Is it cruel to give a presentation on legally forbidden cigars to a crowd of cigar-hungry enthusiasts? Maybe a little. But the attendees of the Big Smoke seminars are as hungry for information as they are for tobacco. Seeing how they were already puffing on a variety of great cigars, the crowd was good and ready for an educational update on Cuba's new releases, even if the update was for a portfolio of products that are verboten to much of the audience. The debriefing was given by Cigar Aficionado's executive editor Gordon Mott and senior editor David Savona, who both regularly travel to Cuba under official journalistic license authorized by the government.
"We do not go to Cuba illegally," assured Mott "and we do not recommend that anyone ever do so."
Information on Cuban cigars can often be inconsistent and scarce, especially when it comes to new and upcoming releases. Rumors abound on sizes and brands, and global distributor Habanos S.A. tends to release official details very cautiously. However, both Mott and Savona have been fastidious in gathering information on what's to come from Cuba and shed some light on the most recent Cuban cigars to hit the market.
"It takes a lot of convincing to get [Habanos S.A.] to open up to us," Mott said. "We try to let them know that we are all part of the same struggle."
After Mott informed the crowd that the legendary Partagás factory in Havana has been closed and repurposed as a museum, Savona began a slideshow of new cigars.
"All the cigars we're going to see today are either in the marketplace right now or will be soon," said Savona. "They were first previewed at the Habanos Festival in February."
The image of a grand-looking Montecristo suddenly appeared on the two screens that flanked the stage. It was the oversized projection of the new Montecristo Petit No. 2—a shortened version of the iconic No. 2—that measures 4 3/4 inches by 52 ring. Then came the new Double Edmundo, which scored 92 points in Cigar Insider and measures 6 1/8 by 50.
"Notice the gold on the new band," said Savona of the band's newly gilded embossments. "Habanos is constantly changing bands making them more elaborate and difficult to counterfeit."
Savona moved on to show the trio of Edición Limitadas for 2013. These are limited-edition smokes in unique sizes that are made with darker-than-usual-wrappers. The program began in 2001.
"When the Edición Limitada cigars first came out, they weren't very impressive," Savona said, citing ratings for older ELs that were in the 80s. "There was nothing special about them, but that changed." Recent ratings have been high, with many scores in the 90s. "We rated this year's Punch Serie D'Oro No. 2 and it received 94 points."
The belicoso-sized Punch, which measures 5 1/2 by 52 is joined by the Hoyo de Monterrey Grand Epicure (5 1/8 by 55) and Rome y Julieta Rome de Luxe (6 3/8 by 52) as part of this year's Edición Limitada releases. All three are now available.
Savona moved the presentation to show the revamped Vegueros line. Once a sleepy line of slender, wallet-friendly smokes, the Vegueros brand is in the process of a relaunch with new, thicker and shorter sizes and more streamlined packaging, all of which were shown in detail on screen.
"When we smoked the new Vegueros at the Habanos festival, they tasted very young," Mott added. "But the idea was to put out an affordable smoke."
Other cigars covered in the seminar were the new H. Upmann Connoisseur A (5 1/2 by 52), which is in regular production; the limited Romeo y Julieta Reserva Churchill and the equally rare Partagas Lusitania Gran Reserva. Both are made with special reserves of Cuban tobacco from specific harvests. The Romeo, which is available now, incorporates tobacco from a 2008 harvest while the Partagas was rolled with tobacco from 2007. Savona informed the crowd that the Partagas has yet to hit retail and there is no word from Habanos as to when.
After the slide show, the floor was opened to the audience for questions. When talking about Cuban cigars, there is always one question that someone inevitably asks: "What happens when Cuba opens up." It's perhaps one of the most commonly asked questions among cigar hobbyists, cigar makers and cigar business men. No one has the answer, but Mott offered a very rosy prediction.
"Hopefully," he said, "We can do a Big Smoke Havana." The crowd heartily applauded the idea and prepared to relocate over to an adjacent ballroom for the Big Smoke luncheon, which was hosted by Altadis U.S.A. Inc.