Unlike the previous four days, my fifth full day in Cuba started relatively late with me getting to the convention center at 9 a.m.

My first order of business was to cover the final day of the Habanosommelier contest, which brought together three of the five contestants to continue to match their skills against one another. The finale on the last day featured a number of tests including cutting and lighting various Cuban cigars as well as a descriptive tasting and pairings with a variety of drinks.
Habanosommelier Festival del Habano XIX

In addition, each of the contestants were given a different scenario to work through: a mother and daughter having their first cigars, a couple out on the town with very little time to enjoy a smoke and two businessmen in from out of town that were somewhat knowledgeable about cigars in general. Each of the Habanosommeliers were graded on a variety of factors, including how they interacted with the guests, their knowledge of the cigars they were talking about about and the drinks they recommended to be paired with each cigar.

Habanosommelier 2017

In the end, the five contestants were shaved down to one, and Felipe Rojas from Chile took the top spot, although his score and another entrant’s were apparently quite close.

After the Habanosommelier contest was over, I wandered over to one of the final seminars of the festival. Named “The Art of Combination (the wrapper, the binder and the filler),” the event was all about how the three parts of a cigar meld together to form the final product and how a problem with one part can affect the entire smoking experience.

The Art of Combination (the wrapper, the binder and the filler)

As part of the seminar, attendees were given one of four different cigars, each which had something intentionally wrong with it: one had a twisted bunch, one had a draw that was too loose, one had construction issues and one had too much of one type of tobacco, which threw the entire balance off. Each person was asked to smoke their sample and report back on what they thought was wrong with the cigar. After each was identified, experts from the Cuban manufacturing industry explained not only how that cigar was messed up, but also how it was supposed to be when constructed correctly.

After that, I went back to my room to get ready for the Gala Evening, which paid tribute to the Montecristo brand and once again was held at the PABEXPO Center. As part of the festivities, Habanos S.A. gave out samples of the new Montecristo Linea 1935 in three different vitolas: Legend, Dumas and Maltes.

Festival del Habano Gala Dinner

After all of the approximately 1,200 attendees from over 40 different countries made it into the massive room and found their seats, the entertainment started. This year’s festivities included performances by a number of different artists, including Haila, David Torrens, Diana Fuentes and A Otro Tiempo as well as the Ballet de Litz Alfonso, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year.

Ara Malikian

In addition, there was a performance by violinist Ara Malikian and his ensemble of musicians, which really brought down the house. I had honestly never seen anything like it, and the energy on the stage was a sight to behold for the three songs they performed.

Edward Sahakian

After that, the XXI Habanos Awards were given in three different categories: Business, Communication and Production. Josefa Acosta Ramos took the top spot in the Production category, while Edward Sahakian won in the Business category and Gordon Mott from Cigar Aficionado prevailed in the Communication category.

However, the star of the show was the annual Artisan Humidor Auction, which includes the auction of seven different custom-made humidors, all of which included a multitude of cigars, some that had never been commercially released. Included in this year’s lineup were humidors filled with Bolívar, Montecristo, Partagás, Hoyo de Monterrey, Cohiba, H.Upmann and Romeo y Julieta cigars. As has been the case in the past, all of the proceeds from the auction are being donated to the Cuban Public Health System.

Cohiba Humidor Festival del Habano XIX

While there were a number of the humidors that broke past the €250,000 ($265,000) mark, the Cohiba humidor took the top spot of the night with a winning bid of €380,000 ($400,000) after some fairly intense bidding between two different people.

After the last humidor was sold, it was about two in the morning, and I stumbled back to my room to get about four hours sleep before having to get up and make an early flight out of Havana.

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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.