Tag Archives: Havana

Encuentro Partagas 2018 anyone???

So, a friend on the FOH forum recently shared a picture of the general program poster for the Encuentro (de la yada y a yada) Partagas for this upcoming November 2018, and said no issues to share it here.

And fuck, I know I still have to update posts and such from my Partagas Fest trips to Havana from both November 2017 and even 2016 still, but I figured I’d get this up here ASAP for any wondering about the dates…


Apparently, this was on display back at the start of March, during the Habanos Festival.

Time to confirm and book my tickets, if they’re actually being that much in advance, and confirming again the move to the 2nd week of November instead (they’ve done that for the past year or so, as opposed to the 3rd week during previous years).  Weather’s turned out not too bad during the last few years, so…fingers crossed!

Cheers all.


Trump Hits Reset on Obama’s Cuba Policy…

Is anyone surprised at this really?  As much as it does suck for fellow cigar fans and Cuba buffs out of the U.S., I think that most of us felt this was inevitable…

Trump hits reset on Obama’s Cuba policy, challenges Castro

Most notable bits, in my opinion:

  • “Announcing the rollback of President Barack Obama’s diplomatic opening during a speech in Miami, Trump said Cuba had secured far too many concessions from the U.S. in the “misguided” deal but “now those days are over.””  [Really?!?!  The U.S. gave up too many concessions?  From a brutal policy that they enacted almost 60 years ago?!?!  LOL.]
  • “More details about the changes are expected to be released Friday, when the new policy is set to take effect. But none of the changes will become effective until the Treasury Department issues new regulations, which could take months. That means that any U.S. traveler currently booked on a flight to Cuba in the next few weeks, or even months, could go ahead and make the trip.”  [Dear gawd, I hope that travelers don’t get screwed over this.  As we’ve all seen with the Trump White House’s implementation of the Muslim travel ban, one minute things are one way and the next minute it’s different.  I hope that travelers that are currently booked for something, already “approved”, don’t end up showing up to an airport and getting stuck in limbo.]
  • “But individual “people-to-people” trips by Americans to Cuba, allowed by Obama for the first time in decades, will again be prohibited. And the U.S. government will police other such trips to ensure there’s a tour group representative along making sure travelers are pursuing a “full-time schedule of educational exchange activities.””  [Wait, what?!?!  So, you’re cancelling out some aspects of the détente, because you don’t like the undemocratic military-state, but you’re adding layers of bureaucratic policing?  Pot, meet kettle.]

It’s just unfortunately another shitty situation for the Cuban people.  The Castro regime(s) definitely aren’t a piece-of-cake for the citizens there, and changes need to be made.  But on the surface, this appears like it may hurt those local-people more, than any government entity.  (Not that the détente has overly assisted those same people either, but something’s better than nothing.)

And frankly, as a longtime Canadian traveler to Cuba…

I must be honest and say that a part of me is happy for this too, for purely selfish reasons, I may add.

Many of my fellow American cigar compatriots know how to get to Cuba, one way or another, before/during/after this détente bullshit.  Whether the U.S. government “allows” them to travel is of moot difference really.  However, since the Obama-Raul détente, the sheer number of American travelers (not necessarily those brethren cigar aficionados either) have overwhelmed damn near everyone.  Cuba is building additional hotel rooms in shudderingly terrifying numbers (especially if one is aware of construction “norms” in Cuba).  Availability still continues to drop disproportionately, and prices have been skyrocketing.

Fuck, I remember when we did one of the first bigger Canuck group-trips to Havana for the Friends Of Partagas festival in November 2012.  Airfare from Toronto, transfers, taxes all-in, and double-occupancy room bookings at the Hotel Nacional in Havana was just under $1200 CAD then.  We’re just looking in the past month for a few different options for this November’s Encuentros again (probably doing the same casas again as last year’s big FOH / AmiCigar group trip, which were AWESOME).  Anywho, looking at doing the same thing as we did in Nov. 2012, Toronto airfare, Nacional hotel, all-in, and the current pricing is just over $5600 CAD per person now!

So, frankly, once the “standard American tourist” is banned from the island, I can’t say I’ll honestly be upset from my own personal perspective.  That said, I definitely doubt that hotel prices will ever drop to what they were for us before (but shit, if they drop into the $2k range, it’d almost be a steal again.)

But I still hope for the best for some Cuban friends – some have put some hard work into the current small-business atmosphere.  I hope these changes don’t see worsening conditions for them.  It scares me what some foreign government’s can do to another’s country, just with the swipe of a pen.  Without an appreciation for the people on the ground, who are these people to make those choices?

Cheers all.


Wow, WTF happened here???

So, its been months and months since I’ve even been on here.  My last post was way back on November 20th of last year. Holy fuck, where the HELL did the better part of the last six months go?!?!

That last post was my wrap-up after last November’s trip down to Havana for the Friends of Partagas Festival.  I know, I know – like so many other things on here from the past year plus, I know I still need to do further updates.  Your text messages and emails have reminded me of such, lol!  I still have to publish a number of posts on some work stuff, some TASO missions, and other goodies.  And yes, further on that last Havana trip, as well as oodles of cigar reviews and tastings from last year.  I’ve got a SHIT-TON of this stuff to catch up on, as well as getting to some emails and other things.  Hell, I haven’t even been on the FOH forum in just about as long, and I opened up my email the other day (for the first time in about four-and-a-half weeks) to find 1189 emails wating for me!  Lol.

Actually, it was a text message / pic sent from a former co-worker that reminded me I need to get stuff caught up on here.  A picture of me porning-out over street-meat when we were in Germany doing the Syrian refugee flights in Nov/Dec 2015:

So his message reminded me to get going on here again.

Likewise though, I could also post photographic proof that shows that black men have apt skills when it comes to deep-throating pork products.  So, c’est la vie.  Lol

In all fairness though, it’s been a busy if not productive chunk of time for me.  My wife and I basically gutted our house and refinished it, all except for the kitchen itself.  Main bathroom refinished, downstairs bathroom completed, new carpets and specialty flooring throughout, some upgraded electrical and Cat6 and “smart home” stuff, reclaimed wide-plank hardwood flooring, all-new baseboards and trim throughout, rebuilt front foyer and custom wrought-iron balusters and railings, new LED lighting throughout, etc., etc.  All with fresh coats of paint top-to-bottom, refinished kids’ rooms, and a redone master.  This “jack-of-all-trades” definitely had his hands full, and I was especially grateful when I had two local specialty-contractors (good family friends) come help me out with two tricky things.  Lots of pictures were taken (even of the Mrs. in yoga pants and smashing out flooring tiles!), so I’ll do some posts on that series of projects too I guess.

We’re in the home stretch finally though.  About two weeks of relatively minor finishing touches to get done.  My schedule is going to be freeing up more after this week and upcoming holiday weekend.  I’ve got lots of rough sketches in place for blog posts, so it all will definitely (and finally) be coming down the pipeline shortly.

In the meantime, how about this???…….

I looked back on some notes, and I’ve nary even smoked any cigars since the last Havana trip ended back on Nov 19th or so.  A fucking travesty, I know!  Some of those cigars make up my last actual notes on cigars smoked.  I do remember I had a fairly good custom “robusto largos” (from Jorgito at the Club Habana LCDH [of “Monsdales” fame], Nov 2016 rolled) back at the tail-end of March for my birthday while soaking up a starry evening and hanky-panky in the hot tub, but I’ve got no detailed tasting notes or general info on that one (lol).

So, while your tardy scribe has been sitting here compiling this, he’s been enjoying a Ramon Allones EL 2011 Allones Extra.  Short review?  “Mmmmmmm – YUM!”

I do believe ithis stick was from an “RAE, Ago 2011” box (which has generally been a great box code, for what it’s worth, be it with these or any other Partagas/Ramon Allones/associated cigars).  Start was at 2:00 pm, enjoyed with the remnants of a bottle of Burmester 10-yr Tawny Porto (that I bought in either Prestwick, Scotland or Lages, Azores , Portugal early last year), and followed up with big cupfulls of blended strawberry daiquiris with what can only be described as way-too-much Bacardi white and Havana Club Anejo 7 Anos rum (hindsight being 20/20….hiccup!)  A hot, breezy day (27 degrees Celsius, 54 % RH, and 37 kph winds) that honestly reminded me of smoking cigars in Cuba, but a just reward for nearly wrapping up on the home remodel stuff, and getting the “great outdoors” / yards-and-back-deck all ready for spring and summer enjoyment.

The cigar started off with a kick to the nuts.  Powerhouse flavours from the get-go; dried cranberries, raisins, nutmeg, sweet molasses, all wrapped in heavy-/rich-and-oily tobacco essences.  Smoke volume wasn’t overly impressive, nor was it particularly viscous on the mouth-feel.  That said, the flavours definitely let me know I was in for a treat.  Strength and flavoursome all wrapped up together, with a bit of faint aged-elegantness starting to come into play now with nearly six years on them (coupled onto the two-plus years of age that the EL cigar tobaccos have to start with).  A few relights (due to winds and such, though I was relatively sheltered on the back deck).

I’ve generally always been a fan of this cigar.  I’ve had some lackluster boxes, and some stellar ones.  I know it’s one of those polarizing cigars that people either like or don’t.  I’ve even bought some boxes from others who weren’t fans, and those have turned out to be wonderful boxes for me.  But these are performing so consistently for me over the years, and are starting to hit such a finessed stride now, that it’s hard for me to not recommend them to anyone and everyone willing to give Ramon Allones / stronger / Limited Edition cigars a try.  A great brand, a wonderful retro band, classic RA box styling, an EL cigar at a reasonable price point (boxes initially sold for $279 USD, I believe, for a 25-box of corona-sized stick), and great burn and flavours…what’s not to love?  If you can still get any, I’d say to jump on it – even for upwards of $400-470 USD at this point, at least, if you can still find them anywhere.  I’ll definitely be savouring my five-plus boxes remaining.

An easy 94 – maybe even upwards of a 96 (but points deducted for heavy booze on the palate affecting the informal scoring, lol).  Finished at 3:25 pm.  And savoured well.

Here’s to many more!

Cheers all.

Jamaica Trip, Apr 2015: Cigars Smoked (Part 1 of 2)…

For some of the previous posts on this trip to the Iberostar Grand Rose Hall in Montego Bay, Jamaica, please use the following hyperlinks:

“Jamaica Trip, Apr 2015: A Beautiful Escape in Montego Bay…”

“Jamaica Trip, Apr 2015: Fun In The Sun…”

“Jamaica Trip, Apr 2015: Food Fit For a King…”

“Jamaica Trip, Apr 2015: Pirate Beach Party and Local Flair…”

So, as I’ve done with previous trips, instead of doing full-on reviews, here’s a bit of an abridged version of what cigars smoked well, and where they were seeming to perform for me when on this trip last spring to Jamaica.  The smoking weather was comparatively perfect at a slight plus-or-minus variance of 28 degrees Celsius and 74% RH right at the mid-afternoon point daily almost.  And, as an added plus, the resort itself was a smoking-friendly resort (which I worry about a bit, when looking at resorts or hotels in “Americanized” locations in the Caribbean), and I smoked on our room’s terrace relaxingly, as well as quite a number of cigars being smoked poolside, with ashtrays supplied by staff, and no funny looks or questions about the “stinky cigar smoke” from either staff or other resort guests.  Frankly, when I did puff away, most were intrigued, and not a single nasty look or comment was noted (nicely enough).

1.  Quai d’Orsay Imperiales.  Oct 2012 “MUR” coded.  Enjoyed this with a Bacardi 8 & Coke, then with some Red Stripe beers.  Smoked well.  Lots of light cedar wood, cream, loads of vanilla bean, almost a hint of sweet almond nuttiness, and a heaping of refreshing citrus zest.  Delicious, with a wonky curve too.  Solid 94.  What a start!

2.  La Gloria Cubana Medaille d’Or No. 2.  Ago 2008 “TEB”.  Light black tea base tones.  Light herbal / floral essences waving in and out.  Rosemary with roses.  Then, carnations and dill almost (wasn’t sure if I was hallucinating in the heat or not, LOL).  Very fragrant combos.  Waves of dried cut grass in there.  EXACTLY what I love about nicely aged LGC sticks – like a spring breeze a day after the lawn was cut, and the yard work was satisfyingly done.

Excellent draw.  The ash held on in one-inch groups, but was very lightly compresses and easy to flick off.  Razor-sharp burn, no need for relights aside from one cosmetic touch-up.  A solid 93-point smoke.  Not an overly “filling” cigar, per say, or potently flavourful in an overpowering style, but an extremely nuanced and mature-tasting smoke, with a subdued finesse…PERFECT to start that particular day off.

3.  Ramon Allones Superiores LCDH Release.  May 2012 “MUR”.  An awesome mid-day smoke.  This one seemed a bit more muted than previous I’ve had, but I have high hopes for this particular box code.

4.  QdO Corona.  Ago 2008 “TEB” coded.  Like most of these cigars, another one of Czar’s HQ / PSP offerings.  This one was slightly tight with a restrictive draw – due, in part I think, to me accidentally leaving it out of my travel humidor during the evening before, and sucking up a bit more humidity than I like to store my sticks at (62% RH).  That said, potent flavours of leather, orange zest, and rich demerara sugar.

Mild burn issues throughout (again, like the slightly tight draw, something that’s tied in with over-humidifying it), and needed multiple touch-ups and relights.  Could have been better and was a bit unfortunate.  An 86.

5.  Cohiba Siglo IV.  Oct 2013 “POU”.  Wow – what an ugly cap this thing had.  This was enjoyed wholeheartedly with several piña coladas with double-shots of Appleton 12-year dark rum…and I enjoyed every minute of it.  Unfortunately, this cigar was one with another slightly tight and restrictive draw, and thin whispy smoke therefore.

That said, it had STRONG flavours of smokey honey and lemongrass tea, damp hay, and some buttered toast.  Rich flavours, but a bit of a paradox in that there’s just slightly closed-in about them.

I was thinking this may also be because this cigar is just not quite ready yet (just over a year-and-a-half old; baby-aged for Cohiba almost).  Will be amazed to see what these are like at 3- and 5-years, and how they may develop then.

More to come on this…

Cheers all.

Travelling Again to the “Island-South-Of-Miami”…

So, I’m off once again to Havana, Cuba, for the Encuentros Partagas.  No doubt, I’ll have lots of pictures and updates to come here upon my return, and some nice new reviews and tastings too hopefully.

Fingers crossed – let’s keep my jail-free streak going!!!!

Nov 2015 Encuentros Partagas poster

Cheers all.


Rum Vertical-Slash-Horizontal Tasting (Part 2 of 4)…

So, continuing on from my previous on this ascending rum tasting, here’s the next five rums or so.  Supper was had prior to these rums – pork chops, green beans, and rice, enjoyed with the Mrs and the Rugrats.  Again, these are sampled straight up, about an ounce of each, with no mixers, ice cubes, or chilling, and enjoyed at room temperature.

And so…


4.  Nutz ‘N Rum Peanut Punch.  (14% alc/vol, St. Lucia)  This stuff is actually in a nine-year-old bottle from when my wife and I had our honeymoon in St. Lucia and we did a rum factory tour there, and I just recently found again during a liquor cabinet clean-out.  Essentially, this stuff is one-third creamy peanut butter, and two-thirds amber/gold rum (three-year-old approximately).  Sounds horrendous, but it’s wunder-bar!!!  As the label says, it’s best when chilled.  As for tasting notes – it tastes like nuts.  With rum.  LOL.


5.  Captain Morgan Tattoo.  (35% alc/vol, Puerto Rico)  As I mentioned before, most Captain Morgan rum I find to be sacrilegious to the good name of rum.  However, along with the overproof spiced rum of their I like for eggnog drinks, I also like this stuff.  I first found this in fall 2007, when my wife and I were on a golf and shopping vacation to Myrtle Beach.  Found this at a liquor store there, and was told at the time it was a special offering for around the eastern seaboard / Gulf-shores states, but in the past few years it’s been right up to Michigan and Ohio now too (haven’t seen it in Canada yet).  Apparently, it’s made with a two- to three-year-old rum, depending on who you ask.

This stuff is very heavily infused with flavourings and such, and is a distinctly darker colour.  In the glass, though it’s a darker rum, it’s very watery in appearance, and with no legs on the glass at all.  On the nose, black cherry notes and faint allspice, some sweet nutmeg and cloves – almost even an aroma of flat Pepsi.  Tasting it, it’s heavy with molasses, cloves, and black cherry, and the heat ramps up on the aftertaste.  Also, with all the myriad of spices they add into this rum, it almost reminds me a bit of that Jagermeister feeling in the back of your throat afterwards, almost like a tinge of NyQuil is mixed in there too.  LOL.  Even though that flavour is around the edges, this is one that can be sipped, but I’ve enjoyed it most on a 50/50 splitting with some classic Coke.


6.  Ron  Santiago de Cuba Anejo.  (38% alc/vol, Cuba)  Now we’re starting to get into what I like for going either as sippers or mixers.  This one is a bit harsh for the former, but mixed 50/50 with Coke, it’s pretty nice.  Cuban rum I find is a bit harsher compared to others (ie – a Cuban 7-year-old is sometimes not as good as a 5-year from somewhere else), but Cuban rums just seem to pair so well with Habanos cigars (whether it’s a mindset thing or not, I dunno).  This stuff (Anejo) is the five-year variant.

A faint bit of legs in the glass, I’m always amazed at how this one shrugs off any residual water to the inside of the glass – kinda like oil and water.  On the nose, there’s a light caramel nuttiness, but very strong hits of banana actually, and a smokey woodiness.  Tastes of ripened fruit, some candy sweetness, and a bit of citrus (orange peel?) and slight bitterness/sourness, are followed up with a bit of heat and a slightly harsh bite on the sides of the tongue.  The flavours overall aren’t abundant or apparent in a good mix to have me enjoying this rum as a sipper only – as mentioned before, it’s best as a mixer, as I personally think it meshes well with caramel-heavy Coke.


7.  Legendario Elixir de Cuba.  (34% alc/vol, Cuba)  This stuff is always a treat.  It’s a liqueur that’s made from seven-year-old Cuban rum.  Yup, that’s right…it’s booze that’s made from other booze.  LOL.  This stuff is an amazingly sweet and delicious concoction, it’s best as a sipping dessert aperitif after a nice long Cuban seafood dinner, and enjoyed with a post-dinner cigar.  Glorious.  And that, coupled with small production batches, are usually why it’s so damn hard to find on trips down to the island usually.

In the glass, this stuff has really nice legs actually, and has a bit of sediment in it usually (usually attributed to the pulverized raisins used to make this concoction).  While noticeably darker in colour for a seven-year-old, it sticks to the sides of the glass and coats it well.  Aromas are of lemon, light leather, and a vanilla-honey sweetness, and even with a decent raisin and even banana air to it.  In the mouth, flavours of dark smoky honeyed caramel hit you front in the face.  This shit is swweeeeeettt.  The heat of the alcohol is around the edges somewhat, but really covered by the smoky honey and sweet raisin layered flavours.  There’s a bit of an herbal background to it too, accenting the honey and lemon.  Reminds me of a white port, but with a heavier smokiness to it, and a more tropical palate accentuating it.


8.  Havana Club Anejo 7 Anos.  (40% alc/vol, Cuba)  This is my everyday rum-and-Coke rum.  While some seven-year-rums may be good enough for everyday sipping, I generally don’t think most Cuban rums fit the bill, and especially not the younger Havana Club stuff.  That said, it pairs too damn well with a Cuban cigar when in a 50/50 mix with Coke.  It’s fair to say I go through a healthy amount of this rum compared to all others in my cupboard.

This particular bottle is a Pernod Ricard produced bottle, purchased in Canada, and not direct in Cuba (though for this hemisphere, it is produced there).  Also notable is that the Havana Club product line used to be the Bacardi’s, before the Cuban Revolution and such, and recently Bacardi has apparently introduced a “Havana Club” product into the U.S.  But this stuff here is the Cuban production stuff sold worldwide by Pernod.

Lighter in colour than what I like to see, legs in the glass are faint.  Light aromas on the nose of caramel, buttered toffee, and a coffee mocha element, but they’re overpowered by the harsh alcohol ethers.  Harsh on the palate, flavours of nectarines and cedar with a butter and caramel edge are washed away by acidic and harsh alcohol layers.  It’s good, but not for sipping really.  Just soooo much better as a general-use dark rum for rum-and-Cokes and even stellar pina coladas.

Hic.  Okay.  Things are rolling along smoothly now.  Hic.

More to come shortly…

Go here for Part 1, here for Part 3, and here for the Part 4 conclusion of this series.

Cheers all.


Cigar Review – Ramon Allones Specially Selected, Jun 2011 “ROA” box code; Final Score – 89

Ramon Allones is definitely in my top three favourite brands, if not my favourite.  With my love for robusto-sized cigars especially, a good RASS is in my top five for sure.  RA, as a brand, just generally has a nice dark and sweet tone – that dense, heavy, rich Christmas-cake lusciousness to it.  Stewed fruit – think of cooked dark cherries and such, boysenberries, perhaps mulberries – dark, cooked cherry-pie-filling, but without the heavy sugar added.  Mixed with molasses and rum, some brown sugar and walnuts in there too, heavy butter and cream.

Damn, I’m getting hungry.

This particular smoke was from a trade with a fellow member on the FOH forum, my last stick of a 5-stick or so swap with him from back in 2012 or so.

Reviewed Cigar:  Ramon Allones Specially Selected

Box Date:  Jun 2011

Factory / Manufacture Code:  ROA

Packaging:  25-count dress-box

Price per cigar:  Traded stick (approx. $22.70 CDN value per stick)

Length:  4 7/8″, or 124 mm

Ring Gauge:  50

Format:  Robusto

Weight:  11 grams / 0.4 oz

Construction/Appearance & Pre-Light:  This was a fairly nice stick.  Decently thin and supple wrappers, with a healthy oily sheen.  Not quite as dark and rich as I like to see from RASS, but pretty damn nice overall, and not too far off.  No prominent veins to the wrapper, nice construction.  Fairly good aromas, if not a slight bit muted.

Good weight and construction overall.  Cap was perfect, and the bunch on the foot had nice colouring (a good blend of seco, volado, and ligero leaves), but just a bit lopsided and slightly overbunched it seemed.

After cutting the cigar and tasting at cold…not bad.  Fairly present RA flavours there, but with a tinge of dryness.  Perhaps hay and a grassiness there.

Opening Impressions:  Ahhhh.  RASS.  Such a consistent performer.  Such a consistent go-to stick.

First Third:  Into the first third, the experience was pretty nice.  Some RA Christmas-fruit-cake was right there in the forefront, but with some leather and hay tones added in.

Smoke volumes were nice.  Not a huge amount when “at idle”, but nice slightly viscous smoke on the palate when puffed on.  Definitely a cigar that you know you’re smoking – grabs your attention just enough to remind you what’s going on.

Into the hot tub…

Second Third:  …and into the second third.  Fairly flaky ash (not holding for 1/2″ plus), and somewhat wonky burn at times.  Smoke and flavours right where they should be though.  Leather backing off a bit, perhaps with an ever-so-slight backing of a dark chocolate / dry cocoa tone there.

The band was noticeably loosened from the cigar, a fairly consistent sign of a cigar with some age on it, especially with the larger ring gauges (comes from the cigar slowly “shrinking” over time compared to when rolled).

Final Third:  Into the final third, still consistent RA fruitcake tones.  The leather came back in front, with a slight citrus tanginess / sourness to it, but not in a way that was a put-off.

Not quite a full nubber (it definitely absorbed some of the hot tub’s humidity, and started to slow down and sour up near the tail end).  But finished well.

Finishing Comments / Overall Impression:  Some slight burn and construction issues didn’t really hurt this stick.  The flavour profile was pretty much spot on, and kept me attentive just enough.

This RASS, to me anyways, was distinctly noticeable though in that ever-so-slight difference between dress-box RASS and cabinet RASS.  Aside from two partial RASS dress boxes, all my own RASS are from 50 cabs.  There’s just such a slight, but yet ironically enough distinct, difference to the cigars taken from these two packaging methods (though they’re the same essential cigars from the ground up), that I’m a cab-cigar convert.  While it may not be a “blind” tasting decision, I would definitely say that quality cab RASS have a general 2-3 point difference minimum in extra enjoyment for me.  Something about the difference of a perfectly-round and artisan-intended original robusto, compared to the slightly box-pressed versions, just make enough of a difference to the burn, combustion, smoke development, etc.

All that said, these are generally always consistent for me and enjoyable.  I can count on them to give me an 86-93 point performance each time and every time.  If you can’t find or afford a 50-cab of these, much less fit them into your humidor or other cigar storage means, a 25-count dress-box of these should definitely be within everyone’s top 10 list of cigars to keep in stock.  Obviously, with this blend, the darker and richer and oilier the sticks, and the more pungent the barnyard aroma, the better.

Final Score:  89

Total Smoking Time:  1 hour and 10 minutes

Date & Time Smoked:  May 23rd, 2015; lit up at 9:35 pm, done at 10:45 pm

Paired Beverage:  Blended margaritas

Last Meal:  Domino’s Pizza and italian cheese bread,  6:30 pm

Smoking Conditions:  In the hot tub, 14 degrees Celsius and 46% RH outside, with an 11 kph light breeze.

Thanks for reading my review.  Hope you enjoyed it.

Cheers all.

Cigar Review – SCDLH La Fuerza, Mar 2014 “EML” box code; Final Score – 90

SCDLH is a bit of a sweet-tooth favourite of mine.  I find they just hit the spot nicely every now and again.  To me, they have that nice dark and sweet touch, similar to a Ramon Allones (but without the boldness and mongrel that I love in that brand), or even similar to well-aged Por Laranaga with their caramel tinge.

As I described in my last review about the SCDLH Oficios LCDH release, San Cristobal De La Habana is a very recent brand in the Habanos S.A. portfolio, only being born in 1999, and made to commemorate Christopher Columbus, using the original name for Havana itself.  Also, the unique little historical part (which I love when it comes to Cuba and Cuban cigars) is that all of the brand’s main cigars are named after the old forts that guard the harbour entrance into Havana – El Morro, La Fuerza, La Punta, and El Principe.  I always try to have a nice quality box of La Fuerza around, as the gorditos / robusto extra format works just so well with so many blends, and is one that both enthusiasts and relative newbies alike all can smoke without too much concern for smoking styles or techniques.

This particular box is a brand new and gorgeous one that I found on my Nov 2014 Havana trip, and was able to snag it up when box browsing at the LCDH shop at the Partagas factory.  A couple of us snagged some gorgeous boxes of these, and that hectic afternoon also included being able to help Hamlet Jaime Paredes pick through some stellar boxes of Sir Winnies for other travelling companions and store customers as well.

After trying a few fresh in Cuba on that trip, as well as gifting a few out, this particular cigar I smoked way back in December, specifically for this review.  Unfortunately, it’s another one that got lost in the shuffle and I simply neglected to get published prior to now.

Reviewed Cigar:  San Cristobal De La Habana La Fuerza

Box Date:  Mar 2014

Factory / Manufacture Code:  EML

Packaging:  25-count dressed box

Price per cigar:  $212.50 CUC (Partagas LCDH in Havana, Cuba)

Length:  5 5/8″, or 141 mm

Ring Gauge:  50

Format:  Gorditos / Robusto extra

Weight:  12 grams / 0.4 oz

Construction/Appearance & Pre-Light:  This was from a really dark, oily, and pungent box that I picked up in Havana in November.  The pictures don’t do it justice.  Thin, supple, marbled in colours and oily (two favourite characteristics of mine to see), with very strong “barnyard” aromas.  Love it.

This particular stick had good construction and weight to it.  The cap and wrapper were perfect looking, and the bunch on the foot was just wonderful – though it seemed to be a slight bit too open (I like to see lots of tobacco there), it was just the right firmness, and the colour lapping between the different tobacco types was present, with no one-sidedness apparent.

After cutting the cigar and tasting at cold….CRAP!!!!  A wind tunnel at cold!  But the cigar felt good in construction, with no hollow / soft spots, yet it was just a complete breeze moving through it on the cold draw.  However, a massive and definitive flavour at cold of gingerbread (what I always love to see in my SCDLH’s), so this one was getting lit anyways – well worth the test.

Opening Impressions:  Boom.  Warm gingerbread cookies and rich, dense, toasted tobacco.  Awesome.  A bit firmer on the draw once lit, and not off-putting anymore.  Quite a copious amount of smoke when puffed.

First Third:  Into the first third, the experience was pretty damn good.  The gingerbread and tobacco flavours were there in rich heapings.  Some wet leather coming into the fold.

The smoke progression and burn on this was great.  For such a damn young cigar, and being made with such rich and oily tobacco, I was having no burn problems.  I made one small cosmetic touch-up with my torch in the first third, but throughout the whole first half of the cigar, the burn was relatively sharp and even.

Second Third:  Into the second third, I noticed that the ash, while holding on in decent clumps, was fairly flaky.  Almost like the wrapper and binder leaf, once burnt, was “peeling” away from the inner core tobacco, almost like petals on a flower begin to open up and spread out.  It wasn’t a detriment to the smoke, but it was curious with how this ash was holding minimally like that.

The core gingerbread and rich tobacco tones continued to build in intensity.  Some dark old leather coming in there, joined by a bit of wet hay perhaps.  Some ginger root tucked on the fringes.

Final Third:  Into the final third, a little bit of change from the building stature of this cigar.  Some of the flavours, notably the gingerbread and leather, receded.  Coming to the forefront instead was a strong peppery tone.  The draw began to firm right up, and a completely wonky and “canoeing” burn began to occur.  A heavy touch-up relight to solve this, and it continued with the peppery tinge, with a bit of an anise root coming into play, and perhaps with some bland dark chocolate.  The pepper hint really put the other flavours in the background.

Finishing Comments / Overall Impression:  Even though this cigar wasn’t the most well-behaved and had some notable draw and burn issues, it was still pretty damn good.

The gingerbread and leather hits were there in spades.  Amazing overall flavour profile, and was just bold enough.  Hell, this cigar was only 9 months old, fresh from a Cuba trip, and this was the worst-performing one out of that box that I’ve had so far, to the best of my recollection.  And – I was still satisfied with this smoke.  To me, that’s a big thing on a cigar’s onus there – that it leaves you satisfied.  That it was time well spent.  And, all things considered, even the negatives of this one particular stick, it definitely was.

I can’t wait to see what the rest of the box holds in store for me, as this stick’s brethren get more and more aging time under their belts.

Final Score:  90

Total Smoking Time:  1 hour and 8 minutes

Date & Time Smoked:  December 15th, 2014; lit up at 9:20 pm, done at 10:28 pm

Paired Beverage:  Havana Club Anejo 7 Anos and Coke

Last Meal:  Big Smoke artisan burger, 4:20 pm

Smoking Conditions:  In the hot tub, 6 degrees Celsius and 93% RH outside, with a 16 kph breeze.

Thanks for reading my review.  Hope you enjoyed it.

Cheers all.

Havana Trip, Feb-Mar 2015: Another nice visit with the Lung Kong Society…

Another nice visit was had to the Sociedad Lung Kong in Havana last month.  As I wrote about previously, I loaded up ahead of this trip with some various wares for the lovely ladies and gents there.  Through Tom’s help (a great Toronto BOTL), I had gone out prior to the trip and got 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 from a nice little Chinatown shop that Tom steered me to.  I definitely went a bit overboard though, as when I checked in my luggage for my flight down I was hit with some hefty overweight charges for my checked bags – not surprising considering half of both checked bags were a mix of these gifts for Lung Kong, and for other Cuban friends.

So, when I arrived down in Havana last month, Nino was neck-deep in planning and organizing for the Urs Portmann group, but managed to find a day that all meshed well with everyone’s schedule, and we were all able to meet up at Lung Kong.  I unfortunately arrived a bit late that day, with my cabbie getting lost and not knowing where Bario Chino was in Havana (only two blocks west of the Capitolio, I kept trying to explain), and then him wanting to drop me off something like 6 blocks away.  Seemed like he simply didn’t want to go there – he kept saying he was afraid his car would get stuck in the narrow roadways. Suuuuuure.  “We’re driving in a Lada”, I told him.

Anyways, after I got there, it was all smiles and hugs.  I met “Santa Claus” (Nino), and very quickly the “Buddha” exclaimations were out there as well.  To be joined there as well with Yannick, Michel, Luka, Thomas, Urs – it was just that much nicer.

Graciela was happy to hear that perhaps some of the other Toronto gents might be visiting her and the rest of the elders later on this spring, and that we’d be back in the fall as well.  She asked to send along her best wishes to Tom and the others, as well as Joe and the rest of her “Chinese-Canadian boys”.

Always nice to see friendly faces in these visits too. “Peso cigars” received as well from the same fellow that’s always tickled pink with our visits.

Hope we can continue to visit and support this venture for a long time to come.

Cheers all.

Havana Trip, Feb-Mar 2015: Yolanda “Custom Jars” Coming Soon…

So, as I described in one of my earlier posts on my Havana trip last month, Yolanda, the custom roller / “house roller” from LCDH Melia Habana, mentioned something to me.  She’s apparently going to be coming out shortly with her own “custom jar” for her custom cigars.

Yolanda Medina is a lovely lady.  In her upper 60’s now, she’s been rolling at the LCDH store at the Melia Habana hotel for about 18 years, and has been rolling cigars for an astonishing 48 or so now.  Starting rolling at age 19 at the H. Upmann factory, she’s well renowned for her past experience as a roller, as well as a former production manager from both the Romeo y Julieta factory and the Partagas factory.  She’s been the house roller at the Melia Habana LCDH since 1997, and she’s well renowned for that.  And, she herself is a former Guiness World Record holder, for rolling one of the world’s longest cigars in the mid 80’s sometime, before Cueto came to fame recently for doing the same.  I think it’s fair to say that she’s in the big league of custom rollers that cigar enthusiasts flock to Havana for.  Herself, Jorge Lopez Leal (from Club Habana, and of “Monsdale” fame), Reynaldo from Conde de Villanueva, Cueto from the El Morro shop, and also formerly Hamlet from RyJ (when he was rolling there) – they’re all amazing rollers who are some of the most courteous and excellent “faces” for Habanos cigars.

On this past trip, I snagged myself a bundle of her custom piramides, her signature roll.  Those are what she’s most well-renowned for, and what she said she rolls 2-to-1 compared to all the other formats she rolls combined, I was told.  (And, as Alex, a good Canadian BOTL and usual fellow-traveller has told me before, she’s usually sold out of them, and he’s always in a bind to get those specifically, as they’re his favourites from the island).  Though, her custom 898’s / dalias are slowly but surely catching up, and she gifted me with one of those to try when I visited her that day – it definitely hit the spot for me as a late-morning start with a nice cappuccino.

But anyways, she’s in the works with coming out with a custom jar, if you can call it that.  As she explained to me, and as the below pictures show, it’s a wooden jar.  She stated that it was her intent and continuing-want to do a ceramic jar instead.  But the jar as-shown perfectly fits a 25-bundle of her custom 898’s / dalias, or will also fit about 19 of her custom piramides.  The wooden container is currently at a cost of $150 CUC’s, but she’s trying to negotiate a better price through the manufacturer to make it much more feasible, and back down to well inside of a two-digit cost she said.

Through the assistance of Fred, a Chinese businessman she’s had a long-standing customer friendship with, she was able to get LCDH’s and/or Caracol’s permission to be able to offer these custom wooden “jars” at her rolling table in the Habana Libre shop.  So, she made planning arrangements with a Chinese manufacturer, also with the assistance of Fred, to have the jars made – with her initial intent of ceramic jars, but her agreeing to be open to the wooden / cedar jar (as shown above) as a bit of a prototype.

As we chatted, she was right in the midst of rolling a 500-stick order for Fred of custom robusto extras, and said she would be going to China in April for a few weeks to visit him, and would hopefully be finalizing the jar arrangements.  She said she was planning on going back to her original want for a ceramic jar instead, but might still take an initial production-run of some of these wooden ones.

She said it’d likely all be sorted out over this spring, and would likely have ready stocks of them in hand by mid- / end-summer – plenty of time, hopefully, to have it sorted out prior to the next Encuentros Partagas festival in the upcoming fall.  I myself am looking forward to seeing the final results of these later on this fall hopefully.  And, will likely be loading up on more of her custom piramides and dalias too.

Cheers all.

Havana Trip, Feb-Mar 2015: Food and Drinks in Cuba (Part 1 of 3)…

Yup, last month’s trip to Havana of course resulted in a level of indulgence of food, drink and cigars that I’m generally not able to pull off here at home.  At the end of a week in Havana, the body is generally aching and retching from the overload of many rich foods, drink, tobacco smoke and such.

With various friends generally in attendance, I hit a number of favoured spots, and some new ones as well…

1.  The back terrace of the Hotel Nacional.  Can’t beat getting a cappuccino here first thing in the morning, enjoying a mellow Monsdale or another smooth cigar, and relaxing through a nice breezy wake-up in the AM after a long night.  Similarly, a great spot to meet everyone pre-supper for a cigar and a mojito, or likewise to have a nightcap of a Cuba Libre / Cubata and a panini-grilled Cubano sandwich.  It’s a must-go location for me.

2.  Espacios.  This trip, many great times to start and/or finish off good nights with many friends took place here at Espacios, a newer spot in Miramar – a definite thanks to Nino and others for guiding me to this spot.  Feels like a great backyard summertime party, with the outdoor garden seating, low-volume music, and outdoor / backyard brick oven.  Lots of drinks enjoyed here – Cuba Libres and/or Cubatas were always refreshing and perfect, service was great with the staff there.  A nice bar without too much pretenses or pressure.  Doesn’t feel like how some spots have turned more and more into “meat markets”, hounding for the almighty dollar.

Not sure if I discussed it before, but at Espacios, I had a good series of conversations with Punch Joe.  One of those times, he explained to us that only a week before the Festival Habanos kicked off, the government changed some of the rules for bars.  Namely, private bars / restaurants are supposed to close / stop serving at 3am now, but state-run locations can still choose to stay open until 6am.  Ha!!!  Fie, I say!!!

3.  Tic-Tac Boquitas / El Rejoneo.  What a great little spot.  Nino turned a bunch of us on to this during last November’s trip, and I made sure to indulge a couple of times during this one.  One of the best things there is the hamburger and cheese boq’s – simply amazing (they didn’t have shrimp available for the shrimp-and-blue-cheese one when I was there).  Fatty and juicy beef (hell, could have been pork, for how juicy it was and lighter-coloured it was, compared to our Canadian beef).  Grilled onions and a kind of green pepper, serrano-ham-style bacon, and cheese (like a spiced Gouda without the seeds – very tart).  All piping hot from being cooked in an outdoor brick over and on soft and crusty fresh bread.  Amazing.  Juicy.  All for only 2 CUC’s each!  I ordered 3 because I thought they were the 1/2-size ones we got in November – instead got 3 of the full-size / giant ones.  Stuffed myself, packed up one, brought it back to my room – made an EXCELLENT “Taco Bell” substitute for the drunk-munchies at 5:20 am!!!  LOL.

4.  La Fontana.  I’ve actually never ate there before.  And, in reality, I didn’t do so again.  I was delayed in meeting up with the Fox- and European-group, and when I arrived, they were just finishing up eating…gasp…duck.  While it was apparently amazing, I decided to pass after the experience of a BOTL Aussie traveller in November.  I easily sustained myself on Cuba Libres and flan.  But, we had some good drinks there, and any place is good in my mind if they manage to make nudie art somewhat intriguing and tasteful.

5.  That-for-which-I’ve-forgotten-the-name.  (EDIT – it’s “El Chanchullero” as Nino corrected in a comment below.)  A great little lunch spot hidden around the block at the Capitolio – if I remember correctly, it’s just east of the corner of Teniente Rey and Bernaza, about 3 blocks east of the Capitolio.  Nino corrected my broken Spanish reading skills, and informed us that this place makes a big deal out of NOT being a place that Hemingway has visited (grantedly obvious, considering it’s brand new).  Was told this place is extremely popular for the hipper locals with higher means, and travellers that are in the know.  Extremely inexpensive, but fresh and delicious-in-its-simplicity.  Tapas and beef stirfy with salad.  Presidente beer from the DR, and followed by an espresso after the meal.  Wonderful.  Just watch out for the steep stairs.

More to come shortly…

Cheers all.

Havana Trip, Feb-Mar 2015: Cigars Smoked (Part 1 of 3)…

Yup.  I smoked some cigars in Havana last month.  Surprise, surprise.  As always, some good, some bad.  Rather than trying to do one of my gawd-awful full-rundown reviews on all of them, here’s some brief rundowns, particulars, and photos…

1.  Trinidad Vigias.  Oct 2014 “APU” coded, priced at $32.50 CAD per stick (at LCDH Toronto).  Smoked one of these, first-off once I disembarked the plane at the airport, but actually one that was bought at home at the LCDH Toronto.  This was nice.  Smoked it with a Bucanero, and both actually made me get honestly distracted, not lock my phone, and HONESTLY take the below inadvertent-but-lovely-picture of a fellow traveller of the female and blonde variety (too bad her and her girlfriend were going to another locale for the week, LOL!)

This cigar had strong flavours, very fresh (obviously).  Strong hits of black tea and hay.  Light, almost lemony fruitiness to it.  VERY reminiscent of the Trini Robustos T (still PISSED that H S.A. chose to discontinue those).

But this impressed me very much.  While I wish it was more a robusto or a corona gorda, and the shorter-and-fatter trend isn’t my happy-place, this stick still performed well for me.  I picked up a couple of these at LCDH in Toronto, and smoking this one, picked up a 12-box of these while down in Havana.  I’m going to delve into them over the next two to six months, and then go from there on a decision to load up on them or not.

2.  Monsdale customs.  I smoked most of the way through a bundle of these just on this particular trip.  I actually brought down one from Nov 2012 as well as one from Nov 2014, and then I got a couple bundles of fresh ones on this trip too.  Even though the wrappers on the Nov 2014 ones were fairly fugly, and even though the fresh ones from this trip look better but still not quite as chocolate-like and gorgeous as those from Nov 2012, they all still tasted spot on.

Flavours of creamy elegance.  Simple, slowly building flavours of fresh, light leather tones, rich and pure half-and-half coffee creamer or unsweetened liquid whipping cream, slight honeyed and white pepper tones, and clean and rich toasted tobacco.  I’ve never had one of these yet that have been plugged or had an overall bad burn or bad experience, though I admittedly did have one on this trip that had tunnels and hollow spots in the first inch or so that led to a wonky burn and slightly off flavours, but that hit it’s full stride shortly after.

These are so consistent, and such a fabulous value, at only $5 CUC’s per.  Currently, my favourite custom that I pick up out of Cuba, and such a wonderful format and presentation, in that it’s a closed-foot and pigtail-capped lonsdale.  Jorgito does lovely cigars.  And even if there were a few ugly ones, there were some where the wrappers were gloriously dark and oil-laden too, as that last picture shows.

3.  Romeo y Julieta Piramides Anejados.  Wow – crap.  I smoked two of these, gifted in generosity, but not worthwhile of the experience.  Both with Sep 2008 “TEB” box codes (interesting – a code that I have a fair bit of Montecristo stock in, but no RyJ; yes, to me, this further adds fuel to the fire that is the speculation that H S.A. simply swapped brand bands, essentially, between RyJ Churchills and Monte No. 2’s).

Slight black licorice tones, tongue-tingling, maybe some slight coffee and leather aspects there (but it’s a struggle to find it – maybe I was just hoping too hard).  Nothing else in the frame of normal and pleasurable flavours.  Boring.  Pitched my first one when only about halfway through, the second one smoked a day or two later, and only smoked through the first inch before pitching.  Will avoid.

4.  Partagas Seleccion Privada EL 2014.  Nov 2014 “ARG” coded, and priced at $12.50 CUC’s for a stick, and sold in 10-boxes.  These are quite wonderful.  I’ve somewhat turned away from Partagas in recent years, aside from aged D4’s or 898’s.  But these were nice.  Smoked a couple of these, with various beverages over the week.  Lots of smoke, dark pepper tones, spice, and Kona coffee perhaps (red cherry-bean tones).  Hints of dark old leather.  Bold in body (yet not an overpowering stick) and slightly sweet, without being overly chocolately like many EL’s are.

5.  Robusto largos custom rolls, from Jorgito at Club Habana.  Wonderful.  While these seem to need some time to age, and show some youthful harshness (compared to his Monsdales, which are always ready to smoke it seems), these show lots of promise – Gino, Nino, and a few others got to partake in these as well, and stated similar thoughts.

A robusto with an extra inch to it, the presentation is similar to Monsdales, with a pigtail cap and a closed foot.  For the most part, the smoking experience from these was nice and smooth.  Light flavours of cedar and hay, some light whipping cream.  A slight vanilla fruitiness.  But they do still need to sit for a bit, and that tanginess needs to mellow out.

More to come…

Cheers all.

Back again from Havana, missing it already…

So, my voyage La Havana has come to a close again.  Got back yesterday, relatively trouble free.  This trip was overall quite wonderful – no stomach issues, the ability to put more faces to names, and many more good times shared with other BOTL’s/SOTL’s from around the globe.  As always, some interesting news tidbits and a very few nice finds (though the latter is definitely getting to be less and less prevalent).

More posts will come in the following days detailing some of the below, but here are some of my highlights…

  • As is the current trend in Cuban cigar shops, tons of availability of the “big stuff” for tourists especially (Montecristo, especially the Open line, Partagas, tons of RyJ, HdM, fair amount of Trinidad, LOADS of Cohiba Maduro 5 line-up, etc.)
  • Almost nothing found of outside-of-the-norm or vintage stuff, aside from a few special boxes.
  • No evidence of recent tobacco beetle infestations continuing.  Looks like it’s calmed down a bit, and/or being taken better care of.  Did notice especially that at the Melia Habana LCDH walk-in humidor, they had a very prevalent tobacco-beetle capture “pest-strip” sitting out in the open.
  • A fair amount of newer LE’s were to be found.  Lots of availability and push for the Partagas Seleccion Privada EL’s.  A couple spots had the Cohiba Robusto Supremos available in mild quantity.  Fair amount of LCDH specialty releases to be found also.
  • Big push with the Anejados releases, RyJ Piramides and the Montecristo Churchills.  A number of conversations were had about these – opinions vary, but most are fairly negative, and nearly all tastings were blunt: they’re un-brand-related shit.
  • Tobacco availabilty to custom rollers appears to be levelling off, and perhaps improving a bit.  Jorge at Club Habana and Yolanda at Melia Habana both had their hands full with multiple large orders.  Other rollers (Alex at Commodoro, Reynaldo at Conde de Villanueva, Juanita at Melia Cohiba, etc., etc.) all had a decent availability and selection of their custom rolls available.
  • Loads of rum to be found everywhere – lots of Legendario Elixir to be found this time, and even a new elixir rum coming from Santiago I think it was (I’ll have to check over my pictures and report later)
  • Cubita coffee and Cafe Serrano were found here and there, but only in the vaccuum-packed pre-ground variants, and none of the big bags of whole beans were seen anywhere.
  • Another wonderful visit to see Graciela and others at the Sociedad Lung Kong there in Havana, with more gift items brought to them from Canada and as well from Hong Kong.
  • Prototype jars from San Ramon Producciones as announced here previously were not available for either the Baire or the La Patrona jars.  Arrangements were made to get pictures once they’re ready, so that they can be shared here.  Nearly all of the La Patrona jars are pre-sold already (at about 100 of the 120 jars spoken for).
  • Yolanda, the custom roller at the LCDH at the Melia Habana hotel, has her own “custom jar” soon to be released.  She went over the details with me, and more on that will be coming here soon.
  • I finally had the chance to meet a few international friends in person, rather than simply electronically through e-mail or the forums (Andy Ryan and Gino / Mr Japan are perfect examples of this).  Great relationships were formed or solidified.  The overall Fox clan is becoming more and more cursed by allowing me into their fold.  Glad to still claim being able to out-drink the Irish so far.
  • Was invited to a relatively new “after-hours” bar that’s apparently only available to the waitstaff, bartenders, and security staff that work at other bars/restaurants in the city – only OPENS at 4 am, and runs to 9 am.  Very cool place with a giant tree growing right up through the center of the palatial mansion that houses it.  Wild to be walking out of there at 7:30 am, blinded by the sun, and seeing everyone else get on buses to go to school or work.  There was nary enough Tylenol in my luggage for that day.
  • Exchanged money at many places this trip – Varadero airport, Hotel Nacional front desk and cambio/money-exchange, money exchange at the business center near the Melia Habana, and even at the cadeca exchange in the Melia Cohiba.  Not even a single attempt at the money exchange scam was observed or heard to be attempted during this timeline.
  • Great times shared again as always with Simon, Nino, Yannick, Amir, Yiorgos, as well as some other Euro and American travellers that have passed each others paths on FOH or other cigar forums, or met somehow through the industry.  I was again able to share some great times with Punch Joe, La China, and other H S.A. and industry personnel, such as Luka and Michel.
  • Yet again, everyone’s favourite “one-eyed cat” jazz club, otherwise known as the “Irish Embassy”, continued to be made into the “Commonwealth Consulate”.  Great times were had – drunken limbo, ghostly photo-bombing, etc.
  • While down in Havana, I heard on Wed/Thurs that Obama had announced that the U.S. Special Interests building would be getting re-commissioned / re-opened next week as the formal U.S. Embassy.  On the Mon/Tues, we did see work being done to either install a new one, or repair the current foundation, for the flag pole in the northwest facing corner of the building’s grounds, adjacent to the Malecon.  So, while I haven’t seen any media reports on this continuing movement, there was noted activity there.

So, more will be forthcoming later on over the next week or so about some of the above.

Obviously also, there’s the news of Hamlet’s departure / defection to the U.S., with him now in Naples, Florida, working for Rocky Patel.  Needless to say, many there in Havana were shocked and saddened by the occurrence of this, but many also understanding and wishing nothing but the best for him and his family.  We all only found out about it on the Thursday night / Friday during the tail-end of the festival itself (with it being the talk of the town prior to the gala dinner), after his resignation letter was brought in to the Partagas shop by a third party after his departure.  Something that had been in the works for quite a time apparently, and some of his best friends and childhood amigos there in Havana not even aware of it prior to (understood, but heartbreakingly so).

My own thoughts are very conflicted on it, but I can only hope for great things in the future for him.

And, by the above attached photos, I did find enough to fill my luggage again, LOL.  Going through Customs on this end was fine, with no additional taxes levied surprisingly.  A selection of some of the goods found during this trip:

  • Some more Hotel Nacional ashtrays for myself and some friends
  • Some Cafe Serrano packets of the pre-ground coffee
  • Three wonderfully dark, oily and rich boxes of Ramon Allones Superiores LCDH releases (Dic 2014 ULA codes) as well as one box of Ramon Allones Gigantes (Nov 2013 MUL) that was one of three boxes of these wonderful goodies that I found hiding out at two different locations
  • A fairly nice-smelling box of the new Trinidad Vigias, as well as a really nice box of the new Por Larranaga Picadores also
  • Two bundles each of Jorgito’s Monsdales and his new robusto largos (both with closed foot and a pigtail cap), which everyone was gleefully indulging in all week.  Should have got much more, but even he was saying he’s 3 to 4 weeks behind in his orders.  The wrappers also looked much better than what was available to the rollers back in November – some of the wrappers were gloriously dark and oily.  If the wrapper quality is there, I’ll likely go for 2 more bundles of the robusto largos in November, and 3 or 4 for the Monsdales – simply one of the best customs coming out of Havana in the last number of years
  • A bundle of Yolanda’s piramides
  • Some of Juanita’s coronas and Churchills
  • Couple bottles of Legendario Anejo rum for friends
  • Couple of the classic Cuban licence plates
  • A couple of other choice customs from other miscellaneous rollers as gifts and trades
  • Various cigars smoked from current / new release stuff, EL’s and Anejado’s included.  All pretty much meh, except for the Partagas Seleccion Privada – had a few of those, and they were quite nice, and packaged well in 10-boxes too
  • Two custom jars picked up for some buddies

My liver is aching, my lungs are tired, and my throat is sore.  Gonna be on a greens and fruit diet for the next little bit (my new joke – the only thing that makes Caesar salad shitty is those green leafy things they include with all the cheese, bacon and chicken sometimes, LOL).

But, it was another wonderful visit to the island and crazy little city.  Definitely better for me relaxing and getting “into the vibe” compared to November, when I was “herding cats with a ladder” as some like to say.

Glad to be back home (need family time again), even though the weather’s crap here still (going from plus 30 C to -20 C always sucks).  Miss the island a bit already, and will definitely be looking forward to the next trip again!

Cheers all.

An international visit to the Sociedad Lung Kong in Havana…

Additional photos courtesy of Tom MacDowall / "tmac77" and John Winston Reiner / "cigarsurgeon"

Ah, the joys of being in Havana, and bringing some good cheer to others.  That was basically the first order of business for us as part of this year’s trip for the Encuentro de Amigos de Partagas.

A little over a year ago, good friend Nino Munoz brought some info to light to many of us about this Cantonese society in Havana.  It started with a gentleman by the name of Mr. Pok Chi Lau happening upon meeting a lady by the name of Caridad, and her relating to him the story of her adoptive father, a Cantonese opera performer, and her adoption as a little girl in the Barrio Chino in Havana oh so many decades ago.  What evolved was a lovely documentary that Mr. Lau put together, illustrating the frustrating confliction of a zest-for-life and also the desparation that’s faced by many of the Chinese diaspora in Cuba.  The write-up and documentary videos, found here on Nino’s blog, are heartwarming and enlightening.

This was followed by many of us in the Canadian cigar community from FOH, and more specifically by many in the Toronto area directly, wanting to participate in some way.  Many of our members and friends are Asian, some have Asian spouses, and the Chinese community in the Greater Toronto Area, at just under 500,000 people, is the largest outside of China and Hong Kong themselves (take THAT San Francisco and Vancouver!!!)

In November of last year then, during last year’s Partagas Encuentro, a number of the Canadian travellers were able to meet the society members there, and bring some gifted donations.  Unfortunately, I missed that trip, but I heard from all the others about the continuing need.

So, in February/March earlier this year, a few of our Toronto area cigar-smoking-circle friends wanted to participate further, Edward and David.  They were able to meet up with Nino, and go to see Graciela Lau, the President of the Lung Kong Society there in Havana, and bring some more gifted items and cheer.

Onwards and upwards it would continue.

This past spring, when co-ordinating the planning for this past summer’s 2014 Toronto MegaHerf IV, it was agreed to by Art, Tom, Frank and myself that we would split the proceeds going towards charities, and include the Lung Kong Society in Havana to a 50% share (with the other 50% going to FOH friend Rob Schildt’s Nicaraguan Children’s Feeding Mission, a charity that we have provided for since the inception of the Toronto MegaHerf charity event).

So, as this August’s MegaHerf IV raised many thousands of dollars, we had some good will to bring last week to the ladies and gents of the Lung Kong.  Many suitcases were stuffed to the brim.  A generous benefactor from Hong Kong (thank you again, kind sir), who has donated in the past and has an emotional connection to the people we’re helping, even assisted us in providing some traditional Chinese items and assisting in shipping arrangements to Nino so that we could hand these items over in Havana.  Tom and Ed here in Toronto co-ordinated a gargantuan task of sourcing out needed and wanted items – a vast conglomerate of stuff from within the Chinese shops and communities in Toronto, kitchenwares, foodstuffs and seasonings, medical items, etc. – and they then led the co-ordination with other trip participants to ensure everything was transported safely and effectively.  Enough can’t be said of these two, and the pathway that they have led for the rest of us in this venture, as their heart’s are tied to the cause incredibly so.

And so, Nino (with his travel-mate-cum-partner-in-crime Yannick) assisted us in being welcomed by Graciela and the ladies and gents of the Lung Kong Society on the Sunday afternoon, after arriving in Cuba the day before.  We were treated as slightly-embarassed guests, welcomed at a head table, honoured to be allowed a little window into their daily lives, and able to bring some much needed items.

They are continuing renovations on their society’s building, in the hopes of opening up a small restaurant to become a somewhat self-sufficient revenue source for the society.  We were invited to their shrine, and requested to light incense sticks in honour of both the gods above and of elders gone before (both theirs and ours – miss you Dad).

It was an enlightening visit.  A stark reminder of the frustrating contrasts that exist in Cuba – of the happiness that Cubans (of all ethnic groups, ages, and persuasions) can have no matter how much or little they may have, and then, on the flip side of the coin, simply how little they do have to even be happy about.  I was exposed to these ironies many years ago while working as a missionary in the Dominican Republic while in high school, but these little reminders help to keep one grounded in today’s evolving world.

I’m happy to be a part of this small bit of cheer that we could bring to the Lung Kong.  I was able to witness the pleasure that our visit brought to them, and how much it seemed to energize them.  Prouder still that I was allowed a peek into this interesting side of Havana that was first opened to us by Nino and Ed and Tom, etc.  And as Tom stated so eloquently, and Nino assisted us in translating, we feel happy to help as much as we can and did, but sad in that it’s only a small piece of what’s needed.

I will say this…those ladies and gents have a great sense of humour as well.  They refer to Nino as “Santa Claus” – it seems somewhat unfathomable to them that some white-haired crazy gringo from a northern land of snow, and outside of their social or ethnic circle, would be simply gifting them with resources and items from their traditional culture.  So, it surprised me when I, lucky or not, got given a nickname as well – hell, I was simply a passenger on this visit, more so to be there to document all the work that Tom and Nino have put in for this.  But somehow (potbelly aside, I have no idea why – well okay, maybe I don’t have much hair left either), Graciela and a few others took to calling me “Buddha”.  LOL.  She said it was because I was part of a great group of givers.

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Well, as my wife would say, it wouldn’t likely be because I was “the enlightened one”!

Cheers all.