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Janita Aquilino

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In the event you did not 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 originally called, or are about to embark for a different nation where you can legally buy Havana cigars (that is practically anywhere else in the world except the USA, where it is forbidden to sell Cuban products), here are seven of the top brands in our embargoed neighbor that we believe are well worth searching out. It's currently legal to return around 100 Cuban cigars--that's about four boxes--provided that they are for the private use and not for resale.

RELATED This Beverly Hills Whiskey Hideaway Feels Like a Private Club from the Wild West One of the World's Greatest BBQ Pitmasters Has Created the Ultimate Guide to Steak But first, some caveats. Beware of counterfeits. They're More rampant than everin Cuba--although currently Costa Rica is providing Mexico a struggle for the title of Counterfeit Cuban Cigars Per Square Mile. So be cautious. If anyone offers you a Cohiba Esplendido for $5, then you know it can not be real. Some of the top places to purchase authentic Cuban cigars will be the United Kingdom (in which they're rigidly scrutinized by exclusive Habanos importers Hunters & Frankau), Spain--which also gets some of the best Havanas--and any of their official La Casa del Habanos Cuban government-sanctioned retail shops; there are now 90 of these internationally. Duty-free shops are also a safe haven for authentic Cuban cigars, even though we recently bought a three-pack of our enviable Montecristo No. two pyramids in Dubai International Airport and discovered them to be substandard as far as taste was concerned (a consequence of poor leaf choice and insufficient aging). Plus, one of the cigars was rolled much too tightly to allow a decent draw. However, all three Montecristos were genuine Habanos products. That brings up the continuing issue with Cuban cigars of quality control. That is supported by Mitchell Orchant, managing director of C.Gars, Ltd, one of the largest purveyors of Cuban cigars in England, that also critiques the freshness of a cigars, in other words, whether they were obsolete sufficiently before being published. So a fantastic guideline is, once you buy your Cuban cigars safely home, set them on your humidor for at least a month or two to give them a while to more fully develop the flavors that made Havana famous. Bearing that in mind, here are our recommendations for your following cigar buying excursion abroad. Trinidad As well as celebrating the 500th anniversary of San Cristobal de La Habana (which also happens to be the name of a somewhat mild-smoking Havana cigar which was introduced in 1999 and showcased at the festival), the XXI Festival was spotlighting the Trinidad brand, that premiered in 1996 since Fidel Castro's VIP cigar to supplant the Cohiba, that started being publically sold in 1982. Last year, three new shapes have been introduceda 4 1/2 x 50 press luna, a 5 7/10 x 53 Esmeralda, along with a 4 11/12 x 56 Topes, which originally was a 2016 limited variant. Cohiba Still one of the very widely-counterfeited cigars on the planet, only purchase these from dependable sources. The full-powered, large-ringed Behike is a high-priced smoke worth paying for, simply for bragging rights, with the 54 and 56 ring gauges especially desired. Another benefit is the newly-launched Cohiba Robusto Reserva, and while we usually do not quote prices due to the changing marketplace for Cuban cigars, it is safe to say these will normally run more than $100 a rod. Using the best of three year old tobaccos, it's available in only one dimensions: a 4 7/8 x 50 robusto. Just 500 individually numbered boxes were released. For something milder (and clearly less expensive) try the Siglo VI. Montecristo Regardless of our disappointing experience in Dubai, the No. 2 pirámide stays 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 almost any dimension. However, besides the Series D No.4 Robusto, another favourite 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. Romeo y Julieta This is just another cigar which never disappoints, especially for those in between times when you're not very certain of what to smoke. Ideally suited for either a Plymouth Gin martini (additional dry, olive across the side) or a Macallan 12 year-old Double Cask, we have recently switched from the Short Churchill into the bigger-ringed 5 1/4 x 55 Broad Churchill Robusto. Apart from offering a slightly fuller flavor, it seems to be physically fitting to the contours' namesake. Another fantastic medium strength cigar, that this gentle smoke retains just enough earthiness to ensure it is suitable for early to late evenings. Orchant of C.Gars feels it's the best in the H.Upmann range and we concur. Don't fall in the preconception that all Cuban cigars are powerful. This brand certainly is not, although its potency will change by shape. Thinking about using an Irish Whiskey and a cigar? Try a Powers Three Swallow and an Epicure Especial 5 1/2 x 50 Robusto. Punch The Double Corona is a perfect game for a snifter of X.O. Cognac. Vegas Robaina Medium-full in flavor; the Vegas Robaina is among the most complicated and hot Havanas around and ideal for any time and well in the day. Cuaba The shapes of all Cuabas are all figurados: a mild-mannered smoke perfect for the novice as well as the connoisseur who feels just like throttling down a little flavor intensity.

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