As the manager of Lit, I've been fortunate to try almost every single one of the new cigars that have been released throughout the year. This top 10 list are cigars that are either new to the market or new to me in 2012. Also, I've only included cigars that are available at Lit, but have created an “honorable mention” section for some fantastic cigars that we don’t carry (yet).
What is my system for this? It’s not entirely scientific – most importantly is my personal opinion, but I’ve also taken into account the opinions of our customers and fellow tobacconists. A cigar that I thought was good, but not great may have made this list because a few of our regulars absolutely love it. So, without further ado, here’s the list:
10. Romeo by Romeo y Julieta Churchill – This cigar shocked all of us who are familiar with the RyJ brand, which is known for mild to medium bodied cigars that are easy to smoke but lack strength and complexity. The Romeo lacks neither. It’s strong, spicy and full of character. What does translate over from the rest of the Romeo y Julieta line is the fantastic price point and great consistency. This is the first of two of the new Altadis cigars on my list. I've been a critic of their inability to think outside the box, but this cigar was a bold step, and one of my favorites.
9. Padron Anniversary 1964 #4 – Big ring gauges aren't really my cup of tea, but Padron really filled a niche here, with this 6 1/2x60 box pressed vitola in the 1964 Anniversary line. Many of us save the Padron Anniversary cigar for special occasions, and it’s great to have one that we can smoke for several hours. It’s a bit milder than the rest of the line, due to the cooler burn and extra filler tobacco, but the flavors are all still there – spice, caramel, floral notes, etc. This is the trend in cigars, bigger ring gauges, so I’m glad to see one of the most reputable families taking on the challenge.
8. Partagas 1845 Robusto – The 1845 line has been so successful, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that it has rescued the non-Cuban Partagas brand, at least at Lit. The bigger sizes, the 7x54 Double Corona and the 6x60 Gigante are better sellers, but my favorite is the Robusto. I love the complexity of flavors that this cigar offers, while never rising above the medium bodied category. The cigar is flawlessly constructed and full of tobacco, so it burns for a long time. The Ecuadorian Habano wrapper is silky and full of the subtle spice notes that I love. There’s no overpowering kick of pepper here, just a delicious and balanced cigar that can be smoked at any hour of the day.
7. La Aroma de Cuba Mi Amor Beso – When Ashton announced that they were creating a Reserva line for their popular Mi Amor blend, I was a little confused. I thought that the Mi Amor was perfect, with a rich dark San Andres Maduro wrapper and tons of flavor. Only being a year old, did it really need to be renewed already? I’m glad they did it though! The Reserva has been released very sparingly and has been gobbled up quickly. My favorite size is the Beso, a corona gorda that really accentuates the wrapper. If the original Mi Amor had dark chocolate notes in spades, then the Reserva has ramped up the cocoa even more. It’s incredibly rich and all you need is in this smaller size. Definitely a treat if you can get your hands on some.
6. 262 Revere Robusto – 262 is the smallest company represented on our list, and they did an incredible job with their new Revere line. Releasing a Nicaraguan Puro is a bit of a gamble since it’s a crowded market, dominated by My Father and Padron. The Revere stands out not only because of a great price point, but impeccable construction and flavor that isn't compromised or overpowered. Too often, full bodied cigars are blended for strength and end up lacking in flavor. The Revere has both strength and flavor – a peppery kick that still allows for lighter secondary flavors to stand out underneath them. Our staff and guests prefer the corona, but I love the amount of smoke and the complexity of the robusto best.
5. Tatuaje 7th Capa Especial – I think this cigar was actually released in 2011, but has really taken off this year. The Capa Especial signifies the cigar sports a reddish Sumatra wrapper and is a bit mellower. You’ll notice a common theme in this list is that when a cigar can dial back the strength enough so that a full range of flavors comes through, it’s a winner for me. There are three blends of the 7th, a corona gorda size: The original, with a Habano wrapper, the Reserva with a Broadleaf and the Capa Especial. I like this one the best, because you can get subtle flavors more easily.
4. Rocky Patel Edge Habano Toro – Another Nicaraguan Puro at a reasonable price that just knocks it out of the park! Rocky Patel’s cigars are something that either our customers are into or they’re not. There’s not much middle ground. When we brought this one in and started suggesting it, lots of people would say they didn't like Rocky’s stuff. When they gave the Edge Habano a try, every single one of them were impressed. It’s a great example of how a cigar can have lots of flavor without being too strong. Oh, and the price point. Along with the Partagas 1845, it’s the only cigar that comes in under $8.
3. Flor de Las Antillas Toro – This cigar represents the future of the Garcia family and My Father cigars. Even though their company is only 10 years old, they’ve already reached the point where they can release a fantastic cigar using only tobacco that they've grown and cured at their own farms. The FDLA is a box pressed Nicaraguan Puro with a delicious sun grown wrapper that teeters between medium and full bodied. There’s extra spice and voluminous amounts of smoke that really add to the smoking experience. I enjoy the easy draw and extra smoke from box pressed cigars even though they burn so quickly. I get through this toro in around 40 minutes. In that case, I’ll have two!
2. J. Fuego Edicion de Familia Toro – I've been a fan of Jesus Fuego’s cigars for years now, but in 2012 he has finally released his masterpiece. The Edicion de Familia come in three sizes – Belicoso, Robusto, and Toro, and are limited to only 7500 cigars of each size. Each 10 ct. box is signed and numbered. He also went through the trouble to age all of the tobacco in these cigars for no less than 10 years. It shows. The EDF Toro is full of flavors you don’t get in most cigars. It’s musky and rich, with layers of flavor that start with the basic stronger notes of pepper and earth, but eventually give way to delicate floral notes and sweeter vanilla and honey notes. I don’t know if you’ll taste all of this, but it only took about the first inch of this cigar before I knew it would make the list.
1. Montecristo Epic #2 – My cigar of the year comes from the unlikeliest of manufacturers. Altadis USA is one of the biggest makers of premium cigars and rarely receives critical acclaim, nor do they usually deserve it. However, they blew the roof off with the Epic blend. Originally released in 3 sizes, Robusto, Toro, and Churchill in beautiful 10 count boxes, the Epic is a fuller bodied Montecristo that uses all vintage tobacco from 2007 and is only made by the companies top cigar makers, their “Grupo de Maestros.” Right away, the cigar reminded me of the Fuente Opux X in how much flavor I was getting out of it right away. Opus X, however, can overpower the smoker with too much ligero and an iffy burn. The Epic is a touch mellower and have the razor sharp burn lines that only a perfectly executed cigar can have. There is not a more beautifully constructed cigar than the Limited Edition Epic #2 with is not a regular production size. It’s a flawless pyramid with a perfect burn and all of the complex flavors of the Epic line, but it’s better because of the way the pyramid shape concentrates and evolves as you get to the final third.
There are a few cigars that are not available at Lit that would definitely be on this list:
Crowned Heads Headley Grange – This will be all over everyone’s best cigar list and with good reason. It’s a balanced, nuanced smoke that is well thought out and perfectly executed. I only wish I had a few more of these.
Guayacan Robusto – I don’t know too much about this cigar other than I've smoked a few and absolutely love them. Box pressed with an oily Ecuadorian Habano wrapper. I haven’t seen them at any shops in the Northwest, but if you can find one, I suggest giving it a try.
Elogio ESV – A boutique blend that I tried at the trade show this summer. I have no idea where you can get this one either, but this cigar gives a ton of strength without sacrificing depth of flavor. If only we had a humidor twice as big! We could add all of this stuff.
Undercrown Corona Viva – Drew Estate has really come into their own over the past few years. This new size in the Undercrown line is my favorite.
Quesada Oktoberfest – These come out in limited quantities every fall and are one of my favorite smokes. I found them at Tobacco Patch in Kirkland. Pick one up if you see it.
Manager – Lit Cigar Lounge