Give a Cigar Aficionado subscription and we'll send you a Pocket Guide to Cuba FREE!

Email this page Print this page
Share this page

David Savona

A Tale of Two Cuban Factories

Posted: Dec 8, 2010 12:00am ET

The waves were crashing high over the Malecón seawall on Tuesday morning as I stepped out of my hotel here in Havana. A cold front was blowing through, and the mercury had dropped to 50 degrees. For the locals it was a seriously cold day, but for a visiting Yankee like myself it was just a cool breeze. No chill could bring a frown to my face—I was heading to El Laguito.

I've been travelling to Cuba since 1995, but this would be my first visit to El Laguito, the smallest of Cuba's major cigar factories but perhaps the best. This is where Cohibas were born and where Cohiba Behikes are made. The factory is seldom visited by outsiders, as it is off-limits to visitors without special permission. I'd been looking forward to this day for a long time.

Our taxi pulled up to the stately building, located in the classy Miramar suburb of Havana. I walked inside with Gordon Mott, Cigar Aficionado's executive editor, and the first thing I noticed was the oversized Cohiba logo in gold, black and white hanging over the receptionist's desk. We sat down with Arnaldo Ovalles Brioñes, who has run the fabrica since 2009, and he offered us Behikes. As I clipped the pigtail off the head of the perfectly rolled Cohiba BHK 52, I smiled—this was desayuno perfecto, the perfect breakfast in Havana.

El Laguito has been rolling cigars since 1966, first only Cohibas, then Trinidads as well. Today, only Cohibas are made here (Trinidad was moved to Pinar del Río some six year s ago) although not every Cuban Cohiba comes from El Laguito. The so-called mother factory of Cohiba, it sends tobacco to other fabricas to roll Cohibas when required, as the little factory simply can't make enough cigars to meet the need for Cohiba. But every Behike is made in these halls.

A former school, El Laguito is not set up like a typical cigar factory. The workers roll, bunch and sort in small rooms better suited for classes. While it would make a student of just-in-time delivery shudder, it adds soul and style to the factory. Each section is like a little world, separate from the outside. Perhaps 20 rollers work in each area, carefully bunching Cohiba Robustos, Behikes and Lanceros, and wrapping leaves from Pinar del Río over the bunch. The cigars made here are beautiful. There are only 262 workers and just 101 of those make cigars.

I asked Arnaldo, a former professor and cigar roller, which size is the most difficult to create. He said thin cigars, such as the Cohiba Panetela Extra and Cohiba Lancero. "A small twist in the filler," he said, showing how a cigar is made using his hands, "and it ruins the cigar." With thin smokes, you have "less space to play."

We toured the entire factory, beginning in the small room where the wrappers are prepared, each one stripped by hand, watching cigars being bunched and rolled, then sorted and inspected, and watched an old truck pull up to the back entrance, loaded with boxes. El Laguito is a rarity, a calm, elegant place where cigars are made slowly and carefully. The evidence is in the superior quality of the Behike I was smoking. You'll see what the fabrica looks like firsthand on this website with video coming soon, and you'll read more about our visit in the pages of Cigar Aficionado.

The drive across town to get to my second cigar factory of the day, Partagas, was a long one—portions of the Malecón were closed due to the high waves washing over the seawall and onto the road, so we were pushed into a considerable traffic jam. As soon as we stepped out of the cab, a man walked up to me and offered cigars for sale. I turned him down—buying off the street is an easy way to end up with a counterfeit cigar.

Partagas is world's apart from El Laguito, both in distance and in style. Where El Laguito is small and private, Partagas is huge and busy. Tour groups come through here frequently, and this is the one cigar factory in Havana that any visitor can enter and see. It's a huge facility, rolling not only Partagas cigars but Bolivar, Ramon Allones and La Gloria Cubana, as well as some Romeo y Julieta and Punch cigars.

We climbed the stairs up three flights to the main galleria, which is sprawling, with well over 150 rollers working on all manner of cigars. I stopped at one station to speak to a buncher named Lazaro who was carefully making Partagas Salomones, one of the toughest shapes in the cigar world to craft. He made some fine looking sticks.

After the tour, we sat down in the Casa del Habano at the bottom of the building, having a fine Cuban coffee before lighting up robustos in the back room. The cigar selection wasn't as expansive as in the other shops we had visited, and it's a far more chaotic place, but any cigar-loving visitor to the island needs to make a stop here to see the show.

A tale of two factories in La Habana, one big, one small. El Laguito and Partagas are just two of the cigar factories in Cuba that make cigars in their own style.

Comments   9 comment(s)

Justin O'Brien — Windsor, Ontario, Canada,  —  December 8, 2010 6:05pm ET

David, I am in awe reading this blog. What an amazing time you and Gordon must be having. This El Laguito factory; That must have been amazing. Walking in and lighting up a BHK, what a start to a day in Cuba. I just have to get my hands on one of those!


irving orozco December 9, 2010 3:10am ET

DAVID, I AM DOING A MOVIE OVER THERE A DOCUMENTARY, ABOUT REGGAETON MUSIC, BUT I AM A HABANO LOVER, I LOVE CUBA BECAUSE ITS THE ONLY PLACE WHERE YOU CAN SMOKE ANYWHERE JAJAJ !!, SO I AM GOING OVER THERE EVERY 2 MONTHS, I WANTED TO KNOW IF YOU MADE AN APPOINTMENT TO GO TO "EL LAGUITO" OR JUST WENT THERE, THE THING IS, I WILL LOVE TO GO THERE NEXT MONTH AND BOUY SOME BEHIKES JAJAJAJ !! CAN ANYONE JUST GO THERE AND BUY HABANOS THERE ?


David Savona December 9, 2010 8:37am ET

Justin, thank you so much for the kind comments. I'm glad you're enjoying our Cuba coverage.


David Savona December 9, 2010 8:38am ET

Irving, El Laguito isn't open to visitors, you need an appointment to get in. Also, you can't buy cigars there--it's a factory and it doesn't have a cigar shop like Partagas (which is a quite unusual factory, one geared to visitors.) But Cuba has great cigar shops all over Havana. See my other blog for details about buying smokes here.


jeff yarchin — Blowing Rock, North Carolina, United States,  —  December 9, 2010 10:23am ET

I'm really enjoying your visit. More please!


Carlos Coelho — Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal,  —  December 9, 2010 11:43am ET

hi David. the workers (in both factories) were able to talk to you without any problems? did you already tried the bodega cigars (the cigars made for the cubans)? enjoy the rest of your stay there, my friend.


Eric James — Greensburg, PA, USA,  —  December 9, 2010 7:04pm ET

How does a visitor to the island get special permission to enter El Laguito David?


irving orozco December 10, 2010 2:50am ET

well eric they are not normal visitors jajaja.

thanks DAVID for your comment !! I love the partagas factory !! And all the casa del habano SHOPS.


Jonathan Licciardi — New Haven, CT, US,  —  December 12, 2010 10:23pm ET

One Word - JEALOUS. I've had the pleasure of enjoying a BHK 52 a got from a friend who orders from Mitchell Orchant and it was one of the best cigars I have ever smoked. Hopefully it won't be long until we can indulge in them here in the states without looking over our shoulders! Thank you for being so descriptive in sharing your experiences with us in Havana. It's almost like being there myself! And finally, thank you for taking your readers with you down those factory halls and into those dream humidors.



Please log in to post a comment—registration is FREE.

Log In If You're Already Registered At Cigar Aficionado Online

Forgot your password?

Not Registered Yet? Sign up–It's FREE.

FIND A RETAILER NEAR YOU

Search By:

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

    

Cigar Insider

Cigar Aficionado News Watch
A Free E-Mail Newsletter

Introducing a FREE newsletter from the editors of Cigar Aficionado!
Sign Up Today