The United States ban on virtually all imports from Cuba shuttered a staggering number of businesses. However, this broadly implemented embargo opened just as many doors as it closed, providing a slew of new business opportunities for those living outside of Cuba.
Take the Dominican Republic for instance. Located just 460 nautical miles away from Cuba’s shores, this Caribbean island has seen an astounding influx of business growth since Fidel Castro first came to power. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the premium cigar blend industry.
Although the relocation of tobacco-savvy Cuban internationals has played a hefty hand in the formation of modern-day Dominican cigar production, there’s a lot more to this story than just smuggled tobacco seeds and industrious master blenders.
These are the stories of twelve of the biggest names in Dominican cigar manufacturing. Cigar brands that are responsible for producing the smokes that helped transition Americans away from Cuban tobacco, and into a whole new world of long-filler leaf flavor.
As the cigar brand’s history book clearly illustrates, Carlos Fuente first attempted to open a factory in the Dominican Republic back in the 1970s, but the local government made it very difficult for him to achieve this feat. Fleeing the Sandinista Nicaraguan revolution in the late 1970s, the Fuente family found refuge in the arms of another famous cigar manufacturer: Oliva.
By 1980, meetings with the Oliva family to discuss a new venture in the Dominican Republic. That same year on September 4th, Carlos and his son Carlito, with their families at their side, opened Fuente LTD in Santiago, Dominican Republic. With its invested interest in the almighty Opus X “puro,” a cigar that is made entirely from Dominican tobacco primings, the A. Fuente Company has earned the rights to being one of the most recognized cigar makers on the planet.
Today, the brand relies heavily upon Dominican tobacco for its long-filler needs and then formulates blends from tobacco across the globe. However, because all A. Fuente cigars are rolled in the DR, they are considered Dominican by design due to being produced within the country.
Tobacco Nerd Note: Just one year after opening its Dominican Republic operations, the Arturo Fuente Hemingway series made its debut. With its tulip-shaped, reverse figurado form, this unusual industry first was actually not a first at all. This method of tapering the foot of a cigar in such a fashion had once been a Cuban novelty, which with time, had been widely forgotten. As its popularity grew, Fuente’s line of cigars sporting this shape earned themselves a fun little nickname within the cigar industry: “Fancy tails.”
Ashton Cigars’ founders Robert Levin and son Sathya Levin have always been brilliant businessmen, especially when it comes to top-shelf tobacco. Not only are they excellent market analysts and investors, but they also have discerning taste when it comes to premium cigar blends and marketing ventures.
After launching the Ashton brand in the 1980s as a cigar investment venture, and obtaining a ton of different struggling or forgotten cigar brands, the Levins launched the Dominican cigar line. Naturally, things quickly escalated when the cigar boom occurred, as the Ashton family’s line of immaculately rolled long-filler cigars was already widely recognized as some of the best in the biz.
Handmade at Tabacalera A. Fuente’s Dominican facilities, Ashton boasts the title of being ranked as a “Top 3” brand in the U.S. for over three decades.
Being that Robert Levin has been a veteran of the cigar industry due to his father running a little Philadelphia cigar shop in the 1950s and 60s called “Holt’s Cigar Company,” it only makes sense that he would follow in his father’s footsteps. Having long pined for his cigar brand, with blends that were of his selection, Levin saved up until hewas able to debut the Ashton brand in 1985. Being that the Fuente family was looking for any angle imaginable to stay on Dominican soil after its near-fatal foray into Nicaraguan cigar manufacturing, the collaboration between both houses was set to benefit everyone involved.
But while classics like the Ashton “898” still hold their own as one of the best mild cigars ever rolled in the Dominican, more recent collaborative efforts with master blenders like the Garcia family have been quite exciting. Try one of Ashton’s full-flavored “Symmetry” line of cigars and you’ll see precisely what we mean.
Named after famed jazz pianist and cigar connoisseur, Avo Uvezian, Avo Cigars was formulated before the big cigar boom, and has never faded. Created by former Davidoff master blender, Hendrik Kelner, everything Avo Cigars produces is borderline perfection.
As cigar history shows, from 1987 to 1997, the Avo brand went from producing 5,000 cigars to around 3.2 million. 100% made in-house at Davidoff’s Oettinger Kelner Cigars Factory in the Dominican Republic, each of these cigars follows the original fermentation recipes crafted way back in the day.
Avo Uvezian may no longer be with us, but you can honor his legacy by trying out one of his signature cigar blends. Be sure to check out Avo’s Classic No. 2, a mild-medium cigar that is just as beautifully blended as it is smooth.
After winning a legal battle, General Cigar took the iconic Cohiba name and started to roll out a Dominican alternative. It was 1978, and the cigar market was still uncertain and slow after its cooldown in the 1960s, and General Cigar’s Cohiba brand was emerging into a very strange time in cigar history.
But quality control, consistency, killer premium cigar blends, and the Cohiba name struck just the right note, and sales remained steady. By the time the cigar boom of the 1990s came to pass, "Red Dot Cohiba" cigars were everywhere.
Recently, Cohiba has worked very hard to keep its significance in a market that is increasingly saturated with newcomers. Fortunately, Dominican variants are still quite good, with the medium-strength Cohiba “Blue” and intensely delicious “Cohiba Nicaragua” earning our nods as personal faves. If neither of these cigars strikes your fancy, don’t worry. General Cigar’s Cohiba Collection contains eight different blends, all of which are sure to impress.
Housed in Santiago, one of the hotspots for Dominican cigar-making, Davidoff of Geneva houses its operations within the hulking confines of Villa Gonzáles.
Since its emergence in 1911, Davidoff of Geneva has stood strong as a cornerstone of cigar culture. Today, the name is responsible for the production of all Avo, Camacho, Plasencia, and Zino cigar brands, as well as a handful of others.
While the most widely recognized Davidoff smokes are those featuring Churchill cigar sizes or machine-rolled cigarillo structuring, there’s an array of wilder flavors to be had here as well. For instance, check out Davidoff’s line of “gastronomical” cigars, which are all meant to be paired with Michelin Star awarded dishes.
In 1992, master blender E.P. Carrillo was experiencing an unfathomable amount of success. Four of the La Gloria Cubana cigars he had created had just scored 90 or higher in Cigar Aficionado, and demand could not be any higher. Unbeknownst to him, this evolutionary step would turn Mr. Carrillo and his tobacco expertise into a Dominican legend someday.
Millions of cigars and countless blends later, E.P. Carillo has his own operations, including control of crops and cultivation. Formed in 2009, the E.P. Carrillo cigar brand of today relies upon the support of Carrillo’s offspring and his unwavering dedication to the art of producing hand-rolled premium cigar blends.
While blends from around the globe are frequent, much of the tobacco used comes from the lush Cibao Valley in the Dominican. As for the E.P. Carrillo factory, this 40,000 square foot, stand-alone complex resides in the heart of Santiago’s “Zona Franca,” a building that Ernesto lovingly named Tabacalera La Alianza.
La Flor Dominicana
As the cigar boom continued to expand in 1994, Litto Gomez and his wife Ines Lorenzo Gomez, decided that they would try their hand at making cigars.
After changing the name to La Flor Dominicana, the micro-sized cigar manufacturer began to earn a small yet devout following. With tobacco leaves grown right on the farm at the Gomez’s estate, and several highly rated cigars to its name, La Flor Dominicana not only withstood the test of time but succeeded in the process.
Oh, and let’s not forget all of the brand’s fun (and purpose-built) cigar shapes, or vitolas.
Take “The Chisel'' for instance. A peculiar, wedge-shaped smoke that looks just the way it reads and sounds. Even more interesting is the fact that The Chisel remains the only patented cigar shape in the world. There’s also “El Jocko Perfecto,” a bizarre bowling pin-shaped cigar that produces massive plumes of palate-tingling blue smoke. One can only imagine what goes into rolling one of those things…
As for flavor, the brand’s factory in Tamboril, Dominican Republic produces a milder Connecticut-wrapped “Premium Line,” the more intense, Cameroon-wrapped “LFD 2000 Series,” and the Ecuadorian clad “Ligero” and “Double Ligero” blends. There’s also the “Air Bender,” which comes cloaked in a Nicaraguan wrapper.
La Gloria Cubana
Known for its robust flavors and impressive strength levels, as well as equally impressive ring gauges, La Gloria Cubana is one of those cigar manufacturers that favors the intense things in life.
Founded in Cuba in 1885, this moderately priced and super popular legacy cigar brand moved from one Cuban owner to another, until old Gloria fled Cuba during Castro’s takeover. While the production of the original line of La Gloria Cubana cigars is still being produced beneath its original name in the Partagas factory in Havana, the Dominican offshoot is what Americans have come to know and love.
Produced in the Dominican Republic by General Cigar, these cigars are hand-crafted with people who prefer full flavors in mind. While spicy Nicaraguan tobacco is almost always a component within this legacy line, the brand does love to dabble in the wares coming out of the world’s top cigar tobacco-producing countries.
After making its big debut in one of the first issues of Cigar Aficionado, La Gloria Cubana’s non-Cuban “Classic” became synonymous with legacy cigar tobacco almost overnight. The Ecuadorian Sumatra cigar wrapper, coupled with the combination of Dominican and Nicaraguan internals made this medium-bodied smoke a huge hit.
Nowadays, you can find an entire catalog of cigars bearing the La Gloria Cubana name, with many of its offerings providing a prime example of what intense cigar flavor profile experiences look and feel like. Cigars like the La Gloria Cubana Serie R, with its massive circumference (70 ring gauge anyone?) and full-on olfactory experience are not something to be taken lightly. But that’s perfectly fine, especially for those of us who love a strong legacy cigar with loads of flavor.
Recognized as one of the Dominican Republic’s top cigar brands, you would assume that Macanudo had been around forever. But in actuality, the Macanudo brand has only been rolling cigars out of its Dominican factories since the year 2000.
After acquiring the Temple Hall cigar factory in Jamaica, General Cigar Company found itself holding the reins to a ton of ho-hum cigar brands, one of which was Macanudo. As an exclusive line of premium cigars intended purely for the British market, General Cigar’s CEO, Edgar Cullman recognized the level of clout this small yet respected premium cigar’s name held.
Upon introducing the Macanudo Cafe to the market in 1971 (which apparently took a whopping three years to develop), mild cigar fans and aficionados alike applauded. The use of a three-year-aged Connecticut shade-grown wrapper, making the brand’s claim that it was “the ultimate cigar” quite the ideal move.
Over two decades may have passed since Macanudo transitioned to its new home base in the Dominican Republic, thus earning it a name as a top brand in the business.
Tobacco Nerd Note: The word Macanudo is derived from the Argentinian slang word for magnificent. But unlike other cigar brands, which produce products around a particular master blender’s preferences, Macanudo’s reincarnation was built purely upon an intent to appeal to the average American cigar smoker. To this day, Macanudo remains recognized as one of the original cigar brands to be tailor-made for the U.S. market post-Cuban embargo.
After fleeing Cuba with little more than their lives and a pocketful of tobacco seeds in the early 1960s, Menendez’s son Benjamin began a small cigar operation in the Canary Islands. It was here that one of the world’s most loved cigars would be formed, a damn near identical replica of the original Montecristo from Cuba. Its name was Montecruz and was about to become one of the better-selling cigars in United States history.
By 1990, Montecristo’s Montecruz cigars had become a smashing success, and after being purchased by the company that would eventually become Europe’s Altadis, the Montecristo name was turned into a signature smoke intended with the American market in mind.
Altadis U.S.A. currently produces a dozen different flavors of Montecristo cigar, ranging from the traditional No. 2 and flawless No. 4, all the way up to a Plasencia-produced Nicaraguan flavor bombs and top-reviewed anniversary releases. Montecristo has you covered, regardless of what you opt to fire up with your torch lighter.
Tobacco Nerd Note: Unbeknownst to any of the parties involved, a 1972 lawsuit between Montecristo’s heir and owner and a Cuban importing company would revolutionize cigar distribution and name branding. The case was Menendez v. Faber, Coe, and Gregg Inc., and the plaintiff was an importer of Cuban cigars that had issues with the Montecristo name being used for promoting the non-Cuban cigar type and bearing a similar likeness. In a landmark ruling, the court favored Menendez, making it legal for exiled cigar manufacturers to produce and market their variant of the brand(s) they once produced in Cuba.
Partagas founder, Don Jaime Partagas y Ravelo, is the one we can thank for the advent of modern cigar aging and fermentation methods.
When Castro came to power, the non-Cuban Partagas brand found itself being absorbed by General Cigar. Instead of shuttering the struggling cigar staple, the tobacco firm saw Partagas as an opportunity to create a spin-off line of Cuban alternatives.
Constructed almost exclusively in the Dominican Republic, the Partagas brand of today offers a wide range of smoking experiences for cigar lovers, including the original Partagas Classic. More recent additions include a Cortado blend, which marks the first Partagas in history to be crafted in Nicaragua and features a Connecticut shade wrapper, another first for the 175+-year-old legacy cigar brand.
Tobacco Nerd Note: For those who sign up for a boutique cigar subscription from Klaro Cigars, cigars like the Partagas Decadas 2020 Dalia become available, a cigar that was only produced once, and relies upon tobacco from the 1997-1998 growing season. Due to limited vintage tobacco supplies, only 25,000 of these cigars were ever rolled, making it one of the most highly coveted non-Cuban Partagas cigars of all time.
Romeo y Julieta
Romeo y Julieta relocated to La Romana, the Dominican Republic during the Cuban revolution, where to this day it is still produced at the Tabacalera de Garcia factory. An Altadis U.S.A. operation, the Dominican brand offers a dozen options, including the ever-popular Romeo y Julieta’s Reserve, the Reserva Real, and the entire 1875 line being but a few.
Tobacco Nerd Note: Like vineyards and hop varieties, each tobacco plantation has its own unique climate, soil substrate, and method of plant care, thus making a particular cigar style just as bespoke as the farm where the tobacco is grown. This individuality is further enhanced by the curing and aging of cigar tobacco, with the fermentation methods used during the making of Maduro cigar wrappers imparting additional levels of distinctiveness.