“Free Cuba!” – a phrase you might not hear very often on the streets of Cuba, but a sentiment shared by many who live there. The call for the return of Cuba to its citizens is one we can hear echoing through the Cibao Valley of the Dominican Republic and uttered in cigar-smoke filled downtown bars where cigar masters gather and discuss their lingering discontentedness surrounding their flight from their homeland. Free Cuba Robusto was first introduced in 1996 by the Caribbean Cigar Company. In 1998, they focused their marketing efforts on four of their premium brands, Free Cuba included. And during the cigar boom, the old-fashioned quality construction helped propel Free Cuba to tremendous success. Unfortunately, a shortage of quality wrappers and the financial problems of the manufacturer caused the brand to be pulled from the market, and until very recently, it has been seen only scarcely. But it’s back now baby! Today Free Cuba is still made by hand in the Dominican Republic, but by a new manufacturer. This handmade starts with a handsome Connecticut wrapper that conceals a blend of Dominican Cuban-seed tobaccos that are patiently aged and finished with a Dominican binder. It is a mild to medium-bodied smoke with hints of tobacco, wood, nuts. Quite nice when paired with a full-bodied wheat beer.
Though tobacco is indigenous to Hispaniola, the tobacco industry in the Dominican Republic existed in the shadow of Cuba’s dominance through the 1960s. When the exodus of Cuban cigar makers began in the wake of the revolution, many decided the Dominican Republic would be ideal for the resumption of their livelihoods. Unrest in Nicaragua in the 1980s fueled the Dominican cigar industry further. The country now makes more than half of the premium cigars imported into the U.S.
The Cibao Valley and the nearby city of Santiago are the center of cigar production in the Dominican Republic. Three main varieties are grown here: the mild and native Olor Dominicano; the intense Piloto Cubano, brought from the Vuelta Abajo of Cuba; and San Vicente, a milder and more acidic Piloto hybrid. Dominican puros were once unheard of as it was widely thought impossible to grow quality wrapper leaf on the island, but new growing techniques are now allowing some exceptional puros to be produced.
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