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Thread: Random basic info/opinion on Havana's

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    Default Random basic info/opinion on Havana's

    Folks were asking about basic info on Cuban cigars in the Budget pass ... here's a, um, unique viewpoint. My opinion only, and YMMV. Corrections/comments welcome.

    Manufacture:
    All production Havana cigars are marketed by Habanos S.A. The cigars are made in government factories. Each cigar is assigned to a "mother factory," which is responsible for the blend. Production of that cigar typically happens at the mother factory, plus other factories, depending on popularity. Examples of factories are H. Upmann (also Montecristo), El Laguito for Cohiba, Partagas (also Bolivar, Ramon Allones), Romeo Y Julieta (many). There's also a (planned?) factory just to do LE's and other specialties, IIRC.

    Brands:
    First, a note to avoid those duty-free store favourites: "mini" or "club" cigars using any brand name. They aren't worth it, IMHO. Guantanamera is also a brand to avoid like the plague. Cuban Macadoodles.

    The top brands are Cohiba and Trinidad. Those two get the best of everything. Cohiba has triple-fermented binder/filler; Trinidad does not. If you can afford the premium pricing, go for it and watch for fakes.

    The low-end brand is Jose L. Piedra. They were once marketed as "country" cigars - appearance is not a criteria. Very enjoyable smokes. Just higher up in price are, from strongest to mildest, Los Statos de luxe, Quintero, and some Por Larranga and Rafael Gonzales.

    Then come the broadline brands - Romeo Y Julieta, Partagas, H. Upmann. Those three have cigars that cover pretty much every price range.

    The rest aren't so easy to distinguish because they all pretty much cost the same. For example, Diplomatico was introduced as a lower-priced alternative to Montecristo. These days Dips are still less expensive than MC's, but in some sizes, the difference is negligible - e.g., $5 on a box of #4's - although $30 on a box of #2's.

    Sizes:
    Sizing of Cubans is standardized. Use http://www.cigars-review.com to look at a size across brands. For example, the "minuto" size is shared between the Partagas Short, Bolivar Petit Bolivar, RASCC, SCdlH El Principe, etc. http://www.cubancigarwebsite.com is another good reference. (Neither site sells cigars.)

    Cubans are generally narrower than current US-market cigars. As a highly-opinionated rule of thumb, 42 is still the ring that really shows the differences between current Havana blends.

    Construction:
    Construction isn't obvious, anymore. Once upon a time, it was a bit confusing. There was:
    - "Mecanizado"(MM) - machine-made. Most mecanizado cigars were short-filler, "Tripa Corta" (TC).
    - "Hecho a mano"(HM) - made by hand. Rolled with the help of an anchored rubber sheet (works somewhat like the Temsco or Leiberman machines used elsewhere in making 'hand-made' cigars). Hecho a mano could be either short-filler, or long-filler ("Tripa Larga" (TL)), or a Cuban sandwich (short-filler bound with long-filler).
    - "Totalemente a mano"(TM) - totally made by hand. Almost always long-filler.

    Today, there are no machine-made "mecanizado" Havanas exported. Hand-rolled replacements have been created, labelled "Totalemente a mano - TC." What was formerly called "Hecho a mano" is now called "Totalemente a mano."

    So what? Well, the always-called-totalemente-a-mano cigars typically used, and use, better tobacco than the formerly-called-hecho-a-mano cigars. For example, the RyJ Mille Fleurs (formerly MM or HM) is known as a nice inoffensive cigar; but the smaller RyJ Tres Petit Coronas (always TM) is rated much higher.

    Buying:
    When buying Cubans, there are:
    a) La Casa del Habanos (LCDH) - the Habanos S.A. franchise stores;
    b) merchants using the Habanos S.A.-authorized distributor;
    c) merchants using a grey-market distributor, typically with third-party fulfilment.
    All have the real deal. All will have fakes, sooner or later, their fault or not. Some store their cigars better than others. Some don't store cigars. All will have a few real cigars that smoke like some fakes. Sometimes an entire box will be unsmokeable or "off."

    For completeness, there are also cigars from "name" custom rollers. These are often a treat.

    When one looks at prices of Havana's across merchants, you will often see the prices split into two groups. This is due to two things:
    i) the distributor that the merchant uses. Cigars that came via a Habanos S.A.-authorized distributor for the merchant's country often cost more than cigars from grey-market distributors.
    ii) taxation. Outside of the United States, cigars are heavily taxed. Tax comes in the form of Duty, Excise, Excise tax, Value-added Tax (VAT, called GST in Canada), and sales tax (local, regional, or national). If you buy in the country, you get all the taxes. If you buy from outside the country, you generally still get some taxes - usually duty and excise (and excise tax). Even in a 'duty-free' store/zone/country, you may still get one or more of the other taxes.

    Fakes:
    Cohiba Lancero, Esplendido, and Robusto; Montecristo #2, and #4; any EL, special, etc.; and Partagas SD #4 are the most-faked cigars that I've seen. Cohiba is wayyy in front. You will avoid most fakes just by not buying Cohiba.

    There are five main kinds of fakes:
    - Cuban. Off-the-beach in Cuba, glass-tops, my cousin works in the factory, etc. Also included are fakes placed in cigar stores in Cuba. There are good fakes, but there are plenty of bad ones, and some that are just awful (like I've-thown-up awful). Typically sourced from Canadian or German tourists who visit Cuba.
    - Dominican, etc. Typically sourced via Florida and found under-the-table at a local B&M.
    - Europe - Spain/Canary Islands. Typically sourced via the Internet. Often uses some Cuban tobacco - Spain brings in lots of Cuban tobacco for domestic MM cigars.
    - Far East. Mostly fakes that come from China. No idea what these are.
    - Upbanding, e.g., putting a Cohiba band on a RyJ Mille Fleurs and calling it a Siglo II. Internet asshattery.

    LCDH and Habanos S.A.-authorized distributors who put an additional seal on boxes are purported to have a lower incidence of asshattery. The resulting cigars generally cost more than those from the distributors who don't seal.

    ETA: There is a new warranty seal on Habanos Click for pics and info. It has a barcode - which may be removed if you're getting grey market cigars. Click for online verification of the new barcode.

    Aging/Costs:
    The inconvenient truth is that Cuban cigars can be expensive to get 'into,' as the Cubans usually don't age the tobacco; you, or the distributor/merchant, do.

    For example, if you want to smoke a cigar once every couple of weeks, then you'll go through about a box a year. However, if you're like me and like cigars with 3+ years on them, then you've got to start with a few boxes, and smoke much less, if at all, for 3+ years - while still buying a box a year every year. Then, and only then, can the cigar be smoked every couple of weeks. (Or that's total BS. YMMV.)

    The short-filler cigars typically cost a lot less, and age faster - nine months and most are quite good. All seem better at a year, though, with the stronger/raw cigars better at two years. This saves money, as, for example, two boxes stock a humidor for PL's, JLP's, Fonseca's; three boxes for RG and Quintero.

    Everyone's tastes are different, and different cigars do different things. Aging doesn't seem to be linear, at least in my experience. For example, I'll enjoy a one-year-old Boli, but a two-year-old is just not very good. However, a three year old is starting to get good, and a five-year-old one is MUCH better. In addition, to complicate things, every year (vintage in the wine sense) has different characteristics.

    "Old school" Havanas and/or bigger/thicker Havanas seem to need even longer. I've only had a few H. Upmann Sir Winstons, but the only memorable ones have been over a decade old. The younger ones were still good smokes, but not worth the premium to me.

    Packaging:
    Cigars are literally stuffed/pressed to fit into the boxes to get the square shape. Cigars in cabinets and in tubes are left as rolled - in the round. Some say there are differences; some say the cigars in cabs draw better; some say cigars in cabinets age better, some say cigars in boxes smoke slower. I prefer cabs, and I'll remove the cigars from boxes right away. To me, a box lined with snow-white paper is not how one should store dead leaves for years.

    Quality:

    Cigars from the late 1990's up until 2005 or so had much more quality issues than cigars from after that date. 1999-2002 are infamous for boxes of plugged cigars.

    Random recommendations:
    The Montecristo #2 is the gold standard, IMHO. Almost everyone can appreciate a Monte #2 - on a full stomach, and comfortably settled. Not saying it should be your first or your favourite Havana, but in the dictionary under "Havanas," you're going to see a Monte #2, not a Cohiba. The Montecristo blend is also one that can be enjoyed from a fairly young age.

    Partagas Shorts are one of the least-expensive (and smallest) always-been-hand-rolled cigars. These little firecrackers are one of the classic Cuban cigars, are very consistent, and can be enjoyed at 18 months or so, and seem to just get better after that.

    People coming over from US-market cigars seem to prefer the "new style" Havanas to start - RyJ Short Churchills, Montecristo Petit Edmundo, Partagas SD #4 and SP #2, Cohiba Siglo/Maduro series, etc. This could be just coincidence as these cigars also smoke pretty well out of the box.
    Last edited by craig; 08-04-2009 at 09:14 AM. Reason: Added warranty seal info

  2. #2

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    Thanks for writing this up Craig!
    "This may be the most important moment of your life. Commit to it." - V

    "You can't change the times you live in, you can only change how you choose to live in those times" - ??


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    Wow, very nice, lots of good info.
    sammis

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    Some good references:

    http://www.pacificcigar.com/eng/havana/grow/anatomy.php Pacific Cigars is the Habanos distributor for Asia/Pacific (including Canada). The info on the website appears to be lifted word-for-word (and pic-for-pic, mostly) from a small book that Habanos SA published a few years ago (that I have), which was mostly written by Simon Chase.

    http://cigars.co.uk/cigar-book Hunters & Frankau, the U.K. Habanos distributor, have piled all their articles (including the Pacific Cigar website content referenced above) into their new "The Cigar Smokers Club" website. You have to register to read the articles, but it is worth it IMHO. Simon Chase is one of the true experts on Cuban cigars (okay, he's a fuggin' Cuban Cigar GOD), and he has authored a few of the articles found on the site. Unfortunately, the information is organized alphabetically in the website's "cigar book," so you have to do some browsing to find the 'good stuff.' (Look for the words "by Simon Chase" in an article's description.)

    As a sample, here are Mr. Chase's top 10 regular production Habanos (no RE, LE, etc.) as of 2006:
    1. RASS
    2. SCdlH El Principe
    3. Montecristo #2
    4. Partagas Lusitania (cabinet)
    5. Cuaba Divinos
    6. Cohiba Siglo III
    7. RyJ Short Churchill
    8. Trinidad Coloniales
    9. Partagas Shorts
    10. Montecristo Petit Edmundos

    Other sites that I regularly refer to are, in order of use:
    http://www.cigars-review.org/ - reviews, general reference.
    http://www.cubancigarwebsite.com/ - sizes, shapes, brands, packaging
    http://habanos.com/default.aspx - Habanos' site, current catalog, news
    http://www.lacasadelhabano.cu/site/i...p?lang=english - mainly for the multimedia, and info on LCDH exclusives.
    Craig
    Ahhhhhhhhhhh Cigar Jesus just wept - kevin7
    A cigar storage primer | Basic Cuban cigar info

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    Thanks, I learned a lot from reading the article!
    Niagara Falls Baby

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    Excellent write up, Craig. I'm not an expert, by any means, but what you've written is much of the same experience I've had.

    Although - I still think, by far, the best Cuban style cigar that defines the difference in Cuban taste from all others is the Vegas Robaina Famosos. Cohiba may be Cuba's flagship brand, but I've not been nearly as impressed with Cohiba as VR.

    The tobacco in the VR line is from the best growing area in Cuba - Vuelta Abajo district of the Pinar del Rio province. Much of what goes into Cohiba is also grown in this region.

    Dollar for dollar - the VR cigars (in my personal opinion) are some of the best that Cuba produces. I'm surprised it does not get as much press as Cohiba and Montecristo - but that's okay by me - it keeps the cost of their cigars down...

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    Good write up, though I don't think it's fair to simply dismiss Club cigars (well, Cohiba at least - I can't speak for any other brand). When I lived in Spain I went through several packages of Cohiba Clubs and absolutely enjoyed them, especially for the price. I think I paid around 9-10 euros (~$13-14) for each package of 20. They're great bar smokes.

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    Nicely done, craig. I appreciate the time and effort you expend to compile the information you posts. Hopefully, we will all have an opportunity to sample some of these delights in the near future.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ggiese View Post
    Excellent write up, Craig. I'm not an expert, by any means, but what you've written is much of the same experience I've had.

    Although - I still think, by far, the best Cuban style cigar that defines the difference in Cuban taste from all others is the Vegas Robaina Famosos. Cohiba may be Cuba's flagship brand, but I've not been nearly as impressed with Cohiba as VR.

    The tobacco in the VR line is from the best growing area in Cuba - Vuelta Abajo district of the Pinar del Rio province. Much of what goes into Cohiba is also grown in this region.

    Dollar for dollar - the VR cigars (in my personal opinion) are some of the best that Cuba produces. I'm surprised it does not get as much press as Cohiba and Montecristo - but that's okay by me - it keeps the cost of their cigars down...
    I've only smoked a couple half-boxes of Famosos, but one of those boxes (from 1998, smoked last year) had one of the best cigars that I've ever had. It was the kind of cigar where you can't help but just stare at the cigar in your hand in wonderment at how awesome it is, and you forgive that half of the cigars were plugged bricks, even after 10 years worth of shrinkage . (Aside: quality control seems to be much improved these days.)

    VR's are (I think) unique in that the wrappers are supposed to all come from Robaina's farm. (I've also heard that all/most/some/none of the tobacco comes from that farm, so YMMV.)

    BTW, the 2009 RE for Canada is supposed to be a VR in the Petit Edmundo size (4 3/8" x 52). If the price is relatively reasonable (which is a big if with RE's, IMHO), then it might be worthy of consideration.

    As for Cohiba (and Trinidad) and, to a slightly lesser extent, Montecristo, I think there is an awful premium to pay for the name.

    Quote Originally Posted by JFellows View Post
    Good write up, though I don't think it's fair to simply dismiss Club cigars (well, Cohiba at least - I can't speak for any other brand). When I lived in Spain I went through several packages of Cohiba Clubs and absolutely enjoyed them, especially for the price. I think I paid around 9-10 euros (~$13-14) for each package of 20. They're great bar smokes.
    You're absolutely right - it isn't fair. However, you have to keep in mind that the clubs, minis, and puritos are licensed, machine-made products, and it appears that different markets get different products - IIRC, the Spanish domestic market gets cigarillos that are (were?) made in Spain (maybe France?) from Cuban tobacco. UK and Canada get ones that are machine-made in Cuba, at least from the boxes that I have had. (I don't know about other countries.) Thus, the Cuban clubs, etc., are not small versions of the 'real' cigars - they're a product unto themselves that share the same brand names. Contrast that to something like the Padron Corticos or Plasencia Nesticos, which are just smaller versions of the Padron / Plascencia Organicas.

    Taxation rules and fancy packaging can also skew the value-for-money relationship. For example, the Cohiba clubs found in duty-free shops (mostly) come in a beautiful (to me ) 50-count brushed metal canister - but you're paying $20 (before taxes) just for that canister, when compared to the cardboard pack prices.

    I guess what I really meant when I said the club's, etc., "aren't worth it," is that I'm making a personal value judgment. I'll take a bundle of budget Cubans over a similarly-priced bundle of (admittedly larger) non-Cubans, but I'll do the reverse when it comes to cigarillo's (in general, I'm ignoring the S-CHIP impact, etc.). YMMV.

    As an aside, the cigarillo's that I smoke at the moment are machine-bunched hand-finished Mexican no-names. They're a local close-out that are 20+ years old, and have nicely-yellowed cello .
    Craig
    Ahhhhhhhhhhh Cigar Jesus just wept - kevin7
    A cigar storage primer | Basic Cuban cigar info

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    Read this today and thought it was interesting:

    "YOU ARE VICTIM OF A FRAUD"

    The problem of counterfeit Havana cigars dates back to at least 1850. That’s when Gustave Bock decided to put an identifying band on all of his Bock & Co. cigars to separate them from fakes sold by others.

    Habanos S.A., the worldwide distribution firm for cigars exported from Havana, has taken more and more steps to make sure that smokers are buying genuine Cuban cigars and have now quietly introduced an important, real-time guard against the sales of counterfeit boxes: the Habanos “Authenticity Check.”

    This online program is simple to use, but works only on newly-shipped Habanos which have the new Cuban warranty seal, introduced in March. In addition to now-standard features such as a self-destructing seal, holography, micro-dot printing and optical variations known only to those training in Habanos security code recognition, a bar code was added to the seals attached to all boxes, displays and cabinets, but not to carton packs.

    The bar codes are of two different types: one with five characters on one side and seven on the other (12 total) and the second with six characters on each side (also 12 total). These code characters are the key to the Authenticity Check.

    -Cigarcyclopedia
    Smoke em' if you got em'

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