The Mysteries of Cuban Cigars
I smoked the BHK 56—the largest of the three—the other day and I couldn’t believe how rich and powerful it was. It just about blew my head off, but then came into its own at the end of smoking These three Cohiba Behikes seem like ones to age and enjoy for years ahead, like the great cigars of the early 1990s from the island.
I went to the Cohiba factory yesterday—El Laguito—and I spoke to a number of rollers who were making the various Behikes. They said that they were using a whole leaf of the medio tiempo, which is the hallmark of the three cigars. There is no super powerful ligero, or the strongest leaf, in the blend. Instead, the medio tiempo is used. Most cigars have half a leaf of ligero, or less, in their blend. No other cigars in Cuba are blended this way.
I had an interesting conversation with the sub-director of the La Corona factory yesterday about medio tiempo. He said that the leaf is right in between the seco and ligero strength of filler, sun-grown tobacco used for Cuban cigars. “It’s neither seco or ligero,” he said as we were standing in the color sorting room of his factory. If you remember, seco is medium strength, medium flavor and aroma for a blend. Meanwhile, the ligero is for the strength.
I confirmed with him that the medio tiempo is usually classified as the lightest ligero. The strongest filler tobacco in Cuba is usually put in three classifications. If I remember correctly, it’s number 14, 15 and 16. Thus, most medio tiempo would be classified as 14, or the lowest grade of ligero.
After the factory visits and lunch, I chaired an hour-long seminar on vintage cigars with a number of friends, including Simon Chase of United Kingdom cigar distributor Hunters & Frankau, London-based cigar collector Alex Iapichino, Colin Ganely of European Cigar Journal, Jorge Luis Fernandez (Maique) of Habanos S.A., and tobacco technician Luis Sorines.
It was an information packed discussion and I was sorry it ran short. Luis Sorines was one of the most interesting speakers, talking about micro-fermentations and oxidations of tobacco as it ages. I had to admit that I didn’t do that well in university chemistry and that’s why I am a journalist instead of a doctor. So I didn’t get it all. But the magical change in Cuban cigars as they age obviously has science behind it.
I will blog more about this fascinating subject next week. But everyone agreed that Cuban cigars age very well. They offer a different experience than smoking young cigars fresh from the factories. They are not necessarily better, but different. It’s like drinking young wine versus old wine. Alex went as far as saying that he doesn’t smoke anything that doesn’t have a minimum of three years of box age.
You can follow James Suckling on Twitter: twitter.com/JamesSuckling