For more than 50 years, American cigar enthusiasts have coveted the unattainable treasures that were available on the island nation of Cuba. These treasures do not sparkle or shine, but rather are meticulously created by hand, using the finest tobaccos from the fertile soil of Pinar del Rio. With the recent easing of regulations regarding travel to Cuba, it is now possible for Americans to experience Cuba’s tobacco-laden treasures, along with its resilient people, culture and history.
After two recent trips to Cuba, I would like to shed some light from the perspective of a cigar enthusiast and some of the highlights of such a trip:
THE TRADITIONAL CIGARS
For the rest of the world, Cuban cigars have been the norm at local shops for many years. For Americans, however, the thought of being able to walk into a Casa del Habanos (the government operated network of cigar shops and lounges) and be able to select cigars that have been off limits for more than 50 years is a treat. When shopping at the Casa del Habanos, you are assured that your cigar purchases are 100% genuine.
These shops are clean, comfortable and often have a bar within them. On my recent trips, literally every Cuban cigar brand was available with the exception of the Behike. My last trip was in August and I have been advised that this coveted cigar is finding its way back on the shelves.
FRESH ROLLED CIGARS
What I discovered during my two recent trips to Cuba is that each Casa del Habanos will employ their own house roller. Generally speaking, these rollers serve as ambassadors for the Cuban cigar industry and the particular shop. They are usually former level 9 rollers (the highest level one can achieve), that have worked in various factories for years and have excelled to the point that the Cuban government now rewards these individuals by offering them the house roller position at each Casa del Habanos.
They are allowed to procure their own tobacco and each rolls their own special cigars. Some they roll for eager cigar enthusiasts as they watch these talented rollers at their table creating true works of art. These are called fresh rolled cigars and, even without time to have the tobaccos meld together, they are delightful smokes. They also have a supply available that have been aging, at a price typically far less than the traditional Cuban banded cigars.
WORLD RECORD CIGAR
No visit to Cuba would be complete without a visit to the Moro Castle Casa del Habanos. It is here you are likely to meet famous Cuban cigar roller Jose “Cueto” Castelar, who recently completed his quest to break his own Guinness Record and rolled a 90 meter cigar dedicated to former President Fidel Castro on the eve of his 90th birthday. You can actually see this world record cigar in a display case adjacent to the Casa del Habanos shop.
PINAR DEL RIO
One of the highlights of my Cuban adventure was a visit to Pinar del Rio and the farm of Hector Luis Prieto, a man bestowed the honor of being named Habanos Man of the Year for his knowledge and expertise for growing tobacco. You will meet Hector and be given a guided tour of the farm and learn tobacco growing from seed to cigar. A delightful lunch is prepared for visitors during a trip to the farm.
A visit to the famous La Corona factory is a must for any cigar aficionado. Keep in mind, however, that this is a government run facility and they are quite secretive about what you will see and what you hear. Although this factory was enjoyed, one will typically obtain more knowledge and hands on experiences at the factories in Nicaragua and Dominican Republic.
Next week, we will take a look at the sites and sounds of Cuba – the many privately owned villas, restaurants and the museums and the entertainment of Havana.
Note: A trip to Cuba, be an American tourist or a visitor from any country, is unlike a visit to many other tropical island nations. The tourism infrastructure is not quite ready for the influx of tourists, especially once full trade resumes with America. Cigar enthusiasts should keep this in mind when considering a trip to Cuba. consider such a trip with an experienced agency, one versed in dealing with the developing tourists industry in Cuba and one experienced in the cigar lifestyle and culture.
Smooth Draws Radio Show co-host Nick Syris (see image at left) has been traveling to Cuba for more than 10 years, logging more than 60 trips over that period. Few have his perspective on the “behind the scenes” Cuba, especially as it pertains to the cigar industry and the people within that industry. He has arranged an unbelievable, five-day (including travel) hosted tour and we’d love for you to be a part of it! This tour will far surpass anything commercially available from any agency or tour group. You’ll have access to people and certain places that commercial tour groups cannot. For more information on cigar tours to Cuba, visit SmoothDraws.com
*Gary “Doc” Laden is the executive producer and co-host of the Smooth Draws Radio Show airing every Saturday from 10:00 AM until Noon EST on ESPN Radio 1230 The Fan 2 in Atlanta and broadcast worldwide, streaming, at SmoothDraws.com.