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Issue 25 - Viva Havanas

Whisky Magazine Issue 25
August 2002


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Viva Havanas

Happy days are here again, according to cigar guru James Leavey

Several months ago, I was invited to an exhibition in Paris to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the S.T. Dupont lighter. Arriving early, I nipped into a nearby café for a couple of espressos and Montecristo No.3s, which I shared with Martin Winters, Managing Director of the famous French company's UK division. Not only were the Havanas almost half the price I would normally pay back home in London, they offered something I hadn't experienced for some time from a Cuban cigar – an easy, pleasant draw.

Let me explain. When the mid-1990s Havana boom arrived, Cuba, still reeling from the Soviet Union's collapse, was in no condition to respond. It was hard to find a Havana anywhere let alone one of the size and brand you wanted. Not wishing to miss the new wave of enthusiasm for their flagship product, the Cubans unleashed the customary five-year plan to build exports to previously unimagined levels. From a mere 65 million Havanas made in 1995, there was talk of 200 million by the end of the decade. The numbers mounted, comfortably exceeding the 100 million mark but then, in 2000, the tobacco ran out. Worse still the drive to make cigars had concentrated on a few easily made sizes and ignored the change in fashion for more stylish shapes like the Robusto or Torpedo-shaped Montecristo No. 2. The result was that for several years the Havanas we wanted were being rushed through to retailers' shelves and were being smoked too young.

Now, there's nothing wrong with buying fresh...

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