A week at the annual Festival del Habanos, one of the world's largest gatherings of cigar lovers and cigar industry leaders, is like being at the best baseball trading card show in the world, except the currency is cigars. Not a day goes by when someone isn't handing you a rare, old cigar, saying, "You have to try this one," or directing you to more recent releases that are showing a new stage of evolution.
I was offered two Mexico exclusives, the Conde 109—I guess the word is out that it is one of my all-time favorite cigars. Next came a 1991 Montecristo No. 2 that had been in the box so long it was beginning to show square edges, like a classic box press. A 1966 Punch Nectares, from the venerable J.J. Fox retailer in Dublin, Ireland; that was made more special because it was handed out by Rob Fox, and his longtime employee David McGrane, who announced his retirement during the Festival.
I also smoked a Cohiba Behike BHK52 from 2010, Cigar Aficionado's Cigar of the Year in that year, when it was released. That smoke was thanks to Ajay Patel, the owner of the Casa del Habano in Teddington, England, and someone with whom David Savona and I now have an annual tradition of sitting down for a long lunch in search of the best pork ribs in Havana. It's no secret. We've let the world know that you can find them at Casa Grande in the small fishing village of Cojimar...yes, skip the Hemingway Shrine there and jump over to Casa Grande.
Folks from other parts of the world were handing out their Regional Editions, which often aren't available outside their respective markets, like the U.K. regional La Gloria Cubana Gloriosos from 2008. Just to be sure one of my favorite Regionals—the Diplomaticos Excelencia—made exclusively for Cuba, was still smoking well. I removed two from storage—I still love them.
One of the most special cigars I received last week came from Edward Sahakian, the proprietor of London's Davidoff shop and the 2017 winner of the Habanos' Man of the Year award in the business category. Edward is one of the true gentlemen in the cigar world, and a longtime friend of mine. That made my win as the Habanos Man of the Year in the communications category even sweeter because we shared the limelight together. Earlier in the week he had given me a 1992 Cohiba Lancero, which turned out to be a perfect rendition of my favorite size, the panetela. I savored every puff of that cigar, and now, with the memory of our joint victory, I will remember it forever.
Of course, there always a few unbanded "mystery" cigars, handed over with the whispered secret that it is a prototype, or a Cohiba Majestuoso, a new size rolled for the brand's 50th anniversary year in 2016, or the result of some project for a future Habanos cigar that they don't want anyone to know about yet. I usually tuck those away in my travel humidor and wait to get home, let them rest for a few weeks, and then hope they conjure up the beauty of my week in Havana.
I would be remiss not to mention that in addition to all the special cigars handed out by friends and business contacts, Habanos S.A. keeps attendees busy with a steady stream of new cigars that will be delivered to the world market in 2017. I'm still waiting to get my hands on a H. Upmann Gran Reserva Sir Winston, which because the opening night gala was nearly washed out, I wasn't able to score. But the new lineup of Quai d'Orsay is resting nicely in a box headed home, and, the new Montecristo Linea 1935 will also take up a place of prominence in my home humidor until I get a chance to taste it. I'll be writing about those cigars in the next Cuba Report in the May/June issue of Cigar Aficionado.
In the meantime, I have a notebook full of memories of great cigars from the glory days of Cuban cigar production, as well as exciting new products you all will be able to buy in the near future.