Cigar Aficionado

Havana Corner: The New Cigar Ethos in Havana

Yesterday at about 10 a.m. I arrived at the office of Miguel Brown, the manager of the H. Upmann factory. He immediately gave me an enormous cigar to start the day -- a Montecristo Maravilla. I don't remember the exact size of the cigar, but it was about 7 inches long by 52 ring gauge, in other words, a big mouthful for my morning smoke. The cigar was made a couple of years ago, packed in a box in the style of a book, in a reserve release for Habanos.

Miguel chose a small panetela.

"Don't you like something a little more manly to start your day?" I joked. He started laughing and said that he would work his way up during the day to something a little larger. Maybe he was less greedy than I was in the morning?

My cigar was gorgeous. It was smooth and refined with lots of flavor, yet it was balanced. Gorgeous stuff. I scored it 94 points, unblind. I think only 500 boxes were made, so they are long gone.

I walked around the factory and the workers were calm, diligent in their work. I had the same feeling when I visited the Chopard watch factory in Switzerland. It made me think back to the mid-1990s, when a visit to a Havana cigar factory seemed more like a block party. The music was blaring, people were talking, even dancing in the aisles. Some were even selling cigars to tourists who were visiting the factory. Making cigars seemed to be the last thing on their minds. THAT'S CERTAINLY NOT THE CASE AT H. UPMANN TODAY.

We were in the color sorting room, where workers group cigars by color before they are put into the boxes -- dark to light, left to right. A woman was daydreaming when we walked in and Miguel made a joke to her. "What are you dreaming about, your boyfriend?" She started working again.

The guy is on top of things. And that is why H. Upmann is making excellent cigars at the moment, such as the Montecristo Edmundo, Petit Edmundo, Limitada Cohiba Piramide -- the list goes on.

I love the new cigar factory ethos that Miguel embodies. He is passionate about his work but professional and straightforward. I am sure the new Havana factory that is planned for 2008 will be the same.

The Cubans are refurbishing the old El Rey del Mundo factory to become the place where all specialty smokes are made, from Edición Limitadas to high-end humidors to regional cigars. There's talk of clients being able to have cigars made for them there under their own instructions, a sort of bespoke tailor of cigars.

The factory should have about 300 rollers comprising the best rollers from all the factories in Havana. How exciting is that?

Check back this week for more updates. And leave your comments on my blog in the Cuba section of the forums of the Web site.

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