I slipped the chocolate brown cigar out of my case, clipped its head and put its foot to the flame. I took a puff, exhaled toward the ceiling of the hotel lounge and smiled. Bienvenidos a Cuba.
I’m in Havana for the 15th annual Habanos Festival, that gathering of Cuban cigar retailers, distributors and unabashed fans from around the globe celebrating this island’s best export. I’m one of 1,500 people here just for the Festival del Habano, and for the next week I will be smoking cigars left and right and reporting on what’s going on in Cuba.
The first news is the introduction of several new cigars, and the rebirth of a discontinued brand.
Montecristo is one of the most important brands in Cuba, in terms of units sold, dollars raised and international prestige. Later this year the Cubans will unveil two new Montecristos: the Montecristo Petit No. 2 and the Montecristo Double Edmundo.
The Petit No. 2 is the first addition to the core “Línea Clásica” Montecristo brand. The Monte Petit No. 2, which I’ll smoke tonight at a dinner dedicated to the cigar, is a truncated version of the ever popular Montecristo No. 2. The Petit No. 2 measures 4 3/4 inches by 52 ring and will come in boxes of 25, boxes of 10 and in three-packs. The cigar will also sport the new version of the Montecristo band, which features a bolder gold on the fleur-de-lis and a few subtle changes meant to thwart counterfeiters.
“This is the first introduction in the Línea Clásica line in a long time,” said Ana López Garcia, current director of marketing operations for Habanos, S.A.
Just as Montecristo is going shorter with the Petit No. 2, it’s going longer with the Double Edmundo. The Edmundo line from Montecristo, which began as the Edmundo then was expanded with the superb Petit Edmundo, will now have a longer version called Double Edmundo. The cigar will measure 6 1/8 inches by 50 ring, a vitola known as a Dobles in Cuban cigar factories. The new cigar will showcase not only the new Monte band, but a punched up version of the Montecristo semi boite nature box, which will be accented with the iconic yellow triangle of Montecristo, both inside the box and out. Those cigars will be handed out tonight, as well.
A somewhat surprising release is the relaunch of the Vegueros brand, a small brand rolled in Pinar del Río that was discontinued some time ago. Vegueros has a totally new look, new blend and new price. Habanos told me that it would be priced very moderately, just about Jose L. Piedra. The cigar has been reblended to be milder. Lopez told me that the original blend was powerful, similar to Bolivar, but I remember them being less powerful than that. The new version, she said, would be more medium in body. “The traditional Vegueros was in the category of strong,” Lopez said. “The new Vegueros wil be medium to strong.” The look and sizes are all new as well: the cigars are being packed in bright, upright boxes containing 16 cigars each, a way to accentuate the bargain element of the smoke, and in packs of five. The packaging is modern and eye-catching, with lots of white, some black and the traditional Vegueros green. The smokes are also short: the Tapados (4 3/4 inches by 46), Entretiempos (4 3/8” by 52) and Mañanitas, a short torpedo measuring 4 3/8” by 46.
Vegueros was originally a brand made away from Havana, out in Pinar del Río near Cuba’s great tobacco fields in a factory known as Francisco Donatien, a former prison. The factory now makes Trinidad cigars and is rolling Vegueros once again.
The big (and quite expensive) cigar of the week will be the Partagás Lusitania Gran Reserva Cosecha 2007. Blended by Arnaldo Bichot, the cigar combines ligero from Cuba’s famed San Juan region and seco from San Luis. It will be limited to 5,000 numbered boxes, each containing 15 cigars. Who knows when it will be on sale—retailers are still waiting on last year’s Romeo y Julieta Reserva.
For you fans of Regional Edition cigars, Cuba is also coming out with its second Regional Edition strictly for Cuba. The cigar will be a robusto sized El Rey del Mundo, and it should be on sale late this year.
So far, I’ve smoked a delicious Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2, which is a reliable hit, and a pair of well-aged smokes from Ajay Patel, proprietor of the Casa del Habano in the United Kingdom. You’ll hear more on those cigars later. For now, there’s a lot of smoking to do and a lot more information to digest. I’m heading back out. Look for more from Cuba soon.