Even though the embargo against Cuba has been lightened — you can now legally bring $100 worth of tasty Havanas back to the States — it doesn’t mean you can buy them locally. You can order them online, but there’s no guarantee they’re the real deal, and you’re still messing with the law when you take that route. And so, if you’re like us and you salivate just thinking about the rich, complex and earthy flavors some great Cuban cigars impart, you want to “bend the rules” — but risks are risks.

Your other solution is finding a great alternative to a Havana. But this route takes a bit of know-how. Just because a cigar brags “Cuban seed tobacco” on its list of ingredients doesn’t mean the cigar will taste like the real thing — after all, the majority of the unique flavor comes from Cuban soil, rather than just the seed, itself. And be conscious that a great alternative won’t mimic the exact flavors of Cubans — you’re not matching a Hoyo De Monterey Epicure or a Cohiba Esplendido — but rather provide the smoker with rich taste and nuanced complexity that pay homage to the Cuban tradition. Most of the iterations below were created by cigar crafters who fled Cuba and took with them the knowledge on how to make an excellent stogie, and built factories in South America and other regions from where the US can legally import their goods.

Cuba’s Secret Sauce
The secret stuff of a great Cuban cigar is found in Cuba’s Vuelta Abajo, a fertile section of land in the west. It’s both the climate and subsoil that lend to the rich, earthy, complex flavor of “Habanos”. Vuelta Abajo can take credit for the perfect humidity of 65 percent, an average temperature of 73 degrees Fahrenheit and a wealth of minerals and sand. The result is high nitrate concentration in the tobacco leaves, giving Habanos power, flavor and quality. No one has been able to duplicate them, though many have tried, and these cigars come close.

La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero Chisel Maduro Toro Grande


This is the decadent favorite of the group, not only by virtue of body and flavor, but by the uniqueness of shape and cut. The flat chisel tip lets you either pinch the end to open it up or requires a punch cut in the top of the impeccably constructed, supremely oily cigar (the punch cut is the preferred method). It allows cool smoke to travel up to the roof of your mouth, providing a completely new flavor experience for cigar smokers.
Flavor Notes: The flawless draw of this cigar allows an immediate chocolate taste from the maduro wrapper, backed by delicious black coffee and wood. The billowy smoke is sweet smelling, making the experience that much better. There’s no wait for flavor — it’s right there and never lets up. Creaminess and spice show up in the latter half of the cigar, but the initial flavors remain throughout the smoke, making this full-bodied cigar one of the most flavorful experiences you’ll have.

Origin: Dominican Republic
Ring Gauge: 54
Length: 6 inches
Body: full
Wrapper/Binder/Filler: Ecuador/Dominican Republic/Dominican Republic

Montecristo Relentless No. 2


Montecristo’s otherwise conservative tastes are betrayed by the Relentless. The construction is Monte consistent — the shade-grown wrapper is oily and beautifully rolled — but the strength and fullness of the cigar stands out against its milder brethren.
Flavor Notes: The early tastes of oaky woodiness change quickly to a creamy and nutty flavor with cinnamon in the background. The complexity arises when black coffee, mild black pepper and sweet cream provide nuance. Even burn and dense gray ash make it visually satisfying to smoke, as well.

Origin: Dominican Republic
Ring Gauge: 52
Length: 6 1/8 inches
Body: medium
Wrapper/Binder/Filler: Ecuador/Mexico/Nicargua and Brazil

Romeo y Julieta House of Capulet Toro


The presentation of this R&J is near perfect, not only because of the two white and silver bands and the embossed paper wrapping, but because the Ecuadorian wrapper is near flawless. It’s an excellent size for kicking back and relaxing without occupying more than an hour of your day. The flavor nod to Havanas is spot on, without being overwhelmingly potent.
Flavor Notes: The complexity goes beyond the RyJ Reserva Real (another fantastic smoke) in that the Capulet delivers the standard creaminess Romeos are known for, but with the interplay of nuts, pepper, wood, mild earthiness and even a bit of fennel. The last bit adds spice and tanginess, without losing the creamy undertone. It’s not a strong smoke, but it’s rich in flavor and smooth from first light to last puff.

Origin: Honduras
Ring Gauge: 52
Length: 6 inches
Body: medium-full
Wrapper/Binder/Filler: Ecuador/Nicaragua/Nicaragua and Honduras

La Gloria Cubana Gilded Age Robusto


Veiny, dark and bold in appearance, the Gilded Age is as visually declarative as the 1920s art deco period it strives to emulate. But rather than crisp, the wrapper is rough and on the bumpy side, with a dark brown, almost maduro hue.
Flavor Notes: The pre-light smell is pleasant with sweetness and some earth, as a good Cuban smells. Spice and woodiness show up immediately after lighting, and complexity rears its head after an inch of smoking. Wood, earth and even some spice and floral notes come through, and the spice factor ramps up significantly halfway through the smoke.

Origin: Honduras
Ring Gauge: 52
Length: 5 inches
Body: medium
Wrapper/Binder/Filler: Ecuador/Honduras/Nicaragua

La Aurora Preferidos Diamond Gran Toro


These limited-run cigars are worth their asking price. There are only 250 boxes in existence, so once they’re gone, they’re really gone. Beautiful, dark and oily, these cigars taste as good as the look and feel. The superbly dark brown Connecticut Broadleaf makes for slight veins but flawless construction, as well as rich maduro smoothness.
Flavor Notes: First light opens up with leather and chocolate flavors and a bit of a loose draw, but then adds a bit of spice and mild coffee notes. Coffee and delicious cocoa predominate the middle of the cigar, and then it finishes nicely with nuttiness, pepper and cedar to up the complexity.

Origin: Dominican Republic
Ring Gauge: 58
Length: 6 inches
Body: full
Wrapper/Binder/Filler: Dominican Republic/Dominican Republic/Dominican Republic

Amos Kwon

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