To Cuban, or Not to Cuban — That’s the Question

Picture it: Las Vegas, June 2012. Perambulating jauntily to the Golden Nugget from El Cortez, your humble correspondent spied a hole-in-the-wall cigar shop in the East Fremont district. Walking in, I met the proprietor, who allowed me to browse his humidor.

As we were talking, he asked if I enjoyed Cubans. I said, “Of course I like Cubans.” Which was a bit of a rouse, since I’ve never actually smoked a Cuban. Whereupon, he goes to a plain-looking, beat-up wooden box in the back corner and pulled out several open boxes of cigars.

He handed me a cigar — a Hoyo de Monterrey — and I inspected it. The band on the stick looked authentic; I didn’t have a chance to inspect the box. I purchased the cigar, took a business card and continued upon my merry way.

A few points of disclaimer:

  1. I have no clue whether the cigar was really a Cuban. The guy could have just been preying upon innocent Vegas tourists. An authentic Cuban will contain several markers (e.g., a seal with a hologram and a bar code, and various stamps inside the cigar box) that support the belief that the cigar really is Cuban. I had no way of knowing in this case, because the box was already open.
  2. … and for that matter, it’s not difficult to remove the band from a real Cuban and slip it on a factory remainder.

I smoked the cigar a few hours later. Some cigar experts claim that recent Cubans, irrespective of label, all taste the same because of the blending that Habanos S.A. imposes on all authorized cigar makers in Cuba. Those bends are reminiscent (again, so I’m told) of a Davidoff — a bit of cedar, a bit of pepper, but not too full-flavored these days.

I will say that the cigar was fabulous. It lit easily, burned cleanly, and presented a lovely peppery-sweet taste that wasn’t too bland and not too harsh. I’d smoke it again even if it had a Black & Mild label, it was that tasty.

That said, did I enjoy a Cuban? Who knows. But it was a tasty cigar no matter where it came from.

(And don’t forget to listen to Podcast #72, in which Jason and Tony talk about this particular cigar and go into greater detail about how you can identify authentic Cuban cigar boxes.) 

4 thoughts on “To Cuban, or Not to Cuban — That’s the Question

  1. AccessVegas Reply

    By complete coincidence, I got the lowdown on this last night. My friend David sometimes watches the Vato Cigar Shop (inside Binion’s across from Benny’s Bullpen) for owner Paul Vato. He also wholesales lighters, fluid, and similar to a number of cigar shops around the Valley. Including the one you went to.

    He actually brought up how the owner of that shop pulls the Cuban cigar thing on everyone who walks in, including people who don’t want to Cubans or who already had something specific in mind. And, we also talked about how one of these days, someone who can get him in trouble for this is going to walk in.

    So, the bad news is that you didn’t have a Cuban cigar. The Good news is that you enjoyed it.

    I’ve had a Cuban Cohiba that I aged for a couple of years and found it to be a great smoke. I’ve also had others. Having said that, most of the guys blending cigars today are Cuban ex-pats and you made a solid point: Cuban puros (all tobacco from Cuba) is actually very limiting. Amazing cigars are now made with leafs from 4-5 countries. Brazillian maduro wrappers are amazing. Costa Rica has some great filler. Mexico rocks in the binder leaf category. Then there are the usual countries of Dominican, Honduran, and Nicaragua.

    When Cubans become legal here, there will be a wave of the curious buying them. But I think that will die down once the mystique is gone. Coors beer was super-popular back east when non one back there could get it. Now, it is just another beer.

    • Tony Snyder Reply

      Ted, thanks for the note. The double good news for Jason is, because he enjoyed said cigar, he can now get that cigar anytime he wants…not only on a special trip to Cuba!

    • j9gillik Reply

      Ted, Thanks so much for the comments. I was skeptical from the beginning but your confirmation nails it. The god thing is that the cigar was at least tasty and well-constructed; I brought this up with the guys at my smoke shop in Grand Rapids and heard stories about cigrs with the filler replaced with dried banana leaves and shredded paper. Gross.

  2. AccessVegas Reply

    Trust me… we’re quite worked up about this. You guys provided a real world experience regarding how it isn’t right for a shop to misrepresent. In Las Vegas, you need to be getting a REAL experience. Whether it is a Broadway show we have here or a Celeb Chef restaurant.

    I’m glad that this was brought to light, and I know that some pressure will be put upon the shop (with no mention of you guys) to stop doing this. You CAN get real Cubans via internet mail order from Hong Kong and Sweden (just to name a couple of places). If a shop is going to do the “back room Cubans” then they need to at least have the real deal.

    PS Your cigar diary PDF is a brilliant idea, nicely done.

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