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
the 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.
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.
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.
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