A new shipment from Habanos S.A. had just arrived in one of the well-known shops in Havana. It included one box of Punch Double Coronas, four boxes of Hoyo de Monterrey Double Coronas and four boxes of Behike BHK 54s.
“They’ll be gone in a day or two,” said the shop manager, who asked not to be identified because he didn’t want to be seen as complaining about the shipments. “If you happen to walk in today or tomorrow, you will find those boxes, but they will sell very quickly. And then we wait for another shipment. It’s been that way for quite awhile now. No big cigars, or very few. And, very few Cohibas or Behikes.”
I visited five superb La Casa del Habano cigar shops in Havana last week: Habana Libre, Hotel Nacional, Fifth Avenue, Meliá Habana and Club Habana. The story was the same in every store. There were a few boxes of double coronas, and the best availability was with Ramon Allones Gigantes. In many shops, Cohibas were relegated to a single shelf, with a limited number of boxes, usually some Exquisitos, Corona Especiales and smaller sizes of the Siglo series, especially Siglo Is and Siglo IIs. I only saw one box of Esplendidos, and it had been opened in the Habana Libre for single stick sales. I did not see any boxes of Partagás Lusitanias.
The lack of big cigars hasn’t hurt sales. Diosney Lobaina, the manager of the Casa del Habano in the Hotel Nacional, says, “This is our best sales year in the history of the shop. It is September, and we’ve already exceeded the sales of our previous best year.” He attributes the higher sales to bigger purchases by Americans, who are buying boxes in significant quantities since the U.S. Customs laws became more lenient.
“Even if they are not real cigar smokers, they come in here and say they are buying gifts for friends back home, or they have a list of specific requests from their cigar-smoking friends.” He says most Americans are familiar with the popular brands, such as Cohiba and Montecristo, but they are willing to buy everything in the shop.
Hotel Nacional also had the best inventory of Cohibas. There were 30 boxes of Cohiba Robustos (340 CUCs per box), 40 boxes of Siglo Is (172.50 CUCs), 15 boxes of Siglo IIs (228.75 CUCs.), three boxes of Corona Especiales (317.50 CUCs) and three boxes of Medio Siglos (307.50 CUCs), a newer size. (All prices are in Cuban convertible pesos, which is pegged to the value of the U.S. dollar. However, a 13 percent fee is charged when converting U.S. dollars to Cuban convertible pesos, so a traveler receives 87 CUC for every $100 changed.)
In explaining why his shelves were better stocked than I had ever seen them at the Nacional, Lobaina said that with the increased traffic from Americans, he had bumped up his orders by at least 30 percent compared to a year ago, and he was in a constant struggle to maintain a sufficient inventory.
Osmany Rios, who works at the 5th Avenida and 16th store (also known simply as Fifth Avenue), says he also has a lot of Chinese customers who buy whatever stocks of Cohiba he has in the shop.
“I’ve been trying to introduce them to some other brands, which are smoking really well, like Ramon Allones Specially Selected, but all they really want is Cohiba,” he says. He added that his inventory of cigars—other than Double Coronas and Cohibas—is extensive now, so there is not a problem with widespread shortages.
Overall, the best inventories and selection were at the Casas del Habano at the Hotel Nacional and Hotel Habana Libre. Each had a decent number of boxes of bigger cigars, but the Hotel Nacional inventory of Cohiba was the best in the city.
The majority of the box dates of cigars on the shelves were May, June, July and August of 2017. In some of the less popular sizes, it is still possible to find box dates from 2014. I saw quite a few boxes of Montecristo No. 1s with a 2014 box date, although one has to pick through the stacks to find the older boxes. There were also a few box dates from 2015.
Cuba’s Añejados are cigars that have been aged for a few years, so they naturally have older box dates. The only Añejados I found on this trip were Partagás Corona Gordas, and all had box dates from 2007 or 2008. I did not see a single box of Montecristo Churchills, Romeo y Julieta Pirámides or Hoyo de Monterrey Hermosos No. 4.
None of the cigars announced at the Festival del Habanos in February 2017 were available either. One shop manager laughed out loud when I asked if he had seen any of the new cigars from 2017. He said there had been a few boxes of special releases from previous years, such as the Romeo y Julieta Wide Churchill Gran Reserva Cosecha 2009. But he added it was extremely rare to see those cigars.
The good news is that there has not been a price increase this year in Cuba. Based on a select group of cigars we published earlier this year, the prices remain the same.
Cuban Cigar Prices and Availability in Havana
Bolivar Belicoso Fino, 191.25 CUC
Romeo Y Julieta Churchill, 252.50 CUC