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Inside Cuba

Sampling Smaller Havanas

Cuba’s new sampler presents famous brands in an intriguing size
| By Gordon Mott | From Jon Voight, November/December 2015
Sampling Smaller Havanas

Short, with a punch. Just long enough and thick enough to be right for those moments when you desperately need a cigar, but don't have enough time to finish off a double corona or a Churchill. Or maybe it's just the perfect gift for a birthday, Hanukkah, Christmas or even Father's Day.

Whichever of these rationales you want to use, the new Petit Robusto sampler from Cuba's tobacco monopoly is one of the most obvious signs that the Cubans are listening to what a consumer wants to smoke. And, from the initial reports, the only problem is that they haven't made enough of these short, fat cigars to satisfy demand.

The Selección Petit Robustos hit retail shelves in some markets in late June, while others, as this issue went to press, were still awaiting shipment. The specially designed box contains 10 cigars, two of each in the following brands: Cohiba, Montecristo, Partagás, Romeo y Julieta and H. Upmann. Each cigar measures four inches long by 50 ring gauge, a Cuban format known as a Petit Robusto.

Save for the Romeo y Julieta, all of the cigars that come packed inside the special box are only available as part of this sampler—at least for the time being.

Petit Robustos are rare vitolas for Cuban cigars, and there are only two regular-production cigars made in such dimensions, the Hoyo de Monterrey Petit Robusto (which is not part of this set) and the Romeo y Julieta Petit Churchill, which is included in this special sampler. The Hoyo is quite good, and has consistently scored 90 points or more in Cigar Aficionado and Cigar Insider blind taste tests. The Romeo Petit Churchill hasn't fared quite so well, scoring between 88 points and 91 points in four taste tests in our publications.

Habanos Selección Petit Robustos

This new Selección Petit Robustos first hit the market as a duty free shop exclusive in 2012. That original release totaled about 5,000 boxes of 10 cigars (a production run of 50,000 cigars), while this current release has reached 15,000 boxes (150,000 cigars).

The samplers are available from various sources. You can still find the 2012 release for around $220. Most markets, such as the United Kingdom and Mexico, still haven't received, or put prices on, the 2015 release, but retailers in those regions expect to have them in stock within the next couple of months.

"The Petit Robusto duty free selection was a great idea that really worked," says Ajay Patel, who owns a La Casa del Habano store in London. He said he is glad that the Cuban cigar industry made the decision to put out another release that would now also be available to traditional tobacconists.

Along with the diminutive Cohiba Siglo I, the four-inch-long Cohiba Petit Robusto is the shortest cigar ever made in the Cohiba line. The Cohiba is also a quick way to tell if you're in possession of the new version or the 2012 version. Look at the Cohiba band; the Cohiba in the new box sports Cohiba's recently redesigned cigar band, which is now complete with a hologram of a Taino Indian head, which was first seen on the Cohiba Behike BHK series of cigars.

Another tip-off between old version and new lies in the Montecristo band adorning the Montecristo Petit Robusto. The cigar is very close in size to the Petit Edmundo, but is a little bit shorter and slightly skinnier. The 2015 version sports the new Montecristo band with its gold fleur de lis in the center.

The other cigars in the package bear the current standard bands for each of their respective brands.

Throughout its history, the Cuban cigar industry has made a few multi-brand packs such as this one. Earlier incarnations include the Selección Pirámides, a box containing five pirámide (or torpedo) shaped cigars that came out in 2003. That sampler had a Montecristo No. 2, Cuba's best-known pirámide, plus a quartet of cigars that—at the time—weren't available in that vitola, including a Cohiba.

The Selección Robustos, which you can still find in certain markets, came later, packed with five Cuban robustos.

Habanos Selección Petit Robustos

Habanos has been going out of its way since 2000 with special releases, starting that year with the Edición Limitadas, an annual release of cigars (today, three per year) from major brands. These limited editions are usually produced in a different size than the brand's traditional lineup and with a different blend than the regular brand—the trademark look is a darker wrapper and a secondary band of gold and black. The 2015 EL releases are the H. Upmann Magnum 56, Ramon Allones Club Allones and Hoyo de Monterrey Maravillas. The H. Upmann was the first of the trio to reach cigar stores, and it scored 88 points in Cigar Insider.

Habanos has also been producing Regional Edition cigars since 2005, which usually are odd sizes atypical of a brand's normal lineup, made for a specific country or region. Examples include the Edmundo Dantes Conde 109 and Conde 54 for Mexico, Ramon Allones Petit Belicoso for the United Kingdom and the Flor de Cano Siboney for Canada.

Each of these special marketing approaches have been well-received, and successful. Last year, they also released two Añejados, cigars that have been aged after rolling for an extra-long period of time—the Montecristo Churchill and the Romeo y Julieta Pryamid. Both rated well with our publications, and the Montecristo scored an impressive 91 points in this issue of the magazine. (See page 163 for details.) There is no official word from Habanos when the next Añejado will be released.

According to a Habanos spokesperson, this is not the last sampler coming to market. Habanos is seriously considering a similar packaging approach—five to 10 cigars from five different brands—but the next two sizes on the horizon are pyramids and robustos.

There was no final word on which five brands, but don't be surprised if a Punch takes the place of one of the five in the next lineup.

Cuba Report Cohiba H. Upmann Montecristo Partagas Romeo y Julieta Habanos S.A.

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