After a bracing southern breakfast of eggs, grits and biscuits at the hole-in-the-wall New Orleans institution known as Mother's, I rolled into the convention center for the formal start of the IPCPR trade show. (I really mean rolled--I'm feeling very full here.) I headed for the Cigar Aficionado booth, and nearly walked into the Berlin Wall.
Wait, you ask. Didn't they tear down the wall? They sure did, but they saved parts of it, and one 6,400 pound, 12 1/2 foot tall chunk was standing in the middle of the Hammer + Sickle cigar booth. Brand owner Eric Hanson bought it and has created a cigar inspired by its fall 21 years ago.
Hammer + Sickle Berliner Mauer 1961-1989 was made for Hanson by Camacho Cigars, and is all Honduran save for the filler blend, which is Dominican and Honduran. The cigars come in three sizes, each made with a copper band (real copper, not copper colored, and the tensile strength of the metal rather than glue keeps it around the cigar.) I touched the piece of the wall that was on display, which had me in awe. Wins my award for most visually arresting product launch.
Next stop was Ashton, where I met with Sathya Levin. Ashton has a host of new product, primarily the La Aroma de Cuba Mi Amor brand, made at My Father Cigars in Estelí, Nicaragua. The big thing here is the wrapper, a very dark Mexican leaf grown from Cuban seed. I puffed on the 6 inch by 52 Magnifico size, which had some bittersweet chocolate, earthy notes, and a dry finish, with a medium body. It was fine, but I didn't like it as much as I enjoy the other La Aroma lines. Ashton also has a bunch of new limited-edition lanceros, as well as a selection of $10 figurados (Salamone-esque in shape) in various lines, and a squat new San Cristobal called the Fire Plug.
At the La Aurora booth I chatted with José Blanco about the company's new Guillermo León cigar, which I puffed. It's a slow starter that gets mild, easygoing and a bit creamy, with a touch of sweet spice. La Aurora also has a new Corojo (grown in Ecuador).
General Cigar has been busy. The team there has a Macanudo that fits in, bodywise, between Macanudo Maduro (mild to medium) and Macanudo 1968 (medium plus) called the Macanudo Cru Royale. "This is not the year for a $12 cigar," said General's Bill Chilian. General has quite a bit in that magic $5 to $7 range. Mike Giannini of La Gloria Cubana showed off the La Gloria Serie N and the very cool La Gloria Cubana Artesanos de Obelisco, which is shaped like the landmark Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration in Santiago, Dominican Republic. (You can read more about both of them here.)
Before lunch I dropped in on the very busy Rocky Patel booth and snagged a Rocky Patel 15th Anniversary Toro. Great smoke, absolutely loaded with flavor.
After my traditional IPCPR lunch with Matt Arcella and Venice Fabella from Las Vegas' Davidoff shop (this year it was alligator po boys at Mufates) I dropped in on the Fuente booth, and got a new Arturo Fuente Magnum Rosado Vitola 58 belicoso from Wayne Suarez. I love the blend on this line, which is made with old, old Ecuadoran wrapper. It's balanced, elegant, floral and rich, and this new size (coming in October) didn't disappoint. I'm going to need more of these.
I chatted about Cuban cigars with some of the international folk that are here for the show, talking about Cohiba Behikes and the problem with fakes (yes, there are fake Behikes-buyer beware-read more about them in our Counterfeit Gallery) then met up with Ernesto Padilla, who handed me his new Artemis blend. It was delicious.
Padilla's booth was next to Drew Estate, which was across from Davidoff. Davidoff had an orchestra in tuxedos while Drew Estate was playing extremely loud Latin music, drowning out the classical. Quite the culture clash. Who decided to put those booths near one another?
The first full day of the show was a productive one. The crowd seemed strong, and in a buying mood (at least so far) the exhibitors seemed happy, and I stayed long past the formal five p.m. end. Tonight, there are parties and dinners, and I'm late as I'm typing this. There's a lot more to cover and many more cigars to smoke. New Orleans is one smoky city this week.