The Secrets of the Exclusive
The choosing of leaves for a 5-year aging is the starting point when it comes to making a Gran Reserva habano
Knowing the raw material and its agricultural and curing “record” is the key to handpicking the habanos to be aged for the Gran Reserva
By Jose Maria Lopez Ichaurbe
The merger of the tobacco aging concept, with its improvement and the traditional and proper marketing practice in the winemaking culture, was the origin of the Reserva and Gran Reserva concepts in the habano realm.
The raw materials utilized to roll a habano always undergoes an aging process after the second fermentation. In many cases, the raw material goes through longer aging periods because of the reserves in branch held by the Cuban tobacco industry to guarantee a nonstop production and high-quality habanos, among other reasons.
Beyond that, experts in terms of Cuban black tobacco know that certain types of tobacco feature higher aging potential, which gives their leaves better organoleptic characteristics in the puff.
This knowledge, in line with the tradition of the winemaking realm when it comes to aging spirits in different periods of time for viniculture to label them as Reserva and Gran Reserva, moved Tabacuba and Habanos S.A. to explore that concept in the field of cigars.
The First Puffs
In December 2002, the first Reserva habanos, made up of three-year-aged cigars from the 1998/99 harvest, were put out in the market as Cohiba Reserva 99-2002, a group of five Cohiba vitolas in different formats. Following this project, now with a five-year aging process, Cohiba Siglo VI Gran Reserva was launched back in 2009 and its habanos were rolled with raw material taken from the 2002/03 tobacco harvest. So, both concepts were introduced in habanos by its most innovative brand: Cohiba.
The aging of raw materials in branch and tobacco bales brings about a very subtle and slow refinement of the main organoleptic characteristics in the habano puff. The small spicy notes found in habanos tend to disappear as a result of the reduction of small wefts of ammonia present in fermented tobacco. The cigar gains a sweeter taste and the smoke scent is less penetrating, but keeps the aromatic points of a good habano smoke. Generally speaking, the strength tends to decrease since the leaves slowly lose the contents that give Cuban black tobacco this characteristic.
Leave by Leave… The Miracle Comes Next
Handpicking the leaves to undergo a five-year aging period is the key starting point in the making of a Gran Reserva cigar, since not all tobacco leaves have an aging potential higher than the natural year, which is the standard time for a habano. People in Vuelta Abajo usually say that some raw materials “are washed out” through the aging process, an expression used to define the loss of contents that give Cuban black tobacco its character. During the first fermentation process, after the curing, some tobacco leaves already stand out due to their high levels of content, oil and properties that will qualitatively help them improve during the aging in branch, while other leaves are not suitable for that process since they would lose their contents and become leaves of significant combustibility, but taste and scent are virtually nil.
The property of a leaf to accept higher or lower fermentation is conditioned by the agricultural process (the tobacco plant should have had an optimum development without any water or nutritional stress, etc.) and the proper conditions during the curing process. Moreover, the contents and structure of the ground determine the existence of leaves with higher/lower aging potential.
That’s the reason why knowing the raw material and its agricultural and curing “record” is the key to handpick the cigars to be aged for Gran Reserva.
Another key stage comes next, during the pairing process and tasting sessions of the different blends chosen for a Gran Reserva, since the strength and organoleptic nuances are refined during the aging process, so the blend for a standard cigar in a brand like H. Upmann -we will be launching its Sir Winston Gran Reserva in this Festival- must have light modifications when including five-year-aged cigars in order to keep the brand’s character intact.
Therefore, when it comes to making a Gran Reserva, besides having high-quality raw material to begin the aging period with, it is important to be surrounded by connoisseurs of Cuban tobacco and seasoned blenders to come up with a blend that faithfully stands for the brand with more refined cigars.
Please with Excellence
Up to this year, Habanos has launched four products under the Gran Reserva concept: Cohiba Siglo VI Gran Reserva 2003 was the harbinger, put out back in 2009 with cigars from the 2003 harvest; Montecristo Nº 2 Gran Reserva 2005; Partagás Lusitanias Gran Reserva 2007 and Romeo y Julieta Wide Churchills Gran Reserva 2009. H. Upmann Sir Winston Gran Reserva 2011 will be put on the map in 2017, in this edition of the Habano Festival.
As you can see, all references in which the concept has been introduced are part of Habanos’ standard portfolio, so consumers can establish a qualitative comparison between a normal habano and a Gran Reserva.
These refined cigars, which have endured a five-year-long aging process and subsequent rolling, undoubtedly offer puffing features that make them one and only. They have been highly acclaimed by habano connoisseurs. Such a delicate process can be only carried out with limited amounts and this limit, together with the long making process, shoots the price tag of a Gran Reserva up twice as much as the price of the same habano that didn’t endure this process. In some cases, it actually costs 3 to 4 times more than the standard product.
In such a special product, the presentation and its image positioning are different from the standard product. That’s why it features a deluxe container, double ring, a sticker with an explanatory note on the concept and all containers are numbered from 1 to 5,000. With a production of 75,000 units, the contribution of Gran Reserva to Habanos’ overall sales is not highly significant in terms of volume, since this concept aims at pleasing the most demanding consumers in the habano realm, let alone creating an image of this product as the most exquisite and refined of its kind within the production of premium cigars worldwide.
Around the World
We do our best to let such an exquisite concept as Gran Reserva reach out to all the markets where habanos are sold, at least in minimum quantities, as we find connoisseurs and aficionados in every market. Nevertheless, the strongest markets, where habano culture abounds, and emerging markets that have developed a culture related to our product, eagerly wait for Habanos’ Gran Reserva every other year. It is important to highlight such markets as Spain, France, UK, Germany or Switzerland on the top of the list, along with emerging niches as the UAE, Lebanon and Hong Kong, where there are great expectations and anticipation for this kind of product.