Posted: Dec 21, 2007 1:12am ET
There’s clearly something wrong with me. I spent the other night standing in my driveway, swinging a 10-pound sledgehammer into the ground to break the inch-thick coating of ice that was just about everywhere. Now I’m walking around in short sleeves and sunglasses in Miami, where the weather is absolutely perfect.
Remind me why I live in the New York area again?
I’m in south Florida on business for a couple of days. Miami, after all, is where many of the world’s premium cigarmakers make their headquarters. I don’t have time to see them all, sadly, but I’m going to do as much as I can while I’m here.
I started the day with Guillermo and George Rico, the father-and-son team behind Gran Habano cigars. Gran Habano is a small brand made in Honduras that comes in colorful boxes, and always seems to do pretty well in our tastings. I first met George out in Las Vegas at our Big Smoke in November, and I told him I’d drop in on his office the next time I came to town.
The Ricos have an interesting story. They’re from Colombia, and Guillermo’s mother used to work with the local cigar tobacco, known as Cubita. During its heyday most of the production went to Europe, particularly Germany, and locals got in the habit of flattening the leaves into thin sheets that could be easily fed into machines that make mass-market cigars. The Ricos, like some other cigarmakers, use some Cubita in their filler blends, and it still comes pretty flat. I looked over a few leaves, and gave them a test sniff—it’s dusky, earthy stuff that you wouldn’t use to make a puro, but the Ricos say it works great as a small addition to a blend.
The Ricos had to leave Colombia for New York, then they came to Miami. Times were tough. A job making furniture led to orders for cigar boxes during the cigar boom, and that’s when Guillermo figured that what people really wanted was cigars. He opened a tiny factory, and later expanded to create a larger place in Danlí, Honduras.
The Ricos made fewer cigars in 2007 than they did in 2006, but they’re getting more per cigar as they’re reducing their private-label business and focusing more on their own brand. Their latest (and perhaps their best) cigar is Gran Habano 3 Siglos, which is very nice. Give it a try when you see it in a cigar store.
I dropped in on the Padróns, who have a great new headquarters on First Street, not far from where they used to do business on Flagler. I took a close look at one of their real rarities, the Reserva de la Familia. Jorge Padrón took me into his inventory room (ridiculously small) and showed me his stock of the Reservas. There were maybe a dozen boxes, each holding 50 cigars, and that’s it. The cigar is phenomenal, but he’s determined to keep it out of the regular line, and only uncork it at dinners hosted by a family member. He uses some 10-year old tobacco in the blend, so there’s only so much of that old stuff. Hopefully Jorge will change his mind, but I doubt it.
The Padróns were in great spirits, having just scored 95 points in Cigar Insider, and we went to dinner at Devitos on South Beach. There were 13 of us in all—Jorge, his father, his brother, sister, wife…just about all the Padróns in Miami were there. Devitos serves a fantastic rigatoni Bolognese, which went well with the 04 Tignanello Jorge selected from the list. Nice stuff. Even better was the outdoor patio where we moved the party after the entrees were cleared.
There’s something absolutely perfect about sitting outside a few days before Christmas, no jacket, enjoying the great weather and basking in Padrón cigar smoke. While we were out there, Jorge’s brother Orlando pulled off a feat I had never seen before. It was fairly breezy, and his lit Exclusivo slipped from his mouth, fell, and landed lit side up in his breast pocket. No harm done. Don’t try that one at home.
No one was hurt for the rest of the night, and I headed back to the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, where I’m staying, and met up with the owner, Gene Prescott, who is about as big a cigar fan as you’ll find on the planet. The Biltmore is a great hotel for cigar smokers, with a nicely stocked cigar store and plenty of outdoor spaces to smoke. It even has a private-label cigar called Biltmore Private Blend made by Padrón Cigars—you’ll recognize the box-pressed shape right away.
We sat down in the Biltmore’s courtyard. With a glass of Talisker single malt, a Biltmore cigar and some good conversation, it was an ideal way to end a winter night in balmy Miami.
Time for some sleep. I have a full schedule ahead of me tomorrow.
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