10 Cigars that Defined the Decade
2020 is just weeks away and the internet is filled with the best of the decade lists. Although social media has been around since the early 2000s, this is the first whole decade where it has played a tremendous role in shaping our society, and so people are taking to their pages to share their best of the decade lists.
I thought it seemed fitting to join in and compile a list of the 10 cigars that defined the decade. This is much tougher then it seems, seeing as the sheer amount of top-notch cigars has been steadily increasing year after year.
So after much research, I was finally able to come up with the 10 cigars that caused the most buzz and helped shape the industry over the last 10 years.
RoMa Craft CroMagnon
RoMa Craft is one of the most talked-about cigar companies of the past 10 years. They have a dedicated following and have one of the busiest booths at the trade show every year. The social phenomenon that is RoMa Craft started back in 2011 with what is still one of their highest rated cigars to date.
The CroMagnon is a dark and bold smoke. Its Connecticut broadleaf wrapper is jet black and emits heavy notes of chocolate, espresso, leather and earth. This is the cigar that started it all. It made people realize that Skip and Mike were to be taken seriously and it also set the tone in terms of their pre-historic themes that would be continued with cigars such as the Neanderthal and Aquitaine.
Tatuaje Monster Series
While technically the Monster Series began in late 2008, the impact it had on the past decade was a wait to great to leave it off the list. This became one of the most talked-about and hyped yearly releases and still is to this day.
The Tatuaje monsters hit all of the checkpoints. They are amazing blends, with each one usually rating in the 90s. They are a limited, annual release so everyone clamors for them. They have one of the coolest and most unique marketing themes that people instantly recognize, and the packaging was always one of the best of year.
While anniversary and special editions weren’t exactly a new thing when Tatuaje started this series, this showed the impact that they can have if marketed correctly and also how a cool, even nerdy theme can really connect with customers.
By the time the first Las Calaveras came out, Crowned Heads was already establishing itself as a premier, boutique company. However, by teaming up with Don Pepin while he was just hitting his peak, and making this cigar into a limited annual release helped catapult them to superstardom.
Every year, the Las Calaveras release is one of the most talked-about new cigars. I have enjoyed each and everyone and they are among my favorite cigars ever. The first release, back in 2014 took the industry by storm. Everyone couldn’t stop raving about this cigar and it was selling out at a rapid pace.
The first Las Calaveras was so legendary, that boxes can now only be found on the secondary market, and they go for thousands of dollars. Even Crowned Heads founder Jon Huber cant get his hands on any, and he made this cigar. It just shows the impact and the lasting legacy this cigar had and continues to have.
Plasencia Alma Fuerte
Industry insiders have been aware of the Plasencia family for years. They are among the most respected and knowledgeable cigar family’s in the world and have been responsible for some of the most popular blends in history. However, they were always making them for someone else. Up until a few years ago, there were very few cigars that held the Plasencia name.
That all changed in 2017 with the release of the high-end Plasencia Alma Fuerte. Not only was this named among the best cigars of the year, but it finally showcased to the general cigar community who the Plasencias were and what they were capable of. This lead to an entire series of Alma cigars and a huge boost in notoriety for the family.
If you were to go to the IPCPR tradeshow this year, you will see the Plasencia booth buzzing with activity, and this is how it should be. For too long these guys went unrecognized and as the new decade dawns so do the legacy of the Plasencias.
Monte by Montecristo
There has been a slue of incredible releases form Montecristo over the past 10 years. The Epic Craft Cured is among my favorites and the new Montecristo Cincuenta is one of the best cigars this year. However, in 2013, a new cigar released that reestablished the brand as innovative and showcased their ability to make a flavorful, intense smoke.
The Monte by Montecristo was a huge hit when it came out. With the exception of the Montecristo Platinum, very underrated in my mind, Montecristo hadn’t really released a fuller-bodied cigar. That all changed with this powerful smoke. Using an Ecuadorian Havana wrapper, The Monte showed the world that Montecristo was willing to change with the times and offer their customers something new and something different.
Today, Montecristo has a large portfolio of rich, heavy, flavorful cigars, but it all started with this one. Monte by Montecristo ushered in a new era for the most well-known cigar brand in the world.
Flor de las Antilles
Cigar Aficionado has been releasing its Top 25 list for nearly 20 years, and I’ve read just about every list form top to bottom. The coveted number one spot always has a big impact in the retailer market, but never to the degree, we saw with the For de Las Antilles.
Up to this point, Pepin Garcia and his family were seen as a company on the rise. His work with Tatuaje was well-known and the original My Father release received universal acclaim. However, it was the Flor de Las Antilles that set them on the path of cigar greatness.
Within a day of the list being released in 2012, this cigar was nearly sold out everywhere. I worked in a large store at the time and we were back-ordered for months. Its combination of flavor, quality, and price made this one of the best cigars of all time and is one of the catalysts behind the tremendous success of the now famous Garcia family.
Leaf By Oscar
When you discuss sleeper hits in the cigar industry, one cigar should come to mind. That cigar is the Leaf by Oscar series. What was once thought of as an almost gimmick became one of the most sought after and talked about cigars in the industry? The impact this cigar had not only on customers but on the people behind it will be felt for years to come.
For a little backstory, we need to look at a small yet talented blender from Honduras known as Oscar Valladares. After teaming up with retailer Island Jim out of Pittsburgh, they decided to work together on a small project known as the Leaf by Oscar. It was made up of four different wrapper varieties, and following completion, each cigar was wrapper in a thick tobacco leaf as more of a showpiece.
At first glance, these cigars seemed like a gimmick. No one knew who Oscar was or what the heck these cigars were going to be like. Slowly but surely, as people began to try them, word spread and the legend was born. The Leaf by Oscar series became a huge hit and spawned not only three more Leaf by cigars from other manufacturers, but helped establish Oscar as one of the premier Honduran manufacturers.
CAO Amazon Basin
CAO has been a staple of the cigar industry for a number of years. Even after its sale to General Cigar, it was still making top-notch blends using a variety of unique tobaccos. Their World Series, beginning with the Brazilia, showcased different tobaccos from around the world that many customers weren’t familiar with. However, it was when they dug deep into the Amazon that they found these right tobaccos to make one of the most popular cigars of the decade.
The CAO Amazon Basin used tobacco grown in a small part of Brazil, next to the Amazon River. Using fermenting techniques never really seen before outside of that region, this tobacco is incredibly flavorful and unique in its profile. The combination of rare, intriguing tobaccos along with a somewhat limited amount turned this release into a sleeper hit.
Overnight places began to sell out and suddenly everyone on cigar forums is looking for the Amazon Basin. Its marketing was solid, but nothing special. In fact, this cigar proved that you don’t need a lot of fanfare to have a hit product, you just need a good product. This, in turn, leads to a few other Amazon releases from CAO including the most recent Orellana. However, it all started with a simple cigar that didn’t even have a band.
Espinosa Laranja Reserva
Erik Espinosa is one of the coolest guys in the cigar industry. He has a casual, everyman attitude and has one of the best personalities you will find. While he was known to industry insiders with such hits as the 601 series, it was the Laranja Reserva, released in 2014, that solidified him a leading member of the cigar community.
The Laranja, which is the Portuguese word for orange, takes its name from its Brazilian wrapper. Notes of pepper, spice, and citrus combined to make a complex and truly unique smoking experience. It’s old-fashioned, creamsicle like color scheme is easily recognizable and is now on shelves of nearly every cigar store across the country. I have said it time and time again, this is one of my favorite cigars of all time.
However, it’s not just my personal preference that makes this cigar worthy of this list. The cigar was a tremendous hit, being named to several best-of lists and in return, has spawned countless new sizes and a sequel released this year, the Laranja Reserva Escuro. This is one of the cigars that justified all the hype around Espinosa and gave widespread recognition to his talents. La Zona forever!
Herrera Esteli Norteno
I know what you are thinking. There are definitely more popular Drew Estate brands that could have been on this list. Acid remains one of the best selling cigars in the world and no one can deny the impact that the Liga Privada series had on the cigar industry and on the legacy of Jonathan Drew. However, following the departure of both Steve Saka and Nick Melillo, Drew estate seemed to be at a crossroads. No one knew who would replace them or how he could replace them.
When Willy Herrera arrived on the scene, he put all naysayers to shame. He has crafted some of the best cigars of the past few years and has carved his own name in the cigar legends zeitgeist. While his original Herrera Estelí release was highly rated and acclaimed, the Norteno is where people started to pay head.
The cigar branding was simple, nothing like the extravagance seen in a Liga. However, it was the simplicity of the branding and the quality of the cigar that made this project something special. Willy is a man of few words and prefers being in the factory to traveling around and doing events. This was him at his finest.
Combining the talents and skills he had learned at his family’s factory in Florida with the incredible resources Drew Estate provided him. The Norteno set the tone for Drew Estate and showcased a bright and promising future.