OK, let's talk Cuban cigars. Now, I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer but I've learned a little about cigars and the workings of the cigar underworld and wanted to share a little insight with all of you. Some of you seasoned veterans may know how to spot a legitimate Cuban cigar but from hanging around cigar shops and hearing some horror stores there are some things a lot of you should know. Here are a few tips that will hopefully help keep you from being taken.
Disclaimer: It is illegal for any U.S. citizen to buy or possess Cuban cigars, either while in the U.S. or while visiting foreign countries. That's the law. Now, I highly doubt a customs agent will jump up from behind the counter while you're in a foreign cigar shop. I just wanted to make sure everyone was on the same page before we went any further.
So, if you're still going to purchase Cuban cigars while visiting other countries there are a few things to know. First, and most important, know who you're dealing with. To be 100% certain you are buying the real deal when traveling abroad always (and I can't stress that enough) purchase only from a La Casa del Habano, or LCDH as they are known. Click on the link to see where LCDH franchises are located throughout the world. The site shows 99% of them as some of the newest locations may not show up yet. One such location that is missing from the site (at the time of this post) is the new LCDH in Cozumel, Mexico. I will be visiting this shop in September and look forward to it. LCDH's are Cuban franchise shops that are authorized through the Cuban government to sell their cigars. They came about solely to make sure legitimate cigars were making their way to consumers. Cuban cigars have been highly counterfeited ever since the embargo went into affect. The very first LCDH was opened in Cancun, Mexico. The original shop does not exist anymore but I visited the new shop in Cancun in 2006 and it was amazing. A beautiful shop with a large humidor, leather sitting area, bar, and even a pool! All LCDH's sell ONLY Cuban cigars; no other kind. When you walk into an LCDH it's like a kid walking into a candy Store! It's amazing. You are surrounded by all types of Cuban cigars! Prices at an LCDH are higher than you would pay for the same cigars online but you know you're getting the real-deal, so enjoy!
Second, there are other shops that actually sell legitimate Cuban cigars but you have to know who you're dealing with. Fakes are much easier to find and some are very easy to spot. Any vendor selling cigars on a beach, or along a street should be totally avoided. Don't even stop. Just keep walking. Be polite but don't stop. While in Cancun I was approached by guys on the beach who had the infamous Cohiba's in the glass top boxes. Cohiba has NEVER made ANY glass top boxes so if you have ever purchased these I'm afraid that you were taken. Glass top Cohibas are fake, period. While in a local shop Friday night a friend of mine was talking about getting some when his wife went to an island. I didn't have the heart to tell him they were fake. The bottom line; if anyone has them and enjoys them (while not knowing they are fake) that's great but for future purchases I hope you are wiser.
Third, to make yourself feel better about what you're about to buy take a good look at several things. All Cuban cigars are triple capped. You should be able to clearly see 3 distinct caps on the top of the cigar. Most fake Cubans are actually Dominican and are double capped. This is the easiest tip-off. The cigar should also be very well made with no bumps, spots, etc. The band is another tip-off. Fake bands have flaws that are noticeable to the trained eye. Cohiba is the most faked cigar in the world. If you look at a real Cohiba band it is embossed. The gold letters rise slightly above the band. A fake band is just printed on. Note: there are several manufacturers of non-Cuban cigars that use the triple capping on their cigars. Among them, Don Pepin Garcia, so even non-Cuban cigars can be triple capped. Again, ALL Cuban cigars are.
Get to know what a real Cuban band looks like. Do some research. There are several sites online that detail what the real band looks like. Here is just one site dedicated to just that. Then there's the box the cigars come in. Look for the Cuban Government seal. Look for the Habanos logo burned into the bottom of the box. Also, once a box is ready to be sealed they stamp a month and year on the bottom. The month is a 3 letter abbreviation in Spanish. Then a 2 digit year code. January, 2006 would look like ENE 06. Now, even if the cigars look good and they are in a box with all the right markings the cigars could still be fake! It's just a box. You can put any cigars in that box. So make sure you're dealing with a legitimate dealer. Someone you can trust. Someone that other experienced cigar lovers recommend. Again, I'd go back to the LCDH; shop there and rest assured.
These are just a few ways to keep your hard earned money in your pocket when necessary and ways to enjoy some of the finest cigars made! I hope this information helps you.
Now, on to some reviews. This weekend I am reviewing:
- Lianos Los Palmas Nicaraguan blend toro
- Nestor Miranda Special Selection 5.5x54
- Cusano CC robusto
- Rocky Patel Cargo Toro Grande
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Lianos Los Palmas toro (5 7/8x52)
Lianos Los Palmas is a local shop located in Charleston, South Carolina which rolls their own cigars. It is located on Wentworth Street. Scott, the owner, and his wife, a lovely lady from the Dominican Republic are great supporters of our S.C. Sit Down. Her brother rolls the cigars for them, right there in the shop! It's always a treat to visit their shop and see cigars rolled. Their newest blend is a Nicaraguan cigar that I was very interested in when I learned of it. I first sampled this cigar in December after our cruise. I saved another one to review so let's get to it.
My first impression of this cigar as I walked down the street in downtown Charleston was very good. It was quite spicy. I like that and expect it from a Nicaraguan cigar. The cigar had a golden brown wrapper. It started with a slightly sweet, vanilla spice with a nice amount of pepper. The finish was long with vanilla and almond notes. After 3/4" there were orange notes in the spice. After an inch the cigar has changed to a full blown sweet orange citrus spice with vanilla undertones. The spice has a "twang" to it, somewhat of fermented oranges. The finish is one of thick vanilla and some lingering pepper. The cigar is medium bodied at this point. The rich, orange and vanilla spice is very nice. At the midpoint there are hints of cinnamon in the spice. Not overpowering but subtle notes. In the final third the cinnamon notes come close to matching those of the orange citrus and vanilla. The mix is nice. The finish is still very much one of rich vanilla. Overall the cigar was medium to full bodied. A very enjoyable cigar that is available at their downtown Charleston shop.
Nestor Miranda Special Select 5.5x54 (5 1/2 x 54)
This version of the Special Select has the Habano Rosado wrapper. The binder is Nicaraguan and the filler is a mix of Nicaraguan, Honduran, and Dominican leaves. The cigar is made in Esteli, Nicaraguan by Don Pepin Garcia.
The cigar started with zesty, sweet pink grapefruit spice (yes, really) with vanilla notes and hints of raw almonds, plus a TON of black pepper. The finish was long with sweet raw almonds and light vanilla notes and a lot of lingering pepper. At the midpoint the cigar has not changed. This isn't bad because it tastes very good the way it is. In the final third the spice seems to be somewhat decreased. There are a few more almond notes at this point. In the final stages the cigar still had some sweet grapefruit notes but to a lesser degree. Still a good cigar that I enjoyed.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Cusano CC robusto (5x50)
Each Cusano CC is blended with mixed premium-grade Dominican tobaccos and savory Ecuadorian Sumatra wrappers. These hand-rolled cigars offer superb quality, easy draw, good balance, and rich, 'old Cuban-style' flavor. These cigars are sold in bundles of 20 and are considered an "everyday cigar".
The cigar started very bitter. In fact, it was almost an inch into the cigar that it had notes of vanilla and almonds and a little pepper. Bitterness in a cigar really turns me off. It also burned rather fast. From the time I left the gym until I got home, which is only a 10 minute drive, it had burned over 1/2"! At the midpoint the vanilla notes were decent but not nearly as rich as other cigars that scored high. The finish was fairly long with some vanilla notes. In the final stages the almond notes got stronger. I did not find a lot of enjoyment smoking this cigar. There were not nearly enough high points.
Rocky Patel Cargo (6x58)
The Cargo line debuted at the 2010 IPCPR and features an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper and Nicaraguan longfiller blend with bits and pieces from the 15th Anniversary and 1961 blends.
This is a fat cigar! It started with spicy, lightly sweet almonds and light cinnamon notes with black pepper. The finish is fairly long with raw almonds. There was also some lingering pepper on the finish. At the midpoint the cigar has not changed much, if at all. The draw is very good. This cigar was put out by Rocky to be a $5 stick in the shops. In the final half I got hints of vanilla. Not a bad tasting cigar but nothing to write home about. The second half of this cigar was definitely better than the first.
Well, today's reviews weren't great but that's the way it goes sometimes. See you next weekend!