The name of this cigar is a tribute to the Habana Leones, the pre-revolutionary Cuban baseball team also known as “Los Rojos” due to their red uniforms. Ever since baseball was introduced to the island in the mid-nineteenth century, it has been enormously popular. The Leones of the Cuban League era have been compared to the New York Yankees — they were celebrated throughout the nation, but hated by fans of their rivals. And for the Leones, the Almendares Scorpions — also known as “The Blues” — were their Brooklyn Dodgers. So far there is no Scorpions cigar from Don Pepin, so we know where his allegiance lies.
The band on the Habana Leon is an immediate tipoff to its Cuban inspiration: the Partagas Serie D (or P.) And like the PSD this is a powerful cigar. Utilizing a reported 70 percent ligero, this is one of Pepin’s strongest blends. Like most cigars from Rey de Los Habanos, this one uses all Nicaraguan tobaccos.
The torpedo is perfectly proportioned but somewhat shorter than the standard at 5 1/2 inches long. The wrapper is a fairly dry and veiny vintage 2000 corojo, but the roll is rock solid and the cigar feels very well balanced in the hand.
I figured I would need a wide cut for this cigar, so I took about half an inch off the tip with a Palio cutter and fired it up with a torch lighter. The first thing that jumped out at me was a rich skunky odor. Take a typical barnyard kind of tobacco aroma and compound it with rich loam: a nasty dirty lovely smell. The first few puffs were surprisingly smooth, and the rest of the cigar would follow suit.
The draw was a little bit loose, and the stick softened considerably after a few minutes. It burned a little unevenly and required a couple of touchups. The ash is a striated light and dark gray in color, similar to the ash produced by many Cuban cigars. Overall decent, but not great construction.
The Habana Leon is a powerful, but not a hugely spicy cigar. (Another surprise, since almost all the Pepin Garcia cigars I’ve smoked have at least started with a fistful of spice.) The flavors are complex and varied, making this a really interesting experience. It starts out fairly mild in flavor with a short finish and very little aftertaste. What I notice at first is the outstanding aroma rather than the flavor. Within a couple minutes I feel a big buzz coming on and decide to take it slow.
The flavors here evolve slowly and show a lot more subtlety than I expected: some bean flavors, a little papery at times, and some sweetness even. Halfway through the cigar comes the pepper I was expecting at the outset, but it arrives without the expected harshness. The most surprising aspect of this cigar is its smoothness. The finish and aftertaste gain prominence, as expected, but this cigar never gets bitter or sour. By the time I’m ready to put the butt to bed (and my butt into bed) I’m tasting a lot of bright Nicaraguan tobacco flavors typical of Pepin cigars. And to be honest, I almost nubbed this guy, which is unusual for me to do with a strong cigar.
One thing I’ve noticed about all the Pepin cigars I’ve been lucky enough to try is that they benefit greatly from a little humidor time — they seem to mellow out quite a bit in a relatively short amount of time. Maybe traveling makes them grumpy.
This one had been idling in my desktop humidor for about six months and while I had some minor quibbles with the construction, the complexity of the smoke really made up for it. Habana Leon is available from Cigar King for around six or seven dollars. If you like Pepin’s other blends, you’ll love this one. And if you’ve never smoked one of his creations, you’ll get a kick (quite literally) out of this big red brute. Just don’t try it on an empty stomach.