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Too Many Choices?

Oct 17, 2016 | By Gordon Mott
Too Many Choices?
Photo/Angus McRitchie

[Update: The prices in this blog have been corrected and are listed in Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUCs).] 

Is there such a thing as an overabundance of choice when talking about cigars? If such a thing exists, Havana's cigar shops currently are offering a mind-boggling surplus of top cigars. But that's one of the major attractions of traveling to Cuba if you are a cigar lover; prowling through the humidors of the city's Casas del Habano, and discovering some gems.

There was a treasure trove in every shop last week. For Americans visiting here, the removal of special import limits on Cuban cigars opens the door for purchases of boxes of higher priced cigars, instead of having to live with the former $100 limit. In fact, at $800 or 100 cigars, under the existing official U.S. Customs limits that apply to the rest of the world, well, it feels like the sky's the limit!

Of course, you still have to deal with the Cubans to get your cigars out of the country. Up to 50, you can waltz through the final customs check, which doubles as the security check. Over 50 cigars, or two boxes of 25, you'll need to have legitimate invoices from authorized cigar shops, like a La Casa del Habano. And even then you may run into some questioning depending on who's working the security line. In other words, you can't just buy dozens of boxes and get of out the country without some interrogation.

It is easier to talk first about which cigars are not widely available here. In visits to six Casas del Habano—Club Havana, Meliá Habana, Meliá Cohiba, 5th Ave. & 16th Street, Hotel Nacional and Habana Libre—I found no Behikes. Well that's only 95 percent true; at the Meliá Habana, the second day I returned there to pick up some cigars from my locker, they had displayed an open box of Behike BHK 56s after a client who reserved them had called in saying he didn't want to complete his purchase. And, the Habana Libre Casa had three open boxes, one BHK 52 (22 CUC each), BHK 54 (29 CUC) and BHK 56 (32 CUC). In the other shops, there were none. Each shop manager said they had received between five and 10 boxes, sometimes of each size, sometimes as the total number of boxes, between one to two months ago, but the prized cigars had sold out immediately.

"I got five boxes of each Behike," said Carlos Robaina, the manager of the well-known Quinta Avenida Casa del Habano at 5th Ave. and 16th Street. "But they were all gone before I could barely turn around."

There also were very few Edición Limitadas. I did come across some boxes of the H. Upmann Magnum 56 (5 7/8 inches by 56 ring gauge) at the Meliá Habana. But if there were any others, either from 2015 or previous years, I missed them. The Magnum 56 was priced at 345 CUCs for a cabinet of 25. The Habana Libre Casa del Habano had both the ELs, but in open boxes; the store manager said there might be some Magnum 56s left in the humidor, but I couldn't find them. There were none of the giant Hoyo de Monterrey Maravillas (9 by 55), as I was hoping—they were proposed a while ago as a 2015 Edición Limitada, then changed to a Colleción Habanos release, but nothing seems to have become of these Maravillas either way.

I also only found one shop, the Meliá Habana, with one of my favorite cigars, the Diplomaticos Excelencia, a Cuba Regional Edition from 2015. The robusto size cigar is smoking like a dream, and with box dates of December 2015, and a price of 86 CUC for a box of 10, it is a great value for the quality.

Most shops also had a variety of Casa del Habano Exclusives, whether it was a H. Upmann Royal Robusto (10-count box for 74.50 CUC), a Bolivar Libertadores (10-count for 110 CUC), or the H. Upmann glass jar of Noellas (5 3/8 by 42) at 122 CUC.

The big news is that nearly every shop had a full range of Double Corona (7 1/2 by 49, the standard size) cigars in boxes of 25 including Punch Double Coronas (272.50 CUC), Ramon Allones Gigantes (261.25 CUC), Bolivar Corona Gigantes (246.25 CUC), and Partagás Lusitanias (283.75 CUC). Not every shop had the Hoyo de Monterrey (285 CUC), but they were available. A notable feature of almost every Double Corona box I checked, was that they had box dates starting in March 2016, and the vast majority had box codes of June, July and August 2016. I found one box of Punch Double Coronas from November 2013 at Club Habana, and one box of Ramon Allones Gigantes at the Meliá Habana from November 2015.

"We didn't have big cigars for nearly a year," said Leonerto Perez Hernandez, the manager of the Casa del Habano at Club Habano. "We do have them now, but they are all with recent box dates."

The Habanos Añejados series (Romeo y Julieta Pirámides, Montecristo Churchills, Hoyo de Monterrey Hermosos No. 4 and the Partagás Corona Gorda) were all in great supply, with some shops having up to 50 boxes each. All four Añejados have box dates from 2007 or 2008. The Romeo y Julieta Pirámides (6 1/8 by 52) costs 281.25 CUC for a box of 25. The Montecristo Churchill (7 by 47) is 335 CUC per box of 25. The Hoyo de Monterrey Hermosos No. 4 (5 by 48) in boxes of 25 cost 215 CUC. And, the other recent Añejado release, the Partagás Coronas Gordas (5 5/8 by 46) will set you back 245 CUC.

Finally, nearly all the shops have what I would call small selections of lesser brands like Vegueros, Flor de Cano, Fonseca, La Gloria Cubana and Por Larrañaga.

While it may sound like hyperbole, it has been a long time since I have seen the shelves in Havana shops so full of outstanding products. My one caveat, which we always are quick to point out, is that a month from now, the inventory situation could be entirely different. That may be especially true right now because as of October 14, Americans can buy, in dollar terms, eight times more cigars than they could before. Stocks could be depleted rapidly. As we have reported, the low inventory of top quality tobacco, especially wrapper leaves, means it could be some time before shipments of big cigars reach the market again.

With all the caveats, you will have a hard time deciding what to buy. The perils of abundance.

Below is a short list of some of the cigars I found in Casas del Habano. For those of you buying with U.S. dollars, remember that you lose 13 percent when you exchange your money into Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUCs). A box of cigars that costs 200 CUC will end up costing you $230 when you factor in the fee for changing your dollars.

Club Habana

Meliá Habana

5th Ave & 16th Street

Hotel Nacional

Hotel Habana Libre

  • Hoyo de Monterrey du Prince (Jan. 2012) Cabinet of 25 - 120 CUC
  • Selección de Petit Robustos (March 2016) Box of 10 - 108 CUC

Meliá Cohiba

"Do you own a brick and mortar selling non-Cuban cigars and is your name Dave? " —November 2, 2016 00:22 AM
"I've found in recent years many Cuban brands and blends are virtually the same, homogenised with the only difference being brands and boxes." —October 17, 2016 20:36 PM

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