It's quite understandable if you're not familiar with the Quai d'Orsay cigar brand. Created in 1973 for the French market, the brand has been quite rare outside of the country of its birth, and here in Cuba. The cigars, when one found them, were typically quite pale in color, mild and rarely a cigar that had any buzz (with the exceptions of the Regional Edition smokes and the Churchill size). Last night here in Cuba, Habanos S.A. put on a big show aiming to change that image.
Quai d'Orsay is one of the big stars of this year's show, and last night's dinner focused entirely on the new look and taste of the brand. The new Quai d'Orsay will be available worldwide—Habanos says later this year, but these launches often are delayed considerably for one reason or another—and there will be three sizes. As Gordon Mott wrote about earlier in the week, there will be the No. 50, No. 54—new sizes for the brand—and the Corona Claro, the only size from the previous lineup that remains in the portfolio.
A small, wooden box containing all three of the sizes was given to the diners last night, and the cigars were passed out between courses as well, with a lively stage show of singing and dancing.
Of course, we smoked before, during and after the meal.
It's a mistake to judge these early samples of cigars for their flavor, as they are often made right before they are passed out. Indeed, my box—and that of my fellow editor Gordon Mott, and our tablemate Max Gutmann, the distributor of cigars for Mexico—was stamped February 2017. "February was yesterday," I told Max.
The new cigars were gorgeous in presentation, well made with dark, oily wrappers not typically found on the old Quai d'Orsay. "Quai d'Orsay was always known for light wrappers," Max said to me as we chatted, noting that the boxes were often marked "claro," which designates wrappers that are considerably light. I was taken with the smart, new design, which incorporates a gold ring beneath the familiar orange-yellow circle with the brand's name, and the name of the vitola in the gold. What a great look.
I spent the most smoking time with the No. 54, a 54 ring gauge smoke known as an Edmundo Grueso, a new shape in the Cuban portfolio. It had a rough start, not surprising given its youth, but after warming up showed the promise of fine flavor that I hope it will have when it's officially sold on the market.
One thing is certain—these are not mild cigars like the old Quai d'Orsay. They had some kick. I imagine the final product will too.
The final cigar of the evening, which is typically one of the new Edición Limitadas, was a surprise: A Quai d'Orsay Imperiales, one of the old sizes of the brand and one that has done well in our ratings. In fact, this cigar took our highest score given to a Quai d'Orsay over the past six years, 93 points in August 2011. It had a fine flavor—clearly it had been made some time ago—but it's a dinosaur of sorts, a Churchill vitola (7 by 47) that seems to be going extinct here in Cuba. I'm somewhat sad to see it go—I do love big, Cuban cigars—but market trends are pointing Habanos away from these smokes.
I puffed the final cigar of the night, pairing it with a little Habana Club Selección de Maestros rum. The air was humid, but comfortable, and warm in just the right way. It was a fine night to be in Havana.