By 4 p.m. at the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City, people were lining up outside the bunker-like entrances waiting for the doors to open. The crowd continued to build throughout the afternoon and by the start of the first seminars and tastings around 5:30 there were more than 1,500 people inside, gathered for Mexico’s sixth edition of Habanos Day.
Habanos Day is a celebration of Cuban cigars and rum along with tributes to Cuba’s musical and artistic culture. The events have been used for a variety of celebrations, such as the launch of new limited-edition Cuban cigars, welcoming a Cuban ambassador to their new post or just providing a series of cigar tastings and seminars for appreciative fans. Handmade Cuban cigars have been paired with spirits, coffee and even chocolate, and the seminars have covered a variety of topics, everything from cigar rolling to presentations by cigar historians and tobacco experts.
The first Habanos Day took place more than 15 years ago, in Italy. That 2003 show was based on a popular French event for cigar lovers, and brought together members of Italy’s top cigar clubs. Habanos S.A. seized on the idea as a way to promote Cuban cigars, and within a few years, the event had spread to both Russia and Portugal. At the fourth Habanos Day in Germany, in 2014, attendees celebrated the 84th birthday of noted cigar industry executive Heinrich Villiger, and smoked two Regional Edition cigars from Canada and Asia Pacific not usually available in Germany. In 2015, Monaco used the occasion of Habanos Day to introduce the H. Upmann Magnum 56 Edición Limitada to that market. Habanos Days have also been held in Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Argentina, Estonia and Costa Rica.
While most of the Habanos Days are limited to between 200 and 300 people, Mexico’s Habanos Days have become a huge event, drawing more than 1,000 cigar lovers for the past several years. This year, more than 1,500 attended. The event served as the official launch of the new Mexican Regional Edition cigar, the Punch Duke, and the introduction of the new Havana Club special-edition rum, Tributo 2019. In honor of the Punch cigar’s historical literary and circus themes, the embassy was decked out with brightly colored balloons, while the walls were adorned with pictures of former Cuban president Fidel Castro.
“Everyone who is here is a cigar lover,” said Max Gutmann, one of the original creators of the La Casa del Habano retail concept, and the principal behind IEPT, the local Habanos distributor, which bears most of the costs for the night. “Everyone always wants to learn more about Cuban cigars, the history, the way they are produced and how they are smoked and the way they mix with different drinks. You always learn something when you come here. It’s been growing every year.”
As people filed into the large event space, a room with 20-foot-high ceilings, they received a small bag containing three small Cuban cigars: a Romeo y Julieta Coronitas en Cedro, a Punch Petit Coronation and a Quintero Tubulares. There were several bars serving Havana Club products, including Selección de Maestros, a booth from accessory maker Xikar and a Cuba travel kiosk with information about traveling to the island. While entrance to the event was free, there were small breakout sessions that required a minimal fee, from $5 to $15. They included a demonstration on rolling cigars and a mixology seminar to promote different drinks paired with cigars. Adargelio Garrido, the longtime lawyer for Habanos who litigated the company’s battle in the United States over the Cohiba trademark, gave a presentation about the history of the Cohiba brand. The evening’s musical act was Primera Clase, a top Cuban band.
The centerpiece of the evening was a VIP-only tasting of the new Punch Duke, paired with the new release of Tributo 2019, a limited-edition Havana Club that has presented with vintage dates since 2016. This year’s bottling was an homage to the master blenders at Havana Club, and to the art of blending with their creation of this particular rum. Only 2,500 bottles of Tributo 2019 will be released to the global market, with prices in most countries around $400 to $500 a bottle.
While this was the grand debut of the Duke, it’s been sold in Mexico since January. The 5 1/2 inch by 54 ring gauge cigar is the fourth Mexican Regional cigar—the first three were sold under the Edmundo Dantes label. The Duke is a medium-bodied smoke with hints of leather and earth, and while still quite young, it shows a lot of aging potential. Asbel Morales, the top master blender from Havana Club and Manolo Santiago, a Habanos Sommelier from Mexico, conducted the tasting, and the pairing of the cigar and the rum.
“We never blend a rum without thinking about the marriage it will have with cigars,” said Morales. “They are both elements of Cuban culture and they go together.”
Morales said the Havana Club blenders often debate whether to taste the rum first and then light the cigar, or vice-versa. “We decided this year that it is better to light your cigar, and then taste the rum because the cigar brings out something in the rum.”
The crowd was appreciative. “It’s a piece of Cuba in Mexico,” said George Diamandopoulos, a Mexican businessman who also owns several restaurants in the city. “For a cigar aficionado, honestly, I feel like I’m in Cuba. It’s a chance to try new cigars. It’s very hard to find anywhere in the world an experience like this, like you are in Cuba.”
“You come here because you want to learn about cigars,” said Julian Debarle, the general manager of Intercontinental Hotels in Mexico. “It’s like wine—there is always something more to learn.”