Off to Havana again…

All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go…

As this post goes live, I should be taking off and heading to the sunny I.S.O.M. again, and leaving this wintry wasteland behind me for a few days.  A nice mix of stuff to do, with lots of cigars smoked, no doubt.

Once I get back, I’ll have lots of updates and cigar reviews for here as well.  Talk to you all again soon.

Cheers all.

Cigar Review – Por Larranaga Picadores, Jun 2014 “PUO” box code; Final Score – 88

Well, this review is much delayed.  I had the chance to smoke one of these new PL Picadores back in early February.  This was sort of both a celebratory and a remembrance smoke – celebratory in that it was after graduation from my “coach officer” course, and remembrance in that it was also just after the one-year anniversary of my Dad’s passing.  So, time to enjoy a new release cigar then.

These are beautiful cigars.  A nice format (Hermosos No. 4 – a slightly thinner and longer robusto-range format), pleasing 25-stick dress-box packaging, and a great brand/blend for aging.  PL are known for their caramel-and-spiced-tobacco tinged profile that just excels at the 5-year-plus mark.  These also have an interesting looking red-white-and-gold band, a noticable but tasteful difference in the band design from the standard and long-lasting dark-gold-with-white-text band that PL has sported for years.

Reviewed Cigar:  Por Larranaga Picadores

Box Date:  Jun 2014

Factory / Manufacture Code:  PUO

Packaging:  25-count dress box

Price per cigar:  $20.56 CAD each (LCDH Toronto)

Length:  5″, or 127 mm

Ring Gauge: 48

Format:  Hermosos No. 4 / Corona extra

Weight:  Did not weigh this particular stick

Construction/Appearance & Pre-Light:  This cigar was constructed very nicely.  Darker leather-toned wrapper, mild crinkling from the bunching underneath, a nice mild oily sheen to the wrapper, and a very pleasantly bunched foot.  The colour differences of the various filler tobaccos were quite noticable at the foot as well, looking like a cigar’s variant of the yin-and-yang symbol.

Fairly flat headed cigar; nice well-defined triple cap.  Construction feel was quite nice.  A pleasant firmness, no overly hard or soft spots.  Everything seemed just right in the construction of this stick.

After a cut and at cold, very nice.  Mild caramel tinges at cold, some leather, and a sweet almost clove spiciness.

Opening Impressions:  Quite nice, but definitely closed in.  Decent amounts of smoke.  Slightly rooty/woody tinge on the tongue (almost like anise).  Rich toasted tobacco, sweet spices (nutmeg, cloves).

First Third:  Into the first third, I got hits of burnt brown sugar, fading in an out to a caramel tinge.  Very faint.  Definitely getting youthful / slightly sour tones already.  Trying to smoke this as slowly and patiently as possible.

Second Third:  Into the second third, a lot of the same.  Not much happening here.

Final Third:  Into the final third, getting hints of coffee and leather.  Some smokey cedar wood coming into play.  Lots of the caramel tinge fading in and out, but surrounded by a tangy youthful tone.

Finishing Comments / Overall Impression:  This cigar, this blend, will be great down the line if this cigar is any representation of what’s to come.  At this young of a stage, it shows that PL profile there, even if it’s only waiting in the wings.  I was actually expecting a bit worse for these, but I’m pleasantly surprised to see how tame these are currently (even though the blend is definitely restrained right now).  I’m planning to smoke a few more samples in Havana next week if I can, and take it from there.

To me, with a 4-6 year wait time to allow these to fully mature and sit well, I’d love to see these become as amazing as PLPC’s do with that level of age on them.  I’m very excited for these in the future – probably just going to pick up a couple of boxes and see how things progress.

Final Score:  88

Total Smoking Time:  1 hour and 35 minutes

Date & Time Smoked:  February 5th, 2015; lit up at 9:35 pm, done at 11:10 pm

Paired Beverage:  Havana Club Anejo 7 Anos and Coke

Last Meal:  Club sandwich and fries, 1:00 pm

Smoking Conditions:  Fairly chilly in a buddy’s garage, 0 Celsius inside the garage, 54% RH (not great temps or conditions for smoking, but a bit better in than out, at -16 Celsius outside)

Thanks for reading my review.  Hope you enjoyed it.

Cheers all.

Habanos Festival in Full Swing…

So, this year’s Habanos Festival is underway currently.  I’m now getting lots of the Habanos S.A. propaganda e-mails.  It’s funny how H S.A. is about that – nearly no news throughout the year when cigar enthusiasts are asking for answers / info, but then oodles of e-mails and non-info when H S.A. can use something to their advantage and toot their horn.

Almost too much badly-English-translated info about festival events and new releases that not many care about, but not enough throughout the year about discontinuations, lengthy delays, etc., and stuff that people are actually interested about.

On that note, since my passport will now likely be blocked upon my arrival in Havana in a few days…LOL…here’s a few links for those that want them about current news from the Habanos Festival, straight from the horse’s….er, mouth.

Mainly…cigars and booze pair well together, cigar-festival-goers visit the newest bestest finca, RyJ and Monte “Anejados” are the newest bees knees that have apparently been aged for 5 years without ANYONE IN THE CIGAR WORLD KNOWING ABOUT THEM (highly suspect), etc., etc.

I also found it funny about an article that they did in December, but that I just saw through these e-mailings, that talked about our blind tasting in November of the LFDC Siboney 2014 RE Canada.  And I quote – “They highlighted the quality of La Flor del Cano Siboney Habanos and described it as a fine cigar, with great burning and excellent taste; so there is no doubt that this Regional Edition is going to make it big in Canada.”

Yeah….ummmmm, no.  Not how I or any of us saw it.  I remember one chap say “yeah, it was good”, and then rated it a 7 or 7-1/2 out of 10.  Being kind.  My review I did here definitely didn’t illustrate it either.

Ahhhhhh, to be the spin doctors at a company like H S.A.

Another Video to Share of the Lung Kong Association in Havana…

A few weeks back now, Nino from the Flying Cigar blog sent a couple of us Canadian troublemakers a link to another video on the Sociedad Lung Kong in Havana, Cuba.  Thought I’d share it here as well, as it is another reminder of the trials and tribulations that some face in Cuba, and why some of us international visitors try to do what we can for our friends down there.

From Nino:

“Hi guys,

I just stumbled on this 2005 documentary on the Lung Kong restaurant [and association] in Havana we support. Very informative. I can see many familiar faces there and am touched.

Please watch it – it’s highly interesting … even regarding cigars …”

Cheers all.

Cigar Box Date-Code Markings and Mastercases…

It seems to come up in online discussion fairly frequently, about cigar box date codes, and the various markings found on top of, and underneath, the cigar boxes themselves.  With such a commodity like Cuban cigars, and how frequent and widespread their counterfeiting can be, people are rightly cautious sometimes.  Even though newer anti-counterfeiting measures are being put in place (such as packaging changes, self-destruct-if-removed warranty seals, bar codes with an online checking tool, and newer bands even with holograms on them), sometimes the reputation-thieves are very much right there on their A-game.

One of the things is box codes.  These stamped in codes are applied to the bottom of a cigar box, and delineate the month and date that said box of cigars has been packaged (note that they could have been rolled previous to the month shown, and the date is only when the overall process was completed and they were boxed up), and also show the 3-letter code for the factory they were made in.  While deciphering the codes has gone the way of the dodo bird, the month-and-year code gives aficionados a reasonable measure as to the age and sometimes general quality of a given box of cigars.  The thought is that if you had a great box of MUL-factory-coded cigars from 2010, it’s not a guarantee, but it may help in your search for the same type/brand of cigars if you find an MUL-coded 2012 box.  Not a guarantee at all, but it can sometimes help.

A great Cuban cigar resource and more information about these date codes and factory stamps can be found at the Cuban Cigar Website here:

With these codes, as there’s various factories throughout Havana, and Cuba, producing these cigars, the date-code stamps themselves are never perfect.  It always seems to come up in conversation about people about how the date codes can look so different, for the same brand of cigar.  Well, given that millions upon millions of Montecristos are rolled every year, you could have multiple boxes of Monte No. 4’s, with many different factory codes, even from within the same month, and even the stamp formatting itself could vary…

All of these date codes were photographed on my November 2014 trip to Havana, and all were known legit boxes from various LCDH shops and other cigar divans.  (The last picture added in there is courtesy of Frank, from boxes coming my way from Europe that he photographed the codes for me.)  Yes, there’s still a number of fakes you still need to watch out for in the actual shops themselves in Cuba, but these boxes were all authentic, even with all these different stylings for the date codes themselves.  But as you can see, the month and year portion is sometimes separated by a simple single-space, sometimes with a hyphen, sometimes with a colon, sometimes with an asterisk, and sometimes even a simple period.

People sometimes cry foul and declare as counterfeits/fakes that which they cannot trust.  With so many changes over the past years, and Habanos S.A. rarely giving any “official” details or media releases out, sometimes it’s hard to be 100% sure.  Once you find a good one, trust your vendor/source, and once you develop your palate to a particular cigar, that’s your best guarantee – it either smokes like a real one, or it doesn’t.  Yes, people need to take the overall constellation of facts into account – that the packaging is correct, the cigars themselves look and feel and smell correct, that the bands are correct, that the date stamps are correct, etc., etc.

But, as the above pictures show, no single thing can be a complete guarantee.  With so many Tabacuba factories changing so much in recent years, something as simple as a stamped-and-marked in factory code is hard for them to keep uniform.

That, and mastercases…

People sometimes ask what a cigar mastercase is.  Simply, a big cardboard shipping case of a particular run of cigars.  The info on the sides give various particulars on the goodies inside.  The code on the boxes are generally all the same inside a single mastercase, but they are all always from one particular factory – so you could have a two-code mastercase when a factory did a box code change mid-way through a particular month perhaps.

I did, when I was down in Havana, have a picture of box 1-of-66 or so of the first production batch (Sep 2014, UME, I think it was) of the Cohiba Robustos Supremos LE (a cigar I reviewed here).  Unfortunately, I deleted that picture in the transfer of that digital data to my computer upon the return from that trip – and trust me, I’ve kicked myself about it since.

So, there’s a little bit about box codes and mastercases.  Hope it answers some questions.

Cheers all.

New Custom Cigar Jars to be Coming Soon from San Ramon Producciones…

So, when I was in Havana last November for the 2014 edition of the Encuentros Partagas, and with the assistance of good friend Jose Antonio Candia, I had the chance to go to the production studio for Ramon Iglesias Centeno, the man behind San Ramon Producciones. He’s been a photographer for many years, but for the past number of years, he’s also become more and more well-known for his custom ceramic jars.

A number of years ago, in 2011 or 2012, news and pictures came out about a series of antique-replica Partagas jars that were starting to be made by Ramon, in the classic “Sevilla-jar” / “Talavera” style in a blue-on-white motif, and with the ability to have the jar done with special script or a name on it.

I thought this was pretty cool. A number of us were fairly impressed with the end results of that new aspect of customization for Cuban cigars, and so in the summer/fall of 2013, ahead of that year’s Encuentros Partagas, I put together a group buy with Ramon for a special 20-jar run of custom cigars that Ramon did especially for our international group of trouble makers (including some Cuban friends). They’re a nice, classic, brown-coloured design done up just for us (they’re the jar that’s 3rd from the right in the featured image at the top of this page, with the Partagas factory image viewable on the backside of it, and the 3rd run of jars that Ramon did). However, as I had to unfortunately bow out from the November 2013 trip at the last minute, I was unable to go to personally meet Ramon and pick up my jar directly from him with a handshake, as other trip participants did.

Therefore, with this past November’s trip for the Encuentros Partagas, Jose assisted me in setting up a morning visit to Ramon’s studio, so would could meet each other (as he knew me as the Canadian schmuck that organized the group buy), and so that we could have a chance to talk relatively one-on-one about his current endeavours. Bringing my fellow Canadian traveller and trip-roommate John Reiner along, we were decently impressed. (NOTE – forgive me, but most of this is from memory, as though I created audio notes during this visit, a subsequent glitch during an iPhone sync caused me to inadvertently delete them.)

At about 9 am, we made our way into, if I recall this correctly, the Arroyo Naranjo borough of Havana, where Ramon’s studio is located. A fairly non-descript location, being a converted house, we were treated inside to some lovely articles and pieces of considerable artistic quality, considering the material constraints Cubans face. Ramon has been a professional photographer for some time. He’s worked on and off for Habanos S.A. for years, taking photographs at special events for them. He also does private photos, and his walls are bordered by numerous black-and-white pictures of dozens of beautiful Cuban ladies.

A few years ago now, he started with the Partagas replica jars. As he explained to us this day, Habanos gave him the okay/approval to move forward, and through a government licencing body regulating production artworks, he was granted the okay to produce 1000 jars. He showed us a giant ledger book, listing all the jars in numerical order, and the various particulars of their owners, and where everyone signs on the relevant numbered line when they pick up their jars. He was up to about jar number 580-something, so considering he was granted 1000 jars, it’s been moving along fairly decently for Ramon. These jars originally sold for only $60 CUC’s, but he currently sells them for $100 CUC on order – definitely capitalising on the popularity of jars by raising the pricing, but so be it.

Starting that jar line has opened up new doors for him, he told us. As the featured image at the top of the page shows, since he started these jars in 2011/2012, he now has 6 main lines of jars that he’s produced. First was the blue Partagas jars, a 1000 jar run (just over half-way through). Next up was a special release jar in 2012 for the Partagas LCDH’s 20th anniversary, which was a run of 100 jars I believe. Third in his production was our group’s special run of only 20 jars, which was planned out in the summer/fall of 2013. After that, 2013 and 2014 was busy for him, with his fourth jar series being a special batch of jars for Mitchell Orchant for some of his “Orchant Seleccion” stock, the fifth being an all-creamy-white / off-white jar for the tenth anniversary of the Melia Cohiba LCDH, and then the sixth and most recent being an imposing all-black one in honour of the three or four Guiness World Records that have now been earned by famed roller Jose Cueto. All of these last three series of jars was a 100-jar run.

He has also done a few other special runs of jars for various vendors. In 2013, he did variants of the blue Partagas jars for Cigar One (commemorating their 15th anniversary, and including Partagas 898 Unvarished’s from 1998), and if I recall correctly, he did a run of these blue Partagas-style jars, but with H. Upmann lettering, for a Spanish cigar vendor, and containing H. Upmann Magnum 46’s from 2005.

But so, onwards to the good stuff that we were there for…

Ramon is getting set to release two new series of jars.  One will be for the “Baire” brand.  The above pictures show a wooden humidor with the Baire logo painted on it, and this will be the main logo / design applied to this particular jar series.  This brand was a pre-revolution brand which stopped production sometime in the 1920’s Ramon stated, and is a brand that Habanos S.A. doesn’t hold a patent / copyright on.  It’s even a logo on some of Ramon’s older jar-box labels: if you look at older packaging boxes for the Partagas-replica jars, that wonderful drawing of the Baire logo is on the label affixed to them.  Anyways, Ramon stated that this jar will likely be a cream-white / off-white jar, similar in shape and overall design to the Partagas-replica and similar jars.  These will be for a run of 200 jars, if I recall correctly, and will be $150 CUC’s each.

Secondly, and more importantly for some, Ramon will be completing a run of jars in tribute to “La Patrona”.  As the above pictures show, there was a framed print of the “La Patrona del Tabaco”, signed by Don Alejandro Robaina, and with a prayer medallion enclosed.  As Ramon related to us in translation via Jose, La Patrona is a statue of the Virgin Mary holding a baby Jesus, and was originally brought over as a shrine by the Spaniards.  When they founded the area in the Vinales valley region of the Pinar del Rio province, and eventually built the cathedral in either the city of Pinar del Rio or the region of Vinales (forgive me, as I can’t 100% remember that particular detail), they built a shrine to the Virgin Mary, and brought over an ornate statue of her and blessed it in 1895 or so.  With many tobacco plantations in the area, and the conversion of some Cubans over the previous decades to Christianity / Catholism, the farmers made her their own, re-christening her “La Patrona Del Tabaco”.  There is also a shrine to La Patrona at Vegas Robaina, the Robaina’s finca “Cuchillas de Barbacoa”, in San Luis y Martinez, within Pinar del Rio province.

Ramon further elaborated to us that these jars would be probably in a run of only 120 jars, in honour of the 120th anniversary of her christening / arrival to bless the tobacco-rich western areas of Cuba.  These jars apparently will be in a nearly identical dimension and curvy shape as the all-black Cueto jars as pictured above, and including some clay in the ceramic that was mined from the Vegas Robaina farm.  The finish on the jars will be in a “virgin white” firing, and with the La Patrona artwork on one side (fairly similar to the framed card, and as Ramon’s business card also shows), and the other side will feature a representation of a harvest-time “farmer’s almanac” schedule to the planting/harvesting cycle which was apparently one of the recent ones hand-written by Don Alejandro himself and given to Ramon.  These jars will be $150 CUC’s each as well, and when we were visiting, he was already pre-sold into jar number 66 or 67 out of the allotted 120-jar production run.

He did state to us that he was hoping that these two new jar productions would start to be ready for the 2015 Festival Habanos, happening later on this month (yes, I was originally wanting to do this blog entry back in December, but unfortunately I was sidetracked).  He did say it was likely that the entire runs would not be done, but that he’d have the first few of each started, and would hope that at the very least, he’d have a prototype version of each design at the ready, so that Festival Habanos participants would be able to see it in the flesh.  Fingers crossed for him for that.

Overall, it was a nice little visit.  It was nice to also see the polished-copper Stinky ashtray that the various Canadian trip members (including myself, though I had to bow out last minute) signed and gifted to Ramon as thanks for helping with our special jar run in 2013.  I noticed it sitting in his main room, with placement up on his fridge, ready for use with cigar-lovers visiting his business.  He even gifted John and I with some of his private stock of custom cigars, which were nice but definitely moist and fresh (it was some very humid weather in Havana that week), and it was a nice visit overall.  We even got to see one of the H. Upmann tree-trunk humidors that is a part of his personal collection, and I was able to pick up a wanted jar for another good friend.

The lone sour point was that the pricing has gone up on these jars, with the Partagas replicas originally $60 CUCs and now 100, and similarly with these new jars commanding $150 CUCs.  But, he is running a business, and so be it – certain basic costs have definitely gone up recently, and even with that, he can only charge what people are willing to pay.  I personally don’t disparage him that, as long as the quality is there (there have been issues in the past with a few jars here and there, which he has corrected for the most part, to the best of my knowledge).  Those interested in ordering any jars from Ramon can contact him via his Facebook page, or via his e-mail (listed on the business card in the photos above).

But all in all, it was an interesting visit.  It was capped off nicely by me being able to see my entry in the production-book pages for my custom jar, previously signed-for and picked up by a kind fellow-Canadian-traveller.  An order was made for some of the La Patrona jars as well – obviously, this schmuck is willing to pay, LOL.  I’m appreciative for him to allow us entry into his respectable little shop, and also grateful to Jose for him organizing it and hosting us to the studio, as well as in utilizing his translating skills (as my Spanish is nowhere good enough!)

So, fingers crossed that I’ll be able to see the finished products later on this month with these new jars.  When and if I do, I’ll be sure to share the pictures and further details here.

Cheers all.

Another BOTL Reviews the LFDC Siboney 2014 RE Canada…

Well, yet another friend, Simon, has done a nice review for his “House of Cuban Cigars” blog with LCDH Montreal, on the La Flor De Cano “Siboney”, the Regional Edicion for 2014 for Canada.

I had the chance to take part in a pre-release review tasting panel back in November 2014, hosted by Roger and others from Havana House (the official Canadian distributor for Habanos).  While the tasting for the cigar itself did not go well, it was still a treasured experience…

Cigar Review – La Flor de Cano Siboney 2014 RE Canada, Sep 2014 “OEP” box code; Final Score – 82

In talking with Simon and a few others in the following months since that tasting, we’re hoping for better things with that cigar.  Hell, maybe they slightly tweaked the blend for boxes that were still being produced when we did that initial pre-release tasting, or perhaps we just got a fairly sour box from the onset of production.

Simon’s review can be found here:

Flor de Cano Siboney Exclusivo Canada

No idea if the box codes match up or not, or if there’s a distinct difference there, leading to the fairly different overall impression.  I do notice from his pictures that his box sampled from is box # 171 – decently far-enough removed from our pre-release box # 0000, but it does depend a bit on the box / factory code as well (mine was Sep 2014 “OEP”).  I do note that he also mentioned the sourness, and while it wasn’t pleasant at all back in November, it sounds like it’s not a detriment in Simon’s tasting.

So, sounds like they’re improving a bit, which is definitely a needed must.  I hope they do continue to evolve positively, as they are a nice format for wintertime smokers in Canada.

Cheers all.

EDIT / ADDITION: In discussing this further with Simon, I was curious about the final market pricing for these. When I did the pre-release tasting in Havana back in November, we were told that the plan at the time was for an MSRP pricing of $18 or $19 CDN per stick, factoring in taxes and such for the Canadian market. Even then at the tasting, we thought that price was damn well too high, putting it past the pricing for some regular production minutos that are already well-reputed, and can be great ROTT or with some extended aging time. Well, it sounds like the current / actual pricing on this is a ghastly $24 CDN per stick!!!!!!!!!!! That’s insane!!!! As Simon mentioned, that’s too damn expensive, and now puts it only a couple dollars shy of a regular production robusto (I think a RASS is only $26). That’s absurd, especially for a little minuto.

Hopefully they VASTLY improve then, so that these are able to be moved, and don’t just simply gather dust on store shelves for 8 or 9 plus years.

Day Trip Recommendations For Havana…

So, I’ve got a number of e-mails and messages lately regarding my suggestions on doing a day-trip to Havana, mostly for people travelling from Varadero, as they’re there on an all-inclusive beach-front package.  The requests have mainly been a combination on what food spots to hit, what LCDH shops to hit, and what spots to get custom cigars.

I’ve decided to copy-and-paste some of the generally relevant text here, but I want to make one thing obvious.  I’m not a travel guide.  Hell, out of some of my travel compatriots sometimes, I’m barely out of the “Havana rookie” category.  While I love the organizational aspect of a trip sometimes, and giving tips and suggestions to complete newbies, it’s all info that I’ve absorbed and been given by others with MUCH more Cuba-travel-time than me.  As a wise friend frequently says, “I am still but a student” when it comes to many things concerning Cuba, Havana, and Cuban cigars especially.  Though I’ve been into Cuban cigars since 1998-ish, I’ve only been travelling to Cuba since 2008.  As in cigars, when it comes to finding good food spots in and around Havana, things are constantly changing, and you really need to ask the local population to know what’s best at any given time.

Hell, some of the best and most well-known names in Havana foodspots (El Palenque, La Fontana, Bodeguita del Medio) as well as lesser known ones (Santy’s, Starbien) I haven’t even hit yet myself for one reason or another – but that I’m hoping to change most of that effectively later on this month [Edit 2017 – all hit-up and MUCH enjoyed within the last year or two; highly recommended].

So, with my recommendations please understand that I know and appreciate how some people may want to maximize their time spent in Havana on a day-trip from Varadero, and not necessarily have it be the most tranquilo part of their Cuban travel time.  I also make minimal distinctions between tourist-trap restaurants or shops, for example the difference between a state-run mass-seating restaurant and that of a privately-owned and run paladar.  To me, each location is special for a particular dish or vibe, and what each individual person may want from the experience should guide their choices.  Take my suggestions with a grain of salt, and make your trip your own.  Enjoy…

If you’re looking at doing a day-trip from Varadero to Havana, ensure you have enough time arranged.  If you have a guide/driver booked, if he’s picking you up in Varadero at 8am, you’ll get to Havana at about 9:30 or so, maybe 10am.  Get him to drive straight here – no stopping at tourist-trap road-side spots.  Hell, if you can, get him to pick you up at 7am – gives you more time in Havana.

For the requests of what shops/locations to hit for LCDH-hopping and picking up custom cigars, you can maximize your day if you get them in the right order, relatively.  Club Habana is a definite yes, but its best to use that as a start point, and it’s on the far west side of Havana, out past Miramar and Playa.  So, from Varadero to there, you’re looking at about 2 hrs to 2-1/2 hrs.

So, starting from there, here’s what I’d recommend:

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1.  Club Habana – meet Jorge, load up on his “Monsdales” customs (get as many as you can, a bundle or two if you can swing it, and if he has the stock).  Take your time and look through their walk-in humidor.  Lots of goodies to be had in there sometimes.  Ask to look in that antique wooden stand-alone cabinet in the far corner of that humidor – sometimes, special aged (7-10+ year) goodies hide in there.

2.  Commodoro – sure, it’s not a bad idea to hit it, if you’ve got the time.  Five minute drive from Club Habana, now heading back east towards Miramar/Havana proper.  Can’t remember the roller here (Alex?), but sure – pick up 5 or 6 customs here.  Nothing special in that shop generally with regards to my experiences in looking for aged and/or regular-production stock.  Don’t waste too much time here, in my opinion.

3.  Melia Habana – right next door to Commodoro relatively, 5-10 minute walk or 2 minute drive.  LCDH is in the basement of the hotel.  Yolanda is the custom roller there – load up on a couple handfuls of her robustos or piramides.  Sometimes quite a bit of nice stock in there, but this humidor is known to have high-humidity issues on and off over the years – be careful of moldly boxes.  Saw some epic boxes of Trinidad Fundadores here years back, but upon further inspection (flipping over the boxes to inspect the bottom side of all the cigars on the bottom rows), found TONS of green and blue mold even.  But, her customs here are divine.

4.  Hit up the shop at 5y16.  It’s Carlos Robaina’s shop, the son of Don Alejandro Robaina, and they have a nice bar and restaurant there, with a nice shrine to Don Alejandro.  This shop is on the edge of Miramar, pretty much right in between Melia Habana and Melia Cohiba, just before you get back to the tunnel going underneath the Rio Almendares.  They have a nice big walk-in too, but usually not too much selection or aged stuff to be found here – they get hit pretty heavily by tourist groups.  If you’re lucky, you’ll find Carlos, and maybe even Hiroshi there, and can shake hands and get a picture.  Carlos sometimes seems like he doesn’t speak a lick of English (or do it well), but the staff will translate for you if the Spanglish doesn’t work for you, or you yourself don’t speak a lick of Spanish well.

Now, you should pace yourself so that 5y16 is either just before or just after lunchtime (maybe have a later lunch for about 1 or 2 pm).  Get your guide to arrange for you to have lunch either at El Aljibe (just a bit before 5y16) or at the 5y16 restaurant itself (okay, I guess), or get your guide to make the arrangements for La Cocina de Lilliam (a bit more expensive, and back towards the Melia Habana, but impeccible and well worth it).  Another option would be the Rio Mar, or Restaurant 1830, right there at the river tunnel, and with some decent menus and views.

5.  Next, hit up the shop at Melia Cohiba.  A very large and nice shop, with great cappucinos, but the walk-in isn’t overly huge.  Juanita is the custom roller here, and there’s always a fair amount of her sticks available.  Don’t spend too much time here though, IMO.

6.  Habana Libre.  This is a relatively must-hit shop, similar to Club Habana and Conde de Villanueva.  This shop is pretty damn big, and has some amazing stock in there sometimes, although aged/special items are rarely found.  This is just a great shop for the overall size and selection of cigars available usually.  Can’t remember who the roller is here – I haven’t got any from here before.  This shop is also known (in both a good- and a bad-way) for the various special humidors and unique packaging runs and custom stuff that they have produced especially for the Habana Libre LCDH.

ESSENTIAL STOP.  Hotel Nacional de Cuba.  This is only 3 blocks away from the Habana Libre, right on the Malecon seaside boulevard – a good walk to take (which would also take you right past and through a small but useful little street-side artisans market, if you walk up Avenida 23).  The LCDH shop here is in the basement (turn right once you walk into the lobby, go past the elevators, and then go right again down the hallway to the shops).  It usually has a decent amount of stock in recent years, and has a good-sized and welcoming walk-in humidor.  The staff here are fairly knowledgeable, and though they may seem somewhat disinterested at first, they are genuinely friendly and welcoming once they get to know you and understand your appreciation and knowledge for all things Habanos (well, except for Monte Opens, at least).  After you grab a stick or two here (they always have Trini Fundadores that I scoop up here), it is MANDATORY damn near to go back upstairs, through the lobby, and out to the back terrace.  This is “cigar central”.  During many evenings of the various festival weeks, this is where you’ll see many of us lounging and enjoying a pre-dinner drink and a cigar and generally glad-handing around.  During the (way-too-early) mornings, this is where we’re mowing down on a perfect Cubano sandwich and a 6am “nightcap” (yes, it’s a 24-hr bar and service area).  But during the middle of the day, it’s the best spot around to just slump into the giant wicker loungers, have a cigar, enjoy two or three cappuccinos and/or mojitos, and feel the sea breezes through the garden while watching the world go by.  The terrace’s patio area is great for lounging around.  The lobby and adjoining hallways are great for the history.  But don’t neglect to take a walk further out from the patio, into the far gardens, watch the peacocks all strutting around, and even sit on the stone area near the Malecon and watch the parade of pedestrians and vehicles below (all while right near historical cannons and anti-aircraft fortifications).  This is truly a great place, and an essential stop on any/each individual Havana trip.

7.  Partagas – yes, this is where Hamlet works now [Edit 2017 – USED TO work], in the LCDH storefront.  Hamlet can generally be found working here on weekdays.  However, don’t ask him about customs, etc., etc. – will not be a possibility.  He hasn’t rolled customs in a while, as he’s not the custom roller since the change over with the RyJ factory.  They do occasionally have custom rolls available here from Leopoldina / “La China”, and she’s a short, rotund, kindly treat of a woman.  It’s definitely worthwhile to say hello to both if they’re in there, and even just to say hi, maybe get a picture if they’re not too busy.  If you’re wanting to buy a regular production box, ask Hamlet what’s smoking good right now, and he’ll help you out.  [Edit 2017 – see Sadie or Gracia or one of the other ladies there for their help, as they all have a BREADTH of knowledge].  They do have some nice stock here.  If it’s busy, the above may not be possible, and especially if it’s busy, good luck at trying to get a seat in the VIP room in the back if you’re not there with someone else / one of “us” insiders, unfortunately.  Flip of a coin.

8.  Conde de Villanueva.  This is another definite yes, like Club Habana and Habana Libre.  While the regular production stock is pretty poured over here, it’s a wonderful little short-ceilinged shop that’s tucked away into a hidden second-floor corner in the middle of the courtyard of the Conde de Villanueva hotel.  Look for the slightly creaky looking green wooden staircase leading up from one corner of the hotel-center courtyard, and you’ll be in business.  Reynaldo is the custom roller here – get whatever of his you can, similar to Jorge’s Monsdales.  Reynaldo usually has coronas and lanceros available, sometimes robustos and piramides too.  And, the courtyard downstairs is an amazing place to unwind and take in the locale – the bar here serves great cappucinos as well as mojitos, and the open air courtyard is home to a family of peacocks that frequently strut around and look for dropped food.  Really a special place.  Be sure to check out the giant armoir cabinet in the hotel’s front lobby of cigar lighters, cutters, watches, and other miscellaneous items that have been left here over the years.

Now, depending on ALL THAT, and on what time that all takes you, maybe prepare to stay into Havana for a bit later, if you can make the arrangements with your guide/driver/spouse.  Because once all this is said and done, you should be at about 4 or 5pm now, if you time your LCDH store hopping well, and if you started at a decent time in the day.  Remember that if you want to hit up all these shops, you won’t have the time to smoke a cigar and have a cappucino at each – you’ll have to smoke a cigar as you go, and limit these visits to only 10 to 20 minutes max at most of these.

But, if you can arrange it with the driver, from Conde de Villanueva, I recommend one of two things for supper.  Either, a nice walk out through the old town, walking to El Templete for a nice seafood supper if that’s what you prefer.  Their ceviche is amazing here, the best in Havana in my opinion, and pretty much every seafood dish is great, especially the baby-eels-in-oil, but their strength is more in the various seafood tapas plates rather than the main dishes.  This is definitely a place to have a pina colada too – my favourite here as well.

OR, my main supper preference to recommend is to, after the visit to the Partagas shop, to have a nice walk, going around Parque Central, and then to find the Floridita bar, which is the start of Obispo, a cannon-blocked pedestrian-only walkway through the old town, and to use that to get to Conde de Villanueva in the first place, and then instead of El Templete, to drive over to La Terraza / Prado 309 for supper.

This would be my main recommendation for supper.  The leg of lamb dinner (only $11 CUC’s) is divine, huge and fulfilling.  The mixed grill ($12 CUC’s if I remember correctly) includes lobster tail and some lamb and pork, and is wonderful as well.  The octopus appetizer ($10 CUC I think?) is the best here from anywhere else.  Amazing prices for a great location [Edit 2017 – prices up and doubled now, but still very favourable for what you get], wonderfully decorated and appointed, with excellent service, and a wonderful view from the outdoor terrace.

And lastly, again, if you can make the plans with your driver/guide, and depending on your timelines from earlier, make the arrangements to take in the 9pm sunset cannon ceremony at El Morro castle, on the opposite side of the Havana harbour opening (be there at least by 7:30 or 8pm, to take it all in and have a chance to take in the scene).

It’s hard to fit all this stuff into a single day visit of Havana, and a two-day jaunt would be soooooo much better.  Hell, if you can get the morning cigar-shop visit moving on quickly enough, and you get up to Melia Cohiba or Habana Libre, I recommend highly to have lunch at El Templete (again, divine ceviche here, the best in Havana, and amazing baby-eel dish too), and then do supper at Prado 309.  But, I definitely think that if it can be done, to make the arrangements to have a longer day and take in a bit of the suppertime-/nightime-vibe of the city.

And…LOL…of course, all the above is dependant on your wife/spouse/husband/partner being understanding that this day-trip is mainly a cigar-shop-bouncing day-trip.  Again, I definitely recommend at least a two-day visit to Havana if you’re doing it based on a Varadero all-inclusive vacation week.  That way, you can have a day for the cigar shops, and if it’s not really your spouse’s/partner’s thing, then you have the next day to slow down and go with the flow, and find some nice tourist and historical spots, or perhaps even stumble on some hidden gems.

So, if you’re absolutely stuck in negotiating this day trip, with your spouse or your guide or whomever, and can only focus on three or four shops, and two or three places to eat, here’s my absolute bare bones list for that:  for shops, Club Habana, Habana Libre, Nacional, Partagas, and Conde de Villanueva; for food, El Aljibe, El Templete (both for either lunch or dinner) and Prado 309 (for dinner mainly).

Absolutely last but not least, during the rest of your vacation, don’t forget to hit up the LCDH shop in Varadero at Calle 63.  Alfonso, the roller there, has some wonderful customs that he does as well, definitely up there with Reynaldo and Jorgito and others.  His robustos and piramides are very nice [Edit 2017 – though I haven’t been there in years now, I still have some of his sticks, and savour them well].

I know there’s a lot there to pour over, but I hope this helps in some way.  Enjoy.

[Edit 2017 – yes, it can seem rushed, and that’s why I myself enjoy a week or so at a time in Havana; much more of a relaxed time spreading this over multiple days – you take in sooooo much more that way, and don’t feel as much like a fucking “tourist” / yuma, as Nino and others like to say, and I wholeheartedly agree now after these years and at this point.  However, the above was all designed and laid out for those specifically that are looking to do it this way, to fit a shit ton of stuff into one quick day-trip to Havana, and want to maximize their time by fitting in as many essential spots as possible.  As I mentioned just above, it’s definitely better to slow things down and split it over two or three or more days.  But, if it is what it is, and this is how you need to try to fit it all in, I hope the above list, timelines, and step-by-step helps you out somewhat; enough so that you get bitten by the “Havana bug”, and decide on making further trips, where you can really take in all that this city has to offer in it’s hidden crevices and side-streets!]

Cheers all.

A Great Story Series About The Current Issues Surrounding The Cuban Embargo…

Came across this story recently, with one particular part being shared by a fellow cigar forum member.

The whole news series is fairly relevant, and while with an America-centric slant, it still is excellent reading.

Enjoy – there’s two parts here, with four pages to the first part, and five for the second. Fire up a nice cigar, and kick back with this interesting read. If you’re passionate about cigars and/or Cuba, this is definitely relevant reading for you…

Part One – “Could the End of the Embargo Kill the Cuban-Cigar Industry?”

Part Two – “Cigar Wars: As the Cuban Embargo Fizzles, the Battle for Stogies Smolders”

Cheers all.

…And A Lovely Day Overall – Loading Up For Lung Kong!!!

So, after my lovely gastronomic experience at The TWH Social Bar & Bistro, I sat around further in the afternoon for that court case there in Kitchener.  Annnnnnd, only to have things get backed up, and the case to be put over until the end of June.  C’est la vie.  Such is the justice system sometimes.

But, I made the best of my day by cruising into downtown Toronto this afternoon, into Chinatown, and loading up on this…

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Just awesome how far I was able to get $125 to go.  Four dozen “long life”-design teacups, lots of cooking utensils, some very gorgeous looking exotic wood chopsticks (a darkened bamboo perhaps?), and a few other much-needed cooking items – all for the Sociedad Lung Kong in Havana.

Again doing a bit of co-ordinating with Tom mainly (and hopefully with Nino’s help to translate for my sorry ass when I meet him and others down in Havana at the end of the month), I was able to pick up this stuff at a great little trading-company store in Chinatown.  Man, Tom surely once again steered me right – I went in there with my list, and this little 4-foot-nothing Chinese octogenarian hauled my huge ass around the store in a whirlwind, helping me grab the items in a flurry.  At one moment she was in my shadow, the next she disappeared and zipped to an upper-floor storeroom to grab me the four-dozen teacups once I picked out what I thought would be best.

It’ll be a decently hefty load to stash away into my luggage for the trip.  And while its a fairly decent deal, in my mind, for the amount of stuff I got for a lowly $125, I know it’ll bring immense joy to the Lung Kong ladies and gents, and be tenfold its value to them in long-term usage.

Therein lies the true value of today’s trip.

And hey – I capped it all off with a lovely sea bass super and flan finale at a certain favorite Mambo Lounge…


‘Twas a very good day indeed.

Cheers all.

A Great Canadian Lunch Experience at the “TWH Social” in Kitchener, Ontario…

So, since my dumbass decided to call in a major traffic offence last June from the 401 highway when I was traveling through in my personal vehicle on my way home on my days off, I was stuck in attending court in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, as an off-duty police witness.  To anyone who hasn’t attended court before for any particular reason, I highly recommend you do so at least once in your life.  Once for traffic / provincial offences court, and once for criminal court – just sit in the back gallery and take in the show.  Yes, it’s very procedural and long, and everyone refers to each other by “my friend” and old titles, and occasionally speak in a dead language.  But, it’s also hugely interesting and a great visage of due process at work.

That said, it can put a hink in your personal schedule.  A 9:30 am courtroom start, with minor stuff first, and then the trial I was there for was delayed until 2 pm.  So off I went at 11 am, strolling through downtown Kitchener, in look of a funky little spot to enjoy a nice long lunch.

So, out comes Google Maps – a ha, “Rainbow Caribbean Cuisine” on King Street East.  I like Caribbean things!  Sounds interesting.  Walk my ass down there, and – yeah…um, no.  One look in the front windows, and I knew it was a no – cafeteria-style cheap seating, torn up and duct-taped over, grungy looking; not what I was looking for today, especially being all gussied up for court.

So, strolling the other way, up King Street West, I came across a little cigar shop that grabbed my attention (the Walper Tobacco Shop, quoted as the oldest tobacco store in Canada, established in 1891 – met Pete the owner, and picked up some NC goodies as outside-the-norm treats for some Cuban friends).  It was right at the corner of King and Queen Streets, right by the historic “Walper Hotel” (went to a cousin’s wedding here many years ago – great venue).

But looking at the facade of this cigar shop’s storefront, I noticed what looked like an interesting spot next door.  The “TWH Social Bar & Bistro”.  Looked interesting enough.

Going through the front doors – confusion and slight disappointment.  While the signage was inviting outside, stepping through the first set of glass double-doors revealed…nothing really.  Another set of plain, solid double-doors that appeared to be emergency / fire-exit doors from the Walper Hotel.  Ok.  Must not be anything here then, I thought. Turning around, I noticed a fairly nice and well appointed stairways to my right, leading down to the basement.  Not much noise coming from the bowels below, but I decided to creep down and check it out.

I’m so very glad I did.

Two lovely ladies awaited me below, all dressed in classy black semi-formal attire.  The stairwell opened up to a long and leanly appointed bistro hiding in the basement.  Are you open? “Yes sir, we opened at 11 am.  Would you like to sit at the bar, or a booth?”  11:15 am – I was in business.

What a true treat of a place.  Classic light-tan sandstone bricks, hand-hewn wood table-tops to the booths, a long marble bar top, herringbone-style tiling patterns throughout, immaculately white open-ceilings, and soft diffused lighting.  What an absolute treat!  Classic Motown and 70’s-80’s tunes on the speakers, lots of beverage choices, and a very simple but elegant menu to account for a wide array of tastes.  Gawd, even though I had apprehension going down those first stairs, the non-dungeon-like and open-atmosphere made it very enjoyable.  The small touches even – USB charging outlets at the tables, a nice little wine rack selection, hell, even extremely clean and elegant bathrooms (though the toilet stalls themselves were quite dark).

To start my gastronomic experience here, I indulged in an octopus appetizer.  While a bit more firmly cooked and salty than I prefer (though the sweeter tomato-Apple chutney balanced it well), it was still the best I’ve had outside of “La Terraza / Prado 309” in Havana, or from St. Lucia or other Caribbean locales.  Considering where I am in Canada, and the logistics involved in getting fresh and good seafood, it was a wonderful treat to have, and still tasted lusciously rich and fresh.

Then, a wonderful Brie, pear and chicken panini, with stellar pub fries and aioli.  Fuck, I can’t begin to recollect how many places I’ve been to where the sides are just an afterthought.  These were classically good pub fries, dressed up just enough with the aioli.

I finished off with a vanilla Bavarian custard, walnut and hazelnut creme dessert.  Lovely.

Talking to the staff, this bistro has only been open an astonishing two-and-a-half weeks!!!!  The staff operate like a skilled team already – no delays or screw-ups, no service flaws at all (aside from a playfully-but-accidentally broken glass behind the bar). T he vibe this place gives off is very hip and well-done.  The head chef is actually Terry Salmond, runner up from the TV show “Top Chef Canada” (not that I knew that before, or even watched the show itself), but it’s laudable with quite the credential background to him, and the menu is very well done in it’s simplicity.  My waitress, Courtney, regardless of the newness of the joint itself, seemed to be enough of a skilled young pro to also be keenly aware enough of my overall enjoyment and interest in being here that she brought me a copy of a local business magazine featuring an article on Mr. Salmond prior to him starting this bistro.  Good show – recognizing the branding, and getting it out there.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not a food or restaurant reviewer, or anything along that means.  I don’t plan on filling this blog with food or restaurant reviews too (aside with that from Cuba).  For the already thousands of viewers that this blog has gathered now, rest assured that I don’t plan on muddying up the waters with that.  But along with my mild travels, cigars, and rum enjoyment, I think it’s fair to say that my palate definitely appreciates and recognizes decently finer things – I’d like to think that my waistline bears proof to my years of enjoying some good food spots, and even maybe enjoying some luxuries that some others might not be lucky enough to enjoy, and I’m extremely thankful to have the experiences in life that I’ve had so far.  The food displayed here was in that upper stratosphere, and while not Cuba-centric, I thought it definitely deserved mention.

It was just a divinely indulgent lunch, at a fair-enough price, and well-worth the walk into blusteringly-cold downtown Kitchener.  It was something that I would expect to find and enjoy in downtown Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Chicago, Boston, Miami, etc., and to be paying at least two times as much.  So, I’m definitely glad I kept on following the rabbit hole downwards.

Check out their webpage here at if you’re interested.  I’ve got family there in K-W, so I’ll have to make a point of stopping in there again.  Definitely worth a try if you pop through Kitchener-Waterloo, in my opinion.  Enjoy the experience if you do.

Cheers all.

What The Hell Has Happened To My Cadbury Creme Eggs?!?!?!

It’s a Canadian tradition.  With the waning winds of winter, and the hopeful beckoning of the longer days of spring around the corner, we know Easter isn’t too far away.  And, being that I’m not the most religious of men anymore (surprise, surprise, surprise!), and my waistline is in nearing-middle-age full-effect, it’s no doubt that I’m awaiting the true meaning of Easter – CHOCOLATE!!!

But – WHAT the FUCK has happened to my beloved Cadbury Creme eggs?!?!?!?

I was out on a bit of a shopping mission today (the simple execution of which was relatively flawless considering the weather around here lately), when I found these Canadian-centric treats at the grocery store.  While out perusing the aisles for goodies for the kiddies for Valentines Day (surprise, surprise that the stores are a month or two ahead in their displays, for fuck’s sakes), I saw some Easter stuff on display.  One item in particular always stands out to me – Creme Eggs, by Cadbury.

For those not in the know, these are a Canada-only (to the best of my knowledge) offering done by Cadbury.  A basically life-size egg, made of a rich milk chocolate shell, and filled with a sweet confectioners-icing liquid-candy center of white and yellow goodness (to resemble an egg’s cooked colours).  These things have been around since about the early- or middle-80’s (again, to the best of my knowledge).  Every Canadian now-grown-up-but-former-80’s-kid remembers these due to the “Cadbury Creme Egg bunny” commercials at that time, different variants of which all mostly featured a live white bunny rabbit going “bock bock bock” like a clucking chicken.  Ridiculously true…

And as those whose parents’ finally succumbed to the pressure and bought these for us knows, hell hath no fury like the feeling when we bit into them and then promptly writhed and screeched in agony after realizing that we neglected to remove all of the tinfoil wrapper which we had chomped down on.

Yes, these things were wrapped in a thin tinfoil-like wrapper of purple, red and yellow.  And you’d be fucked if you could be able to remove all of it – usually, there was a small piece or two which would stick to the seam lines of the chocolate shell where the creamy center leaked out and became a superglue-like holder of said tinfoil.

But therein lied the attraction to these candies.  If you WERE able to remove all of the tinfoil, it was a Herculean task, and led to just THAT much better of an enjoyment of the chocolately and creamy deliciousness inside.  It’s a Canadian tradition, dammit.  That’s why my wife and I have delighted in giving one of these every Easter to our kids as they grow.  And why we’ve always brought boxes and boxes of these to Cuba to give as treats to the maids and service staff at the resorts (rather than the typical toothbrushes and pencil crayons that every other tourist seems to bring).  And now, it appears, Cadbury has absolutely fucked with my world.

In my shopping trip today, upon coming across these little chocolate eggs of glory, I came across this…


Now…Cadbury…WHAT the FUCK is THIS?!?!  Is there no stop to the plastic-ization of our world???  The colourful tinfoil wrap has been replaced by a shitty plastic half-and-half shell covering, a pale imitation of its former self.  It’s so utterly utilitarian.  So sterile.  So impersonally easy to open and enjoy.  The added treat of a tinfoil-free unwrapping-achievement has been ungraciously stolen from both myself and future generations.



Mmmmm.  But they still taste so freakin’ gooooooooooood!!!!

EDIT – dammit!!!!!  Scratch that.  After cracking into one tonight, and Googling for more, I’ve read (and now tasted) the sacrilegious difference – it’s not the same Cadbury’s Dairy Milk milk chocolate.  Dammit Cadbury / Kraft!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Cheers all.

More Coming Soon…

Okay, as of yesterday, I’ve graduated my QL5 course, my “coach officer” course for lack of a better phrase. Twenty started, 19 graduated, and I placed somewhere in the top three or four I was told (we’re not given all the specifics). Back at normal work now, and stepping right into it with court scheduled for tomorrow.

It was a bitch of a month. Definitely an intensive course – the added pay bump feels that much more worthwhile. But glad to be back to normal now, per say. I’ve got a couple reviews already done, and coming up for posting over the next few days. I have Trinidad Vigias and Por Laranaga Picadores in my hand now too, with reviews of those coming down the pipe over the next few days (much delayed, I know).

Further updates coming. Stay tuned.

Cheers all.