Cuban Cigars, why all the fuss?
So, it turns out my first blog was somewhat of a success! Having very little academic interest in my school years led me to believe that writing wasn't for me, but as it happens if you have a passion for what you're writing about then it can be rather enjoyable.
Having deliberated over what my next subject would be I reached the decision to tackle Cuban cigars. Why is Cuba the first name most think of when the word cigar comes up? Is there something that sets Cuba apart from the rest?
One way to look at this is the ban of all things Cuban by JFK in 1962. When people are told they're not allowed something they immediately want it, including Kennedy himself who made sure to stock up on over 1000 H. Upmanns just before the embargo. And of course, with most things- what America does, the rest of the world follows.
It turns out that Cigar production shares many similarities with wine production and as for many fine wines, fine cigars from Cuba have tight rules and regulations that must be followed to ensure only the highest quality is produced. Cuban cigars have been regulated by the Cuban government since the days of the Revolution in the late 50's, these cigars are usually referred to as Habanos. Government rules like these can be likened to the appellation regulations in old world wine production.
Starting with seed selection, there are scientists devoted to selecting the perfect seed to react well with the Cuban soils which are famed for helping grow the richest and most concentrated flavours in the industry. For premium Habanos cigars the tobacco has a single yearly crop, with soil preparation to harvesting taking around nine months. During this time there is so much meticulous work needed from pruning to ensuring each specific plant used for different parts of the cigar has the required shading and irrigation. Once harvested the tobacco leaves go through a curing process for around 50 days in special curing barns with leaves used for the filler also being air-dried for around a week. To reduce acidity, tar, and to improve smoothness of the tobacco it is then fermented for 30-50 days. It is then aged for up to 5 years, depending on which part of the cigar the leaf will be used for. From here the blending and rolling of the cigars is carried out by hand following rituals hundreds of years old.
I read somewhere that it takes roughly 100 steps to produce a top-quality Cuban, so when you compare it to a wine you can easily liken it to top Champagnes from hand-harvesting and planting restrictions right the way through to remuage and disgorging.
I decided to smoke a Sancho Panza Belicosos which at £16.99 was a bit of a jump up in price from my last cigar however still very reasonable for a Cuban. I must admit that I was particularly drawn to this one because of the shape, which is known as a torpedo. With its pointed end and quite thick gauge this is the epitome of cigar shapes. However, upon further research I discovered that it's well suited to a novice smoker due to its well-integrated flavours and natural creaminess. This was good because just before lighting it I suddenly remembered how I had advised readers not to go straight into bigger fuller cigars to start with. There was certainly a creaminess in the smoke which was something I wasn't sure I would be able to detect. The first third of the cigar was pleasant with a good amount of black pepper spice with added woody tones. I was just finishing a pale ale and the smoke bought out a really refreshing zestiness in the beer. In the second third of the cigar I started to get flavours of dark chocolate and coffee which for me was my favourite part, and this was when I decided to treat myself to the classic combination of whisky and a cigar. The chosen dram was an Aberlour 12 which went down a real treat! Something in the smoke completely masked the alcohol burn in the whisky creating a delicious thickening sensation in the mouth which almost changed the flavour to an extra aged rum. The last third of the cigar brought through more spice flavours but this time more white-pepper and even cinnamon.
I'm not claiming to be any kind of authority on cigars here, but for that extra touch of sophistication and quality in a smoke then Cuba is certainly one to try. It might be time to raid my old man's humidor at home and see what he's got hidden away, you never grow out of such schemes, they just evolve from cheap, nasty Malibu to cigars and whiskies...