In case you didn’t make it to this year’s XXI Habanos Festival, which celebrated the 500th anniversary of San Cristobal de La Habana, as the city of Havana was originally called, or are about to embark for another country where you can legally buy Havana cigars (which is practically anywhere else in the world except the United States, where it is forbidden to sell Cuban products), here are seven of the top brands from our embargoed neighbor that we feel are well worth seeking out. It is now legal to bring back up to 100 Cuban cigars—that’s about four boxes—as long as they are for your personal use and not for resale.
But first, some caveats. Beware of counterfeits. They are more rampant than ever—even in Cuba—although currently Costa Rica is giving Mexico a challenge for the title of Most Counterfeit Cuban Cigars Per Square Mile. So be careful. If anyone offers you a Cohiba Esplendido for $5, you know it can’t be real.
Some of the best places to buy authentic Cuban cigars are the United Kingdom (where they are rigidly inspected by exclusive Habanos importers Hunters & Frankau), Spain—which also gets some of the best Havanas—and any of the official La Casa del Habanos Cuban government-sanctioned retail stores; there are currently 90 of them internationally. Duty-free shops are also a safe haven for authentic Cuban cigars, although we recently purchased a three-pack of our coveted Montecristo No. 2 pyramids at Dubai International Airport and found them to be substandard as far as flavor was concerned (a result of poor leaf selection and inadequate aging). Plus, one of the cigars was rolled much too tightly to permit a decent draw. But all three Montecristos were genuine Habanos products. That brings up the ongoing problem with Cuban cigars of quality control.
This is confirmed by Mitchell Orchant, managing director of C.Gars, Ltd, one of the largest purveyors of Cuban cigars in England, who also critiques the freshness of some cigars, that is, whether they were aged sufficiently before being released. So a good rule of thumb is, after you get your Cuban cigars safely home, place them in your humidor for at least a month or two to give them a little time to more fully develop the flavors that made Havana famous. With that in mind, here are our recommendations for your next cigar buying trip abroad.
In addition to celebrating the 500th anniversary of San Cristobal de La Habana (which also happens to be the name of a rather mild-smoking Havana cigar that was introduced in 1999 and showcased at the festival), the XXI Festival was spotlighting the Trinidad brand, which premiered in 1996 as Fidel Castro’s VIP cigar to supplant the Cohiba, which began being publically sold in 1982. The medium-full-flavored Trinidad is Havana’s top-of-the-line cigar. This year, three new shapes have been introduced: a 4 ½ x 50 media luna, a 5 7/10 x 53 Esmeralda, and a 4 11/12 x 56 Topes, which originally was a 2016 limited edition.
Still one of the most widely-counterfeited cigars in the world, only purchase these from reliable sources. The full-powered, large-ringed Behike is a high-priced smoke worth paying for, simply for bragging rights, with the 54 and 56 ring gauges especially sought after. Another rarity is the newly-launched Cohiba Robusto Reserva, and while we usually don’t quote prices because of the fluctuating market for Cuban cigars, it’s safe to say these will normally run more than $100 a stick. Using the best of three year old tobaccos, it is available in just one size: a 4 7/8 x 50 robusto. Only 500 individually numbered boxes were released. For something milder (and noticeably less expensive) try the Siglo VI.
In spite of our disappointing experience in Dubai, the No. 2 pirámide remains our all time favorite. For a smaller smoke, try the No. 4—the best selling cigar in the world.
This is a porterhouse steak and Napa Cabernet smoke, in any size. But in addition to the Series D No.4 Robusto, another favorite of ours is the newly-introduced 6 ¼ x47 Presidente, with its easy-to-light pinched foot and easy-to-clip Perfecto cap.
This is another cigar that never disappoints, especially for those in between times when you’re not quite sure of what to smoke. Ideally suited for either a Plymouth Gin martini (extra dry, olive on the side) or a Macallan 12 Year Old Double Cask, we’ve recently switched from the Short Churchill to the bigger-ringed 5 ¼ x 55 Wide Churchill Robusto. Besides offering a slightly fuller flavor, it seems to be more physically fitting to the shapes’ namesake.
Another great medium strength cigar, this gentle smoke retains just enough earthiness to make it suitable for early to late evenings. The recent re-introduction of the previous 2005 limited edition 6 1/3 x 50 Magnum 50 is like welcoming back an old friend. Orchant of C.Gars feels it is the best in the H.Upmann range and we agree.
Don’t fall into the preconception that all Cuban cigars are strong. This brand certainly isn’t, although its strength will vary by shape. Thinking about having an Irish Whiskey and a cigar? Try a Powers Three Swallow and an Epicure Especial 5 ½ x 50 Robusto.
Subtly powerful yet smooth, a Punch cigar has a rich, leathery finish. The Double Corona is a perfect match for a snifter of X.O. Cognac.
Medium-full in flavor; the Vegas Robaina is one of the most complex and spicy Havanas around and perfect for any time after lunch and well into the evening.
The shapes of all Cuabas are all figurados: a mild-mannered smoke ideal for the novice as well as the connoisseur who feels like throttling down a bit in flavor intensity.