Havana Trip, Nov 2015: An Orchestra’s Street Performance…

While out at the Plaza de Armas during this past November’s Havana, Cuba trip, and while wandering around checking out the various antique / old junk vendors around the plaza there and along Obispo, I was pleased to take in some wonderful entertainment.

As an orator told the crowd, it was a student orchestra from a regional music college, and was guesting maestro Raphael Cello on saxophone.  Just a little clip here, but wonderful nonetheless to experience…


Cheers all.

Havana Trip, Nov 2015: Food and Drinks In Cuba…

Well, although this is much delayed, I’m still having fond memories of that week, which only seems like a weekend or two ago.

Some of the more memorable…

Café Laurent.  Although others have had a few issues there in the last year or two, all my visits lately have been great.  Classic mojitos, and epically good and fresh seafood.

2.  The back terrace at the Hotel Nacional.  This place is a must-do, always, forever and ever, amen.

3.  Azucar.  Rob Ayala and a couple of the Aussies found this spot during the 2014 trip.  A fairly new and hip little spot, it all has a “sugar”-themed zeal to it.  Drink garnishes are made to look like lollypops and candy, with an amazing décor style, and a wickedly awesome view of Plaza Vieja and Café Bohemios (the “beer market”).  And…EXCELLENT flan to be found here.

4.  The courtyard at the Conde de Villanueva hostel.  Such a nice, out of the way spot.  Pretty much right in between Plaza de Armas and Plaza Vieja.  The peacocks there LOVE the mint from mojitos.  Find your way upstairs to the LCDH and get something good from Reynaldo, then go into the courtyard, order cappucinos and mojitos from the bar staff there, and just relax in a tranquil setting.  A little slice of heaven.

5.  La Terraza / Prado 309.  This spot is always a must-do.  That said, prices are skyrocketing there in recent years.  The first year I hit this restaurant, in 2011 or so, it was $11 CUC for the leg of lamb dinner, and $12 CUC for the mixed grill.  I noticed that the prices were creeping up before (it was $18 / $22 CUC for both as above, when I visited in Nov 2014), but this time it was $26 / $36 CUC for both as above, or right around that mark.  Also, the portions appear to be shrinking slightly – gone are the days when that leg of lamb was damn near as big as my own calf, and came on a giant butcher’s block.

That said – it’s still some of the best food around, and damn savoury.  The flan here is amazing, as is the grilled octopus appetizer – which was OUT and unavailable during this visit (a TRAVESTY!!!)  The mojitos and fresh blended daiquiris here are awesome as well.

6.  El Cocinero.  This spot is quickly becoming the en-vogue destination in the city.  Tourists with quality guides, foreigners in the know, and Cubans with financial means are all finding this unique restaurant / bar / art gallery.

Housed in an old peanut-oil factory, this twin-feature spot is a sure hit.  El Cocinero is the multi-level restaurant and bar, with the rooftop sporting the best views and atmosphere, and it being an appetite-inducing walk up the spiralled-staircase old chimney to get there.  Next door is the Fabrica de Arte, the old warehouse and further factory portion of the old peanut-oil factory, and it houses a jazz bar, art gallery, performance studio, nightclub, and is very chic and all-in-one.

But, El Cocinero – there was a chill 80’s smooth-jazz vibe, extremely inexpensive food and drinks (which were very good quality), and an amazing setting.  We indulged in round after round of perfectly delicious blended daiquiris, crocetas de pescado for appetizers, grilled shrimp dinners, and more daiquiris paired with AMAZING coconut flan for dessert.

And for those interested in El Cocinero’s menu offerings and pricing…

7.  Anywhere.  You wouldn’t be experiencing the food and drinks of Havana if you didn’t somewhat stray-off somewhere along your travels.  Be it churros from a street vendor along Obispo and wherever, from super-fuerte pina coladas while at a market, to local rums and coffees at a friend’s casa, there’s always more that this island has to offer without looking too hard.  Yum.

Cheers all.


Havana Trip, Nov 2015: Good Times With Good Friends…

As usual, when we all met up in Havana last November, the enjoyable conversations and time spent with one another was memorable.

We always find time to smoke “some” cigars, eat “a little” good food, have a “few” drinks, talk waaaaaaay too much about politics and the world’s problems, bitch and moan about anything and everything, stare at a few nice legs and asses, and have a grand olde fuckin’ time doing it.

This past November was generally more of the same.  The benefit is – the added past experiences and past bonds only make the additional time spent together that much more memorable and enjoyable.

From good times at the Nacional…

…to various spots around the city…

…it was another wonderful trip.

Hell, even though it was a “cigar trip”, Nino even talked Erin and I into taking in an afternoon at Tarara Beach for a bit of tranquilo fun in the sun and sand.  Well worth the trip out of town, too.

The restful times made up for the only-occasional-foray (on THIS trip) into Havana’s nightlife too…

Here’s to many, many more!

Cheers all.

An Evening With Everyone’s Buddy, Hamlet Jaime Paredes…

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.

Very suiting.


Cheers all.

Havana Trip, Nov 2015: Of Chavetas And Men…

So, as per usual in Havana, I look for other goodies besides cigars.  Classic Cuban licence plates are a favourite of mine – yes, you may see me list them on eBay from time to time after a trip occasionally if I get my hands on them.  Same for the giant, heavy-as-shit Hotel Nacional marble ashtrays.

This last trip, I was able to find more of those licence plates, and even lucked out in finding one of the even-earlier 1980’s-series ones (the older style is from the 1978 to 2002 window apparently, per Wiki and WLP.Com).  However, it was no-go on the Hotel Nacional ashtrays – they’ve been sold out since about March of last year (2015), and have had a standing order in with their manufacturer since then.  Apparently, on the far end of the island where the marble quarry is, the quarry workers were on strike (yeah right! – on strike in Cuba! LOL), but they’ve recently just got back to production, so the hotel was expecting more of those ashtrays sometime early in the new year.

But, to make up for that, I found this beaut…

This item, a “chaveta” (meaning “blade” in Spanish), I picked up in the Plaza de Armas from one of the antiques vendors.  He said he believed it was from the 1910’s to 1940’s timeline, from either the La Corona or Partagas factories.  Legit story or not, I got it for a steal at $40 CUCs.

Now, luck had it that I was actually able to meet up with Hamlet a week ago (that post will be coming shortly – a cigar event he did over in Michigan for his “Tabaquero” line with Rocky Patel), and after a phone call from him confirming some details, I brought this item over with me and he was able to clarify it with me.

Yes, they refer to this tool as a chaveta too, although that’s primarily what they call the larger hand-held blade that the rollers use to cut the wrapper leaf as they’re rolling cigars.  But this chaveta is for chopping the foot of the cigar, nice and clean, once it’s fully done being rolled and has the wrapper applied – the last stage, the last tool used on a cigar before it’s ready for being packaged and/or smoked.

Hamlet also told me he thought the timeline was wrong – he figured right in the early- to mid-1960’s, right after the revolution.  He confirmed it looked like one from La Corona, with it’s smooth curved blade; he said the earlier pre-revolution ones (1920’s to 1950’s) had more of a jagged-edged blade, “they used to look like a scary star” he said (I did find one online here, about a third of the way down the page).  And he figured the timeline from the material (kind of a dirty / unpure aluminum and tin-laden white-metal version), and the small numbers and other features.

Either way, a very cool part of the post-revolution cigar world that’s gonna take pride of placement on my display humidor cabinet.


Cheers all.

Havana Trip, Nov 2015: Cigars Smoked…

Yup.  Cigars were smoked, ashtrays were filled, villages were pillaged and plundered.  As per the norm, some cigars were good, bad, or great.  Here’s some brief rundowns, particulars, and photos where available…

1.  SCDLH La Fuerza.  Feb 2009 “OPM” coded.  A stick I brought from home, my first of this particular trip.  After only getting checked into the Habana Libre at 12:30 am, and with the girls being zonked from the travel that afternoon, John and I went to smoke on the back terrace at the Hotel Nacional at 1:30 am our first night there, with mojitos and Cubano sandwiches.  So simple, and nothing special, yet such a decadent start in the overall experience.

2.  LGC MdO No. 2.  Unknown code, a 2012 stick gifted from Tom back home.  With cappuccinos for “breakfast” at the Nacional – another great Havana treat to experience.  You just can’t beat the satisfaction of smoking a “La Gloria Cubana” while in Havana, Cuba!

3.  RA Club Allones EL 2015.  My box code – Aug 2015 “RAE” coded; John’s box – Jul 2015 “OPG” coded, all priced at $8.30 CUC per stick (at Habana Libre LCDH).  John and I found a number of boxes at the LCDH at the Habana Libre, and decided to sample from two stellar looking boxes from two various codes (there were 3 different codes, spanning a 3 month production window, with 8 or 10 boxes there).  Which was a GREAT idea – the RAE code from Aug 2015 were ABSOLUTELY stellar, and a 92-93 smoke right from the start, buy, buy, BUY! – but then our plan went to shit a day later when we went back there to buy up the rest, and some Asian fellows were walking out with what was left.  We did, however, hit gold later on in the week when we found 6 more boxes at the Hotel Saratoga – all of which had the same Aug 2015 “RAE” code, and were as dark, oily, and aromatic as the first boxes.  Home run cigars, as much as they can be with the recent cost increases in these new releases.  Even the “lesser” sticks that we had over the course of the week were 89-90’s.  Buy, buy, buy!

4.  Montecristo 80th Anniversario.  I was gifted one of these at the start of the week.  While I did enjoy it’s creamy, golden nougat and cafe creme flavours, mixed with some hay and leather, it also was a fair bit damp and had some harsh tones and needed LOTS of relights.  I didn’t stumble across a box during that week, but it’s something that did pique my attention.  Hard to say – need to try a couple more sticks, and seemed to get good thoughts from most down there.  Night and day from the Montecristo Anejado sticks.

5.  Cohiba Piramides Extra.  I was given a few of these, unbanded, from during the Habana Libre LCDH’s welcoming cocktail night.  Though unbanded, they were told to me by a couple of people that they were “actual current production” CPE’s, and not just customs rolled in that style / impersonation.  Well – they smoked like relative crap.  Completely “ugh” cigar – tons of relight attempts, no flavour, pitched two different ones barely a third into each.  So, to me, they had nothing special in them, did NOT smoke like a Cohiba at all, and definitely just seemed like a custom roller’s impression of them, while not using any proper Cohiba-intended tobacco.  That said, I have no way to 100% know.  I’m 90% sure they were unbanded custom imitations, but if they were actual current CPE sticks (even “seconds” that they didn’t waste the bands on), then I would steer clear, folks.

Then again – it was the Habana Libre LCDH.  Slight of hand wouldn’t be surprising!  LOL.

6.  Custom cigars.  Fuck yeah.

Be it Jorgito’s Monsdales or robusto largos (@ Club Habana LCDH), Yolanda’s piramides (@ Melia Habana LCDH), Reynaldo’s various goodies (@ Conde de Villanueva), or the plethora of other custom rollers that are still around at the various LCDH shops (Alex @ Commodoro, Juanita @ Melia Cohiba, etc.), or other random custom Salamones or unbanded Seleccion Privadas, THESE are the experience to enjoy, cigar-wise, when in Havana.  Fresh off the rollers’ tables, I can never have enough of them while down there.  They just hit the spot.

Every.  Damn.  Time.

The irony – went through the better part of about a half bundle each of Monsdales and robusto largos, as well as a bunch of random other customs singles.  And how many pictures did I take of those?  LOL – none.  Just the one picture, from before “the slaughter”, LOL.  Shows how great the company, the food, drinks, and times were, that I didn’t take any “action” shots while smoking these customs, huh?



Cheers all.

Havana Trip, Nov 2015: A Further Visit to the Sociedad Lung Kong…

My last visit to see the grand ladies and gents at the Lung Kong Society in Havana, Cuba, back during my Feb/Mar 2015 trip, was nice.  But this one was a bit more special for me, as it was the first time my wife was able to attend, meet the kind folk there, get a chance to talk with Graciela (the director / board chair / binding personality), and see why I and some of the other Toronto, Montreal, and other Canadian FOH cigar folk continue to support this worthwhile cause.  With many warm hugs and handshakes, its wonderful to return time and again to friendly smiles.

Upon arrival, we were walked through some of the changes in the past few months as well – the restaurant was to be a self-sustaining venture for them to assist with their feeding program for the elderly Chinese, however, it had turned out to be a failure.  They found, upon opening it earlier in the year, that people (be it tourists or locals) would simply not come there.  It was explained that people thought it was in too shanty and broken down of an area, and that they wouldn’t want to be seen going there.  Unfortunate, but such as it was.

Therefore, a new renovation was/is taking place.  They are still going with a means that allows them to be self-sustaining, but under a somewhat better plan apparently – a traditional bakery.  With the assistance of a gentleman (forgive me – I forgot to write his name down) who was a former baker for a resort in Cayo I believe it was, they are converting the restaurant into a bakery.  Then, while still trying to woo the local crowd in, they can still have the baked goods delivered to local shops, groceries, and smaller restaurants that they’ve already been initializing arrangements with.  Fingers crossed for some better ventures.

We also were granted a treat of a few of the ladies singing for us – former opera singers, professionally trained, from back in China.  I believe they were featured on one of the videos from posting before, here and on Nino’s Flying Cigar blog, but I can’t find the video currently.  Also, Erin worked her wonders at making a dirty old man like “Uncle Nino” flustered, especially after he mixed up the use of “incense” and “incest”, LOL.  (With all the various languages he speaks, and in translating things back and forth for us all, he mistook the use of a word, when trying to explain to Erin that we’d be going up to the shrine upstairs to light some incense.)  But, Erin put her good personality to kind use as well, in using her RN / nursing skills to some use in giving some recommendations for the staff also.

Speaking of shrine, once again we were honoured to be allowed to attend this sacred room of the Sociedad, and even with some partaking in using some bamboo sticks to communicate with the oracle at the shrine, with the numbered sticks coordinating with a book outlining the good or bad fortunes that lays ahead for the person drawing the sticks.  However, it turned out to be a skill testing venture for some to only have one single stick fall out of the bamboo, rather than inadvertently shaking out a small village’s worth…

And last but not least, what’s a visit to Lung Kong without a visit to their shrine, and therefore, what’s a visit to the Socidad Lung Kong’s shrine without stepping out onto their balcony overlooking Rue Dragones.  While many people may find the area grungy or ghetto-like (and it currently is a bit dirty due to the street construction going on), I love it.  It has character, and it gives ME some – reminds me to be thankful for what we have, to give what we can and where we can, and to take pleasure in the little joys (like everyone’s underwear laundry flapping away in the breeze, LOL).

For me, it’s just another unique view on a city and a country with so many different facets and connotations within the undercurrents of the politics.

Cheers all.

Havana Trip, Nov 2015: Booze and Cigars for Sale…

Yet again, some unique items were available in Havana when we went down for the Encuentros Partagas back during this past November…

First thing I noticed was the Isla del Tesoro rum. A fairly unique and usually hard-to-find rum, the presentation on this is just awesome. Looking like an old rum pottery cask, and in a miniature pirate’s chest with a little treasure map, it definitely has its targets set on the swashbuckler-at-heart crowd – $650 CUC for a 700 mL bottle.

Compared to usually not seeing this around the island and/or city at all, nearly every bar or hotel had at least one of these available, with a number of spots having at least four or five on display (so who knows how many extra were hiding around).

Haven’t tried it, so can’t speak as to its overall value-per-cost, but I do remember it being scarce to see before, and a number of people begrudging that.

So, lots of that around again…

Then there’s the Havana Club 15 Year Gran Reserva.  This one I DID indulge in.  At $150 CUC for a 700 mL bottle, it’s a bit more palatable than the Isla del Tesoro stuff.  But, at only $22 CUC a pour, it wasn’t too unfathomable to even try.

Smooth, lovely nectar.  LOTS of fresh tobacco and leather tones to this rum, it has that oh-so-typical-and-a-bit-unfortunate aspect of HC Anejo 7 Anos which is that slightly acrid and harsh bite to the flavour profile.  That said, the thicker viscosity of this rum, mixed with the more caramel and berry-laden profile, makes it a DEFINITE hit to sip with a Cuban habanos.

So, it’s a tinge better than HC Barrel Proof / Seleccion de Maestros.  Not as hot (just the normal 40% alc/vol), but a bit smoother and mellower.  That said, at $150 CUC, not my cuppa tea.  It’s not even quite as nice as the Santiago 11 year or Santiago 12, both of which I had pours of at different cigar spots later on that same day.  With the HC SdM being $40 CUC or so, and then the Santiago 11 being $60 I think it was, the HC 15 Year Gran Reserva would do better to be $100 or $120 CUC maximum.  I’m sure it will still sell quite heavily, but frankly, it just doesn’t seem as good a rum.  Prices being what they are, the Santiago 11 or 12 and then the HC SdM comes out leaps and bounds ahead.

I still readily enjoyed my rum that day though…

The LCDH at the Habana Libre hotel also had their usual unique offerings.  Generally, various LCDH shops can get special “limited edition” humidors done, and these are sometimes specifically set out for display purposes for the Encuentros Partagas in November or the Festival Habanos in February/March.  Not too many hotels/LCDH’s take part in these offerings that frequently, as they need time to get them done, cost issues, space to house them in-store, high-traffic needs for sales to make it a worthwhile venture, etc., etc.  However, along with the Partagas LCDH and occasionally the Nacional, the Habana Libre LCDH always seems to have something special in stock, and this past November was the same.

Their thing this year was a black Cohiba fold-out custom humidor line, as well as two round wooden-humidor smaller humidor “pillars”.  The black Cohiba one was actually very beautiful, in that it had amazingly flawless construction, and the matte black finish really made it stand out.  It contained a 25-bundle of H. Upmann EL 2015 Magnum 56’s, as well as 16 sticks of the Romeo y Julieta Cedros de Luxe LCDH release (for a total of 41 sticks), was in a “limited release” numbered series of 60 humidors, and was selling for $922.20 CUC.

The two round “pillar” humidors each were in a numbered/plated series of 80, and were identical except for the contents – one line contained 23 sticks (que???) of the Mag 56 ELs, at a price of $566.20 CUC, and the other line contained 28 sticks (I know, huh?!?!!?) of Cohiba Siglo VIs, at a price of $797.60 CUC.  For reference sake, a “normal” box of Mag 56 ELs is expected to have a NORMAL Cuban retail price of $520 CUC, and the Siglo VIs are only $490 CUC.  Boy – that sure is a lot of money to pay extra, in the per-stick cost, for a little wood cabinet!

Also in the cigar category, I didn’t see the newer H. Upmann EL 2015 Magnum 56’s the entire time (aside from included in those “special” Habana Libre humidors).  But then, on leaving the island and going through the Varadero airport’s various duty-free shops, they had a mastercase there, and were starting an unboxing to stock their shelves.

Not surprisingly, the normal customer base of those shops couldn’t care less – it was all about questions of Guantanemeras, RyJ and Cohiba tubos, and the like…

And lastly, also at the Varadero airport’s duty-free shops, and even though I didn’t really see it anywhere else on the island during the week, the airport shops had LOADS of Legendario, especially of a couple additional product lines…

Cheers all.

Havana Trip, Nov 2015: Follow-Up On Cigar-Specific Stuff…

Again, I know I’m two months delayed in getting these posts up on here, and I’m sorry that I couldn’t be more timely with that, especially if any of the tidbits below could potentially help out some fellow Havana travellers.  Please check out my previous on “Havana Trip, Nov 2015: General Follow-Up…”

But, as has become a bit of my usual while down in Havana, I’ve come to make some daily notes on my iPhone to track what I’ve smoked and where I’ve ate at, as well as to note down a bit of a listing for follow-up items solely on cigars – cigar talk, stock at stores, etc.  I’ve been asked before for a bit more detail on the status of some stores and whatnot, and I’ve placed it both on the Friends Of Habanos forum, as well as on here, and it’s seemed to help out a few people, so I figured I’d continue to expand on that.

Also, good friend Frank had also posted some of this on an FOH thread that he used to relay info while I was down there, but there’s a bit more elaboration here with that stuff.

So, without further ado…

Regarding cigar stock at stores specifically, for those I was able to hit up…

  • No Diplomaticos Excellencias 2015 RE Cuba anywhere.  I saw one box during the entire week only, at the welcome-cocktail evening at the LCDH at Habana Libre, and it was already spoken for…er…up for “raffle”.  But nothing of these available ANYWHERE that week.
  • With that on the Dip RE’s, talk during the first few days at multiple shops from multiple managers was that there was a Venezuelan government delegation in town, and they had requested 1000 boxes, so the word was that the Cuban V.P. had tootled around town just at the tail end of the week before and gobbled up everything they could.  Grabbed everything available basically from Cubatabacco shipment going out to shops on the Thurs / Fri right before we got there.  Awesome.  Not.
  • Habana Libre:  hawking lots of their special stuff – noticed crates and crates of the “record player” humidors still, and other specialty stuff.  Lots of nice looking RASS, tons of Cohiba Maduro 5 stuff, and lots of regular Monte and RyJ stuff, a fair bit of Boli stuff too.  RyJ Cedros de Luxe LCDH release only found in volume at Habana Libre’s LCDH.  Cohiba Esplendidos found aplenty here (funny “XXO” lots-o-love code).
  • Club Habana:  Jorgito again is struggling to get enough tobacco, especially wrapper leaf, for orders for his Monsdales and newer robusto largos custom cigars.  As usual, I ordered a few months in advance – he says he’s almost week-to-week caught up now, but getting good wrapper leaf is still causing a bit of an issue.  As normal, the humidor in this shop had lots of boxes of damn near everything, had the important / available newer stuff.  The little cabinet off to the corner, which usually holds some aged treats, is getting less restock items for in there lately, and was only about a 1/4 full.
  • Hotel Nacional:  the LCDH here had decent amounts of some of the newer stock.  Again, tons of current release Cohiba and RyJ stuff.  Only a few lonely cabs.  Some nice boxes of Monte Especials still there.
  • Melia Cohiba:  this spot used to have quite a bit of some aged gems hiding here and there.  No more.  All current stuff, and seems to be fairly sparsely filled at that – lots of empty shelf space here.
  • Partagas LCDH:  LOL.  I got bitched out by Sadie and La China here.  There was a TON of American tourists there, checking the place out and whatnot (lucky they found it beyond all the rubble – TONS of excavations and construction going on on the streets outside, around the Capitolio and such.  Anyways, amidst the commotion, with me and some others coming back and forth from the VIP Room, I came out to get some drinks – and I paid for them.  I always pay for them, if I’m grabbing them, and besides, I didn’t really know the lady running the bar that day (a newer face, I think?)  Well, she came back to the VIP Room later, embarrassed, saying she wasn’t supposed to charge me for the drinks, and then Sadie came back there to give me shit about it too, followed by La China (though my Spanish is piss poor, I think that’s what was going on).  Anyhow, they made me feel like family…by aptly giving me hell.  LOL.
  • the new RA El’s were somewhat thin on the ground.  John and I found 3 different box codes, spreading over a 3 month window of production, only found available at the Habana Libre shop during those first few days.  The RAE code turned out to be stellar, and when we went back to buy, there were a couple of Asian fellas walking out with what was left.  We found nothing else all week until we went into the shop at the Saratoga Hotel on the last day, and bought all 6 boxes that they had.
  • shops hawking a new “Petit Robusto” pack from H S.A., similar to the Robusto and Piramides Seleccion releases from a few years back.  Yeah, ’cause those have sold SOOOOOOO well, Habanos!!!  Same sort of packaging for these – wooden split-opening box, $108 CUC for 10 sticks (2 of each of the same “big 5” brands).  Whew.
  • Only RA EL’s that we found, John and I scooped up.  Nothing else relatively to be found of RA ELs, Dip REs, other LCDH releases, special shit, etc.  All scooped up by big vendors – Reeza alone went through like a hurricane (was even at the Habana Libre cocktail night).  Rumours of Nakamura in and out of town within a 48 hr window, but didn’t see him personally.
  • Repeatedly hit up LCDHs at Club Habana, Commodoro, Melia Habana, 5 y 16, Melia Cohiba, Nacional, Habana Libre, Partagas, Parque Central, El Museo del Ron, Conde de Villanueva, and a few other unnamed locales.  LOADS of RyJ nearly everything, tons of Monte for lasting years and years, loads of Hoyo just about everything, Partagas across the gamut (Lusi’s and Culebras coming out the wazoo).
  • Now….Cohiba.  Since we ARE into Cohiba-year now, after all!!!!  Nearly all of the above mentioned shops had Cohiba everything – all the Siglo line was found basically, lots and lots of robustos, IVs and VIs especially, with all Jul-Aug 2015 date coded and onwards.  So, Cohiba looks geared up again.  Did not see a single box of Cohiba Lanceros though – not a single, solitary box.
  • Tons of Punch Punch and Punch Double Coronas especially noted.  Excellent looking Sir Winnie’s around, most with 2014 date codes and some especially gorgeous early-2015 date codes (if I recall/noted correctly on that item).
  • Loads of other Ramon Allones stuff (aside from LEs), with oodles of Gigantes about, and RASS and RASSC a plenty.
  • Quai d’Orsay only found sparingly, only Coronas.
  • Next to no La Gloria Cubana, only a few boxes here and there of Medaille d’Or No. 4’s.
  • H. Upmann 2015 LE’s were being unboxed aplenty at the Varadero airport’s cigar shack.  Didn’t see them anywhere else during the week (aside from sticks being in Habana Libre’s special humidors for an upcharge).
  • LCDH at Melia Habana:  definite continued improvement in the humidor here – dried out, tobacco-beetle glue traps still around but with a bit more covertness, no musty / moldy stuff there currently.  Really nice cigar selection continuing – some nice RA and Trinidad stuff, wonderful Partagas stock, and still more epic looking boxes of Sir Winnies there.  A continued vein of great looking 25- and 50-cabs.  Yolanda super busy entertaining guests, but also putting on a session in doing her custom rolls, of which there were lots available.

And, regarding some of the various cigar talk and discussions that took place over the week…

  • the Encuentros Partagas opening dinner night was going up and up in price while we were there.  With it previously being only $100 CUC for a ticket, this past November’s event already had raised a few eyebrows by announcing it as $115 CUC for a ticket in the promotional material sent out earlier in the fall.  Well, upon arrival in Havana, most were surprised to see that the price was moved from $115 CUC to $120.  With the CAD dollar exchange sitting at 1.4005 to buy CUCs, that put tickets at $165 basically, for a shit meal, and “up to” maybe 10 cigars (which all turned out to be regular production, “extra banded” smokes – no customs from La China even).  So, while many of us were planning on attending, many said fuck that, and didn’t go, aside from the industry-/business-types who generally “needed” to go.  Typical Tabacuba / H S.A. thought process though – “Well, people are choosing not to go, because we’re including less stuff and have jacked up the price, so…let’s just jack up the price more, to recoup it from those that have to come?!?!!”  LOL.
  • Reynaldo’s shop at the Conde de Villanueva – smoky as ever.  And the peacocks, with their young growing up, are back to chasing the chickens around, and jumping up in unsuspecting elderly tourists’ laps to eat the mint sprigs out of their mojitos.
  • wrapper leaf still a bit of an issue.  It’s getting better, but the really really nice stuff is still somewhat sparse to find apparently.

More to come on this trip soon.

Cheers all.

Havana Trip, Nov 2015: General Follow-Up…

So, tailing a couple of posts I’ve put on here, I’ve needed to get some updating done.  Especially concerning my most recent trip down to Havana, Cuba, from this past November.

Namely, it was a different kind of trip for me.  Instead of a usual “guys’ trip” down to Havana for a week of cigars and fun, and contrary to what my wife usually wants/picks as an all-inclusive trip to Varadero or somewhere else with a beach, I invited her for one of our cigar weeks, and she gladly accepted.  It was a different experience for us both – she only did a day-trip once into Havana, heavily structured by the guides, and with her heavily pregnant too.  So, she didn’t care all that much for it, aside from seeing the unique architecture.  However, for this trip, I was able (with the assistance of Nino, Rob Fox, Punch Joe, and a couple of others) to show her “our view” of Cuba, meaning the cigar crowd, and our comings and goings and our various favourite spots.  She loved the peacocks at Conde de Villanueva, the various unique restaurants and bars we all go to, and the overall vibrancy and uniqueness of the city.

For me, it was a change, as I was playing host for my spouse, and wasn’t indulging in my usual 10am to 5am debauchery of waaaaaaay too much rum, cigars, cappuccinos, and decadent food.  Not that that was a bad thing, mind you.  I think most nights we were in bed by about midnight or earlier, slept in a bunch, relaxed and saw the city at our leisure, and had a grand time.  Again, a different kind of trip for me…and I loved it nonetheless.

We were also lucky in that we had John Reiner and his girlfriend Laura joining us.  John’s a pretty good guy, and I’ve travelled with him down to Havana before, and is around on FOH and Cigar Federation.  With the ladies getting along quite well, we all had quite a fun time.

Erin got to meet “Uncle” Nino, Rob Fox, Andy Ryan, Punch Joe, got to see Amir and Caroline again, got to meet Jorgito and Reynaldo.  She got to eat at some great spots, relax on the back terrace at the Nacional, got to take in the sights and smells at El Cocinero (along with me, as it was my first time there too), and numerous other things.  She got to see the difference between hotels and casas.  She got to take in “our” Cuba.  And it was a blast for all of us.

It wasn’t without a few issues though, namely Laura and I each coming down with a bit of food sickness at different times.  C’est la vie.

And there’s also the fact that we stayed at the Habana Libre.  Meh.  It was all we were able to grab, due to booking too late in the year and our usual spot at the Hotel Nacional being all sold out.  But, after getting in late, and in the midst of some thunderstorms hitting Havana and the area around it, our rooms was shit – little ants around, dissolved furniture (due to a faulty air-con unit and extremely high moisture leaking into the room), a leaky toilet, etc.  While we were switched into different rooms the next day (and relatively right across the hall from John and Laura, as we were initially on different floors), and the new rooms were decently better, this hotel doesn’t have the charm or character that the Nacional has.  We did get to see some of the newly renovated rooms – if you’re a big businessman from China or Russia and have extra ducats to spend, these new, ultra chic rooms are amazing.  We heard they are following the remodel of what just got done at the Hotel Capri, of which Cigar Aficionado magazine recently said was an amazing remodel as well, so we may have to look at that in the future.

And the check-in and check-out process at the Habana Libre was a shitshow.  Not a proper Air Transat travel rep to be found.  Two hours of headache occupied on either end of the hotel stay, to try to ensure arrangements made.

Unfortunately, it is what it is.  Hotel Nacional is definitely still the favourite.

But what a week overall.

And, as always, I came back with a decent enough load as well…


Some have been smoked or given away since I got home from the trip, compared to what’s in the above picture, but here’s a basic rundown:

  • four bundles of Monsdales customs, from Jorgito at Club Habana
  • two bundles of Jorgito’s newer Robusto Largos customs too
  • two bundles of Juanita’s piramides, from the Melia Habana
  • two bundles of special lanceros from Reynaldo at Conde de Villanueva
  • four boxes of the RA EL Club Allones
  • four bottles of Legendario Elixir de Cuba
  • some more of the last version of Cuban license plates, as well as a 1980’s series plate
  • and a cool “chaveta” / cigar-length cutter (more to come on that one later).

Aside from that, here’s a few tidbits of general Cuba stuff that I thought I’d pass along.  My buddy Frank had also posted some of this on an FOH thread that he used to relay info while I was down there, but here’s some more elaboration of non-cigar-related stuff that we noted:

  • In a first for me (and John, I believe), we were attempt-scammed by a cabbie.  At 10am one day, we hired a Cubataxi “official” taxi for the day until 6pm for $50 CUC – a VERY reasonable rate, almost shockingly so (was expecting $80 to $120 CUCs) and we reconfirmed it 3 different times, through very well-spoken English and our hotel’s valet assisting, and confirmed even that it was $25 CUC (for the CAB, not PER PERSON) for a 4 hr chunk.  However, upon drop off at the Libre at about 5:30pm, the driver FREAKED out when we gave him the $50 CUC plus a $10 CUC tip (and John was about to give him even more too), saying that we agreed to $25 CUC PER HOUR.  So, accordingly, I LOST MY EVERLOVING SHIT.  It turned into a real shit show too, with about 8 or 9 different cabbies walking over and trying to surround John and I (the ladies were upstairs, having been dropped up separately earlier).  Well, the same valet came over, tried to figure out what was going on, and then said that maybe WE didn’t hear so well, or maybe he didn’t translate so well.  Suddenly, another Cubataxi rep came over, and suddenly, “due to all the misunderstanding”, and since the driver “had to pay the business and the government too”, the price went down from $200 CUC to $160 CUC.  Then, with John getting a bit cornered, and pulling out his wallet to negotiate (no, no, NO!), someone said “we can call it a day at $120 CUC”.  So finally, I had enough, told them my room number upstairs, gave my name, getting the valet involved as well, and showed my ID’s…including my police ID, telling them my hearing and memory was just fucking fine, it needed to be AS A COP!!!!…and told them to call the cops themselves then.  Suddenly, they all shit themselves, the crowd started scattering, I grabbed an extra $5 CUC out of my pocket (in hindsight, shouldn’t have done that, but did it while telling them “this is for a pack of Kleenex if you wanna cry crocodile tears that I’M scamming YOU!”), threw $65 CUC flat into the guy’s cab on the front seat, finished with a “fuck you very much!”, and dragged John back into the hotel (he was getting into a bit of a mild scare with the crowd, and was digging into his wallet to pay them what they wanted, which is why I resorted to using my ID).  After that – nothing further.  I checked with the front desk and the hotel valet and even the Cubataxi rep after that – all is fine, sir, nothing further.  The driver’s involved sheepishly avoided us an hour later when we left for the Nacional and I gladly glared them down.  However, following days – no issues at all, and I gladly tipped the others who weren’t involved in it.  Unfortunate, but a first for me – and as shitty as it was, it didn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the week aside from that one small 1/2-hour window or so.
  • We noted that the “money scam” is prevalent more (money exchange ladies at Cadeca’s, with their slight of hand and “disappearing” bills, or bill counters always being short, etc.).  Generally, the way it goes is like this – when getting money exchanged, you hand them 10 x $100 CAD bills, but if you turn away for a split second, they say, “Senor, there are only 9 here”, or when getting $1000 CUC, but they only give you $900 or $950 CUC, “blame” it on the machine, etc. – if you don’t double check and count in front of them, you’re screwed.  So anyways, John and I were both attempt scammed at the Cadeca at the Varadero airport’s departure area (always less of a line to hit that one on arrival), in that “the machine” shorted us a bill or two on our CUC amounts given, but I triple counted and caught her at it.  I was attempt scammed at the Cadeca at the Hotel Nacional even – that’s generally one of the safest ones.  Wasn’t a thing at the Melia Cohiba at all thought – appears to be only potential safe place left for “yumas”.
  • That said, any of the smaller typical scams of bad math / excess charges on restaurant / bar bills were nonexistent.  Shockingly so.  I mean, even the steadfast Hotel Nacional bar on the back terrace racks up the additional drink charges once they think you’ve had enough and can’t remember if you had 7 rounds or 17.  But – not ONCE while we were down there the whole week, aside from a single drink at one small spot.  And it’s usually 3 out of 4 bills that have something messed up.
  • With that – drink prices were way WAY down, but food prices were fairly up, almost double compared to a year before.
  • A MUCH larger police presence felt on the street – literally, on major thoroughfares, it appeared to be a motorcycle or patrol car every 5 or 6 blocks.  We also noted many more “covert” surveillance cameras placed around, on streetlight posts and building corners.  I really didn’t think this was in response to European things going on (the Paris terrorist attacks had literally just happened).  But, the way these cops’ attention seemed to focus, it was like it was just a giant blanket of surveillance to see the interactions with so many Americans now coming to the island.  Kind of a “keep an eye on them and report back” sort of thing, on both the American tourists, and the Cubans interacting with them.
  • With the higher police presence, we noticed that “non-official” / private taxis were having to be very careful at night.  Remember – if it’s nighttime in Cuba, it’s illegal for a citizen to have a foreigner in their vehicle, without having a VERY good explanation.  So, at night, any private taxis that we took had to take back streets and roundabout ways to get to the hotels and avoid any police check-points.
  • TONS of the different kinds of coffees found around.  Only a few places though with small bags of Cubita beans, only Café Serrano large bags of ground at one spot, and no Turquino found anywhere.  No large Cubita cups found anywhere either – just the smaller espresso cups found here and there.
  • Rums – mmmmmm, rum!  Loads of nearly every type, everywhere.  Loads of Legendario to be found (both the Elixir, and the Anejo rum).  Lots of the different aged Santiago, Havana Club, Mulata, etc.  Found TONS of that Isla del Tesoro Ron Anejo – more to come on that later.
  • MASSIVE changes as it relates to cell phones and technology.  Easily 3 in 5 Cubans seen around the streets of Havana were all cell phone in hand, texting, many video messaging / Skyping / FaceTiming, etc.  HUGE increase in that.  Along the Malecon, on 7 Avenida between the Habana Libre and Hotel Nacional especially, it was a near constant with the numourous people on the streets waiting.
  • Varadero airport had LOTS of whole bean and ground coffee of Café Serrano, Café Turquino, and Cubata.  Also, they had LOADS of all rum, including 4 different Legendario rums (white, gold, Anejo, and Elixir).
  • Cuban customs were seizing and throwing out ALL lighters on departure flight check-ins, regardless of lighter type or make, if soft flame in pocket or in carry-on, etc.

More to come soon.

Cheers all.

Happy Cohiba Year!!!

So, it’s 2016.  Happy 2016, or “Happy Cohiba Year”, as the branding geniuses at Habanos S.A. have oh-so-deftly coined it in their marketing juggernaut.  LOL.

I heard the start of this during this past November’s Encuentros Partagas down in Havana.  Didn’t think much of it – meh, it’s the 50th anniversary of Cohiba, for SURE they will milk it for all it’s worth.

But recently…


Now, that poster / ad looks to be a Siglo VI in the model’s hand.  But, I’ve heard and seen of some further updates, and the new Cohiba stick being rolled to commemorate the anniversary is to be a new 60 ring gauge by 178 mm (7″-1/8″) monstrosity.


What a shit show, Habanos, seriously.

Another class act way of destroying the traditional aspects behind the Cuban cigar, and manipulating things for utmost profit and bastardization of a marca’s / brand’s history.

I’m just waiting for the Cohiba Reserva Maduro 5 Open Nub next.

More Fun In The Workplace…

…although we’re probably still not allowed to have that.

Carrying on from a previous post I did regarding some workplace humour…

Hell, even others get in on the fun sometimes at their own “workplaces” (hint – check out the windshield insert, LOL)…

IMG_4762 (2)

And then…we have weekends.  Who said any work gets done?  LOL.  Actually, it’s in streaks and spurts.  When we can, we do a BIG shift breakfast when it works out once every few weeks or so…

To which I’ve been rewarded from time to time with co-workers “redecorating” my cruiser…

IMG_4799 (2)

However, I’m usually one to return the favour too…

IMG_5622 (2)


Cheers all.

Havana Trip Updates Coming…

I know I have to do an update from the recent Cuba trip that my wife and I went on, down for the Encuentros Partagas in Cuba back in November.  It was my eighth trip or so, and my wife’s third, but her first one directly for Havana for the week (not a sand-and-sun trip to Varadero for her).  So, we had a great time overall – it was great to share a different Cuba with her, and great to have her broaden her horizons aside from sand and surf.

However, until I get the trip particulars all formatted down into posts for my blog, it’ll be another couple of days before I can get all the breakdown posts up here.  So, here are some tidbit photos for you all to enjoy in the meantime…

Cheers all.