Ha­bano Fes­ti­val a roar­ing suc­cess

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AF­TER FIVE DAYS OF tast­ings, work­shops, con­certs as well as vis­its to tobacco plan­ta­tions and fac­to­ries, the XIX Ha­bano Fes­ti­val of­fi­cially came to a close. Held be­tween Fe­bru­ary 27 – March 3, Ha­vana once again played host to the largest in­ter­na­tional meet­ing of pre­mium cigar en­thu­si­asts.

More than 2,000 guests from more than 50 coun­tries con­verged on the Cuban cap­i­tal to dis­cover the ma­jor new de­vel­op­ments con­cern­ing the world’s best tobacco, learn about the cul­ti­va­tion process and en­joy food and drink from dif­fer­ent cor­ners of the world. In ad­di­tion, those at­tend­ing the fes­ti­val were able to en­joy three evenings of the best live mu­sic from renowned in­ter­na­tional artists.

There was also the chance for at­ten­dees to sam­ple the new prod­ucts pre­sented by Habanos, S.A, with the event this year fo­cus­ing on the H. Up­mann, Montecristo and Quai D’or­say brands, which all pre­sented ma­jor new de­vel­op­ments in their port­fo­lios.

Dur­ing the fes­ti­val it was also an­nounced that the Habanos Group – con­sist­ing of 27 brands – had a turnover

Fes­tiv­i­ties got un­der way with a press con­fer­ence and we were one of more than 100 jour­nal­ists on hand to hear about our sched­ule for the week. We were then treated to the first round of the som­me­lier con­tent in which rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Eng­land, Chile, Cuba, Italy and the UAE had just 20 min­utes to iden­tify five spir­its.

Then it was on to the his­toric Club Ha­vana which sits on the shores of the ocean on the city’s west cost. Lo­cated in the pop­u­lar area of Jaiman­i­tas and opened back in 1928, the so­cial club was the per­fect set­ting for the pre­sen­ta­tion of the Gran Reserva Cosecha 2011 in the Sir Win­ston vi­tola.

In an evening filled with artis­tic per­for­mances, we were able to en­joy tra­di­tional Cuban mu­sic from the likes of Pan­cho Amat – one of the best Cuban tre­seros – and the great Adal­berto Ál­varez y su Son.

On Tues­day we were then handed the op­por­tu­nity to visit a plan­ta­tion. Here we vis­ited barns and had the chance to plant seeds, thus help­ing us gain an un­der­stand­ing of the long process that goes into mak­ing a cigar.

The fol­low­ing day the som­me­lier con­test con­tin­ued as each rep­re­sen­ta­tive had 20 min­utes to con­vince the judges they had paired the right drink with the cor­rect cigar. The UAE’S own rep­re­sen­ta­tive Krys­tian Horde­juk had an in­ter­est­ing take as he of­fered cham­pagne with a cigar as well as var­i­ous drinks. For the first time he also matched food with the drinks and the cigars.

Later in the evening we at­tended El La­guito’s Pro­to­col Hall for a trib­ute evening ded­i­cated to Quai D’or­say, a brand cre­ated in 1973 by Cu­batabaco ex­clu­sively for the French mar­ket upon re­quest of SEITA, the then state-owned tobacco com­pany.

Quai D’or­say re­vealed it was em­bark­ing on a new adventure with the re­lease of its new de­sign, the pre­sen­ta­tion of two new vi­to­las and its in­ter­na­tional dis­tri­bu­tion net­work to ma­jor Habanos S.A. mar­kets.

Vis­i­tors at the evening event were able to en­joy the brand’s three vi­to­las: Coronas Claro (42x142 mm), and the new No 50 (50x110mm) and No 54 (54x135 mm), and also to de­light in a vi­tola from its clas­sic port­fo­lio, Quai D’or­say Im­pe­ri­ales (47x178 mm), re-edited ex­clu­sively for the cer­e­mo­nial din­ner.

In ad­di­tion, the evening fea­tured an out­stand­ing in­ter­na­tional Cuban mu­si­cal line-up, with the pres­ence of distin­guished artists such as Luna Man­zanares, Geidy Chap­man, Tanmy and Brenda Navar­rete. Mayko D’alma was in charge of the evening’s fi­nal per­for­mance with Maestro

San­ti­ago Al­fonso’s com­pany pro­vid­ing the chore­og­ra­phy.

There was also a chance for us to en­joy the tra­di­tional Alianza Habanos that this year brought to­gether two le­gendary de­nom­i­na­tions steeped in his­tory and whose prod­ucts are the stuff of dreams for both som­me­liers and Ha­bano lovers around the world: Habanos and the pres­ti­gious Brandy de Jerez, from Spain.

On Thurs­day we then had a full day of vis­its to fac­to­ries. At H Up­mann we saw the art of hand rolling cigars and were even handed the chance to roll our own thanks to in­struc­tions from one of the master rollers. We also viewed the depart­ment which checks for qual­ity and wit­nessed the fi­nal stage were the la­belling and pack­ing is com­pleted.

There was also a tour of La Corona’s fac­tory where most of the rollers are smok­ing cigars while per­form­ing their job. Mu­sic fills the fac­tory and we could see cigars in all shapes and sizes, with each roller spe­cial­is­ing in a cer­tain size.

The 19th edi­tion of the famed fes­ti­val then closed with with a gala din­ner in which we were in­vited to sam­ple three vi­to­las from Montecristo’s new and in­no­va­tive Línea 1935.

Next up it was the 2016 Ha­bano Awards prize giv­ing cer­e­mony. Gor­don Mott, jour­nal­ist and free­lance writer for the Cigar Afi­cionado mag­a­zine re­ceived the award in the Com­mu­ni­ca­tion cat­e­gory. Ed­ward Sa­hakian was awarded in the cat­e­gory of Busi­ness, in recog­ni­tion for his work de­vel­op­ing the Ha­bano cigar mar­ket in the UK, and Josefa Acosta Ramos, with over 60 years’ ded­i­ca­tion to the tobacco in­dus­try in Cuba, was the win­ner in the Pro­duc­tion cat­e­gory.

It was then on to the con­clu­sion of the In­ter­na­tional Ha­banosom­me­lier Con­test which was won by Puro Tabaco (Chile), with its rep­re­sen­ta­tive Felipe Ro­jas. Slavomir Marek Bielicki (United King­dom) was sec­ond, while the UAE’S Krys­tian Horde­juk came in third. The fi­nal­ists were faced with a prac­ti­cal Ha­bano cut­ting and light­ing test and a de­scrip­tive tast­ing and pair­ing ses­sion with dif­fer­ent bev­er­ages, in­clud­ing the most well-known in­ter­na­tional cock­tails, fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of last year’s 2016 spe­cial edi­tion.

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