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Cohiba Behike – A Brief History

I remember just over 28 years ago, in March 1982 to be precise, when Jemma’s late father, Nicholas Freeman, returned to London from Havana with the news that Cubatabaco was about to launch a new cigar and that Hunters & Frankau had been appointed as the UK distributor for it. It was called Cohiba.

In those days information about the brand was scant. For example we had no idea that Cohiba had already existed for 16 years, since 1966, nor that it had been reserved for the Cuban President’s personal consumption and for his gifts to foreign Heads of State.

Our first shipments did not arrive until 1984, but, in anticipation, we were able to obtain a few Lanceros, one of the original three Cohiba sizes, from time to time by rather a circuitous route.

The Cohibas presented annually by Cuba’s President to the House of Windsor would find their way to Prince Charles, who is not a smoker. However, the Prince was wont, on the occasions when they met, to give some of these rare cigars to a certain Jimmy, now Sir Jimmy Savile, who is a smoker. In turn Jimmy would pass a few on to the Manager at Alfred Dunhill where he bought his cigars. And occasionally, very occasionally the Manager at Dunhill would pass some on to us.

By 1984 we had learnt that the name Cohiba was a word used by Cuba’s indigenous inhabitants, the Taino Indians, to describe a roll of dry leaves, which they lit up and smoked as part of a religious ritual. Cohiba, therefore, was the first name for a cigar – in Cuba at any rate.
Later we learnt the strange story of the brand’s birth. How a cigar roller from Havana’s La Corona factory, named Eduardo Rivera, had a friend who happened to be Fidel Castro’s bodyguard. Rivera was in the habit of rolling up a few special cigars after work to smoke himself and to share with his friends. Castro obtained some from the bodyguard and liked the cigars so much that it was decided to set up a special factory to make them in a deserted mansion in a suburb of Havana, called El Laguito or the Little Lake.

At that time, the mid-‘60s, the boys from Langley, Virginia – the CIA – were determined get rid of Castro by any means they could including, believe it or not, an exploding cigar. Consequently El Laguito became a top secret location where five of the best cigar rollers were installed to produce cigars for the President, which, regardless of what other effects they might have, would not blow his head off.
In 1966, Castro’s close confidante, Celia Sanchez, chose the name Cohiba for the brand. At the same time, also on Celia Sanchez’s advice, El Laguito became the first school for women cigar rollers. Today the majority of cigars made at El Laguito are still crafted by women.

The three sizes launched to the public in 1982 were the medium to full flavoured Lancero, Coronas Especial and Panetela, known in the factory as Laguito Nos. 1, 2, and 3.

In 1989 three more medium to full flavoured sizes were added to complete what is now called the Linea Clasica or Classic Line. These were the Esplendido, Robusto and the Exquisito.

Then, in 1992, the five sizes of the Linea 1492 (Siglos I to V) with a medium flavour were launched, to which the phenomenal Siglo VI was added a decade later in 2002.

2007 saw a new line of three medium to full flavoured cigars with dark wrappers introduced, known as Cohiba Maduro 5.

Cohiba has come a long way in the last 28 years, and tonight, we have three more exceptional Cohibas with a distinctive, rich taste introduced under the name Behike.

What does Behike mean? Well, cast your minds back to the Taino Indian’s ritual at which they lit up their Cohibas. The person conducting that ceremony was called the Behike, so it means anything from a priest to a medicine man. How to pronounce it is another matter (bay-he-kay), but if tomorrow the cigar merchants of Britain are full of eager enthusiasts demanding their “Be Hikes”, it won’t bother me, and anyway Habanos S.A has given us a handy alternative with the sizes names: BHK 52, BHK 54 and BHK 56, which incidentally have the factory names Laguito Nos. 4, 5 and 6.
The numbers 52, 54 and 56, in case you hadn’t guessed, refer to the ring gauges, so we have three stout new cigars in our hands.

I find it fascinating that only 8 years ago the widest, straight-sided Habano was 50 ring gauge, like the Robusto. Then came the Siglo VI at 52. Now we have gone up to 54 and 56 gauge. It appears that obesity is affecting Habanos too!

In the BHKs, there is good reason for the extra girth because it enables all of them to accommodate the extra, fourth type of leaf in the blend of filler – the Medio Tiempo.

Classified as Fortaleza Cuatro (Strength 4), medio tiempo is a very scarce leaf obtained only from the two uppermost leaves on sun-grown tobacco plants. It’s a sort of super-ligero. However not all plants produce these leaves, and the availability of sufficient medio tiempo to be used in regular production depends very much upon the skill and dedication of Cuba’s farmers and the climatic conditions during the growing season.

Medio Tiempo’s scarcity is the reason why supplies of Cohiba Behikes will always be limited.

However, when they are available, you will find that Medio Tiempo delivers a greater intensity in the tobacco’s flavour.

Behikes are described as the ultimate expression of the taste and aroma of the Habano.

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