Cuba Trip 2019
I’ll admit it, after 5 years in business I still hadn’t popped my Cuban seed, shameful, I know. The commander-in-chief of the countries fastest growing Gold Standard Havana Specialist having never set foot in Cuba… Well, here was my chance!
Landing quite late at night, we felt we needed some rice, beans and chicken to cement the fact we were definitely in Cuba so, detour taken we now arrive at El Ajibe , a beautiful outdoor restaurant with plenty of wind to cool us down. This is also where I catch my first glimpse of the famous 50s American automobiles that roam the Cuban streets. Before heading to our hotel, the 5-star, state owned Hotel Nacional, we rounded off the excellent grub with a freshly cracked cabinet of H. Upmann Magnum 54's. I loved these on first release but now after a couple of years they really are beginning to open up and deliver those famous Upmann flavours.
We woke weary eyed and jet lagged but that didn’t stop us hitting the gardens early for a stogie in the sun. Trinidad Colonials was the stick of choice, with its light, creamy and aromatic flavour, it was the perfect cigar to kick off the day’s proceedings.
We headed straight for old Havana for a guided history tour and even though the 32-degree heat and humidity made for slow going, the sweat-fest was worth it for the sites. After a few hours walking we required refreshments, stat! We headed straight for the famous La Bodeguita del Medio for copious amounts of Mojitos (after all, this place claims to be the birthplace of said beverage).
It was an amusing few hours given the fact every Cuban who passed me gave me huge hugs and hand-shakes, likening me to Ernest Hemmingway and Castro.
Time for the Havana Club factory tour and a tasting. Luckily enough, Jimmy (our H&F rep) knew the brand ambassador well so we were treated to something special, rather than the basic tour rums. On offer for our greedy, but more refined tastes were the following: Havana Club 15, Havana Club Union and Havana Club Tributo 2019 (not even released yet); they were incredible and certainly rank in the top rums that I’ve ever rammed down my gullet. We finished off the day by herfing in the lounge of the old Partagas factory which was a great way to chill after the long day. I enjoyed a Bolivar Royal Corona which is one of my go-to cigars and smoking incredibly well just now.
Up bright and breezy and straight to the gardens for another stogie, this time we tucked into a box of Juan Lopez Seleccion Superba, the UK Regional from 2016. Yup, we were herfing cigars that were made in Cuba, shipped to the UK only to be flown back to Cuba and enjoyed by a bunch of daft Brits.
Straight on the bus again, this time, however, we were off to the plantations of Pinar del Rio, the most famous tobacco growing region in the world. This is the day I am most excited for; I love wandering the plantations in the sun; a weird sense of freedom always follows when you’re in the thick of it, and finally getting to see where some of my favourite tobacco is grown was a dream come true. We toured the tobacco fields (sun and shade grown), curing barns, sorting houses and stripping houses. This was all very thirsty work, so we headed up for lunch at Finca Agroecologica el Paraiso, the most amazing hilltop restaurant that grew all its own veg. The views alone were worth the million-mile trek up a horrid, pot-holed road to get to. This place made a unique cocktail with 7 different herbs which came virgin, they then plonk a bottle of Havana Club rum on the table for you to help yourself to, if you fancy the legless kind (I’ll leave you to guess the option I chose). As usual the meal was washed down with a cigar, this time a Hoyo de Monterrey Le Hoyo Du Roi from 2001, which thankfully we have stock of at CASC, as this was one of the better vintage cigars I’ve had in a long time. It was very light and creamy with flavours of old newspapers and book leather. After the incredible lunch we hit the road for another 3 hour drive back to the hotel.
Factory day! Back to the gardens early AM for the usual before the bus picks us up. One of the guys bought a box of Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure Especial so, we all lit up just as the bus arrived (only bloody day they were early, typical). Stogie snipped and, on the bus, straight for La Corona. This factory is responsible for the production of Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta, Hoyo de Monterrey, Cuaba, Por Larranaga, San Cristobal and many others. A bustling factory, set over several stories; it really was impressive. Before and after the tour we had the pleasure of herfing a freshly rolled Montecristo No. 2 with the factory manager, Osmar Hernandez Fuentes. Although speaking through a translator (in this case, Hunters & Frankau’s own, Yadira), we managed to have a great yap and a good laugh together.
We left La Corona to grab lunch and beers which was enjoyed with an H. Upmann Connoisseur A on the restaurant’s rooftop terrace. We couldn’t leave quick enough, though, as the next stop was El Laguito, the Cohiba factory. This factory is off-limits to the public and can only be visited in an official manner, so I felt rather honoured to be standing in the main hall. The factory is not purpose built, rather, inhabits the old residence of Alberto Casimiro Fowler Perilliat, one of the owners and presidents of the ol’ North American Sugar Company.
Immediately we checked out the tobacco storage room and smelling and holding the rare Medio Tiempo leaves used solely to produce Behike was the highlight of the tour, followed closely by holding and smelling a freshly rolled Talisman at the torcedor’s desk.
We ended the tour with a Cuban coffee and a yap with the factory manager, a very chilled affair which was a step change from the previous factory.
The last day of the trip, was probably the most important; we had a morning meeting and presentation at the heart of it all: Habanos s.a. The presentation took about 40 minutes and was genuinely very informative; I usually can’t stand these things, but it was done well; I suppose it helps I actually give a shit about the subject matter. During the presentation the assistant handed out some Montecristo No. 4's for us to enjoy. I then had some time to discuss the future of CASC and together we have some exciting plans for the business’ future.
My first Cuban voyage was a hit, and I can’t wait to get back. Everything you hear is true about Cuba; the people, the cars, the architecture… It all comes together for an experience like no other. If you haven’t been, then get yer arse over; you won’t regret it.