Counterfeit Cuban cigars. There are many stories out there about counterfeit or fake Cuban cigars. There are articles in magazines and blogs on how to recognize them. Two years ago, Ministry of Cigars wrote an article to beware of counterfeit Cubans. There’s also an article in the series about Vrijdag Premium Printing about printing techniques to fight counterfeits. In The Philip & Ferdy Cigar Show, Philip & Ferdy smoked a counterfeit Romeo y Julieta. A review of that same counterfeit cigar can be read here. And that’s just the written stories. When you take a look at cigar groups on Social Media, counterfeit stories are rampant. And photos of counterfeits are posted daily, usually greeted with a flood of people commenting they are fake. Ministry of Cigars dives into counterfeit cigars and in a series of articles, we will teach you how to recognize real from fake.
Use common sense
If you buy Cuban cigars and want to make sure you’re getting the real deal, use common sense. Go to a trusted source, for example, official La Casa del Habano outlets (see the list of official LCDH locations here). But make sure it’s a legit La Casa del Habano. There are scammers on Facebook and Instagram that use pictures of others and claim they are official LCDH. But located in towns where there is no LCDH. So always double-check.
The saying “if it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t” is true in the Habanos scene as well. If you find a box of Behike far below market value, it’s most likely fake. A guy on the beach in Mexico, Dominican Republic selling boxes of cigars for 150 US dollars? Yeah right. And you might think “but what about Cuba?”. A lot of counterfeit cigars are sold in Cuba, even on the island itself, the only reliable sources are the many La Casa del Habano outlets. The whole “the neighbor of my mother has a dog who fights a cat that catches mice at the factory. And the cat can bring 3 cigars a day home” story that street sellers use to lure unsuspecting tourists into their trap is a classic. They come in any shape or form, but it’s always that they know someone who works in the factory. If the sales pitch starts like that, walk away.
There are more dead giveaways. If the cigars in the boxes are all a different color shade, walk away. If they don’t have a triple cap, walk away. Does the box have a cheap transparent ‘glass’ top, walk away. If the size is not correct, walk away. When the labels are in the box, and not on the box, walk away. Heck, if there is any doubt at all, just walk away and find a reliable source. It’s not that hard. If you need help finding a reliable source, comment below the article and we will hook you up.
Use online sources
Now at Ministry of Cigars, we don’t claim to be experts in recognizing counterfeit Cuban cigars. But we have friends and sources to reach out to when we aren’t sure. Experts such as former UK Habanos sommelier Mike Choi, Yuri Dijkstra from LCDH Almere, our contacts at Vrijdag Premium Printing, or people within Pacific Cigar Company. For this series of articles, we work with some of these experts. But before reaching out to those sources, there are a few things to do first.
Each (new) Habanos box comes with a barcode. You can check that code on the Habanos website and it should say which brand and vitola is connected to that barcode. If the code is on a box of Cohiba, yet the barcode refers to Romeo y Julieta, you can count on it to be fake. Now, of course, it can be a human error but the chances of that are less than 1%.
Over the years, we have seen a lot of rare fakes. Rare fakes are easily identified as fakes with just a quick search. Limited Edition Cohiba cigars from a year when there was no Cohiba Edicion Limitada. Or Barberpole Cuban cigars, something never done by Habanos. Information on both regular and special releases is all online. The best source in our opinion is the Cuban Cigar Website. All the regular releases, edicion limitada, exclusivo, humidors, etc are in their database. Including lines that are no longer available.
The most counterfeits are Cohiba. If you buy a smaller brand, for example, Sancho Panza, Juan Lopez, or San Luis Rey, the chances of getting the real deal are much higher. It is more profitable for counterfeiters to fake the most famous brand and push those, than to fake cigars with a small fanbase. But it doesn’t mean that all fakes are Cohiba. As mentioned in the intro, Philip & Ferdy smoked a fake Romeo y Julieta is one of the Philip & Ferdy Cigar Show episodes. Avoiding Cohiba limits the chances you’re getting a fake, but it doesn’t eliminate it completely. In our next article in this series, we will show more examples of counterfeits of other Cuban brands.
So with the tips above, it’s easy to eliminate the obvious fakes. In the next article in the series, we dig deeper into fakes and how to spot inaccuracies.