I had a glass of water with breakfast. Good thing.
At 10 a.m., I sat down in one of the well-appointed conference rooms at the Palco convention center in Havana, the command center for the 17th Festival del Habano. In front of me were two glasses of rum, a Havana Club Selección de Maestros and a Havana Club Añejo 15-year-old. Right next to the glasses of rum were two cigars, recent releases by Habanos S.A.—the Montecristo Añejado Churchill and the Romeo y Julieta Añejado Pirámides .
For the next two hours, I smoked each of the two cigars and sipped the rums, looking to find the perfect match of flavor and aromatic characteristics of each, trying to determine the perfect marriage of the two.
The cigars represent a new style of product for Habanos. The Añejado line has cigars that have been aged between five to eight years; both boxes in the tasting had been packed in late 2008. The cigars already show the characteristics of an aged cigar. They were elegant and well-balanced without any sharp edges of fresh tobacco.
Although I had a plugged Romeo y Julieta Pirámides, I replaced it with a second cigar that performed well, with a long, tight ash and a perfect draw. Looking around the room of about 40 invited guests, I had the only flawed cigar. The Pirámides was a full-flavored smoke, with some deep notes of spiciness and earth, and a long finish. Although it already has a lot of box age, this cigar will continue to evolve and shows good aging potential.
The Montecristo Añejado Churchill ended up being the favorite of the 40 people in the room. It presented a classic Montecristo flavor, elegant and refined with a solid core of light earthiness and coffee notes on the palate. It performed flawlessly, holding a long ash on a perfect draw. This cigar has tremendous aging potential, and will only continue to get better.
Oh yeah, the rum. Yes, I smoked and tasted the cigars with each of the two rums, two of the finest in the Havana Club line. When I ran out of Selección de Maestros, the glass magically refilled. In the end, my preference was the 15-year-old with the Romeo y Julieta; I thought the Selección de Maestros overpowered it. And, I preferred the Selección with the Montecristo. The majority linked the Montecristo with the 15-year-old.
So, it was off to a quick Italian lunch at one of my new favorite restaurants (read our May/June issue to find out more), and then I headed to a private tasting of a cigar with about 75 years age, a Partagás Bohemios purchased recently at auction. The cigar was a revelation. It was spicy and woody and performed absolutely perfectly as I smoked it down to knuckle-burning length. Oh yeah, I paired the smoke with one of my favorite Cuban rums, a Santiago de Cuba 11-year-old, a bold, spicy rum with a long, smooth finish. I also sampled a bottle of Ron Caney rum, another Cuban rum brand.
I had time to take a quick shower before heading off to the 225th anniversary celebration of Hunters & Frankau, the official distributor for Cuban cigars in the United Kingdom. Jemma Freeman, the firm's director, regaled the crowd with the company's long and colorful history. When she finished, the Cuban artist Kelvis Ochoa, one of the hottest young singers here, started playing as waiters passed out the 225th anniversary cigar, a robusto size and length that was one of the best cigars I had yesterday; full-bodied, filled with leather and earth and a light spiciness. A really great cigar. Hunters & Frankau also arranged with Havana Club to bottle a special rum; it was a really bold, woody rum with a long spicy, but smooth, finish, and paired well with the cigar. Did I mention I started out the cocktail with an H. Upmann Magnum 46 and mojito?
There was a dinner interlude after the Hunters & Frankau party, but then we headed out to a jazz club to hear a great young saxophonist, Denys Carbo, who leads the Jazz en Trance group. I had a Bolivar Super Corona Edición Limitada 2014 (90 points, February 2015 Cigar Aficionado) in my hand, and oh yeah, a mojito to finish off the day. I'm often not a fan of EL cigars, but this one is a powerhouse. If you have any, you'll be smoking them 20 years from now.
The final tally? Seven cigars. Five different rums, and two mojitos with two unknown rums. And you wonder why we love Havana.