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Havana's New Cigar: Cuaba

James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Wayne Gretzky, Mar/Apr 97

(continued from page 1)

Each member of the Cuaba team rolls about 100 cigars a day, which means production with about 20 rollers would approach half a million annually. According to Linares, Habanos and Briones Montoto have not decided what sizes the brand will be after 1997. They want to look at the response from the U.K. market and then make a decision. Linares did say, however, that they were considering introducing some other sizes in the future. "We have an idea," says Linares. "Perhaps next year, but we have to discuss this with [U.K. Cuban cigar importers] Hunters & Frankau. We may introduce a pyramid size, for example, which is not too far away from the figurado shape, or perhaps a campana [a belicoso-type shape]. We have not decided yet."

The small sizes for the four introductory Cuabas are primarily due to the shortage of large-leaf tobacco for wrapper and filler. All the factories are under huge strain to produce more large-sized cigars, including double coronas and Churchills. "The Romeo y Julieta factory used to make more than 1,000 different figurados," says Gonzalez. "We still have wooden models for all of them at the factory."

Gonzalez says he himself formulated the blend for Cuaba, which he geared after Montecristo. "I wanted the cigar to be strong at the beginning when you smoke it and then end with a smooth richness," he says. His only regret with Cuaba was that the cigars were released too early. He noted that another year or two of box aging would have mellowed them a bit. "The cigars will be much better with age," he says. "The more age the better. They are just like fine wine."

For their size, the Cuabas certainly pack a lot of flavor. For instance, the smallest of the quartet, Divinos, blasts the palate with loads of flavor--plenty of spicy, peppery character. Cigar Insider, the monthly cigar newsletter from M. Shanken Communications, recently gave it a score of 91.

Strangely, the cigar has no ligero tobacco, the strongestof the three tobaccos used in Cuban cigars, even though it delivers such intensity on the palate. The next size up, Tradicionales (also scoring a 91), is slightly more refined, with equally rich character. The larger Exclusivos (89) and Generosos (89) are even more mellow, yet have good flavor and wonderful harmony. In Gonzalez's opinion, the Divinos is the most versatile of the foursome. He smokes it any time of day, in any situation. The Tradicionales and the Exclusivos are perfect for after a meal, he adds, while the Generosos is a good smoke for the morning, especially with a strong espresso.

Cuaba has already attracted a lot of serious cigar aficionados with its beautiful shape and bold flavors. Most London cigar shops sold out of the brand within a few days. However, some cigar merchants as well as aficionados are already asking: How can the Cubans launch another cigar brand when they can't even properly supply current ones?

"I think that it is important for the image of Havana cigars to have a wide range of brands," says Linares. "It is a type of product that deserves that." The Cuban government, he adds, supports the introduction of more brands (another brand is set to debut in Spain this spring) despite the current shortages.

Even President Fidel Castro has said he wanted more cigar brands developed. "I read this interview in Cigar Aficionado [Summer 1994]," says Linares, "and Fidel Castro said, 'Marvin [Shanken], I have asked our colleagues in Cubatabaco [now Habanos] to create new brands.' That is related to this idea and that is why we worked on creating Cuaba."

At the dinner, Gonzalez is still restless in his seat. He has a slightly dazed look as the festivities continue with various speeches and then an auction of some of the cigars. The Las Vegas cabaret atmosphere is foreign to the man. He looks at his cigar, a Tradicionales, and takes a drag from it. He looks at it again. He then smiles meekly to himself. The thought of saving a tradition in fine cigar making, as well as attracting worldwide attention to a new Cuban cigar, is incredibly satisfying to him, despite not being in Havana.

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