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Are Cuban Cigars Really Better?
Are Cuban Cigars Really Better?
By Jonathan Detore
The debate over the Cuban cigars of today rages: are these legendary cigars still exhibiting the same qualities? Or are they not quite like the pre-embargo smokes that made their names so famous? Many argue that the current blends from the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua are actually more similar in taste to pre-embargo Cubans – or better.
The North American socio-economic world was flipped on its head in December 2014 when President Barack Obama signed an executive order to initiate what is being dubbed, “the Cuban Thaw.” In simple terms, the policies set in place against Cuba during the Cold War by the United States are slowly being withdrawn in order to warm relations between our nations. While this is perhaps the greatest achievement in World legislative word play history, it also happens to be a historic moment in normalizing trade relations – with (hopefully) increased economic and social benefits for both the United States and Cuba. We in the cigar industry however, must put the future of U.S.-Cuban trade relations under the microscope for a closer look to help answer two important questions these policies will pose when Cuban cigars are legalized in the United States. Simply asked, are Cuban cigars really better? Or, are they at least up to snuff in terms of quality to consider importing them? And if so, what will be the impact upon the rest of the industry as a whole if we do import them?
Quality: Is It There?
The last time Cuban cigars were legally accessible, the brands and factories were independently owned by cigar gurus using Cuban tobacco; their works were regarded as the best cigars the world will ever know. This old reputation is no doubt one of the factors as to why we perceive Cubans to be so great today. But these masters have since left Cuba after the Revolution and ensuing Embargo; they continued their life’s work using new tobacco types, along with mastering multi-nation blending, while Cuba was left to rebuild their empire. This left U.S. smokers to experience the evolution of the non-Cuban cigar industry, which continues to prove to be astounding – while remaining somewhat in the dark about what Cuba presently has to offer. This is especially true considering an estimated 98% of all Cubans on the U.S. black market are fakes.
Luckily, we have it on good authority that present day Cuba is turning out some legit product after the relatively dark period of losing their top blenders in the 1960s. For legal reasons, we can’t mention the name of one devilishly handsome, literary superstar and cigar insider – regardless of the fact that he looks strikingly like me – but having smoked a good deal of legitimate Cubans in London, he can attest to the fact that Cuba is certainly a powerhouse once again. The only caveat is that he smoked these cigars in London, the only recipient of English Market Selection tobacco in the world. In other words, the UK gets the best tobaccos made by the best rollers in Cuba while the rest of the world markets get whatever remains, whether it be of the same quality or lower. So at the end of the day, we’re immersed in the non-Cuban side of an industry that produces a majority of the best cigars in the world, all while we’re facing a Cuban industry that may not export their best quality cigars to the States.
This English Market Selection dilemma will undoubtedly reach epidemic status once Cubans are legalized in the States. The U.S. is the largest consumer of cigars in the world, and with Cubans projected to take over 25% or more of the U.S. market once the embargo is lifted, demand for Cuban cigars will practically double literally overnight. With a production model that only uses Cuban tobacco and limited real estate to grow said tobacco, this model of rolling Cuban puros is doomed to stretch resources extremely thin to the point where they will likely sacrifice quality across the board, including EMS cigars, to meet demand. Queen and country won’t be too happy about this, but lifting the embargo to create this mess is just another way America can be a thorn in the side of the English.
However, two other scenarios can play out to save the reputation of Cuban cigars without sacrificing a drop in quality: First, Cuba can limit the number of the cigars they roll. It’s a risky move because they would miss out on fistfuls of money coming their way, but it would preserve the reputation of all of their brands. However, to combat a loss of sales, Cuba would likely jack up the price per box, making Cuban cigars insanely expensive due to the high worldwide demand. The other route they can take is to work with non-Cuban brands to produce multi-nation blends to expand their portfolio. By doing this, Cuba can focus on rolling their most popular Cuban puros using the highest quality tobacco they can harvest, while using the rest to create new and enticing blends.
There are plenty of Cuban and non-Cuban brands that share the same name which will no doubt cause massive legal trouble in the near future. The best example is that of the two Cohibas. First rolled for Fidel Castro in 1962, Cohiba is the crème de la crème in terms of Cuban cigars. In the 1980s, Cohiba Red Dot was released, well past the enactment of the embargo in 1961. For decades now, Cuba has all but rented a room out in U.S. courts to strip the Dominican Republic factory’s owners from using the Cohiba name. Since the U.S. does not recognize Cuban brands or their trademarks because of the Embargo, Dominican Cohibas have been given status under U.S. law. But with the loosening of policies, and yet another appeal from the Cuban state’s tobacco monopoly going to U.S. Federal Courts, Dominican Cohibas may lose their trademark and be forced to produce under a new name if the courts side with Cuba. The loss of brand recognition and loyalty to Cohiba Red Dot may be lost, marking a possible end to this line.
But Cohiba won’t be the only brand that may be forced to change their name if the embargo is lifted. Many other brands originating in Cuba may be forced to drop their names and rebrand themselves if Cuba wins their trademark cases. Cuba does have the right to fight for these names and marques, but they may have trouble claiming brands that were relocated by their rightful owners during the exodus. As another point of interest, the Cuban government has previously partnered with non-Cuban manufacturers to produce non-Cuban versions of their historic brands to help protect their rights to a small number of these brands. Romeo y Julieta and Montecristo are just two examples of cigars that will likely keep Cuban and non-Cuban lines intact once the embargo is lifted.
Are Cuban cigars really better? It’s hard to say – and the answer depends on a number of factors, most of which we won’t know until we can get our hands on them. Will Cuban manufacturers be able to maintain a level of decent quality with increased demand? Will they raise prices if they can’t satisfy the desire? Will they even be able to produce the brands we want to try due to legalities? These are all queries that make even a question like, “are they worth it” just as near-impossible to answer. But if you ask this cigar lover, I say go for it. The opportunity to try legitimate Cuban cigars is what we’ve been waiting for since the early ‘60s. But what I’m most excited for is the future of cigars and the implementation of multi-nation blends using Cuban tobacco. This is an opportunity for Cuba to work with the cigar masterminds they either exiled or chased away, in order to create unbelievable new cigar blends. It’s safe to say just that opportunity alone should make our collective mouths water with anticipation.
Check out these 9 top cigars that best represent the classic appeal and traditions of the pre-embargo Cubans – you’ll be Havana daydreamin’ in no time…
If we’re talking about Cuban cigar royalty, no doubt Montecristo is due to show up prominently on the list. Montecristo packs flavor into every square millimeter of each smoke. This Montecristo Relentless edition lives up to the name by offering up a robust helping of fine Nicaraguan tobaccos wrapped in a golden Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper – but is by no means a mild-mannered Monte. Its full flavor comes from additional Brazilian Mata Fina filler and a San Andres binder, making for just a touch of sweetness. This one is well worth your time.
H. Upmann Cigars
How do you describe H. Upmann cigars in just one word? Let’s go with “legendary.” Among the oldest Cuban cigar brands in the industry, Upmann cigars are great for beginners and are dependably consistent. The H. Upmann Sun Grown doesn’t stray from its heritage – the wrapper is sun grown in Ecuador, a country renowned for producing some of the sweetest wrapper leaf on the globe. The broadleaf binder is a flavor workhorse; and when combined with the Nicaraguan and Honduran fillers, these make a strong case to earn and maintain a spot in your humidor. Flavorful and complex, that’s H. Upmann Sun Grown.
It’s the cigar that even non-smokers know – because they’ll usually ask, “hey, is that a Cohiba?” The original Cuban Cohibas were produced in very limited quantities and reserved only for the most senior Cuban government officials – they also were Castro’s favorite before he quit smoking. The Dominican Cohiba Red Dot version offers incredibly smooth sweet flavor, and gives mild bodied smokers an easy transition to medium bodied offerings – it even allows full bodied smokers to enjoy a satisfying smoke with great aroma on more special occasions. Full of flavor, this a home run of a cigar.
La Gloria Cubana Cigars
If there was ever a cigar that embodied an authentic and classic Cubanesque flavor, it’s La Gloria. The La Gloria Cubana (“The Glory of Cuba”) cigar brand was first introduced in Havana in 1885, and has become the cigar of choice for smokers who appreciate a richer, fuller bodied smoke. LGC cigars have made this 9-Best list with the following entries:
La Gloria Cubana Serie RF
No matter who they are or what they usually smoke, La Gloria Cubana Serie RF has delighted cigar enthusiasts with its medium body and full, peppery Cuban-like flavors. That comes from a blend of Dominican and Nicaraguan ligeros and long fillers that burn smooth, yet rich. A Connecticut binder leaf holds the mix together, with an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper finishing the outer layer. The pepper and spice notes almost demand to be paired with the finest whisky or bourbon in your cabinet.
La Gloria Cubana Gilded Age
Keeping its Cuban heritage at heart, La Gloria Cubana Gilded Age combines Nicaraguan viso and Ligero with Honduran binders for a classic looking and tasting cigar; the Ecuadorian Sumatra Oscuro wrapper adds a bold and rich payoff. You could call this “a real cigar smoker’s cigar.” The smoke is thick, smooth, and creamy right out of the gate; and much like the original Cuban La Gloria line, Gilded Age is thick with flavors appealing to a wide swath of cigar smokers.
Rafael Gonzalez Cigars
While most of the cigars of Cuba tend to be more medium to full in body, Rafael Gonzalez is the exception among these cigar brands. Now nearly 90 years after their debut, Rafael Gonzalez cigars are rolled in Honduras. The goal with Rafael Gonzalez was to create a blend similar in character to the Cuban version – and did they ever: this Connecticut-wrapped edition is faithfully modeled after the original 1920’s–era Cuban cigar recipe of milder Vuelta Abajo tobaccos. Not only is this version a hit, it has developed a loyal following of cigar smokers who know and enjoy mellow, mild and buttery-smooth flavors.
Romeo y Julieta Cigars
Founded in Havana in 1875, Romeo y Julieta Cuban cigars were named for the lead characters in one of Shakespeare’s most enduring plays. The Romeo y Julieta brand quickly became one of the most popular Cuban cigars – as well as Winston Churchill’s favorites. But after the Cuban embargo, production of some RyJ cigars moved to the Dominican Republic. Today one of the most popular cigars in America, Romeo has stepped up the game with the House of Capulet edition: a sharper, sleeker blend of Honduran and Nicaraguan fillers, Nicaraguan binder, and Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper, and a best-in-class contender for smoke night with your pals.
Cuban Punch cigars are one of the few premiums in the bunch whose name actually tells you what to expect when you smoke it. Punch delivers an “authentic“ full-bodied Cuban profile, blended in Honduras with the richest tasting tobaccos. Sucker Punch boasts a medium bodied blend that hits you with a wallop full of flavor when you least expect it – that’s the Nicaraguan ligero core and Cameroon binder at work, wrapped in Ecuadorian Connecticut. It looks easy going, but that potent Nicaraguan leaf will sneak up on you and wallop your palate with big, full flavors – and when you least expect it.
Don Tomas Cigars
Back in the heyday of Havanas, wrapper leaves grown in the Connecticut River Valley of the U.S. graced some of the best Cubans; and some of Cuba’s best tobaccos were originally cultivated hundreds of years ago in Mexico. Combine those two factors, and you have the silky-smooth and flavorful line of Don Tomas Special Edition Connecticut cigars. Specially crafted to replicate the taste of milder Cuban cigars, it’s comprised of tobaccos from 3 nations (Mexico included), and a Connecticut wrapper grown in the United States. The Don Tomas SE blooms into a mellow and creamy smoke almost immediately, making these a favorite of connoisseurs looking for a great premium cigar at a modest price.
So there you have it: nine of the most delicious Cuban Heritage cigars. Follow the links above to learn more about any of these cigars, or order these cigars online now to sample them together for one low price!