It’s true that with the high prices commanded by habanos, and by the fact that Cuba is respected, bar none, around the world as the premiere cigar makers, it should come as no surprise that counterfeits are common. The question I’m sure you’re asking is: how do you spot them?
To begin with, odds are if someone is offering you a “good deal,” they’re fakes. Cuban cigar sellers know the value of what they’re producing and they will demand it. “Cheap” Cubans are acquired somewhere else, often at bargain prices, often for machine-rolled forgeries. Even in Cuba, fake Cubans are common, and if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Never accept bargain pricing, and try to stick to the duty-free shops in the airports, because you know they are legitimate for certain.
Cuban cigar forgers are so clever that counterfeit labels are applied in place of the originals, and the forgers are talented and innovative, so especially if you don’t know what you’re looking for, it can be hard to tell. However, the exacting standards demanded by habano manufactures is fairly precise, and the devil is in the details, so to speak. Take a look at this:
This is an image of a counterfeit Cohiba robusto that found its way into the hands of the Western Canadian contingent of Smoking Jacket’s staff. Looks legit, right?
Take a closer look. See how the bottom row of white squares on black is partially covered? This is a dead giveaway. Cohiba rolls all cigars by hand and does not use a machine to apply labels. Therefore, their labels will not look sloppy like this.
A comparison of an authentic Cohiba:
In the particular case of the Cohiba, there were less rows of white squares on the counterfeit label as well. If you were familiar with the Cohiba brand you might notice that something looks a little off when looking at the label but be unable to pinpoint it. These tickles of instinct are often the only cue that even experts have, and it takes them some time to determine the source of their disquiet; so if you get a “tickle” like that, trust it!
Look closely at the cigar. If it’s claiming to be a premium brand, then premium brands are hand-rolled, not machine rolled; so too regular of a roll could be a clue. There are machine-rolled habano brands (such as Partagas) but it is generally not worth the effort to forge them, since they do not command nearly as high a price. The construction should be solid but not perfect. Machine-rolled cigars tend to have more seams as well, so that might be another hint. Also it might contain a lot of adulterants that are only noticeable with intense scrutiny; such as broken glass, flour, tea, icing sugar, and more.
Another key is scent. Authentic Cuban tobacco has a one of a kind terroir. It smells like iron and clay. Take a really good, hard sniff. If you can taste the hint of iron in your mouth, a little like when you taste blood but not nearly as strong, then you have the genuine article. Smelling the stick is also an excellent way to detect many of the adulterating agents that forgers add to fill the tobacco out.
If the stick makes it that far, the final step is taste. A pre-light draw will tell you a great deal. Again, you should be able to taste the terroir (iron and clay) right away. There will be no chemical aftertaste; Cuban tobacco is not subjected to any sort of chemicals. All pesticides etc. are made directly from the tobacco they are harvesting! This cautionary note is doubly true once you have actually lit the cigar and sampled the first draw.
In this lady’s perspective, there’s nothing in the world like a good Cuban cigar, so I urge you to use your discernment and try not to get caught by those who would deceive you.
My thanks to Steven Umbrello for helping me learn how to discern a fake.