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22
Mar

Havana Custom Rolled Cigars

I would like to start this article by correcting a great injustice. I made a grave mistake with my list of ‘Cigar Rollers’ in my previous article by omitting one of the most important people in that position. His name is Jose (Cueto) Castelar and he is the house roller at the Parque Morro-Cabaña Cigar Shop in Havana. That would be across the bay next to the Castillo el Morro, another Havana fortress. I have yet to meet this man where he works, I’ve been introduced to him at an event some time ago. He’s in the Guinness Book of Records for having rolled the world’s longest cigar measuring 81.80 meters or 268 feet 4 inches long. Not having met him personally on a one on one… he just simply (and embarrassingly) was forgotten. I apologize to him and my readers.

The next roller I wish to talk about is the latest addition to the higher echelons of this trade. His name is Alejandro Gonzalez Arias and he is officially the youngest of all the rollers that hold this position having started rolling at the Hotel Comodoro in Miramar, Havana when he was only 28 years old. He’s now 30 and has garnered quite the following with aficionados singing his praises from every corner of the world.

Alejandro Gonzalez Arias

For those of you who don’t know the history of this shop and its previous roller, allow me to enlighten you. The Hotel Comodoro isn’t (and never was) the largest cigar shop (or smallest) nor was it the best stocked in the city (and still isn’t) but what it did have and still has was excellent management and one of the best Cigar Rollers in the city at the time, world renowned Crisantos Miranda. When Crisantos retired 2 years ago there was a lot of talk about who was going to fill that void and take over his chair. Imagine the weight on the shoulders of this young man knowing the role he was supposed to fulfill with the whole world watching. He not only succeeded but he has, dare I say, made everyone forget Crisantos. I was a personal friend of Crisantos for years and have since become friends with Alex as well and watching him take on this enormous responsibility and grow with the shop to become part of the family has been a pleasure.

Prior to taking on this responsibility at the Comodoro Alex had only been rolling for 6-7 years and had no family members that were in the industry. He was working at a market at the Marina Hemingway (Playa, Havana) where he became friends with the house roller at the La Casa Del Habano there. He would go into the shop in his spare time and watch his new friend roll cigars. It was obvious to the roller that Alex was interested in her craft and so began his enlightenment. She taught him the basics but he took the course at the ‘El Laguito’ cigar factory soon afterwards so he could become a qualified roller. When I asked him if he was ever nervous knowing that he would be taking over Crisantos’ old position he answered, “no”. He said he knew what he was getting into and the prestige that this Cigar Shop’s roller’s table held.

Alejandro Gonzalez Arias

I can attest to the fact that I never noticed him waver from the task at hand and that was to produce the best possible cigar that he could, the rest would follow. The signature cigar that would draw attention to his ability despite his youth was his Behike 52. Let me clarify something, this Behike 52 wasn’t named as such for what was inside the cigar, as it wasn’t a Cohiba Behike in that sense. It was making reference to the vitola itself, the shape of the cigar. At 5cuc (or $5USD) it was a bargain compared to the Cohiba priced at 23cuc but let’s not forget it’s not a Behike in content.

Cigar Shop at the Hotel Comodoro

And so his fame spread as aficionados came to visit the man that had taken the reins of the Torcedor from the Cigar Shop at the Hotel Comodoro. This shop is in my neighbourhood and the place I go to when I want to relax with friends, which is what the staff here have become long before Alex appeared on the scene. I may have been a bit partial recommending Alex’s services to everyone but he backed up my rhetoric with excellent product that catapulted him into the forefront of the Cigar Scene in Havana. Customers were surprised to see him there and not Crisantos but little by little he won them over. Some people say that he’s the best roller in the country which Alex says is embarrassing to him as he doesn’t think of himself in that way. A humble man indeed.

Alejandro Gonzalez Arias

I have asked him on several occasions and I’m always surprised by the answer, Alex smokes only one cigar a day and it’s usually to test one of the cigars that he’s rolling for the shop. It’s his way of doing a quality check. If he has the choice and the moment allows it, he likes to drink a whiskey with his cigar. The pace at this shop is pretty slow with Alex only having to roll 10-20 cigars per day but occasionally during the Cigar Festivals he may have to roll many more for aficionados ordering them by the bundles. He gets his leaf from Habanos and is allowed to inspect it before agreeing to accept it. If it doesn’t meet his standards he sends it back. He’s a very personable young man who likes soccer, his favourite team being Barcelona and baseball (of course) with his favourite team being the hometown Industriales.

Alex is a very personable young man who doesn’t seem to have an ego. I bumped into a couple of fellow Canadians visiting the shop while Alex was out and asked them what they thought of his cigars. They answered that they loved Crisantos’ but that Alex’s are better. When I told Alex about the encounter and what he thought about what they said he answered with embarrassment… “no, they’re not better, just different, every roller has his liga (blend) and every smoker has a preference. Mine are not better, they may just appeal to some more than others.” I can tell you that his signature cigar, the Behike 52, is fantastic and is worth the visit to shop to try (and buy). However, I’ve been smoking his Robustos lately and they’re my latest love now. Something to keep in mind if you go to see him or any other roller, you can get Alex to roll you something he doesn’t have in stock in his humidor if he has the mold and you have the time. I have him roll me some Lanceros when I arrive in Havana to smoke while I’m there, it may take him a couple of hours.

There you have it, a simple story about a humble young man who does his best to make Cigar Aficionados from around the world happy. Please pay him a visit if you’re in the area and don’t forget to say that I recommended you see him.

Alejandro Gozalez Arias with Matteo

Alejandro (Alex) Gonzalez Arias
Hotel Comodoro
3ra y Calle 84
Miramar, Playa, Havana
tel. 204-5551 ext.1272

You might be interested in these articles too:

Havana Cigar Rollers: Alejandro Gonzalez Arias

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09
Feb

Havana Custom Rolled Cigars

As the title suggests, the topic I’m going to start to delve into today is about Custom Roll Cigars of Havana. That is to say, cigars rolled by the hands of people who have been recognized as being masters in their field and given a post at one of the several cigar shops scattered across the city of Havana, Cuba.

What is the criteria used when choosing who will get one of these positions and exactly who is the one doing the choosing? That is something I don’t know and probably never will. I can tell you that once they have this position of privilege they keep it until they retire. It affords them an opportunity to earn some extra money in the form of gratuities, since they sell their cigars directly to the buyers and at one time they were sent around the world to roll in Cigar Shops as ambassadors for Cuban Cigars. The latter of the two privileges was recently stopped by the new direction, it was a way to see the world at the cigar shop’s expense and once again it gave them an opportunity to earn some extra money.

Custom Rolled Cigars

Besides the extra money and traveling, working conditions are also a plus: compare a hot factory with a comfy air-conditioned cigar shop. Finally, as long as they continued to put out a good product, the pressure of having to roll so many cigars in one day was no longer hanging over their heads. In a cigar factory each roller has a certain quota he or she has to meet each day depending on the cigar that’s being rolled. In the case of the rollers in the cigar shops, they just need to top-up the selection they have in their humidors or fill orders for the regular customers (such as myself) who come to visit a few times a year… but that still gives them plenty of time to produce what is needed at any given time.

It took me a long time to appreciate a Custom Rolled Cigar but once I started getting into them I fell in love. In my opinion they are some of the best rolled cigars in the country. That’s not saying that Cuba doesn’t have some exceptional rollers in their factories as well but you don’t get to choose the roller when you buy a box of cigars at the store. So who is the best? That is a matter of personal opinion or tastes. They’re all good but each one brings something special to the table or may have the personality that makes you come back to him or her, there are a few to choose from.

The world renowned ones are all in Havana, even though you will find some in other parts of the country, the rollers everyone talks about work in the big city that’s always been the center of the cigar trade. Below is a list of the rollers in question and the shops they work out of:

  • Alejandro Gonzalez Arias: Hotel Comodoro Cigar Shop at 3ra Ave. & Calle 84, Playa
  • Leopoldina Gutierrez aka ‘La China’: Partagas LCDH at Calle Industria #520, Centro Habana
  • Yolanda Medina: Hotel Melia Habana LCDH at 3ra Ave. between Calle 76 & 80, Playa
  • Maria: Quinta y 16 LCDH at 5ta Ave. and Calle 16, Miramar
  • Jorge Lopez: Club Havana LCDH at 5ta Ave. between Calle 188-192, Playa
  • Reynaldo Gonzalez & Jorge: Conde de Villanueva LCDH at Mercaderes #202 corner of Lamparilla, Habana Vieja
  • Juanita Ramos Guerra: Hotel Melia Cohiba LCDH, at Paseo Ave. between Calle 1 & 3, Vedado
  • Milagro Morales: Hotel Nacional LCDH at Calle 21 & O, Vedado
  • Arnaldo Alfonso Ibanez: Hotel Palco LCDH at 146 Ave. between Calle 11 & 13, Playa

I’m going to talk about one of these rollers, the one I’m more familiar with and who commands a great deal of attention outside the island. I’ve known Reynaldo Gonzalez at the Conde de Villanueva LCDH for more than ten years. He is the reason that people come to this shop and is one of the best known rollers in Havana. His shop is a hard to find if you don’t know where to look, it’s located within the courtyard of a 9-room boutique hotel in Old Havana with no indication of its existence at the front of the building. You have to know the shop is there in order to find it… it adds to the exclusivity.

Reynaldo Gonzalez

Reynaldo has been rolling here since 1999 and although he gets help from his friend Jorge (another expert roller), he still manages to roll a few cigars himself since demand for product from this store is high. What makes their cigars more special than the next guy’s? The shop itself is an attraction, it’s unlike any other but the cigars themselves are sought after because of their diversity in vitolas and liga.

Reynaldo’s cigars have never been for the weak, they’ve always been known to put you on your butt. While some places roll cigars for the masses, this shop always rolled for the experienced Aficionado. Throughout my years of listening to people’s experiences with cigars from this shop, I came to the conclusion that they appealed to the more seasoned aficionado. I, for one, could never get past the halfway point on one of these cigars but it never stopped me from trying. Alas, times are a changin’, recently they introduced a couple of vitolas with a milder profile that I can attest to being a wonderful smoke. This past November the milder vitolas available were a Torpedo and a Robusto but their signature blends still outnumbered the new ones. What also outnumbered these new cigars were the different shapes available in the stronger blends, shapes that always leaned towards the bigger. With names like ‘Elefante’ (elephant) given to one of these creations… well, you get the picture. The jawbreakers and pointing sticks that have been proudly carried out the shop’s doors have been the pride of many a cigar smoker’s collection.

Reynaldo Gonzalez in his cigar shop

Reynaldo started his carrier in the tobacco industry 29 years ago, when he was 23. He was once one of the youngest people to hold this position and still is relatively young at 52. He started at the “Jose Luis Piedra” factory in Marianao, Havana and in 1990 went to work at the Partagas factory. He left Partagas in 1999, after 9 years, to begin working at the Conde LCDH and is still there today. Many members of his family, including his departed mother, have been in the cigar industry and Reynaldo claims to have been influenced by all of them. He is a most gracious host and knows how to treat his regular customers. The shop almost feels like a cave and sometimes it can get quite smoky but it has a wonderful atmosphere, a decently stocked bar with espresso and a pretty good selection of banded cigars. If you claim to be a Cigar Aficionado and are planning a trip to Havana, Cuba, you must make a point of visiting this shop, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. Tell them Matteo says hello.

Matteo says hello!

Havana Custom Rolled Cigars

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25
Feb

17th Annual Habanos Festival Kicks off in Havana

The 17th Annual Habanos festival kicked off on February 23rd at the Palacio de Convenciones, and will run through the 27th of the month. Participants were welcomed to the event at the historic Almacén del Tabaco y la Madera at the port of Havana. Yesterday gave manufacturers, suppliers, and enthusiasts from around the world an opportunity to network.

Scheduled events for this year’s festival include pairings between Habanos and Chianti wines, lectures on Habanos, and master classes. There will also be contests, including the longest ash competition and the Habanosommelier International Contest. Participants will also be able to tour the plantations of Vuelta Abajo and the historic H. Upmann Habanos and La Corona factories on Tuesday and Thursday. On Wednesday, the 25th Anniversary of la Casa del Habano will be celebrated at the Salón de Protocolo de El Laguito. Finally, the event will conclude with the Gala Evening, when the Montecristo brand will launch its much anticipated 80th Anniversary vitola. Guests will have the opportunity to sample the special vitola during the gala dinner. Finally, awards will be given out and custom humidors will be auctioned off to benefit the Cuban Public Health System.

One of the highlights of this year’s festival is the Taste of Tuscany. This is the pairing event where participants can enjoy the nuanced flavors of Habanos and Chianti wines. Participating vineyards include Pieve De’Pitti, Castello del Trebbio, Azienda Agricola Pugliano, and Chianti Colli Fiorentini. The first two vineyards will provide wines to be tasted with the Montecristo Open Eagle, and the second two will provide wines to be tasted with Le Hoyo San Juan. Latin Grammy winner Descemer Bueno will perform his greatest hits at the tasting event, and renowned Belgian chef Anne Marie Lauwers will provide a delicious fusion of Asian, European, and Cuban cuisine for the guests.

Romeo y Julieta Gran Reserva Wide Churchill

Another key event during the Habanos Festival is the presentation of the new Romeo y Julieta Gran Reserva Wide Churchill vitola. This highly anticipated cigar uses filler, binder and wrapper leaves which have all been aged for five years, handpicked from the Vuelta Abajo region. The notes are mild, well-balanced, and subtly nuanced for delicious aromas and flavors. Only 5,000 numbered boxes are being produced.

With the festival already underway, this is a very exciting time for cigar enthusiasts in Havana and around the world! Are you able to attend the Habanos Festival this year? Share your experiences with us in the comments below!

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17th Annual Habanos Festival Kicks off in Havana

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15
Jan

tatujae-havana-vi-victorias-1

TatuajeOrigin : Nicaragua
Format : Corona Especial
Size : 6 x 38
Wrapper : Habano Ecuador
Filler : Nicaragua
Binder : Nicaragua
Hand-Made
Price : $7 each
More info about purchasing Tatuaje Havana cigars…

The Tatuaje Havana VI line is another solid production from Pete Johnson and Pepin Garcia. Said to be more mellow and medium bodied than the brown label, the Havana VI line is comprised of eight different vitolas: Hermosos – 5 5/8 x 46, Angeles – 4 5/8 x 42, Victorias 6 x 38, Artistas – 6 1/8 x 52 (reviewed here), Nobles – 5 x 50 (reviewed here), Almirantes – 7 x 47, Gorditos – 5 ½ x 56, Verocu No.5 – 4 x 40.

Out of the entire Havana VI line, the only other sizes I’ve tried are the Almirantes (Churchill), which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was certainly excited to have the chance to sample a smaller vitola (Corona Especial), so let’s see how it went.

The pre-light ritual for the Tatuaje Havana VI Victorias proved to be mediocre. The cigar had a wonderful milk chocolate wrapper, containing very few veins, and no blemishes/soft spots. The cap was a very rough, triple seam, pigtail that was by no means impressive.

tatujae-havana-vi-victorias-3

The band contained little detail and was applied sloppily, with the overlap attachment not lining up. The pre-light smell showed heavy hints of manure/barnyard and the cold draw had a great resistance that gave way to hints of wood and hay.

Tatuaje Havana VI Victorias

Pre-light score: 8 pts.

The Tatuaje Havana VI Victorias opened with loads of black coffee and earthy flavors. The absolutely perfect draw gave way to a thick, creamy, white smoke. The aroma was also quite enjoyable, and reminded me of sweet cookie dough. The cigar’s profile showed signs of great aged tobacco throughout the entire first third. Wonderful start!

Halfway through the second third of my Havana VI Victorias the profile changed into chocolaty, espresso flavors with the earthy undertone still present. The cigar continued to draw and burn great, while also keeping my palate moist and wanting more.

With just the final third remaining, the only thing I could think of was how great this cigar had been thus far. Don’t worry; it didn’t let me down in the final third. Immediately beginning the final third the cigar turned spicy showing hints of black pepper accompanied by a woodsy, cedar sweetness. This was most interesting and very enjoyable. The draw did get a little tighter on the final stretch along with a mild “flint” like taste on the finish, however not enough to upset my overall experience with the cigar.

Smoking score: 9 pts.

Tatuaje Havana VI Victorias

Let me sum things up by saying… WOW! I was truly blown away by how great of a cigar this is. I will most definitely be adding these to my normal rotation, as they are box worthy. The entire time the cigar had an amazing draw, burn, and flavor profile, leaving me wanting more. I highly suggest any and all cigar aficionados try the Tatuaje Havana VI Victorias as you won’t be disappointed. Way to go Pete and Pepin!

Overall Experience score: 9 pts.

Tatuaje Havana VI Victorias Rating:

Pre-Light: 8 pts.
Smoking: 9 pts.
Overall Experience: 9 pts.

TOTAL: 26 pts.

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Tatuaje Havana VI Victorias

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26
Nov

Tatuaje Havana VI

TatuajeOrigin : Nicaragua
Format : Torpedo
Size : 6 1/8 x 52
Wrapper : Ecuador Habano
Filler : Nicaragua
Binder : Nicaragua
Hand-Made
Price : $8 (MSRP)
More info about purchasing Tatuaje cigars…

Tatuaje Havana VI is one of the main lines of the brand. It doesn’t get much attention compared to limited editions, but this cigar, produced in Nicaragua by Pepin Garcia on the My Father factory, also deserves a test drive.

Appearance : 4 out of 5 stars
This light brown wrapper had some visible veining but the seams were compact and barely visible. A nicely applied cap with a plain looking red band adorned only with the company name.

Tatuaje Havana VI Artistas

Construction : 4.5 out of 5 stars
The cigar had a few spongy areas to the touch but overall, seemed to be packed well. It had a good burn that was fairly even except for a re-light needed just before removing the band. The draw was good but I found that the cigar burned quickly. The draw was fine. It had firm ash. Unfortunately I only had my (poor) cell phone camera with me but wanted to photograph how long the ash held. It fell off a couple puffs after I snapped the photo. The wrapper did tend to crack on occasion during smoking. The smoke output was great.

Tatuaje Havana VI Artistas Ash

Flavor : 2 out of 5 stars
The Tatuaje Havana VI Artistas started off with a lot of spice that masked any real flavour until about 1 to 2 cm was smoked. Once the spice settled down it revealed mild cedar, natural tobacco, some hints of earth and cocoa. There was some peppery spice on the finish with hints of leather. These flavors dominated the first third of the cigar.

The second third had more leather notes coming through along with more woodsy flavors. There was a tad more tolerable spice at the front end of the palate with a little black pepper on the medium finish. For the most part there were no flavour transitions and the cigar remained as it was for the first third.

As I approached the halfway mark I got hints of bitter dark chocolate and toasted nut that on occasion tasted like burnt almond. The cigar was mainly earthy and grassy at this point. The smoke offered no velvety residue and was dry with no flavourful texture.

The final third offered up more of the same with some tea, wood, nuts and slight bitterness. For the most part though, the final third was like smoking hay. It was bitter and forgettable. It was dry and had notes of tannins similar to those at the bottom of a cup of strong tea. The cedar-like wood notes at the start were more like plain oak.

Value : 2 out of 5 stars
With an MSRP of $8.00 it is priced in line with other Torpedos but my recommendation would be to skip it altogether. There are much more flavourful cigars available for the price in consideration of what I experienced. I would not buy another.

Overall Rating : 3 out of 5 stars
This mild to medium strength cigar started off well but slowly deteriorated into a forgettable cigar.

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Tatuaje Havana VI Artistas

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03
Sep

Camacho Havana #1

CamachoOrigin : Honduras
Format : Figurado
Size : 6 x 54
Wrapper : Honduras
Filler : Honduras
Binder : Honduras
Hand-Made
Price : $7 each
More info about purchasing Camacho Havana cigars…

This week’s review is over a quite popular brand of cigar. Camacho is one of the most sought after Honduran cigar brands on the market.

Camacho cigars was founded in 1961 by Simon Camacho and acquired by the Eiroa family in 1995. In October 2008, the brand become part of the Oettinger Davidoff Group. A few months ago, the whole line of Camacho cigars was rebranded / reblended, in the process some of the well-known blends were discontinued, such as Coyolar or Select. Other lines were not only reblended, but also renamed – this is the case with the Havana. It is now called Criollo. Today’s review is for the Camacho Havana Figurado, which was bought before the reblending.

Camacho Havana #2

The Camacho Havana cigars used to come in boxes of 25, each in its own cellophane sleeve. The wrapper on my Camacho Havana had a dark chocolate hue with a very nicely rolled cap on the point. The band was a pleasant yellow and gold, which looks surprisingly great on this dark cigar. The smell gave way to notes of sweetness and the cold draw only verified the smell with a mellow sweetness and touch of spice.

Pre-light Score: 8 pts.

Camacho Havana #3

The first third of my Camacho Havana showed a definite taste of honey and oak. The draw on the cigar was perfect showing just enough resistance. Each puff proved to be heavy and full of thin white smoke. The first third did a very nice job of keeping my palate moist. Needless to say, I didn’t want to lay this cigar down.

The burn of the cigar was wavy the entire time and the ash was a layered light gray. The second third of my Camacho Havana showed small signs of white pepper with a bready, dough like sweetness. As the cigar burned on, the smoke became a little harsher, turning the cigar into a heavy full bodied smoke.

Smoking Score: 7 pts.

Camacho Havana #5

The finish on the Camacho Havana loosened up and became hot on the draw. The wonderful tastes became somewhat stale and dry on the palate. All in all I have to say this cigar started much better than it finished however was a solid, easy cigar to smoke… and enjoyable. Honestly, I can say I’ve never had an awful Camacho cigar. The brand all around was very consistent, I just hope it’s still the case after the reblends.

Overall Experience: 7 pts.

Camacho Havana Rating

Pre-light: 8pts.
Smoking: 7pts.
Overall Experience: 7pts.

TOTAL: 22pts.

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Camacho Havana

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01
Oct

Cuba, some shots of street traffic in Havana, Cuba. Center of old part of Havana, near Central Park and Capitolio.

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15
Aug

We at Havana Central honored Cuban Independence Day with a complimentary platter of hors d’oeuvres, an authentic cigar roller, and live Cuban music for our guests. A few of the guests agreed that our food and drinks AND ambiance are as authentic as it gets in the US without having to go to CUBA! We hope you come celebrate life with us at Havana Central. Fan us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter, too for more up to the minute info on events and offers.

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12
Aug

Handmade cigars use full leaves of tobacco. Before the leaf can be used the central stem is removed and the leaves graded according to colour and size. www.jamesfox.ie

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29
Jul

talking about my cuban culture. and some of it finest liquor and tabacco! havana club liquor cohiba and more ………. if you have any questions let me know thanx for reading.

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