There exists three different types of people Who enjoy cigars. “the Celebrator” is the person who occasionally enjoys one during a round of golf or during a special occasion. Th en there’s the “Th e Status” guy, who wants everyone around him to know what kind of special, limited-edition, expensive cigar he is smoking. Finally, there are the guys who are really in-the-know—“Th e Connoisseurs.”
Ever since Barack Obama announced he was restoring ties with Cuba, I have been deluged with questions about when Cubans are going to be available on the market. Most of these people who have asked me this particular question are not the real Connoisseurs. Why not, you may ask? Real aficionados know that Cubans aren’t a big deal anymore.
At one point in time, Cubans were the greatest in the world. However, in 1959 when Castro took power in Cuba and nationalized all the Cuban farms and factories, many of the Cuban exiles resettled in the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and most recently, Nicaragua. Nowadays, the top cigars in the world come from these regions. In fact, the No. 1 rated cigar in the world in 2016 is from the Dominican Republic by La Flor Dominicana. In 2014 and 2015, the No.1 cigar was from Nicaragua by Oliva and my Father Cigars, respectively. Non-Cuban cigars have been rated the No. 1 cigar in the world in eight out of the last 10 years.
Cubans, though still good, are not to the level that they were in the ’90s. When Russia pulled out of Cuba and their subsidization of Cuba’s sugar exports, cigars became their biggest cash crop. They began to rush production. Tobacco wasn’t properly aged. Th e fields in the farms weren’t allowed to rest using crop rotation. Basically, they started to cut corners. Anyone in the cigar business knows that cutting corners and rushing out a product does not make for high quality standards, and this is no less true for high-end cigars.
If and when Cuban cigars become legal in the United States, I question as to how Cuba plans to keep up with the American demand and yet maintain the highest quality at the same time. Th e United States is the largest cigar market in the world. A premium cigar is a precious, hand-made product and just can’t be rushed. Of course, there will also be the impending legal battles over stolen tobacco farms and brand names. Th ere are several non-Cuban brands on the market now that have the same brand name as a Cuban. What would be an exciting proposition, however, is the ability to use Cuban tobacco in a Nicaraguan or Dominican cigar.
Today, the major non-Cuban cigar producing regions have surpassed Cuba in farming technology and cigar production quality and effi ciency simply because they have the money to reinvest back into their businesses while Cuba doesn’t. What is happening with Cubans and non-Cubans is similar to what happened in the wine industry, where it was the common belief that the best wine came from France. Today, wines from California, South America and even Israel are equally good and accepted worldwide as such.
In other countries such as Europe, the Middle East and Asia, where Cubans have always been available for purchase, they aren’t as highly regarded. Non-Cuban cigars already can command anywhere from 40-60 percent of the market. In Th e Netherlands, non-Cubans make up 80 percent of the market. I anticipate that number will grow since many of the manufacturers from the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Honduras have been focusing sales in the United States. Due to impending onerous FDA regulations on cigars, these countries are beginning to put more emphasis on international sales.
The romance of Cuban cigars here in the United States comes from them being the “forbidden fruit.” We all want what we can’t have. We highly covet that rare cigar. Th e same phenomenon occurs in Europe with many small, highly regarded brands made in the other major regions, and it is simply because those brands are diffi cult to find. To exacerbate the Cuban cigar problem, there are a plethora of counterfeits on the market trying to take advantage of the existing American hunger for them. Several times I, myself, have been given fake Cubans as gifts. Not wanting to insult the person giving them to me, I graciously accept them. It pains me to know that person has wasted their money on an inferior product. On the other hand, one of the best cigars I ever had was an authentic Cuban Ramon Allones Corona given to me by a close friend. Coincidentally, it was made in the ’90s.
So the next time the craving for a quality cigar hits you, visit one of our local Hawai‘i premium cigar retailers such as Tobaccos of Hawaii, Tamuras Fine Wine, Fujioka’s Wine Times or R. Field Wine Company. Try something new! You won’t be able to buy a Cuban as they are still not legal to sell in the United States, but I know you will enjoy a robust and flavorful, high quality alternative.
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