The black-and-gold curtained walls darkened the gigantic Pabexpo ballroom, the setting for the final night of the 18th Festival del Habano. The words of Cuba's most iconic brand, Cohiba, emblazoned the walls in gold letters, and the 1,200 to 1,400 attendees, who waited nearly an hour after the appointed time to gain entry to the hall, weren't 10 feet inside the door when they were handed one of the outstanding new releases of the week, the Cohiba Medio Siglo. By that final night, you might be forgiven for thinking the week had been anything but a showcase for everything about Cohiba.
The Medio Siglo joins the Linea 1492, an addition to the Cohiba Classic line launched in 1992 that matched many sizes formerly produced for the Davidoff Chateau series of Cuban cigars. Also known as the Siglo Series, the Linea 1492 has been one of the most popular, and highest-scoring brands in the world for the last 24 years, and the Cohiba Siglo VI is one of the top-selling sizes. The Medio Siglo adds luster to the lineup by providing a short (4 inches) length and a thick ring gauge of 52. It's the same length as a Siglo I, and the same ring gauge as a Siglo VI—halfway in between the two, and thus, the name Medio.
The Medio Siglo wasn't the only Cohiba release of the week. The Cohiba Majestuoso 1966 is a 5 7/8 inch by 58 ring powerhouse, one of the biggest cigars in the Cohiba lineup. It is a limited-edition cigar, which will be produced in 1,966 humidors, each containing 20 cigars. Two of the cigars were handed out to each of the attendees on Friday night. As is my practice, I don't smoke the Festival cigars the night they are released; frankly, they are often very fresh, and benefit from six months in my humidor.
But the Majestuoso isn't the biggest cigar in the Cohiba lineup, nor the most astonishing release of the week. That honor goes to the 50th Anniversary Cohiba, a new, 7 by 60 vitola known as a Grandioso in the factory. It will be the first 60 ring gauge cigar produced commercially in Cuba. It will be sold in 50 numbered humidors, each one with two front doors containing 48 panels of 24-karat gold encrusted ligero tobacco leaves. The humidor holds 50 cigars, each individually numbered from 1 to 2,500. Humidor No. 1 was the highlight of the live auction held at the conclusion of the Festival gala dinner, bringing a winning bid of 320,000 euros ($350,800). Along with six other special humidors, the auction raised a total of 865,000 euros ($948,256). The proceeds will be given to the Cuban public healthcare system.
There actually was a real cigar festival that ran from February 29 until the gala dinner on March 4. The opening-night cocktail party was held at the renovated Tobacco and Wood Warehouse, a beautiful building on a pier that juts out into Havana's well-protected harbor. The cigar of the night was one of the special new smokes slated for 2016—the Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2 Reserva Cosecha 2012, the first Hoyo Reserva from Cuba.
Cuba also typically showcases an Edición Limitada at the Festival, and at the Wednesday night dinner honoring Cuba's cigar rollers they handed out Trinidad Topes EL 2016, a 4 7/8 by 56 cigar with a very dark wrapper. The other two Limitadas, which were not passed out during the week, are the Montecristo Dantes (6 5/8 inches by 48 ring) and the Romeo y Julieta Capuletos (6 by 53). The Montecristo will be presented in wooden 10-count boxes, the Romeo y Julieta in 25-count dress boxes and the Trinidad in 12-count semi-boite nature boxes.
The other big cigar release was the 2016 additions to the Añejados line, cigars that were rolled in 2007 or 2008, and have been aged in their boxes for the last eight years. This year, the two cigars are the Partagás Corona Gorda (which measures 5 5/8 by 46) and the Hoyo de Monterrey Hermoso No. 4 (5 by 48). Both cigars were part of a special tasting on Tuesday morning at the Festival. The other new release, essentially lost in the hoopla over Cohiba, was a Cuaba 20th Aniversario, a 6 3/4 by 56 limited-edition figurado, keeping with the brand's traditional shape, and destined for the market as a Casa del Habano exclusive.
Like any event billed as the biggest and best cigar festival in the world, there were some unusual and lighthearted things to do, something every cigar lover should think about experiencing sometime in their life. The Cigar Aficionado team attended the Longest Ash Contest (No, we didn't win.) But we got to smoke Ramon Allones Gigantes cigars and sip Havana Club 7-year-old rum. I also attended a rum and cigar pairing where a Cohiba Siglo VI was matched up with Cuba's top premium rum, a Havana Club Unión, followed by a Cohiba Maduro 5 Genios paired with the country's newest premium rum bottling, a Tributo 2016, which uses as its base rums aged in 80-year-old barrels. Both combinations were, in a word, perfect.
Finally, there are always fantastic stories swirling around the event, spreading like wildfire without any assistance. In the space of a few hours, I was told Michael Jordan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Leonardo DiCaprio would be attending the final gala dinner. None of them appeared. Maybe next year.
We also tried to nail down a persistent rumor about another catastrophic harvest in Cuba's tobacco growing regions; like many things in Cuba, the truth seems to lie somewhere between the rosiest reports and the most dire accounts. Habanos S.A. admits the 2015/2016 season was difficult, but that "it was not going to affect the quality or the quantity of tobacco" available for the year's upcoming production. That was according to Luis Sánchez Harguindey de Pardo, the copresident of Habanos. And grower Hirochi Robaina said his crop had been excellent. Hector Luis Prieto, another grower, said he had lost a first planting that had been dedicated to filler tobacco, but a second planting to grow wrapper leaf under shade cloth had been excellent. What we do know is that heavy rains in the middle of the growing season in early January affected many smaller, less skilled farmers, but there's no way to calculate how much of their tobacco ends up in the country's premium brands.
In the end, we enjoyed a week of cigars, lots of rum, great dinners with friends and colleagues in the cigar business, and started planning for next year before even setting foot in the airport to leave.