Robustos. Partagás. Cohiba Robustos Supremos or Partagás Gran Reservas. Cohiba Behike 56. Those were the most common answers from Cuban cigar retailers around the world in a recent 10-question survey they were asked to fill out by Cigar Aficionado earlier this year. In the end, a clear picture emerged from the retailers and distributors we surveyed. In sum, there may never be a better time to buy Cuban cigars, especially for those buying in dollars, as the currency is stronger than it has been in a decade.
Any cigar smoker who is lucky enough to travel the world knows that one of the treats is smoking Cuban cigars. And even though the U.S. government is apparently going to loosen regulations on travel to Cuba, you are still bound by tight restrictions on what you can bring home. In the rest of the world, the Cuban government has made finding its iconic product easy by creating a network of more than 140 Casas del Habano, all supplied by authorized distributors in most countries and regions. They can only sell Cuban cigars in those franchises, and from our experience, the government has done a good job of insisting on the quality of their shops. In addition to the Casas, we also touched base with several traditional tobacconists who we trust, and have always had the highest quality cigars in their inventory.
The questions were simple: Best-selling size, best-selling brand, are single or box sales most common, best release of 2014, most exciting prospective 2015 release, inventory status, highest-priced cigar, cheapest cigar, average price and an overall impression about Cuban cigar quality.
With a couple of exceptions, robustos are the most popular size in every Casa del Habano in the world. The exceptions were petit cazadores in France, pirámides in Grand Cayman and long, big ring gauge cigars in Hamburg, Germany. The majority of the answers reflect nearly the same size preferences of American smokers, a fact confirmed in most Cigar Insider surveys over the last 20 years. It's pretty simple: people don't have the time to smoke bigger cigars every day, and, maybe just as important, a robusto is often a bit more affordable than say, a double corona.
The best selling-brand in the Cuban cigar retail world is Partagás, but only by a slim margin. Cohiba was mentioned as the most popular brand in Dubai, Barbados and Hong Kong, and was the second most popular brand in most shops. Montecristo earned mentions in the United Kingdom, Grand Cayman and in Mexico.
There was no clear result on sales of single cigars compared to boxes. If you could make any judgment, it would be that in higher tax markets such as Canada, singles are preferred. But given the high-end clientele of most Casas del Habano, box sales remain common everywhere.
The clear winner for the best new release of 2014 was the Cohiba Robusto Supremo Edición Limitada 2014, a 58 ring gauge smoke. In our reporting, as the cigar was released late in the year, there was no question that Habanos had hit a home run. Retailers confirmed that assessment. Second place went to the Partagás Lusitania Gran Reserva. The other Edición Limitadas from 2014 were complimented as well: several Casas mentioned the Partagás Selección Privada EL, and the Casa del Habano in Montreal said the best-selling new release was the Bolivar Super Corona EL.
Everyone had a different opinion about the most exciting upcoming release for this year, including H. Upmann Magnum 56 EL 2015, Partagás Serie D No. 6, Montecristo Churchill Añejado, Partagás 170 Aniversario, Romeo y Julieta Wide Churchill Gran Reserva, Hunters & Frankau 225th Anniversary, Juan López Don Juan Edicion Regional Benelux, and Montecristo 80th Aniversario. As with all new releases, we're not even sure they will appear in 2015, and Habanos has yet to confirm all the cigars.
The other good news for Cuban cigar buyers is that nearly all the retailers reported their stocks were nearly complete as we went to press, with all major brands and sizes in stock. The only exception was in Dubai. Otherwise, every shop reported nearly full lineups of the major brands. For most shops the most expensive regular production cigar is the Cohiba Behike BHK 56. The most expensive current production cigar reported was the limited edition Partagás Lusitania Gran Reserva, at $148 per stick in Canada. The cheapest cigars we found were all value brands, such as a José L. Piedra for $2.30 in France, and machine-made brands. Other low-end brands that were mentioned included Guantanamera and Quintero. In Hong Kong, the lowest-priced cigar brand is the new incarnation of Vegueros.
One London retailer who sells vintage cigars took the opportunity to provide an answer to a question not addressed in the survey—his most expensive vintage cigar. A single 1986 Davidoff Aniversario No. 1 could be had for a mere $2,268.
The average price for a sale seems to be $10 to $15. The shops in the United Kingdom, a high tax market, were significantly higher, with average prices between $22 and $30.
The final question—Cuban quality—should reassure every cigar smoker on earth. In general, every retailer said the quality of Cuban cigars today is good to excellent. Carlos Lander of the Casa del Habano in Barbados, says "I can honestly say that the dark years (the late '90s) are gone, and today a Habano is the best cigar that money can buy." Others were not quite as positive. Several of them mentioned occasional draw problems. "Some brands are decreasing in quality," one distributor said, "but the ones that are great, are great."
The overall takeaway from this survey is pretty simple: in markets outside the United States in 2015, you are going to find ample inventories of Cuban cigars, and Cuban cigar retailers are generally pleased with what they are selling. And, while Cuban cigars are expensive, today's strong U.S. dollar is making them a little more affordable.