It took me a long time to figure out the joy and eternal zen attained from smoking a good cigar. If you’re a devout follower of the Made Man lifestyle, then you’ve already read about my affinity for sitting down with a stogie and a glass of cognac, but my love of them goes far beyond that.
I’d spent months smoking the Nicaraguans and Dominicans at my local shops, and they were all fine and good. La Aroma De Cubas, the Oliva Serie Vs, Don Carlos’, Nat Shermans—I’ve had them all. But one thing I’d never tasted was a real-deal, hand-rolled Cubano.
The Cubano is the alleged crème de la crème of the cigar world, and I, like most burgeoning cigar hobbyists, dreamed of the day I’d get to nub one of those butts out in an ashtray somewhere—hopefully on a marble terrace in the South of France or something.
After some months of searching, an editor with whom I work heard that I was on the hunt, sent me an email playfully criticizing me for not hitting him up months ago, and sent me out a couple. Here’s what I learned.
1. They were illegal.
First thing’s first, let’s address the elephant in the room here that I know every cigar guy who actually reads this is going to be looking for: A lot of the allure surrounding Cuban cigars comes from the fact that they are (well, were, really) illegal. Human nature dictates that we love doing all the things we’re not supposed to do—probably why the child told not to touch the stove always somehow manages to touch the stove—and so when you tell us we can’t have something, we kindly like to tell you to go fuck yourself.
The thought of what that cigar had to go through in order for it to travel from the delicate hands of some hard-working Cuban woman in a factory somewhere to in between my delighted, excited lips, was enough of an experience in and of itself.
2. The quality is unparalleled.
Now that we have the legality situation out of the way, we can discuss the quality. I haven’t been able to sample a wide array of Cuban cigars, but I can tell you that what I did sample—the Montecristo No. 2 and a Cohiba of some sort—were two of my favorite smoking experiences probably ever. The quality is world class.
That said, I also won’t be the smug jerk who pretends that I’ve never had a fantastic hand-rolled Dominican-made Romeo Y Julieta, either. And that brings us to where I’ll leave you…
3. The truth is: They’re not all the same.
Cuban cigars are worth having on hand because they’re great conversation pieces, and because they are very good hand-rolled cigars made from the finest tobacco in the entire world. There’s no doubt about it. But it’s also not impossible to find a quality hand-rolled cigar from elsewhere in the world that at least rivals what you’ll find in a good Cuban.
In fact—and this is really where people get confused—a lot of the original Cuban cigar companies people came to know and love decades ago moved out of Cuba after the Cuban Revolution. I’ve heard they even smuggled tobacco seeds out of Cuba to use in the cigars, too.
After the original companies left, the post-Revolution Cuban government took all those brand names for itself and nationalized them, so even though they have the same name, they operate completely independently of the cigar makers in other countries.
That means the Romeo Y Julietas you get from the Dominican Republic aren’t the same as the Romeo Y Julietas you get from Cuba. The same goes for your Dominican Cohibas, Ecuadorian Montecristos, etc.
And ironically, based on the history and actual people behind them, your best bet to smoke something like a 1950s Cuban might actually be a 2017 Dominican.
Bottom line: Cuban cigars are worth the effort to source. But the difference between them and other quality hand-rolled stogies probably isn’t as great as you’d think.