How do you tell?

Ever smoked a Cuban cigar? Was it smooth and enjoyable, or was it so strong you had a taste in your mouth for days you couldn’t brush out? Did you buy it from a reputable dealer or do you have a “connection?” The truth is, unless you are paying full price from a licensed dealer, and the smoke is rough, you’ve had a counterfeit.

I’ve told this to many smokers over the years that have smoked real Cubans. Many of these smokers had traveled to Europe and Canada and were disappointed the cigar did not live up to their expectations. Most thought there was something wrong with their taste since they were not able to appreciate the cigar that supposedly sets the standards for the cigar industry. They were all relieved that they were not supposed to enjoy the taste … yet.

The other group of “Cuban” smokers never ceases to amaze me with their arrogant/ignorant attitudes. These aficionados are totally convinced they are getting a real Montechristo #2 from their “connection” for a bargain price. They also brag about how smooth the cigar is, a sure sign it is not a Cuban (unless there’s age on it). It’s not even worth wasting your breath talking to these smokers.

So what’s the deal? Why do Cuban cigars have such a great reputation when even most seasoned cigar smokers don’t care for them out of the box?  The key is age. A Cuban cigar is not a great, or even a good smoke out of the box. With the exception of very small ring gauges, they have to be aged.

Anything organic – wine, scotch, bourbon, tobacco, etc. – contains tremendous amounts of ammonia. The only way to get rid of the ammonia is time, and lots of it. Ammonia is what gives the bite some cigars and drinks have. Why do you think an aged scotch or cigar is so much smoother than a younger one? The key ingredient is time, time and more time.

Most cigar manufacturers have a minimum of one year aging on their tobacco. The better cigars have three, five and even more years on the tobacco before they even roll the cigars. After the rolling, many are aged even longer before they are released to the public. Cubans have no age on the leaves other than the 72 days used for the drying. The leaves are dried, rolled into cigars, and sold.  The only aging is on the retailer’s shelves or in the buyer’s humidor. The key to Cuban cigars is in aging them, and that will have to be up to you unless you have access to a source of aged cigars and are willing to pay a premium for them.

So how do you tell if you are buying a true Cuban? Never buy a discounted Cuban – they don’t exist. Castro doesn’t produce enough cigars to supply all of the “connections” that people have. I have plenty of Cuban friends and they will all tell you the best place to get a counterfeit Cuban is in Cuba. Castro needs all the hard currency he can muster, and his primary source is from cigars. The checks put in place to protect these resources are first rate and no one is smuggling cigars out of the factory.

There are also several on-line sites where you can order Cubans. Unless the site is out of Europe or Canada, I don’t trust them, especially the ones out of Hong Kong. Too many people are telling me how great the Hong Kong cigars smoke, which makes me doubtful of their authenticity. The counterfeit rings are so good that they can even reproduce the holograms. A US Customs friend of mine tells me the only way they can even tell on a Cohiba is to check the stars under a microscope.

I personally never buy a Cuban unless I’m in Europe or Canada and I’m willing to sit on the cigar at least three years. If you don’t mind spending the money, you can go to and buy some out of Canada, but beware, the cost is high, mainly due to Canada’s taxes. Remember, no matter where you get the cigars, if they’re authentic, you need to age them for years: three minimum, but five or more is best. Next time you go to Mexico or the Caribbean, save the money for the Cubans and get some genuine rum or tequila and enjoy some great Honduran or Nicaraguan cigars instead.

Advertisement on OTL Magazine