Cigar Aficionado

The Cuban Cigar Scene

Most of the participants of the 12th Festival Habano went to the Pinar del Río to see tobacco plantations yesterday, but I stayed in Havana to write a blog and check out the cigar scene. Plenty of good boxes in shops. And loads of people were hanging out and smoking.

I went into one of my favorite cigar shops in old Havana, the Hostal Conde de Villanueva, and I could barely find my way through the tiny shop! It was like someone had been running a smoke machine in the place.

I said hello to a Canadian couple that was at last night’s Chuco Valdés gig, which was extraordinary.  I didn’t catch their name but they were from Calgary and were totally digging the experience. “I have been smoking about eight cigars a day while I have been here,” said the husband with a smile. His wife was smiling and happy that her husband had been puffing on so many great Habanos. (Where do you get one of those?)

Ran into some Germans I knew who showed me one of the new Cohiba Behikes: BHK 56 (6 1/2 inches long by 56 ring gauge). The cigar looked amazing, with a darker and oily wrapper. It smelled like honey and chocolate. It’s obviously made with fabulous tobacco. I was hoping he would let me smoke it. “I would have to kill you if I told you were I got the cigar,” the German said. I decided not to ask him if I could have the smoke as a regalo, or present.

I keep on thinking back a few years ago when Habanos was considering Behike as a stand-alone brand. Now it is the rock star line extension for Cohiba. Funny world!

I am now hearing that the new Behikes (check out my blog from Monday for the skinny on them) are going to be 40 percent more than in price than the normal high end Cohibas. That sounds scary. I spoke to a European cigar merchant and he didn’t expect to be selling many. Who cares? I can’t wait to smoke them on Friday night at the gala dinner.

Indeed, it might be difficult to sell the Cohiba Behikes. I hear that total exports, as well as sales, of Cuban cigars are way down. I haven’t heard it with my own ears, but press reports say that sales dropped 8 percent in 2009 to $360 million. But I have heard that the decline is quickly continuing this year, and shipments could be well under 100 million cigars in 2010. I have no official figures, but I expect to hear some tomorrow during seminars at the Palacio de Convenciones, when Manuel García Morejón, vice president of commerce for Habanos S.A., inaugurates the international seminars.

It’s tough out there. But Americans apparently are still buying up a storm. I hear that Cubans are very happy that we continue to have a great taste for Habanos. I have written this before but some estimate that as much as 40 percent of Cubans sold are purchased and smoked by people from the United States.

I found a partially filled box of 2003 Edición Limitada Montecristo Cs in my friend’s humidor (of course, they were not mine!)—and what a post-lunch smoke. It showed plenty of spicy, coffee and dark chocolate aromas and flavors. Turns to milk chocolate. Que rico este. A classic, quality smoke for me. I think most cigars from 2003 were excellent. 

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"Jimbo, keep those cards and letters to us going at 2 or 3 a day. This is the best part of your job. Enjoy the ISOM.Art" —February 24, 2010 16:29 PM