To kick off 2013, I had the opportunity to return to Cuba for several days, a trip that included a visit to one of the most well-known farms not just on the island but in the cigar world: Vegas Robaina. Located about three hours southwest of Havana in the town of San Luis in the Pinar del Rio province, Vegas Robaina is noted both for the quality of the wrapper leaves grown there as well as for Alejandro Robaina, a grower who came to prominence as the only person to have a brand named for him, and as the face of the largely faceless Cuban cigar industry in the 2000s.
For those not familiar with Vegas Robaina, the farm was founded in 1845 and became known for producing incredibly high yields of wrapper leaves, so much so that Fidel Castro visited the farm in the early 1980s to meet the farmer who was gaining such acclaim. At some point during the conversation, Robaina mentioned that he would like to have his family name grace a regular production cigar, and over a decade later the Vegas Robaina marca was born on June 7, 1997. While that line took some time to get off the ground, it has become a staple in the humidors of cigar shops around the world and currently ranks as a multi-local brand with general availability around the world.
Sadly, Alejandro Robaina passed away on April 17, 2010 at the age of 91. The farm is now in the hands of Hirochi Robaina, Alejandro’s grandson and an incredibly welcoming and gracious man.
A visit to the farm includes a stop at the family museum, loaded with mementos from Alejandro Robaina’s career. One of the most moving pieces on the farm is a framed note that Alejandro Robaina sent his grandson Hirochi some years ago, when the current head of the farm needed a bit of gentle nudging to get his life back on track. To paraphrase, the note said “Hirochi, you are my future, don’t disappoint me. Abuelo.”
On my visit I had the chance to sit with Hirochi and talk about a number of cigar topics, how things were going on his farm, national issues and even a bit of baseball. During our conversation, Hirochi asked one of his assistants to bring out some cigars for me and my family. Needless to say, I was incredibly surprised to see a matching quartet of rarities from the Robaina Family cigar collection in the gentleman’s hand: El Padrino, which Brooks reviewed back in March 2010.
As our conversation continued, we got to talking about cigar reviews, flavor notes, and so on. As I puffed away on my El Padrino, Hirochi looked me square in the eye and asked “so you like cigars, huh?” Needless to say, I replied with a resounding yes, and he then leaned to one of his assistants and said something in Spanish. The man went off and returned a few moments later with an even bigger cigar: La Bestia.
The Beast as Hirochi calls it, is a gorgeous yet imposing 6 3/4 x 62 cigar made at the farm with some of the tobacco that the family is able to reserve for their own use. The tobacco for all of the Robaina Family cigars is aged for several years at the farm, and while Hirochi refers to the other cigars in the collection as his beauties, this selection from his personal humidor is his beast.
As you can see, La Bestia is notably thicker than El Padrino, though the length is the same:
One note of difference from Brooks’ review, the length of the current El Padrino and La Bestia is about 6 7/8 inches, down from the 7 1/2 inch stick he smoked.
Cigar Reviewed: Robaina Family La Bestia
Country of Origin: Cuba
Wrapper: Cuba (Vegas Robaina)
Binder: Cuba (Vegas Robaina)
Filler: Cuba (Vegas Robaina)
Size: 6 3/4 Inches
Ring Gauge: 62
Date Released: N/A
Number of Cigars Released: N/A
Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 1
La Bestia is an imposing cigar from a size perspective – its 62 ring gauge makes its presence known immediately. It is firm to the touch but shows some give when squeezed, yet there is no doubt that it’s well packed. There are a few small green spots on the otherwise gorgeous butterscotch hued wrapper, something that seems fairly common amongst Cuban cigars. The veins are fairly sizable, though not terribly distracting, and having had the chance to see some of the plants on the farm used for wrapper leaves, they seem to match up pretty closely with what I would expect. The cigar also features a partially closed foot to deliver some extra kick from the wrapper out of the gate. The pre-light aroma smells like grilled chicken served on warm wheat bread, while the cold draw is easy and has cereal notes with a cooling effect on the palate. As should be no surprise, the cigar feels huge in the mouth, with no box press to take some of the edge off the size.
As soon as the flame hits the foot to begin the first third, notes of grilled chicken jump off the cigar and into the air. The first few puffs billow with smoke that contain a healthy bit of white pepper, some grilled meat and straight tobacco flavor. It’s not overly strong in terms of ligero, yet it is remarkably full flavored – where it seems several manufacturers use strength to kick off their cigars, the Robaina La Bestia goes almost all-in with flavor: a bit of wood, some vanilla, and a taste that I can only attribute to the terroir of the Vegas Robaina farm. The burn line starts to go off track fairly quickly, as it starts skewing after burning about half an inch. The flavors continue steadily until the ash needs to be knocked off almost two inches in, which is followed by a quick lull that seems to suggest the transition out of the first third has begun.
The flavor lull only lasts about 10 puffs or so before an uptick in ligero kicks of the second third of the Robaina La Bestia. One thing that has become apparent by this point is how much the smoke volume changes as the cigar rests. When picked up from the ashtray, the smoke barely trickles out of the cigar, but when the heat picks up it absolutely billows off in clouds of plentiful white smoke. By the midpoint, the pepper picks up more in the nose as the palate gets a bit of a respite, with a retrohale delivering an even more potent shot of pepper to the nose. The ash continues to hang on incredibly well, while the burn line veers a bit here and there and seems to ask for a touch-up. When the next big clump needs to be knocked off, a bit of tunneling is revealed, a somewhat disappointing discovery to start the final third.
A touch up is needed to get the final third of the Robaina La Bestia going, and once it gets restarted the pepper continues to be the leading note – largely a white pepper that hits squarely in the middle of the palate with a bit tingling in the back of the throat as well. The draw remains fairly unchallenged, not easy or overly loose—but showing only the slightest bit of resistance. There are notes of toasted white bread that stand out as well as some mellow dry wood, fairly similar in profile to what was found earlier in the cigar. Combustion seems to a bit more of an issue in the final third, though a few relights are well worth getting every last puff out of this cigar. White pepper stays the dominant note throughout the final third, giving the palate and nose equal treatment and never getting harsh or veering too far off course. A somewhat funky note of damp wood or even a type of vinegar starts to come in with just an inch or so left, possibly a byproduct of the heat getting close to the lips, though it’s not a bad flavor by any means.
- It’s hard not to go into this cigar with huge expectations. The provenance, the experience of being on the farm and visiting with Hirochi, its extremely rare nature – they all set up tall expectations for this stick.
- I find it interesting that “beast” in Spanish is a feminine word.
- As you might know, Gurkha has a pair of cigars called Beauty and Beast, though I didn’t mention that fact to Hirochi.
- Alejandro Robaina is featured prominently in art throughout Cuba, from higher end galleries to a huge artist market and tourist stop on the docks of the Havana harbor. He is truly the face of Cuban cigars, with only pictures of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara smoking cigars coming close in terms of quantity.
- If you find yourself in Cuba, definitely find a way to Pinar del Rio for the day. It’s about a three hour trip west from Havana, and a private driver should run you between $150–$200 for the day.
- It’s also worth taking a detour to Viñales, one of the most gorgeous parts of the island. It’s about 45 minutes north of San Luis.
- This was the first cigar of the day I smoked when I reviewed it, and it was nowhere near as mild as I thought it might be, or maybe my palate was just a bit more receptive.
- This is a cigar I could have seen myself hanging onto for years, waiting for that perfect occasion to finally fire it up. But one thing that I’ve learned in this business is that great cigars are meant to be smoked.
- The only real issue with this cigar was the burn line and the slight tunneling, though neither provided significant problems. It’s an interesting comparison to the usually perfect construction I see in the bulk of non-Cuban cigars.
- I smoked a Robaina Farmie in what I believe was a Robusto vitola over Thanksgiving, and it had the same white pepper note running through it, in almost exact proportions as to La Bestia. For some reason though, I seemed to prefer La Bestia a bit more, despite its significantly bigger ring gauge.
- The more I smoked this, the more I wondered what it would have been like to have a conversation with Alejandro Robaina during my visit. I can’t even imagine it, but I like to think it would have been fantastic to have been able to have a few words with a legend.
- Again, you can not buy these at the farm, and I would think that you wouldn’t get one if you asked for it. Additionally, I wouldn’t be presumptuous enough to ask for one, and I hope that you won’t be if you get a chance to visit the farm.
- The cigar for this review was a gift from Hirochi Robaina.
- Final smoking time is about two hours and 50 minutes.
The term beast is only appropriate when referring to La Bestia's size, and even that is debatable. Yes, it's big, but it's manageable. The flavor is upfront and the strength is noticeable, but it's not overwhelming. So what is the Robaina Family La Bestia? It is engaging, fully palatable, loaded with finesse and refined touches. To put it other words, it reminds me of my conversation with Hirochi Robaina: fully engaged, well thought-out and loaded with points and counterpoints, but held in an incredibly relaxing and peaceful setting that is like few others in the world. La Bestia never becomes confrontational or harsh, but never lets up on the flavor thanks to a pepper note that runs almost the entire length of the cigar. It is so dialed in that you feel compelled to smoke it down to the absolute final puff, because there is simply no other option as to what to do with it. It is one of the best showings I have seen from any cigar in quite some time and a reminder that when Cuba wants to showcase their best tobaccos they can make truly phenomenal cigars. This will likely be one of those cigars I remember for years, and one I can only hope to revisit in the future.