There's an unwritten rule about cigar festivals: The music has to be loud. Very loud. This is what I thought to myself as I walked into Puro Humo. That's the name given to the cigar party held on the second night of the fifth "Festival del Tabaco Puro Sabor Nicaragua," or just Nicaraguan Cigar Festival for short.
I drove from Estelí to Managua in order to make the event. My advice to anyone who's never driven on the Pan-American Highway is to never do it at night. It's only two narrow lanes, it's very curvy and winding, it's very dark and the highway is full of huge Mack trucks that careen their way around the curves in both directions and cause a near-death experience every time.
The cigar party in Managua was still part of the first leg of the festival (Estleí is the second). It should go without saying that live music blared throughout the evening, but each attendee was handed an empty bag and a ticket book. Their job was to go from booth to booth, meet the members of Puro Sabor, hand them a ticket and get some cigars in return. Does that format sound familiar?
There were a good amount of exhibitors there, all giving away their cigars. More than last year. According to Joyo de Nicaragua's executive president Juan Ignacio Martinez (who is also president of the association that organizes the event), the Nicaraguan Festival has eight new members this year, bringing participation up from 16 members to 24. So the Puro Sabor organization is undoubtedly growing. Some of the new members include Mombacho Cigars (based in Granada), Nica Sueño (makers of Roma Craft), Victor Calvo and Cigar Rings, which produces cigar bands.
If you weren't part of the festival (a ticket to the show cost $125) and that guaranteed you 32 cigars, plus cocktails and food. Creating separate tickets just for the Managua show was part of Puro Sabor's initiative to communicate the Nicaraguan cigar industry to the Nicaraguans living outside Estelí. If you were fully registered with the festival, then that's 32 cigars on top of the beautiful box of 32 more smokes that each registrant gets in their swag bag. The box, by the way, is beautiful. It's a glossy shade of orange, made by Puro Sabor member Cigar Box Factory which is part of the Humidif Group (HG).
There are some nice cigars in that box, and all members of Puro Sabor contributed: Two Padrón Family Reserve No. 45 Maduro (Cigar Aficionado's 2009 Cigar of the Year), two Enclaves by A.J. Fernandez, two Illusione Fume d'Amours, two My Fathers and two Joya de Nicaragua Cuatro Cincos. I know that's not 32 cigars, but I hate laundry-listing things like that, and I mean no offense to whomever I failed to mention, but those were the smokes that jumped out at me.
Make no mistake, they're all great cigars. And the swag bag is full of plenty of other goodies, although they should take a tip from other cigar festivals and include a cutter in the bag next year. Granted the expedition-style bag is a high-quality sack and full of cool unexpected stuff, like a jar of mango marmalade flavored with Flor de Caña rum. But have you ever tried to cut a cigar with a jar of marmalade?
Desperation makes us do weird things sometimes.