Brand Spotlight - The New Guards of Havana

Brand Spotlight - The New Guards of Havana

by Nick Hendry

The 500 years of history and tradition associated with Cuban Cigars is often discussed, and is likely an important factor in the trust afforded to Cuban puros by smokers worldwide.  Many of the tales and legends behind the most famous, and oldest, brands are as well-known as the sticks themselves.  What is perhaps mentioned less often, although equally deserving of comment, is the innovation that still flows from the home of cigars.  Since the post-revolution nationalisation of the industry many new brands and new lines have been born.

It would have been easy for the makers at Habanos SA to rest on the laurels of those who came before them.  So many marcas has built followings and reputations over 100 years or more they could have merely continued on this work, safe in the knowledge that the unrivalled quality of the product would keep Cuba at the forefront of the global luxury cigar market.  Instead, they chose to develop new ideas, craft new blends and introduce new names to the community.  Among the best of those new names are 3 whose cigars have been with us less than 30 years.

Vegueros

The Vegueros for whom this brand is named are the hard-working farmers who tend the tobacco fields, passing down their knowledge and expertise through generations and working tirelessly to ensure the leaf used for our puros is of the highest standard.  Each cigar is crafted in Pinar del Rio at the Francisco Donatién factory.  This former prison began manufacture of cigars for the domestic market in the 1960s and its location next to the farms made it the perfect choice for a brand created to honour the people who tend those very fields.  The blend is medium-to-full strength, and the cigars will always stand out in a collection due to their modern, glossy bands and presentation in aluminium tins of 16 sticks.  Perhaps the biggest attraction is the price – they are among the most affordable of all handmade, tripa larga Habanos and with no compromise in quality whatsoever.

The XV Anniversario was a popular Regional Edition Cuban Cigar.

The XV Anniversario was a popular Regional Edition Cuban Cigar.

Vegas Robaina

Don Alejandro Robaina was probably the most famous of all the vegueros, and without doubt the most respected.  His family settled in the Vuelta Abajo region to farm tobacco in 1845 and by the time Don Alejandro took over had honed their skills to near perfection.  Such was his ability around 80% of the yield of his farm was deemed fit for use each year, compared with the average 35% from other farms.  In 1997 Habanos SA decided to honour his wonderful lifelong contribution to the cigar world by launching a brand bearing his name and image, which it still does today.  Like the Vegueros, this is a medium-to-full strength blend, presented in only 2 regular vitolas but often chosen for regional exclusive releases.  Don Alejandro sadly passed away in 2010 but his legacy will live on through his grandson, who has taken over duties on the farm, and the wonderful cigars which near his name. 

The Cuaba 20th Anniversary Cuban Cigar with its distinctive double figurado shape.

 The Cuaba 20th Anniversary Cuban Cigar with its distinctive double figurado shape. Image from Halfwheel.

 Cuaba

These days most of the cigars we see are parejo, or straight-sided, in shape.  This was not always the fashion, however, and in the late 19th century the elegant double figurado was all the rage.  The shape of these cigars makes them difficult to roll, only mastered by the most skilled of torcedors, which led to the decline in their use.  In 1996 Habanos SA decided to revitalise this almost lost art with a new brand: Cuaba.  The name is a tribute to the indigenous Taino people of Cuba, derived from the name given to a particular bush used by them to produce the flame that lit the first cigars.  Today’s Cuaba is prized as recognition of the technique required to create them has grown, with the 57 ring gauge Salomones taking pride of place in many collections.  Medium-to-full strength smokes in a wonderfully unusual shape, these cigars are true examples of Cuba’s determination not to take the easy route when it comes to creating great cigars.

While the legacy brands of Cuban tobacco are rightly revered for their longevity and heritage, it is pleasing to see the worldwide cigar community demonstrate an open-mindedness which has allowed new ideas to flourish alongside the tried and tested.  There is no reason to think that, when another 200 years have passed, these three brands will not still be enjoyed alongside the next crop of new development we are yet to see imagined.