Robaina's plantation

Friday, 30 May 2014

Alejandro Gonzalez Arias (house roller) Hotel Comodoro Havana

                The chair behind the Rollers Bench had been empty for several months at the Hotel Comodoro Cigar Shop in the Miramar district of Havana. Anyone who knew the previous roller, Crisantos, was anxiously awaiting who would fill that seat. For those of you who don't know, Crisantos was known to be one of the best rollers in the city. He vacated his position due to retirement. I for one had made several visits to the shop while it had no roller. Knowing everyone there (excellent service) and being close to where I stay when I'm in Havana, having no roller didn't stop me from dropping in. I enjoy smoking a cigar and having a chat with the store manager Andre who has become a friend over the years. On my trip in January the replacement had finally arrived. I had the pleasure of meeting him the week he started but didn't have the time to have a lengthy chat. However, this trip I prepared to have a sit down and ask him a few questions.
                Alex is very young to be in this position, the youngest roller I know working in a cigar shop. Most of the rollers in the cigar shops in Cuba, male or female, are all around retirement age or nearing it. That doesn't mean he can't roll a cigar. As a matter of fact he does a fantastic job. I have yet to try all his vitolas but I can tell you his signature Behike 52 is the bomb. Watch out for this guy, he's only 28 and I can't imagine what he's going to be like 20-30 years from now. Born in July 1986, single with no children, he's never traveled outside the country and lives almost within walking distance of the Hotel.

1. How long have you been in the industry and do you have any family members that are in it?

    I've been rolling for 6-7 years and have no family members in the industry.

2. How did you know you wanted to do this and what was the process?

    I was working at the market at the Marina Hemingway and there was a roller there. Everyday I would watch the roller and in time we became friends. She could tell I was interested and one day asked me if I wanted to learn how to roll cigars. She taught me the basics but I took the course at the 'El Laguito' factory to become a roller.

3. What is your favourite Vitola to roll?

    The Behike 52.

4. How many cigars do you smoke a day and what do you like to drink with them?

    I smoke one cigar a day, I like to test what I'm rolling, it's my way of doing a quality check. When the moment allows me I like to drink a whiskey with my cigar.

5. Were you nervous knowing you would be taking over Crisantos' old position?

    No, I knew what I was getting into and the prestige that this Cigar Shop's roller's table held. Customers are surprised to see me there and not Crisantos but little by little I'm winning them over. It's a long process but I do the best I can and hopefully I will be accepted.

6. How many cigars do you roll a day and who picks the leaf?

    The amount of cigars I roll a day depends on demand. Right now it's about 10-20 per day. The leaf is sent to us by Habanos but I have the right to inspect it before accepting it and if it doesn't meet my standards I can send it back.

7. What's your favorite sport?

    Squash. (the answer actually surprised they even have squash courts here)

8. Really?? I meant to watch?

    Football (which means soccer to us North Americans)

9. What about baseball and do you have a favorite team?

    What Cuban doesn't like baseball was his answer (it was like a no brainer). Industriales is his favorite baseball team. When it comes to soccer he says that he likes it all as long as it's a good game but if he had to pick a team he named Barcelona.

             Alex is a very personable young man who doesn't seem to have an ego. I bumped into a couple of fellow Canadians visiting the shop while Alex was out and asked them what they thought of his cigars. They answered that they loved Crisantos' but that Alex's are better. When I told Alex about the encounter and what he thought about what they said he answered with, they're not better, just different, every roller has his liga (blend) and every smoker has a preference. Mine are not better, they may just appeal to some more than others. I can tell you that his signature cigar, the Behike 52, is fantastic and is worth the visit to shop to try (and buy). As for his other Vitolas, I purchased one of each and will try them in the near future. While I was there I was looking for something long and skinny, like a Lancero, but he didn't have any. He had me pick the Vitola I wanted from a book and within the hour I had my cigars....I loved it. Watch out for this guy folks and pay him a visit.....and please tell him I say hello.

Alejandro (Alex) Gonzalez Arias
Hotel Comodoro
3ra y Calle 84
Miramar, Playa, Havana
tel. 204-5551 ext.1272


His Lineup


This picture was taken last January, the week Alex started work at the Comodoro. He remembered my taking this picture and told me on this trip that these were the first cigars he rolled for the shop. Wow, what a score.

Alex with co-worker

Hotel Comodoro

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Encuentro Amigos de Partagas 'En Italia' (Cuban Cigar Aficionado Event) June 25-28

                For those of you who read my Blog or are Cigar Aficionados and know of the goings-on in the Cigar Culture in Havana you know that the 'Encuentro Amigos de Partagas' is a biannual event that's organized by the 'Partagas Shop' in Old Havana for Cigar lovers from around the world. It's more than that to the people that have attended this week long event and it's especially so for those who have gone to a few. If you've had the fortune to have been to a few such as I have, it becomes like a fraternity. We might only see each other once a year but we pickup from where we left off. The bond is also with the Partagas Shop and it's amazing staff that have created a venue where these friendships could begin and continue to bring us together twice a year. Men and Women come from all over the world to participate in the event but there's a particular group of men that come from Italy that have made the trek every year for many years. These men are members of the 'Cigar Club Matelica' which was started in 2005.
                 Since the Club's inception, a similar gathering such as the 'Encuentro Amigos de Partagas' has taken place once a year in the Region of Italy where the Club started. It promotes Cuban and Local culture with an abundant consumption of Cuban Cigars with some even being vintage. They have also brought over illuminaries from Cuba to participate such as 'La China' (house roller at the Partagas Store), Jose Castelar 'Cueto' (Guinness World Record holder for longest cigar), Abel Esposito (ex-manager of the Partagas Shop) as well as others from the Partagas Shop. Even though you're in Italy, the feel is very Cuban and that was the idea....except the food is much better. People from all over the world attend this event, some of which also go to the one in Havana. My friend Francesco Minetti, President of the Cigar Club Matelica, who I met at my first Encuentro many years ago, has asked me to Post the details to their next event. Unfortunately I can never make the event myself due to my work schedule but wish I could. It's my pleasure to let everyone know about it's upcoming festivities.


WEDNESDAY   25/06/2014

H. 10,00 Breakfast
H. 10,30 Board a bus for 'LA LOCANDA (Inn) DEL PRETE' in SARAGANO (PG)
-an old country home in a Medieval village in Umbria where one of the few Cigar Clubs of Italy is located

H. 12,30 Cocktails

From 13,00 Lunch at the Inn's Restaurant
Until  14,30 Memorabilia Show

H. 15,00 Habanos Seminar given by learned speakers: Stefano Minoia, Jose Castelar 'Cueto' & Leopoldina Gutierrez Espinosa (aka. 'La China')

THURSDAY   26/06/2014

H. am Guest's Welcome
H. am City Visit

H. 13,30 Lunch

From 15,00 Pictorial and photographic Exhibit
Until  19,30 Memorabilia and Objects of Interest Exhibit

At The Same Time

H. 15,00 City Visit
OR     Visit The Consorzio Tutela Verdicchio Wine Cellars & Alternatively Visit the City
H. 21,30 Country or Peasant Party
        Outdoor Grill with Rum, Cigars and Live Music

FRIDAY   27/06/2014

From 10,00 Pictorial and photographic Exhibit
Until  12,30 Memorabilia and Objects of Interest Exhibit
H. 13,30         Lunch
From 14,30   Workshop Presentation of "Classical Music & Cigars" Speakers include: Paul Jucker, Stefano Minoia & Giuseppe Elefante  
Until  16,30      
At The Same Time

H. 17,30 Vintage Cuban Cigar Tasting Seminar & Cuban Rum with Giuseppe Elefante, Alejandro Gonzales Pollan & Master Rum Maker.

       At The Same Time

From  15,00 Wine Tasting at Fabriano's Covered Market as well as Trying Products Typical of the Region
Until   20,30
H. 21,30 Welcome Party with Cuban Music & Possibly a Show

SATURDAY    28/06/2014

From 10,00 Pictorial and photographic Exhibit
Until  12,30 Memorabilia and Objects of Interest Exhibit
H. 13,00         Lunch
From 15,00 Pictorial and photographic Exhibit
Until  19,30 Memorabilia and Objects of Interest Exhibit

At The Same Time

From 15,00 Wine Tasting Booth at Piazza Garibaldi with
Until  20,30 Aperitif & Tasting Typical Products of the Region

H. 16,30 Vintage Cuban Cigar Tasting & Seminar along with a Cuban Rum
H. 21,30 Gala-Dinner with Cuban Music & Eventual Internal Lottery

All of the above is priced at 290,00€

This of course does not include accommodations.

For additional information &/or to book function, please contact:
Francesco Minetti

             The people organizing the event have several options for places to stay, some of which are priced quite reasonably. I'm sure they would be more than happy to send that information as well as information on how to make payment. 
             Below I've posted some pictures from previous encounters. I recognize many of the faces from people who have often turned up at the Mother Event in Havana. The festivities mirror the original and I can tell you from my personal experiences that if you're a Cigar Aficionado this is the party to be at. Everyone is in a great mood and having a good time as you can tell from the pictures and there's lots of cigar smoking with nobody telling you that you can't. One day I hope to make it to this event, I'm sure I would have a spectacular time.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Hector Luis Prieto Tobacco Plantation (Pinar del Rio) A Visit

                 I met Hector a few years ago on his farm the year after he had won the Hombre Habano award in 2009. When he won the award in 2008, he was the youngest man to have ever done so. Almost five years have gone by and some very notable changes have taken place on his property. What was once a dream of his has now become a reality. A lovely Ranchon with a stocked bar (& electricity to power my laptop) has been built which can accommodate a good number of people. He's all setup to receive large groups of tourists who take tours along the Tobacco Route in the Pinar del Rio region of Cuba. He finally finished building his house and also had a nice Humidor/Office erected which is where he keeps his Habano's award as well as his personal stock of cigars....he's an avid smoker. I found Hector more laid back than I did the last time, he seems to have settled in nicely to his new found fame. I also found tobacco growing when it shouldn't have been. Last year's growing season, which is usually between Nov.-Feb., was horrible. Most everyone lost a good deal of their crops due to way too much rain. However, the Spring has proven to be ideal for growing tobacco this year so why not take advantage of the great conditions and make up for lost product. I was assured the quality of the leaf would be no different and the quality of tobacco on this plantation is one of the best in Cuba.
                 Miquel, the ever animated house roller, is still there and still rolling some of the best cigars on this side of the island. I met him before he worked for Hector while he rolled cigars for another farmer. You can't pay a visit to one of these places and not have one of their house specialties...I had two. Everything seems to be fine as I found everyone relaxed and in good spirits. Below are a few of the pictures I took while I was there.

Hector Luis Prieto Diaz,
Hombre Habano,
Finca Quemado de Rubi,
San Juan y Martinez, Pinar del Rio

Curing Barn

Miquel (House Roller)

Hector Luis


Hector's House