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Cuban Cigars? Not Yet. Till Then, Smoke These

Cuban cigars are coming — eventually. Till then, tide yourself over with these 10 worthy alternatives.

A great Cuban cigar is a divine smoking experience, but they’re hard to get (legally).

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Even though the embargo against Cuba has been lightened — you can now legally bring $100 worth of tasty Havanas back to the States — it doesn’t mean you can buy them locally. You can order them online, but there’s no guarantee they’re the real deal, and you’re still messing with the law when you take that route. And so, if you’re like us and you salivate just thinking about the rich, complex and earthy flavors some great Cuban cigars impart, you want to “bend the rules” — but risks are risks.

Your other solution is finding a great alternative to a Havana. But this route takes a bit of know-how. Just because a cigar brags “Cuban seed tobacco” on its list of ingredients doesn’t mean the cigar will taste like the real thing — after all, the majority of the unique flavor comes from Cuban soil, rather than just the seed, itself. And be conscious that a great alternative won’t mimic the exact flavors of Cubans — you’re not matching a Hoyo De Monterey Epicure or a Cohiba Esplendido — but rather provide the smoker with rich taste and nuanced complexity that pay homage to the Cuban tradition. Most of the iterations below were created by cigar crafters who fled Cuba and took with them the knowledge on how to make an excellent stogie, and built factories in South America and other regions from where the US can legally import their goods.

Cuba’s Secret Sauce
The secret stuff of a great Cuban cigar is found in Cuba’s Vuelta Abajo, a fertile section of land in the west. It’s both the climate and subsoil that lend to the rich, earthy, complex flavor of “Habanos”. Vuelta Abajo can take credit for the perfect humidity of 65 percent, an average temperature of 73 degrees Fahrenheit and a wealth of minerals and sand. The result is high nitrate concentration in the tobacco leaves, giving Habanos power, flavor and quality. No one has been able to duplicate them, though many have tried, and these cigars come close.

La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero Chisel Maduro Toro Grande

This is the decadent favorite of the group, not only by virtue of body and flavor, but by the uniqueness of shape and cut. The flat chisel tip lets you either pinch the end to open it up or requires a punch cut in the top of the impeccably constructed, supremely oily cigar (the punch cut is the preferred method). It allows cool smoke to travel up to the roof of your mouth, providing a completely new flavor experience for cigar smokers.
Flavor Notes: The flawless draw of this cigar allows an immediate chocolate taste from the maduro wrapper, backed by delicious black coffee and wood. The billowy smoke is sweet smelling, making the experience that much better. There’s no wait for flavor — it’s right there and never lets up. Creaminess and spice show up in the latter half of the cigar, but the initial flavors remain throughout the smoke, making this full-bodied cigar one of the most flavorful experiences you’ll have.

Origin: Dominican Republic
Ring Gauge: 54
Length: 6 inches
Body: full
Wrapper/Binder/Filler: Ecuador/Dominican Republic/Dominican Republic

Buy Now: $80 (box of 10)

Montecristo Relentless No. 2

Montecristo’s otherwise conservative tastes are betrayed by the Relentless. The construction is Monte consistent — the shade-grown wrapper is oily and beautifully rolled — but the strength and fullness of the cigar stands out against its milder brethren.
Flavor Notes: The early tastes of oaky woodiness change quickly to a creamy and nutty flavor with cinnamon in the background. The complexity arises when black coffee, mild black pepper and sweet cream provide nuance. Even burn and dense gray ash make it visually satisfying to smoke, as well.

Origin: Dominican Republic
Ring Gauge: 52
Length: 6 1/8 inches
Body: medium
Wrapper/Binder/Filler: Ecuador/Mexico/Nicargua and Brazil

Buy Now: $112 (box of 10)

Romeo y Julieta House of Capulet Toro

The presentation of this R&J is near perfect, not only because of the two white and silver bands and the embossed paper wrapping, but because the Ecuadorian wrapper is near flawless. It’s an excellent size for kicking back and relaxing without occupying more than an hour of your day. The flavor nod to Havanas is spot on, without being overwhelmingly potent.
Flavor Notes: The complexity goes beyond the RyJ Reserva Real (another fantastic smoke) in that the Capulet delivers the standard creaminess Romeos are known for, but with the interplay of nuts, pepper, wood, mild earthiness and even a bit of fennel. The last bit adds spice and tanginess, without losing the creamy undertone. It’s not a strong smoke, but it’s rich in flavor and smooth from first light to last puff.

Origin: Honduras
Ring Gauge: 52
Length: 6 inches
Body: medium-full
Wrapper/Binder/Filler: Ecuador/Nicaragua/Nicaragua and Honduras

Buy Now: $93 (box of 20)

La Gloria Cubana Gilded Age Robusto

Veiny, dark and bold in appearance, the Gilded Age is as visually declarative as the 1920s art deco period it strives to emulate. But rather than crisp, the wrapper is rough and on the bumpy side, with a dark brown, almost maduro hue.
Flavor Notes: The pre-light smell is pleasant with sweetness and some earth, as a good Cuban smells. Spice and woodiness show up immediately after lighting, and complexity rears its head after an inch of smoking. Wood, earth and even some spice and floral notes come through, and the spice factor ramps up significantly halfway through the smoke.

Origin: Honduras
Ring Gauge: 52
Length: 5 inches
Body: medium
Wrapper/Binder/Filler: Ecuador/Honduras/Nicaragua

Buy Now: $99

La Aurora Preferidos Diamond Gran Toro

These limited-run cigars are worth their asking price. There are only 250 boxes in existence, so once they’re gone, they’re really gone. Beautiful, dark and oily, these cigars taste as good as the look and feel. The superbly dark brown Connecticut Broadleaf makes for slight veins but flawless construction, as well as rich maduro smoothness.
Flavor Notes: First light opens up with leather and chocolate flavors and a bit of a loose draw, but then adds a bit of spice and mild coffee notes. Coffee and delicious cocoa predominate the middle of the cigar, and then it finishes nicely with nuttiness, pepper and cedar to up the complexity.

Origin: Dominican Republic
Ring Gauge: 58
Length: 6 inches
Body: full
Wrapper/Binder/Filler: Dominican Republic/Dominican Republic/Dominican Republic

Buy Now: $204 (box of 25)

Saint Luis Rey Serie G Belicoso Maduro

Saint Luis Rey makes underrated cigars that pack both quality and flavor, and the Serie G might be their finest moment. It’s dark and oily, great signs of a true maduro that’s been properly aged — imparting rich flavors and remarkable smoothness throughout the smoke.
Flavor Notes:The pre-light nose has plenty of chocolate, pepper and cedar providing intrigue in the anticipation. With first light, the cigar emits more chocolate, nuts, black pepper and peanuts. Midway through the smoke, the Serie G gets even more complex with leather, creamy cocoa and dried fruit flavors. At the back end, it evolves more when sweet peanut butter with spice shows up for the finish. It’s a show for the palate with none of the big flavors really holding back. Fantastic draw and burn lend focus to the tasting.

Origin: Honduras
Ring Gauge: 54
Length: 6 1/8 inches
Body: full
Wrapper/Binder/Filler: Honduras/Honduras/Honduras

Buy Now: $196 (box of 25)

Punch Sucker Punch King Hit

The name Sucker Punch isn’t exactly appealing, but it does capture the fullness of this one-off specialty cigar. The band has a steampunk look to it and the smooth Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper is nearly flawless. It’s an inexpensive stick that tastes as good as it looks.
Flavor Notes: The King Hit starts out with a pleasant, thick cream taste with a hint of spice. After the first inch, a noticeable play of toasted marshmallow, nuts, vanilla and caramel shows up, changing to a medium body with additional notes of leather, coffee and floral undertones. The last third changes strength again to a fuller body with cream and caramel to finish up. The burn and draw are just about perfect.

Origin: Honduras
Ring Gauge: 54
Length: 6 inches
Body: medium-full
Wrapper/Binder/Filler: Ecuador/Nicaragua/Cameroon

Buy Now: $111 (box of 18)

H. Upmann Sungrown Corona

H. Upmann delivers a cigar that looks rough. A dark Ecuadorian wrapper shows veins everywhere and a single cap with a small amount of oiliness. It’s not good looking, but there are surprises that lay within.
Flavor Notes: The first light reveals immediate chocolate with a tinge of sugar. A pleasant surprise of red pepper, honey and cedar show up after about an inch of smoking and then a distinct berry taste. Cream flavor then rises to the top, and the sweetness and berry flavor remain through to a delicious end. Bright white ash burns evenly, contrasting the darkness of the cigar.

Origin: Honduras
Ring Gauge: 44
Length: 5 1/4 inches
Body: medium-full
Wrapper/Binder/Filler: Ecuador/Ecuador/Nicaragua and Honduras

Buy Now: $107 (box of 21)

Tatuaje Miami Tainos

Don “Pepin” Garcia’s superlative cigar is the closest to a Cuban cigar in flavor that you’ll find. Even if you were a seasoned smoker, you’d be hard pressed not to mistake this for an actual Cuban, even though its Cuban seed tobacco is grown in Nicaragua. It’s beautiful in its aesthetic simplicity and flawlessly constructed.
Flavor Notes: The only thing about this cigar that’s disappointing is its limited availability. It looks Cuban, with oil and a simple band on the wrapper and a Cuban-like triple cap. The start of the smoke is mild with clear earthy flavor, then pleasant peppery spice with rich tobacco taste. Woodiness and leather also combine with the initial flavors, and the complexity remains all the way through to the end of the smoke. The burn and the draw couldn’t be more perfect. It is as Cuban as it gets, and the cigar is worth every penny.

Origin: Nicaragua
Ring Gauge: 49
Length: 7 5/8 inches
Body: full
Wrapper/Binder/Filler: Ecuadorian/Nicaragua/Nicaragua

Buy Now: $270 (box of 25)

Ashton ESG 22 Year Salute Churchill

This expensive cigar lives up to its price. The sun-brown Cuban seed wrapper, grown in the Dominican Republic, is stunning, as is the boxing-champ-belt-sized band. It’s a presentation you expect at this price, and the surging strength and remarkable complexity back it all up.
Flavor Notes: It’s mild upon first light, with some mild spice, coffee and earthiness. Then, it gives way to full strength after the first inch. None of it is overpowering, since creaminess, leather, toasted marshmallow and nuttiness join in the flavor palette. It’s a wonderfully decadent smoke that burns incredibly well and never requires a re-light. It’s a cigar for special occasions that’s worth the cost.

Origin: Dominican Republic
Ring Gauge: 52
Length: 6 inches
Body: full
Wrapper/Binder/Filler: Dominican Republic/Dominican Republic/Dominican Republic

Buy Now: $427 (box of 25)

Joya de Nicaragua Antaño 1970 Churchill

Essentially a re-release of the original 1970 cigar, the Antaño 1970 is all about full body and complexity. It’s not a smoke for the weak of palate, but it’s also far more than just a powerhouse — the nuances of this long stogie are its greatest surprises. The medium-brown, box-pressed Churchill has few noticeable veins and feels great in the hand.
Flavor Notes: Woodiness, black pepper and red pepper spice are the most noticeable flavors after lighting up, and then a sweet pie crust flavor pops in. Pleasant, Havana-like earthiness steps into the picture midway, along with a sweet cream flavor. The evenly burning cigar then tosses in leather and a bit of sea salt toward the end. All of this complex flavor is undergirded by a pleasant strength that never gets harsh.

Origin: Nicaragua
Ring Gauge: 48
Length: 6.7 inches
Body: full
Wrapper/Binder/Filler: Nicaragua/Nicaragua/Nicaragua

Buy Now: $125 (box of 20)

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