Burn quality tobacco, not money: alternative brands that impress.
For decades, Cuba has enjoyed (mostly deservedly) a knee-jerk association with the very idea of the premium cigar. Fair enough: The country boasts the ideal climate and rich soil for growing tobacco — its biggest export by a wide margin — and indeed yields some of the world’s finest cigars. Of course, when the tobacco industry was nationalized by Fidel Castro’s communist government in 1962, production changed dramatically in the wake of the extant-today American embargo of all Cuban imports. Russian investment became crucial to the Caribbean island republic’s economy, and when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Cuban cigar quality not surprisingly became erratic and inconsistent, despite price points remaining high (a single Cuban Montecristo can still sell for well over $30). In the last two decades, other nations in Central and South America, many with cigar production histories to rival the Cubans, have come to the forefront and infiltrated a no-longer-impenetrable market. Here, Toronto tobacconist Giuseppe Diluciano, of Yorkville’s Thomas Hinds, suggests three regions that offer equal, if not more, bang for today’s buck.
At the heart of this taste revolution is Nicaragua, which has forged the foundation from which many bold new blends have been built. Its rich, spicy tobacco has become the trademark of a new generation of cigars that can now take their place as a true alternative to the Cuban. A favorite of aficionados who actively prefer this region’s cigars is Joya de Nicaragua (est. 1912), producing the highly rated Antaño that ranges from the mild, thin and less-expensive Machito to the fat, full-bodied and pricier Perfecto. Spicy and earthy flavors hit the palate like a freight train, and the moderate finish sends you back for another puff. $12.40 – $21.50 each
Up until the 1960s, Arturo Fuente cigars were made with Cuban tobacco, but after the U.S. embargo with Cuba was implemented, the family business began to manufacture its cigars with Dominican tobacco (since 1968). These blends and cigars are flavorful, distinctive and highly rated, offering something for everyone from those that seek a hearty, full-bodied smoke that will knock them out to those that prefer a smoother, milder blend that won’t dominate the palate. The Arturo Fuente Hemingway [pictured] is offered in a wide range of sizes, serving up a sumptuous feast of woody undertones overlaid with earthy nutmeg and cinnamon. $7.20 – $29.50 each
Similar to the cigars made in the Dominican Republic, some Honduras tobacco has Cuban roots, with many tobacco growers fleeing Castro’s rule and planting their seeds, and their families, in a new country. The climate of Honduras is extremely appealing to tobacco growers, boasting an environment that allows all varieties of tobacco seeds to thrive, ultimately producing full-bodied, flavorful, strong, and aromatic tobacco. A mild Corona can provide an inexperienced cigar smoker with an easy and affordable way into the club, while a Churchill offers up a rich, creamy and smooth flavour, and commensurate discerning price point. $8.35 – $11.57 each
Originally published on January 25th, 2012.