Up In Smoke

These days, the Cuban cigar may have t rou­ble liv­ing up t o it s own hype.

HILuxury - - CONTENTS - by JON FIA

Find out which coun­try makes the best cigars

THERE EX­ISTS THREE DIF­FER­ENT TYPES OF PEO­PLE WHO EN­JOY CIGARS. “THE CEL­E­BRA­TOR” IS THE PER­SON WHO OC­CA­SION­ALLY en­joys one dur­ing a round of golf or dur­ing a spe­cial oc­ca­sion. Th en there's the “Th e Sta­tus” guy, who wants ev­ery­one around him to know what kind of spe­cial, lim­it­ededi­tion, ex­pen­sive cigar he is smok­ing. Fi­nally, there are the guys who are re­ally in-the-know—“Th e Con­nois­seurs.”

Ever since Barack Obama an­nounced he was restor­ing ties with Cuba, I have been del­uged with ques­tions about when Cubans are go­ing to be avail­able on the mar­ket. Most of these peo­ple who have asked me this par­tic­u­lar ques­tion are not the real Con­nois­seurs. Why not, you may ask? Real afi­ciona­dos know that Cubans aren't a big deal any­more.

At one point in time, Cubans were the great­est in the world. How­ever, in 1959 when Cas­tro took power in Cuba and na­tion­al­ized all the Cuban farms and fac­to­ries, many of the Cuban ex­iles re­set­tled in the Do­mini­can Repub­lic, Hon­duras, and most re­cently, Nicaragua. Nowa­days, the top cigars in the world come from these re­gions. In fact, the No. 1 rated cigar in the world in 2016 is from the Do­mini­can Repub­lic by La Flor Do­mini­cana. In 2014 and 2015, the No.1 cigar was from Nicaragua by Oliva and

My Fa­ther Cigars, re­spec­tively. Non-Cuban cigars have been rated the No. 1 cigar in the world in eight out of the last 10 years.

Cubans, though still good, are not to the level that they were in the '90s. When Rus­sia pulled out of Cuba and their sub­si­diza­tion of Cuba's sugar ex­ports, cigars be­came their big­gest cash crop. Th ey be­gan to rush pro­duc­tion. To­bacco wasn't prop­erly aged. Th e fi elds in the farms weren't al­lowed to rest us­ing crop ro­ta­tion. Ba­si­cally, they started to cut cor­ners. Any­one in the cigar busi­ness knows that cut­ting cor­ners and rush­ing out a prod­uct does not make for high qual­ity stan­dards, and this is no less true for high-end cigars.

If and when Cuban cigars be­come le­gal in the United States, I ques­tion as to how Cuba plans to keep up with the Amer­i­can de­mand and yet main­tain the high­est qual­ity at the same time. Th e United States is the largest cigar mar­ket in the world. A pre­mium cigar is a pre­cious, hand-made prod­uct and just can't be rushed. Of course, there will also be the im­pend­ing le­gal bat­tles over stolen to­bacco farms and brand names. Th ere are sev­eral non-Cuban brands on the mar­ket now that have the same brand name as a Cuban. What would be an ex­cit­ing propo­si­tion, how­ever, is the abil­ity to use Cuban to­bacco in a Nicaraguan or Do­mini­can cigar.

To­day, the ma­jor non-Cuban cigar pro­duc­ing re­gions have sur­passed Cuba in farm­ing tech­nol­ogy and cigar pro­duc­tion qual­ity and ef­fi­ciency sim­ply be­cause they have the money to rein­vest back into their busi­nesses while Cuba doesn't. What is hap­pen­ing with Cubans and non-Cubans is sim­i­lar to what hap­pened in the wine in­dus­try, where it was the com­mon be­lief that the best wine came from France. To­day, wines from Cal­i­for­nia, South Amer­ica and even Israel are equally good and ac­cepted world­wide as such.

In other coun­tries such as Europe,

the Mid­dle East and Asia, where Cubans have al­ways been avail­able for pur­chase, they aren't as highly re­garded. Non-Cuban cigars al­ready can com­mand any­where from 40-60 per­cent of the mar­ket. In Th e Nether­lands, non-Cubans make up 80 per­cent of the mar­ket. I an­tic­i­pate that num­ber will grow since many of the man­u­fac­tur­ers from the Do­mini­can Repub­lic, Nicaragua and Hon­duras have been fo­cus­ing sales in the United States. Due to im­pend­ing oner­ous FDA reg­u­la­tions on cigars, these coun­tries are be­gin­ning to put more em­pha­sis on in­ter­na­tional sales.

Th e ro­mance of Cuban cigars here in the United States comes from them be­ing the “for­bid­den fruit.” We all want what we can't have. We highly covet that rare cigar. Th e same phe­nom­e­non oc­curs in Europe with many small, highly re­garded brands made in the other ma­jor re­gions, and it is sim­ply be­cause those brands are dif­fi­cult to find. To ex­ac­er­bate the Cuban cigar prob­lem, there are a plethora of coun­ter­feits on the mar­ket try­ing to take ad­van­tage of the ex­ist­ing Amer­i­can hunger for them. Sev­eral times I, my­self, have been given fake Cubans as gifts. Not want­ing to in­sult the per­son giv­ing them to me, I gra­ciously ac­cept them. It pains me to know that per­son has wasted their money on an in­fe­rior prod­uct. On the other hand, one of the best cigars I ever had was an au­then­tic Cuban Ra­mon Al­lones Corona given to me by a close friend. Co­in­ci­den­tally, it was made in the '90s.

So the next time the crav­ing for a qual­ity cigar hits you, visit one of our lo­cal Hawai‘ i pre­mium cigar re­tail­ers such as Tobac­cos of Hawaii, Ta­muras Fine Wine, Fu­jioka's Wine Times or R. Field Wine Com­pany. Try some­thing new! You won't be able to buy a Cuban as they are still not le­gal to sell in the United States, but I know you will en­joy a ro­bust and fl avor­ful, high qual­ity al­ter­na­tive. If you would like to sign up to be no­ti­fied about up­com­ing Hawai‘ i cigar events, new cigar re­leases, etc. through­out the year, go to eep­url . com/ wc7pb. You can also fol­low Fia on Twit­ter and In­sta­gram at: @ Makak­ilo­Ci­gars

Non- Cuban cigars, like t he pre­mium cigars f rom De­bo­niare Cigars in t he Do­mini­can Repub­lic ( above), are of t en t imes more pop­u­lar among cigar con­nois­seurs ( pho t os c our­tesy Jon Fia).

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