Havana Corner: Mystery Cohiba in Next Week's Festival in Havana

Cuban cigar aficionados are already speculating about what the 40th birthday of Cohiba will bring in the way of special cigars during next week's cigar festival in Havana, which begins on Monday. They say it could be anything from a double robusto to a massive torpedo. What is certain is that whatever the Cubans finally offer on the market to commemorate the anniversary, it is going to be very, very expensive, very, very rare and very, very high quality.

Sources in Havana say that only 40 limited-edition humidors containing 50 cigars apiece will be made, most likely all in the same size. One source said that the size would not be a figurado but a parejo, or straight-sided smoke. Apparently, only one humidor will be allocated per agent, so the chances of anyone else getting his hands on one (other than the agents themselves) is about as likely as President Bush attending this year's gala dinner on March 3. At least the diners should, in theory, have the chance to smoke one!

It was the same scenario 10 years ago. (It's hard to believe it's been 10 years already). Cohiba's 30th anniversary in Havana during the 1996 festival gave birth to the rarest, and later the most expensive, modern Habano -- the Cohiba Double Robusto. Whoever came to the gala dinner smoked one. I remember some enthusiastic attendees were bribing waiters for the extra double robustos in the kitchen. Some even stole their neighbors' smokes.

The few humidors of the 30th Anniversary Cohiba left in the world now go for about $30,000. (They originally sold for about $2,000.) Here is my tasting note the last time I smoked one, which was last spring:

30th Anniversary Cohiba (1996): This is one of the rarest modern cigars ever made. There were only 45 humidors of 50 cigars each made for the 30th anniversary of the Cohiba brand. It's a double robusto, 50 ring by 9 inches. I smoked this in Hong Kong with one of the biggest collectors of the cigars in the world, George Wong. He originally had 10 boxes. This is a blockbuster of a cigar with huge mocha, honey, cedar and tobacco character. It's full bodied and incredibly rich, almost velvety on the palate. It goes on and on. Not for the fainthearted. So powerful. This cigar will age and improve for decades. Problem is that they are all being smoked. 100 points.

The Cohiba Siglo VI
The closet thing commercially available to the 30th Anniversary Cohiba in quality under the same brand is the Siglo VI, which I think is one of the most exciting smokes to come out of Havana in the last five or six years. It has all the power, spice and finesse I expect in a great Cohiba. In fact, they cigar often reminds me of the Cohibas from the early 1990s, when annual production totaled only about four million smokes, after the introduction of the Siglo range, or Linea 1492. (Today, the yearly production of Cohiba may be three or four times that.) The Siglo VI measures 52 ring gauge by nearly six inches long. The rollers in the H. Upmann factory, where a large part of the production is made, call it the canon shot, or cañonazo, due to its large shape.

Regardless of what Cohiba is unveiled next week, one thing's for sure: Habanos S.A., the global distribution and marketing company for Cuban cigars, will also be introducing a Short Churchill Romeo y Julieta at the event to market (I mean mark) the 131st anniversary of the brand. (I think birthdays for Havana cigars are getting a little out of hand -- the Cubans haven't said what they would introduce for RyJ's 131st and sixth-month birthday!)

Anyway, the new RyJ robusto is sure to please and will be a warmly greeted addition to the range. Let's just hope that the blend is closer to the ballsy Churchill than the normal bland blend of the brand.

Stay tuned for an update from Havana next week when the new Cohiba size is announced as well as any other new smokes. Until then, let's have a contest to see who can get closest to guessing the 40th Anniversary Cohiba. Post your thoughts in our forum. I will even throw in a special smoke as a prize for the first poster who gets closest.

I say that it will be a double lancero.

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