Nick and Greg's Top 25 Cigars of 2020
With the holidays on the horizon, cigar media from around the industry is just starting to put together their annual Top 25 lists.
This phenomenon was first started by Cigar Aficionado magazine over 15 years ago. Since then, it has been a major ranking source for the cigar industry, and several top media sources, such as Cigar Coop, Cigar Dojo, and Half-Wheel have gained a sizeable following with their Top 25s.
Last year, Greg and I decided to throw our hat in the ring and release a Top 25 list of our own. Our loyal customers and even manufacturers lauded the content, and so we thought to make it an actual annual release.
Obviously, this year has had its fair share of curveballs, but that didn’t stop us from reviewing and ranking our favorite cigars.
We reviewed each cigar on this list, plus many more and after much consideration, we were able to narrow it down to our Top 25.
We tried not to include so many hard to find or limited editions, because at the end of the day we created this list to give customers a guide on what cigars might work for them and that they can find pretty easily.
There are plenty of limited or rare cigars that we love, but finding them is way too difficult, and that’s not fair to you guys. The Top 25 sampler is currently sold out, but it shouldn’t hinder you from reading through this list we put together for you, the cigar lovers.
So, without any more blabbering, we are pleased to present Nick and Greg’s Top 25 Cigars of 2020.
25. Camacho Nicaragua
This cigar confuses many people; it has nothing to do with the blend or the construction; it’s the name.
For the past few years, Davidoff and their brands have amped up their use of Nicaraguan tobaccos, and the cigars have been named appropriately.
What we have here is an amazing, top-notch cigar that uses an Ecuadorian wrapper, a Honduran binder, and a blend of Dominican, Honduran, and Nicaraguan fillers.
This cigar is excellent with great flavor transitions and a smooth, clean aroma along with near-perfect construction.
However, it barely uses any Nicaraguan tobacco. Am I petty? Yes, I am because at the end of the day this cigar is box worthy and a tremendous addition to the Camacho lineup. I would consider a name change, though.
24. Onyx Bold Nicaragua
When I first heard they were making a Nicaraguan version of the Onyx, I’ll be honest; I was a bit disappointed.
For years, I felt the cigar community had incredibly underappreciated Onyx, and I felt maybe just a re-branding would help take this amazing broadleaf cigar to the next level. However, after smoking this new version made by AJ Fernandez, I need to say I was wowed.
While the blend is different, using Nicaraguan tobaccos and a San Andres wrapper, it had all of the elements I loved from the original.
The difference is that all of the flavors and qualities were turned up to 11. It was darker, richer, sweeter, and to be honest, bolder.
If you liked the original Onyx, you are going to love this newer and more intense version.
23. Tatuaje Karloff
Pete Johnson said time and time again; he was only making 13 cigars in the Monster series. Well, that was mostly true.
While the Halloween release this year wasn’t technically named after a monster, it was named after one of the most famous monster actors, Frankenstein himself, Boris Karloff.
Whether you want to consider this in the Monster series or not, the fact remains this is one of Pete Johnson’s greatest creations.
Rolled with his eternal partners (the Garcia family), the Karloff uses aged Nicaraguan tobaccos for the filler and binder as well as a seamless Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper.
The result is an incredibly well-balanced cigar with notes of nuts, wood, leather, and a touch of citrus and coffee sweetness.
From its flavor progression to its construction and even the box design, this cigar is a winner in all aspects.
22. Fonseca by My Father
For years, I viewed Fonseca as a solid cigar brand, yet also a cigar that was definitely a victim of its era.
Much like the Ramon Allones, the brand just didn’t really evolve into the modern industry, that is until Pepin Garcia got his hands on it. The result is a new lease of life for this almost forgotten yet historic brand.
The new Fonseca by My Father is rolled using Nicaraguan tobaccos from the Garcia family farms throughout Nicaragua.
The wrapper is a reddish-brown Corojo Rosado leaf that not only provides full and rich flavor but adds to the look and construction. After smoking this excellent smoke, I am excited to see if the team at My Father continues with the Fonseca line.
21. Cohiba Connecticut
Cohiba is that legendary brand, and the name alone makes cigar smokers take note. This year, I had the pleasure of smoking the incredibly rare and pricey Cohiba Spectre.
I have to say it was worth every penny, but it also opened me up to smoking through the Cohiba portfolio again, and that’s when I rediscovered my love for Cohiba Connecticut.
Released just over a year ago, this cigar may seem to have that standard Connecticut bend, but in actuality, it has a tremendous amount of flavor and complexity.
While its namesake is the pristine Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper, it is the binder and filler that really makes things interesting.
A blend of Brazilian and Dominican fillers combined with a San Andres binder gives this a rich, zesty, and bold profile but with all the smooth qualities one would expect from a Cohiba.
20. Oscar Valladares Super Fly
I cannot stop heaping praises on Oscar Valladares. Along with Alec & Bradley, Oscar has helped reinvigorate my interest in Honduran cigars.
From his underdog release, the Leaf by Oscar, to his recent slew of highly-rated cigars, Oscar is just banging on all cylinders.
Last year, we placed the Wild Hunter Maduro on our list, and this year we have another one of his gems that might even be more flavorful.
The Super Fly might look like a gimmick with its 70s era band and style, but underneath is a rich and intensely flavorful cigar that deserves every bit of praise you have.
It uses filler tobaccos from three different countries in the blend as well as a Honduran earth binder and an exquisite Mexican San Andres wrapper.
Each puff delivers notes of dark chocolate, raisins, leather, and oak. The cigar is bold, complex, and expertly rolled. This hype train is going off the rails.
19. Nightshade by Drew Estate
For those of you are have watched our videos and listened to our podcast, you know above all else, we try to be honest.
We do not like applauding a cigar that we don’t like for political or business reasons. So, when a private label of ours makes this list, you can rest assured it is for one reason and one reason only: it is a great cigar.
This year we released our latest project with Drew Estate, and I think hands down this is not only one of the best private cigars for us, but one of the best cigars Drew Estate has ever released.
The Nightshade is hand-rolled at the Drew Estate factory using Nicaraguan and Dominican filler tobaccos along with a stout Indonesian binder.
The real treat here is the beautiful Connecticut Habano wrapper. It is dark, oily, and just bursting with rich flavor.
The only word I can really think of is savory. It has notes of pepper and chocolate and this juicy and meaty texture to it.
The construction is phenomenal, as is the price. In fact, after the final blend was agreed upon, I am almost certain that Willy Herrera was mad as hell that they didn’t keep this for a wide release. Too bad for them.
18. Fratello Navetta Inverso
Omar Frias is one of our favorite people in the industry. He is incredibly smart, engaging, has a really cool back story, and to top it all off; he makes great cigars.
During a few virtual herfs this year, Greg and I had the chance to smoke through more of one of our favorites, the Navetta Inverso. When putting this list together, we both said, “oh yeah, the Inverso is definitely going on there”.
The Inverso takes the blend of the Navetta, which is Italian for space shuttle as a homage to Omar’s time working for NASA, and it inverts it.
It uses aged Nicaraguan fillers, an Ecuadorian binder, and a zesty Nicaraguan Habano wrapper. Its flavor, construction, presentation, all were top notch. This is one of only two cigars that has made our list two years in a row, so take that as you will.
17. Crowned Heads Juarez
Here we have the first Crowned Heads cigar made for them by Tabacalera Pichardo. I see big things coming for this partnership.
This small but effective factory might be under the radar for the generic smoker, but they are producing cigars at a very high level. The Juarez is a perfect example of what they can do for a $5 cigar.
What started as a private label for another retailer has now become a wide release and a fan favorite for the industry.
The Juarez uses tobaccos from the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua for its filler as well as a tough Ecuadorian binder to hold it all together.
The Mexican San Andres wrapper adds so much rich flavor, including dashes of sweet coffee and leather, making this a complex and smokey option. The smaller, Shots XX ups the strength and flavor to new heights but maintains its consistency and construction.
16. Cavalier Black Series II
I had the pleasure this year of interviewing Sebastien Decoppet, founder of Cavalier Geneve. While I had smoked some of his cigars before and was always impressed, after talking to him and hearing his story, I decided to really dive into the portfolio.
What I found is a small but incredible selection of premium cigars that need to get more notoriety.
The Black Series II really caught my attention, and when decided what cigars to place on our list this year, there was no question I was going to include this.
Hand-rolled in Honduras, the Black Series II uses vintage Nicaraguan tobaccos for the filler and binder. It is then cloaked with a luscious Mexican San Andres wrapper.
The result is a well-balanced and rich profile with a solid amount of spice, but underlying notes of raisins and dark chocolate that build throughout the cigar.
15. Rocky Patel ALR Second Edition
When it comes to tobacco quality, most experts will say that age plays a huge role in getting the tobacco to where you want it.
The longer you age the tobacco, the smoother and more refined it becomes. In the manufacturing sector of the industry, this is usually done with the tobacco before its rolled.
To make this cigar even more special, Rocky told his factory to age the tobacco, roll the cigars, and then age it another two years.
What this does is not just smoothen out the rough edges and improve the flavor of each leaf; it allows all tobacco in the cigar to blend together to create more complexity and nuances. I would say that his plan worked because this has become my favorite Rocky Patel release.
The ALR Second Edition is hand-rolled using Nicaraguan filler and binders and a stunning Mexican San Andres wrapper.
Hints of chocolate and dark fruit blend effortlessly with touches of spice and leather for a smooth and very well-rounded smoke.
14. Aganorsa Miami Aniversario 2019
Aganorsa is crushing it. While this might not be the most eloquent way to phrase this, it is the only statement that I feel truly grasps the magnitude of my feelings.
Between their name brands and all the work they do with companies like Illusione, Warped, and Foundation, Aganorsa is on their way to being a giant in this industry.
The company has such a diverse range of tobaccos, and their innovation is barring none. We smoked more Aganorsa cigars this year than ever before, and it became increasingly difficult to pick just one for our list.
Eventually, we thought of which one we kept going back to, and it was the Miami Aniversario from 2019.
This blend is just incredible. It is smooth and sweet, with just the right amount of spice. The Corojo 99 wrapper is flawless and adds in those sweet tobacco notes that Aganorsa has become famous for.
This perfecto shape burns perfectly and adds in a bit of flair for this outstanding, celebratory cigar.
13. Joya de Nicaragua Classico
Over the past few years, our team has really started to get back into Connecticut wrappers.
While these are among the most popular cigars in the industry, cigar nerds tend to stay away from your typical shade wrapped cigars because of the perception that they are more mellow and not as flavorful. Several recent releases have put this myth to bed.
While the Joya de Nicaragua Clasico is not a recent release, it reinforces the idea that when blended correctly, a cigar with a Connecticut shade wrapper can bring heaps of flavor and complexity.
The Clasico was actually one of the first cigars produced by JDN dating back to the post embargo days.
It became a favorite of several prominent politicians during the 70s. Last year, the JDN Antnao Connecticut made our list, and the JDN Numero Uno has been lauded as one of the best cigars in recent memory.
I find the Clasico to be in between those two cigars. IT has the flavor and complexity of the Antano and the refinement and class of the Numero Uno.
It is smooth, flavorful, incredibly well-rolled, and has been a regular member of our Connecticut rotation for the last year.
12. Dunbarton Triqui Traca
Last year, this cigar reigned #1, and in my mind, it is still one of the best cigars on the market. Steve Saka continues to impress the cigar world each year with his incredible offerings.
Come to think of it; there is not one cigar in his portfolio that isn’t top-notch and one of the best out there.
While Greg and I are trying to keep this list objective while also trying to make sure new cigars get their share, I told him I couldn’t in good conscious put this list together and not include this cigar.
2020 saw the release of two new sizes for this Broadleaf beauty. The 652 is a solid toro size that has all of the best qualities of its predecessors.
The Triqui Trace, already a ramped-up version of the Mi Querida, uses a special Connecticut Broadleaf No.1 Dark Corona wrapper on top of a blend of aged Nicaraguan and Dominican tobaccos.
It is smooth, rich, complex, and solid. Its burn produces superb white ash, and each puff delivers different notes of chocolate, leather, coffee, and a dash of sweet spice.
This slightly larger size will offer you a different experience, but all that you loved about the Triqui Traca still holds true.
11. Espinosa Laranja Reserva
2014 was a pretty big year in my adult life. I left the cigar store and began my journey in the media and marketing sector of the business, I moved out of my parents’ house into my own place for the first time, and one of my all-time favorite cigars was released.
2014 was the year Erik Espinosa brought the Laranja Reserva into my life, and it is better for it. I hadn’t really met Erik at this point, but I had tried a few of the 601’s, and I was impressed.
However, when I first lit up the Laranja, I sought him out immediately, and he became among my first interviews in the industry. This cigar brought Erik to national attention, and it has been one of the driving forces behind Espinosa cigars ever since.
Laranja is the Portuguese word for orange. The cigar, which is hand-rolled at the La Zona factory in the center of Esteli, Nicaragua, uses a special Brazilian wrapper.
As many of you know, Portuguese is the national language of Brazil, and so the name fits from a language aspect.
It also works from an appearance and flavor standpoint as well. The Brazilian wrapper gives the cigar a slight orange hue, and its blend with Nicaraguan filler tobaccos offers notes of spice, leather, and tremendous citrus notes.
This cigar is a winner all around and still a mainstay in my rotation.
10. Alec and Bradley Blind Faith
If there is a future of the cigar industry, it rests with Alec and Bradley Rubin. These guys continue to impress with each release.
From the blending to the packaging and stories behind each cigar, these guys are already pros just a few years into their solo projects.
The Gatekeeper was named on our Top 25 list for 2019 and the Kintsugi, which will be arriving soon, might be the best Honduran cigar I have ever had. However, for this list, we looked back at the cigar that started it all for them, the Blind Faith.
In 2018, Alec and Bradley Rubin released the first-ever cigar under their own banner. The Blind Faith was rolled at the family’s Raices Cubans factory, which has been home to several of the Alec Bradley releases.
It uses an exquisite Honduran wrapper from the Trojes region as well as Corojo 99 and Criollo 98 tobaccos from Nicaragua for the filler.
The dual binder, Nicaraguan and Honduran, gives a unique and enticing flavor. Notes of earth, leather, and nuts work hand in hand with a tobacco sweetness and slight spice for a complex and rich smoking experience.
If you told me this cigar was made by a 30-year veteran of the industry, I would believe you. It has a complex blend, rich flavor, and amazing construction.
However, while the Rubin brothers have worked with their father for years, this was their first time working on a project completely on their own.
To say it was a home run would be understated, so let’s just say you are looking at the faces of the future of the cigar industry.
9. H. Upmann 1844 Anejo
The H.Upmann brand has gone through a renaissance in the past few years. What was once a popular everyday brand, then fell into relative obscurity as the industry began to evolve and change.
Once Rafael Nodal took the helm at AUSA, he began to change that. First, he worked with AJ Fernandez on the H. Upmann by AJ, which started to breathe new life into the brand.
Then in 2019, two huge and successful releases brought H. Upmann to a whole new level of stardom. This includes the H. Upmann 175th Anniversary, our #2 cigar of the year for 2019.
This past spring, AUSA sought to continue that trajectory with the release of the H. Upmann 1844 Anejo, and I have to say they have done it again.
Hand-rolled at the companies Flor de Copan factory in Honduras, this meaty and flavorful smoke uses a wide array of tobaccos for its blend.
Dominican, Nicaraguan, and Honduran tobaccos make up the filler, while the binder is a stout broadleaf.
The wrapper is a flavorful Ecuadorian Habano that is oily and beautiful. There are hints of deep chocolate along with a peppery finish that grows through the cigar to deliver complex and intense flavor.
The name Anejo, which means “age”, refers to the age of several of the tobaccos used in the blend, many of which have been aged up to five years.
This helps create a smooth and refined smoke that is still bursting with flavor—another chapter in the revival of H. Upmann.
8. Davidoff 702 LE
There are very few cigar companies where I have not had at least one bad experience. Just by the statistics, eventually, you are going to smoke a cigar out of the box that doesn’t burn right or was dried out.
However, that has never happened with a Davidoff. Each and every one of their cigars that I have smoked has been perfect.
From construction to appearance and flavor, they are designed to be flawless. When I heard they were re-releasing the 702 Toro from 2009, I knew I had to try one. I ended up having several over the course of the year and was wowed each time.
This was the first cigar to utilize the proprietary Ecuadorian Hybrid 702 wrapper. While they now have a whole series of cigars that use this tobacco, the LE toro was the first.
This cigar has everything a Davidoff fan wants. It is incredibly smooth and subtle but has such a terrific amount of flavor; each puff is like a buffet.
The profile has hints of nuts, chocolate, wood, and cream. The smoke billows out like velvet, and they have never required a touch-up.
When it comes to price, I understand that Davidoff’s aren’t for everyone. However, I can assure you that they are worth the price and are a great choice for a celebration or special occasion.
7. Ramon Allones by AJ Fernandez
I will be honest; I was never a huge fan of the Ramon Allones brand. They were always solid, but they are more of a throwback to the previous generation of cigar smokers.
Palates evolve, and interests shift, so while this heritage brand was a big seller, it just never wowed me.
Then, the brand was loaned out to AJ Fernandez, and overnight my entire opinion on the brand changed.
While AJ kept a more traditional look to the band and box, the blend is a very modern adaptation.
It uses four different Nicaraguan filler tobaccos, including one of my favorites in the Corojo 99 from Jalapa.
The wrapper is an exquisite Ecuadorian Habano Oscuro leaf. Along with the Mil Dias, this is the best-looking cigar I’ve seen this year.
Each puff delivers a concerto of flavors with notes of pepper, leather, earth, and tobacco sweetness. Each one I’ve smoked required zero touch-ups and smoked beautifully down to the end.
I think this is one of the best cigars to carry the AJ Fernandez name and definitely, the best Ramon Allones ever created, Cubans included.
6. Ashton Aged Maduro
While Greg and I have very similar palates, we do differ in our favorite wrapper choices. Greg loves a nice Mexican San Andres while I’ve been a broadleaf guy for years.
I was determined to find him the cigar that was going to change his mind, so I dipped back into the archives and found the first broadleaf cigar I ever had, and the one that made me a lifelong fan.
The Ashton Aged Maduro has been out for ages, but in my mind, it is still one of the best examples of a mellow broadleaf cigar on the market.
Even after all these years and so many new brands, it still holds up as one of the best Maduro cigars you will try.
Handcrafted by the Fuente family, the Ashton uses aged Dominican tobaccos for the filler and binder, as well as the signature broadleaf wrapper.
This cigar is smooth and creamy and is really able to showcase the best flavors of the Connecticut broadleaf tobacco without being too intense.
A smooth and nutty center follows notes of milk chocolate mocha and sweet coffee. Seeing as it was Greg who chose this cigar for the list, I take that as a victory.
5. Crowned Heads Mil Dias
Even with a worldwide pandemic, Crowned heads was cranking out the hits this year. The new versions of the Mule Kick and Las Calaveras were some of the best we’ve seen, and he added quite a few new sizes and unique projects along the way.
However, the big release for this year, the one we were all so excited for, was over 1,000 days in the making.
The Mil Dias, Jon’s second project with Tabacalera Pichardo, was one of the first blends the factory gave to Jon when they first teamed up a few years ago.
After several tweaks and back and forth, they finally found the perfect blend, and let me tell you it was well worth the wait.
From the moment you open the box, you can tell there is something special about this cigar. Visually it is as flawless as you can get. It’s beautiful and shiny Ecuadorian Habano wrapper has no blemishes or thick veins.
It uses a blend of aged tobaccos from Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Peru for its filler, giving it great complexity and flavor.
Notes of nuts, leather, cocoa, and a touch of spice are present throughout, with not one note overpowering the profile. It is a solid medium-full body that has enough flavor for a seasoned aficionado, but won’t scare away someone relatively new.
Crowned Heads has been a favorite here for several years. From their core lines to their limited editions and state exclusives, we cannot help but heap praise on this company.
That being said, I think their relationship with Tabacalera Pichardo can usher in a whole new era, with Mil Dias at the helm.
4. Foundation Tabernacle
This might sound like I’m a fanboy because I am, but I doubt we will ever have a Top 25 list without a Foundation.
From his blending to his packaging, and size selection, Nick Melillo does everything exactly as I would, but ten times better.
Last year we saw the Wiseman Maduro land in our top five. Even this year, the Maduro version made my annual Nicks’ Birthday list.
Greg and I smoked the entire portfolio this year, and while it was tough to pick just one for the list, the cigar we kept going back to was the Tabernacle.
The Tabernacle was first released back in 2016 as the sophomore release from Foundation. As Nick is seen as an expert with Connecticut Broadleaf, there was a lot of hype around this cigar. It is now safe to say that Nick delivered.
Rolled at the AJ Fernandez factory, the Tabernacle combines Honduran and Nicaraguan filler tobaccos to add strength and complexity to the blend. What really sends this cigar to the next level is the combination of a San Andres binder and of course the Broadleaf wrapper.
This cigar is just packed with rich, intense flavor. Hints of dark chocolate coffee and sweetness are delivered with each puff.
The corona size, in particular, really delivers on flavor and construction. If you want to see what one of the best blenders can do with the wrapper that made him famous, you have to smoke a Tabernacle.
3. Illusione Epernay 10th Anniversary
If there is one brand that has really jumped several levels in my book in the past few years, it is Illusione.
They haven’t been doing anything different, I’ve just matured to the point where I realize just how amazing these cigars are and what a genius Dion Giolitio is.
It has gotten to the point where the biggest compliment Greg and I can give to a cigar, is to say it has Illusione like flavor.
This year, we smoked through pretty much the entire portfolio of the brand, at least the ones we had available to us. While the Haut 10 and One-Off were just off the chart remarkable, it was the Epernay 10th Anniversary that really won us over
The Epernay 10th Anniversary was made to commemorate the historic Illusione Eccj that was released back in 2009.
This version was meant to be a bit more mellow and subtle. Dion was able to do that without losing any flavor.
This Nicaraguan smoke, which is rolled at the Raices Cubans factory in Honduras is the quintessential Illusione cigar.
Notes of tobacco sweetness, light cream, and pepper work together like a flavor symphony. Combine this near-flawless construction, and you have a cigar eligible for the hall of fame.
2. Padron 1926 Series
You would be hard-pressed to find a cigar with as many high ratings as Padron. From their standard series to the Family Reserve, these cigars are consistently ranked as the best in the business and have been for nearly 20 years.
This year I found myself going back to one of my old favorites and a legend in the industry, the Padron 1926.
While the 1964 and the Family Reserve seem to get most of the press these days, you cannot deny that the Padron 1926 has been and will continue to be one of the greatest cigars ever created.
Even all the years after its release, it is still as consistent and amazing as the first one I ever tried.
This incredible smoke is hand-rolled in Nicaragua, using a blend of Nicaraguan tobaccos that have been aged for over four years.
This aging creates an exceptional smoothness, yet the tobacco is still able to maintain its immense flavor.
Notes of dark fruits and chocolate, along with a touch of spice, help to create a wonderfully complex yet silky smooth experience.
It is hard to put into words how amazing this cigar is, and I look forward to several more years of lighting up the Padron 26.
1. Room 101 Big Payback
Nothing has pleased me more than seeing Matt Booth re-enter the cigar industry. His comeback has been nothing short of spectacular.
His partnership with Robert Caldwell has produced some of the most popular cigars of the last few years, including the Farce collection and the T. All of these projects have certain Room 101 showmanship as well as solid blends.
Last year it was announced that Room 101 was bringing back a fan favorite, the Big Payback. This new version would be a Maduro and would be made with General.
From the get-go, I was pretty excited. However, once Matt sent me some samples, excitement can’t quite cover it. I would say it became more of an obsession.
The original Big Payback was a solid Honduran cigar with some great flavor and a good price. From the looks of the packaging, I was expecting more of the same from the Big Payback Maduro.
I am going, to be honest; these cigars aren’t even close. The Maduro is on another level entirely. It is handcrafted in Honduras using aged fillers from the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Nicaragua which combine for a complex and zesty center.
The real prize here is the flawless Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper. Subtle notes of chocolate, coffee, leather, and sweetness combine for one of the best Maduro cigars I have ever smoked. Its construction is perfect, with solid white ash and no touch-ups needed.
Even with a brand-new blend and stellar construction, the Big Payback is still packaged in a bundle and offered at a tremendous price.
If you had asked me a year ago if a cigar in a bundle would be the #1 cigar of the year, I would have told you to kick rocks, yet here we are.
Greg and I easily smoked through all the samples we were given. If you love a Maduro smoke, or really just want to try something exquisite, I implore you to try the Room 101 Big Payback Maduro.
Long Ash Podcast: Nick and Greg's Top 25 Cigars of 2020