Bolivar Deathmatch!


What happens when you smoke a fake, a charlatan, a bogus stick, a counterfeit at the same time as you smoke the genuine article? Here's the story of what happened when I did just that.

This is a record of my recent smoking session with a genuine Bolivar Petit Corona (as the Bolivar Tubos No.2) and a Bolivar Coronas of questionable authenticity. The Bolivar Coronas in this review was provided by ckeller52 and prior discussion about these cigars can be found in this thread. The Tubos No.2 came from a source of unimpeachable reputation. I won't be reporting just the experience of smoking these cigars, rather, I will also be reporting on the physical and forensic analysis I carried out to determine the nature of the Coronas.

The following photographs will detail some of the physical and cosmetic differences. But first let me comment on the sensory characteristics from smoking. I smoked these two sticks in parallel. That means I lit them both up at the same time and smoked them together, puffing on one for a little while and then switching to the other. This is but one way to do a head-to-head comparison. Another would be to smoke one right after the other.

The Coronas lit up fine but from the very first puffs, was harsh and thin. I have never smoked a Cuban cigar that burned my throat, but this one did. In addition to the nasty bite, there was a strange metallic taste and a distinct off-flavor that was like something burnt but I could not say what. It just wasn't pleasant. The draw was easy as was expected from seeing the loose bunching at the foot. When I pushed smoke up through my nose, I found it a bit acrid and again, harsh. There was a distinct lack of earthiness or leatheriness. Tobacco was there of course, but with a serious lack of complexity, depth or body. In fact, it tasted quite raw, or underfermented. Throughout its length, the flavor profile did not change at all, remaining tobacco-like but not getting any more intense or deeper. Toward the last inch, it did get stronger and a little fuller. At this point, it was almost a decent cheap smoke. Overall, this was a poor cigar with a flavor profile that was distinctly un-Cuban.

The Petit Corona lit up fine as well and from the first puffs, was rich and earthy. There was a distinct creaminess to the smoke and there was no harshness. Instead, there were dashes of black and white pepper spicing things up. The draw was noticeably tighter than that of the Coronas but still quite acceptable. The cigar delivered nice deep tobacco flavor and gradually got richer and stronger as time passed. I noticed some nuttiness but also plenty of earthy and leathery notes that made it delicious and satisfying. The cigar stayed full and a little creamy to the end. It started to get a bit harsh near the nub but I was also having to puff a little harder to keep it lit. Overall, this PC was reminiscent of Boli PC, CJ and to a lesser degree the CE that I have smoked in recent times. Overall, a comforting and satisfying cigar.

Now, onto the pictures.

1. Here are the two cigars side by side. The Corona is on the right, the Petit Corona (authentic) on the left. This one was taken in sunlight. You can see that the wrapper on the Corona does not seem smooth and silky like the one on the PC. The PC's wrapper was resilient and fine unlike the Corona's which felt hard and coarse.

2. Here are the two cigars side by side again. This time, the Corona is on the left. The light is shining down on the cigars at a grazing angle to accentuate surface texture. As you can see, the PC looks leathery but the Corona looks ashen and the word that comes to mind is "sickly." Just a note, the Corona did not have the rich, tobacco pre-light aroma of the PC.

3. I normally like to lick the cap a bit before cutting to make the leaf a little softer for cutting. And I like to taste the wrapper leaf. Call me weird. But after you take a look at the cap on the Coronas (on the right), you'll understand why there was no way I was going to put my tongue on this tumorous-looking thing.

4. Here is a shot of the heads after clipping. I used a double-bladed guillotine but I was careful to only remove the cap and not cut the bunch underneath. As you can see, the PC on the left has a bunch that is flush cut, a fact that in a large part accounts for the "flat head" seen on many authentic Habanos. Heads that seem more or less flat are the result of variations in the closing up of the wrapper at the head under the cap. The bunch under the cap of the Corona is ragged and uneven with the filler leaves protruding to different degrees. BTW, I remove as much of the cap as I can, the reason is to make use of all the air channels in the bunch and to avoid tar build-up.

5. As the smoking began, I immediately noticed a dramatic difference in the ash. The Corona had a snow white ash that was tight and had large "pimples" on the surface. It was completely uniform without striations or patches of grey. In my experience, this is quite uncommon in Cuban cigars. I have, however, seen it exemplified in cigars using Honduran binder/wrapper. In contrast, the PC had a fluffy medium gray ash with plentiful patches of darker gray. This was an appearance that I have seen with many different Cuban brands. There were fine white "pimples" on this ash, much resembling that seen on OpusX ash.

6. Here is the first of two forensic shots. This first one is of the large filler leaf I found upon unwrapping the Corona. What's noteworthy here is the presence of a massive stem. I suspect this had something to do with the reoccurring razor-thin run I had on one side. In fact, if you look at the picture of the cut head, you can actually see it sticking out prominently at the 12-o'clock position. This stick was almost the girth of a chopstick and, IMO, highly unlikely that it would have made it into genuine Cuban production.

7. This second forensic shot shows the difference in binder leaves. The PC had a binder that was very similar to that found in other Cuban cigars (heck, even good cigars of NC type) I've taken apart. Thick, resilient and leathery. The Corona, however, had a binder that was fragile and thin.

8. The final photo in this exposé involves the "Cuban Triple-Cap," a characteristic of the style of finishing up the head which, when it is missing, is often touted as suggestive of fakery. This sequence of snapshots taken from the Front, Right, Back and Left show the famous triple cap in all its glory. The triple-cap technique of finishing is described here and does not, in fact, use three pieces of wrapper. Also, the triple-cap is only visible from certain directions. In other words, if your cigar does not show a triple-cap from at least two of the four directions, then perhaps you have reason to worry. This does not hold true for figurados such as the Piramides. The Corona, on the left, never shows a triple-cap and instead of the tight wrapping you see on the PC on the right, a large flap of the wrapper is simply flung around the head twice.

In total, I employed three modes of analysis. First, visual inspection of external features of the cigar, band and packaging. Second, forensic analysis of the internal materials and construction of the cigar. Third and most conclusively, the taste test. This particular fugazy actually failed at the very first level. But other, better counterfeits (such as a recent bunch that found its way into Zeebra's possession) did not conclusively flunk until the third level.

It is my hope that this exercise will be of use to all who love the Cuban leaf, especially those new to the art. Truly, a trusted supplier is a valuable asset, but your own knowledge and understanding of the aspects of Habanos is also a worthy a protection against fraud and fakery. If you are truly earnest about this hobby, you'll take the time and apply the effort to understand these seemingly simple and disposable little bundles of leaves. And if you do, then worlds of sublime pleasure await you.


This post has been edited by Ginseng: May 25 2006, 05:53 PM


newbie extrodinaire!!
I agree with you completely.

I decided I would smoke the cigar Chuck had sent me.

My initial observations of the cigar.

1.Very rough looking and not uniform in color
2.Lack of triple cap very crudely rolled cigar.
3.Very unpleasant aroma
4.Felt odd when i rolled it around in my fingers felt as if there were some large pieces of stem in there. (looks like WIlkey's pic confirms this)

I clipped the cigar and proceeded to light it.
First couple of puffs were very harsh on the throat.
I let the cigar burn a bit. I than took a cple more puffs still had a harsh taste to it. almost a "sour" taste.
None of the Boli trademarks were present
Draw was very loose. Probably due to the terrible job of making the cigar.
But the final nail in the coffin for me was the very BRIGHT WHITE ASH it produced. I have yet to find any Cuban tobaocco that looks white.

Based on looks, smell and taste I have to say this is a terrible fake.


New Member
Wilkey, great detective work! While I enjoyed following the story, it sucks that a CP member was a victim of fraud. :(


Das Bruce
Damn, Wilkey! That was thorough, and pretty conclusive.

First thing that popped into my head was to start calling you Quincy (from the 70's) or give you my 10,000 votes for "Offical CP Cigar Whisperer".


cigar smokin' caver
Great comparison ,Wilkey.

For new guys like myself, this is a great tutorial on what to look for when inspecting a Cuban cigar.
Wonderful stuff. Thanks for the education. :thumbs:


New Member
jstrat said:
Wilkey, great detective work! While I enjoyed following the story, it sucks that a CP member was a victim of fraud. :(
Great bit of detective work. Excellent review! Too bad someone was taken, but hopefully it will help other guys and show the importance of doing some background work before you buy.


I'm glad you guys are getting something out of these posts. I know they tend to be long, but there's no way the necessary work can be done quickly or the necessary detail presented in a short post.

The thing that concerns me about this particular vendor is that they seem to have all the right signs and info on their website. I have not examined the website in detail, but there may in fact be some tell tales to be discerned.

BTW, if anyone is interested in the identity of this vendor, don't PM me. It's Chuck's prerogative to divulge that information.



cigars and computars
CSI: Habanos indeed. Nice sleuthing, Wilkey.

Not to defend the vendor here, whoever it may be, but don't discount the fact that the vendor could also be getting duped from ITS supplier. This could explain your observation:

seem to have all the right signs and info on their website
Regardless, you outline some great tips for making sure you are enjoying the real thing.


Rare Stamp & Coin Dealer
Very nice report, I love reading things like this.
It just gets added to the Memory bank when I go to buy cubans.
Thanks for the info, it helps a lot.


Shark In The Water
Great analysis, and to further the point about the ash. I was told by a CAO rep. a couple of weeks ago that the difference in ash characteristics is due to the volcanic activity found on the different countries. DR and other non-cuban countries having a lot more volcanic activity than Cuba tend drop more magnesium into the soil, thus having a whiter ash than a Cuban (which tends to have more grey in the ash). Just passing along some info from a person who has been to those factories and seen it all first hand.


New Member
Nice findings, Wilkey. Now I know more about how to distinguish a "real good fake" Bolivars. :thumbs:


another brother
Very nice work Wilkey! Great pics (to cover appearance), and great idea, to see how they are constructed, what they look like (white ash) as they burn, and what they taste like. Excellant comparison. CSI- La Habana indeed.