It’s 9 a.m., and I’ve just lit up a new Montecristo Petit No. 2. Too early for a cigar? Not here. Not in Cuba.
I was given the cigars last night at the opening party for the Habanos Festival, a gathering of several hundred people at the historic Morro Castle, a sturdy fortress festooned with massive cannons that stands guard astride the Malecón. It was quite a dramatic setting for the launch of a pair of new Montecristos, the Montecristo Petit No. 2 and the Montecristo Double Edmundo. The cigars were handed out at the start of the evening. I smoked a Double Edmundo during the event, but I didn’t want to pass judgment on it or take notes while smoking it outdoors in the wind. It’s impossible to get all the nuances of the smoke in most outdoor settings, and this was less than ideal: breezes make cigars burn improperly, having a conversation means you don’t spend enough attention on your cigar, and all that open air ensures you lose the aroma of the smoke. So this morning I’m sitting down after coffee and breakfast with a clean palate to give you an idea about the new cigars of Cuba.
I slipped the chocolate brown cigar out of my case, clipped its head and put its foot to the flame. I took a puff, exhaled toward the ceiling of the hotel lounge and smiled. Bienvenidos a Cuba.
I’m in Havana for the 15th annual Habanos Festival, that gathering of Cuban cigar retailers, distributors and unabashed fans from around the globe celebrating this island’s best export. I’m one of 1,500 people here just for the Festival del Habano, and for the next week I will be smoking cigars left and right and reporting on what’s going on in Cuba.
For some, it’s that first glimpse of the lush, green fields sprawling beneath the wings of the 767 as ocean turns to land. For others, it’s the first sniff of aged tobacco leaves, flat and waiting to be rolled into cigars. For me, it’s that moment when you step from the airplane door into the gangway and feel the tropical heat and humidity hug your body in an embrace that says, “Welcome back, you’re in the Dominican Republic, cigar country."
I’ve been doing quite a bit of research lately on man caves, the rooms that men dedicate to getting away, either all on their own or with friends and family. Not all of them allow cigars, but as you could imagine, I focused exclusively on the cigar-friendly variety.
I turned 44 this year, so I don't consider myself old but I'm far from young. I'm reminded of my lack of youth on a daily basis, whether it's from looking in the mirror at my bumper crop of gray hairs or in the little reminders I hear from coworkers. One of them in particular (I'll keep him anonymous, but his last name rhymes with "Fittaker") enjoys reminding me that he was only eight years old when I started working for this magazine, more than 17 years ago. Funny guy.
November is always a busy month here at Cigar Aficionado. We hold the Las Vegas Big Smoke, finalize our top 25 cigars of the year, and throw a big party in our hometown: The Big Smoke New York.
The event takes place on Thursday night, and it allows cigar lovers to light up indoors and share a smoke with their fellow aficionados and some of the biggest names in the premium cigar industry. (Tickets are still available—click here for details.)
My office is closed today, due to the approach of Hurricane Sandy. Outside the wind is howling and the water is rising, and we’re waiting for the worst to come later tonight.
Hurricanes are rare in the New York area, but they’re quite common in cigar country, and I’ve been getting calls and emails of concern from friends in the cigar industry. Jorge Padrón called, checking on how things looked up here, and I just got off the phone with Litto Gomez, who was also checking in on me. Earlier, Rafael Nodal sent me an email. They’ve all been through the same and much worse, but they know that all of us up here in the north are hurricane novices.
The smoke police want to take away Santa’s pipe.
I discovered this while reading today’s New York Post, which had a small news item about Canadian author Pamela McCall self-publishing a new, sanitized version of the Christmas classic A Visit From St. Nicholas. I dug around, found corroboration of the news, and looked up McCall’s author biography and a Facebook page dedicated to her book.
Grab a cigar and a fine beverage, and get ready to sit back and take in a game. The Major League Baseball playoffs begin today.
A baseball game offers the perfect tonic for a cigar. Unlike football, which is a game of constant action, baseball games can be long, drawn-out chess matches pitting pitcher against batter, one manager’s strategy against the others. The numbers mean something. Your eyes can move away from the screen for a bit while you engage a buddy, son or spouse in conversation about what’s happened before, what might happen next and how it’s all been done before. There’s history and legend and, hopefully, memorable games.
On Friday, I had a smoke with Steve Saka, the chief executive officer of Drew Estate. Before long, we were talking about the smoke that put Drew Estate on the map in the minds of high-end cigar smokers: Liga Privada No. 9.
Liga Privadas have quite the buzz lately. In our most recent Cigar Insider poll of U.S. cigar retailers, Liga Privada was ranked No. 3 for hottest brands, the cigars consumers request most often in top-tier cigar stores. (It tied with Fuente Fuente OpusX—quite an achievement.) The hallmark of Liga Privada No. 9 is a very dark and very oily Connecticut broadleaf wrapper, and as Saka and I puffed we got to talking about making Liga Privadas, which are always on back order.
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