So, just over a week ago, Saturday, January 16th, I was able to meet up with everyone’s “buddy, mang”, Hamlet Jaime Paredes. Since emigrating from Cuba to the U.S. last January, he’s been working with Rocky Patel, and the two have now released the “Tabaquero” line of cigars, which were Hamlet’s baby under his palate- and blending-prowess. This particular meet-up with Hamlet was part of his touring program for the brand, and we met up at Wild Bill’s Tobacco, in Lansing, MI, and I was even able to meet up with good brother Alex / “HabanoHam”, from the Friends Of Habanos online cigar forum, a wicked guy I’ve had the chance to do a few trades with over the years.
And while there, right off the get-go, I was able to partake in one of the “Tabaquero” Toro cigars, a 6″ by 52-ring-gauge dark and oily beast. I enjoyed mine with a Sprite, and started at 5:25 pm…
Upon my arrival, Hamlet had organized a cherished seat right beside him to my pleasure and surprise, as he had received my message prior to me leaving of me attending this event; so, he wanted to have the chance for us both to catch up, and I got a big smile and hug from him when I got there. Even the Rocky Patel rep, Nick Mitchell, greeted me upon my arrival, thankful for all of the support and kind words that Hamlet had passed along from myself and many other BOTL’s with regards to this new venture of Hamlet’s. As Nick stated, the support Hamlet has got for this, especially from the various Canadian brothers, was nothing short of awe inspiring – “one of you guys are damn near at every event he comes up here to do!” Nick was also a huge help in sorting through the plethora of new stuff with Hamlet’s “Tabaquero” line – something I much appreciated!
Hamlet – and no surprise there, for those of us who know him from his Cuban rolling days – put on a cigar-rolling clinic. As a former master roller and house roller from the Romeo y Julieta / Briones Montoto factory in Cuba, as well as the “man behind the counter” while at the Partagas LCDH, Hamlet is a well-known personality from in Havana. As much as Habanos S.A. is against the “cult of personality” that people such as Hamlet embodies, many believe that Hamlet was as much a great spokesman for Cuban cigars as the late gents Alejandro Robaina or Enrique Mons. And for Hamlet to be so, at such a young age, and to have such talent in his hands, is truly a wonder to behold.
Therefore, he easily held the crowd in awe while at Wild Bill’s Tobacco. He put on a clinic while rolling a 3-foot-plus long “culebras” cigar, and was adept at answering the myriad of questions from various American cigar enthusiasts there that have perhaps never had a chance to delve into Cuban habanos cigars, much less had the chance to talk one-on-one with a Cuban master roller. Besides the culebras being rolled, he even rolled one of his classic “flying pig” cigars that he used to roll for custom rolls back in the day, and Brian Shaeena, the store manager, delighted in showing off the giant culebras…
The time was well spent. Hamlet talked about his 21-plus-years rolling. The talked about the “chaveta” / blade that he had there for rolling was the same blade he started with (“all kinds of rollers cut their fingers and hands all the time, mang – why sharpen it? It’s already sharp enough for what you need to do – I’ve never sharpened mine, and it’s worked great for 21 years!”)
Speaking of years, Hamlet said that (on that particular date) he was just four days shy of being out of Cuba for one full year – and upon me asking him if he missed it, I got a resounding, “No mang!” (Granted – he did elaborate later – he DID in fact miss his two boys from his previous marriage, but he was waiting for his U.S. green card so that he could travel back to visit them unimpeded.) But he said he’s been too busy with the release of “Tabaquero” to be homesick. That, and he said, he has a beautiful Cuban wife at home to cook for him – so he doesn’t even need to miss Cuban food, LOL!
Hamlet especially talked about the work that went into his “Tabaquero” line with Rocky Patel. With “Tabaquero” specifically, Hamlet and Nick discussed the fact that it took 124 blends, 124 attempts to get things juuuuuusssst right, and in the end…the production blend is the very first blend that they came up with. Basically, they hit a home run to start, they took 123 attempts to destroy it and make it better, but in the end it was a champion to start with. At Tavicusa, Rocky Patel’s cigar factory in Nicaragua, Nick stated that all of Hamlet’s “Tabaquero” line are made by the same team of 85 people, that these are fully hand-made Nicaraguan puros. [EDIT / CORRECTION – Hamlet corrected me that these are NOT Nicaraguan puros, but that they are instead Nicaraguan filler, the binder being half Mexican San Andrés and half Brazilian binder, and then the wrapper being Mexican San Andrés. See my new post, “A Detroit Evening with Hamlet Jaime Paredes…”, 9 May 16.]
Speaking of his cigar…
It was wonderful. Frankly – it was surprising for me (slightly). While I admire what Hamlet can do with tobacco, and while I’ve heard good things about this line from many people, Rocky Patel cigars are just not my cuppa tea – I’ve had the 10th Anniversary ones, and a handful of the dozen-or-so other lines he does. But this “Tabaquero” blend is VERY un-Rocky-Patel-esque. Honestly, it reminded me very much of a Padron Serie 1926 or 1964 maduro – another Nicaraguan stick. And even then, at certain other points with dark fruity hints, it had essences of Ramon Allones, a very flavourful Habanos marca that’s a favourite of mine.
This stick finished at 7:02 pm, an hour-and-a-half-plus stick that was definitely flavourful and satisfying, scoring an easy 90 points fresh (disregarding the cracked head, which did so right after I cut it, no doubt due to dry humidity conditions in the region). Point reductions were mostly for youth and a slightly tight draw that didn’t want to budge for the first half or so. Hits of damp and dark leather, dark fruits (black cherries and blackberries?), a rich walnut nuttiness with heavy damp cedar tones – it was lovely. And with a bright white ash that held on well, and light but voluminous smoke, it was a wonderful experience for all the senses. The smoke wasn’t creamy and viscous in the mouthfeel – something I do look for and cherish in nice Cuban sticks – but the colour and volume made it interesting. Even the smoking environment in the shop – usually I can’t stand being in an area like that, with non-Cuban cigar smoke lingering in the air; for whatever reason, it just gets to me. But, the overall experience really surprised me for a non-Cuban stick; I didn’t have that reaction at all with these “Tabaquero” sticks being smoked. Again, reminding me of a lighter or slightly different Padron Serie line sticks – but at the added wonder of being 2/3’s of the cost or less compared to those. For a bold and wonderfully packaged mostly-Nicaraguan-cigar, these really do seem like a hit out of the park for Hamlet and Rocky.
Therefore, I rightly ponied up for a few goodies…
Another box of Salamones (I had previously ordered a box in the fall, but haven’t been able to touch those yet), some Robustos and Corona Gordas, and even some “Balas” (bullets in Spanish), the closest he’s able to do to his old Flying Pigs. Further reviews on these other sticks will be coming this spring, once I lay them down for a short while.
And, for those of you who have been asking yourselves this whole time, “Tabaquero” means cigar roller in Spanish. Hamlet elaborated that “torcedor” is also correct, and also means cigar roller – and that is the term more frequently used by the outside world, “torcedor”. But he elaborated that “tabaquero” is more of a term that the workers use to refer to each other with – that a “torcedor” is someone just starting, more or less, but “tabaquero” is someone with many years of experience, someone more advanced. That “torcedor” means SOLELY cigar roller, but that “tabaquero” colloquially means someone with anything and everything to do with cigar rolling. So, someone who can’t just roll cigars, but one who knows and understands the full process, who can blend, who can grade and assess leaf, and who is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades master.