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Havana Corner: The Always Evolving World of Habanos

Posted: March 14, 2006
Changes seem to be continuous in Havana's world of fine cigars. Some of the hottest news I heard on the street while in Havana two weeks ago was about the closure of the Romeo y Julieta factory. Apparently, the old factory had become too dilapidated to be refurbished. Workers will move to a new factory being developed just outside of Havana. It's the third traditional factory in Havana to be closed -- H. Upmann and La Corona were moved to newer facilities over the last two years.

In addition, many in the Cuban cigar business continue to speak about how the old El Rey del Mundo factory will be converted to a specialties factory, where all Cuba's limited-edition humidors will be produced. These special releases include the 200 H. Upmann Special Series replica of an ancient humidor that holds 50 Tacos Imperiales cigars that measure 6 5/8 inches long with a ring gauge of 49. There's also the 500 Trinidad Habanos Collection Humidor, which resembles a book, and has 20 Torre Iznagas measuring 6 11/16 inches by 52 ring. Both cigars should be out later this year.

Colección Habanos (Trinidad).
Some people believe it's a shame that RyJ as well as the other two factories have been closed. They say that quality Cuban cigars should be made in traditional, age-old factories. But I think the opposite. Cuban cigars need to be made in the best environment possible, where workers will be happy and conscientious. And the new factories appear to be providing that atmosphere.

Miguel Barzaga, production deputy manager of H.Upmann factory told me: "You have to go forward and accept the new," he said. "You cannot stop and not let progress in! One needs to be up to date with the rest of the world. In the past, what was in fashion was the traditional way of doing things; nowadays, it doesn't work like that…you need to let new technology in the door."

He also said that it is important to have a clean and healthy environment for his workers, so they could focus on making the best possible cigars. And the new factories, like his, provide this. "There's improvement not just in the working conditions for the workers but also improvement in the production process," he added.

Habanos didn't say whether the specialty factory at El Rey del Mundo would make regional cigars, which have been a great success after a couple of years. The concept is that a special limited-production cigar (about 1,000 boxes or more) is made for particular markets on a one-time basis. For example, this year six cigars new regional cigars will launch. For the Asia-Pacific region, there will be a new Punch called the Super Robustos, measuring 6 1/8 by 50 ring, as well as a Ramón Allones Estupendos, a classic Churchill size at 7 inches by 47 ring. Germany will have the Por Larrañaga Lonsdale (6 1/2 by 42) as well as the Bolivar Colosales (6 1/8 by 50). For France, there's the Bolivar Libertador (6 1/2 by 54) and the Juan López Obús (5 1/2 by 52).

Last year's selection included the Ramón Allones Selección Suprema (5 3/5 by 46) and Punch Superfinos (4 3/8 by 42) for Italy, and the Ramón Allones Eminencia (5 3/5 by 44) and Punch Robusto (5 by 50) for Switzerland.

Romeo y Julieta Short Churchills.
I have yet to try the new regional smokes, but I did puff on a number of the new and delicious Romeo y Julieta Short Churchills, a new robusto packaged in a cardboard-papered box as well as in tubes. It was supposed to be out a few weeks after the festival. It reminds me of the decadent and rich flavor you get in a good R and J Churchill. It's spicy, almost peppery with and meaty tobacco flavor that turns to cedar. I scored it 91 points.

Cohiba Siglo II in Tubes.
Other novelties include seeing the Cohiba Siglo II in cool designer aluminum tubes, exactly like those for the Siglo VI. And Habanos is expected to give new life to the culebras cigars, those three slender smokes intertwined into one. Although it might be folklore, I heard that the culebras originated in the early 1900s as a way to control what cigar rollers took home every night after work from the factory. They were allowed one culebras, or three cigars twisted together.

In recent years, culebras were made by machine with short filler, and then twisted together to give a snake-like impression. Habanos is now having them completely hand-made with long filler. Just remember to take the culebras apart and smoke one at a time. I once saw some fool light up an entire braid at one time. He almost burned his nose off!

The new totally hand made Partagás Culebras.
There were no culebras in sight during the final event of this year's cigar festival, the gala dinner. Cohibas were there en masse, from coronas especials to Siglo VIs as participants celebrated the 40th birthday of the brand. Many, however, were surprised not to be smoking the new behike Cohiba, the cigar inside the recently unveiled $18,000 Elie Bleu humidor. It's a big and exciting cigar, measuring 7 1/2 inches by 52 ring gauge. Someone gave me one before the dinner, so I brought it along to smoke. It was stunning, rich, balanced and extremely complex. It was like a glass of Chateau Latour from a young vintage. It was a prefect way to enjoy the evening, which raised close to $715,000 for the Cuban Health System.

Click here to read about actor Jeremy Irons and last year's Habanos Festival.


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