After fielding phone calls and questions concerning Cuban cigars and their availability, I thought that it might be a good opportunity to address it here today. By announcing that we will be normalizing relations with Cuba, President Obama certainly created one of the largest stirs in the cigar industry in a long time. Most cigar makers have obviously taken notice but most of the noise has been generated on the consumer side.
Just a few days ago I had a guest at one of my stores ask me about it. It has become a common occurrence lately. When I responded to him that nothing really changed and that Cuban cigars were still illegal here his reaction was funny. He declared, “I thought Obama fixed that.” I sadly had to remind him that like most politicians promises, this is one that he can’t deliver on his own.
Now, before you can stroll into your neighborhood ABC store and purchase a Cuban smoke, Congress will have to rescind the 1959 Trade Embargo. As most of you are aware, things on Capitol Hill tend to crawl along at a snail’s pace, which in my humble opinion isn’t always a bad thing considering they control the National Check Book. I don’t see this issue being a top priority for the new congress so don’t expect big changes anytime soon.
Also, even if the embargo were to be lifted tomorrow it would be highly unlikely that Cuba would be able to fill the immediate demand that would be generated here in the United States. I fear that most of the cigars that would make it into the U.S would be of fair to poor quality. Of course these less desirable smokes would still command the high Cuban price tag.
I also believe that most Americans would be very disappointed in the cigars. There is just no way that the Cuban cigars can live up to the high expectations that many American consumers would have for them. For those of us who have enjoyed a few Cuban cigars over the years we are prepared for the disappointment. If you look at the publications that rate cigars, seeing Cubans rated amongst the top in the world is becoming a rarer occurrence. With so much great tobacco being grown in the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, Brazil, Ecuador, and even here in the USA, Cuba no longer corners the market on great tobacco.
What I would be excited about would be a trip to the cigar factories in Cuba. Historically, this is where it all began and of course it was Cuba who first set the gold standard for premium cigars. I would also love to walk through the tobacco fields in Vuelta Abajo, a place as renowned for its great and powerful tobacco as Florida is for its speedy college football prospects.
For those wanting to stroll through Havana or those wishing to purchase a Cuban Cohiba right here in the Estados Unidos, it looks like you both will have to wait a while longer. But don’t get too discouraged. We have plenty of great cigars to smoke while you wait.
Chris Gwaltney, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits regional manager and certified tobacconist
Follow me on Twitter @abccigarchris