Monday, April 21, 2014

What Embargo?: Episode Uno Recap "How to Spot a Fake Cuban Cigar"

Several of our viewers asked us if we could write up recaps of our shows to give folks a written account of the information we present.  The following is not so much what happened on the show, since we really just cursed a bunch, but a condensed version of the notes of the show.  As time permits, we will provide write-ups of the shows when topics are discussed that deserve a bookmarked post on Habanos Critic. Here is the link to the original show, and there is more pictures, comparisons, and relevant discussion, once you get past the cursing and first show jitters: Episode One.

Ways to tell a Cuban cigar is fake:

Never buy Cuban Cigars in a Glass Top box.  This is the most obvious of all fakes, and are typically sold to tourists with fake limited edition cigars in a small glass case.  Habanos stickers, Cuban stamps, and all sorts of features fooling the casual buyer into purchasing on the beaches or from street vendors. Now there are several instances of travel humidors, glass tubes, etc..., that are sold as special releases by Habanos, but these are few and far between, and very limited and expensive.  Most of these glass tops contain "Limited Edition" bands as well to entice the buyer into purchasing something special.  A simple Google search will tell you that often times, limited editions never existed for what is contained in these boxes.

You bought it on vacation out of the country. The only place to buy a legitimate Cuban cigar overseas is a La Casa Del Habanos.  That does not mean there are not other authorized dealers throughout the world.  For example, in London one may visit CGarsLtd in London for one of the most detailed vintage collections in the world.  In many duty free shops at airports, hotels such as Atlantis, and posh vacation destinations, Habanos may be sold that are legitimate.  However, in these instances, a well educated buyer must be present, as truly you must be able to trust the seller.  For someone like Seth or I, that would not be hard to spot really.  What I will tell you is this, do not get into a buyers frenzy and allow your judgement to be clouded if you are presented with an opportunity to buy them.  Do your research, trust your gut, and in your mind think, “what would Tuna do?” Because ultimately Catfish will be yelling I told you so on What Embargo.  Here are some examples of cigars bought around the world, not necessarily glass top beach buys.

Know your source: This applies to what I call, “your friendly neighborhood local LCDH.” If you are not buying direct from an LCDH, make sure the vendor you are purchasing from is a well established vendor with a reputation of dealing with legitimate Habanos.  As I started in my previous post, there are many authorized and unauthorized vendors all over the world. These vendors handle the grey market.  This is no different from my local shop selling Liga Privada or Fuente, even though they are not a dealer.  They buy the cigars from a larger distributor that is licensed, and stock them accordingly.  If you are buying from these types of vendors, do you research, make sure you CYA in regard to obtaining possible refund if needed, and check their reputation.  If they have no reputation, there is probably good reason.  Habanos smokers are a brotherhood of sorts, and when traveling we are all looking for places to buy our smokes, so chances are, someone out there  has reported good or bad experiences.  One of the cigars pictured above, was purchased form a well known and established vendor outside the US.  This vendor sells Habanos, but buys them from a distributor for their country.  Even still, they are selling fake Cohiba, and probably do not know it.

You bought it at a shop stateside and the guy said it was real! Please let me know if you do this, and turn those assholes in accordingly.  Cigar shops in the US selling fake Cubans should be hung out to dry in my opinion.  First of all, this is a big reason why so many folks I talk to think Habanos are not good, as their only experience come from smoking dried banana leaves bunched with cigarette tobacco and floor scrapings that have a fake Montecristo band on it. If you see a Cohiba in a shop stateside, you can pretty much assume the guy selling it to you is a POS.  I am not saying there are not shops out there where smokers may be enjoying Habanos and offer you one, but a shop selling them is rare, illegal, and most often gouging people on fake crap, taking advantage of the draw of forbidden fruit.  The following are examples of $40 “Cubans” sold at local B&M’s stateside.

Triple Cap. Every Cuban Cigar is made using a triple cap.  That means that after the wrapper is applied, three caps are employed to secure the wrapper.  The process of doing so is apparently very tough; thus, is only seen on higher quality cigars.  All Habanos use the triple cap technique, so when looking at a potential fake, if you do not see three distinct lines denoting three caps, you have a fake.  This is the first thing I look for when inspecting potential fakes.  The following is a triple cap from a Ramon Allones you will see later in this article.  Just because a cigar in question has a triple cap, does not mean it is real, but if it does not have a triple cap, it is fake.  For example, the Cohiba a few pictures above this taken on a desk has a triple cap, but it is most definitely a Connecticut wrapped inexpensive Nicaraguan.

Band Issues.  In this case, the most common faked bands are Montecristo and Cohiba.  Both are very easy to spot really, as the fake Monte bands are always off centered and never raised.  Older Monte bands are like that as well, but use a lighter font, so use caution when buying Montecristo cigars pre 2008 when the bands permanently changed to the newer raised band.  Currently, they have started employing gold as well.  Fake Monte bands when compared to old Monte bands can be quite deceiving, so if you suspect a fake band, then you must take into consideration all the other factors that may contribute.  For Cohiba, the fake bands always have off centered blocks, blocks that are cut off, slanted, too many, too few, and they are rarely right.  There are instances with real bands that have a row of blocks cut off a bit, as Cuba is known for being a bit sloppy at times.  In this case, look at the embossing of the lettering, and look at the size of the lettering in respect ot each other.  You will see some funky sizing going on typically as well as block issues.  Lastly, there are instances where the “Habana, Cuba” is lettered differently as well, along with the hue of the yellow in the band.  Best way to tell a fake Cohiba band, is compare to a real one.  As far as the rest of the marca’s, fake bands do exist, and are normally so sloppy they are easy to spot.  Always look for embossed lettering, or lettering that is off, and look for correct bands for the time period the cigar in question came from.  There are some excellent fake bands out there now that I have seen.  For detailed information and discussion, watch Episode One on YouTube by clicking on this link.  In these cases, the Monte on the right is real, and the Cohiba band on the bottom is real.  On the actual show, viewers thought the Monte on the left was real.  

The Monte band on the left is off centered, the wrong color, and not embossed or raised if you will.

The Cohiba band up top has pretty damn good blocks, but the lettering is off, bleeds out of the embossing. This is a very good fake band, as the blocks are accurate.  In the pictures submitted above, you can see many of them have terrible block patterns.  

Another interesting aspect to check for, is the foot of the cigar.  Many Habanos are sold in Dress Boxes, which are packed 12 on the bottom, and 13 on the top.  The result of this type of packaging is a slight box press of sorts.  Authentic Habanos that are only sold in dress boxes should and always will have that slight box press.  This is evident on the foot of the cigar, as well as on the sides at times.  This is not a dramatic box press, like say a Rocky Patel or Padron; rather, a slight compression that takes place once the box is sealed and over time adds definition to the cigar.  Use resources like Cuban Cigar Website or Cuban Reviews to check and see.  For example, when we dissected this Montecristo No 2 and compared it to an authentic Habanos, you can see the lack of box press in the foot and along the sides.  These cigars are normally sold in Dress Boxes of 10, 15, or 25.  They are available in petaca's of 3, which may or may not be current.  Therefore, chances of having one without a slight box press is minimal at best.  So checking this may be one way to help verify authenticity.  When looking at a cigar such as a Ramon Allones Gigantes that is only sold in a Dress Box, if the cigar had no press, it may be fake.  The flip side is seeing the box press, as it provides some authenticity in my opinion if a cigar is in question, and is available in that packaging.  So the box press is not an end all be all of verifying a cigars authenticity, but it is something you should look for, if packaging calls.  Here are some examples of a Ramon Allones SS, and the Monte 2's we compared.

You can see the cigar on the left is round, with little press at all, while the cigar on the right has some slight pressing, and at least one defined angle form being pressed in a dress box.

When looking at this Ramon Allones, the box press is so apparent, you cannot roll the cigar on a table.  The pressing is very defined, meaning the chances of it being fake are minimal.  I cannot say I have ever seen a fake that had a box press.

The veins of the cigar are another telling sign of a Cuban wrapper.  Cuban wrappers do nto get pressed by the torcedor.  Now, the information I am providing to you I cannot say with 100% certainty is legitimate, but this was provided to me by blenders and producers in the Non-Cuban industry, and I have verified it with multiple people.  Cuban rollers do not press the veins of the cigar.  I have actually seen a roller press the veins with a chaveta that had a wooden handle before, but could not find a good representation on YouTube.  So really this part of the article is hard to explain with 100% certainty.  The veins on Cuban cigars look like a paper cut that has healed the next day, while on a Non-Cuban you can see long veins are smoothed out, or pressed if you will.  Not all Non-Cubans have pressed veins, as you can see in the Chinnock Cellars I had made in El Titan de Bronze.  Next time you crab and NC cigar, look at how smooth the veins are, and you will rarely see this on Cuban wrappers.

You can see the odd looking veins on this wide churchill.  Then again on the top of the Chinnock.

When you look at this LAT54, you can see the long smooth veins that are pressed.  Not honestly, this may have to do with the different makeup of the Cuban wrappers versus wrappers grown in different regions.  I have no clue honestly, and this is something I will ask guys like Jose Blanco when I see them.  However, as I stated previously, I had heard this from a well known manufacturer, then again with a well known blender, so going by Jose's rule of ask two people before you post, I think looking for veins is something worth noting.  Once you have collected and seen hundreds of Habanos, it is very easy to spot, and one of the first things I notice when looking at a potential fake.  

For now, I will leave the article as is and probably edit as I find new information and learn more along the way.  Please feel free to comment, as Tuna and I do not profess ourselves to be experts; rather, informed consumers if you will.  We welcome criticism and or input, as our ultimate goal is to educate smokers so we can all share in the experience of wonderful cigars from this region.  This is a labor of love, passion, and relaxation with the leaf.  Thanks for reading, and we will make it a point to post more recaps as time permits.