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Lost Great Smokes

Today's Cuban cigars are good quality but lack the richness of years past
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
The Sopranos, Mar/Apr 01

(continued from page 1)

Another problem has been the filler tobacco ligero, which means light in Spanish, but is actually the richest and most powerful of the fillers. Dark and rich ligero just isn¿t available at the moment. A roller might use a quarter or a half leaf of this tobacco when making a cigar and it can make all the difference in the world in taste and character. It¿s like when a chef uses salt and pepper¿without them, everything tastes bland and rather the same.

Most of the problems with tobacco can be attributed to the ill-conceived idea over the last three or four years to increase Cuban cigar production to monumental levels. It was a policy that almost killed the goose that laid the golden egg. There just wasn¿t enough materia prima to sustain such rapid growth. The tobacco that did exist was not properly processed, whether by forcing the curing with heating or in ovens, or by shortening fermentation and the aging of the tobacco.

However, this destructive policy appears to be over. Apparently, the Spanish and French at Altadis have weighed in and changed the course after paying about $477 million for a piece of the Cuban cigar business. Granted, it is only for 50 percent of the distribution organization, Habanos SA, but the Europeans know that they won¿t find any return on their investment selling less than outstanding-quality cigars. The word is that they are insisting on decreasing production and increasing quality¿price increases will be undoubtedly forthcoming. But I would be more than willing to pay more for Cuban cigars if I could be sure of their quality and character.

This year¿s forecast for the production of export cigars supports these rumors. The figure floating around the island for this year¿s production is about 105 million cigars, but I doubt that figure can ever be reached since most of the key export factories were closed for the better part of the first three months of 2000. Actual exports are sure to be substantially less than 105 million since sources say that Habanos only shipped about 4 million to 5 million cigars by June last year, and there were about 20 million to 30 million cigars still in agents¿ warehouses around the world at the time.

Regardless of the amount of Cuban cigars produced or exported last year, it¿s almost certain that many of these Habanos will not have the quality and character we cigar aficionados hope for. Until then, we can only smoke what we have from the past and get by with the current crop in anticipation of better Habanos in the future. v

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