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David Savona

Cuba’s Most Revered Tobacco Farm

Posted: Feb 22, 2012 12:00am ET

Visiting 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.

I 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.

Gordon’s 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.

Another 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.

I 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.

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A Four Kicks with Jon Huber

Posted: Feb 16, 2012 12:00am ET

Jon 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.

It’s a fine cigar brand, made by Ernesto Perez-Carrillo in the Dominican Republic. It’s Ernesto’s first brand made under contract for someone else.

Jon 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.

The 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 easygoing.

As 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 look.

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Old School Cigar Sizes

Posted: Feb 10, 2012 12:00am ET

My 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 of friends.

“Nice cigar,” he said, a few puffs in. “I especially like how thin it is.”

For 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 December 6 Cigar Insider.

So 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.

“Gorda” 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.

Kudos 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.

So 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 pleasantly plump.

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Holiday Hypocrisy

Posted: Dec 23, 2011 12:00am ET

Camacho Cigars, the company behind such superb cigar brands as Camacho Corojo and Room 101, has come under fire recently for its upcoming sponsorship of the Orange Bowl. Camacho, which is owned by Switzerland’s Davidoff of Geneva, inked a three-year deal with the Orange Bowl Festival earlier this month, and as part of the arrangement the company would create smoking lounges for adults who wished to enjoy a puff around game time.

Health advocates are not happy with this deal, and they are putting pressure on the Orange Bowl and the NCAA to drop Camacho as a sponsor. They fear this arrangement sends the wrong message to children, and that cigars should not be part of this game. You can read our story on the original protest here. Yesterday, Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) joined the protest, sending letters announcing their opposition to having Camacho as an Orange Bowl sponsor.

This is hypocrisy at its worst. Camacho is one of 50 sponsors for the Orange Bowl and many make or promote products that are inappropriate for use by minors. Bacardi, the legendary rum and spirits company, is a Bowl sponsor. So is Stella Artois, the Belgian beer brand. So is Gold Coast Beverage Distributors, the largest beer wholesaler in Florida. Like Camacho, each of these companies sells legal products, for use by adults only.

What about gambling? The Florida Lottery is a sponsor of the Orange Bowl. Like smoking a cigar, or drinking a beer or a rum cocktail, gambling is a legal product that is entirely illegal for children.

Let’s get picky. Discover, the main bowl sponsor, is a credit card company. Are credit cards good for children? Last time I checked consumer debt in the United States was more than $2 trillion. Not good. And can you imagine a credit card in the hands of a child? How about the brands of fast food and snacks that are Orange Bowl sponsors? Taco Bell and Chipotle, Frito Lay and Coca-Cola, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups—not exactly sprouts and poached chicken. I’m not sure those are appropriate for children either.

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A Day of Thanks

Posted: Nov 23, 2011 12:00am ET

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving here in the United States, a day when we gather with family over a succulent meal of turkey and all the trimmings, share old and new stories and drink some good wine, watch football on the television and smoke cigars on the patio.

I’m thankful for many things this year. Thankful for my wife and son, who bring so much joy into my world, and thankful for all the family members who will be around me, especially when I think of those who are gone, namely my father, who died two years ago.

I’ll be dining with at least one cigar lover tomorrow. My father-in-law was a cigar smoker long before I met him (the aroma of a burning, premium cigar evokes fond memories of childhood for my wife) and whenever the two of us are together we make some time for a smoke, and perhaps a bit of Scotch, bourbon or Cognac, just to take the chill off. After the dinner (or maybe before, depending on the day) the two of us will take a seat outside at my sister-in-law’s (non-smoking) house and light cigars while we watch the kids roam around the yard chasing a football. I’m sure some of the other diners will join us as we puff away.

I hope your Thanksgiving is a fine one. May your turkey be moist, may the gravy be warm, may your favorite team win tomorrow and may your cigars complete the day.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Back from the Big Smoke

Posted: Nov 4, 2011 12:00am ET

We’re back from Las Vegas, back from the biggest event from Cigar Aficionado magazine—the Las Vegas Big Smoke Weekend. This year some 4,000 cigar lovers from around the world came together to meet the biggest stars in the cigar business.

I say around the world with sincerity. The Vegas Big Smoke has long been an international affair. While most attendees come from the United States—with a hearty representation of Californians—the show always has good international representation, but this year it was particularly strong. There were visitors from Indonesia (long trip), Canada, Russia, the United Kingdom and a huge contingent from Brazil. I spoke several times to the Brazilian guys, and they were having a phenomenal time.

The best part of the show for me are the seminars. Gordon Mott and I led a variety of panels on various aspects of the cigar business on Saturday morning. We covered Cuba, tobacco hybrids, cigar sizes, and featured a tasting of Cigar Aficionado’s No. 2, 3 and 4 cigars of the year from 2010. Each one rated 95 points, classic on our 100 point scale. It was a treat to share them with our sold-out audience of 500 people.

Some of you couldn’t make the seminars because they sold out about six weeks prior to the show. For those of you who missed what happened, click here to read all about the seminars on Saturday and Sunday.

One of the new things we did this year was to talk about the show via our Twitter feed (twitter.com/CigarAficMag). We came up with the hashtag for the Big Smoke (#BigSmoke) and tweeted as much as possible from the show, and followed the people who attended and gave us their feedback, which was overwhelmingly positive.

As I sit here puffing on a cigar while writing this blog (you didn’t think I smoked myself out in Vegas, did you?) I’m still a bit tired from the weekend. Every night goes a little longer in Las Vegas, every occasion seems right for one more dram of Scotch, every venue is appropriate for just one more cigar. It’s never easy coming back to reality, but it’s always a pleasure to be at the Big Smoke in Las Vegas.

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A Bit of Ybor History

Posted: Oct 19, 2011 12:00am ET

I’m in Ybor City, Florida, the onetime cigar capital of the world. Ybor, part of the west Florida city of Tampa, was built upon cigars. A melting pot community of Cubans, Spanish and Italians made more cigars here than anyplace else, some 500 million a year at its peak. The city was once dominated by proud, huge cigar factories made of brick, each standing several stories tall. Most have crumbled or have been converted into something else. Office space. Nightclubs. A chain Italian restaurant. A precious few still have something to do with cigars.

One of those is the American headquarters of Arturo Fuente cigars. The building, which opened in 1895, originally crafted Charles The Great cigars. In the 1960s, Arturo Fuente and his son Carlos Fuente Jr. bought the factory to make it their new home for cigar production. For many years, the Fuentes made millions of cigars here, most by machine but many by hand. The days when the Fuentes made cigars in the United States are long behind them, but they still own the building in Ybor.

When I visited the Fuentes this week in Tampa, the building was in the midst of serious reconstruction. Cigars haven’t been made here for a long, long time, and most of the building was empty for several years, so much of it fell into disrepair.

The Fuentes have decided to restore the building to its former glory from the late 1800s. Some of the process has already been done, such as rebuilding the brick steps at the entrance, which had been cemented over at some point in history, rebuilding the chimneys on the roof and digging out mountains of waste from pigeons that were roosting in the attic. The efforts are coming along nicely and have resulted in some surprises. For one, they discovered that the bricks inside the building were not red, as originally thought, but yellow. “What have you done to my bricks?” Carlos Fuente Sr. asked the head contractor. The best guess is that the builders chose yellow brick to create a brighter interior, as there were no electric lights when the building was created.

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Over the Top Warning

Posted: Oct 14, 2011 12:00am ET

I’m quite impressed with the new Edmundo Dantes Conde 54, a Regional Edition Cuban cigar designed only for sale in Mexico. It’s not a big surprise. When the Edmundo Dantes Conde 109 came out in 2007, it was utterly amazing, so when we heard of a new Edmundo Dantes we had high hopes indeed. So far, in non-blind tastings, the cigar has lived up to its expectations. You can read about how good it is in Gordon Mott’s blog from earlier this week.

I’m quite horrified, however, with the cigar’s packaging. It’s not the box itself—a lovely boite nature box, with an ornate brooch clasp and dovetailed corners, and a simple but stately pair of triangles making up the Edmudo Dantes logo—but what has been done to it. More than half of it is covered in unsightly warnings.

On the top is a seven-by-three-inch photograph of a little girl crying over what appears to be a dead body. The bottom is plastered with a black sticker with bright yellow type. I shot a video so you can see—take a look farther down the page.

This is something new and troubling for those who buy cigars in Mexico. Any box of cigars sold in that country must now be covered in a series of warnings that take up 60 percent of the surface area of the box.

The photo on the top is not always the same. In addition to the crying girl, there’s also a dead rat and a photograph of quite unseemly teeth.

As bad as the top image is, the bottom bothers me even more. The sticker covers everything, including the Cuban date and factory codes.

Cigar boxes are pieces of art, prized by collectors. They also contain essential information that helps people determine what is fake and what is real. Stickers such as these not only are unseemly, they make it difficult for collectors to get the most out of their cigars.

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Praising Petit Coronas

Posted: Oct 7, 2011 12:00am ET

I reached for a cigar from my tasting humidor today and almost pulled a muscle. It was six inches long with a ring gauge well north of 60, perhaps as big as 64. Ultra-fat cigars such as this one are burning up the charts, selling amazingly well, but count me as a fan of smaller smokes. While they aren’t huge sellers, most serious smokers I talk to share my love for small cigars, particularly petit coronas. It’s a size I find myself reaching for increasingly often.

Here at Cigar Aficionado, we define a petit corona as a cigar measuring no longer than 5 1/4 inches long, and no thicker than 42. The Cuban standard calls for a cigar that measures a shade over 5 inches long with a 42 ring gauge.

When I was in Cuba in February with Marvin R. Shanken and Gordon Mott for the Habanos Festival, we each happened on a five-pack of Partagás Mille Fleurs. These are simple, short Cuban petit coronas but they provide a great little kick for a short smoke. I found myself grabbing one over and over again. Gordon even lit one up immediately after breakfast one day.

Last week, Matt Booth, the man behind the Room 101 cigar brand, came by the office for a visit. I immediately reached for the box of Room 101 Namakubi Papa Chulo cigars that I have in my humidor. These little smokes are ideal for most situations. They are 4 inches long with a ring gauge of 42. They’re short enough for a quick, casual smoke but thick enough to have serious flavor. In short, you can smoke them in just about any occasion. Matt loves them, too.

One of my favorite all-time petits is the Padilla 1932 La Perla. These little cigars came in boxes of 50, and I went through more than a few. When I would open the humidor to select a cigar, that size just called to me—the petit corona size seems to work for just about every occasion.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not giving up on Double Coronas or Robustos, I love Pyramids and Churchills and lanceros always bring a smile to my face. But more and more often I try to reach for a petit corona.

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Where (Not) To Smoke

Posted: Sep 2, 2011 12:00am ET

I recently returned from a little vacation with the family, and I'm getting back in the swing of things here at the office. That means getting back to smoking cigars. During my trip, I took a seven-day break. Every now and then, I don't mind missing a day (or a few days) of puffing cigars.

One part of my trip included a visit to Hershey, Pennsylvania, and the amusement park known as Hershey Park. It's a fun place, especially if you have a child who enjoys roller coasters. Hershey Park has 11 of them. The two toughest ones were Fahrenheit, a steel monster with a 97 degree drop (you can see it in the picture), and Storm Runner, a beast that goes zero to 72 miles per hour in about two seconds and has a drop of 180 feet.

You can't walk around Hershey Park smoking cigars. (Things have changed quite a bit since I was a kid.) But the park at least provides places to people who smoke, designated smoking areas where smoking is allowed. I saw several when I was there. These are wooden huts, built in gazebo style, with an open door and room inside and out. Not lots of room, certainly nothing elegant, but at least there was a place.

Fahrenheit roller coaster, hershey park.

My son saw people puffing cigarettes, and told me I should light a cigar there. I explained that's not what cigar smoking is all about. When I smoke for pleasure, I want to be in a relaxed, comfortable environment, not huddled in an unlit shack without seats. Not rushing. When I puff for pleasure, I'm not smoking a cigar because my body says I have to, I'm smoking a cigar because I want to.

Were there times that I wanted to have a cigar while I was there? Sure. But I can go a few days without puffing. I smoke more cigars than most people, but I don't wake up in the morning with a burning urge for that first cigar, and if I happen to not light one up in a given day I don't get antsy. You don't tend to see cigar smokers huddled outside of buildings here in New York City, stealing a puff on their lunch break. Cigar smoking is for relaxing. For contemplation. For conversation. It's not about the smoke, it's something else.

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