Anticipation. Excitement. Thrills. The gala dinner capping off the Festival del Habano never fails to deliver. Habanos S.A. throws a spotlight on one of their marquee brands; this year it was Partagás and the PabExpo hall was decorated in the distinctive red, gold and black that the brand is known for. The crowd of 1,200 people, mostly dressed in formal wear of one form or another ranging from black tie and gowns to the white and tan of a fancy tropical dinner, knows they are getting to see and taste things most Cubans and most foreign visitors only dream about. But, believe it or not, cigars are not the highlight of the evening.
The musical and dance numbers begin almost immediately as the crowd filters into the room. The dancers’ costumes are over-the-top gorgeous, although the ultra-tropical theme in several numbers—colorful pineapples on the dancer’s heads—were maybe just a bit too gaudy. Colorful? No doubt about it. The show reached its zenith very quickly; Omara Portuondo, the 82-year-old diva of Cuban music whose career has spanned more than 50 years, sang a number of songs. Helped on to the stage by several attractive young men, she was soon crooning away in a voice that’s at least 30 years younger than her age. Other performances during the evening included pianist Emilio Morales and Mayito.
But let’s get to the cigars. Now, I cheated heading into the dinner because there’s only so little time and so many cigars to smoke while I’m in Cuba. I picked a 2010 Cohiba Behike BHK52, our cigar of the year in 2011. As everyone knows, I don’t like to give scores to current production smokes in a non-blind setting; there was certainly plenty of positive influences to skew my impressions—I was in Cuba, where all cigars seem to taste better and I knew it was our No. 1 cigar of the year. But I will say it is one of the best current production cigars I have ever smoked. If you have one, light it up.
I also smoked one of the three cigars handed out at the dinner, Partagás Serie D No. 4. It was a fantastic smoke—great construction, a fairly light brown wrapper but full-flavored with medium- to full-bodied smoke. The other two small Partagás cigars handed out included a Serie D No 5, and a Serie E No. 2. I’ll have to give you a report on those after my next trip—too little time to get to those on this trip so I left them behind for safe keeping.
The Partagás Lusitania Gran Reserva was the one everyone in the room was waiting for. That’s a tough assignment to take on, making a new version of one of the benchmark smokes in the Cuban cigar universe. The consensus in the room was that it was beautiful smoke, with a silky brown wrapper, but it lacked some of the strength and power that most connoisseurs associate with a Lusitania. I smoked mine, and about halfway through, it began to show some of the depth of its namesake. I’ll have to reserve judgment on this cigar until it has a few years of box age.
Habanos also presents awards for Man of the Year in three categories: the winner of the production award was Osvaldo Encarnacion from Tabacuba, the business award went to Habanos Caribbean distributor Mauricio Abrahamabady and the communications award was given to Phoenicia Cyprus, the Habanos distributor in the Middle East and Africa. A special award was given to American actor Danny Glover for his work on behalf of Cuba and his “battle for peace and justice.”
The final extravaganza of the night was the auction that raises funds for Cuba’s Public Health system. Six lots of deluxe, custom-made humidors (each one filled with hundreds of cigars, including several sizes not normally available) provided the excitement. The huge cabinet-size humidors represented the country’s six major brands: H. Upmann, Romeo y Julieta, Montecristo, Hoyo de Monterrey, Partagas and Cohiba. The six lots brought in nearly $1.2 million, or about 890,000 euros.
As the auction ended, the music began to play again, and the crowd stayed on to listen and watch the dancers into the wee hours.