The great Cohiba scarcity - cigars to discover while we wait

The great Cohiba scarcity - cigars to discover while we wait

by Nick Hendry

Not all Cuban cigars are created equal.  There can be no denying the quality of all of them, but there can also be no denying the fact that some brands, some vitolas, are better than the rest.  Cohiba are marketed as the gold standard by Habanos SA, given the finest tobacco to be rolled by the finest torcedores, and presented in more luxurious packaging to aficionados.  This excellence earns a corresponding popularity – this has led, in recent times, to a shortage of supply.

The last 2 years have brought the same problems to cigar factories as everywhere else.  While the industry was exempt from a total shutdown – deemed too vital for the nation’s economy – strict health & safety protocols were brought in to protect workers from infection, including stringent social distancing.  In El Laguito, where all Cohibas are made, space is at a premium, meaning only half the workforce could be safely at their posts at any one time.  Add to this the slowdown in global travel and freight movement, and harvest issues which have resulted in a shortage of large, high-grade wrapper leaves, and the gaps which have appeared on European shelves begin to make sense.

Cohiba Siglo I cigars

Cohiba cigars, like this Siglo I, are becoming increasingly hard to find

Our own recent Cohiba drop was on our shelves for less than 24 hours before lucky smokers had snapped them up.  The ‘regular-but-rare’ status once reserved for the Behike line has now enveloped the entire Cohiba offering.  As we detailed last week, 2022 looks likely to face similar issues with production and supply, so this temporary drought may go on for a little longer.

For those of us who did not manage to stock up last week, solace should be found in 2 places.  The first is that a temporary drought is exactly that: temporary.  Production will soon be back at full capacity, travel will soon be as frequent and easy as it once was, and our humidors will be full once again.  The second is that a dearth of our favourites gives opportunity to revisit forgotten pleasures, or even try something altogether new.  Here are a few wonderful examples of cigars lesser smoked, all ideal choices to either discover or return to in this period of enforced Cohiba abstinence.

The Quai d'Orsay No. 50

Quai d’Orsay No. 50

Arguably the mildest brand to come from Havana, Quai d’Orsay have had some of their own recent struggles with supply issues.  This is particularly true of the No. 54 – most likely due the size of the wrapper required – but, thankfully, the No. 50 is in fairly good supply.  This is a petit robusto of the same vitola as the Partagas D5, but the polar opposite in terms of flavour.  Expect velvety creaminess, warm coffee and slightly sweet notes, which will last around 40 minutes and is the ideal breakfast smoke.  The reputation of Quai d’Orsay grows with each passing year, but if you are still yet to try one, now is the perfect time to see what you’re missing.

The Por Larranaga Petit Corona

Por Larranaga Petit Corona

Another mild cigar, though a step up in power from the Q50, The Por Larranaga Petit Corona is a classic mareva size.  One of the most long-running sticks from the oldest brand in Cuba, PLPC are still somehow underrated or unknown by many cigar smokers.  It is also best suited to early in the day, the profile matching cappuccinos and champagne more than red wine and whisky, but that does not detract from its quality.  Sweetness, then cream, then a little touch of spice delight the palette for just over half an hour.  A cabinet of these in your humidor will soon find itself being opened more regularly than you first expected.

The Rafael Gonzalez Perlas

Rafael Gonzalez Perlas

The perlas vitola is used for the Cohiba Siglo I, and its diminutive size (40 ring gauge by 4 inches) is perfect for smokers short on time.  It may only last around 20 minutes, but it will offer a fine, medium-bodied moment filled with wood, earth, and a pleasing touch of black pepper.  When it was relaunched in the mid-60s, Rafael Gonzalez was considered a luxury brand, but has now fallen into relative obscurity and has only 3 fairly small cigars in its regular portfolio.  Perhaps now is the ideal moment for smokers to rediscover this sleeping giant, and for the profile of the name to rise again.

The Cuaba cigar band

Cuaba Divinos

Another cigar which is perfect when time is at a premium.  The Cuaba Divinos is the same 4 inch length as the Perlas, but a touch wider at 43 ring gauge and much more striking, as it is rolled in the distinctive perfecto style Cuaba is known for.  The brand was only launched in 1996, with the intention of bringing this remarkable format back into fashion, and has become a cult favourite since then.  Floral notes mix with ginger spice, and a medium body which will warm your tastebuds and make a fine end to a meal, if you’re in a rush to get to your next engagement.  This is a brand which deserves more attention, aside from that reserved for its gargantuan – but lesser-spotted – Salomones.  With the 30th anniversary approaching in 2026, it may be worth getting to know them before the inevitable commemorative release.

The San Cristobal de La Habana 20 Aniversario

San Cristobal de La Habana 20 Aniversario

While super-premium cigars may be in short supply at the moment, that does not mean they are completely unavailable.  This San Cristobal de La Habana was released in 2019 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the brand’s inception, and released in a rather charming decorative “treasure box” humidor.  Despite being a young name, San Cristobal have seen an impressive number of special and limited releases already, and this one has proven to be among the most collectable, as well as among the most tasty.  Expect notes of dark chocolate an buttered popcorn if you choose to smoke it, or looks of extreme envy from fellow collectors if you decide to display it in your humidor for a few years first. 

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