Friday, August 29, 2008

Cuban cigars vs. Non-Cuban cigars

I was cleaning up my email folder this morning and found an old message from a customer who was new to premium cigars at the time, asking me about how good Cuban cigars really are. "I realize that the tobaccos in most cigars that I purchase are of Cuban seed, and the difference is the soil that they are grown in," he wrote. "Is this true?"

I know this subject has been covered ad-infinitum, but here's my 2¢.

Although the vast majority of cigars I've smoked are made outside of Cuba, I've had my share, and in my opinion, by today's standards Cuban cigars are not necessarily better, just different. A better way to put it would be that Cuba is to premium cigars what France is to premium wines; a benchmark or standard.

Most of the great cigar makers working outside of Cuba are Cuban exiles; at least most of the patriarchs who are still working. Their standards (and family blending secrets) are based on what they were taught by their Cuban forefathers, and have done a fantastic job at creating cigars in the DR, Honduras, and Nicaragua that rival and often exceed their Cuban counterparts. So, it's really a matter of taste.

Secondly, Cuban cigars are comprised of all Cuban-grown tobaccos using wrappers of the Corojo variety which were developed in the 1940's and like Connecticut leaf is shade-grown. You may notice that many Cuban cigars, at least the better ones, have a similar color range and glossiness to them? There is a unqiue flavor and character in good Cuban cigars, and if you can get your hands on, say, a Cuban Partagas Serie D No.4, then you'll know what I mean. But there are dozens of non-Cubans that blow the doors off many of them. Just take a look at the success CAO cigars have had outscoring Cuban cigars in vertical brand tastings reported in magazines like Cigar Aficionado.

Cuba does have an advantage with regard to its climate and the soil in its most fertile regions, like the far western Vuelta Abajo region in Pinar del Rio and the Partidos region which lies southwest of Havana, not to mention the tradition of fine cigar making that continues with the current generation of Cuban cigar blenders.

Cuban seed that was brought into the other Caribbean nations is used in almost all non-Cuban cigars for obvious reasons. It's the key to maintaining that seminal "Cuban flavor" in the tobacco, but it's the soil and curing process that have the most affect on the flavor. Cigar makers of Cuban ancestry like the Fuentes, Padróns, Toraños, Plasencias, and Eiroas (Camacho), Ernesto Perez-Carrillo (La Gloria Cubana), Manuel Quesada (Fonseca), Jose "Pepin" Garcia, and Jesus Fuego (the list goes on), knew how to work the soil in their adopted countries and have produced some of the finest cigars in the world.

I've smoked many non-Cuban-made cigars that come pretty darn close to "true" Cubans, but when it comes to genuine Havanas compared to premium cigars made outside of Cuba, it's always going to be apples vs. oranges.

~ Gary Korb

3 comments:

FRed(tm) and My Rise to GodHood said...

100% correct Gary.
Living in the UK it is easier for me to get a selection of grossly overpriced Cuban smokes but the variety are poor.
I buy mainly from Famous Smoke a variety of great non cubans and at the better end are every bit as good, tasteful etc as any cuban cigar.
As you say, they are different and a perfect experience.

One thing I would add is how cheap even the more expensive ranges are in the USA compared to the prices UK shops charge for the same cigar - that is when you can get them here.

Keep up the good work (please)

Roy.R
aka CreekEnd UK

toyio said...

definitely agree that Cuban cigars are a benchmark or standarD. Nicely written article.

St. Elsewhere said...

Couldn´t agree less! I live in Spain and have access to Cubans and nons. I find the Cubans not only different, but appreciably better. Perhaps this is a only a matter of taste, since as you affirm, the two (cuban and non) are "different". Still, if we accept Cuban as the standard, I honestly find the rest quite a bit dissapointing, as they generally fall short. I must admit that I've not purchased and smoked more than one or two in the $10 range, since my standbys in Spain are between 5 and 1.50 Euros!
In the US the cigars I've found the selection includes smokes that are big, overpriced, and unpleasant.
Just my opinion, but based on a few years of research.