Excelencias from the Caribbean & the Americas - - INTERVIEW - BY / PA­TRI­CIA CÁCERES PHO­TOS / COUR­TESY OF MR. RO­JAS

Be­ing a Ha­banosom­me­lier is far more than know­ing and lov­ing Ha­banos. When it comes to help­ing peo­ple dis­cover the true virtues of cigars, you need to be epicure, sybarite… a re­fined gourmet lover that finds those per­fect “pair­ings” be­tween cigars and prod­ucts of sim­i­lar qual­ity, or in­vites us to slowly en­joy it after hav­ing a good meal. This preacher of fine taste goes be­yond the restau­rant realm and be­comes a guide, an artist, a smoke eru­dite that shows us a path of sen­sa­tions and teaches us to trust him.

This is per­fectly known by Chilean Felipe Ro­jas Bruna, the cham­pion of the past edi­tion of the In­ter­na­tional Ha­banosom­me­lier Con­test, a com­pe­ti­tion that an­nu­ally gives an award to the most com­plete pro­fes­sional of the sec­tor. We talked to him to learn how this Chilean came into the Ha­banos realm and conquered the top of such a Cuban prod­uct.

“It all be­gan nearly seven years ago. A friend of mine of­fered me a Ha­bano. I had never en­joyed the plea­sure of smok­ing. It was mag­i­cal. The aroma, the taste and the el­e­gance made me fall in love and this feel­ing has grown stronger on a daily ba­sis.”

What do you make of the In­ter­na­tional Ha­banosom­me­lier and what par­tic­u­lar el­e­ments does it of­fer when com­pared to sim­i­lar com­pe­ti­tions around the world?

It's the one and ut­most con­test for som­me­liers spe­cial­ized in fine cigars, whether they are Ha­banos or other cigars. It's a great show­case for us as pro­fes­sion­als spe­cial­ized in drinks and cigars. It is an op­por­tu­nity to show to such a di­verse pub­lic the tremen­dous amount of in­for­ma­tion trea­sured by Ha­banos in terms of his­tory, cul­ture, tastes, vitolas, port­fo­lio of brands, pair­ings and ser­vice.

The ser­vice is a rit­ual that en­tails sig­nif­i­cant prac­tice for Ha­banosom­me­liers, since we try to make the most of the tast­ing of a prod­uct with such long and com­plex man­u­fac­tur­ing. That's the rea­son why we do our best for cus­tomers to en­joy its great qual­i­ties.

The con­test ex­tols both Ha­banos and Ha­banosom­me­liers, who share all of this prod­uct's cul­ture with its con­sumers.

Was it the first time you’d ever signed up for the event?

That's right. Com­ing here, tak­ing dif­fer­ent cour­ses and wit­ness­ing the cham­pi­onship were el­e­ments that en­cour­aged me to sign up.

Which do you think the most dif­fi­cult aspect of that con­test is?

Nerves are the first thing to be faced. I knew that the other com­peti­tors were very good, but be­ing to­tally fo­cused was my top pri­or­ity and my big­gest dif­fi­culty.

Were you hop­ing to make it to the fi­nal or you were sur­prised by the re­sult?

Once I passed the first tests in the pre­lim­i­nary stage, I felt that I was up to par with the sit­u­a­tion. Al­though I made mis­takes, which were later cor­rected, I felt that there was a chance for me to be in the fi­nal.

Could you tell us more about the pair­ing pro­pos­als you showed dur­ing the event?

I had a Monte Fraile, a pisco from my coun­try, which had been mac­er­ated with a dry peach for two days. This fruit is tra­di­tion­ally con­sumed in Chile. It is used to pre­pare a dessert recipe, by adding corn and cold wa­ter. I chose Juan Lopez Selec­ción No. 2, a ro­bust Ha­bano with great char­ac­ter and taste, to be paired with this mac­er­ated pisco.

I wanted to un­veil a drink that rep­re­sents my coun­try, ac­com­pa­nied by a tra­di­tional Ha­bano that stands for the his­tory and ef­forts of gen­er­a­tions of cigar mak­ers. Juan Lopez rep­re­sents that.

Ha­banos S.A.'S brand port­fo­lio of­fers a wide range of prod­ucts for all pref­er­ences. Every­body knows its global brands, but I be­lieve that the oth­ers are great too.

Could you please share any anec­dote on those mo­ments of ten­sion and emo­tions?

I watched sev­eral pic­tures and videos on the con­test while I was at the hall where the first pre­sen­ta­tion took place. I had even been part of the au­di­ence at that very place, so I knew the space. But I was al­ways look­ing at the stage from the au­di­ence per­spec­tive, never from the stage at such. So, when I took the first step up there, my mind went blank be­cause I re­al­ized that ev­ery­thing looked dif­fer­ent from there. I don't re­mem­ber what I said dur­ing those five min­utes.

How did it feel for you, a Chilean, to be in Cuba and win a com­pe­ti­tion re­lated to such an au­then­ti­cally Cuban prod­uct, even pre­vail­ing over com­peti­tors that were born on this Caribbean is­land?

I think it's a great merit. It took me a lot of time, after a few years trav­el­ing to Cuba, be­ing in touch with its peo­ple and liv­ing the cigar cul­ture. That un­doubt­edly helped me win such pre­cious prize. It would've been very dif­fi­cult to learn and un­der­stand this no­ble prod­uct with­out that pre­vi­ous train­ing.

What do you make of the mar­ket sit­u­a­tion where you are presently work­ing? How can you be a mod­ern Ha­banosom­me­lier with an Anti-smok­ing Law that is in­ter­na­tion­ally gain­ing mo­men­tum?

I cur­rently work as a Man­ager/cigar­som­me­lier at Five V Ho­tel's “Above 21” Cigar Bar, in Dubai. I strongly be­lieve that Ha­bano smok­ers have in­her­ently adopted the plea­sure of smok­ing and they will al­ways look for spa­ces to en­joy this pas­sion, re­gard­less of the laws es­tab­lished in Dubai, Spain or Chile.

What are your fa­vorite vitolas?

I gen­er­ally en­joy them all be­cause each and ev­ery one of them can be spe­cial for dif­fer­ent mo­ments. How­ever, I could men­tion La­guito No. 1, Cañon­azo, Ro­busto, Mon­tesco and Pe­tit Ed­mundo.

How about the per­fect pair­ing be­tween a Ha­bano and an­other prod­uct?

I think that Ha­banos can of­fer great ver­sa­til­ity in terms of pair­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties. The most tra­di­tional for­mats en­gulfed by Ha­banos S.A.'S port­fo­lio, as well as the new vitolas that pleas­antly sur­prise us ev­ery year and the wide range of tastes we find, fa­cil­i­tate the pair­ing of a Ha­bano with count­less. Whisky is one of my fa­vorite drinks. Both prod­ucts fea­ture an ar­ray of pair­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties. It only takes time to taste ev­ery­thing.

“Ha­banos S.A.’S brand port­fo­lio of­fers a wide range of prod­ucts for all pref­er­ences. Every­body knows its global brands, but I be­lieve that the oth­ers are great too.”

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