In Liverpool city center, there’s a throng for a St. Patrick’s Day parade. The pavements are packed with noisy revelers ready for a day of celebration. Just a short distance away, in the magnificent subterranean speakeasy which is the Puffin’ Rooms, things are just as busy, but everyone’s silent. The cigar lounge is full to capacity and the gathered audience – members of which have bought tickets for this one-off cigar masterclass – is enthralled. They’ll sit like this for over two hours as Didier Houvenaghel spreads some cigar love. “Cigars became a bit of an obsession for me,” admits the personable Belgian after his floorshow talk and Q&A, which highlighted two of his cigars, some keen insights into the world of a modern-day cigar maker – and a couple of show-stopping cigar tricks. “I studied in Cuba and the passion was really cemented there, both for Cuba’s people and the art of making cigars. And I realized that one day I wanted to make my own.”
That day came when Houvenaghel met A.J. Fernandez in Nicaragua.“We met a few times years ago, we hit it off, and one thing led to another,” he says, sipping Flor de Caña rum, also served as part of the ticket price for the Puffin’ Rooms gathering. “Abdel is an absolute maestro when it comes to cigars.” Houvenaghel is a man of detail. He is meticulous in his research and in painstakingly crafting blend after blend in conjunction with Fernandez, while coming up with each of his precious lines. “They’re like my children,” he says. “Each one is very important to me.”
He’s also head of NyB Cigars, which has just opened a brand new, state-of-the-art distribution facility in Belgium. It includes a huge bonded warehouse, which gives Houvenaghel the ability to ensure that his boutique brands – the likes of Nicarao, La Preferida, La Ley and Furia are distributed as widely as possible. NyB also handles distribution for A.J. Fernandez lines outside the US. Elegantly dressed, with a neat beard and glasses, Houvenaghel could be mistaken for a university lecturer as he gives his talk; the enthusiasm and passion for his subject are infectious. Several members of his audience find themselves studying their smokes intensely, seemingly seeing their hand-rolled cigars in a whole new light.
I won’t give anything away, for fear of ruining the surprise for future Houvenaghel masterclass participants, but I’ll say this: watch what the man can do with a glass of water and a cigar, as well as a party trick with a firm cigar ash. But there’s a lot more to Didier Houvenaghel than parlor tricks. If you love cigars, you’ll love time spent in his company – and there’s a fair chance you’ll love his carefully crafted cigars, too. They are blended with love, pay homage to cigar history, and come from a collaboration between two of the most exciting New World cigar men in the industry.
What’s not to love?
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Summer Edition 2018. Read more