It’s the fifth Nicaraguan cigar festival, known as Puro Sabor, lots of familiar faces, lots of new faces.
I arrived in Managua late at night before the start of the first official day of the festival. Apparently there was a trip to Mombacho’s Casa Favilli in Grenada, one of only a few cigar factories in thec country located outside of Estelí that day. It’s something I would have like to have gone to, not only to see Mombaoho’s operation, but also to catch up with Patrick Lagreid who is down in Nicaragua visiting Perdomo at the moment, which means I likely we won’t see him despite being in the same city.
It’s a 7:15 a.m. start for me and those going to Chagalpa for a visit of Flor de Caña. That includes me and after a few hours of rest I got on the bus for the two hour drive to Flor de Caña. The visit to Flor de Caña is new, in fact this entire day is new. Normally the festival hosts a dinner and consumer event (more on that below) the night people arrive and then it’s off to Estelí. This year, it’s two official nights in Managua.
Another change is how they are dealing with the distribution of cigars. While there is still a box each participant is given that contains cigars from all of the manufacturers, they are now handing out specific cigars at specific times instead of just having an assortment of cigars available at various times throughout the day. The change is for two reasons: some cigars were more popular than others with attendees meaning that not only did some attendees feel like they missed out on trying certain cigars, but also, some manufactures were not particularly happy to see their cigars the only ones left at the end of an event.
Now there are “cigar moments” where everyone is handed the same cigar—or at least the same line as there were different available at times—to all smoke and discuss. The latter doesn’t seem to be happening, but the first “cigar moment” was during the bus ride to Flor de Caña, a Flor del Valle from Warped Cigars, which is made at Tabacos Valle de Jalapa S.A. (TABSA), one of the newest members to the Asociación Nicaragüense de Tabacaleros (ANT), the Nicaraguan cigar manufactures’ association which puts on the event.
As for Flor de Caña—I knew what I was getting into. Flor de Caña doesn’t distill at the facility they do tours at. In fact, it’s basically a barrel room and gift shop. I knew it wasn’t going to be the greatest tour of all time, but, being the rum drinker I am I still wanted to go to see if I could learn something about the process.
It wasn’t good.
Flor de Caña has an elaborate visitor’s center, but it seemed completely overwhelmed with the 100+ people that arrived as part of Puro Sabor. After waiting, and some more waiting, and a bit more waiting, our tour got going. After visiting more than 30 cigar factories over the years, it amazes me that people don’t start tours of a manufacturing process with how it starts.
This is probably challenging for Flor de Caña because it doesn’t have any distilling at this facility, but it desperately needs it. We started with some sampling of molasses and sugar cane, but then were moved to the workshop for barrel rooms. If you don’t know anything about how rum is made, you have to be fairly confused at this point—and you are on a tour about making rum.
After that we stopped in a barrel aging room, watched a video that went over the company’s history, manufacturing process and social responsibilities and then were whisked away to the gift shop where Flor de Caña 7 was waiting. As I mentioned, they seemed completely overwhelmed by the amount of people and despite relatively short distances between places, they insisted on us being driven around—and since they didn’t have enough golf cart-style trams—that often meant loading and unloading people into a bus to go 100 yards.
After Flor de Caña we drove a bit further to Cortijo El Rosario, a beautiful equestrian farm. We were there not only to eat and watch horses, but first do a tasting between Flor de Caña 18 and a cigar specifically chosen for the pairing. I had already smoked it and consumed the rum. In fact, I smoked it and eight other cigars that ultimately weren’t chosen for the process. I was one of the four people responsible for smoking the cigars blind and determining which paired best with Flor de Caña 18.
The winning cigar came from Nicaraguan American Cigars S.A. and seemed like a blend that they actually made to stand up to the rum. Some manufacturers admitted to me that they simply put bands on a regular production cigar they thought would work—and some most certainly did—but the sharpness of the NACSA cigar was definitely a key in proving it to be the winner. While I don’t know who was on the rest of the tasting panel, I was told that it was fairly unanimous about the NACSA cigar being the best—score one for continuity.
Next was an equestrian show, the second time Puro Sabor has tried to do this in three years. It was actually very enjoyable. I’ll admit an equestrian show is not exactly high on my list of things to do, but it was entertaining. We also had our second cigar moment, this time a Padrón 1964 Aniversario.
Over three hours later we had arrived back at the hotel. We were predictably behind schedule and that meant less than an hour before dinner. As for that dinner, it was held at the Crowne Plaza Convention Center in Managua. The Crowne Plaza played host to the opening night dinner last year, but it was outdoors at the hotel pool. This year’s was held upstairs and in the same building as Puro Humo, the multi-vendor event the ANT puts on for local smokers in Nicaragua.
Attendees of Puro Sabor are given free entrance to Puro Humo, those not part of the festival can pay $125 for entrance which includes hors d’oeuvres, an open bar and 34 cigars. It’s a fun night, one that has grown a lot since the first one I attended back in March 2013 when it was just a standalone event in Managua. What’s particularly good is it seems like cigar smoking in Managua is growing, something that will only help Nicaragua’s cigar culture.
Update (Jan. 19, 2016) — The original version of this article indicated attendees of Puro Humo received 18 cigars. They received 34 cigars.