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Quality trumps politics at cigar store

KINGSTON - You might expect the Obama administration's refusal to lift the trade embargo with Cuba would have brought disappointment and dismay to the men and women who covet the island's most famous export - Cuban cigars.

But proprietors and customers at Kingston's Uptown Cigar Company are a mellow lot whose deep familiarity with cigars tells them Cuban cohibas may not be everything they're cracked up to be.

To the aficionado, cigars are to other tobacco products as a Cadillac is to a Yugo. But these days, being a Cadillac was cool until the Lexus came along.

"When the cigar boom happened in the U.S. in the '90s, (Cuba) put as many cigars as they could on the market because they needed the money," store manager Israel Markevitz said on Friday. "And when that happened, they lost all quality control."

All isn't lost for the savvy cigar smoker who bought from this or subsequent vintages. A good cigar is like a good wine: aging either for some years can make all the difference.

A customer who asked to be identified only as Bob said that while he thought the embargo is "crazy," it wasn't surprising that it remains in effect because of the political clout of Cuban refugees in Florida.

Markevitz eschewed the embargo's political aspects to focus on the reality of the Cuban brand, which, he said, has been eroded in other ways over the years.

"Most Cuban cigars that you find outside the country, wherever there are tourists, for example, are fake."

Nor does Markevitz expect things to get a whole lot better when the embargo is finally lifted; it'll be a flashback to the '90s, with quantity trumping quality.

"Hey, we're a cigar store, and when they're legal, we'll sell them. But I'm not dying in the meantime."

Monday, April 20, 2009

Source: Times Herald-Record

Quality trumps politics at cigar store