View Full Version : National differences?
One of the things I like in food and drink is to learn about products, recipes, ingredients I may never try, simply because it often is interesting. I like for this reason to read cookbooks even though I may never try a single recipe.
In the cigar area, I do not (or rather no longer) smoke, so the knowledge is academic only, but I find the area interesting in this way. The exotic names (Cohiba, etc.) are one reason, I guess, and the claimed affinity of cigars to whiskey is another.
I asked recently what is special, if anything, about Cuban cigars. I did not get a response, maybe because the question got lost in the Thanksgiving weekend hubub. I realise Cuban cigars are not sold in the U.S. but I assume some cigar experts may have sampled them on their travels (e.g. in Canada) or have knowledge gleaned through reading available international literature.
Anyway I'd like to rephrase my question as a group of questions, as follows:
(i) are there national characteristics in cigars as there are in whisky?;
(ii) if so, what are these and what are the main cigar-producing countries or areas?
(iii) is there a national taste profile to the Cuban product? Or is it something that breaks down more along quality lines?
Thanks for any opinions or thoughts.
Hey Gillman! Sorry we overlooked ya.
I. There is definitely a difference between tobacco from different countries or regions. Climate has a bunch to do with it. The hotter it is, and especially the strength of the sun, the darker and stronger a cigar tastes. A cigar leaf darkens and produces sugar; as well as oil to protect itself from the sun's rays, much like our skin darkens and produces chemicals to protect us. These special sugars & oils, cantained within the leaf, produce the sweet, creamy, nutty flavors that we savor.
Besides climate, soil has a bit to do with the taste of a cigar. Some of the world's best soil and climate for growing tobacco are found in the Carribean islands.
Another factor is what kind of seed is being used. There are many species and strains of tobacco seed. Some are great for cigars, some for pipes, some for cigarettes, and some for religious purposes.
II. Here are common cigar tobacco-producing countries, sorted roughly in order of volume:
If these countries are slightly out of order, well... you'll just have to sue me!
The Dominican Republic manufactures the most cigars. However, after the cigar boom faded, there was a glut of high quality tobacco available. The farmers have quit planting new tobacco due to lack of demand, and the plants being grown now are of low quality. Many of the cigars being produced in the DR contain tobacco grown in Nicaragua and Honduras, among other places. The Fuente family is among the only producers to make a Dominican "puro," a cigar containing only domestic tobacco.
Having said that, all Cuban cigars are puros. Cuba has one of the best climates for growing tobacco of any place in the world. The tobacco grown there tends to be sweet, strong and flavorful. Traditional Cuban rollers have long been recognized for their skill and expertise. Every genuine Cuban cigar will display a triple seam cap. Since Communism swept the country however, much of the equipment for making cigars has gone unreplaced. In past years, Cuban cigars (though damned tasty) have become associated with quality flaws. It appears that this is being attended to, and the quality of Cuban cigars is improving.
Nicaragua grows some of the strongest and tastiest tobacco on the planet. Most of the cigars I smoke have Nicaraguan tobacco in the blend. The Nicaraguan cigar industry is booming, due to plentiful tobacco and low-cost labor. A number of the Nicaraguan cigar companies are becoming well-known, such as the Padron family.
Honduras also grows some high-quality tobacco, and seems to be milder (at least in my experience). The production is on a smaller scale than Nicaragua, which is on a smaller scale than the DR.
Mexico has been known in the past as a country that produces cheap cigars. Most of the country's cigars are consumed in Mexico. Some producers are trying to change that, and some families are even marketing Mexican puros. One such name is Te-Amo.
Jamaica also produces a fair amount of cigars, but you and I will rarely smoke one. I think I've had a Jamaican cigar before, but it was more of a novelty.
Ecuador and Cameroon come to mind as producers of top-notch wrapper tobacco. The intense heat and sun in Ecuador creates a leaf that is almost black after fermentation. I love a cigar that has an Ecuadorian wrapper! Mmmm, mmmmm. Good stuff.
III. There are (allegedly) a dozen Havanas in my humidor. I've never smoked one, but friends have gifted them to me. I am waiting until my wife announces that we are going to have a child before lighting that first Cuban!
While I have never personally sampled a Cuban cigar, I do know that they are known for lots of flavor, strength and nicotine. You'll want to smoke your first sitting down, after a good meal, with a drink handy. Try not to puke.
The flavor profile is supposed to be one of a kind. Veterans can tell if they are smoking a genuine Cuban, even in a blind taste test. The flavor is supposed to be outstanding, and those who enjoy a strong cigar won't be disappointed! Some of the Cubans are stronger than others, but there's no such thing as a bad Havana. They have earned their reputation, and fetch a pretty penny. Often imitated for this reason, don't get swindled! Always buy your Cubans from a reputable dealer. A street merchant in Havana will gladly take your American money in exchange for a bogus cigar.
As far as your question about quality, many Dominican, Nicaraguan and Honduran cigars surpass Cubans in terms of construction. These three countries are producing very good cigars, and some of them rival Cuban cigars in terms of a great smoke. While it's illegal to buy or possess a Havana, I hope I have provided you with ample day-dreaming material.
Very full explanation, many thanks.
Sorry, I have one more question. How long can a cigar be kept in a humidor?
Assuming proper storage, is it feasible to smoke a cigar, say, from the pre-Castro era? From pre-WW II, etc.?
B_Dub about summed it up. Though I would have to disagree slightly with his comments about Cubans. Certainly there are some powerhouse cuban cigars, but, for my part, most of their cigars are more complex than strong. Punch DC, Partagas Lusitania, RyJ Churchill..these are all imposing cigars, but their profiles are more about subtle flavor combinations.
For pure, in your face body, their are many domestic cigars that will topple the Cuban strength myth's ( the La Flor Dominicana Limitado, another dominican puro, comes to mind).
The "forbidden fruit" appeal attached to the Habano's tends to give them a more rugged label than what most of them really deliver. Just my .02 cents.
Oh,and as to your question of aging. I dont have any personal experience with 40yr (or more) old cigars, but I do remember Rush Limbaugh speaking of several pre WWII cigars in his possesion.
Supposedly, as long as you rotate your stock and don't allow it to mold, you can store cigars in a humidor indefinitely. Now when I say rotate, I mean physically move them around in the humidor. Bottom to middle, middle to top and top to bottom, then outside to inside and so on. Of course you should optimally keep your humidor at 70 degrees fahrenheit and 70 per cent humidity, but depending on size and build, different parts of even the smallest humidor have different characteristics. By rotating your stock, you keep them as close to uniform with each other as possible.
Oh, and as far as the comments about Jamaican cigars, I heartily recommend Royal Jamaican. From what I've read, the majority of the Jamaican tobacco industry was devastated by a hurricane years ago and this is the only brand I know of that has survived. Whether or not it is a Jamaican 'puro' your guess is as good as mine, but according to my favorite online tobacconist, www.famous-smoke.com (http://www.famous-smoke.com) (Famous Smoke Shops) lists it only as Jamaican tobacco.
And then again, there was no mention of a MAJOR supplier of tobacco, the good old USA. Connecticut Shade wrappers are very prevalent in the industry, used as the wrapper for many of the 'premium' lines of cigars.
Most cigars will benefit from aging. Some people say that three to five years is ideal. After five years, supposedly, there is little remaining improvement to be had. Extremely old cigars are perfectly fine for smoking, but some experts claim that some flavor is lost through the decades.
There are, in fact, Cubans that are actually pretty mild (but tasty). And like I said, I have no experience with Cubans as of yet. But on the whole, folks that have had Cubans almost always speak of their strength. The Partagas Serie D No. 4 is a good example. I have one resting in my humi, and friends have warned me repeatedly about its power. Thank you for clarifying my remarks.
So sorry to exclude the good old USA. Connecticut is famous for producing some of the best wrapper leaf in the world. I did not mention the U.S. mainly because a lot of the cigars made here, such as Tampa, are low-end machine-made mass-quantity cheap cigars. Though some very fine cigars are turned out in Miami, Texas, and other parts of the country, I understood that we were talking about the production of the entire cigar. Connecticut mainly produces "wrapper" tobacco, from what I understand... not complete cigars. However, "niche" cigar production can be found all over the country.
It should also be noted that a great deal of non-cigar tobacco is grown in the Eastern states. But that is not the subject at hand, as I read it.
When I did smoke I liked a cigarillo called Have-a-Tampa. I wonder if it is still made. This had a particular flavour I well recall. There was I think a port-flavoured version too. I liked it because I smoked cigarettes and this cigarillo was mild and could be inhaled. I liked the odd cigar too but found the flavour quite heavy.
I would like today to try those cigars called "creamy" (e.g. the Churchill) but cannot see myself returning to smoking, not that the cigar end (as it were) would bother me much but I don't want to return to cigarettes. Although, a hand-rolled very fresh Export "A" is something I can almost taste some 20 years or more after last having one. The duo of a Molson Export Ale in big brown quarts ("exported" to Montreal clubs a quarter mile if that from where it was brewed) and a hand-rolled Export or Players cigarette is an indelible impression of one's twenties in old (cold) Montreal, Quebec. Actually the Stones' Sympathy For The Devil at crushing volume in the local clubs heated up things a bit, rounded out the experience. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif
Hava Tampa still produces the cigarillos according to my source, but I couldn't find the port flavored one.
If you want a 'creamy' cigar to try, I recommend AVO cigars. My personal favorite is the AVO Domaine #50 which is my favorite style, a perfecto. AVO has a pretty good deal right now where you can get a sampler with one each of five different offerings in robustos and they even throw in a very nice ashtray for under 50 dollars here in the states.
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