Cigar Aficionado

Let the Festivities Begin

I went over to the Nacional Hotel this morning to pick up my registration for the XI Festival del Habano. José Antonio Candida from Habanos S.A., the organizer of the event and the global distribution and marketing company for Cuban cigars, had my package in hand with a Bolivar Royal Corona in tubo. Breakfast of Champions, I say. 

The Nacional has one of the best places to smoke on the island, the courtyard of the hotel, with its Spanish colonial style arches and view on the garden.It’s great to drink a mojito or cortado and smoke.

I ran into some new friends from Australia with J.A.. Arthur and Rob were very keen cigar smokers and had just arrived from Sydney. They deserve an award from Habanos for traveling the farthest to get to the event. We sat down and smoked Royal Coronas. I always love smoking a Royal Corona with its spicy and coffee character and beautiful tobacco. And it always draws well. The Aussies were a laugh and stoked to be in town.

I spoke to a number of festivalgoers at the Nacional. Many are from the United Kingdom and Italy. I heard that 120 were coming from the Far East. But I thought it was sort of strange that most of the key cigar shops were almost empty during the weekend, or at least, they had very little traffic considering the festival was gearing up. I heard the event is sold out, but where was everyone? Maybe they are all arriving today and tomorrow?

In the past, there has always been a fringe attendance during the festival. People would be hanging out at cigar shops, restaurants and private houses, but would not be attending the events. That’s up to them. But there already seems to be less of the “fringers.” Maybe it’s the down economy?

It is certainly not helping sales of cigars in Havana. Most of the people in the cigar shops I spoke to had long faces when I brought up the question of how sales were going. But I have to admit that the selection of cigars was less than spectacular in most shops. Traditionally, the shops are packed to the doors with excellent cigars and new releases. Not this year.

This is not to say that plenty of excellent boxes were not available. Some of the best were Bolivar Gold Medals, Cuaba Pirámides 2008 Edición LImitadas, and Ramon Allones Specially Selected in cabinets of 50. You can get great smokes for about $5 to $10 a stick in Havana.

Anyway, tomorrow is the big day for the start of the festival and the public debut of the four new vitolas under the Montecristo Open labels. There’s a Welcome Night party at the Club Havana. I think I will smoke an aged Punch Special Selection No. 2 with a roncito to finish off a mellow Sunday afternoon on the island.

" All I have to say this. When I grow up I want to James Suckling. Wish I was there." —February 22, 2009 20:06 PM