**Note: I wrote this article in 2018, and for reasons unknown I saved the draft, but never published it. I hope you enjoy it! -MDG
Before I ever started coming to Havana on a regular basis I was told of the man who would be king. Alejandro Gonzalez may not be the best cigar roller in the world… but if he isn’t, I don’t know who is. On my first visit to his store – La Escogida at the Hotel Comodoro in Miramar – I picked up a bundle of his custom rolled cigars, and it was not long before I was a convert. Alejandro is the master; still in his early thirties, he is only showing signs of getting better. I have been proud to call him a friend.
A few years ago his store – not an actual LCDH, but very reputable nonetheless – was situated off the lobby of the hotel’s lobby. It was showing its age, despite being lovingly maintained by the very capable staff. They were excited about their new location where they would eventually move. Located in the new bungalows off the bar, they have made their new home truly welcoming.
La Escogida is not large, but it is spacious and comfortable. Whether you walk in from outside or from the patio bar, you are greeted by a different experience than a lot of the darker, old-world private men’s club feeling of many of the other stores I have been to. The walls are a shade of white, allowing the furniture to feature, rather than the walls.
While La Escogida has a good selection of Habanos, both standards and harder to find gems, the true treasure of this store (aside from Farrah, Cathy, and Alejandro) is the custom rolls. Available as individuals or bundles of twenty-five, and in sizes and shapes ranging from Corona to BHK 56, the custom rolls here are absolutely every bit as good as any production cigar I have had, and in some cases much better.
The VIP lounge in La Escogida is brighter than many others, with he same off-white walls, adorned with photos of Groucho Marx, Orsen Wells, Che Guevara, and several other high-profile historical cigar smokers. The ventilation is excellent, having been a factor considered heavily in the design and construction. Unlike many of the lounges I have been to, here is a large window that you can open if you prefer fresh air to the comfortable air conditioning. Here is also a TV mounted on the wall, and you can easily watch a football match, the news, or anything you desire… I remember watching the Wimbledon matches there last year, much better than the current fare of CNN.
Alejandro’s predecessor at the location was a true legend, and when he retired here was a concern that the custom rolls here might suffer. In finding Alejandro the future reputation of the store was guaranteed. I never smoked a custom roll from here before Alejandro, but I cannot imagine they could have been better.
The wonderful staff – all of whom have been here longer than I have been coming here – are knowledgeable, helpful, and extremely friendly. I have seen on several occasions when a customer asked for a particular cigar that they did not have, they pointed the customer in the right direction, even calling other stores to track them down. If you are looking for something special, they will tell you where to get it.
Today I decided to enjoy a Number 2 Figuerado. A figuerado, commonly known as a torpedo cigar, is tapered at one end, and the number 2 torpedo is a popular vitola from brands such as the Montecristo and Diplomatico; other torpedoes include some wonderful cigars, such as the slightly larger Cohiba Pyramida Extra. I cut it with a Xikar V cutter, my favourite way to cut a torpedo or a perfecto. Some people prefer the deeper and wider Colibri V cutter; unless the cigar draws tight, I prefer the slimmer and more shallow Xikar, but that is a personal preference. Of course, with a torpedo it is impossible to punch it, and I prefer the V.
The draw on Alejandro’s Number 2 is perfect, and no correction is required. It is a softer cigar than many others I usually enjoy, but certainly enjoyable. It has a fruity note, with earthy and nutty undertones. The retrohale is a very soft leather, and is smooth and silky.
If you watch my video of Alejandro rolling a cigar, you can see the care that goes into every Cuban cigar. But only the very best rollers will create a cigar with such a perfect construction; an inch into smoking the cigar the ash was perfect, and I was able to stand the cigar on the ash without any issues. Do not try that with a lesser stick.
Depending on your preference, Alejandro rolls many different vitolas, ranging from the smaller Robusto, right to his rendition of the Cohiba Behike 56, and even larger ones by special order. On this trip I have opted to take home some of his Genios vitolas, a pack of Torpedos, and some Robustos. If I decide to splurge, I may also grab some Behike 56 and Churchills. You can buy them as individuals or packs of 25, and the prices are much more reasonable than the Habanos labeled cigars, which in many cases are the same cigar.
Because the cigar industry is protected by the government, you are only allowed to take up to 20 unbranded cigars out of the country, along with whatever boxes you choose. It is important to remember that this is different from what you are allowed to bring into your country, which depends on the tax and import laws of that country. I have many friends who have brought over their limit back with them, only to end up with a hefty tax bill at the airport. In the USA I understand the tax is only 4%, but in Canada it is over 200%, eliminating whatever deals you may have thought you had. The personal exemption for Canada is 50 cigars, whether branded or not.
There are several excellent cigar rollers working at stores in Havana, as well as other cities and towns in Cuba. They make tremendous cigars, definitely worth trying for sure. I have met many of them and smoked their cigars, and am convinced that Alejandro is the best cigar roller, producing the best custom rolls in the country. For my money, there is no better bargain.