Habano at
Meliá Habana was packed when I arrived, but the humidor had a decent supply of smokes. I chose a few cigars (more on those later) and was off to the next stop.
The Casa del Habano at the
Meliá Cohiba hotel had decent stocks of cigars, including several boxes of Cohiba Behikes, which have been rare of late. I ran into Frederic Dechamps from the Casa del Habano in Belgium. He
had just bought one of Cuba’s newest cigars, the H. Upmann Robusto. Each cigar is adorned with an elaborate secondary band commemorating Columbus’s journey across the Atlantic.
I was given one in the Casa del Habano at the Melia Cohiba this evening, and I puffed it in El Aljibe as we sat down to dinner. (You have to love the smoking laws in Havana.) It wasn’t so impressive at the start with tart notes, but it really turned into a lovely cigar about an inch or so in. The price is right, too; they were 76 CUC for a box of 10, or about $8 per cigar when you factor in the loss upon a dollar-for-CUC exchange.
In between all these new cigars, I had something very old. My friend José Antonio Candia set up a tasting with folks from James Fox Cigars in Dublin. They brought some cigars that were nearly as old as me, 40-plus-year-old Partagás Fox Seleccion No. 1s, made in the Conde 109 shape, which is a double corona with a slightly tapered tip. The wrapper was like fine silk, the draw sublime The cigars had a delicate start and picked up steam as the cigar progressed. You’ll hear more about that one in a later blog, and in Connoisseur’s Corner.
Posted: Feb 24, 2012 12:00am ET
in Santiago, Dominican Republic, attending the fifth annual ProCigar
Festival. The weather is warm, the cigars are copious and everyone seems
to be having a good time.
first stop was the new MATASA factory, owned by the Quesada family.
MATASA has been in Santiago since 1978, in the original Free Trade Zone,
but after paying rent for nearly four decades and realizing it could
never own a building there, the Quesadas decided to move the entire
factory out to the Santiago suburb of Licey, where it had a leaf storage
facility. “We had to raise the roof of a 100,000 square foot building,”
Manuel Quesada told me as we fired up Quesada España cigars. “We’re
still painting and hammering.”
factory looked great to me—far more spacious and better laid out than
the original MATASA factory, which had been expanded time and time again
as the company grew over the years. Rollers were working on Fonsecas
and Quesadas, and one talented worker wearing a New York Yankees hat and
puffing on a fat cigar was rolling the artful
Q Detat Molotov, a cigar
shaped like a Molotov cocktail.
factory has been rolling since the last week of January, and the last
cigars at the old MATASA were rolled in November. The Quesadas made
extra cigars at the end of the year to make up for the lack of
production during the move.
Herklots and Bill Sherman of Nat Sherman cigars led a deconstruction
tasting of the new Nat Sherman Timeless, which is made by MATASA. The
ProCigar group smoked the four filler components (three of them
Dominican, one Nicaraguan) to see the differences in the types of
tobaccos. All were quite different, despite being grown from the same
seed, and that’s due to their placement on a tobacco plant. The Timeless
is a tasty smoke. At the conclusion of the test (which turned the small
room into a cloudy affair making it hard to see the speakers at the
front) Sherman presented the Quesadas with a plaque commemorating the
opening of the factory.
Posted: Feb 22, 2012 12:00am ET
Havana is an amazing experience for a cigar smoker, but making the trek
out to Pinar del Río to see Cuba’s prime tobacco growing region makes
that experience all the more complete. I make my way out there roughly
half the times I visit the island.
traveled to Cuba four times in the past 14 months with Gordon Mott. You
can read the fruits of our research in our Havana cover story, which is
going up on our website all week at www.cigaraficionado.com.
fine pieces on the
many hotels and restaurants in Cuba went up
yesterday; my stories about Havana’s cigar shops and factories went up
today, along with a story about Pinar del Río; and tomorrow we’re
launching Gordon’s report on Cuba’s music scene and how to tour Old
Havana. Gordon and I head back to Cuba next week for the Habanos
Festival—if you’re one of the hundreds going, these stories can help you
get the most out of Cuba.
story went up today:
my Cuba Report from the same issue, and that’s the
reason for this blog. The article came from one of those visits to
Pinar del Río, specifically San Luis, and the best-known tobacco farm in
Cuba, Cuchillas de Barbacoa.
met with Hirochi Robaina, who is a well-known figure in the world of
Cuban tobacco, and spent most of the day with him to learn more about
him for the story. It was an important time for Hirochi: when we spoke,
he had recently finished harvesting his first tobacco crop grown without
the aid of his grandfather, the revered Alejandro Robaina. Hirochi had
to face trouble in the fields. He planted very early, using a trick his
grandfather taught him. He faced poor weather and then was challenged by
the growers working on the farm, who wanted to replant. And he used a
new organic fertilizer that hadn’t been employed in decades.
Posted: Feb 16, 2012 12:00am ET
Huber made a visit to the
Cigar Aficionado offices the other day. It
had been far too long. Jon had been a principal at C.A.O. International
Inc., and he left that company to form Crowned Heads LLC. Jon has been
busy working with the rest of the Crowned Heads crew on Four Kicks,
their first brand, which debuted late last year.
a fine cigar brand, made by Ernesto Perez-Carrillo in the Dominican
Republic. It’s Ernesto’s first brand made under contract for someone
was in town to give Greg Mottola and myself a first look at the newest
size in the Four Kicks line. In previous blogs I remarked how it was
brave and bold for Huber and company to come out with old school cigar
sizes that eschew the thick cigars so popular today. This new size,
called Selección No. 5, is the thinnest yet.
cigar is 6 1/2 inches long by 44 ring gauge, which would be classified
as a lonsdale in our taste tests. The samples were stunning, really well
made with mounted heads, beautifully stretched Ecuadoran Habano
wrappers, Nicaraguan binders and Nicaraguan filler tobaccos. They were
young, but tasty, with almond flavor, with a touch of cedar and nutmeg.
As it burned, it grew earthier, and remained very balanced and
we smoked, I turned on the video camera and let Jon describe the Four
Kicks philosophy, and to talk some more about the new cigar. Take a
Posted: Feb 10, 2012 12:00am ET
brother Carey walked into my smoking room on Sunday, sat down on one of
the couches and opened up a beer. I handed him a Four Kicks Corona
Gorda and we lit up, ready to watch the Super Bowl with a great group
“Nice cigar,” he said, a few puffs in. “I especially like how thin it is.”
those of you who haven’t smoked one yet, the Four Kicks Corona Gorda
isn’t all that thin—but it seems small compared to the fat cigars
gaining popularity today. The smoke measures 5 5/8-inches-long with a 46
ring gauge. Made for Crowned Heads LLC by Ernesto Perez-Carrillo’s
Tabacalera La Alianza S.A., the Corona Gorda scored 91 points in the
. Cigar Insider
why does a 46 seem thin? It’s because cigar smokers like my brother are
getting used to looking at 60 ring gauge cigars. The Four Kicks he was
smoking shares its dimensions with all Cuban corona gordas, which
include such well-known smokes as the H. Upmann Magnum 46, the Hoyo de
Monterrey Epicure No. 1, the Cohiba Siglo IV and the Punch Punch, long
considered the benchmark size for the category.
is Spanish for fat, and when these sizes were created they were
considered fat indeed, plumper than many other
vitolas, or sizes, in the
Cuban cigar portfolio. Ever pick up an antique cigar cutter and try to
use it on a modern day cigar, like a 6 by 60? It won’t fit. Cigars, like
just about everything around us (including ourselves) used to be
smaller generations ago.
to the guys at Crowned Heads for using some old school sizes to make
their new brand, and for taking the bold move of not including a 60 ring
in their lineup.
take another look at those 46 ring gauge smokes in your humidor—while
they might seem skinny to you today, at one time, they were considered