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Part Two: Las Vegas Big Smoke Saturday Seminars

New Cuban Cigars
Nov 8, 2006 | By David Savona
Part Two: Las Vegas Big Smoke Saturday Seminars

As the audience clipped the pointed head off their second anniversary cigars of the morning, Cigar Aficionado executive editor Gordon Mott returned to the podium to announce the seminar on New Cuban Cigars and introduce the man who would lead the presentation: European editor James Suckling.

"I've said it before -- James has the job we all want," Mott said with a smile, as Suckling made his way to the dais. Mott then ticked off the enviable topics that Suckling covers for Cigar Aficionado and Wine Spectator magazines: vintage Port, Bordeaux, Italian wines and, of course, Cuban cigars.

An audience member watches Suckling's PowerPoint presentation.
Suckling disagreed with the assessment, and started a PowerPoint presentation offering evidence that his job was, in fact, quite arduous. "Here's me in Havana, working very hard," he said, as a slide appeared showing him sitting casually in the Cuban capital in the company of an alluring blonde. The audience laughed.

All joking aside, it takes a great many miles traveled, a large dose of patience and dogged persistence to procure the information Suckling finds on his regular visits to Cuba. He goes there several times a year to get the latest information on Cuban cigars, and he arrived in Las Vegas (after traveling some 8,000 miles) armed with photos of many of Havana's latest cigars.

A photo from Suckling's presentation: Cohiba Behikes waiting to be boxed.
Of particular interest to the crowd was the Cohiba Behike, the cigar produced by the Cuban cigar industry to honor its premier brand's 40th anniversary. The Cohiba fit in the anniversary theme of the day, but this cigar is a near impossible find, and is one of the world's priciest cigars. They are available only in their humidor that holds 40 cigars, and retail for $18,000, making them $450 each. There are only 100 humidors, each of which is numbered, for a total production run of 4,000 cigars.

Suckling showed a photograph of the finished box, a masterpiece created by renowned humidor designer Elie Bleu. The lid is accented in stingray skin and the inside lid bears a plaque that is inscribed with its owner's name. The cigars inside are as fat as the Cohiba Siglo VI, yet are finished with pigtail caps.

"The word is no one has smoked one," said Suckling, "but I've had three." He credited friends in Havana for the taste.

Suckling showed a slide depicting a cigar roller named Norma, a roller from El Laguito who personally created each of the 4,000 Behikes. "She was the personal cigar roller of Fidel Castro back when he smoked," said the good-humored Suckling, adding that Norma would guard the tobacco and cigars herself so that the CIA couldn't replace one with an exploding robusto, as was rumored to have been attempted in the 1960s.

Suckling opened the floor to questions late in the seminar.
The audience oohed and ahhed at the sights from Cuba, which included close-ups of the elusive Behike, shots from inside cigar factories that are off-limits to tourists, and even a visit Suckling made on Suckling's latest birthday to the finca of legendary tobacco grower Alejandro Robaina. Suckling showed that it pays to know your sources when covering the Cuba beat, as he witnessed another reporter asking Robaina for an assessment of the latest crop. Robaina told the visiting journalist that it was the best crop he had ever seen, then gave Suckling a knowing wink. Apparently fermentations in the sorting barns had gone less than perfect.

Suckling then opened the floor to questions, and there were many. He listed his desert-island cigars (one was a Siglo VI), offered aging advice on Cubans and scoffed at the notion that some non-Cuban cigarmakers are releasing new cigars made with genuine pre-embargo Cuban tobacco. He warned the audience to beware of such offers. "I have a Rolex Submariner that I can sell you for $50," he said.

Photos by Camilla Sjodin

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ANNIVERSARY CIGAR TASTING
RISING CIGAR STARS
NEW CUBAN CIGARS
UNUSUAL TOBACCO LEAVES
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