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Cigar 101

The Ultimate Guide to Buying Cuban Cigars

J. Bennett Alexander Alexander's picture

J. Bennett Alexander

Look, if you insist on smoking Cuban cigars, you have to understand that great scrutiny must be exercised to try to make sure you’re getting good cigars. In the case of Cuban cigars, that means that they are well-constructed and consistent within the box. While they’ve gotten better over the last few years, there are still too many very expensive elite Cuban brands – even a Montecristo No. 2 – that have been way too tight on the draw or had very bumpy veiny wrappers that it made you wonder if history would ever absolve anyone in the island’s cigar industry. Anyway, buyer beware and so on. If you are going to go out now and buy some Cuban cigars, allow me to give you a short guide to getting those smoking very well right now. Prices are subject to change depending on where you buy.

WHERE TO BUY CUBAN CIGARS

Of course, you can’t buy Cuban cigars in the U.S. unless you do so illegally. Many legit tobacco stores will surreptitiously sell Cubans, but you need to be very cautious about the authenticity and quality of those Cuban cigars. Traveling to Cuba is much more difficult under new U.S. government restrictions. So, maybe you’ll buy your cigars in Canada, Britain, Spain, or some good duty-free store in the Persian Gulf states. Save up! Here’s our current Cuban cigar buying guide, listed alphabetically, divided into specific cigars and then, more broadly, specific brands.

SPECIFIC CIGARS

These are cigars that I’ve recently sampled and found to be well worth putting on any Cuban cigar guide.

H. Upmann Corona Major (Tubo) (5.25 x 42) About $20. Medium-full. This a classic Corona that you get to carry in a tube! The wrapper should be reddish-brown and the cigar is full of flavor, though I’ve found the draw to be a little tight.  Here’s what you’ll say of the blend: Sweet, nutty, honey, cherry, leather, hint of red pepper flakes.

Montecristo Open Master (4.8125 x 50) $27. Medium. This Robusto is part of a freshening of the Montecristo brand that occurred 10 years ago and was meant to draw in active, young and affluent smokers. Yeah, sure. It’s got a medium-claro wrapper that delivers some tangy citrus, ginger and a little lavender. A fairly floral finish.

Montecristo Petit No. 2 (4.75 x 52) $27. Medium. This is the Montecristo No. 2’s mini-me. I find it smokes a little better than its big bro. It’s got some wood and sweet tea. The flavor tends to intensify as you go along and you get some toast, graham cracker and that honey finish.

Partagás Serie D No. 4 (4.875 x 50) Not a bargain at $26, but perhaps the flagship of the Partagás “alphabet series.” It’s one of the world’s best-selling Cuban cigars. When it’s right – make sure the wrapper is reddish-brown – the D-4 is very rich from the beginning. It’s medium-full and you’ll find bold coffee notes. There’s also some nut flavor, as well as some honey and wood coming through. This is a cigar you can find in most La Casa del Habano shops and in good stores all over the world.

Punch Punch 48 (5.5 x 48) About $24. Medium. This is the first cigar to sport the new secondary band. This indicates it’s sold exclusively at Habanos Specialists (a special designation from Habanos, SA distributors) and La Casa del Habano shops. It’s a complex blend that has some good floral notes, balanced with hints of graham cracker, leather, and some sweet spices.

Punch Royal Coronation (Tubo) (5.75 x 43) $23. Consider this a medium version of the H. Upmann Corona Major, also in a tube. Lots of leather, balanced by sweet and floral notes. The finish is nutty and honey-sweet.

Saint Luis Rey Herfing Exclusivo Medio Oriente (5.5 x 54). This is a relative bargain at $17, but it’s a regional edition made for the Middle East. I found it in a Dubai hotel. It’s a pretty fat, hearty Cuban cigar that smokes medium-full and exhibits strong leather and wood. There are slight cardamom and cumin components and some sweetness will come through.

SPECIFIC BRANDS

These brands are worth putting on your Cuban cigar guide. They are generally smoking well. You might have to buy a different vitola (size) depending on availability.

Cohiba is a brand I rarely recommend, but if you want to spend half your weekly paycheck on a box of cigars, who am I to stop you. This cigar is probably the most counterfeited in the world. So, make sure you buy from a reliable retailer. The Lancero has been very good lately, especially if you rest the box in your humidor a few months. You might go for the Behike, but there’s a new Cohiba just out, the Robusto Reserva (4.875 x 50) and it’s expected you’ll be asked to pay more than $100 per cigar. Apparently only 500 boxes have been released. Get the Siglo VI (5.875 x 52) for about $40. It’s a bit milder, more in the Cohiba flavor sweet-spot.

Hoyo de Monterrey is the one Cuban brand that I heartily recommend trying. The Double Corona (7.625 x 49), about $40, is a superstar among the rich and famous. Be patient, the draw usually gets looser as you smoke. The Epicure No. 2 (4.875 x 50), about $26, is among the better Cuban Robustos. Lots of almond and leather, then some sweetness in the finish. Very elegant and very balanced. The Epicure has a few spinoffs in the brand. Try whichever you find.

Montecristo is an iconic medium-full Cuban brand that I would always recommend trying. The No. 2, a Pyramid, is among the world’s iconic cigars. The smaller No. 4 (5.125 x 42) goes for about $15 and is perhaps the best-selling cigar in the world and is quite elegant. This is a brand that I would recommend trying a single cigar of the size you’d like before buying a whole box.

Romeo y Julieta has transformed the name Churchill into a relatively meaningless reference to its cigars’ sizes. The classic Churchill is named after that famous British prime minister and has become a classic cigar size at about 7 x 47. Now, we get the Short Churchill and, the one I would say you should look for, the Wide Churchill (5.125 x 55), about $30. The girth of this Churchill might have resolved the problems with the draw on the traditional version. The Wide Churchill delivers prodigious amounts of medium-powered smoke full of toast and dotted with spice, fruit and leather.

Trinidad is still a relatively little-known Cuban brand even though it just turned 50 years old, but it’s been sold publicly only since 1998. It was then given only to diplomats as gifts. (In 1992, I was gifted a box of Trinidad Lanceros at the VIP departure lounge of Havana’s airport after a reporting trip. Either they enjoyed my company or were very happy to get rid of me.) Trinidads are generally miId-medium to medium-full, like the Vigía (4.375 x 54), $26, a short, chubby Robusto with a pigtail. Very woody and herbal.  A little dry sometimes on the aftertaste. I last picked these up in the Doha airport for a great price of about $12 a stick. Trinidad came out with three new vitolas in 2019. They all have pigtail caps. It renewed the Topes (4.875 x 54), which came out originally as a 2016 limited edition cigar going for about $37. The Media Luna (4.5 x 50) is a classic Robusto and the Esmeralda (5.75 x 53). See if you can find any of those, though I’m not sure yet of the prices.

Vegas Robaina is what I call Cuba’s ‘boutique’ cigar. The namesake, Alejandro Robaina, was a legend in the Cuban cigar business. This is not an easy cigar to find outside of La Casa del Habano shops or the best European stores. I like the Famoso (5 x 48), a $23 Robusto that is a little floral, a little minerally, and then very nutty and creamy with touches of cocoa and spice. I also recommend searching out the very complex Unico (6.125 x 52), $29, a Torpedo that is very earthy, a little salty, that also has tons of vanilla and spices ending up with a leathery finish.

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