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StogieGuys.com’s Top Cigars of 2018

19 Dec 2018

Compiling the annual StogieGuys.com cigar retrospective is always interesting. How many smokes did we find outstanding? How does this year compare to the past? Was there any dominant brand or startling newcomer?

Only a handful of cigars achieve the top five-stogie rating. In more than 12 years of reviewing, only 59 have made it, an average of just under five a year. (You can find the full list of five stogie-rated smokes here and an explanation of our ratings system here.)

In 2018, only a single cigar scored five stogies out of five: the 7.5-inch, 40-ring gauge Illusione Holy Lance (hl). It was hailed in the review as “a balanced symphony of complex, authentically Nicaraguan flavors.”

Illusione cigars have long been highly enjoyed at StogieGuys.com. Dion Giolito’s brand has two other five stogie-rated smokes, as well as others with an outstanding four and a half stogie-rating, including one this year.

The review also called it “one of the finest lanceros in production today, and these aged cigars showed that they lose nothing after a few years, and might have gained some added complexity.”

For comparison, we had four five-stogie cigars in both 2017 and 2016, six each in 2015 and 2014, and two in 2013.

Considerably more cigars were rated four or four and a half stogies, numbers not dissimilar to those of 2017. I tallied 22 four-stogie smokes (the same as last year), and 13 four-and-a-half-stogie smokes (down three from 2017). They run the gamut from small company productions and limited editions to a couple Cubans to releases from cigar giants.

Below is an alphabetical listing of the four-and-a-half-stogie cigars from 2018 with a quote from each review.

Caldwell Savages Corona Extra: “Once an even light is established, the draw opens almost instantly. What follows is a bready, medium-bodied profile of white pepper, cocoa powder, oak, and soft cayenne heat.”

El Triunfador (Original Blend): “Complexity is the name of the game. There’s a lot going on here.”

Fable Fourth Prime Sapta: “It tastes of nougat, cream, dark chocolate, and coffee bean. There is little spice or heat.”

Fratello Navetta Atlantis: “The individual flavors remind me of espresso, roasted nuts, black pepper, and cayenne heat.”

Hoyo de Monterrey Hermoso No. 4 Añejados (Cuban): “Ultimately, you pay a premium for an assurance of a cigar that isn’t under-aged, but the balanced, rich flavors… still earn it a very solid rating.”

Illusione La Gran Classe Rex: “It’s a balanced cigar that provides surprising nuance in such a small vitola.”

Intemperance BA XXI Vanity: “While Vanity is an awesome cigar for any time of year, I especially appreciate it during the cold months here in Chicago.”

Joya de Nicaragua Antaño Gran Reserva Presidente (TAA Exclusive): “It is full-bodied, yet smooth, creamy, and nicely balanced.”

La Gloria Cubana Colección Reserva Robusto: “In addition to enjoyable flavors and solid construction, the price ($7.59) makes this an impressive offering. “

MBombay Classic Torpedo: “… creamy with cedar notes, but the Torpedo also evokes some citrus and other fruity sweetness for added complexity.”

Quai d’Orsay Secreto Cubano Exclusivo Francia RE (2016): “I’ll admit this cigar surprised me, in a good way. Despite its small size, it provided nearly an hour of enjoyable, interesting, complex flavors.”

Sobremesa Robusto Largo: “As the Robusto Largo progresses, flavors like dark cherry, green raisin, cedar, molasses, and caramel come and go.”

Villiger La Vendedora Toro: “… the most impressive, complex, encompassing smoke Villiger has produced to date”

We look forward with great anticipation to the wonderful smokes 2019 is sure to bring.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Crowned Heads Headley Grange Drumstick

16 Dec 2018

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

When Crowned Heads released the original limited edition Drumstick lancero (7.5 x 38) in 2013, it quickly became a highly sought-after, much-praised cigar. The re-release last year didn’t seem to garner the same response, despite reportedly being the same as the original with only a smaller production level and the addition of a black foot ribbon. It’s a medium-strength smoke with a smooth Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper and Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. There’s pepper, though it’s not overwhelming, and some sweetness mixed with nuts and floral notes. All in all, a fine cigar for about $10.

Verdict = Buy.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: JFR Lunatic Habano Short Titan

7 Dec 2018

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

Just a few puffs into this cigar, I almost put it down. That’s a step I rarely take, but the Lunatic was so rough and harsh it was hard to imagine working my way farther down its fat frame. Fortunately, I didn’t give up. And the cigar, one of a budget line introduced several years ago by Aganorsa, did improve. Slightly. Also on the positive side, it performed well, though as is typical of big ring gauge cigars, several lighter touch-ups were necessary. Overall, though, I found the Lunatic to be an unsatisfying cigar with little to recommend it.

Verdict = Sell.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Roll Out Your Lists

5 Dec 2018

To death and taxes as the certainties of life, I think it’s time to add the best-of list. And since we’re cigar smokers, it’s lists of those for which we’re getting ready as year’s end nears.

There are certainly enough lists to keep us busy. Magazines, blogs, podcasts, shops—seemingly almost everyone who lit a cigar compiles a list.

(We don’t do a best-of list at StogieGuys.com. We do look back over our year’s reviews and highlight the cigars we rated highly. Our annual retrospective will appear later this month.)

The 800-lb. gorilla of the tally trade is, of course, Cigar Aficionado’s Top 25. Landing at the number one spot immediately catapults a cigar to stardom, creates shortages, and can leave a long-term impact on the brand owner.

Inaugurated in 2004, Cigar Aficionado’s list was once a singular event when the print edition rolled off the presses. Now, it is a weeks-long reveal with online fanfare. Others, such as Cigar Journal, also go the online rollout route.

About as common as the lists themselves are complaints. This one doesn’t do this, that one does that, why don’t they consider this, why would they consider that. And on and on and on.

Let’s be honest. No one is going to put together a list of nearly anything without some disagreement. But for kvetchers, Cigar Aficionado certainly seems to be the top target.

A couple of the primary complaints are that they don’t limit the selection to the year’s new releases and that the judges lean too heavily in favor of stronger cigars. Then there is the allegation that they’re influenced in their reviews by advertising, a charge that, to my knowledge, has never been supported by any evidence.

Cigar Aficionado has become more open about its process. The magazine has been more transparent about the ranking procedures, even having executive editor David Savona appear on podcasts to talk about it.

Personally, I have no significant complaints about any of the lists. I look forward to them. I’m always curious to see what other smokers think. Best-of lists also introduce me to cigars with which I’m unfamiliar and frequently prompt me to try some I haven’t had.

How about you? Do you pay attention to the lists? Any lists you particularly value and seek out?

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: La Palina El Año 1896 Oscuro Robusto

19 Nov 2018

Before we get to smoking this cigar, let’s clear up some confusion about what it is. And what it isn’t.

The blend and the production location are no longer what they were. The new version of La Palina El Año 1896 Oscuro uses a Costa Rican oscuro wrapper, a Dominican binder, and Dominican and Nicaraguan filler. It’s rolled at the Plascencia factory in Honduras.

This information comes directly from La Palina. The confusion arises because the cigar was redone, and a number of online sites haven’t updated their particulars.

As for the Robusto, it is a 5-inch, 52-ring gauge, box-pressed stick with a price tag of $9.50. A sheath that features both the cigar name and the now-familiar image of brand owner Bill Paley’s paternal grandmother, Goldie, covers more than half the cigar. When all is peeled away, it reveals a dark wrapper with little pre-light aroma.

El Año 1896’s name pays tribute to the year La Palina cigars made their first appearance in the market. La Palina’s new incarnation debut came in 2010.

The smoking experience of El Año 1896 is as smooth as the nearly vein-free wrapper. Strength is in the medium range with modest pepper and spice.

One of the more pleasing, and somewhat surprising, flavors I encountered was a piquant citrus at about the halfway point. The zesty sensation remained and contrasted nicely with the occasional tobacco sweetness. Also appearing in the second half was an intermittent earthy mushroom note.

The burn was slow. Smoke production was high and the ash held tightly. I had to make a couple minor burn corrections on two of the three I smoked, but nothing to significantly mar the experience.

Overall, I’d say La Palina has another winner on its hands. El Año 1896 is a tasty cigar that should appeal across the board. I rate it four stogies out of five.

[To read more StogieGuys.com cigar reviews, please click here.]

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Davidoff Yamasá Robusto

14 Nov 2018

As one of Davidoff’s black band bunch, Yamasá is immediately identifiable as being outside the company’s typical profile. A bit bolder. A bit more intense. A bit more power.

Yamasá highlights a tobacco that celebrates what Davidoff calls “Master Blender Henke Kelner’s impossible dream to turn the unforgiving swampland of the Yamasá region into a successful tobacco-growing field.” It makes for a smooth wrapper and is also used for the binder. The filler is a combination of Nicaraguan and Dominican leaves.

But it was the Yamasá tobacco that piqued my interest. It was featured in Davidoff’s now-discontinued Puro d’Oro line, one that I thoroughly enjoyed.

I smoked a five-pack of the Yamasá Robustos (5 x 50) and, not surprisingly, found them remarkably consistent. Each of the started a little harsh but quickly smoothed out after only a couple puffs.

And that’s when the cigar began to come into its own. I quickly picked up notes of leather, nuts, and coffee with cream during the first third or so. Then the leather and nuts receded as the creamy coffee came on stronger.

At the halfway point, I noticed that typical Davidoff earthy mushroom flavor, which dissipated fairly quickly. Another flavor soon made itself known: a tangy citrus note. It stayed throughout the remainder of the smoke, creating a nice contrast with the coffee and cream.

As you’d expect, construction was excellent, as were the burn and draw. The Yamasá also produced rich, thick smoke.

The line has five vitolas, ranging from a behemoth (6 x 60) to a petit Churchill (4 x 48). MSRP on the Robusto is $19.70.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Yamasá experience, and I would recommend it to any experienced cigar smoker. For me, the Davidoff Yamasá Robusto rates four stogies out of five.

[To read more StogieGuys.com cigar reviews, please click here.]

George E

photo credit: Davidoff / Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Punch Diablo Scamp

31 Oct 2018

Diablo kicks off with the accelerator mashed to the floor. After getting your attention and numbing your lips, the devil backs off from pedal-to-the-metal to a little over the speed limit.

Announcing the Punch Diablo earlier this year, General Cigar said it “wanted to make the fullest-bodied Punch to date.” They turned to frequent partner A.J. Frenandez to create the blend, which is made at his factory in Estelí, Nicaragua.

He worked with a blend of Nicaraguan and Honduran filler, a Connecticut Broadleaf binder, and a dark Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper. The wrapper, aged for six years, has a dry, gritty feel with almost no visible veins and a nice, deep cap. Pre-light, it has a campfire aroma, while the filler is sweet.

After the strong start, Diablo presents lighter spice and woodiness. I also pick up some floral notes in the first half. And that sweetness from the pre-light is present throughout, with greater prominence in the second half. On the downside, it is a dry smoke, and I’d recommend accompanying it with a large container of your favorite beverage.

Performance in those I smoked was excellent: near-perfect burn and draw, a light ash, and thick, rich smoke.

The line comes in only three sizes. The Scamp I sampled is a 6.125-inch, 50-ring gauge toro. It comes 25 to a box with a single stick MSRP of $7.17. The Diabolus (5.25 x 54) also comes in boxes of 25 and has an MSRP of $7.79, while boxes of the Brute (6.25 x 60, $8.19) hold 20.

Diablo features what General says is “the brand’s new look and feel.” New, indeed. The bands, for example, bear almost no resemblance to those on the traditional Punch, which echoed the the ones from Habanos. The boxes also are unlikely to be mistaken for anything coming out of Cuba.

I’ve enjoyed quite a few Punch cigars over the years, including some of the limited-release Rare Corojos, the Champion, and the Signature Pita. Diablo joins their ranks. I rate this cigar three and a half stogies out of five.

[To read more StogieGuys.com cigar reviews, please click here.]

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys