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Shop Report: Havana

If you love Cuban cigars, there’s no finer place to shop than in Havana, which is loaded with Casas del Habano cigar shops. Gordon and I spent the day going shop to shop, visiting five of the best stores in Cuba. We were taking note of what was in stock (and what wasn’t) to get an idea of what you can expect when shopping for cigars in the heart of Cuba.

But first, let me flash back to last night. Gordon blogged about the Vegueros dinner, which featured a look at Cuba’s newest bargain-priced brand. I wasn’t impressed with the two Vegueros cigars that I smoked, but I truly enjoyed the sneak peek at one of the trio of Edición Limitadas for 2013, the Hoyo de Monterrey Grand Epicure EL 2013. This fat, short smoke had an ultra-dark, ultra-oily wrapper and big flavor. It was young, which is to be expected, but I think this cigar will be something wonderful when it hits shops later this year.

Do you like Cohiba Behikes? They seem to be everywhere on this trip. Every shop I visited had some stock of Behikes, from a few boxes to stacks and stacks of them. There are more Behikes than on any of my other visits to Havana. They start at 22 CUC per stick for the BHK 52 (or 220 CUC for a box of 10) to 32 CUC for a BHK 56. I passed on some rustic looking singles in the Casa del Habano at the Hotel Palco (the heads looked too rounded, not flat enough) and the shop with the deepest stocks of Behike had to be the Casa del Habano at the Habana Libre.

Cohiba Pirámides Extras are in fine supply throughout Cuba. But the hot cigar of the moment is our top-rated Cuban cigar of 2012, the Cohiba 1966 Edición Limitada 2011. We asked everywhere we went, but the only shop that had any in stock was the Habana Libre. Not only did they have a few singles on display (at 21 CUC per cigar) but when prodded they produced a few boxes from the back. It’s the holy grail of Cuban cigars right now, and I can understand—they’re smoking beautifully.

Most shops were well stocked with recent production smokes, mostly 2012 production, and some 2011. If you dug around, you could find some boxes from 2010, like the couple of Bolivar Coronas Extra I saw (127 CUC per box of 25) in two shops. Truly deep digging in off brands (think Fonseca, Rafael Gonzalez) and you could find 2009, and even some 2007 cigars.

Cuban cigar shop.
The well-stocked humidor at Club Habana.

Our whirlwind tour stopped for a bit at the Casa del Habano at the Melia Habana Hotel, which has become a favorite spot for myself and for Gordon Mott. The attentive staff, great selection and comfortable setting make for a wonderful place. It was packed. This was the only shop in Havana I saw that had considerable stocks of cigars in cabinets of 50. They had Partagás Lusitanias in cabs of 50 (568 CUC per box), Hoyo Doubles (570 CUC), Partagás Double Coronas (545 CUC) and a whole variety of Saint Luis Reys. We dug around a bit and even found a cabinet of 50 Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure Especials for 400 CUC a box. I love those cigars, and could certainly have fun with 50 of them.

We dropped in on Carlos Robaina at Quinta Avenida (the La Casa del Habano at Fifth Avenue) and found it well stocked, as usual. Snr. Robaina had plenty of boxes of 2011 Sancho Panza Belicosos (182 CUCs/box—they’re smoking great right now) and heavy stocks of Ramon Allones, both the Gigantes size and the ever-popular Specially Selected. He also had Ramon Allones Small Club Coronas (92 CUC a box). I smoked one of these dark, small cigars the other day here and it blew me away. It’s a must try, and at that price you simply can’t go wrong.

Quinta Avenida didn’t have near the cabs of 50 found at Melia Habana, but they did had a box of H. Upmann Magnum 50 in cabinets of 50, for 438 CUC. That’s a cool find.

No shopping trip to Habana is complete without stopping in at Club Habana. Proprietor Enrique Mons wasn’t there, but we bought a few of the house-made Monsdales, which are rolled on site. For 5 CUC a stick, I doubt you’ll ever find a finer bargain.

Lunch will be for another blog, and I’ll hand that one over to Gordon. I will tip my hand by saying we smoked a Hoyo de Monterrey Maravillas with Ajay Patel at a great new restaurant I bet you haven’t read about before. The cigar was a blockbuster, and although I took my last puff a half an hour ago I can still taste the memory on my palate.

The sun is going down, but my day is just getting started—there’s a lot left to do tonight in Havana. And plenty of more cigars to be smoked.

Richard Barnett Prairieville, Louisiana, United States, March 2, 2013 2:09pm ET
David: I am enjoying your blog, as well as Gordon's. One question: In Gordon's blog he said about the 2013 Hoyo EL: "The splashy cigar of the night was the release of a 2013 Edición Limitada, a Hoyo de Monterrey Grand Epicure, a thick ring gauge, corona gorda (6 1/4 inches by 55)."

You called it a "fat, short smoke". Wow! 6.25 x 55 is a monster! I wonder what you would call a "big smoke".

Keep up the reports. I am very envious of your trip.
Justin O'Brien Ontario, Canada, March 3, 2013 7:10am ET
Great reporting once again David. You both area doing a wonderful job as usual. Amazing to hear about the BHK's everywhere...amazing what a year can do. The Hoyo EE is also one of my absolute fav's. It is my New Years Eve ritual to smoke that cigar after my steak dinner. Keep up the great work!
G. W. March 3, 2013 3:02pm ET
Last month I visited all Casas del Habano in Havana. Some have serious problems with over -humidification. I bought a cigar in the Casa del Habano Meliá Cohiba and it was almost unsmokeable wet. I returned a 2nd time just to find the other cigars in the same condition. When I entered the walk inn humidor the second time the hygrometer showed 90%. I don't know if this was accurate but the cigars also felt like stored at 90%. I asked the very friendly lady working there and she told me Havana is just too humid at the moment. The Casa in the Meliá Habana had similar problems in my opinion.

David, what is you opinon about storing conditions in Havana?
David Savona March 7, 2013 4:48pm ET
The cigar is actually short and fat. The dimensions on the Hoyo EL 2013 are actually 5 1/8 by 55. There was a mistake in Gordon's blog, which we have corrected. Sorry about the delay in answering. Internet being so unpredictable in Havana, I couldn't log on to answer this while out of the country, and I've been playing catchup after 12 days on the road.

So the true dimensions of the Hoyo EL 2013 Grand Epicure are 5 1/8 by 55.
David Savona March 7, 2013 4:49pm ET
Most places I saw had good storage, but I agree about the Melia Cohiba. The humidor was in the 80s when I visited, and singles felt a bit spongy. Boxes (and three packs) seemed fine.

Dilip Kumar Mumbai, India, March 8, 2013 10:27pm ET
Your review of hoyo... Limited edition are bang on and perfectly articulated. Pleasure to read your blogs...
Thomas Person louisville, KY, USA, March 15, 2013 2:01pm ET
How often do you see new cigar shops or lounges opening up when you visit Cuba? I would hope that the entrepreneurial hard-working spirit keeps things in Cuba moving in a positive direction for the people there.

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