Cohiba: The Birth of a King
Exploding out of the melee of revolution came one the most recognizable cigar brands in the World: Cohiba.
Widely considered one of the best cigars ever made, the Cohiba brand emerged on the international scene to become the most sought after cigar in the land and in turn the symbol of a fledgling nation that was finding its identity and gain global prestige.
From local unknown to ruler of the cigar world, the Cohiba journey is a legendary tale that is as unique in flavor as the cigars themselves.
Once Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and company defied the Western World by toppling Cuba’s status quo, they brought with them, despite their communist mantra, that most capitalistic of guilty pleasures: a passion for cigars.
It was during these dangerous days that one of Castro’s bodyguards set the Cohiba legend in motion.
As the legend goes the guard provided Castro with a locally produced cigar and Castro fell immediately in love with the pleasing smoke. It became a priority for Castro that these cigars should be produced for him by only the best cigar rollers and using only the finest of tobaccos. And so it was that the Cohiba cigar came into being.
The name ‘Cohiba’ comes from the ancient indigenous people of Cuba, the Taino, who used ‘Cohiba’ to describe the bundles of tobacco leaves that were inhaled through the nose. These were the first ‘cigars’ ever seen by European eyes when Christopher Columbus and his crew made landfall on the Caribbean’s largest island.
Whether as a bit of propaganda by those in power to find ties to ancient Cuba or as a genuine and nostalgic ode to the past, ‘Cohiba’ seemed the perfect fit.
With a name in place, the cigars were blended using all of the finest tobaccos to be found in Cuba, those of the famous Vuelta Abajo. When harvested, these tobaccos found their way to one of Cuba’s most closely guarded secrets.
Created by Castro especially for the Cohiba and once only whispered of, the now-famous El Laguito factory started production of the Cohiba in 1966.
Storied cigar man Avelino Lara (most recently renown for blending the original Graycliff cigar) headed up the factory where unique blending and barrel aging techniques, helped make the Cohiba unlike any cigar in the World and the instant go-to choice for Cuban officials as well as visiting dignitaries.
The EL Laguito factory is also credited with being the first to produce the now uber-popular Lancero size.
By the time the “official” Cohiba launch came in 1968, the Cohiba mystique was already off and running. The illustrious old-time Cuban cigar brands, Partagas, H. Upmann, Romeo y Julieta and Montecristo cigars, but to name a few, were pushed into the ever-growing shadow of the usurper, Cohiba.
Whether as a shrewd economic endeavor, a calculated political decision to create something that challenged the Cuba of old, to create something wholly new that could carry the banner of the “new Cuba” to the World or born out of the simple desire to just create a great smoke, Castro’s beloved cigar was on a rapid ascent that culminated in its official international release in 1982.
Cohiba rose to become the “holy grail” of cigars for connoisseurs around the Globe and especially those in the United States.
Since the trade embargos of the 1960s, Cuban cigars have not been open for sale in the US and the rules to purchasing cigars overseas and bringing them into the country were and still are frustratingly strict, if not confusing and inconsistently enforced.
To complicate matters a cottage industry of counterfeiters sprung up to capitalize on Americans’ demand for Cuban cigar brands, in particular Cohiba. Recent loosening of trade with Cuba has hinted at the possibilities of fully opening the American market to Cuban cigars, yet this is a political and legal minefield with no clear-cut resolution.
The trouble arises from the ownership of rights to the various trademarked names that exist in both Cuba and the United States. Chief among them, Cohiba has been the source of a bitter struggle between Cubatabaco (Cuba’s state-run cigar and tobacco company) and General Cigar (makers of many popular smokes including Macanudo and owners of the US rights to many familiar Cuban names Punch, Partagas, Bolivar and Hoyo de Monterrey among them), who received the legal US rights to the Cohiba name in 1978, a right that has been reaffirmed many times over.
General Cigar’s Dominican Cohiba (aka the “Red Dot”) is itself a World-class cigar that has garnered praise from every corner of the Globe for its smooth and supple character. So with two existing heavyweight entities fighting an all-or-nothing battle, the future of Cohiba in the US is a bit muddled to say the least.
Cuba is, however, internationally recognized as THE home of Cohiba, so it is most likely that a distribution settlement of some kind will allow General Cigar some reasonable reparations, even though Cubatabaco and its exporting arm which handles licensing of Cohiba, Habanos, have threatened that no compromises will be made.
Regardless of political demands or legal quarrels, cigar aficionados everywhere are already asking “When will cigar shops near me have Cuban Cohibas?” or “Can you tell me where to buy Cuban cigars?” and drooling at the very thought of what tasty goodness the future might bring.
From that original Cohiba that so enthralled Fidel Castro to the wide-range of blends today, Cohiba continues to rule the cigar world with a steely fist that shows no signs of losing its grip.
Through it all Cohiba has come to represent many things to many people. From an “against the odds” success story to the very incarnation of the excesses of a corrupt government to a glimmer of a hopeful future, Cohiba, like Cuba itself, is an enigma that is built upon myth, upon the desire of a great many to possess the unattainable.
The one thing that is indisputable, the one absolute is that Cohiba is and will be for the foreseeable future, the undisputed king of cigars.
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