A Cohiba by any other name
A lot of people (even veteran cigar smokers) are confused about the cigar marketplace. So often there isn’t a single point of origin, or strength, or taste profile that defines a brand. There is no Marlboro Man to hang your hat on so to speak.
Manufacturer collaborations muddy the brand waters even more with two companies promoting the sales of their shared creation under different names. Confused yet?
Things get really ugly when you try to tease out all the geographical differences. Lines within a brand are frequently grown in two, three or four different countries. Sometimes the wrapper comes from one country while the binder comes from another. Or at least that’s what the manufacturers tell us.
Cohibia cigars are an excellent example of all that is great in a cigar, but all that is truly awful for someone trying to decide what to buy in the store. The Cohiba brand is multinational, multi-lined, “name” that is actually two brands developed and owned by two separate companies.
Fortunately, a brief skim over the history of the name should help make things a little clearer.
When Columbus landed in Cuba in 1492, the Tainos (island natives) offered his crew dried leaves which they smoked in religious ceremonies as well as for pleasure. The leaves were called “cohibas.”
The Tainos’ love affair with tobacco spread with the help of the colonists until Cuban cigars became known throughout the world. By the time Fidel Castro took over the government in the late 1950’s, the cigar industry was key to the Island’s economy.
When Castro discovered a blend that he particularly liked (courtesy of his driver), he sought to reproduce it on a large scale, but privately. These “Cohiba cigars” were created from plants chosen from 10 top-secret farms and rolled at the El Laguito Factory (a converted mansion). Only Castro and other top government officials had access to Cohibas which soon made them prized gifts among world diplomats.
Unfortunately, cigar enthusiasts in the U.S. can only read about them because of the embargo placed on Cuban goods in the 1960s. In 2010 for example, Cigar Aficionado gave the Cohiba Behike BHK 52 the top slot in its Top 25 rankings with a score of 97. Aficionados here could only take the word of their international friends unless they traveled, and smoked, this winner abroad.
Cuban nationals who fled Castro’s regime carried seeds and their knowledge of tobacco and cigar manufacture with them to neighboring countries like the Canary Islands and the Dominican Republic. Cuban seeds took on different flavor profiles when grown under different sun, shade and soil conditions.
In 1978, a U.S. based company, General Cigar, registered the rights to the name Cohiba in the United States. Seeking to honor the long history of the name, General Cigar spent two years finding the right leaves, personnel, and blends to create the new line of Cohibas grown outside of Cuba. A new label with the trademark red dot differentiated this new brand.
General Cigar’s Cohiba brand cigars feature several different lines including the flagship Red Dots which are medium strength, approachable cigars. The Cohiba Black series features Maduro Connecticut Broadleaf wrappers, giving them an expresso-dark appearance and a richer flavor. The Cohiba Edicion Diamante is a rare specimen that is wrapped in the 1980 crop of Camaroon leaf, (arguably the best crop known), making them a true collector’s item.
In the fall of 2014, Cohiba released their new Cohiba Nicaragua series. Embracing the movement towards Nicaraguan cigars (12 of Cigar Aficionado’s Top 25 of 2015 are primarily Nicaraguan), Cohiba’s line is the fullest flavored cigar in their portfolio.
We hope this little journey into the diverse world of Cohiba will make your next shopping trip a little easier. However, we aren’t quite done. There are still two points of contention and confusion surrounding the Cohiba brand; one of which we hope you will help to settle.
The first question is “who owns the rights to the Cohiba name?” A lawsuit between Cubatabaco (Cuba’s state-run cigar firm) and General Cigar has wended its way through several courts over the past 20 years and remains undecided.
Box labels and cigar bands keep the two brands separate in the marketplace. The Cuban Cohiba has a black and yellow label while a General Cigar Cohiba has a black, white, and yellow label that says Havana, Cuba right on it. All lines within the General Cigar brand have a signature red dot in the middle of the “O” in the name Cohiba.
The second Cohiba brand question is “what’s in a name?” Does a Cuban Cohiba taste better, or smoke better, than a Dominican? Or does the newer, strong Nicaraguan Cohiba stray too far from its medium-bodied ancestors to deserve the name?
What do you think? Have you had the pleasure of smoking any of these fine cigars? Which do you prefer, and why? Let us know in the comments! Also, let us know what else confuses you about cigars and we will try to help you sort it out.