It was a rainy night in Havana. But following a rainy day, the damp air was cool by local standards and the huge El Laguito protocol salon didn’t bring on a sweat. Walking down the line of beautiful hostesses handing out flowers and a pack of Vegueros cigars—with everyone in tropical dress, the men in guayaberas and many women in light linen dresses—the evening took on an air of a tropical bacchanal. All for the launch of three new sizes of the relaunched and rebooted Vegueros cigar.
I had chosen as my first cigar of the night a Cohiba 1966 Edición Limitada 2011, our No. 2 cigar of the year. While I had smoked the cigar several times before, the second I lit the cigar and took my first draw, the cigar’s elegance, depth of flavor and smoothness was overwhelming. I came back to the cigar more than once during the evening to relight it and enjoy its earthy, chocolate overtones, and each time was amazed by its power. Jorge Luis Fernández Maíque, a former co-president of Habanos S.A., and now it’s commercial vice president, turned to me at our table when he saw the band and commented that it was one of the best cigars the company had made in recent years—that from the creator of the Behike.
But tonight was about the Vegueros. The three new sizes are a Mañanitas, a small petit belicoso, the Entretiempos, a robusto-style size and the Tapados, which is modeled on a Montecristo No. 4. The cigars handed out last night were extremely young, reportedly having been rolled within the last few weeks, but they were well-made and had a pleasant middle-of-the-road taste/strength profile. The brand is aimed at the middle- to low-price range in the market, and Habanos executives expect the cigar to provide an attractive value for smokers. I liked the Entretiempos the best of the three; it has the thickest ring gauge and the most complexity. The proof was I removed its band to keep on smoking it down to the end.
But the night was really about more than just cigars. The Cubans put on great shows for the festival dinners, each one a tribute to the country’s incredible talents in dance and music. The main singer of the evening was a woman named Maria Victoria, and her small band with guitars, a mandolin and horns provided most of the music for the evening. But a young woman, Laritza Bacallao, wowed the crowd with her powerful voice and great songs and spectacular dance moves. A jazz saxophonist kept the crowd entertained during one course, and his soulful expertise was enough to make me stop eating.
The meal was typical to big banquets where more than a 1,000 people are served at the same time—i.e. you wouldn’t write home about it. But the lobster salad with a light pineapple sauce was delicious, the purée of carrot soup was flavorful and the chicken fillet in a coconut crust with a tobacco and rum sauce was, shall we say, interesting. The wines were Spanish: an Albarino, a Rosado and a pleasant recent vintage of a Rioja red.
The splashy cigar of the night was the release of a 2013 Edición Limitada, a Hoyo de Monterrey Grand Epicure, a thick ring gauge, corona gorda (5 1/8 inches by 55). I smoked it late last night, over my last glass of Havana Club 7-year-old rum for the day, and I found it also to be quite young. The wrapper was not as dark as some ELs in the past, but nonetheless, it tended toward the darker brown color profile. The burn was uneven (often a sign of it not having rested enough after being rolled), and there was a slight acrid note at the outset. However, as the cigar quickly warmed up, it took on some of the usual characteristics of the Edición Limitada cigars—full bodied, with a deep earthy and spicy quality, and it began to turn to some leather notes by the end. This cigar will be a powerhouse when the tobaccos marry together; given the past history of Habanos, these cigars won’t be on the market until the end of the year.
So another Habanos Festival dinner is passed. Today, we’re visiting cigar shops and having lunch with friends, and searching out some of the new paladars that are popping up all over the Cuban capital.