The rebounding of the premium-cigar market is one of the oddest business success stories of the past fifteen years. With an aging customer base, decades of competition from cigarettes and overall consumer trends indicating a decline in smoking in general, many observers had written off premium cigars as yesterday's luxury item - until 1992, when the industry showed significant fourth-quarter growth. Two years, and lots of media coverage later, cigars had positioned themselves as the break of choice for an increasingly young, increasingly dual-gendered market. By 1996, the industry was seeing 36 percent first-quarter growth.
So, like many people, you're probably curious about the trend, and wondering what you're missing out on. But cigars, like classical music and other fine things, shouldn't be rushed into. There are many varieties to choose from, and newcomers can find the sheer amount of choice more bewildering than beguiling.
First of all, make sure you're buying premium cigars! The machine-rolled, mass-produced items found at many local drug stores and gas stations may cost less - but they taste like it. Why not make sure you're tasting the kind of hand-rolled, carefully crafted cigar that makes fans out of new smokers? You can find premium cigars at local specialty shops (which have proliferated during the last decades' "cigar boom"), or on the internet at any of various online cigar emporia.
Secondly, think about the kind of taste you're interested in. You can tell, roughly, by the wrapper - the darker it is, the sweeter it tastes, while light-colored cigars have a complicated, dry effect. Newcomers have fallen in love with both kinds; it's up to you. An experienced friend may be able to make a recommendation, as would cigar specialty magazines and websites; many first-time cigar smokers also try premium-cigar samplers.
To ease your path, here are some recommendations: some of the best-loved cigars in the world, going country by country.
The Dominican Republic makes more of the premium cigars bought in the United States than any other country. Such giants of the premium cigar industry as Arturo Fuente, La Aurora, Davidoff, La Flor Dominicana and La Gloria Cubana, Romeo & Julieta, Trinidad, Montecristo, Macanudo, and H Upmann operate here. The Cuban revolution of 1959 resulted in many of that island nation's greatest cigar makers relocating to a more capitalism-friendly nation, and the Dominican Republic received the lion's share of these expatriates.
Honduras, too, is an important nation for the cigar-smoking world. After the Cuban revolution of 1959, many of the great Cuban cigar producers (who didn't go to the Dominican Republic!) resettled in Honduras, making the country a haven for cigar-making talent - a reputation strengthened all the more by the history of cooperation between the governments of Cuba and Honduras. Maybe that's why Honduran cigars are the second-most popular in the US (after the Dominican Republic). Some well-regarded Honduran cigars include those from La Fontana, La Libertad, Camacho, and Carlos Torano's Honduras Selection.
Another post-1959 cigar powerhouse is Nicaragua. Despite the chaos of many years' civil war and military rule, as well as a temporary end to cigar production during the 1980s when the ruling Sandinistas directed the country's tobacco producers to make inferior cigarette-grade tobacco - and, finally, a terrible hurricane in 1998 that destroyed seventy percent of the country's infrastructure, Nicaragua continues to make some of the finest cigars in the world. Like Honduras and the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua benefited as well from the Castro-era dispersion of Cuba's cigar-making powerhouses into other parts of Latin America. Its cigars continue to dominate international rankings. Some of these brands include CAO, Perdomo, Padron, Don Pepin Garcia and Drew Estate.
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