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A Malaysian in search of the perfect cigar

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Herfing, and a Custom Rolled Sublimes

Cigars are social tools, and therefore, smoking them should be a social activity. This truth goes back way back to when cigars were “discovered” — it was something that the Europeans and the natives of the “new world” could have in common. The concept of the peace pipe isn’t that far off. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that this practice continues till today: take a bunch of cigars, throw in a mix of friends, and watch as the magic happens.

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This OpusX case is to die for! Wish i had one.

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Pasta!

Continue reading “Herfing, and a Custom Rolled Sublimes”

Gustavo Garcia Bello, Partagas factory Master Roller

This post is in memoriam of Sue Wahab. May she rest in peace.

Despite the passing of Sue Wahab yesterday, who was a loved member of the Trinidad family, the show had to go on. Certainly, that’s what she would have wanted. Though a bit late, Gustava Garcia Bello and his hosts from Trinidad arrived at Uncle Chili’s last night and proceeded to put one on a show that most would find hard to forget, so skilled was he in his Art.

Like a maestro, careful, methodological and purposeful, Senhor Gustavo put together cigars made to order by an appreciative audience. Corona gordas, robustos (his personal favourite), pyramides and even the artful panatelas rolled off his desk in magnificent form. It never ceases to amaze me to watch the transformation of a bunch of wrinkled dried leaves into a stick of subtle art.

The person next to me asked, “What makes him a ‘master’?”

I replied, “It’s in the consistency. A master is not only adept in all the critical vitolas, including the extremely difficult diademas, but he is able to make 100, even 1,000 sticks of each that look, feel, draw and smoke exactly the same as each other. It’s a lot more difficult than it sounds, believe me. That is what a master makes.”

Watch this in HD if you can, his skill deserves it

And Gustavo Garcia Bello is one such master. Hailing from Havana, he works on the factory floor in the Partagas factory, a famed landmark of the cigar world. One of the very few rollers who has been entrusted with rolling top-end cigars outside of El Laguito (hint: the 1966s), Gustavo speaks excellent English and regaled the crowd with stories of his life, and the life of his fellow cigar roller. Through a flurry of heavily accented words, he described how his day begins with a visit to the master blender who hands him his inventory of tobacco for the day. Given specific instructions on the composition of the cigars he has to make that day, he often takes short notes, before proceeding to his desk to work. The first cigar he rolls? That’s the one he’ll smoke.

“Cigar rollers are allowed to smoke from the cigars they roll. It helps keeps things in perspective; we try to save some to meet the daily quota!” he laughed. Rolling between 100-150 cigars on a good day, the mark of a “master roller” is his or her consistency of production. Variables in a hand-made product are always going to exist, certainly in something as subjective as a cigar. The very best rollers are able to minimize that variable between sticks.

His attention to detail is amazing; in a dazzling display of dexterity, he puts together 5 corona gordas (a very popular vitola, or “size” of cigar). Each cigar looks exactly the same but that’s not all. “Each will also taste the same!” Gustavo declares proudly. Amazing, considering the leaf he used came from three different piles, had different shades of colour and even variances in individual texture.

As the evening wore on, and the crowd slowly thinned out, Gustavo slowed down, sipped on his espresso, and took short breaks to languidly puff on a short cigar he had rolled for himself. That’s when the discussion turned a bit more serious.

“Which cigar is your favourite?” someone asked. With a slight sigh, and shrug of the shoulders, it’s obvious that this is a question has often been asked. He takes a moment before answering, “You know, i can smoke any cigar i want, and i have, and i love them all. But i can’t afford to smoke the cigars i make; on my salary, an aged cigar, a gran cigar is beyond me.” He shrugged again, and got back to his craft.

Quite an indictment of the state of life in Cuba for the common man, or in this case, an extraordinary man. There aren’t many Level 9 rollers on the island, and those that do attain this rank, are the elite of the cigar producing fraternity. It was humbling to hear the words uttered by such an elite; imagine the lives of those who have not shared his opportunities. Suddenly, the cigar he had rolled for me, felt very heavy indeed in my mouth, and the smoke took on a slight tinge of bitter.

Sensing the sudden change in the mood, Gustavo recovered quickly, and returned to lighter topics such as the weather in Cuba, and the recent batches of cigars leaving the island that he remarked were “excelente“, especially the remarkable Cohiba 1966.

But, i was still thinking about what Gustavo had said earlier: many of us, around the world, far removed from the streets of Havana, or the rustic time-warp of the tobacco vegas, we take for granted the joy that a Cuban cigar gives us. It’s easy to forget the person who put these cigars together, are real people with lives, thoughts, loves and hates, just like us, but unlike us, struggle in a difficult society. Their passion allows us to enjoy great cigars whenever we want. What are we able to give them in return, commensurate with their skill, dedication and perseverance?

Even later on that night, with my cigar half burned down, i sat down next to Gustavo, keeping him company with light banter and tales of Malaysia. As our cultures mixed and exchanged, i suddenly said, “Thank you, senhor. This is an amazing cigar.” I took a long draw to punctuate the point, then smiled. He looked at me for a moment, understanding perhaps what i really meant, and returned the smile, “This is the joy for me, when a customer looks me in the eye and tells me he is happy.”

Perhaps that’s all that needed to be said.

CoH Custom Rolled Sublimes

It’s been a while since i last did a written review, in the evening, quietly by myself downstairs, enjoying a cigar.

Cigarsofhabanos.com is one of my favourite cigar retailers, so when i discovered, quite by accident, that they had their famed custom rolled cigars in stock, i couldn’t wait to get my hands on some. Just 2 days after my order was placed, the cigars were on my desk. Bubble wrapped with a humidipak thrown in for good measure to keep things on an even keel. The evening couldn’t come fast enough!

Bringing the whole wheel to the nose rewarded me with a deep, dark muskiness that i found incredibly pleasing. Not a hint of harsh ammonia, just rich musky barnyard aroma. Without being told, i could tell that the leaf in these cigars was not very common, and certainly not green at all. I slid one stick out of the wheel, and examined it closely.

Perfectly constructed, just the right amount of give in the pinch test, no hard spots, or sponginess. Some veining was apparent, but otherwise the claro wrapper was incredibly healthy, exuding oils that gave it a silky feel to the touch. It’s a rare day to find a Cuban cigar this oily; my fingers were practically greased with oils after running the cigar between them for a few minutes, enjoying the construction, feel and heft to the stick. A sublimes is a considerable cigar, 6 inches with a 52 ring gauge, topped off with a perfect triple cap.

The cap came off easily, and the cold draw revealed quite a bit of spiciness! A hint at the experience to come, perhaps. The first few draws confirmed the spice in the cigar. Immediately, strong, stinging flavours struck the tongue and assaulted the palate. But there was a clean freshness to it all that some may even call sweet; a cacophony of woodiness laced with a dash of liquorice.

The draw was outstandingly lush, tons of smoke volume that quickly filled up the room. Very woody smoke aroma to complement the striking flavours the cigar was presenting in the first third.

The second third saw a dramatic swing in flavours. The spiciness was gone, barely a trace of earlier woodiness. Each draw was like chewing on a mouthful of sweet nuts now. Quite amazing how the blend can make such a 90 degree turn, almost completely leaving the dominant flavours of the previous third behind.

The final third saw the cigar take another radical turn. The spice was back with a vengeance, pricking my tongue and lips. But this time, with a distinct coffee overtone. Try drinking a cup of hot black coffee laced with chili peppers and that’s exactly what you’ll have with this cigar as it approached the end! A real grandstand finish!

Verdict: 92/100. An outrageously good smoke, lasting 2 hours plus. It is a custom blend, made for the palates of the market, so mileage may vary for some. But for me, it’s one of the best cigars i’ve had in 2011. Remarkably complex. Spicy on the onset, withdrawing to a dante of sweet nuttiness before rising to a crescendo of bitter hot chili spice and pepper. There are very few things left you can ask for from a cigar.

The Best Cigar of 2010 – Pinar del Rio Sublimes

When i originally wrote this review, i was very sure that these cigars were Robaina padrinos (cigars that come from the Vegas Robaina in Cuba, from leaf grown there, and rolled there). Now, after receiving a lot of feedback from readers who have been to the farm, and personally received cigars from the Alejandro Robaina (e.g. the Flying Cigar), i’m not as sure as before. Their experience (with photos) show that the padrinos have a much lighter wrapper, though the size and the unfinished foot do match the padrino profile. Let me say that, despite the doubt, this in no way alters the review of cigar i had — which i will now rename to its proper commercial name, the PdR Sublimes — it is the best cigar i’ve had in 2010, and worth a serious look if you’re interested in a special custom rolled with Cuban tobacco.

Looks like i’ll have to wait a bit longer to smoke cigar i can be sure fulfills the promise made to me by Alejandro Robaina.

Edit April 2011: My good online-friend, Nino Munoz of The Flying Cigar, was in Cuba recently. Being a good friend of the Robaina family, he visited them and asked them about the claims Mercer Cigars make about these cigars being made by them. The claims were categorically denied. While, i’ll stand by my review that these were good cigars, i think that I will not be so forgiving when it comes to being deceived by their seller — i was led to believe (as the unedited story below recounts) that these were cigars made by and from the Robaina farm (i still have the emails to prove the deceit). It’s a small consolation that these cigars are now being marketed without abusing the good name of the Robainas, but i think the Internet should not forget that their birth was one of deception — to create hype about them, untruths were told. Whether or not this influences your decision to do business with this vendor is your choice, i must say that My Cigar Blog won’t do business with Mercer Cigars, as a matter of principle.

After a year of smoking some great cigars, providence would have it that i would smoke my best cigar of the year on the very last day, just hours before the new year arrived. After receiving it a few weeks ago, i was always planning to smoke it on New Year’s Eve — it’s a special occasion smoke. And now that the moment has passed, i feel that the 1 stick i had was certainly not enough. I’ll have to order more.

But, i’m getting ahead of myself. Every good cigar comes with a good story, and this one is no different. The story starts 5 years ago.

That’s night, Alejandro Robaina and his grandson, Hiroshi, visited Kuala Lumpur, and for one night only, graced a local divan/restaurant. It was a fantastic night, and despite his age, the charisma emanating from this man was as thick as butter; you could cut through it with a knife. There were good cigars going around, the finger food was tasty, and the company was excellent. It was as though the creme de la creme of the nation’s cigar community had turned up to honor the man.

Despite the mad rush for his attention, i was fortunate enough to spend 5 minutes with him, all to myself. In that short time, he asked me, “How do you like Vegas Robaina cigars?” I answered, “They are very nice, but i know that the tobacco that goes in them doesn’t always come from your farm.” We were talking through a translator. He chuckled at my answer, and as a goodbye, he said, “Then one day you shall come to my farm in Cuba, and i’ll give you a cigar that comes from my fields, 100%”.

Over the years since, i’ve found out that these mystical cigars do exist, and are given as gifts to friends of the Robaina family. I’ve spent a lot of time imagining the day when the Robaina promise would be made good. As fate would have it, i would indeed smoke one of these cigars, called Robaina Padrinos, or Robaina farm-rolled cigars, but via a roundabout way. These cigars have recently found their way off the island, and are now commercially available in very limited qualities.

Continue reading “The Best Cigar of 2010 – Pinar del Rio Sublimes”

Hamlet Paredes Salamones (2003)

When I met Hamlet Paredes on the shores of Malaysia nearly 8 years ago, i came away with two fistful of cigars that i’ve been hoarding for extremely special occasions. I’ve smoked most of those cigars already, including a special corona gorda that still holds the record for being My Cigar Blog’s strongest ever cigar. It’s been 6 years since i smoked that cigar, and i still remember how i nearly passed out from its intense power and body.

It has been a few years since my last Hamlet custom rolled cigar. But something wonderful happened at work last Friday that prompted me to reach down for one of my remaining three sticks: i was interviewed by the CEO for a special assignment, and i think i nailed it with aplomb. Whether or not i get the job is not important, but i felt that my performance was spot on, and deserving a special treat.

Hamlet is not as well known as say, Brinones or Morales, for his figurados. And he told me as such when we met: when i asked him for a salamones, he looked at me sheepishly and said, “Are you sure?” I nodded, he chuckled, and looked around for a wrapper that would be able to do a salamones bearing his name justice. Perhaps suitable leaf was in short supply that night, perhaps he really does prefer rolling straight cut cigars, only he knows his reasons.

Continue reading “Hamlet Paredes Salamones (2003)”

Morales Custom Robusto Extra

Ms Yaidi Morales, El Laguito Master Roller, is in Kuala Lumpur for the 3 month long Festival Cubano 2005 — if there ever was a time to sample a cigar rolled on the thighs of a virgin master (!!) now is the time to do it! 🙂

Just kidding, fellas. She is a terribly sweet lady, with a kind and charming disposition. She can’t speak a word of English, so being in Malaysia for 3 months is almost akin to Hell for her, i imagine. So before i met her a few nights ago, i brushed up on my Spanish via an online Spanigh-English translator and armed myself with keywords i knew i would need for the night:

“mucho ligero, senorita!”

“si!”

“roja pinar del rio?”

“c’mo est’ el tiempo hoy?”

“diez palillos”

“c’mo vieja es esta hoja?”

Can you imagine the sort of smile i got when i started speaking (or at least trying to) Spanish! Hahah… i wasn’t very good, and i understood just about nothing of what she said in return, but i think i managed to get the message across, and managed to understand the bits she said that were important.

I asked her to roll a handful of custom cigars for me: i found out from her that the binder and the filler are from the same batch of leaf that went into the marvelous Cohiba Sublime 2005. As for the wrapper, which has been aged for more than 3 years, … when i asked her where it came from, she put her finger to her lips and said, “abajo secreto del vuelta,” (its a secret of the Vuelta Abajo); quite a coy little woman, she is! All the tobacco was hand picked by her, and she caressed it lovingly as we chatted.

With eager anticipation i watched her roll the cigars i wanted, and each turned out to be excellent specimens of her craft. As they were a bit wet still, i decided to give them a few days to dry off in the humi back home.

A few days passed. It was time to spark one up. The first to go was a funky shaped robusto extra — not quite as fat as a Cohiba Sublime, not quite as thin as an Monte Edmundo, and the head had an odd little shape. The leaf was incredibly oily; by looking at the pics you can almost discern the gobbles of oily patches along the wrapper. Wherever she got this wrapper from, its certainly something amazingly special; i don’t think i’ve seen the like before.

The wrapper had some toothy spots, and some very mild veining along one side, but that wasn’t going to deter me from enjoying this cigar. Running it under my nose, i sniffed hungrily on it, and was rewarded by a tremendous sea-salt aroma that invaded my nostrils, took them over, and banged me silly with them. The foot of the cigar offered the fresh grassy scent you normally find in Cohibas, though magnified in intensity; it was laced with the aroma of Bengal tea leaves which is a bit unique. Initial inspection alluded to a very interesting smoke ahead.

The cigar itself felt quite right in my hand, not too lightweight as Brinones’ are, and the tobacco was still somewhat damp. But i couldn’t wait any longer — a quick snip, the cap fell off, and i put the torch to it. A few luxurious draws later, and this cigar was away!

Two things struck me from the get go: the volume of smoke was tremendous, and the draw was a bit loose, though not intolerably so. The loose draw (i’ve also noticed this in other free-hand rolled cigars, previously Brinones and Hamlet) is perhaps due to the fact that molds are not used for the binder and filler, therefore its more difficult to compact the binder and filler properly while its being rolled. In Cuba, in the factories, molds are used to ensure the consistency of the binder and filler, prior to them being passed on to the final stage when the wrapper is rolled on.

But that was perhaps the only grouch i have about the cigar (i do prefer slightly firmer draws), but i quickly forgot about it — the flavour started coming through, the power and pace of the cigar nailed me to my seat, and its elegance wrapped its aroma all around me. Wonderful.

The first few draws hit me quite hard: a chalky chilli flavour that was supremely peppery to the lips and tongue. But that initial bite receded quite quickly, to be replaced with some very familiar Cohiba-like tastes. Quite mossy, grassy, spun around with a thick bean twine — delightful.

The 2nd half of the cigar, the flavours took a turn. Some deep caramelized (sweet) chocolate creaminess started coming through, and as i smacked my lips to get as much flavour out of it as i could, i detected some bitter chocolate notes that accentuated the whole experience.

Verdict: In 90 minutes, I took this cigar all the way down, and then i was still begging for more. A fresh cigar is unique, different and certainly nothing like what a cigar in a box can offer. I’ll imagine that some people will like this youthful exuberance in their cigars, and some will not. Some people will smoke the Morales right off her desk, some people may decide to aged some for special occasions in the future (some people like me will opt to do both!). These cigars seem to have tremendous aging potential, and i’m looking forward to breaking open my Morales box again in 5 years. In the meantime, excuse me while i go out to buy more to smoke now. 🙂 Highly Recommended.

Yaidi Amador Morales, 1-night only!

What do you get when you cross the best hotel in Kuala Lumpur with a Cuban Master Roller with some very serious cigar aficionados? Lots of laughter and mirth, gallons of espresso, and a very smoky lounge!

The gang turned out to participate in Ms Morales’ debut appearance at the Mandarin Oriental last night. She was rolling some seriously wicked looking cigars as part of a fine dining promotion organized by the Pacifica Grill, a superb menu including fine cognac and a freshly rolled cigar to top it off, all for RM188 per pax.

Her craft and talent is quite remarkable. Morales is obviously a perfectionist, taking very special care to ensure that each stick passes her condition of quality. To my eye, her work is much more detailed than Briones, the last Master Roller to visit Malaysia.

She rolled a couple of cigars for me, the highlight being a very nicely done salamones. Comparing it with the salamones made by Briones, its almost a no contest: Briones’ rolls was less tidy, and led to a funky shaped salamones, Morales, with her care and attention to detail, produced a salamones that more closely resembled the classic vitola. Perhaps El Laguito has got higher standards for its Master Rollers than the Romeo y Julieta factory?

How did the cigars smoke? As the sticks were still quite damp, i decided to give mine a rest for a day or two in the humi back home before lighting one up, but Sharil (who bought a whole bucketload of freshly rolled cigars), couldn’t resist.

According to him, the cigar he had was outstanding, Cohiba leaf of the finest quality, superior in every way to the Briones (RyJ blend). The draw was fairly loose, but that’s to be expected somewhat of free hand rolled cigars (no bunching molds used). The smoke volume was pushed to the max — Sharil literally resembled a chimney the whole evening. And the aroma, to my nose, was very, very pleasing.

The lounge of the Mandarin Oriental is a perfect place to smoke a cigar: beautiful high ceiling, plush carpets, luxurious sofas; the service impeccable, the hot chocolate i had with my Bolivar Belicosos Finos was the perfect companion. The cigar itself was a superb choice, giving me just enough buzz to make everything fuzzy and happy.

All in all a perfect night. A job well done to the boys at Trinidad for putting it all together.

Brinones Robusto Extra

Mr Arnaldo Ovalles Brinones, 39, is a Level 9 Master Roller, the Assistant Manager of the Romeo y Julieta factory in Havana, Cuba. He was recently in KL, Malaysia as part of his tour of the region, performing cigar rolling exhibitions at each stop. I managed to spend some time interviewing him when i met him. Some of his insights were quite revealing about the cigar industry in Cuba.

Brinones rolled a collection of 25 cigars for me — some truly incredible looking cigars: 109s (a discontinued, rare, vitola), salamones (Brinones loves rolling these), robustos, and double coronas. It was interesting to note that the uniformity on these sticks weren’t 100% — length and shapes varied from each stick (perhaps its because i insisted he not cut off the foot of each stick to ensure the same length), though the ring gauge for each were incredibly consistent. Quite a feat considering no tools were used — no molds, no wooden bunches, no scales, no rulers, no gauges — everything, 100% of the production of each stick of cigar was done by hand, measured movements from 17 years of remarkable experience at the hands of Master Brinones.

The robusto i purveyed last night was an interesting, unique cigar in so many respects.

1. It was damp — it literally felt wet in my hands. To roll a cigar, the roller needs the leaf to be quite damp in order to work the leaf; if its dry, the leaf will tear.

2. It felt quite light for a robusto — compared with a Cohiba Robusto, i would guess that the Cohiba is at least 5 grams heavier.

3. The wrapper had this weird, oily feel to it. My fingertips were left with a silky feel after i ran my fingers along its body.

4. While there was no ammoniac scent to the leaf (thus indicating well fermented, cured tobacco), it had this really strange “grass”, “soil of the earth” scent. It was certainly a pre-light aroma i’ve never encountered before.

Perfect burn, razor thin burn line

Looking at this strange, wonderful stick with a befuddled look, eyesbrows raised, i took a Davidoff cutter and circumcised it with a perfect round snip. Defrocked, the pre-light draw was very loose — i don’t particular fancy loose drawing cigars. A bit put off, i put the flame to it, and patient allowed the damp tobacco a chance to catch. It took a minute or two to carefully singe well, a few quick draws, and it was away!

Pleasant, dark grey ash

The smoke volume was mesmerizing — thick, billowing clouds of meaty smoke — perhaps attributed to the looseness of the roll (my experience with loosely rolled sticks is that smoke volume has always been high). Its also been my previous experience that loose drawing cigars burn quick and hot — but not this one. The Brinones burn was at a snail’s pace — it took more than 75 minutes to take it to the nub. But the looseness of the draw bothered me — i normally prefer cigars with a bit of “resistance” to them.

By this stage, i was nearly unconscious!

Flavour wise, this cigar was an interesting mesh of criss-crossing treats. Very nice, but strange. Woodiness reminiscent of a classic Partagas, grassiness of a Cohiba, the alert cedary delights of a Hoyo de Monterrey, the spicy bite of a young, full bodied Bolivar. The funny thing is: each flavour could be picked out individually as the cigar progressed. Now while some people would enjoy its seeming complexity, for me, this was more a sign of how absolutely young this cigar was — its almost painfully apparent that the tobacco has not had any time at all to marry and meld into a finished product. In comparison, a 1 year old Hamlet Robusto Extra, was marvelous and delectable. In comparison, a 1 day old Brinones is like an unbroken stallion — all kick and muscle and hew, and very much unridable.

The aroma of the cigar smoke — that was the only part of it i truly, truly enjoyed. It was unbelievable: a sweet, woody fragrance that filled up the house, a combination of tangy, earthy aromas — imagine the finest aroma from a well aged RyJ Churchill, and you will have some idea of what i’m talking about. It was intoxicating, i tell you and almost worth the hefty price of admission, just on its own.

Medic, medic!!

Verdict: This cigar, this custom blend of Brinones mucho ligero (that’s what i requested for), is destined for greatness one day. Given time, i believe the tobacco will settle in place, the loose draw will thicken up, and the dampness will disappear. Given time, i believe the strange mish-mash of flavours, of uncertain direction, and purpose, will marry and create a truly unique experience. Right now, this cigar, in my opinion, is smokable but would be a waste to do so. The nicotine buzz is very, very significant, the power and body, almost overwhelming. 1-2 years is the bare minimum to wait.

RyJ master roller: Arnaldo Ovalles Brinones

What an incredible night! Meeting RyJ Master Roller, Arnaldo Ovalles Bri?ones, watching him expertly roll some amazing cigars and chatting with him, sharing his experiences and wide ranging knowledge of the industry was a true treat; the truest treat a budding aficionado like myself could ever hope for.

It was a fairly quiet evening by Qba’s standards; the hip cigar lounge and Cuban restaurant located in the Westin Hotel in the heart of KL is usually extremely busy during the weekends, but as a weekday, the crowd was sparse, but lively.

Brinones set up his humble table in a corner of Qba, and he was busy the whole night, rolling, chatting, smiling, quiping anecdotes from his 17 years in the business. As the Assistant Manager of the RyJ factory, he oversees a large portion of the production line, making daily inspections of the day’s production, performing quality spot checks, and ensuring that the consistency in the factory is kept at an optimal level.

Brinones rolled a couple handfuls of 109s for me tonight!

He conceded that prior to 2000, before Altadis took up a major share of Habanos SA, Cuban cigar production suffered a sharp decline in quality control, mostly due to the increasingly significant numbers of cigars the small island nation was being asked to produce; he admitted this was a shame since 1998-1999 produced some of the most outstanding leaf in recent memory. But Altadis didn’t just bring with them investment euros, they brought with them advanced cigar production technologies, that contributed positively to the whole process chain of production and manufacturing. For example, the crop yield has been getting better and better each year when new growing and harvesting techniques were introduced. Altadis also played a large role in improving quality control of the final product — prior to their arrival, at its worst, 10-15% of the sticks leaving the factory were “poor” (tight draw, inconsistent blends, etc.). Now, especially 2003-2004, only 1-3% of the cigars are “poor”, and they have a target of 0% tolerance to “poor” cigars by the end of 2010.

I asked him what the deal was with the ELs. He said Habanos SA has been stockpiling some of its best leaf these past 10 years, and this leaf is finding its way into the EL series. Price-wise, Habanos never intended for them to be as expensive as they are now, but Altadis insisted that the ELs cater to the upper market, something “special” beyond that regular production Cubans.

The guys and me enjoying a freshly rolled Brinones!

One of his favourite ELs are the current Cohiba Sublimes; he encouraged me to get as many boxes as i can when they become widely available. I laughed and said that the price for the Sublimes was prohibitive. He laughed at me and said, “Who cares, eh, when you are smoking the best cigar Cuba has produced in 20 years!”

The gang, with Brinones and Hernandez, the manager of Qba

The evening came to a close prematurely, i felt. He was very tired (he only arrived late yesterday after a long flight), and begged to be allowed to retire. I was disappointed, but i think the 60 minutes i spent with him was a solid experience that i wouldn’t trade for anything. I’ll see him again on Saturday, and perhaps have another chance to talk to him, but i doubt it — Qba’s Saturday crowd is expected to be huge. But, certainly, that won’t deter me from trying.

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