Imagine smoking a piece of history.
The exotic aromas and subtle spice notes paint a picture of a long-lost time, of another place. Pre-embargo Cuban cigars have the ability to unlock distant memories of the island, much the same as aged rums and storytellers of a certain generation.
OLD IS NEW
There has always been something special about smoking pre-embargo cigars, those imported to the United States from Cuba before 1962. But the experience feels heightened now that U.S.-Cuba relations are easing and President Obama has called for lifting the trade ban after 54 long years.
I recently shared a stunning moment with a dear friend in the Tuscan countryside. He opened a box of Clear Havana Cuesta-Reys, rolled in the 1950s in Tampa from imported Cuban tobacco. The smoke was so rich yet restrained, with a complexity of flavors that was out of this world.
Since Christie’s started auctioning outstanding old cigars in the late 1990s, pre-embargo Cuban cigars are becoming increasingly sought-after and rare, with prices in the hundreds.
Private collectors and investors in the United States and abroad have scooped up many of these vintage beauties, making publicly available collections difficult to find.
MIAMI’S SECRET STASH
It seems only fitting that a steakhouse that dry-ages its beef for weeks and pours 25-year single malt would have a spectacular pre-embargo cigar program. StripSteak, a restaurant from chef Michael Mina in the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, offers an impressive collection of H. Upmann, Montecristo, Partagas and others, all meticulously stored in their original packaging.
To cultivate a local cigar culture, StripSteak offers a weekly spirit-and-cigar (not pre-embargo) social on its terrace, with pairings like Oliva cigars with Diplomatico rum and Davidoff cigars with Macallan whisky.
LIKE A FINE OLD WINE
Enjoying a pre-embargo cigar is an emotional and sensory pleasure, much like drinking a great vintage wine.
Cigars evolve similarly to wines as they age. Fruit-forward flavors meld and mellow, pungent spices soften, and the harmony changes over time. A beautifully aged cigar presents a balanced and delicate smoke, truly a unique luxury. But, like wine, this only applies if the cigar was of outstanding quality when rolled and stored under proper conditions.
Some cigars age better than others. Thicker cigars tend to have good stability because their inner layers of tobacco have extra insulation from the elements. Maduros are best to avoid with age; the dark wrapper leaf is often artificially “cooked” or cured, which can result in off flavors over time.
Many pre-embargo cigars are unsmokeable and mainly traded for their historic value, so to come across one in perfect condition is really a treat. When flavor and history come together like that, time stands still and memories flood in.
Photograph by Nick Garcia | INDULGE | firstname.lastname@example.org
3 stunning pre-embargo cigars available at StripSteak at Fontainebleau Miami Beach.
ROMEO Y JULIETA Cedros Deluxe No. 3: An underrated cigar that improves with age. The pre-embargo version is full of white pepper, cedar, nutmeg and cherry blossom. $195.
H. UPMANN Coronas Rare Glass Jar: Stored in the best way possible – a sealed glass jar. Stunning aromas and flavors of toasted coffee beans, cocoa and sweet, musky earth. $200.
MONTECRISTO No. 2: The iconic cigar still delivers a magnificent smoke more than half a century after being rolled. Leather, crushed white pepper, barnyard notes and tons of raw almonds deliver quite a bite. $395.
This content originally appeared in the June/July 2016 issue of INDULGE, a luxury lifestyle magazine published by the Miami Herald. For more information, visit miamiindulge.com. Follow INDULGE on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.