Our intrepid Lima-based correspondent, Andy Rompel, reports on what to smoke with your Cuba Libre.
If you are a US American citizen, and you are not allowed the privilege of enjoying a Cuban Habana, then the Dominican Republic is your next best destination for first class cigars. This is where I went on business last month, and I found a few minutes to visit a shop with the local “hecho a mano” (hand-rolled) variety. Prices were substantially cheaper than in North America and ranged from US$5 up to US$25 for the Dominican Superstar, the Arturo Fuente Fuente Opus X of the Arturo Fuente Family, who call themselves the “Reigning Family of Premium Cigars”. I bought two, as you need to share one to discuss the experience of smoking the Rolls Royce of cigars. Before you light it, smell the wrapper and the filler separately. Spiciness on the outside and soft, almost barnyard flavours on the inside.
The US embargo on Cuba being a disadvantage to Castro’s children of the revolution, most certainly is an advantage to the Dominican Republic. The finest cigar makers escaped the revolution and took their skills and the necessary seedlings to the neighbouring island. There they have not been able to match the earthiness of a Habana, but compensate this with elegant creamy and spicy flavours, evident in the top brands like Davidoff and Dunhill.
Another advantage of not having to deal with US embargos is the sourcing of binders and wrappers. Whereas Cuba has to grow filler, binder and wrapper, the Dominicans are said to produce poor wrappers, but in turn can import the finest in the world, some of which do come from the US (Connecticut, Virginia). The Fuente Opus X is the exception to the rule, being living proof that the soils of the Dominican Republic can also produce excellent wrappers.
Domincan Cigar bands are also more generously proportioned compared to the Cuban variety. Again, this might have to do with the American market, where bigger is still better. But do not believe that US citizens do not smoke Cuban “puros”. Just north of the 45º Latitude there is a country with most major cities right against the American border. And if you happen to stroll along Vancouver’s Robson Street, you will encounter a multitude of Cigar shops, who only store Cuban cigars. When asked why they do not stock up on Dominicans you are told that the American tourist only buy Cubans.
An Ashton Cabinet enjoyed with a Cuba Libre (not sure if US citizens are allowed to drink those): The Cabinet’s 4 to 5 year old Dominican filler blend has a rich, complex and well rounded taste. The Connecticut shade wrapper is aged for an extra year and has an elegant palomino colour resulting in a smooth and creamy flavour (from their website).