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Kathy Lawver

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In the event you didn't make it to this year's XXI Habanos Festival, which celebrated the 500th anniversary of San Cristobal de La Habana, as the city of Havana was initially known as, or are about to embark for a different country where you can legally purchase Havana cigars (that will be practically anywhere else in the world except the United States, where it is forbidden to sell Cuban goods ), here are seven of the top brands in our embargoed neighbor we feel are well worth seeking out. It is now legal to bring back up to 100 Cuban cigars--that's about four boxes--provided that they are for your personal use and not for resale.

RELATED This Beverly Hills Whiskey Hideaway Feels Like a Private Club in the Wild West One of the World's Greatest BBQ Pitmasters Has Created the Ultimate Guide to Steak Adam Perry Lang Is Finally Making His World Famous Barbecue Again But , some caveats. Beware of counterfeits. They are more rampant than ever--even in Cuba--though now Costa Rica is giving Mexico a challenge for the title of Counterfeit Cuban Cigars Per Square Mile. So be careful. If anybody offers you a Cohiba Esplendido for $5, you are aware that it can't be real. A number of the best places to purchase authentic Cuban cigars are the United Kingdom (in which they're rigidly inspected by exclusive Habanos importers Hunters & Frankau), Spain--that also gets some of the best Havanas--and also any of their official La Casa del Habanos Cuban government-sanctioned retail stores; there are now 90 of them globally. Duty-free shops are also a safe haven for authentic Cuban cigars, although we recently bought a three-pack of our coveted Montecristo No. two pyramids in Dubai International Airport and found them to be substandard so far as taste was worried (a result of inferior leaf selection and inadequate aging). Plus, one of those cigars was wrapped much too closely to permit a decent draw. But all three Montecristos were real Habanos products. This brings up the continuing issue with Cuban cigars of quality control. That is supported by Mitchell Orchant, managing director of C.Gars, Ltd, among the largest purveyors of Cuban cigars in England, that also critiques the freshness of a cigars, in other words, if they were obsolete sufficiently prior to being released. So a fantastic rule of thumb is, after you buy your Cuban cigars safely house, set them on your humidor for at least a month or 2 to give them a little time to more fully develop the flavors that made Havana famous. Bearing that in mind, here are our recommendations for your next cigar buying excursion abroad. Trinidad In addition to celebrating the 500th anniversary of San Cristobal de La Habana (which also happens to be the name of a rather mild-smoking Havana cigar that has been introduced in 1999 and showcased in the festival), the XXI Festival has been spotlighting the Trinidad brand, that premiered in 1996 as Fidel Castro's VIP cigar to supplant the Cohiba, which started being publically sold in 1982. The medium-full-flavored Trinidad is Havana's top notch cigar. Last season, three new shapes have been introduced: a 4 1/2 x 50 press luna, a 5 7/10 x 53 Esmeralda, along with a 4 11/12 x 56 Topes, that initially was a 2016 limited variant. Cohiba Nevertheless one of the most widely-counterfeited cigars on the planet, only purchase these from dependable sources. The full-powered, large-ringed Behike is a pricey smoke worth paying , only for bragging rights, with all the 54 and 56 ring gauges especially sought after. Another rarity is the newly-launched Cohiba Robusto Reserva, and while we usually don't quote prices due to the changing marketplace for Cuban cigars, it is safe to say that these will generally run more than $100 a rod. Using the best of three year old tobaccos, it's offered in only one dimensions: a 4 7/8 x 50 robusto. Just 500 individually numbered boxes have been released. For something milder (and noticeably less expensive) try the Siglo VI. Montecristo In spite of our unsatisfactory experience in Dubai, the No. 2 pirámide remains our all time favourite. For a smaller smoke, try the No. 4--the best-selling cigar in the world. Partagás This is really a porterhouse steak and Napa Cabernet smoke, in any size. However, in addition to the Series D No.4 Robusto, another favorite of ours is that the newly-introduced 6 1/4 x47 Presidente, with its easy-to-light pinched foot and easy-to-clip Perfecto cap. That is another cigar that never disappoints, especially for those in between times when you're not quite certain of what to smoke. Ideally suited to a Plymouth Gin martini (extra dry, olive across the side) or a Macallan 12 year-old Double Cask, we have recently switched from the Brief Churchill into the bigger-ringed 5 1/4 x 55 Wide Churchill Robusto. Besides offering a slightly fuller flavor, it seems to be physically fitting to the shapes' namesake. Another fantastic medium strength cigar, this gentle smoke keeps only enough earthiness to ensure it is appropriate for early to late evenings. Orchant of C.Gars believes it is the finest from the H.Upmann range and we agree. Do not fall in the preconception that all Cuban cigars are strong. This brand certainly is not, although its strength will change by shape. Thinking about using an Irish Whiskey and a cigar? Punch The Double Corona is a perfect match for a snifter of X.O. Cognac. Medium-full in taste; the Vegas Robaina is among the most complex and hot Havanas around and perfect for any time after lunch and well in the day. Cuaba The contours of Cuabas are all figurados: a mild-mannered smoke ideal for the novice as well as the connoisseur who feels like throttling down a little flavor intensity.

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