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Colin Wesley - always ready to chat .... across the counter!

The Habanos Festivals

The Island of Cuba may look small and insignificant on a map of the world. But it has been blessed by nature with rich soil and a warm, humid atmosphere –ideal for growing tobacco plants.

They have been doing this for more than 400 years.

Two outside events occurred during the 1700s which had an important effect on the Cuban cigar industry:
In 1740, when Cuba was a Spanish colony, Spain introduced to Cuba the 3-part cigar arrangement of Filler, Binder and Wrapper.
In 1763, when Havana was controlled by England for 1 year, the Cuban cigars were popularised in England, and from there to the Empire.  In 1764 Cuba was returned to Spain but the demand for Cuban cigars, with their unique taste and aroma, and the 3-part format, continued to grow.

The next two twists in the tale of the Cuban cigar were the 1961 embargo on Cuban products to the USA. This throttled the Cuban cigar industry, and incidentally boosted the cigar industries of the neighbouring countries – Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras, Ecuador, etc.
Then came the extraordinary cigar boom of the 1990s, where the demand for Cuban cigars outstripped their normal production capability. Tobacco plants took over sugarcane fields, any person with nimble fingers became a torcedor (roller), aging the tobacco became less important = with a consequent drop in quality.

What, the Cubans may have thought, if smokers think this is all there is to a Cuban cigar?

In 1997 plans emerged to create a Habanos Cigar Festival – to showcase to the outside world what a true Cuban cigar should look like, feel like, smell like and taste like.
The best in the world.
And they have featured the Cohiba (their flagship cigar) in every Festival. 

In February 1999 the first Habano Festival opened to great applause, and the Festivals have continued to do so every year since then.
That is until the Covid 19 pandemic has caused the cancellation of the 2021 Habanos Festival.

We have tracked the Festivals from I in 1999 to XXII in 2020.
Following are some snippets which we found of interest on the way.
Some of the cigars released at the Festivals are now available in South Africa.

The 2021 Festival may be cancelled, but the enjoyment of Cuban cigars continues.
And what every smoker of a hand-rolled cigar needs is a sharp cutter to open the head of the cigar.
Cutters that may be lost, broken, blunted or left behind!

So a cigar cutter will always make an ideal Christmas present – a simple cutter as a stocking filler, or a top quality precision instrument when appropriate.

To encourage this thought, we offer our full range of cigar cutters for your choice.

From December 10, 2020 - January 14, 2021
All Cigar Cutters less 25%
Prices from R69.00
Excluding Sale items.

Only from Wesley’s Shops and Online

The Habano Festivals are unique functions for cigar smokers – if you have attended one, let us have your opinion.

Colin Wesley

No.484 December 3, 2020 to January 16, 2021

By law, no South African citizen, living in South Africa can buy a tobacco product via the internet or postal system.  In fact, you may not receive a tobacco product through the post.
In addition we may not receive payment through the internet for tobacco products.
We may only supply tobacco products within the trade – not to private individuals. The fine is substantial
Contact us for help in getting tobacco to your area.

You can read previous articles from “Across the Counter” in The Archives Library.

Habanos Cigar Festival
1999 The first Festival set the format of future Festivals.

Monday – the welcome night – with a special cigar.
During the week, every day

Guided tours of tobacco plantations in the Vuelta Abajo zone, including a traditional lunch;
Specialised tours of the most famous cigar factories – maybe even El Laguito, the Cohiba factory;
Cigar tasting seminars, and matching cigars with drinks;
Witness the final of the World Habanosommelier contest;
International Fair the whole week at Havana’s Convention Palace, everything to do with cigar smoking;
From Wednesday you can learn how to roll cigars, at the Palace;
Attend lectures on Habano related topics.

Wednesday night – a dinner with the cigar of the event. 1999 saw the debut of the San Cristobal brand.
Friday night – the Gala dinner with good food, excellent wine and great cigars, accompanied by amazing entertainment. The annual Habanos Prizes are awarded in three categories: for producers, business people and communicators, and the evening finishes with an auction to raise funds for the Cuban Public Health Service.
Up for auction are humidors made by leading Cuban artists and craftsmen, filled with Habanos produced specially for the event including rare sizes. Up to 2007 these were signed by Fidel Castro.
The humidors are works of art and the cigars are amazing The quantity - 100-200 cigars at the beginning, then over 300 for the smallest lot, to 520 Cohiba cigars in 2012. In 2008, to commemorate the 10th anniversary 700 cigars were offered. Habanos S.A. uses the auction to offer its very latest cigars for the first time. The first Behikes to be sold were found in the 2010 Cohiba humidor and the first Montecristo No. 2 Gran Reservas were sold in the 2011 Montecristo humidor. It is always worth making a note of some of the rare sizes that crop up because the industry likes to use the auction to experiment with new vitolas that one day might be added to the standard range.
The proceeds of the auction go to the Cuban Public Health Service.
The guests are given a special box of the featured cigar(s).

2000 Followed the same format:
In 2000, Habanos S.A. released a limited cigar to commemorate the second Habanos festival. The official name was the Festival Del Habanos Marevas, and it was a Petit Corona measuring Ring 42 x 129
The auction featured 7 stunning humidors –see them on

They featured the Anniversaries of the brands: Romeo y Julieta (125 years), Punch (160 years), Montecristo (65 years), Partagas (155 years) La Gloria Cubana (115 years), plus the new San Cristobal;
Lot No.7 Included a 2.1m Bronze sculpture; the humidor contained 150 cigars over 6 brands of recently released cigars.

2001 The 35th Anniversary of the Cohiba brand
500 numbered humidors were offered, each with 135 Cohiba cigars; each cigar with its special 35 Anniversario band.
Cuaba Distinguido in its distinctive taino wooden case
Cuaba Distinguido in its distinctive taino wooden case - was gifted to attendees of the opening party of the Festival del Habanos 2001

The auction: http://www.habanos.com/en/noticias/subasta-de-humudores-iii-festival-del-habano-2001/
At the Gala dinner the guests were given branded Cohiba Gran Corona, Robusto and Siglo II cigars.

2002 Fidel Castro attended the Gala dinner
The 2002 Habanos Festival ended its fourth edition with the now traditional gala dinner, attended by Fidel Castro,  and an auction of humidors, cigars, works of art and even the hat of a well-known Cuban singer.
The humidors auctioned: http://www.habanos.com/en/noticias/subasta-de-humidores-2002/

2003 Theoretical Seminar in the framework of the 5th Habanos Festival was inaugurated
The Seminar, the manufacture of an Habano so as to allow each person attended the activity to know about this work.
The organization of the Festivals:
“There is an intense period, four months, where everyone works in the organization of the event, but the organizers of the festival start planning the next one right after the current one finishes, in order to plan several activities. It is indispensable to highlight the work carried about by the Marketing Department of Habanos S.A., directed by Ana López, which plays an important role in the Festival’s organization.”
Offer – “A seven-day tour which costs £1,495 per person, including B&B at the four-star Nacional hotel, Havana, return flights from Heathrow, a visa, transfers, transport, a guide, four dinners, two lunches and some special cigars”. That was in 2003!
Mar 1, 2003 - 12:00am  Cuban cigars — male and female models showed off fashions made from rough fabrics ranging in tones from beige to dark brown and light green to deep olive.
You have to have stamina to attend all that is offered.

2004  Habanos are finally aging tobacco, and special warehouses have now been set up with bales of tobacco being clearly marked as to when they have been laid down and when they are to be used.
5 years age is the minimum target and this will ensure that cigars will indeed in future be matured and ready for smoking straight out of the box.
The Wednesday dinner was held outside. Each guest was greeted with a specially banded Robaina 85th anniversary cigar as well as a specially banded Winston Churchill cigar.
Around 800 people enjoyed cigars, cocktails, snacks and some great music on this very humid evening.
At the Gala dinner each guest was given a 3 pack of Trinidad Robusto Extra, the new 3 pack of beautifully tubed Cohiba Siglo VI as well as Trinidad Coloniales and San Cristobal "109" which is a prominente (double corona) with a slight taper on the head.
Castro’s son also attended.
Entertainment included a big band, various singers and a water ballet.

2005 Cuban Government had passed law to ban smoking in public places but allowances were made for the Festival.
Around 1000 people attended the opening cocktail party.
The Partagas P2 was the new presentation – and the guests at the Gala dinner were each given a lovely varnished box of 3 of the new Partagas cigars.

2006 Corporación Habanos presented the most expensive and exclusive Habano cigar in history, the Cohiba Behike (BHK)
The cigar was Ring 52 x 193mm, with two factory rings that contributed to build the prestige of this brand.
Ever since they conceived this project it had remained completely secret. Plants from the seed bed, the best growing fields of Vuelta Abajo, and even the best growers, were selected. The outside wrapper leaf was made by Pancho Cuba, Alejandro Robaina and Antonio María Paz, three of the most prestigious growers in the world.
The careful selection and special care, the unique manufacturing process (all cigars were hand-rolled by Norma, the most senior of the El Laguito cigar rollers) and the high quality production standards, gave this Habano cigar unique characteristics.
The 4,000 Cohiba Behike cigars were sold in 40-unit containers – double-ringed and numbered from 1 to 4,000 – presented in 100 humidors made by the prestigious Paris-based company Elie Bleu.
This was a unique humidor, for its design and its materials: Galuchat, or manta ray skin, one of the most luxurious materials in the history of decoration; black ebony, mother of pearl, sycamore, cedar and ox bone.
The price of each of these 40-cigar containers was 15,000 Euro.
Fortunately the launch of the new Romeo Short Churchills, was at the welcoming party – or it wouldn’t have been noticed.

2007 Montecristo Maduro 5 range was introduced at the Welcome party.
To that date over a billion Montecristo cigars had been sold since its inception in 1935, and the 2007 Reserva de Montecristo paid tribute to the best-selling vitola of the brand – the Montecristo No.4. The wrapper, filler and binder leaves of Reserva de Montecristo had been aged for three years. The cigars were packaged in luxury black-lacquered cases, of 20 double-ringed cigars.
The auctioned humidors were as exotic as ever http://www.habanos.com/en/noticias/subasta-de-humidores-2007/

2008 Habanos S.A. presents H. Upmann Magnum 50
The H.Upmann Mágnum 50 achieved a great success in 2005 as a Limited Edition. This Habano will become the benchmark size of the brand, thanks to its elegant proportions (Ring 50 x 161mm) and its extraordinary blend, giving it a unique aroma and flavor. Available now in Cedar-lined tubes.
The Gala dinner offered Trinidad, San Cristobal and Cohiba cigars with some fine Cuba rums.
The auction raised 960 000 Euros for the Cuban Health Service

2009 The tenth anniversary of the Habanos Festival.
The Welcome evening saw the launch of the Montecristo Open – blended for outdoor smoking
The Open offers 4 diffferent vitolas including the “Master” (Ring 50 x 124mm) the first robusto from Montecristo.
The International Habanosommelier Competition, was held for the eighth year running because of the following it had gained, due to the growing number of cigar smokers that are increasingly turning to a sommelier for advice when choosing a Habano cigar.
The Habanos Estuche X Festival 2009   https://www.cigaranalysis.com/habanos-estuche-x-festival-2009/
was released - a selection of the vitolas released by Habanos within the last ten years.
These cigars were packaged in black-lacquered, cabinet-shaped cases, with a selection of 10 different cigars, each having a special second (or in some cases a third) commemorative band.

2010 The Behike is launched in 3 formats BHK 52, BHK 54, BHK 56
The blend incorporated for the first time the tobacco leaf called ‘Medio Tiempo’ for exceptional character and flavour. The 3 new vitolas are produced each year in extremely limited quantities due to the natural scarcity of this kind of leaf, not produced by all sun-grown tobacco plants.
The auction of 6 humidors collected 808 000 euros.

2011 A new segment featured - a blind tasting of three Cuban cigars, which the audience smoked along with experts on stage, all trying to guess the identity of the cigars.
Habanos S.A. added two new Partagás cigars with similar bands, the Serie E No. 2 and the Serie D No. 5.
Serie E No.2 a straight-sided cigar measuring Ring 54 x 140mm. The tasty Serie D No. 5 is a shortened robusto measuring Ring 50 x 121mm which was originally created as an Edición Limitada in 2008. It rated 92 points in Cigar Insider.
The auction – just look at the Cohiba humidor: http://habanosnews.habanos.com/en/auction-humidors-2011

2012 The 520th anniversary of the arrival of Cuban tobacco in the old world.
On the third night this was commemorated at the dinner. The dinner had numerous performances celebrating the cultural influence that both Spain and the African continent have had on Cuba.
New: An International Contest “Habanos in Images” addressed to producers of audiovisual work related to the Habanos.
The welcoming party was dedicated to the Cohiba brand
Finally 1,000 guests from all over the world experienced the introduction of an exclusive cigar - the Romeo y Julieta Churchill Reserva made from specially matured tobacco from the 2008 harvest.

2013 Introduction of two new Montecristo vitolas
The Montecristo Double Edmundo and the Petit No.2 made their first appearance.
As a novelty, a Cooking Show named ¨Tobacco and Gastronomy¨ was held live. Prestigious international Chefs prepared Haute Cuisine exclusive recipes using Cuban tobacco.
Release of Partagas Gran reserve Cosecha 2007 **– a Lusitania.

** The word “cosecha” refers to a specific harvest in the agricultural world, and is well known for being used by the Cuban cigar industry in its Reserva and Gran Reserva releases. All the leaf used is from the same year.

2014 The 16th Festival del Habano.
On the first evening, the traditional Welcome Night the Partagas Serie D No. 6 was presented.
It has a small format: the traditional 50 ring gauge with a "short" length of only 9 centimeters gives a smoking duration of around 20-30 minutes. The generic category is “Nub”.
The No. 6 complements the "Series" line, the letter "D" in the name indicates cigars with a 50 ring gauge. The intense taste and the spicy aroma are particularly concentrated here.
The Wednesday Dinner was a tribute to the Trinidad brand. Chef Ron Blaauw from The Netherlands (two Michelin stars) and sommelier Cuno Van’t Hoff, guided the guests in the selection of the menu and matching wines.

2015  More than 1650 attendees
Romeo y Julieta Wide Churchill Gran Reserva, Cosecha 2009, was the welcoming cigar on Monday. Guests were given a black lacquered Romeo y Julieta gift box with 2 Wide Churchills, a Piramides Anejado and a Mille Fleur.
During the week the “Perfect Puff“ competition attracted 200 competitors and many spectators, private and the media, This competition was to achieve the longest ash on the cigar - San Cristóbal de La Habana 180mm. The cigar had an estimated “puff” time of 45 minutes.
Kuwaiti Alí Alami was the winner – lying flat on his back.
As is often the case, the Gala dinner was attended by celebrities - Paris Hilton, Naomi Campbell, Fidel Castro Díaz-Balart (Fidel’s son), and David Tang.
But the stars of the evening were the cigars:
Montecristo 80 Anniversario (at Ring 55 x 165mm the biggest vitola from Montecristo) and the
small Media Corona (Ring 44 x 90mm), which had plenty of flavor and smoked well above it weight.

2016  50 years since the Cohiba brand was born
The Hoyo de Monterrey Reserva Cosecha 2012 was offered - binder, filler and wrapper from the year 2012.

But the  main focus for the week was on Cohiba.
The commemorative Cohiba humidor

One of the humidors auctioned at the Gala dinner was the commemorative Cohiba humidor. This cabinet was laminated with Vuelta Abajo tobacco leaves framed in 24-karat gold paper, and contained 50 of the 50th Aniversarios cigars.
Appropriately this attracted the highest bid, 320,000 Euros.

During the dinner the cigars offered included the Cohiba Medio Siglo, Cohiba Robusto, Cohiba Maduro 5, Cohiba Behike 54,
The closing gift was a presentation box of two Cohiba Majestuosos (Ring 58 x 146mm) - the anniversary cigars.


2017 Montecristo Linea 1935 launched
The cigars are blended stronger than the usual Montecristo.
Three vitolas: Leyenda (Ring 55 x 165mm), Maltes (Ring 53 x 152mm), Dumas (Ring 49 x 130mm).
The Quai D’Orsay brand launched a new design, a new blend and two new vitolas, No.50 (Ring 50 x 110mm) and No.54 (Ring 54 x 135mm)
And then first from H.Upmann: Gran Reserva Cosecha 2011.

2018 Twentieth Anniversary of the Festival.
The cigar chosen for the welcoming evening was the new Cohiba Robustos Reserva Cosecha 2014, the cigar has had 3 years of aging.
Since this was the 20th edition of the Festival, Wednesday night was a tribute to its success.
Several new cigars were around:
Romeo y Julieta Grand Churchill (Ring 56 x 190mm), Le Hoyo Rio Seco (Ring 56 x 140mm) and the now-popular Vegueros Centrofinos (Ring 50 x 127mm).
At the Gala evening the Partagas Linea Maduro series was the main cigar. The term Maduro describes a very dark shade of wrapper leaf. The leaves are harvested from the top of shade grown tobacco plants, and after air curing, natural fermentation and ageing, assume a rich, dark, oily appearance which adds a ‘top-taste’ to the blend which many smokers describe as adding a slight  ‘sweetness’.
The cigars reached Greece in 2019 so maybe we’ll see them next year.

2019 Havana celebrates its 500th Anniversary
The San Cristobal de La Habana 1519 (Ring 57 x 170mm) was presented in Humidors designed especially to honour the city.  A Master Lecture was given by Historian Dr. Eusebio Leal Spengler.
2019 also saw the 50th Anniversary of the Trinidad brand, and new vitolas were showcased. Only 100  humidors were made, and No.1 raised 300 000 euros at the auction. We can appreciate the Media Luna (Ring 50x115mm) and the Topes (Ring 56x125mm).
Inocente Núñez (co-President of Habanos, S.A.) talked about choosing the Habano cigar: (Use all 5 senses) and most important “How much time I have available and the time of day I’m going to be enjoying it.”
He finished with how to light and enjoy the Habano cigar.

5-foot tall Cohiba cabinet with 550 Cohiba cigars 2020  2200 attendees
The year that a Bolivar Belicosos Finos Reserva Cosecha 2016 was presented to the host at the welcoming party by a woman floating below a balloon. It was the first time that Bolivar Belicosos had a Gran Reserva.
The parting gift was a box of 2 Bolivar Belicosos Finos Reserva Cosecha 2016.

On its 145th anniversary, Romeo y Julieta was honoured at the Gala Dinner.

And at the Gala Dinner – a new record was achieved:
The usual auction of seven custom humidors, each dedicated to one of Cuba's top cigar brands,  raised 1.265 million euros.
This was thanks to the bid for the 5-foot tall Cohiba cabinet with 550 Cohiba cigars – 2.4 million euros.
See all the humidors with descriptions:

2021 Official Notice:
Habanos, S.A. has decided to cancel the 23rd Habano FestivalHabanos Cigar Festival

Due to the global context we are living, Habanos, S.A. has decided to cancel the 23rd  Habano Festival scheduled for February 2021. The company, as a worldwide market leader, is working to surprise the Habano aficionados in 2021,  year in which our most prestigious brand, Cohiba, celebrates its [...]GBP





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