I spent some time yesterday smoking with two of the biggest names in cigars from General Cigar Co.: Johnys Diaz, vice president of operations for the company’s main Dominican Republic cigar factory, and legendary cigar man Benjamin Menendez, who is working in his 60th year around cigars. They were bringing Greg Mottola and myself an exclusive first taste of the new Partagas 1845, which goes on sale April 9.
Partagas is a storied brand. Created in Cuba in 1845 (hence the name), it was overseen by Ramón Cifuentes until the Cuban government nationalized the country’s tobacco and cigar industry. Cifuentes later helped create the non-Cuban version of his brand with General Cigar, making a cigar with Cameroon wrapper. This “main” Partagas brand is still sold to this day and comes in a familiar yellow box.
General Cigar felt Partagas needed something new, something with more oomph than the “yellow box” Partagas and something with a story, something distinctive. About a year ago Diaz, Menendez and the General Cigar Dominicana team started testing new products, set on making a Partagas with a wrapper leaf other than Cameroon that would make people sit up and notice.
“We wanted something medium in strength,” Diaz told me, “but with robust flavor.”
He handed me a dark corona gorda, and the first thing that I noticed was the band. Designed to be looked at when you hold the cigar horizontally, rather than vertically, it has a beautiful gold eagle in the center, printed by Vrijdag in the Netherlands. The dark, oily wrapper was Ecuador Habano grown by the Oliva Tobacco Co. of Tampa, Florida. The binder is a leaf of Connecticut Habano that General has been tweaking for nine years, and the filler a mix of Dominican and Nicaraguan tobaccos.
It took 50 blends before they decided upon this Partagas 1845, the first new Partagas in years and the first one made with Ecuador Habano wrapper. It was very tasty, with a sweet, nutty flavor, good balance, and—as intended—a medium body. The smoke was quite pleasant. Look at this video to hear Johnys and Benji describe the project, and to get a look at the cigar.
Ironically, back in pre-Castro Cuba, the Menendez family’s H. Upmann and Montecristo brands faced their toughest competition from Partagas, made by Cifuentes. After leaving Cuba, Menendez and Cifuentes worked for the same company, General Cigar.
“Partagas has a very, very strong sentimental part of me. I was friends with Ramon Cifuentes, may he rest in peace,” said Menendez, after we had been smoking for a while. He described himself as merely a “wingman” on this project, giving guidance to Diaz and his team. “I’m so pleased to see this younger generation coming up with new things for Partagas.”
For much more on the new cigar, see Greg Mottola’s story.