IX Habanos Festival
A New Maduro Cohiba takes Center Stage

Cuban cigars take on a dark edge with the release of the new breakout Cohiba Maduro 5, just one of several new cigar launches at this year’s festival.

By Gary Heathcott

The annual Habanos Festival is more like a pilgrimage for many of its 800 attendees from around the world. Each year, Cuban cigar fans return to discover what new products the Pinar del Rio farms have yielded.

The big news at this year’s IX Annual Habano Festival, held from February 26th to March 2nd, was the unveiling of the Cohiba Maduro 5 line, featuring a maduro wrapper that has been aged for half a decade. The superstar launch of the Cohiba Maduro 5 showcased three vitolas that nicely compliment the two existing lines of the brand: the Classical line introduced in 1982 and the 1492 line launched in 1992 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of the Americas.

Cohiba Maduro 5 incorporates a new concept for Habanos, utilizing the highest -grade Cuban-grown maduro wrapper leaf. With a defiant dark shade, the character of this tobacco is uniquely preserved in a five-year aging process. The special color and texture is obtained through a long and complex natural process that uses no chemicals, often not the case with many non-Cuban maduro brands. All tobacco used in the making of the Cohiba lines come from the five premier tobacco farms of San Juan y Martinez and San Luis areas, in the Vuelta Abajo region.

In addition, Cohiba is the only Cuban habano brand in which two of the three types of leaves used to make them — seco and ligero — are given a third fermentation. This process gives Cohiba a unique combination of aroma and taste not found in other brands.

A traditional Cohiba ring design adorns the new vitolas with the addition of a black band along the bottom edges featuring “Maduro 5” in reverse type. Three sizes are offered: Genios (5 1/2 x 52); Magicos (4 1/2 x 52), and Secretos (4 1/3 x 40). Cuban expert taster Juan José Lopéz described the new blend as “uniquely different than all other Cohibas” and “very rich.”

The name Cohiba is an ancient Taino Indian word for the bunches of tobacco leaves that Columbus first saw in 1942 being smoked by the original inhabitants of Cuba — considered the earliest known form of the cigar.

Despite the considerable excitement about the Cohiba Maduro 5 launch, it was only one of several new cigars announced during the week. In fact, this year’s festival was dedicated to the Montecristo brand and the Montecristo No. 4 size in particular. Already distinguished as the world’s top selling cigar with 1 billion produced since its launch in 1935, Montecristo No. 4 (5 x 42) now has a limited edition version commemorating its achievement. All of the tobacco in the new Montecristo Reserva No. 4 has been aged three years; the well-crafted cigar delivers rich cedary flavors and a delectable finish.

Only 5,000 boxes of the Montecristo Reserva No. 4 have been produced and are showcased in a luxurious black-lacquered and numbered container holding 20 of the double-banded coronas.

This year’s Edición Limitada series (limited edition) features two-year-aged tobaccos throughout, and consist of the Romeo y Julieta Escudos (5 1/2 x 50); Hoyo de Monterrey Regalos (5 x 46); and Trinidad Ingenios (6 1/2 x 44).

Clockwise, from top left: The new Montecristo Petite Edmundo, presented in an aluminum tube; Smokeshop writer Gary Heathcott and Manuel Garcia, commercial vice president of Habanos S.A.; The limited production Montecristo Reserva No. 4.
A new special edition saluting Cuba’s Partagás factory, available exclusively through Las Casas del Habano, is a replica of an antique humidor from Partagás, an elegant piece which — according to the original owner — was sold during the first decade of the 20th century. Only 200 units will be sold, containing 50 Partagás Sobresalientes (6 x 53), exclusively manufactured for this Special Series.

Volume No. 7 of the Colección Habanos (Habanos Collection), dedicated this time to the H. Upmann brand, features a book-like case containing 20 Magnum Especial cigars (6 5/8 x 55), a size designed exclusively for this collection. Only 500 cases will be released.

New packaging graphics were presented for tubed versions of the Romeo y Julieta Churchill and the H. Upmann Coronas Major and Coronas Junior. While these tubos present a new look, they still maintain the “identity signs and traditional attributes of these brands,” according to Habanos.

The company has selected nine markets for this year’s Edicións Regionales (Regional Editions) — special frontmarks distributed to exclusive regional markets in very limited quantities and available for a single year. In North America, the new Simones by Bolivar (5 x 48) is being made exclusively for the Canadian market and the Edmundo Dantes El Conde 109 (7 1/4 x 50) for the Mexican market.

2007 Habanos Awards
Known as the “Academy Awards” of the Cuban cigar industry, the Habanos Awards are traditionally presented during the festival’s grand finale gala. This year’s winners were United Kingdom journalist Nicholas Foulkes in the Communication category; Gerardo Medina Relova, a Cuban producer of sun-grown tobacco in the Production category; and Walid Saleh, manager of La Casa del Habano at El Cairo Hotel Semirami Intercontinental in Egypt in the Business category.

Habanos S.A. Performance
Despite only a slight increase in worldwide unit sales of premium cigars in 2006, Habanos S.A. reported an 8 percent gain in sales over the previous year. According to Habanos S.A. commercial vice president Manuel García, the current difficulties and restrictions that the tobacco sector is facing are influencing and changing the smoking habits of consumers who tend to favor “cigars of higher quality and price.” García also noted pointed to Casas del Habano in contributing to the success of sales of premium Habanos. Last year, 20 new Casas del Habano were opened throughout the world, increasing the total number of franchise shops in operation to 115.

SMOKESHOP - April, 2007