H Upmann Magnum 52 Year of the Tiger arrives in Hong Kong

H Upmann Magnum 52 Year of the Tiger arrives in Hong Kong

by Nick Hendry

Habanos SA have, in recent years, developed a strong tradition of creating special Cuban cigars to commemorate big occasions.  These Limited Editions are always eagerly awaited, and swiftly snapped up, by collectors looking to continue their game of one-upmanship when comparing the rarity of their humidor contents.  A great many of these collectors are now based in east Asia, and it is for that market in particular that the latest such release is designed: The H. Upmann Magnum 52 Year of the Tiger.

The Magnum 52 itself is like many other special releases, in that it is a large format of a well-respected brand.  The 52 ring gauge by 5 ⅞ inch size is known as Segundos on the factory floor, and has been created exclusively for this cigar.  The imposing size is paired with luxurious packaging and branding to elevate this release to a level of luxury saved only for a few special smokes – the foot of each cigar is protected by an extra foil band depicting a tiger, and is presented in a stunning red-and-gold lacquered box.

The H Upmann Magnum 52 Year of the Tiger

Each Magnum 52 has an extra band to protect the foot.  All images courtesy of Habanos SA.

These colours have been chosen for each of the Chinese zodiac releases from Cuba – and the number of cigars in the box has been 8 or 18 – because of their traditional associations with luck and prosperity.  Habanos SA are not alone in this approach: Davidoff use the same tactics for their zodiac releases, as do many other non-Cuban brands.  The cigars don’t come cheap: the H Upmann Magnum 52 are about HKD852 (CHF100) per cigar on initial release, and will immediately command more on the resale market, with prices likely to be roughly similar when released in “limited quantities” to the rest of the world later this year.

Why, then, has there been such a surge of activity by cigar brands, Cuban and non-Cuban alike, in the Asian market?  The answer is simple: the appetite of the smokers there.  At the inaugural Habanos World Days festival last summer it was confirmed that China had officially become the single biggest nation for Cuban cigar purchases from Habanos SA.  Europe collectively remains the largest regional buyer of the product, but there has long been speculation and commiseration at the number of those cigars which eventually find their way into the hands of Chinese collectors.  It stands to reason, then, that such valuable customers will be rewarded with some exceptional special editions.

The special band of the H Upmann Magnum 52 Year of the Tiger

The sale, around 2 years ago, of Imperial Tobacco’s cigar interests – which included 51% of Habanos SA – to Chinese “private buyers” is frequently blamed these days when Cuban cigar supplies dwindle, or are late to arrive in Europe.  The visibility of super-wealthy Chinese guests at the last in-person Habanos Festival (about 50 of them collectively splashed out $2.1 million at the auction) does nothing to dispel the rumours that European supply is being purposely limited, diverted away to Asia to sit in display cabinets and basements, probably never to be smoked by anyone.  Lounges and stores all over London are filled with smokers, many of whom are well-heeled and committed collectors themselves, lamenting the end of Europe’s ‘special treatment’ by the Cuban exporters.

The red lacquer box of H Upmann Magnum 52 Year of the Tiger cigars

This blame, though, is somewhat unfair.  Yes, Chinese collectors are a powerful collective force and yes, Havana is producing more cigars for the Asian market – the first Malaysian Regional Edition being a prime example – but this does not need to be a sign of anything nefarious, and is not the death knell to the European cigar market many seem to think it is.  While China was the largest single nation market for Habanos in 2020, Europe still made up 60% of the revenue for the company, compared to Asia-Pacific’s 16%.  This ratio may swing a little when the 2021 figures arrive in a month or so, but still clearly show Europe as the most important region.  When Asian collectors are showing themselves to be such avid fans of the Cuban product, why wouldn’t they be catered to with cigars which commemorate their culture and festivals, just as Europeans are?  Only one Limited Edition cigar was released for 2020, and it was introduced to the world in Madrid, not Shanghai.

There is no denying that Cuban cigars have been harder and harder to come by of late, with reports of empty shelves in Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels all too common.  The reasons are much less sinister than a clandestine campaign to divert all shipments to the east, and hopefully fairly easy to overcome in the months ahead.  The obvious disruption to production and distribution brought on by the pandemic is the main villain here.  Most factories were operating at 50% capacity if they were lucky, and some closed altogether, which will have a clear and obvious affect on the stock we are receiving now.  Getting the cigars that did manage to be rolled off the island was the next problem, and one that is only know being slowly solved.  Add this to harvest issues in preceding years and the continued attempts by the people to obtain more freedoms for themselves from the government, and having to deal with the retribution that follows, and we have a group of problems which pose far more of a threat to European supply cigar availability than competition from other regions.

Cuba is a small nation, and her ability to produce cigars is limited – that’s what makes them so precious.  We will have to work through a period of savouring our stock until the knock-on of the last 2 years rights itself, but we should not be blaming our fellow aficionados for the dearth of cigars.  Rather, we should join them to enjoy the magnificent cigars created each year to honour their festival, starting with the H Upmann Magnum 52, and toast to a productive Year of the Tiger.

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