Havana’s Cigar Panorama
Osmany Rios, the director of the Casa del Habano at 5th Avenida y 16, was standing in front of nearly full humidor shelves stacked with cigar boxes: Montecristos, Partagás, H. Upmann, Hoyo de Monterrey, Romeo y Julieta, five of the six premium cigar labels Cuba’s cigar industry calls global brands. In one corner, there were some small stacks of Cohiba, Cuba’s other global brand. Not every Cohiba was here; they were all in smaller sizes, with a few boxes of Maduro 5s as well. The selections of Bolivar, Ramon Allones, Fonseca, Quai d’Orsay were better, and there were also boxes of the new Punch Cuba Regional Edition, La Isla.
“People keep coming in asking for Limited Editions, Gran Reservas, Reservas, Cohiba Behikes. We don’t have those, but I keep telling them everything else on the shelves is smoking great and they should be buying those instead anyway,” Rios said. What’s one of his favorites? The Ramon Allones Specially Selected. A 25-count box of these robustos sells for 151.25 CUC (about $170, when you factor in the 13 percent lost when changing U.S. dollars into CUC, the Cuban convertible peso.) Trust me, that’s a steal for a great cigar.
The cigar selection across the city was quite extensive. All the major global brands were on the shelves with all but their biggest cigars, although I did see a number of boxes of Punch Double Coronas, Ramon Allones Gigantes and Partagás Lusitanias, all three measuring 7 5/8 by 49. Because of time constraints this visit, I did not make it out to the Casa del Habano at Club Havana, but I did check out four other Casas del Habano that serve as Cigar Aficionado’s cigar retail benchmarks when we’re in the city: Habana Libre, Hotel Nacional, 5th y 16 and Meliá Habana. I also reviewed the cigars on the shelves at the Meliá Cohiba, a small but good hotel-based shop.
Several things need to be said.
First, cigar prices are the same in Cuba as they have been for several years now. When I was here last February, the rumor was that there would be a price increase across the board in Cuba come April. It didn’t happen. If you have encountered higher prices in other countries, it means that Cuba’s prices are even better deals now than in the past.
The second is “No, there are no Behikes.” Guillermo at the Meliá Cohiba shop laughed and said, “I haven’t seen any in months. I got one box about three months ago. I think they lasted about five minutes. The first customer in after I put the box out, bought them.”
The response was the same in all the other shops, although some said they couldn’t remember the last box they got.
Finally, almost all the cigars are stamped with box dates ranging from mid-2018 to September 2019. I didn’t pick up every box in the shops, but I probably checked 50 boxes and I only found a couple from 2017 and one from 2016. In general, I don’t find that a bad thing. The tobacco in the 2018 and 2019 cigars are from the better tobacco crops starting in 2017, and Rios at 5th Avenida is correct—they are smoking wonderfully. My advice is to let your box purchases sit for another six to 12 months, but you won’t be disappointed if you smoke them right away.
The reputation of Habana Libre’s Casa del Habano remains intact for always having one of the largest cigar stocks in the city. I found a box of the Ramon Allones Specially Selected cigars here, too. Because prices are set by the government, cigars cost the same in all La Casa del Habano shops across Cuba (save for the Cohiba Atmosphere). There were boxes of Diplomaticos No. 2, the smart smoker’s choice as the best substitute for a Montecristo No. 2, at 187.50 CUC, or 7.50 CUC each. This shop also had the largest choice of large format cigars: a Partagás Lusitania cabinet of 50 for 567.50 CUC; a 25-count box of Punch Double Coronas at 272.50 CUC; and a box of 25 H. Upmann Sir Winstons for 331.25 CUC.
The selection also included a box of Cohiba Medio Siglos, a pleasant, smaller cigar that measures 4 by 52. The box of 25 retails for 307.50 CUC which amounts to 12.30 CUC each. This was the only shop where I found a Limited Edition, the Romeo y Julieta Tacos from 2018 for 305 CUC per box of 25. It measures 6 5/8 by 49.
The Habana Libre, like every shop in the city I visited, had a good selection of the Montecristo Línea 1935, a line extension released last year. Here, the Leyenda (6 1/2 by 55) was selling for 314 CUC for a box of 20, and Maltes (6 by 53) was 276 CUC. Both carried June 2019 box dates.
The shop also had two of our favorite multi-brand variety packs: the Selección Petit Robustos sampler and Selección Pirámides sampler. At 108 CUC per box of 10, the Petit Robustos sampler (stamped December 2018) contains two cigars each from the Cohiba, Montecristo, Partagás, Romeo y Julieta and H. Upmann brands. The Pirámides sampler (stamped March 2018, 88 CUC) is a box of six sticks that includes one each of all the major global brands.
In the other shops, with the exception of the big format sticks, the selection was virtually identical, albeit often in smaller quantities.
At the Meliá Habana, they carried the Montecristo Línea 1935 Dumas (5 1/8 by 49), a box of 20 for 224 CUC; the Hoyo Epicure No. 2 (4 7/8 by 50), one of our favorites, in cabinets of 50 for 350 CUC; H. Upmann Magnum 50 in cabinets of 25 for 218.75 CUC; and a box of 25 Montecristo No. 1 lonsdales for 208.75 CUC (May, 2018). There were also a few cabinets of 25 Cohiba Siglo III cigars stamped April 2019 for 286.25 CUC.
The Hotel Nacional’s stock was not quite as big as past visits; there were no big unpacked cardboard boxes waiting for shelf space. But the shelves were full. There were still a few boxes of Cohiba Robustos, 340 CUC (July 2019) a cabinet of 25; H. Upmann Connoisseur No. 1 (November 18), cabinet of 25, 157.50 CUC; the new Quai d’Orsays No. 50, 120 CUC (another great deal) and the No. 54, 165 CUC, both in boxes of 25.
Montecristo was represented with the Edmundo, (May 2019) 213.75 CUC, and the Double Edmundo (April 2019), 242.50 CUC. Both prices are for the 25-count boxes. The Nacional also had half a dozen ceramic jars of the San Cristobal de la Habana Torreón. It went for 498 CUC, with no visible date on the ceramic jar. Bolivar Belicosos Finos were quite plentiful. Cabinets of 25 with an April 2019 stamp were selling for 191.25 CUC.
The Meliá Cohiba hotel shop had pretty much everything mentioned above. In addition, there were cabinets of 50 Por Larrañaga Petit Coronas (March 2019) for 207.50 CUC. It’s one of our favorite small cigars.
Curiously, the shop was selling a box of Hoyo de Monterrey Petit Belicosos for 221 CUC. This was introduced by Habanos in 2017 for duty free and travel retail channels and is packaged in an unusual box of 15 cigars.
In the past, traveling to Havana during the off-season periods often meant you wouldn’t find a good selection on retailers’ shelves. But not this year. I pretty much had the humidors to myself, and there were almost always plenty of boxes of the stuff I would have purchased. Except, of course, Behikes, Limited Editions, Reservas and Grand Reservas.