Home > Lifestyle

Smoke Across the Water

Cuban cigars gained cult status after they became inaccessible to Americans—but will they live up to their mystique once the embargo ends?

Since the U.S. imposed a trade embargo on Cuba in 1960, cigar lovers have either abstained from habanos or acquired them clandestinely abroad. But the recent thaw in relations between the two countries has cigar aficionados dreaming of a not-far-off day when they can freely buy Cuban smokes.

If and when that day arrives, Cuban cigars will enter a market that has changed drastically in the last 55 years. Cuban cigar masters who fled the country after their companies were nationalized took their expertise to countries such as Nicaragua, Honduras and the Dominican Republic, producing cigars for the American market that have become legendary in their own right—Fuente, Padrón, Ashton, Camacho and the non-Cuban versions of Davidoff, Partagás, Montecristo, Cohiba and others.

Many of these post-embargo brands exploded in popularity during the cigar boom of the late 1990s, an era in which educated cigar connoisseurs bemoaned a decline in the quality and consistency of Cuban cigars—the result of economic strife stemming from the collapse of the Soviet Union and a subsequent reduction in Russian aid to Cuba.

Quality-control initiatives in the 2000s helped Cuban cigars recapture their reputation for quality, but how they would fare in the U.S. market against established favorites such as the Dominican Republic’s Fuente Fuente OpusX or Nicaragua’s Padrón is unclear. Here are several of Cuba’s finest to consider.

01. Montecristo No. 2

Widely considered the gold standard of shaped cigars, or figurados, this full-bodied power cigar has a tapered head and measures a generous 6 1/8” x 52.

02. Cohiba Behike BHK 52

A recent extension of the brand created to be Fidel Castro’s personal cigar, the compact (4 3/4” x 52) smoke has quickly become a favorite, with its traditional “pigtail” cap and filler blend of rare aged tobacco.

03. Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2

A smooth yet complex robusto (4 7/8” x 50), this selection from one of Cuba’s oldest brands is handmade entirely with leaf from the legendary tobacco fields of Cuba’s lush Vuelta Abajo region.

04. Punch Punch

Fans of the toro or corona gorda size—and there are many in the U.S.—will want to light up this 5 5/8” x 46 cigar and savor its rich, earthy flavor.

Top Chef contender Jeff McInnis has brought Southern cuisine to a Southern state where you’ll more typically find straightforward seafood or Latin-influenced fare. His fried chicken—which takes 27 hours to get from house brine to table—fried green tomato BLT, shrimp po’ boy and other updated Southern classics are lauded by the eclectic group of diners crowding Yardbird for lunch: Brazilian expats, players for the Miami Heat, South Beach models and their agents. The menu includes both traditional— smoked pulled pork—and fusion, like the “Southern edamame”: steamed peas with Atlantic sea salt and spicy chili butter.

Related Articles