Another year down at IPCPR, and another year of good times and memories. This year the IPCPR team was all business honestly, and we had very little time to relax. As each day ended, I was looking forward to taking a nap, instead of going out. We learned a ton this year, and grew exponentially. I wanted to write about two booths that impacted me the most, or left me with an impression wanting more. Those two booths were the Atabey booth, and the UberGuide app. Some folks might scoff at the fact I do not include my Hirochi Robaina experience, and to be honest, that is the most important story of the show in my opinion. However, Hirochi will get his time in the spotlight, including a review from me, so I wanted to spotlight lesser known booths that caught my attention. Enter the brand Atabey, of which I had heard great things from Coop and Seth.
The brand Atabey, along with Bandolero and Byron cigars, all made by a man named Nelson Alfonso. Nelson did not want to do a video interview, so I recorded some of our conversation on my phone mic with his permission. Nelson is the creative genius behind recent and current branding of Habanos, and a virtual walking encyclopedia of Cuban tobacco history. When you see the luxurious packaging of the Behike, credit Alfonso. The ornate jars, tubos, travel humidors, etc…, are all credited to this man and you can see the resemblance in the packaging of his Non-Cuban brands. All his jars, tubos, and unique packaging have humidification built in and standalone as collector’s items. The story behind the cigars is even better. I sat down for a short interview at the end of the day and fired up on of his Atabey cigars as he insisted I try it on a fried palate. The cigar was so good, when we got kicked out at 5pm and I had to put it out, I clipped it in half instead, relit it two hours later, and the cigar was still fantastic. For what it is worth, a connection of the name Atabey to the Behike exists as well. The Behike is the shaman of the ceremony involving the Cohiba, and Atabey is the female Taino divinity the tribe prays to.
Nelson is a Cuban citizen, allowed to travel in the states and produce cigars on a very limited basis in Costa Rica. He brings all the tobacco into a factory run by a good friend, without using any Costa Rican tobacco. He would not comment on where the tobacco comes from, but his procedure was fascinating. Nelson sorts every leaf of every plant for specific blends and sizes. This means on one plant, he may choose a darker ligero leaf to sort for Bandolero, then a lighter one for Atabey. His reasoning behind this is the sugar content in the leaf, and keeping a uniform color keeps the balance and consistency from cigar to cigar. Each leaf from every plant is specifically chosen, sorted by blend and size, than fermented accordingly. A single plant may end up going to three blends, or different sizes depending on color. That way every cigar has wrapper, binder, and filler sorted by color (sugar content) to create a consistent flavor from box to box according to Alfonso. His thought process is five years down the line, every cigar will be the same, and that his line will always be consistent, due to every leaf being sorted, fermented, and aged together for specific blends and sizes all ending up the same. Personally, I felt that this attention to detail was worth noting, as we often see cigars with different color tobaccos, and variance from cigar to cigar in a single box. This type of quality control justifies the end price in my opinion.
The next part of our conversation revolved around the fact he ages his cigars for three years post rolling, and blends cedar for his aging cabinets. I cannot say I have ever heard anyone blends cedar for an aging cabinet. The cedar Alfonso employs is blended from Cuba, Mexico, Brazil, and from Lebanon. Alfonso believes the cedar gives the cigar a part of the quality and impacts the aroma when aged for 2-3 years before he releases his cigars to the consumers. Alfonso also takes great care in packaging his cigars for transit as well. The blended cedars he uses are employed to get cigars ready to sell, as he claims to take up to 30 days just to insure that a package is balanced properly with humidity and cedar to deliver to his distributor.
Without a doubt, the Atabey was the best cigar I smoked at the show. The Bandolero I had was the 60rg, and it was a bit muted towards the end. However, I do have one of each to review. I did get a Byron, but the foot was damaged enough that I will not review it. The price of the Atabey and Byron is rather expensive. Some Habanos fans will probably look at this and scoff, simply because they can buy regular Behike for the same price. To a degree, I think they have a point in regard to the price being charged for these cigars. Why buy a $30 super premium non-Cuban when you can buy the real thing? My answer is a good cigar is a good cigar, and I have had my fair share of Behike’s without a few years aging that were muted or off balance. The thing I like the most about cigars like this is they are ready to smoke now, and they keep my hands off my Habanos collection. I am very excited to review both the Bandolero and Atabey in the coming months and will make both a priority. I think I offered several times to buy some in cash at the show, but alas, they would not sell me any.