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James Suckling

Back in the Smoke in Cuba

Posted: Oct 12, 2009 8:23pm ET
It’s good to be back in Havana. It’s been too long. I haven’t been back since early March, but I am right back into the smoke.

I had an interesting meeting with the new head of marketing for Habanos S.A., the global distribution and marketing organization for Cuban cigars. Ana Lopez, just returned from a number of years in London working with the U.K. agent for Cuban cigars, Hunters & Frankau. Ana is a very switched on lady. Gonzalo Fernández de Navarrete and Jose Antonio Candia, the dynamic marketing duo from Habanos, were also there. We covered a lot of ground.

As always, some of the coolest conversations came out after the cigars were fired up. We smoked a number of Cuba's new 2009 Edición Limitadas. I smoked the Bolivar Petit Belicoso as well as a Romeo y Julieta Duke. I prefer the former. For a baby torpedo, the Bolivar is packed to the wrapper with rich and flavorful tobacco. It has so much to offer in a small smoke. I gave it 93 points, non blind.

I was hanging in the cigar shop at the Meliá Habana after lunch with Gonzo and J.A., and we were talking about tasting cigars, and how young cigars can taste different than slightly older ones—at least with Habanos. The two hombres often are on tasting panels for new cigars coming out of the various export factories including some of the regional smokes as well as the Limitadas and new launches such as the Montecisto Open.

Gonzo said that Habanos has have found that cigars fresh off the benches of the factories often have a slight bitterness due to the youth of the volado in the blend. I have never heard this, and I find it fascinating.

I have always been under the impression that volado doesn’t really contribute much to the character of a cigar. It’s used more for combustion. In other words, it keeps the cigar smoking, or burning.

If you remember, the filler of a Cuban cigar has three types of tobacco: volado, seco, and ligero. I had always thought that the later two are the key components in the flavor and character of a smoke—the ligero in particular because it is the strongest type of tobacco.

Gonzo told me that that Habanos found that the volado often gave young cigars a slightly bitter character, but in five or six months it went away as the different tobaccos marry together in a rolled smoke. It makes sense because the volado is always aged much less than the seco and ligero. Perhaps it isn’t processed or aged enough; so it can be a little raw at first before the mix with the other tobaccos comes together.

This could be why that I sometimes find that new Cuban cigars are a little rough at the beginning and need at least four to six months of box age to come around. So remember to look at the back of cigar boxes when you buy and make sure that they have some age. For example, I am looking at a box of 2009 Edición Limitada Romeo y Julieta Dukes as I write this blog, and the bottom of the box reads: “MOA May 09.” The last part is the month and year that the cigars were put in the box.

Gonzo also made a good point about how thicker cigars give you a much smoother smoke, which can be interpreted as a slightly less powerful smoke. For instance, the new Duke seems lighter than the other two 2009 Edición Limitadas, even though it looks like it should be more powerful than the smaller Boli Petit Beli and the H. Upmann Mag 48. The Duke is much thicker, so it delivers a bigger mix of air with the tobacco and thus seems lighter. Make any sense, or have I already smoked too many cigars in this great city?

I just heard that a number of shops in Havana are offering the Cohiba Gran Reserva at about $700 a box. The limited edition smoke is one of the best young cigars I have ever smoked. I have already given it 100 points non blind in the past. I am going to re-mortgage, and buy a box.

Another bit of gossip is that Cohiba is definitely getting a line extension. It is going to be called the Cohiba Behike, which will include a number of different sizes, or vitolas. “But it’s a secret and we are not going to tell you anymore,” said Ana (I guess I shouldn’t have asked!)  Apparently, the new line of Cohiba will be presented at next year’s cigar festival at the end of February.

I will see if I can find out more in the next couple of days... Hasta luego.

Comments   6 comment(s)

Art Sacks October 13, 2009 12:23am ET

the Gran Reserva, is this the cigar rolled with 5 yr old tobacco, as opposed to the Reserva line with 2 yr old tobacco. thanx James for all your updates, ive been reading your articles since the very 1st issue of CA


Mike Schoon — Curacao —  October 13, 2009 9:04am ET

Welcome back. I always look forward to reading your Cuba blogs. I will be in Havana myself in two weeks. Have you had a chance to try out the Romeo's that appeared in the Replica Antiqua Humidor? Any tips for some good paladares. Keep up the excellent blogs.


Michael Thompson — Berkeley, CA —  October 13, 2009 11:31am ET

Hi James. Good to see you are back in the sadle. I am wondering about the person responsible in Cuba for insuring that the blends of the various vitolas are consistent; I assume this is the same hombre who also blends the Regional releases? I would love to read a conversation you have with this person explaining the ins and outs of this highly artistic process and in particular how he approaches blending the Regional releases. Thanks for all your hard work!


James Suckling October 13, 2009 11:50am ET

Hey Mike. I smoked an R&J out of that humidor a few months back and I found it refined and soft. Nice mellow smoke.


James Suckling October 13, 2009 11:51am ET

Art. You got it right brother.


Mike Schoon — Curacao —  October 13, 2009 1:34pm ET

Thanks for the info James, Please say high to Manuel, the manager of the CdH, when you are back in the Melia Habana. I always bring him copies of Cigar Aficionado and will supply him with the last couple of issues the end of this month. Hopefully he reserved that R&J replica humidor for me! Saludos, Mike



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