Although cigars made in Honduras are less prominent than those made in Cuba, the Dominican Republic or Nicaragua, Honduras is still a vibrant region for growing tobacco and making cigars.
Needless to say, Honduran cigars far exceed their reputation and are often underestimated for both the quality and diversity they can provide.
There is no doubt that Honduras cigars are some of the best in the world. In this part of our Series on The Cigar Industry, we delve into Honduras’ nearly 300-year-old cigar industry.
How the Cigar Production in Honduras Started
Tobacco in the Copan region (an archaeological site of the Maya civilization) has been around for centuries.
A type of wild tobacco called "copaneco" was smoked by Mayan Indians, largely considered the inventors of tobacco smoking.
When the Spanish came to Honduras, they quickly recognized the potential of the fertile farmlands for tobacco growing. Consequently, they established a tobacco trading post in 1765 near Santa Rosa in Copan.
For the next 6 decades, the Royal Tobacco Factory, set up by the Spanish colonialists, controlled the entire cigar production from tobacco cultivation, processing the tobacco and overseeing the trade.
Most of the Honduran tobacco was shipped back to Europe, where the cigars were assembled for sale.
However, after Honduras declared its independence in 1821, the government took over the Santa Rosa production and distribution of tobacco. This went on until 1883 when a law was passed allowing tobacco to be grown anywhere in the country.
As a result, private farmers got into the business, and new tobacco-growing regions emerged in Honduras. These include the Jamastran Valley and the Talanga Valley.
Jamastran Valley is home to the cigar-producing capital of Honduras, the town of Danli. This is where most tobacco in Honduras is grown and rolled. It's also where you'll find most cigar factories located.
On the other hand, in the mountainous and extremely windy Talanga Valley, cigar tobacco is grown using the encallado method whereby tents are erected around the crop to protect the tobacco from wind damage.
This is why cigar tobacco is typically grown in valleys — as they offer a natural barrier to protect the delicate leaves from the wind.
How The Honduran Cigars Went International
Honduras is now a bountiful contributor to the enjoyment of cigar lovers. But this wasn't always the case. Until the 1950s, Honduran cigars had been confined to the local market.
The exposure of the Honduras cigar industry to international markets was largely due to the misfortune in other cigar-producing territories.
Turns out the Dominican Republic was not the only nation to benefit, as Honduras got its own share of Cuban cigar migrants.
The Cuban exiles came with the famed Cuban seed and soon started growing new tobacco varieties from it.
Seeing the potential of the new farmers, the Honduran government started financing some of the Cuban growers and cigar producers who moved to the nation.
Still, Honduras didn't have adequate infrastructure to support the expansion of its cigar industry. This allowed countries like neighboring Nicaragua to surpass it in cigar production.
However, when Nicaragua's civil war was raging in the 1970s, Honduras became a refuge for cigar makers from Nicaragua.
For instance, the Plasencia family, a Cuban tobacco-growing family, first migrated to Nicaragua after the Cuban Revolution. When war broke out in Nicaragua, they fled to Honduras in 1979, where they started their cigar-making business afresh.
Although they eventually returned to Nicaragua, 60% of their total cigar production continues in Honduras. Now they manage the production of over 30 million cigars a year and own more tobacco farmland in Honduras than any other company in existence.
The Plasescia Brothers via Cigar Journal
By the 1990s, Honduras had become the second-largest exporter of cigars to the US market, after the Dominican Republic.
Sadly, when Hurricane Mitch hit the country in 1998, it severely decimated the tobacco farms and devastated its infrastructure.
Luckily, Honduras has recovered over the past two decades and is now one of the most prominent cigar manufacturing regions in the world.
Are Honduran Cigar Still Popular?
In October 2016, the cigar industry was declared "Intangible Cultural Heritage" of Honduras due to its contribution to the social and economic development of the country.
Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Honduras now account for nearly all of the fine cigars exported to the United States, the world's largest market for cigars.
Currently, Honduras is the third-leading exporter, shipping 60 to 70 million handmade cigars a year to the US. This places cigars as the fifth largest export out of Honduras, after coffee, bananas, palm oil, and shrimp.
Because cigars are produced primarily outside the major cities, the industry is an essential source of formal employment in semi-rural areas, benefitting more than 100,000 people.
Some work directly in tobacco farms or cigar factories, while others actively engage in other related trades, such as carpentry and transportation.
There are three major tobacco wrappers grown in Honduras: Cuban-seed Criollo and Corojo and the non-Cuban seed Connecticut-shade (aka Honduran-shade).
For a long time, most of the tobacco grown in Honduras has been from Cuban seed. However, with technological improvements, research and experimentation on seeds and tobacco fermentation, tobacco quality is improving exponentially in Honduras.
Now you can enjoy high-quality 100% Honduran Puros (all tobacco used to make the cigar comes from Honduras).
Top Ten Honduran Cigar Brands
Honduras is the home of many famous classics as well as modern cigar brands. In general, most Honduran cigars tend to be heavy, full-bodied smokes associated with more robust, darker and earthy flavors. Some of the most notable ones include:
- Rocky Patel Decade - The well-developed, complex cigar received a stellar 95-rating from Cigar Aficionado in 2008. It's a limited-edition release made to celebrate Rocky Patel's tenth anniversary.
- Camacho Corojo - A hand-rolled cigar is made with a Corojo wrapper which, between 1930 and 1990, was used in virtually all Cuban cigars. While Cuba no longer grows Corojo-seed tobacco, the Eiroa family, former owners of the Camacho brand, still grow tobacco from Corojo seed on their farm in the Jamastran Valley of Honduras.
- CAO - CAO is owned by tobacco conglomerate General Cigar Company. The brand's distinctive national-themed releases, such as CAO America & CAO Italia, are handmade in Honduras.
- Punch Gran Puro - Although an iconic Cuban-legacy brand, Honduran-made Punch Gran Puro is every bit as popular.
- Alec Bradley Prensado - Made with select Honduran and Nicaraguan long-fillers under a special Honduran Trojes Corojo wrapper for a smooth smoke laced with pepper and dark-roasted coffee aromas
- Asylum 13 Corojo - This blend made entirely of 100% Honduran tobaccos is the brainchild of Christian Eiroa, the famous cigar maker behind the legendary Camacho brand. It delivers a delectably sweet aroma of tobacco, spice and lemon zest.
- Camacho Nicaraguan Barrel-Aged - After being aged for 6 years, this cigar Corojo wrapper is aged for an additional 5 months in Nicaraguan rum barrels. Consequently, the cigar produces wonderfully caramelized flavors.
- Plasencia Cosecha 146 - Made from the Plasencia family 2011-2012 harvest, which marked the 146th harvest of the family's inaugural tobacco crop of 1865. The cigar is a blend of the crops from Honduras and Nicaragua to produce a medium-bodied, full-flavored cigar with a complex and sweet taste.
- Nat Sherman Host - A smooth Honduran handmade cigar wrapped with a golden-hued Connecticut Shade leaf. This cigar can be described as mellow with a subtle sweetness on the finish, thanks to its sugarcane dipped cap
- CLE Rojo - Highly acclaimed cigars that incorporate Honduran tobacco for a bold and full-bodied smoke with spicy leather and wood notes.
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