Posted: Feb 29, 2012 4:00pm ET
It 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.
After 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.
The 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.
There’s 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.
Habanos, 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.
We 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.
The 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 ovation.
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 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.
Posted: Feb 24, 2012 12:00am ET
I’m 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.
My 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.”
The 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.
The 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.
Michael 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
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.
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.
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