I was in a new cigar smoker's paradise, London's El Floridita bar and restaurant, a hip Brit take on the real thing in Havana. There was live Cuban music, great Latino food, fabulous wine and fresh mojitos. But more importantly, I was puffing away on one the newest releases from the island -- a Ramon Allónes Belicoso, a figurado measuring 5 5/8 inches long by 52-ring gauge.
Now only for the U.K. market, the small torpedo smoked like a dream. In fact, it had a wonderful aroma of chocolate and tobacco before I even lit it up. Once burning, it showed excellent full body with a spicy and decadent yet subtle and refined character. It reminded me of the excellent Ramon Allónes of the mid-1990s, or a slightly toned-down version of the Bolivars of yesteryear. [For Suckling's "First Taste" of the new cigar, see the February 8 Cigar Insider.]
The new smoke is the brainchild of the U.K. cigar importer Hunters & Frankau. According to the marketing director, Simon Chase, the blend of the Belicoso was fine-tuned against Ramon Allónes from the early and mid-1990s. Chase has always been a great fan of Ramon Allónes, particularly the Specially Selected, or the robusto in the range.
The Belicoso is produced in the Partagas factory in Old Havana, across from the capitol building. The size, or vitola, is actually called a campana in Cuban cigar factories, and the Ramon Allónes will sell for about £15.75 (about $20.50) in U.K. cigar shops. If successful, the cigar will be sold around the world.
"This is an important test market for Cuban cigars, and I am sure the Belicoso will be a success," said Chase, who hopes to develop other unique vitolas for his market. The introduction couldn't come at a better time. Ramon Allónes is a slightly forgotten brand under the Habanos banner, although it has produced some excellent cigars such as the Specially Selected (robusto) and Gigantes (double corona).
The Germans are ahead of the English on the "market-specific" smokes, however. In fact, they have taken it a step further. A cigar shop in Cologne, La Casa del Habano, has just reintroduced the Bolivar Gold Medal in packs of ten. The lonsdale-sized smoke, with a 42 ring, hasn't been made since the 1980s.
I haven't smoked one of the new ones, but the packaging alone, which was copied exactly down to the bright gold foil inset, is to die for. The cigars sell for 16 euros (about $21) each. All are made in the Partagas factory. Only 1,000 boxes were made.
"Partagas made the blend according to the original," said Christoph Wolters, who manages the shop in Cologne and oversaw the production of the new cigar. Wolters is the same man who had the Partagas factory produce the Salomon II in 1996, which is a legend among cigar aficionados.
Wolters is one of the best-connected tobacco men in the Cuban cigar business. He convinced the Partagas factory to discreetly make a limited production of the Salmones in the mid-1990s. Only 5,000 of the large shaped cigars were produced. They are sold in individually numbered, specially designed wooden humidors (all different in style) with two bundles of 25 cigars each. They cost about $10,000 each in the beginning and continue to sell for about the same price at auction and from private individuals.
So -- thankfully for Cuban cigar lovers -- Wolters is back at it again. "We ordered these as special-production Gold Medals two years ago," added Wolters. "The Gold Medal was one of the great Cuban cigars. I just had to have it made again."
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