If you tend to smoke mostly Cuban cigars as I do, it’s practically impossible that you haven’t smoked a Montecristo. Montecristo cigars are the most popular Havana cigar, and account for 50% of the Havana’s yearly cigar export. If you like Cubans, not having smoked a Montecristo is like not having seen a John Wayne movie if you claim to love westerns. It just doesn’t happen.
The History of Montecristo Cigars
I love the story behind Montecristo cigars. I think it appeals to some long-dormant rebellious side, where the new guy comes in and thumbs his nose at the old fogies in the business. Which is what happened with Montecristo. In the 1930s, a couple of young upstarts in the cigar business, Alonzo Menendez and Pepe Garcia, swooped in and bought up a failing old cigar brand, H. Upmann. They began to produce the brand in Cuba, calling it their cigars “H. Upmann Montecristo Selection Cigars”.
Now, if you’re the snotty literary type like I am, you’ve probably read The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. And the story behind the naming of the brand is probably another reason why Montecristos appeal to me. When the cigar industry was young and before radio was invented, cigar factory owners would hire readers to keep cigar rollers entertained while rolling cigars - it was tedious work, and the rollers easily got bored. These readers would read aloud from sections of the newspaper, interesting articles, and pieces of fiction. One of the most popular stories among the rollers was The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s no surprise that the story of poor Edmund Dantes finding untold riches and revenging himself on those who did him wrong appealed to them - theirs wasn’t an easy life.
And so when the time came to sell their new cigars, Menendez and Garcia named them for Monte Cristo. Within a very short amount of time, their cigars were considered some of the best in the world. And while a lot of that is due to the quality of the cigar, much is also due to smart marketing - as it is with any successful product.
The John Hunter firm, Britain’s only Cuban cigar importer today, shortened the bulky “H. Upmann Montecristo Selection Cigars” to a simple Montecristo - and had a new logo designed. It’s the same logo Montecristo Cigars uses today: a triangular red and yellow logo that always reminds me of Toblerone’s logo (and makes me want a candy bar). Those changes, combined with rigorous marketing, helped make Montecristo huge. How else could any one company manage to become the most popular Cuban cigar brand in the world? Marketing, baby.
Montecristo cigars take a little something from their name: they’re rich, full-flavored, and very distinctive. Montecristos come in six basic sizes (none of which are machine made) with several variations and special editions. While there is a Dominican brand of cigars that goes by the same name, the Dominican brand has no relation to a Cuban Montecristo - Dominican Montecristos are really nothing special. Cuban Montecristos, however, have become the standard by which other Havana cigars are judged.
Photo credit: eadlers