After a fairly easy Thursday, I knew the last day of the Festival del Habano XVIII would be packed full, and I was not wrong about that.

It started with me waking up early and attending the final day of the XV International Habanosommelier Contest, where the final contestants competed against each other to see who would be named the “Maestro de Maestros.” While the final day usually consists of finalists going through a real-life scenario where they have to choose a combination of food, drink and cigar that meld together, this incarnation engaged in a “champion’s challenge” in which they faced scenarios that had to be faced depending on their categories.

XV International Habanosommelier Contest 3

XV International Habanosommelier Contest 2

XV International Habanosommelier Contest 1

Even after seeing the first day, I was surprised at how much the extensive audience got into the competition, with people cheering on their favorites while they smoked a cigar. There were event some spectators that held up a flag of their country when their sommelier was called to the floor.

Luis Manuel Garcia

After days of competition, Juan Jesús Machín from Cuba won the “Maestro de Maestros” title, with Luis Manuel García Urrea from the United Arab Emirates and Pedro Tejeda from Cuba taking second and third place, respectively.

After the time spent at the Habanosommelier contest, I took some time to visit the Saratoga Hotel in old Havana before making my way back to my room to get ready for the night’s event.

Fesival del Habano XVIII Gala

As was the case last year, the final night’s Gala was held at the PABEXPO Center, with an estimated 1,200 people from more than 40 countries attending.

Niurka Reyes

While there were no major celebrities as in years past—both Paris Hilton and Naomi Campbell attended last year, and there were various rumors throughout the show on who would be attending this year, including Michael Jordan—the program was full of talent, including Cuban pianist and composer Chucho Valdes, Spanish flamenco singer Estrella Morente and Uruguayan singer-songwriter Jorge Drexler, among others.

Geidy Chapman
Estrella Morente

In addition, attendees were given five different cigars during the five-course dinner, including a Cohiba Medio Siglo, Cohiba Robusto, Cohiba Magicos, Cohiba Siglo VI and a Cohiba BHK 54. They were also given a two pack of the new Cohiba 50th Aniversario cigars, although a different version than the ones that are included in the Cohiba 50th Aniversario humidor.

Also included in the nights activities was the 20th edition of the Habanos Awards, which honors different people in various categories. Valerio Cornale received the award in the communication category while Dominique Gyselinck was given the award in the business category and Manuel Tuero was the winner in the production category.

However, the main event was the humidor auctions, which raise money for the Cuban public health system.

This year, there were seven different humidors from seven different marcas: Cuaba, H. Upmann, Hoyo de Monterrey, Montecristo, Partagás,  Romeo y Julieta, and everyone’s eventual favorite, Cohiba.

Cohiba 50 Aniversario Humidor

While the other six humidors were crafted specifically for the event, the Cohiba 50 Aniversario was actually the first of 50 humidors that is being released for the 50th anniversary. As mentioned earlier, the Elie Bleu humidor is constructed of ebony, Madagascar, sycamore and cedar wood with a ligero leaf covered in 24-carat-gold on the lid. Inside are 50 Cohiba 50 Aniversario cigars, which measure 7 x 60.

Fesival del Habano XVIII auction 3

After all of the results had been tabulated, the auction brought in more than €865,000 ($952,000), with €320,000 ($352,000) alone coming from the auction the aforementioned Cohiba humidor.

Fesival del Habano XVIII auction 2

Immediately after the auction ended, the night’s festivities were over, and attendees began filtering out to go to after parties or back to their hotels. I went back to the iconic Hotel Nacional with a group and hung out there for a couple more hours before finally calling it quits and going back to my room to pack for my trip home.

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Brooks Whittington

I have been smoking cigars for over eight years. A documentary wedding photographer by trade, I spent seven years as a photojournalist for the Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star Telegram. I started the cigar blog SmokingStogie in 2008 after realizing that there was a need for a cigar blog with better photographs and more in-depth information about each release. SmokingStogie quickly became one of the more influential cigar blogs on the internet, known for reviewing preproduction, prerelease, rare, extremely hard-to-find and expensive cigars. I am a co-founder of halfwheel and now serve as an editor for halfwheel.