After the lull in both activities and stress from running around on Tuesday, I knew that Wednesday would be very different in that regard, but even I was not ready for what transpired.
Editor’s Note: Sorry for the delay in coverage. Unfortunately, both Brooks and I contracted the flu shortly after returning from Cuba. — CM.
As always, the day started early with some work and a nice hand-made breakfast consisting of eggs, coffee, fresh-squeezed pineapple juice, meat and cheese before getting my equipment together and grabbing a taxi to the Palco Hotel where the trade show and seminars are being held.
As I was walking on to the trade show floor, I ran into a press event introducing a brand new perfume from Mille Centum named Montecristo Perfume. According to the company, it took about two years to get everything right with the perfume, and it certainly looked like festival-goers were interested in the final outcome, at least if you took the number of people crowded around the presentation platform into account.
From there it was on to Room 1, where one of the most popular seminars each year was to take place, the master class on rolling a cigar. As in years past, each participant—and there are a lot of them every time the class is held—is given all of the physical materials needed to roll their own cigar, including seco filler, ligero filler and wrapper tobacco leaves a solid wood cutting board, an apron, a chaveta to cut the tobacco and cigar glue.
The lecturer this year was José Miguel Bárzaga Marcelo, and he sat on a stage with a camera mounted on a tripod looking down at his hands so that every action he made could be shown on a dominant screen above and behind him as well as screens situated all over the room. After a bit of verbal explanation about the rolling process, Marcelo launched into details on how each type of tobacco needed to be bunched or rolled with participants mimicking his movements to the best of their varied abilities.
Habanos S.A. chooses a different vitola to roll every year, and this year’s size ended up being a Dianas, the same 5 3/4 x 52 vitola as one of the brand new Romeo y Julieta Linea Oro line that was introduced at the Festival.
Sadly, unlike in years past, I did not have time to try my hand at actually rolling a cigar, but if history has been any judge, it would have resulted in a fairly poor final product. However, the baseline cigars from most people I saw looked to be at least smokable, while a few seemed to be good enough to have been rolled by actual rollers in factories.
After that event was over, it was time for people to break for lunch, while I took a taxi back to the press office to meet Charlie, who had just landed in Havana and needed his Cuban press pass. We got that squared away fairly quickly and decided to have some lunch before heading back to the convention center and returning to the same room as the cigar rolling class for a very different type of class: pairing cigars with wine.
While the Festival del Habano has at least one pairing class every year, with past classes including cigars paired with rum, brandy and even chocolate, wine pairings have been used sparingly, at least in the five years I have been attending.
This specific pairing was with wines from Bodegas Torres, a company founded in 1870 that has grown to become the larger winery in its home country of Spain. Beyond that, the company exports is products to 140 countries around the globe.
Before that was over, it was time to head back to the Casa Particular to get ready for the second of three main dinner events of the Festival. While the dinner on Monday night commemorated the release of the Bolívar Belicosos Finos Reserva Cosecha 2016, Wednesday night’s event had two main occasions to celebrate: not only is this year the 85th anniversary of the Montecristo brand, but it also happens to be the 30th anniversary of the La Casa del Habano franchise, Habanos S.A.’s worldwide network of retailers selling Cuban cigars.
As such, the night was being held to show off a cigar that combined both anniversaries into one creation: the Montecristo Herederos. Measuring 6 3/8 (162mm) x 47, the Herederos will be packaged in 20-count humidors sold exclusively at LCDH locations and Habanos Specialists locations around the world.
The dinner was held at the El Laguito Reception Hall, which has been the location for a number of notable Festival del Habano release parties in the past, including the 20th anniversary of the Cuaba marca in 2016 and last year’s debut of the Hoyo de Monterrey Gran Reserva Double Coronas Cosecha 2013. However, unlike both of those dinners that took advantage of multiple levels—including a pool—this event only encompassed the main floor and inside building.
On Monday, attendees were given the cigars of the evening at the beginning, but on Wednesday, guests were handed a Montecristo Petit Edmundo, a glass of sparkling wine, a raffle ticket and a ticket to be used later to pick up those cigars and other gifts. We then walked past some bars, a parked car and some installations meant to look like libraries—complete with leather chairs for people to sit in while having their photographs taken—before entering the dining room where the event would be taking place.
After just about everyone found their seats, the program started with the audience being thanked and some quick information about both the Montecristo marca and the LCDH program. This was followed by a number of different entertainment acts, all of which hailed from a different country in which Habanos S.A. sells its cigars. Habanos S.A. “took guests around the world” and would highlight various LCDHs in a particular region and then musical acts would perform music from that region.
That ranged from Adele covers to the above African dance group. At one point there was a magician on stage. Right around the time of dessert, composer Charles Fox went on stage to perform the Grammy-winning hit song “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” which he composed the music for.
More drinks and music followed, but we skipped about a bit early in order to try and have a quick cigar at the Hotel Nacional. Sadly, our trip was in vain, as the winds from an approaching storm made it impossible to stand straight, never mind trying to light a cigar correctly. A short taxi ride later, we were back at the Casa Particular to get as much sleep as possible before waking up early again for Thursday’s events.