A Walking Tour Of El Laguito

El Laguito is one of many beautiful mansions in Havana's tree-lined Miramar section, and it has been Cohiba's home factory for many years.
Photos/Gregory Mottola
El Laguito is one of many beautiful mansions in Havana's tree-lined Miramar section, and it has been Cohiba's home factory for many years.


If some of the trim work around the El Laguito cigar factory in Havana seems to be a yolkier shade of yellow than you remember, it's not your imagination—El Laguito just got a paint job. While the rest of the mansion-cum-cigar factory is still that softer, pastel shade of yellow, the exterior columns now have the color of a school bus or taxi cab.

All of Havana seems to be getting a paint job. I hear it's because President Obama is making an appearance soon, so everything is getting spruced up, including El Laguito. Inside, it's more of the same. Decorative molding and other interior architectural accents have also been slathered in this overstated safety paint. It stands out, that's for sure. I think the trim used to be white.

El Laguito is one of many beautiful mansions in Havana's tree-lined Miramar section, and it has been Cohiba's home factory for many years now, but you can tell when you walk in that it used to be the residence of a very wealthy man. (Ahhh, the majestic symmetry of Beaux-Arts architecture.) There's a sweeping spiral staircase in the lobby and two smaller salons furnished with rolling tables on either side of the main foyer. This is much different than the large, open rolling rooms you see in most cigar factories. You'd think that the smaller spaces would make each room feel stuffy or cramped, but the tall windows let in a lot of light and give each salon an airy feel. What used to be a dining room, sitting room, tea room or parlor is now the place where Cohibas are made on a daily basis.

 

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The sweeping spiral staircase is the first thing you see in the lobby of the El Laguito cigar factory.
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One of the two smaller salons on either side of the main foyer is furnished with rolling tables. This is much different than the large, open rolling rooms you see in most cigar factories.
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A roller holding up ligero tobacco. Only half a leaf of ligero goes into a Cohiba Siglo VI.
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Cigar rollers making Cohiba Robustos, Siglo VIs and even a few Lanceros, but no Behikes.
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Quality control inspectors check cigars for consistent ring gauge thickness.
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The "Drawmaster" machine inside one of the quality control rooms aims to weed out plugged cigars.
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A worker removes the central veins from wrapper leaves in the "despalillo" or stripping room.
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Quality control is where they check cigars for color consistency before each stick is banded up and boxed. Every cigar in each box has to be the same color.
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A worker boxing up freshly banded Cohiba Esplendidos.
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The end of the tour outside the quality control building.

On the day I went, most of the factory was making Siglo VIs. As David Savona said in his blog on El Laguito, each room has its own pace and its own feel, but there were no Behikes being rolled when I went. I guess Siglo VI was the cigar of the day. Everywhere you looked you saw stacks of these Cañonazos on just about every table. Look more carefully and you see some rollers making Robustos and even a few Lanceros, but no Cohiba Behikes, which is one of Cuba's most sought-after cigars. The collective efforts seemed to be for the Siglo VI.

Did you know that the Siglo VI only contains a half leaf of ligero per cigar? That's the strongest type of tobacco, which is grown out in the open sun and harvested from the top part of the plant. Oily and powerful, ligero is usually blended to give a cigar some body. At 5 7/8 inches by 52 ring, it's one of the thicker Cohibas on the market, but, despite its girth, it only gets half a ligero. At least that's what a roller told me as he held up the leaf. I suppose if anyone is working off the official Siglo VI recipe, it's these rollers at El Laguito.

Sometimes other brands are produced here, as well. I was told that when that happens, the "engineers" from the other factories come in to oversee production of the other brands. "Engineers" was my tour guide's word, not mine.

And speaking of tours, I must say that the entire El Laguito operation seemed rather aloof. In other cigar-producing countries, where the factories are privately owned, it's up to each individual owner where you can and can't go. Normally, they let you see everything. Here, they sort of rush you through. It's as if they want you to have only the most elementary idea of what they're doing. Once you start to look too closely or linger too long, you're quickly ushered into the other room. Try to backtrack, and you're told to keep it moving. Fermentation rooms? Large pilons of tobacco? Aging rooms? Off limits. And don't even think about taking a cigar off one of the rolling tables to smoke. While that might be OK in the Dominican Republic, I'd probably be tossed in El Laguito's dungeon if I tried that here. Or worse yet, never invited back to ever see a factory in Cuba again.

Outside, I strolled gingerly through a covered walkway to the quality control building, which is adjacent to the mansion. Like the stripping room, it's in a nondescript structure on the property of the mansion—kind of like a guest house, but for tobacco. Quality control is where they check cigars for color consistency before each stick is banded up and boxed. Every cigar in each box has to be the same color. This is industry standard in most factories, Cuban or not. Of course, the color-sorting tables were full of Siglo VI cigars, but they were banding up some Cohiba Esplendidos, too. I managed to flip over a few boxes and see some factory codes stamped on the bottom. They all read "AMO MAR 16." Some still read "FEB." For those of you interested in exactly which factory your Cuban cigars came from, AMO is one of the 2016 El Laguito codes. For now anyway. Perhaps they'll switch that code once production goes into April or May.

I also saw one woman banding up Cohiba Majestuosos 1966. It's one of the two hefty, commemorative cigars rolled in honor of Cohiba's 50th anniversary. I didn't see any boxes though, so these were most probably rolled and banded for the final Cohiba dinner last Friday night. All guests of the final dinner got two of these cigars.

At the end of the tour, we wound up in an unremarkable chamber that finally led outside. A woman handed me a Cohiba Siglo I in a glossy yellow tubo. The tour was over, and all I got was a Siglo I.

It all seemed so fast. One big yellow blur. I tried to go back inside but was told by a man with a walkie-talkie that this was impossible. At that point, I kind of felt like Charlie Bucket at the end of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when Wonka screams: "You get nothing! You lose! Good day, sir!" I could have given the cigar back to the factory owner, just like Charlie did with his gobstopper, but who was it? Who owns this place? The answer is nobody. And everybody. Part of the mystique I guess.

I must admit that I was a little disappointed at only getting a tiny 4 inch by 40 ring Siglo I after seeing all those hundreds—if not thousands—of Siglo VI cigars all over the factory. Then again, a Siglo I is always better than a Siglo none.

Darryl Godfrey Bernex, Switzerland, March 11, 2016 7:38am ET
Hi David, I smiled when I saw the photo of the Drawmaster. I, like most people I know, have had so many partially or fully plugged Cuban smokes over the years that I think the machine is just for show. Did you actually see it being used? And how on earth do you test a cigar once it has its cap on? Curious minds want to know ... Thanks for the article, I really enjoyed it.
Gregory Mottola March 11, 2016 9:49am ET
Hello Mr. Godfrey,
The plugged cigars you have experienced may have come out of other factories as well. I only visited El Laguito, so I cannot speak for the draw-testing machines or lack thereof in other factories. During the brief moment I was in the room, I don’t recall if any were in use.
As for your observation about capped cigars, you are absolutely correct. That room where they were checking ring gauges was annexed to the draw testing room, but cigars are usually draw tested before the wrapper is even applied. Thank you for bringing the caption error to light. We have fixed it. All the best and thank you for reading.
Greg
Jacques Rheault Rigaud, QC, Canada, March 11, 2016 12:59pm ET
This may sound odd, but I do miss the years when Cigar Aficionado editors, while in Havana, posted articles that informed us without personal judgment.
Mr. Mottola, your article leaves a negative feeling and, in my opinion, includes too much sarcastic remarks.
Just my opinion...
Gregory Mottola March 11, 2016 1:36pm ET
Hello Mr. Rheault,
You will find that most of our articles are written in third-person, without personal comments or personal perspective. It's always been like this and still is.
However, we occasionally blog from a first-person standpoint, where we do, in fact, write from personal experience. This is one such article and is nothing new to our repertoire. There were pros and cons to to the visit. It's as simple as that. But, on a personal note, it was great seeing such an iconic factory. All the best and thank you for reading.
Peter Loman Calgary, Alberta, Canada, March 11, 2016 11:20pm ET
Gregory, thank you for the post and photos. Jacques, thank you for your comment.. Christian, yours too. The best thing about CA is that it celebrates our passion (we read and bother to post) without regard to prevailing political opinion. Let's celebrate with them.
Woody Ghsoubi March 12, 2016 6:54am ET
I had a feeling that I'll read what I actually have read in the last paragraph. At least you are lucky. I was on a private tour with my girlfriend and ended up with a Siglo ZERO especially since I was greeted with a 15 min presentation on 'why the Behike is the best cigar to ever come out of El Laguito.' The Drawmaster machines were a nice decoration in the QC room. Nevertheless, the experience was amazing, one that I can never forget. Should visit again and next time I will be rude and ask for a.. Cohiba Majestuosos?
Woody
Maks Dežman Ljubljana, SI, Slovenia, March 12, 2016 4:10pm ET
Last year I visited Partagas factory. I had biter taste after visiting. I was robed 10 CUC for no information at all. I was expecting to see aging room, fermentation, boxing room,...
They even took cameras and phones from us at the first stage. You can only take picture in lobby. I didn't get answers on my questions. As hobby tobacco grower I had many. Thats why I did take tour. Newer again... and you got siglo??? luck you...
joseph weeks bedford, ns, canada, March 13, 2016 10:35am ET
Gregory, thanks for the tour. It sounds typically Cuban scripted. I miss the old days, especially at Partagas, where it was all on display, including a "draw" machine. It was common in the rolling room to feel a tap on your leg and see a hand offering cigars at the price indicated by the extended fingers. The roller holding the ligero leaf is not smiling as is virtually every roller in every cigar photo. I wonder why? You were correct in saying you were rushed through. Good review.
John Mc Niff High Bridge, NJ, USA, March 13, 2016 12:21pm ET
David interesting article. It is amazing how much work is being done for showing off for the Obama visit, pure politics. It was nice to see the factory, I thought it was rather small and was expecting to see at least hundred cigar rolling tables. In regards to the previous comments in relation to the Drawmaster, I always insert a rod into each and every cigar I smoke after clipping off the cap. I don't want to be disappointed after lighting it to learn there is a plug in the binding of the cigar so I take the precaution to prevent such an experience. The tool is actually a pipe tool and it works absolutely brilliant. While running the rod thru the cigar I can tell if it is crispy or wet in the middle of the cigar. If it is wet in the middle I will put it back into the humidor because I will wind up with an uneven burn and probably have to relight the cigar several times. The cigar simply is not ready to be smoked so it goes back into the humidor to dry out some more.
Darryl Godfrey Bernex, Switzerland, March 16, 2016 8:17am ET
John: a really interesting comment you made about using a pipe tool. Do you find that using this is enough to open up a plugged or very stiff smoke?
David Savona March 16, 2016 8:34am ET
John,

This is Greg's blog but you asked for me by name, so I'd like to address your comment about cigars and draw. If you need to insert a tool into each cigar before smoking, there's something wrong. I smoke Cuban cigars on a regular basis, and the draw problems of the past are just that--old news. Today's Cubans, while not having the near perfect draw quality of Dominicans, Nicaraguans and other non-Cuban cigars, do not have chronic draw problems. Sure, one here or there will be firm or even plugged, but nothing like the days of old when several from each box would not draw.

I would question your source if the cigars you are buying are consistently plugged, and will only draw with a tool.
Joe Mazloom WinterGarden, Florida, USA, March 29, 2016 6:15pm ET
Hi Greg, I guess I find it a little surprising that the atmosphere at the factory is rather aloof considering that they have so many interested visitors and aficionados who are really excited to see this famous brand made. I can only assume it is hubris on their part but given that at some point the largest market for their product will open up, I would think pride in this coveted brand would lead them to be more friendly and out going.
As David mentioned draw problems are rare.
I really enjoyed reading all of your blogs and look forward to making the trip myself.
Constantinos Demosthenous Cyprus, May 12, 2016 12:45pm ET
Is the factory actually open to visitors?

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