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Festival del Habano XXI: Day 1

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My first full day at this years Festival del Habano in Cuba started with me taking a (very) quick shower, getting dressed and taking a cab to the convention center in order to cover the annual Habanos S.A. press conference, which is where the company announced its 2018 financial performance.

What Did The Press Conference Reveal?

You can read the details in depth here, but the gist of it is that there was a 7.4 percent increase in revenue to $537 million, while the five most important countries for the company last year were Spain, China, France, Germany and Cuba. Interestingly, Habanos S.A. announced the Americas as the second most important region to the company with 18 percent—albeit far behind Europe at 53 percent—follwed by Asia Pacific at 15 percent and Africa/The Middle East at 14 percent.

And What Else Happened?

That would be the official opening of the trade show, which is where Habanos S.A. formally showed off its new releases for the year. This includes a number of very interesting cigars, including:

  • Five new Trinidad releases, which include three regular production cigars: Media Luna (4 1/2 x 50); Trinidad Topes (4 11/12 x 56); and Trinidad Esmeralda (5 7/10 x 53). In addition, the marca is adding the newest Colección Habanos release named Trinidad Casilda (7 2/7  x 53) as well as the star of the show this year, the Trinidad 50 Aniversario (6 1/10 x 59), which is not only the first non-parejo size for the brand, but is also limited to just 50 humidors of 100 cigars.

What Else Happened As Part Of The Festival?

  • The Cohiba Novedosos, a 6 1/7 x 50 parejo that will be the first exclusive cigar solely for retailers who are La Casa del Habanos or Habanos Specialists. The cigar will feature a secondary band that will include the logos for La Casa del Habano and Habanos Specialist and will be sold in boxes of 25.
  • The San Cristóbal de La Habana 20 Aniversario, a 6 3/8 x 52 parejo vitola that will be offered as an exclusive to La Casa del Habano retailers.
  • Three new Edición Limitadas: the Montecristo Supremos Edición Limitada 2019 (5 1/8 x 55), the Ramón Allones Allones No. 2 Edición Limitada 2019 (5 1/2  x 52) and the Quai d’Orsay Senadores Edición Limitada 2019 (6 3/16 x 48.)

Did You Visit Anywhere Interesting Away From The Festival?

Yes, indeed we did. After photographing the main parts of the trade show, we decided to visit Reynaldo González Alfonso, one of the most famous custom rollers in Cuba, to purchase some of his cigars before other festival attendees bought all of the stock. He runs the La Casa del Habano that is located in the Hotel Conde de Villanueva, which is the former mansion of Claudio Martínez de Pinillos, Count of Villanueva and the leader of Cuban Creole society in the nineteenth century.

The building is quite old—in fact, it dates back to the end of the 18th century—but was fully restored at some point in the past and is now run by the Office of the City Historian of Havana. The hotel also features a pet peacock, who I found roaming around the large central courtyard.

Up some unassuming green stairs and through a door that feels smaller than it should be, you will find the La Casa del Habano in the hotel, which consists of three different rooms: a storage room on the right, the main humidor/smoking area in the middle and a bar/smoking area on the left. The bar room is  where Reynaldo not only rolls his cigars, but also where he keeps the finished products in a large humidor that patrons can sort through to find their preferred violas.

I have been to Reynaldo’s store a number of times in the past, but he and I had never been in the store at the same time, so I was excited to meet him. I found him to be a gracious and warm individual—albeit a man of very few words—and he insisted on rolling us cigars on the spot.

One of the things I had not noticed before was the large amount of tobacco that covered the floor of the bar/rolling room, so much so that it sat in small piles everywhere.

While physically small, the store has an extremely good selection, and the hospitality is second to none. Throw in the fact that you can buy custom rolled cigars by one of the masters of the craft for an average of about $5 each, and it is a must-visit location to visit if you are ever in the area.

What Else Did You Do On The First Day?

After grabbing a cab for the 20 minute ride from Old Havana to the place we were staying, it was time to begin getting ready to attend the first major event of the festival, the Welcome Evening event, which this year was being held at Cervecería Antiguo Almacen de la Madera y el Tabaco, a restored warehouse overlooking Havana Bay that now includes one of a very small number of brewpubs currently in existence in Cuba.

Long time readers of halfwheel—or long time attendees to the Festival del Habano—may remember that this same location was used back in 2016 as the launch of the Hoyo de Monterrey Reserva Epicure No.2.

As with that occasion, this newest event was extremely well planned, with attendees given a gift bag which contained not only a special two-pack coffin containing a San Cristóbal de La Habana 20 Aniversario as well as a 500 Anniversario San Cristóbal de La Habana 1519.

After some greetings and a short movie the attendees were allowed to begin visiting stations present at points around the outside of the warehouse, each of which were serving food and drinks. There were also multiple small bands playing various music sprinkled around the building.

However, the final musical act of the night had been kept a surprise, and for good reason. It turned out to be a special concert by none other than Buena Fe, an extremely well-known Cuban pop music band made up of Israel Rojas Fiel and Yoel Martínez Rodríguez that was formed in 1999.

The band performed an eight song set to an intimate crowd before the lights were dimmed and the event ended around midnight.

What Cigars Did You Smoke Today?

Between the press conference, the opening of the trade show, walking to and from Reynaldo’s store and photographing the Welcome Evening, I sadly did not have time to smoke a cigar.

What Was The Most Unusual Thing You Saw Today?

 

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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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