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Festival del Habano XX: Day 1

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It turned out my first full day in Cuba was full of events, but first, a few notes on the reason I am in the country.

The Festival del Habano is an annual event held in Havana, Cuba that draws attendees from almost 70 countries all over the world. This year features an estimated 2,000 attendees as well as almost 200 journalists and is the place that Habanos S.A. shows off some its major releases every year. In addition, the five-day event includes a number of different seminars, a trade show with over 180 exhibitors and the annual Habanosommelier contest.

This year’s event marks the 20th time the festival has taken place and is being used to launch a number of new cigars, including the Cohiba Reserva Cosecha 2014, the Romeo y Julieta Grand Churchills and two new Partagas Linea Maduro vitolas.

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After waiting up at 6 a.m., I did a bit of work before breakfast at 7:30 a.m. The casa particular—a rented room in a house—I am staying at happens to have a cook on staff, so the breakfast consisted of coffee, eggs over easy, meat and freshly squeezed mango juice. After eating, we made our way to the press office to pick up the press passes for the festival as well as my ticket for the final night’s gala. Unlike in years past, the process to pick up the press passes was straightforward and easy and after only about an hour I had both passes and was on my way.

The first stop was the press conference, where Habanos S.A. Announced its yearly sales report.

According to the company, total revenue increased by 12.36 percent, from $445 million to $500 million. In addition, the top five markets for Habanos S.A. sales were Spain, France, China, Germany and Cuba.

The press conference lasted about an hour and a half, after which I stopped by the convention part in order to take photos of the new cigars that were just announced that were supposed to be on display. Unfortunately, there were still a little bit of work to be done before the Habanos S.A. both was finished, so I took a cab back to the house we were staying at.

There I had lunch while I did some work and smoked a custom-rolled corona from Reynaldo, who is a famous Cuban roller that works out of the La Casa del Habano at Conde de Villanueva. While most of the custom rolled cigars—and most if not all of the harder to find banded releases—are usually cleaned out in the first couple of days of the show, we managed to get to Reynaldo’s store and get a few sticks before everything was snatched up.

After a short time, I decided to to go to visit the Casa del Habano store located next to the Hotel Comodoro, which is the home base of another Cuban roller by the name of Alejandro Gonzalez Arias, better known simply as Alex. He had been contracted by the owner of FriendsOfHabanos.com to produce a specific custom rolled vitola in a special blend for the company’s Friends of Habanos forum, a 6 x 40 petit lancero that was named La Puntilla named after the thin nail used in the construction of cigar boxes.

I had never met Alex before, so was a bit surprised at how young he looks. After introducing myself, he welcomed me with open arms and was happy to answer any questions I had as well as get me some of the La Puntilla cigars. He was also nice enough to sit for a portrait and I was able to stay around a while to watch him work, a process that was as efficient as it was impressive.

After saying my goodbyes to Alex, it was time to go back to the villa and do a bit more work before getting dressed for the Welcome Gala Dinner, which was being held at the El Laquita Protocol Hall.

There has been an event held at the Protocol Hall every year that I have attended the festival, but it was immediately apparent that this year’s event would be very different. For one thing, the layout was completely different as there was not one floor being used as in years past, but three different massive levels that included four different stages, a pool, more than 15 food and alcohol stations and a massive translucent teepee-like structure that featured a trapeze artist at one point during the night. While exact numbers were hard to come by, I was told there were between 1,800 and 2,000 people at the dinner, a significant increase from the normal sub-1,000 that had historically attended in the past.

Of course it was no coincidence that the first dinner was held at El Laquita Protocol Hall, as this was the night that a brand new release from the Cohiba brand was introduced, namely the Cohiba Reserva Cosecha 2014. Produced in a 4 7/8 x 50 robusto vitola, the new cigar that includes tobaccos aged for at least five years and is limited to just 5,000 boxes of 20. Each attendee was given a special two-pack coffin of the new releases, along with two other Cohiba cigars.

In addition, the event featured the debut of two collaboration watches between Habanos S.A. and the watchmaker Zenith: the Pilot Type 20 Extra Special Cohiba Maduro 5 Edition and the Pilot Type 20 Chronograph Cohiba Maduro 5 Edition. Both watches are made with 18-carat gold rose gold and an AR-coated sapphire crystal, but there is no indication of when the production models will be available.

There were special attractions held throughout during the night, including performances by numerous musical groups and the aforementioned trapeze artist. However, the main event was a performance by Cuban pop music band Los Van Van, which was apparently so popular that the majority of people stayed at the event to see them.

After about three hours, it was time to go, so I took a taxi back to the villa to download photographs and get a little more work done before turning in to get some much-needed sleep.

Correction (Feb. 28, 2018) — The original version of this story misidentified the site that had commissioned the La Puntilla as being CigarsOfHabanos.com, it was in fact the owner of FriendsOfHabanos.com. It has been corrected and we regret the error.

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Brooks Whittington
About the author

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.

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