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Cigar Diary: The Robusto Generation

Once the province of Cuban-cigar connoisseurs, the short, stout smoke is one of today's most popular sizes
Posted: December 26, 2007

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I personally think that Zino Davidoff had a lot to do with this trend as well. The late, great cigar merchant was the first to really make cigars a fashion statement, sort of like fine watches are today, and he did so through selling cigars as well as writing books. He was not one for big, bold cigars, but rather for elegant and refined-looking ones like his Davidoff No. 1 and No. 2. I remember having lunch with him a couple of times back in the early 1990s and it was more like hanging out with a jeweler than a cigar merchant. He was always talking about how a cigar should fit the personality of the particular smoker. And how it was important to look refined and elegant when smoking a cigar.

Prior to the thin-cigar period, most of the smokes sold for close to 50 years, according to Chase, were straight 42 to 40 ring gauge cigars, from lonsdales to tres petit coronas. This was basically the range of cigars under the Montecristo label, from No. 1, which is a lonsdale measuring 42 by 6 1/2 inches, to a No. 5 tres petit corona, which is 40 by 4 inches. In fact, Chase believes that the creation of Montecristo firmly established the trend of straight-sided cigars, parejos, in the market, following the centuries-old tradition of smoking double-tapered smokes, or figurados.

Of course, he would have to say that. His company, Hunters & Frankau, sold the creators of Montecristo, Alfonso Menendez and Pepe Garcia, their Havana factory in 1937: H. Upmann. And the production of Montecristo was primarily based there until a couple of years ago. With a few exceptions, such as the No. 2 torpedo and thin Especiales, Montecristo was always limited to five sizes. "They could have chosen five double figurados," Chase said. "If they had, would Montecristo have enjoyed the success it has? I doubt it."

I remember when I first started going to Cuba for this magazine in the early 1990s, most of the cigars Cubans themselves smoked were lonsdales and coronas. I always remember the first time I met Havana's best cigar merchant, Enrique Mons, in 1991, and he told me that the lonsdale was the perfect shape for the cigar, giving you all the flavor you need for all the time you had to smoke.

At the time, Mons probably would have never believed how popular the robusto would become. A few months ago in Havana when I was with him in his shop, he said that most people were buying the Partagas Serie D No. 4. "That's clearly our most popular cigar at the moment," he said.

And it all started with Cohiba Robusto. As Chase explained, the Cubans believed that their flagship brand needed an upgrade after close to two decades of the same thing, so they came up with the new sizes in 1989: the Esplendido, the Exquisito and the Robusto. They certainly never realized at the time that they were about to revolutionize the cigar industry with the robusto.

"It was the robusto that caught everyone's imagination," said Chase. "The name described the cigar's comparatively short, stubby shape perfectly, not only in Spanish but also in English and most other European languages."

Interestingly, the name robusto was not the brainchild of some marketing wizard in Spain, France or even Cuba. It was simply the name the rollers used to describe the shape in the factory, or vitola de galera. For example, rollers call the double corona a prominente, and a torpedo a pirámide. The robusto was one of the first times a vitola de galera became a big success as a vitola de salida, or the name given a shape in the marketplace.

And most of us have been smoking and enjoying robustos ever since.

Click here to read more Cigar Diaries from James Suckling.


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