A CIGAR ERUDITE
“I STRONGLY BELIEVE THAT HABANO SMOKERS HAVE INHERENTLY ADOPTED THE PLEASURE OF SMOKING AND THEY WILL ALWAYS LOOK FOR SPACES TO ENJOY THIS PASSION,” SAYS FELIPE ROJAS, WINNER OF THE 16TH INTERNATIONAL HABANOSOMMELIER CONTEST
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.”