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David Savona

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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Connecticut and Celebrities in Vegas

Posted: Jul 19, 2011 12:00am ET

Those who say "it's not the heat, it's the humidity," have never sat outside in Las Vegas in 105 degree heat. Trust me, it's the heat. But I'm not here in Las Vegas to enjoy the (all too copious) sunshine and blazing temperatures, I'm here to attend the biggest trade show in the premium cigar industry.

It's the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers trade show, and it opened on Monday. If you have trade show experience, you know it involves booths with people selling a product (in this case great cigars, and items that can fill cigar stores, such as lighters, humidors, walking sticks) and people walking around hoping to buy (in this case, people who own retail stores.) The booths range from the simple--just a table or two displaying some product--to the ornate. There are a few booths with cars on display (Oliva, Drew Estate and Phillips & King), Padrón has painted Millennium humidors on display behind glass, Alec Bradley has a bar. New companies try to attract attention with various methods, including spokesmodels in slinky dresses. One booth even has an unfortunate actor dressed up as a Roman Centurion, holding a sword toward the ceiling.

I'm here with the editorial team from Cigar Aficionado to cut through the fluff and find out about the cigars, for today, the IPCPR trade show is the launching point for many of the new cigars that come out each year. Yesterday I smoked up a storm to get a few first impressions of what's coming out soon.

I noticed a few new smokes with Connecticut wrappers, which follows the finding from our last issue of Cigar Insider, which contained our survey of U.S. cigar retailers. Many noticed the trend in new cigars with Connecticut wrappers, and some said Connecticut is back. (The cigar companies known for selling Connecticut-wrapped cigars contend Connecticut has never left, but there is some newfound buzz about the golden-hued wrapper, which is known for a mild taste.) The La Gloria Cubana Retro Especiale has a Connecticut seed wrapper grown in Honduras, wrapped around a more traditional La Gloria blend. I puffed it and found it quite pleasant. Ashton has a new version of San Cristobal made with Ecuador Connecticut wrapper called San Cristobal Elegancia. Sathya Levin of Ashton told me that it was meant for those who found San Cristobal too powerful. The EPC Cigar Co., owned by Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, is selling its version of Connecticut called EP Carrillo New Wave Connecticut, which debuted before the show. It had some dry wood notes, definitely milder than traditional San Cristobals.

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Ready for Vegas

Posted: Jul 15, 2011 12:00am ET

Next week, nearly the entire cigar industry will gather in Las Vegas for the annual IPCPR trade show. It's a showcase of new cigars behind booths manned by all the personalities of the cigar industry, with retailers from around the United States (and some from outside the U.S.) walking the aisles looking to buy.

Team Cigar Aficionado is ready to head out there and fill our notebooks.Gordon Mott and I will be blogging from the show next week, keeping you abreast of what's going on. Gregory Mottola and Andrew Nagy will be taking notes for future web stories as well as our comprehensive writeups in Cigar Insider. We're going to puff and write away to let you know what to expect in the coming weeks and months.

I'm not sure what type of crowd to expect, but I hear that the booth space has sold out, which is a very good sign. There's an excitement about heading back to Las Vegas, and I'm especially happy due to the recent lessening of Nevada's smoking ban. Smoking with your meal is back in some places, and I'm looking forward to puffing away after dinner.

Follow the site next week to keep abreast of what's going on. And since virtually everyone who makes a great cigar will be out there, if you have questions for them, let me know, and we'll do our best to get them answered.

For those of you in the industry, see you in Vegas. For everyone reading, follow us next week as we smoke up a storm at the trade show.

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No Cigar For the Rays

Posted: Jun 23, 2011 12:00am ET

Tampa, Florida, is a town with a rich cigar history. In the days before the U.S. Embargo against Cuba, tons upon tons of Cuban tobacco leaf was shipped to Tampa every year, and the city's myriad cigar factories rolled them into beautiful smokes known as Clear Havanas. At the peak of the Tampa cigar trade, in 1929, more than 500 million cigars were rolled in that city alone. For some perspective, that's more cigars than were sold in all of 1997, the peak year of the modern day cigar boom. Is it any surprise that one of the city's old baseball teams was known as the Tampa Smokers, and its logo had a big cigar right on the chest? Tampa is a cigar town, period.

Someone needs to tell that to the Tampa Rays. I just finished reading a news story written by Keith Morelli in yesterday's Tampa Tribune. Morelli points out that the Rays are having their players wear throwback jerseys of the Smokers for a July 2 game. But he noticed that there's something big missing from the jersey—the cigar.

"So, the Smokers' stogie was unceremoniously un-stitched from the shirt," Morelli wrote. When questioned about the decision, the Rays issued a statement, which was quoted by the Tribune: "We have chosen to wear the Smokers jersey to celebrate the rich heritage and traditions surrounding baseball in Tampa Bay and this version of the logo is intended only to be a slightly more contemporary version of that wonderful history."

Every other detail about the shirt is virtually identical to the original. The only notable change I see is the missing cigar.

This isn't the first time the Rays have taken the red pen to a cigar. I had the pleasure of attending a Rays game in 2009 with Eric and Bobby Newman of Tampa's very own J.C. Newman Cigar Co., which still makes some cigars by machine in Tampa today. (Read my story on J.C. Newman here.)

I'm no Rays fan (any reader of this blog knows I love their rivals, the New York Yankees), and while I think the Yankees are the better team, there is one thing in the Ray's Tropicana Field that Yankees Stadium can't match—a cigar bar. Tropicana Field has a cigar bar! But while you can puff away in peace inside the stadium (you can't view the field from there, but you can watch the game on TV) the Rays try to hide that fact.

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Hidden Gems

Posted: May 20, 2011 12:00am ET

On my latest trip to Cuba, I was reminded of my first visit to the island, back in 1996. I was a relative cigar rookie back then, and the first time I stepped into a Havana cigar store I was awed at the sight of all those great Cuban cigars staring at me when I walked into the humidor. To me, it looked like paradise.

I was with a couple of Cuban cigar veterans on that trip, and I paid attention. The first thing they did was flip the boxes over, to take a look at the codes on the bottom. They were hunting for older stock.

Today, cigars in Cuba have easy-to-read dates on their boxes, but in those days, the dates were coded with a system known as NIVEL ACUSO. We broke that code in the February 1996 issue of Cigar Insider (and boy, were the folks at Habanos mad, but that's another story). That code is no longer used, but if you happen to stumble across some old Cuban boxes it's good to know, so I'll repeat it here.

NIVEL    ACUSO
12345    67890

So the letter N stands for 1, I is for 2, and so on down the line. S stands for 9, and the letter O is the number zero. Back in those days I remember flipping boxes of my own and uncovering a box of Sancho Panza coronas with the code NSSO-1990. They were six years old, and were priced at all of $55 for the box of 25. And they were absolutely delicious.

I visited every Casa del Habano in Havana during my one-week visit to Cuba in early May, and while there's nothing left from 1990 that I could find, I did uncover several boxes with a few years of box age on them. Cigars tend to get better with age, so it pays dividends to flip your boxes and take a look for something that's a little old.

I did a little video at the superb Casa del Habano at Club Habana, the fabulous cigar shop run by Enrique Mons, to illustrate this point. Take a look.

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Inside Cuba's Newest Factory

Posted: May 12, 2011 12:00am ET

When we arrived in Havana last week, Gordon and I were expecting to hear that the Partagas Cigar Factory had closed for its much-needed renovation. When we were in Cuba in February, everyone was talking about how Partagas would soon be shut down, the jackhammers brought out and workers would start the arduous task of undoing the damage done by years of hot, Cuban summers, drenching tropical hurricanes and years of salty sea air on the Real Fabrica Partagas, which has stood since 1845.

Not so. Partagas is still open, although its closing is (still) expected soon. But instead of seeing a shuttered Partagas, Gordon and I visited a different factory that has been moved to temporary digs-H. Upmann.

H. Upmann, which is also known by the post-revolutionary name José Martí, is now closed, and the factory's staff and production has been moved to the Romeo y Julieta factory. The Romeo y Julieta factory has been completely transformed into the new-albeit temporary-home of the H. Upmann brand. So all H. Upmann cigars are now being rolled at Romeo, along with some Montecristos, some Romeo y Julietas and a number of Cohibas. While the factory is also in charge of the diminutive Diplomaticos brand, none were being rolled at the time of our visit. Some notable new smokes are being made here, including the H. Upmann Half Corona and the soon-to-be-released H. Upmann Royal Robusto.

For the past five years, Romeo has been closed to tourists, and has been used primarily as a rolling school. Now it is decorated with banners and posters touting the H. Upmann cigar brand, and H. Upmann factory manager Miguel Barzaga Maceo is running the factory.

Barzaga Maceo came here at the end of January, and by February 10 he said the facility was ready to roll cigars. It was in full production upon our visit, and was even open to tourists.

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Inside the World's Busiest La Casa del Habano

Posted: May 4, 2011 12:00am ET

I'm back in New York after my week in Cuba. I spent most of the time in Havana, visiting 14 cigar shops, including each of the city's nine La Casas del Habanos. These are stores that sell Cuban cigars, of course, but there's more to a La Casa than just cigars. Being a La Casa del Habano means you have to stock a certain number of smokes, have a staff that is well informed about them, need a place where your customers can smoke and a bar serving drinks. They're wonderful places.

Most shops had decent stocks of Cuban cigars, with some notable exceptions. The only Cohiba Behike sighting was at the La Casa del Habano at the Habana Libre Hotel. That shop only had a partial box of Cohiba Behike BHK 52s and a box with some Cohiba Behike BHK 56s. (We relieved them of a few of those.) I asked if there were any more in the back, and there was a quick shake of the head. These cigars are hard to come by in Cuba.

The La Gloria Cubana jar, the regional edition for Cuba itself, is also sold out. On our December visit, they seemed to be everywhere, and in February, during the Festival, we also saw good stocks. On this visit the only ones I saw had been reserved for customers.

The prices in Havana, as always, were quite good. All the prices are in Cuban convertible pesos (CUCs), which are now priced on equal parity with the U.S. dollar. Here's an example. Prices range from 3.60 CUCs ($3.60) for a little Montecristo No. 5 up to 26 CUCs for a Cohiba BHK 56. Monte 2s are 7.60, Cohiba Robustos are 10.40, Partagas Serie D No. 4s are 5.70 and Partagas Lusitanias are 10.30. The most expensive box of cigars I saw was a box of 25 Montecristo As for 500 CUCs.

We filmed lots of video on this trip, including one that that shows you inside and out of the La Casa del Habano at the Partagas Cigar Factory. (I misspoke in the introduction—I don't think this is actually the world's busiest cigar store, but it's the busiest of the more than 140 La Casa del Habanos around the world.) You no doubt have heard that the Partagas cigar factory is closing for renovations. (It was still open during this trip, but could close very soon.) The good news is that the store is going to remain open during the renovation.

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The Locker Lowdown in Havana

Posted: May 4, 2011 12:00am ET

This is day four of my week-long trip to Havana, Cuba. I've been here all week with Gordon Mott on assignment for Cigar Aficionado.

During my trip I've visited just about every quality cigar shop in the city and toured three cigar factories. I've done quite a bit, but there's still more to do.

Most of the cigar shops are Casa del Habanos, stores that have a serious selection of Cuban cigars, comfy chairs for smokers, and a bar serving Havana Club and other fine spirits. And many have lockers.

If you're a serious Cuban cigar lover, having a locker in Havana is the ultimate indulgence.

Imagine a place to store your favorite box purchases, with superb humidity, in a secure facility, and upon each visit to Cuba your cigars will be waiting for you. Sounds good, right?

I shot this video at the Casa del Habano at the Havana Libre hotel, a real nice cigar shop.

Cuban cigars taste better in Havana. When they age carefully in your locker, what could be better?

Take a look:

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