This week has been quite a wild ride. We had one of our biggest events of the year this week, HabanaPalooza. Every year this event grows and impresses everyone including us and this year was no different. We decided to do a wrap-up for all of you that could not make it. I have been to a few of them in the past, but for a decent amount of the guys (and ladies) here, this was their first time so we decided to see what their perspectives were on it.
The first one I went to was the first one, sort of. I went to the first one called HabanaPalooza in 2007. The year before was the 10th anniversary party. Since then, not only have we become much better at organizing and promoting it, but the vendors too have realized how great an event this is and pull no punches with the swag.
As is typical the days before and day of here are like Christmas meets the last day of high school. Vendors from all over are in town at the same time, customers are excited and there is an intense amount of prep work still to be done by all. The event culminates with the descent of a few hundred cigar smokers into the Armory downtown. What an appropriate venue too, I mean why not have it at the place that was once a fortress and now hosts such events as roller-derby and boxing.
In typical fashion, I arrived about an hour late, but this year no one was expecting me, so I was off the hook. I went as a total spectator. I made a b-line right for the Brewery Ommegang table to catch up with an old friend and have a few brews to get in the mood. I fired up a PDR 1878 and began to wander around and shake lots of hands. I made it a point to stop and thank each of the reps and catch up a bit. Each one of them told me how much they enjoyed attending and how they can see the event growing every year. Some have been with us since the beginning, while this was the first for a few others.
It would take me hours to talk about all of the things that went on there, so I will let you in on 2 other perspectives: first we have Travis with his take, and after will be our Graphic Designer Josh on his perspective.
The crowd was excited and having a blast without getting too rowdy, Scotty was his always-charismatic self, telling stories and giving away some very nice raffle prizes. Didn’t see anyone without a big smile on, and from my perspective it just seemed like a very positive event all around for attendees, vendors, and of course us guys and gals at Habana Premium. I set a goal to only smoke two cigars during the event so I wouldn’t fry my palate, and I did achieve my goal. I smoked the J. Grotto Series Reserve that I hadn’t tried before and found to be very enjoyable, and I also fired up an Alec Bradley Black Market which I’d had a few of in the past. It was a little too busy for me to focus on doing a full review, but I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to recommend either to someone who enjoy rich Honduran cigars with some spice and complexity. Definitely looking forward to trying some of the other smokes I picked up, and in fact, in between the event and writing this I have enjoyed a Guillermo Leon that was absolutely delicious.
This was my first time at HabanaPalooza, and it was quite an experience. I’ve been to some other events like it before, and while I may be biased, HabanaPalooza was by far the best run and best set up cigar event I’ve been to. The haul of stogies from the generous vendors was staggering, and the food and drinks were far beyond my expectations. I wish I’d had a little more time to enjoy more of the food, but it didn’t put a damper on my fun. Since a nice part of my role here is to work with the vendors to create promotions, sales, and other stuff like that, I spent most of my time hanging around the vendor tables. Everyone seemed in good spirits, feedback on the cigars they brought was great, and in general they really seemed to genuinely enjoy participating and turning our customers on to their brands. It’s fun to see the camaraderie between vendors, despite being in competition with each other for sales, they seemed to enjoy getting the chance to spend some time together in a relaxed atmosphere, swapping stories from the road and getting to let their hair down a little bit.
Another highlight for me was discovering a nice new summertime microbrew in the Adirondack Bear Naked Ale, had a great flavor and that easy-to-drink smoothness that I look for in a beer for the hot summer months. Full of great food, tasty beer, and of course the premium cigars, I closed out the night sitting around the table with my co-worker Harry, an old friend (Brett, our rep for Rodrigo, Ortega, El Primer Mundo, Emilio and some other brands), and two new friends – Brad from AJ Fernandez cigars and George Rodriguez himself, the very charismatic owner of his own Rodrigo brand. I was very proud to hand out copies of our hot-off-the-press catalog and get their feedback in person, and of course my ego enjoyed all of their praise and kind words. Very gracious guys all, and it was a great opportunity and environment to get to know them.
Overall I can’t imagine HabanaPalooza being any better, but I’m sure Scotty will do his best to top it next year. I’m already looking forward to attending again, and while I know you blog readers are spread out all over the country and the world, if you can find yourself an excuse to be in Albany in the first week or two of May next year you will not be disappointed.
Josh Crystal – Staff Graphic Designer/Photographer
As I approached the corner of Lark and Washington I could see the line of people wrapped around the corner of The Armory. As everyone was patiently waiting for the gates to open, I left my father and girlfriend at the end of the queue as I skipped ahead to drop my bags off inside and get my equipment ready for what was sure to be a long night of shots (photographs, that is).
Having only worked full time at Habana Premium for two full months, I am still feeling the waters to get a sense of our “corporate” culture and adjusting my sensibilities accordingly. Judging by the incredibly fun evening that was HabanaPalooza, I think the more relaxed I am, the better! After taking a few photos of the crowd before and during the gates being opened, I made a b-line for the Brewery Ommegang table and got a pint of their Three Philosophers brew. This step was purely so I wouldn’t look out of place compared to the rest of the people in attendance, I assure you…
From only a cursory glance of the crowd, the sense of camaraderie was obvious. Large groups of people were already chatting and laughing over stogies, drinks and food while others began visiting vendors to receive their complimentary smokes and learn more about the brands represented. I’ve been to a lot of trade shows for different industries in the past and this was not only the most fun, but the level of comfort and knowledge the vendors displayed was impressive to behold.
I personally had a blast meeting many of our loyal customers and company reps and I can’t wait for future opportunities to mingle and get to know more of you. I hope you enjoy the photos and get a chance to check out our newly released catalog which the marketing team, including myself, are extremely proud of!
Another thing that was very apparent as the evening went on is how much of a pet project this event is to Scotty. It seemed like he was constantly in the corner of my eye, taking the time to thank what seemed like every single attendee and vendor in attendance. It feels great to work for someone who not only appreciates his loyal customers, but who appreciates them so much that he wants to put on great events like HabanaPalooza to show his affection.
See you next year!