The Cuban: Miracle or Myth?
In February of 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed into law an embargo of all things Cuban, including cigars. And thus began the the 64 year ban on the most desired product in the cigar universe – the Cuban.
The next generations of Americans would live in a world where cigar lovers were conditioned to believe that they simply could not have the best of the best. Certainly, there were still great cigars out there, but not the Cuban.
What made the Cuban cigar so special?
First of all, Cuba is where the long leaf tobacco that goes into cigars was born. As early as 1492, when Columbus introduced cigars to Europe, Cuban were making cigars. Generation after generation of Cuban growers honed their craft, producing what was the consensus best product on the planet. Then came the revolution.
The re-birth – sort of
While the great Cuban cigar makers fled from Cuba, the great Cuban tobacco didn’t. Smuggled out, the Cuban seeds were planted everywhere from Nicaragua to the Canary Islands. Eventually, they found their way to The Dominican Republic, where they have been refined, blended and improved. Today, the leading producer of premium cigars is The Dominican.
But the Cuban cigar industry was not dead. At least not permanently. By the 1990’s, amid the Castro regime’s strict quality control standards and tobacco growing educational programs (and huge financial subsidies from the Soviet Union), sprung a new generations of Cuban cigar makers, and by the 1990’s, Cuban cigars were once more in the coveted “want but can’t have” class.
So where do things stand now?
No doubt, the Cuban cigar industry is back. Whether it’s the be all and end all, the holy grail is a matter that is debatable. In a 2003 study , cigar experts blind taste tested 689 different cigars. Remarkably, there was a consistent higher ranking of the Cubans, despite the smokers not knowing the origination of the brands they were smoking, However, these were true cigar experts, whose “palettes” were the tobacco equivalent of elite wine connoisseurs. Their experience in the study illustrates that while Cuban cigars do have a distinctive taste, it’s not probable that the average cigar smoker would be able to distinguish it from other quality brands. In other words, it’s different but not necessarily better. Oddly, most cigar smokers don’t realize that before the Cuban revolution, cheap cigar brands like William Penn, White Owl and Tiparillo, while rolled in America, used imported Cuban tobacco.
The simple answer to the question is that Cuban cigars were the first, are distinctive and very high quality. But the tobacco and the tobacco growers have taken their skills and generations of cigar-making talent on the road, mostly to The Dominican Republic. And they’ve also taken premium quality Cuban tobacco seeds and have worked to refine and improve the product that the seeds produce. Perhaps there is something to the legend of the Cuban cigar, but it just could be that once they are commonly available in the States, the myth may be overshadowed by reality; that is, once the scarcity factor is eliminated, perhaps some cigar smokers may actually prefer the non-Cuban premium alternatives.