The cigar world is chock-full of personality, and recently I had the pleasure of interviewing and chatting with Bernie Leong of The Havana Club in Honolulu, HI. Let me start by saying, I could tell right away Bernie was a great guy, and his passion bled through the phone. So why call a guy who owns a Cigar shop in Hawaii at 11PM when I should be sleeping? Because Leong and my good buddy Akhil Kapacee of Regius Cigars are producing a Regional Edition Regius for Hawaii. … While traveling in Honk Kong, Leong was at a Regius event hosted by Pacific Cigar Company (Habanos distributors in Asia) at the Cohiba Atmosphere private lounge and just so happened to sit next Akhil’s rep John. Bernie immediately fell in love with the Regius blend, inquired about opening them up, and before he got back home, John and Terence Reilly had his account ready to go. From there the relationship with Akhil and Regius blossomed, as Leong professed to embrace diamonds in the rough and never chase down bandwagon cigars.
***At this time the secondary band is obviously not the final design***
I talked with Leong for quite some time about his history in the business and why he chose Kapacee to make this blend. Bernie related stories of working with Pete Johnson and Andre Farkas before they got big in the industry, and about embracing the Viaje and Tatuaje brands before they hit it big. These were gentlemen with passion for cigars, that worked their tails off to make it where they are now. Leong saw the same vision in Kapacee, and given their mutual love of Habanos, he was drawn to the blending style of Regius. Oddly, we both shared stories of pulling the bands off the original blend and giving them to Habanos smokers to get their reaction when told these were Nicaraguan cigars. Leong wanted to create an ultra premium Regional Blend for Hawaii that is unique and unlike anything in their market, distributed from his shop The Havana Club in Honolulu. The two sizes will be a petite robusto at 4x50 retailing for $10, and a robusto 5x50 retailing at $12. Boxes will be limited to 1001 of each size, adding up to 2002 total, which is the year he started in the business. Release date will be May 19th, Leong’s birthday, which I must say is the most awesome day of the year, as it is mine as well. The blend will be available online and in his store upon release, his website is here: The Havana Club.
Filler: Nicaraguan with half leaf of Brazilian Arapiraca
Dry Draw: light brown sugar notes
First Third: The retrohale was too strong for my tastes, which caught me off guard knowing Akhil’s style of blending. The draw was full of flavor and body, enough that Logan or Matt would like it. The main note to me was sugar cane, similar to the experience of chewing on it. The power, body, and spice coated my entire tongue, yet finished quick and concise so as not to overwhelm the palate. Some dark nut flavors were present, but as the blend balanced, the Havana Club reminded me specifically of salty Asian BBQ. At times, I swear it tasted like teriyaki. The sugar and salt notes hit the retrohale, while the spices lingered on the palate. I was taken aback at how much body the blend had, without causing any palate burn by this time.
Second Third: The salty meaty taste was on fire at this point, adding a marked red pepper burn. At times, I was reminded of dashes of soy and sriracha, which I douse regularly on Asian dishes I make at home. The amount of heat was not enough to burn, just enough to standout between the salty and sugary notes that seemed to dominate the cigar. At this point, the Havana Club was a damn smoke bomb as well, and the oils of the wrapper seemed to be combusting to perfection.
Final Third: The blend began to smooth out a bit, which is opposite of Akhil’s blending style. The spice was still coating my tongue in a rich thick layer. The meaty qualities became less salty, but the draw still provided the initial sugar cane experience. Citrus flavors began to flow as well, and the salty flavors came back into play for the last few draws. This third was all over the place with the addition of citrus, and the flavors seemed to come and go, continually teasing the palate and coating the tongue. The finish was long and lingered for minutes by this time.
Construction: No issues, although someone might bitch about the two bands taking up a lot of real estate. I could care less, I don't smoke bands, and it's a 4 inch cigar.
Final Thoughts: Leong is what he refers to as a “chronic,” as in, he has a chronic problem with cigars, which is why he got into the business. He actually referred to me as a chronic first, and it took a while to figure out what that was, in that, Leong needs to run a cigar shop to support his habit, so it makes sense to make a blend as well. Bernie was full of quotes honestly, but the one that stuck out the most to me was, “don’t smoke the band, don’t smoke the box, sit down and let’s have a smoke.” Leong and Kapacee set out to create something unique and they achieved it. Bernie and I both described the cigar as meaty, and reminiscent of older Habanos blends, such as Sancho Panza, vintage San Cristobal, or Rafael Gonzalez to my palate. Leong’s favorite Habanos is a Short Bolivar, which immediately made sense to me, as I could relate the body and flavors of the Havana Club to this blend.
My opinion is the Havana Club is an after dinner cigar, robust with flavor and body, but not the type of power to tire the palate. Fans of Tatuaje will like this, and I think guys like Logan and Matt will enjoy the amount of body and spice the blend offers. For those palates, it may be an anytime cigar. This is not your normal Regius blend, but the finish, depth and complexity is what I have come to expect from Kapacee. The Havana Club is another fine example out of how far Nicaraguan cigars have come, as the heavy aftertaste I normally associate with the spicier tobacco from this region was not present. Leong suggested that his long-term vision would be to take this nationwide, and I told him my no bullshit opinion was it will hit a ton of palates. The Havana Club has the body to attract the modern palate, with the depth to tease critical minds. The meaty flavor is unique, and you would have to had experienced it before in vintage Habanos to truly understand the palate this was blended from. This is not a beginner cigar, it is a delicatessen to sit down, relax, and appreciate with good company. I highly recommend checking one out if you happen to come across it, and I cannot wait to sit down with Bernie and chat over a good meal or cocktails at IPCPR. I see the same passion and greatness Leong referred to seeing in Akhil in this blend. Bravo gentlemen.
Thanks to Akhil for the exclusive prereleases for Cigar Federation as always, and thanks to Bernie for chatting with me over the phone late at night.