Nick and Greg’s Top 25 Cigars of the Year
The holidays are a magical time of year for cigar smokers for a number of reasons. First, most retailers are offering top-notch holiday-related deals, so that you can stock up. For industry people and hardcore smokers, this time of year also brings in a slew of Top 25 lists.
First started in 2004 by Cigar Aficionado, Top 25 cigars lists are incredibly important not just in terms of guiding customers, but also for forecasting which brands many retailers should start to stock up on. Many if not all of the top cigar publications and websites release a Top list including Cigar Aficionado, HalfWheel, Cigar Dojo, Cigar Coop, and Blind Mans Puff.
With this in mind, we are incredibly excited to announce Nick and Greg’s first-ever Top 25 Cigars of the Year list. This literally took us all year and while many of the sites listed above have very technical processes for creating their lists, such as blind reviews and secret scoring, Greg and I chose a much simpler path.
Our first consideration, of course, was the basics. We looked at the construction, profile, complexity, and visual themes. Following that, we asked ourselves some simple questions. How many times have I smoked this cigar on my own? How often have I recommended this cigar? How many Top Five lists have we included this cigar in? Does the thought of this cigar excite me? That last question is serious, so take your minds out of the gutter.
Without further a due, we are pleased to present Nick and Greg’s’ Top 25 Cigars of the Year for 2019.
25. Eiroa Jamastran 5x50
This cigar has turned me around on Honduran tobacco. The Eiroa Jamastran is a Honduran puro, named after the famed Jamastran Valley. This bold and incredibly flavor smoke is one of Christian’s best to date. It combines great construction, rich, earthy flavor, and a smooth aroma. If you are a fan of Honduran smokes or Christian Eiora, this may be your new favorite cigar.
24. Fratello Navetta Inverso Toro Grande
Not only is this cigar one of my favorites from Omar Frias, but it is also one of the best and most unique on the market. The original Navetta, which is Italian for a shuttle, received incredible praise. Omar literally inverted the blend, using Dominican and Nicaraguan fillers, an Ecuadorian binder and Nicaraguan wrapper. With notes of pepper, chocolate, and leather, this rocket ship is packed with flavor.
23. Tatuaje Mexican Experiment II Churchill
This is the second installment of an enormously popular limited-run series that was first released in 2011 and sold out very quickly. The M.E.II uses the same Mexican San Andrés wrapper over aged Nicaraguan binder and fillers found on the original blend. It offers up flavors of earth, chocolate, pepper, wood, and coffee, delivered with the bold full-bodied strength profile that Tatuaje smokers will love.
22. Alec & Bradley Gatekeeper Toro
The names sakes of Alec Bradley have branched off on their own in a big way. Teaming up with the great E.P. Carrillo, Alec and Bradley have created a flavorful and complex smoke with solid construction and an intriguing backstory. Using an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper and blend of Dominican and Nicaraguan filler tobaccos, you’ll experience notes of almonds, pepper, wood, and sweet spice. This cigar is not only great, but a precursor of great things to come from the brothers.
21. Cabañas Robusto
I was debating whether or not to include one of our in-house cigars on the list, but honestly, it was too good to not add. The Cabanas is an exclusive cigar made just for us by the legendary Don Pepin Garcia. Its construction is fantastic, with thick solid ash and a nice even burn. Its Habano Rosado wrapper is the same that is used on the original My Father line, offering up notes of sweet spice, oak, and a dash of raisin sweetness on the retro-hale.
20. Balmoral Añejo XO Connecticut Gran Toro
This is a special cigar to us because it was the cigar that made Greg really appreciate a Connecticut wrapper. The XO Connecticut is handcrafted at the Royal Agio factory in the Dominican Republic and is everything you are looking for in a solid, flavorful Connecticut cigar. It is smooth and medium-bodied with notes of toast, cream, cedar, and a nutty center. This is a great cigar for the Connecticut lover or someone who just wants a smooth and easy smoke.
19. Herrera Esteli Brazilian Maduro Short Corona Gorda
Here we have the fourth entry in the portfolio of Willy Herrera. The Herrera Esteli Brazilian Maduro features a dark and zesty Brazilian Mata Fina wrapper over a Connecticut Broadleaf binder, and aged Nicaraguan long-fillers. This incredible blend offers a complex and rich profile with notes of, earth, chocolate, and sweet tobacco flavors accented by some subtle floral tones. Even though it’s classified as full-bodied, it’s so creamy and smooth that almost everyone can enjoy it.
18. Henry Clay War Hawk Toro
The War Hawk was definitely the most surprising cigar for me this year. While they have always been a solid choice, Henry Clay has fallen out of favor in recent years, until this new blend hit in the spring. It was one of the most flavorful Connecticut cigars I’ve smoked all year and boasts out-of-this-world construction. Its combination of a shade-grown wrapper and broadleaf binder means you get the best of both. A smooth and creamy aroma with deep rich and cocoa notes along with a nutty core make this an easy choice for one of this year’s best.
17. Southern Draw Kudzu Lustrum Belicoso
Created to celebrate five years of the original Kudzu, The Southern Draw Kudzu Lustrum is the first installment new blend that will only be available every five years. The Lustrum is featured in just one size, a 5 1/2 x 52 box-pressed Belicoso. This Nicaraguan puro is hand-crafted by AJ Fernandez and gives off creamy smooth notes of earth, tobacco sweetness, and spice, which is something every type of palate can enjoy. This luxurious smoke is sure to become a regular fixture in your cigar line up, at least twice a decade.
16. Oscar Valladares Wild Hunter Maduro Toro
After realizing that many of his customers were avid hunters, Oscar Valladares set out to make a cigar perfect for a hunting trip. The Wild Hunter is available in two different wrapper styles, but we all agree that the Maduro is simply exquisite. It is a Honduran puro, crafted in the famed Copan region of Honduras. In creating the cigar, Oscar wanted to give the consumer “the full experience of Honduran flavor”, and with bold, rich notes of earth, leather, espresso, spice, tobacco sweetness, nuts, chocolate, we can say he nailed it. The camouflage box and bands add a nice, thematic element as well.
15. Caldwell The T. Toro Grande
With three of the top boutique blenders creating this cigar together, there is no wonder it is one of our top choices this year. With Robert Caldwell, Matt Booth and AJ Fernandez coming together to blend this triumph, you are in for quite a treat. This Nicaraguan puro is dark, rich and flavorful with a burn that most cigars would love to mimic. Notes of dark chocolate and earthy blend effortlessly with a dash of spice and peanuts for a well-balanced and well-constructed smoke. With this as the baseline, we are even more excited about the new Sun Grown version.
14. My Father La Promesa Toro
The newest cigar from My Father pays tribute to Jose ‘Pepin” Garcia, who made a promise to his family that he would make a name for himself by crafting premium cigars outside of Cuba. La Promesa cigars are covered in a dark, luscious Ecuador Habano Rosado Oscuro wrapper, over the best estate-grown binder and filler tobaccos from the Garcia family farms in Nicaragua. These stunning handmade premium cigars live up to their name with perfectly balanced notes of pepper, leather, chocolate, wood, and sweet cream.
While it is a spectacular cigar, the only reason this didn’t rank higher was that it didn’t really set itself apart from a sea of highly rated My Father cigars. In terms of cementing itself among the Mt. Rushmore of Garcia blends, it doesn’t stand out the way the Flor de Las Antilles or Le Bijou does. However, it is an amazing cigar nonetheless.
13. Crowned Heads CHC Reserve XVII Corona Gorda
It pains me that this didn’t rank higher, but the only reason for that was the slew of absolute hitters that were released this year. The Court Reserve ranks as one of the favorite cigars ever and will do so for eternity. First, it has a spectacular blend, one of the best Ernesto has ever created. It’s Mexican San Andres wrapper will offer up notes of toasted almonds, with creamy chocolate and espresso, while its aged Nicaraguan filler will give you a full-flavored center.
You would be hard-pressed to find a cigar that burns better. After the countless Court Reserves I’ve smoked, I have yet to find one that burned even average. Its modern yet traditional band makes it stand out, and I love the message of love and support from Jon Huber to the loyal supporters of Crowned Heads. I am proud to be a member of the Court.
12. AJ Fernandez Dias de Gloria Churchill
I have to say that this cigar surprised me. While I always know an AJ blend will be solid, the box and band of this cigar had me thinking this was going to be just that, another solid AJ blend. However, it ended up being, in my opinion, one of the best blends to bear his name. It is a Nicaraguan puro using only tobaccos from AJ’s personal farms. Some of this tobacco has been aged up to seven years, which explains its incredibly smooth aroma.
Notes of earthy tobacco, sweet spice, cashews, and oak are delivered with every puff, with no one flavor overpowering the others. This is not just a great cigar for AJ, but the culmination years of practice and training. While I am not a fan of the traditional, Cubanesque artwork that many companies have been relying on upon in recent years, this cigar really stands alone. It delivers the ultimate cigar experience and deserves its place among the best cigars this year.
11. Undercrown Shady XX
The Undercrown Shady XX isn’t a different blend from other limited Undercrown cigars. It is rolled into a size that I, personally, wouldn’t normally gravitate too and it is slightly more expensive than my normal favorite Gran Toro size. Then why, you would ask, is it ranked so high? The answer is simple; it is an outstanding cigar. For some reason, this blend in this size smokes better than any Undercrown I’ve had before. Set aside the fact that it relates to Eminem, of whom I am a huge fan, this blend just hits it.
The Mexican San Andres wrapper is luscious and oily and offers up those signature sweet tobacco flavors you’d expect but at an elevated level. The Undercrown was always a great, regular rotation smoke for me, but the Shay XX has elevated it to a special occasion smoke.
10. Ashton Symmetry Sublime
This was a tough choice for our little team. Both Greg and I are huge Ashton fans and smoke both the symmetry and VSG regularly. After a few days and smoking some more samples we decided that although the VSG will forever be a favorite and one of the highest-rated cigars of all time, the Symmetry just offered us a little more of everything. It is a bit more complex, a bit smoother, and the construction is just a bit better (at least we think so).
This smoke is handcrafted by the legendary Fuente family for Ashton and uses some of the best tobaccos at their disposal. It uses Dominican and Nicaraguan filler tobaccos for a smooth yet complex center. Its Ecuadorian Habano wrapper is nearly flawless and gives you tremendous notes of pepper, earth, a dash of sweetness and even some subtle coffee notes.
The use of Nicaraguan tobaccos in this was a big deal at the time, seeing as the Fuentes rarely if ever used tobacco from Nicaragua. This blend was such a huge hit, it is said it was one of the many reasons for Fuente building a new factory in Nicaragua.
9. Padron 1964 Exclusivo Maduro
For anyone who watches our videos, there is no surprise that Padron made our list. However, many of you may be shocked at which Padron we chose. While I have long proclaimed that the Padron 1926 is one of the best cigars ever created, this year I found myself much more drawn to the 1964 Maduro. As my palate and preferences have matured over time, so did my appreciation of this fantastic smoke. It is simultaneously bold and smooth, complex and simple, rich, sweet and spicy. It boasts that signature Padron construction and smooth aroma.
Its Nicaraguan blend showcases everything that makes Padron one of the best in the world. It has tobaccos that have been aged for up to four years. That’s the perfect amount of time to make the profile incredibly smooth without sacrificing its abundance of flavor. While the Padron 1926 will always have a special place in my heart, I think my allegiance may have to shift to the 1964.
8. Dunbarton Sin Compromiso No.5 Parejo
Along with the Crowned Heads Court Reserve, this is another cigar that I am upset didn’t rank higher. It is a top cigar in so many ways and is Greg’s absolute favorite Maduro of all time. In the end, it came down to our simple, and some might say stupid, rating system. The availability of this cigar makes it much harder to enjoy on a regular, but that’s also something that makes it special.
The Sin Compromiso is one of the finest and most unique blends Steve Saka has ever created. He uses a special process for harvesting the San Andres wrapper and in the end, it makes this one of the smoothest and sweetest cigars ever created with that leaf. Its profile is just heavenly, with rich notes of espresso, sweet tobaccos, milk chocolate, and nougat with just the slightest touch of spice to make it even more complex.
The fact that it is harder to find and has a slightly higher price tag than most Dunbarton cigars is actually part of its story. Steve refuses to comprise neither on his materials or on his process. His goal with this was to make the best possible cigar, regardless of the price, and he succeeded. Yes, he could have made it cheaper in several different ways, but it would have comprised the quality he was looking for. That is exactly what makes this cigar so special.
7. Davidoff Winston Churchill Robusto
This cigar will always be special to me. Not only did I attend the launch party for it several years ago, but I had the pleasure of meeting a member of the Churchill family. He personally lit up my first sample of this cigar and since that day, I haven’t been able to put them down. The Winston Churchill is the best regular production cigar by Davidoff because of its ability to combine the smooth, high-end qualities that you expect from the brand, but with a rich and deep complexity that was unseen before.
The complexity of the flavor profile is due to the complexity of its blend. It uses five different Cuban-seed Dominican filler tobaccos along with a Nicaraguan filler leaf. This is followed by a San Andres binder, giving it just a touch of richness, and its Ecuadorian sun-grown wrapper. As expected with Davidoff, the wrapper is a work of art. It is flawless, with a good amount of oil and very thin veins.
This blend gives you a roller coaster of flavors. It offers everything from spicy and nutty to rich and creamy, this cigar has it all. It does this while also burning perfectly, even the entire time and producing ash as white as the driven snow.
6. Southern Draw Jacob's Ladder Lancero
We knew from the start that there was going to be a Jacobs Ladder on this list, it was just a matter of deciding which one. The toro size of the original is always a treat and the new Brimstone is the strongest good cigar I’ve ever had. So again we looked to our “rating system”, and it came down to one question. What was the most reliable and consistent? That’s tough when talking about a high-quality cigar like the Jacob’s Ladder.
In the end, it was the Lancero, the cigar that has never failed me. Each time I light up this smoke it delivers on its promise of perfect construction and unimaginable flavor. The sweetness is also, in my opinion, more prevalent in the Lancero size than any other size of the line. Its Pennsylvania Broadleaf wrapper gives off tremendous notes of sweet chocolate bold rich coffee, and sweet spice that is hard to find on anything else. Even though its Ligero tobaccos make it quite strong, the strength is presented in such a way as to make it almost medium.
The first time I smoked this size, I had to message Robert Holt on Instagram and tell him to send us more asap. It is just everything I look for in a cigar from its complexity, its rich profile, and its even burn. It is not only my favorite from Robert Holt, but it may be the best Lancero on the market right now.
5. Joya de Nicaragua Antano Connecticut Toro
If we are being honest, it has always been tough for me to rank Connecticut cigars. While they are among the most popular and best-selling cigars in the industry, they usually don’t really fit into my flavor preference. This year, however, saw the release of several Connecticut blends that are changing my view. You have already seen the Balmoral and Henry Clay War Hawk on this list and while the Sobremesa Brulee is a top contender, the best Connecticut of the year has to go to the new Joya.
While the Joya de Nicaragua Antano name has always been synonymous with intense strength, I think we should redefine that as intense flavor. This new blend is just about the most flavorful and complex Connecticut wrapped cigar I’ve ever had. Its aged Nicaraguan fillers are able to add a bit of body to this smoke. Its wrapper is a shade-grown from Ecuador and adds in those notes of sweet coffee, vanilla, oak, and light chocolate.
While boasting such an incredible profile, the construction on this cigar also makes it worthy of this ranking. Never have I seen a Connecticut cigar, especially at this price, burn so well. Instead of the ash falling off easy, it is actually a chore to try and ash this smoke, which is a testament to the quality and consistency of Joya de Nicaragua.
4. Crowned Heads La Coalicion Siglo
Jon Huber, also known as Count Juan de la Uber, teased me with this cigar for weeks before the trade show. He knows that I am not only a fan of his, but that I am a huge fan of Drew Estate and the biggest Connecticut broadleaf lover in the industry. When I finally arrived at the trade show, I raced over to his booth. Sure enough, he supplied me with a few samples of a new collaboration. This was the first cigar I smoked at this year’s IPCPR show, and I still remember it to this day.
La Coalicion was at least a year in the making and brought together two industry titans for one special project. It was blended by both Jon and the Drew Estate master blender Willy Herrera. After a few trials and errors, they were finally able to agree on the perfect blend, and this incredible cigar was born. The name comes from the Spanish word for the coalition, which refers to two or more groups coming together for a temporary partnership.
Forget NATO or the U.N., this is the coalition we so desperately needed. This cigar is hand-rolled using the finest Dominican and Nicaraguan tobaccos available. It uses a Sumatra binder for a dash of rich coffee notes. The final touch is the dark, oily and bold Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper.
This cigar turned out to be everything I hoped it would be and more. It has the rich sweetness you expect but at a higher level. Each puff delivers a different combination of flavors that get even smoother the more you smoke it. This cigar took the talents of two industry legends to create, and from the branding to the construction and complexity, it definitely shows.
3. Foundation Wise Man Maduro Corona Gorda
Nick Melillo is one of the brightest minds in the industry and can keep surpassing people’s expectations. When he said he was going to start his own company, everyone thought he was going to start out with a broadleaf. Instead, he created a highly-rated Nicaraguan puro. Then he announced he was going to make a follow-up line, and this time we were all certain it was going to be a broadleaf. Again, Nick defied expectations, and in the process, created one of the best cigars I’ve ever had.
The Wise Man Maduro is as close to perfect as you can get, and honestly, for our Top three on this list, it is truly a toss-up. I have been smoking this cigar as often as I can since the moment It was released. I can’t seem to put them down. It uses a terrific blend, with the finishing touch being one of the best-looking San Andres wrappers you will ever see. It is dark, rich and toothy and burns incredibly from start to finish.
It has a great flavor combination and effortlessly transitions from sweet and rich, to slightly bold, to a bit spicy and then back to rich. The retro-hale will offer up a sweetness that I can only describe as a snickers bar covered in raisins. The Wise Man Maduro was named to several top lists when it was first released and even two years later, seems to keep exceeding people’s expectations. If you haven’t had the chance to try one, you need to stop reading right now and pick up a few, it is literally a must-have cigar.
2. H. Upmann 175th Anniversary (Gregs #1)
Seeing how Greg and I put this list together, it was inevitable that our choice for number one was going to cause a bit of a back and forth. We decided that the one and two ranks will be interchangeable, but seeing as I am the one spending my night writing this whole thing, I am giving him the #2 slot. That being said, this cigar could have easily been my number one choice for this year.
The H.Upmann brand is a historic one, dating back to 1844. In that time it has become one of the most recognizable brands in the world, with both the Cuban and Non-Cuban versions have become incredibly popular. I’ve enjoyed my fair share of Upmanns and they have always been a great choice. From the Cuban Petite Coronas to Vintage Cameroon and the recent H.Upmann by AJ Fernandez, this brand has yet to really disappoint. However, one thing it never really did was wow me, until now at least.
To celebrate the 175th Anniversary of the brand, AUSA decided to work with A.J. Fernandez to create a special, limited-release blend. What I thought was going to be yet another solid cigar turned out to be exquisite in every way you can think. From just opening the box you can tell there is something different about this cigar.
It is a Nicaraguan puro that only uses Medio Tiempo leaves. These are the highest leaves on the plant and the hardest to come by. Add three years of age on them and you get a brilliant, nuanced blend that balances both flavor and intensity. Notes of cream and caramel are combined with a zesty oak flavor before finishing off with an earthy sweetness of which I have never tasted before.
While we still have one more cigar to go, I cannot emphasize enough how much I enjoyed this cigar. It is without a doubt one of the best in the world right now and a must-have for any cigar smoker.
1. Dunbarton Mi Querida Triqui Traca 6X48
If anyone has been checking out our podcast or my personal Instagram the past few weeks, this may have come at no surprise. I have been smoking at least one of these cigars a week since they arrived and I do not anticipate slowing down anytime soon. Before I keep gushing over it, let’s do a little back story first.
There is another cigar retailer who has an annual release known as the Firecracker. For each release, the company works with a different manufacturer to use an existing blend but rolled it into a small Robusto shape with an extra-long pigtail to resemble a firecracker. When they contacted Steve Saka, he must have misunderstood them and instead tweaked his existing Mi Querida blend to have a little more fire in it.
After realizing his error, (he’s not one to waste a good idea), Steve took this new blend, added a new band and released it to the world. It is named the Mi Querida Triqui Traca. It takes its name from a variety of Nicaraguan firecrackers popular throughout the country.
The blend is very close to the original Mi Querida, which by the way is one of my favorites from his as well. It has a few small differences that really make this cigar stand out and cemented itself as my number one choice. Its wrapper is a No.1 Dark Connecticut Broadleaf, which Steve states are a little bit rarer and heavier than the usual mediums used on the Mi Querida. This wrapper is somehow stronger, yet smoother than the original. Steve also added in a heavy, Ligero filler leaf from the Dominican Republic.
Out of the more than several that I have smoked, it is safe to say I cannot find one thing I haven’t enjoyed. There wasn’t one bad puff, draw, burn or anything of the sort. It is somehow stronger than the original yet more elegant, it is more complex, yet simpler at the same time. Steve’s goal was not to make this cigar stronger in the peppery, zesty way, but instead to make it heavier, bolder, and richer. He did all that while making it even more refined, and offering up what is in my mind, the best cigar of 2019.
While this was a painstaking process, particularly the writing portion, Greg and I are incredibly excited to bring you this list. While there are so many great cigars out there and so many personal favorites, we felt that for this year, these cigars really stood out and deserved the recognition.
I can imagine many of you simply scrolled down to see what our number one choice was. While I tend to do that a lot as well with some lists, I ask that you go back and read all of the entries. Each of these cigars was chosen for a reason and the manufacturers deserve the recognition we have given them here. I hope you have all enjoyed our first annual Top 25 and please feel free to comment or ask any questions you might have.