Ever since Dave Savona and I arrived in Havana on Sunday, I've been dreaming about smoking Cigar Aficionado's Cigar of the Year, the Cohiba Behike BHK 52. But it turned out it wasn't going to be easy.
The first Casas del Habano we visited were closed on Sunday. It was May Day, a national holiday here in Cuba to celebrate solidarity with the workers of the world. There were early morning crowds in the streets, but by noon, the marches were over and the streets became nearly deserted. We finally found a Casa open in the Melia Cohiba, which is a modern high-rise tourist establishment overlooking the Malecón, the seaside promenade, and the ocean. It was also the only place we could find to change a sufficient amount of money—all transactions here for Americans with U.S. bank issued credit cards have to be in cash; the card won't work—because all the banks and foreign exchange houses also were closed. So, after a couple of failures, we were excited about finding cigars, and I was secretly hoping to stumble across a Behike.
There were no Behikes. They were sold out.
I spent most of the afternoon walking around Habana Vieja, Old Havana, working on the cigars I had purchased at the Melia, a Partagas Lusitania and a couple of others. The Lusitania was a classic, with a beautiful Colorado wrapper and a full-bodied spicy smoke that performed perfectly. The next day, I kept working through some cigars given to us, but still no Behikes. When Dave and I met up again at the end of the day, he said that every shop he had visited was out of Behikes, too. There were none anywhere. I didn't let on my disappointment. After a second Lusitania failed to perform on Monday night while we were listening to a jazz concert, I lit up a cigar that Dave gave me, a special cigar made for the El Aljibe restaurant where we had dined on Sunday night. It was okay, but like many "special" cigars here, it lacked the complexity and depth of traditional brands.
By Tuesday, I was wondering what I was going to smoke. We ended up going through some necessasry bureaucracy to get press credentials and then I stayed with Dave to visit the Romeo y Julieta factory, which is now occupied by the H. Upmann work force while it's relatively new factory is undergoing repairs. It was great to be back in a cigar factory, but it was almost painful to walk past big stacks of H. Upmann No. 2s, and interestingly enough, some Cohiba Siglo series, including one of my favorites, the Cohiba Siglo VI. The factory manager gave us an H. Upmann Half Corona which is a great little smoke. I lit up immediately and thought, here it is noon, and I'm just smoking my first cigar of the day.
And, still, no Behike.
Before lunch, Dave still had to visit a Casa del Habano in the Havana Libre hotel, which is one of the newest and biggest CDHs in Havana, a must-visit if you are in the city. I walked in, and there on a shelf was a box with four Behike BHK 52s. I quickly bought two—18 CUCs or about $21 each. I almost lit up on the spot but I decided to wait until we had lunch at a paladar.
Lunch was great (I'll be writing about the details of all the restaurants we're checking out this week at a later date.) But when it was over, I reached in my pocket, clipped and carefully lit a Behike and sat back to savor the first puff. The cigar was everything I remembered. It has a wonderful, mouth-filling roundness with leather and spice notes and a pleasant, sweet, earthy finish. It is one of the best-balanced cigars I have ever smoked. There is a light sweetness that never disappears. The cigar may have passed the ulimate test—I smoked it down until my knuckles were in danger of getting burned. Although this cigar is amazingly enjoyable in its youth, I also believe it is going to evolve into a truly classic smoke as it reaches its peak in 10 to 15 years.
It was a great cigar. I felt like I had finally arrived in Havana.
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