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Top Cigars 2017 - Cigar Aficionado

 

#1 Arturo Fuente Don Carlos Eye of the Shark

Arturo Fuente Don Carlos Eye of the Shark

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Occasionally, a cigar comes along that is unique in every way—interesting blend, innovative shape, intriguing story—and, at the same time, can still maintain the classic standards of excellence. This is the case with the Arturo Fuente Don Carlos Eye of the Shark, Cigar Aficionado’s 2017 Cigar of the Year.
The blend is based on the original Don Carlos cigar (which was released in 1976), but altered a bit for this particular release. If you want to know exactly what makes the Eye of the Shark different from the regular Don Carlos line, you’re going to have to use your imagination. The Fuentes are quite guarded as to the particulars of the blend. It’s enough to know that the wrapper is from Cameroon and the interior tobaccos are well aged and grown in the Dominican Republic, which is the basic recipe for most Don Carlos cigars.
One puff of the Eye of the Shark, however, and you’ll know you’re smoking an elevated blend—something comfortingly familiar to many Fuente fans, but with a slight twist. People who are familiar with brand owner (and now, company patriarch) Carlos Fuente Jr. know that he blends instinctively rather than by strict formula, especially when creating unorthodox cigars like this one.
The shape adds to the intrigue. Eye of the Shark is neither box-pressed nor conventional. Rather, the bottom half is pressed and the upper half tapers into a regular, rounded belicoso—a demi-press. Fuente has used the shape before, so as quirky as it may seem, it’s recurred in other lines, but only in limited quantities. As for why it’s called the Eye of the Shark, it’s most likely due to the overall form. If you look at the cigar horizontally, it resembles the body of great white shark.
Once the four corners of the box-pressed foot are fully lit, the Shark begins to express itself immediately. In addition to the range of baking spices and citrus notes found in most Don Carlos cigars, each puff communicates additional layers of complexity, kind of like a bonus track to a favorite album or an unexpected epilogue at the end of a classic novel. More intonations of nuts and leather unfold before a warm, lingering finish of cedar and cider. Simply put: we did not want this cigar to end.
In 2016, Fuente’s father, Carlos Fuente Sr., passed away. He was the Don Carlos, and active with the company until the very end. You’ll find the words “The Man’s 80th” printed lovingly on the side and on the lid of each bright red box. Eye of the Shark was released in 2016 as a tribute to Sr. and his contributions over the years to the cigar world. The Eye of the Shark is Cigar Aficionado’s No. 1 cigar of 2017. Sadly, Sr. is not here to see or receive the accolade, but his spirit is definitely alive in the smoke.

Rank: 1
Made by: Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia.
Factory Location: Dom. Rep.
Wrapper: Cameroon
Binder: Dom. Rep.
Filler: Dom. Rep.
Dimensions: 5 3/4" by 52 Ring Gauge


#2 Padron Serie 1926 No. 2 (Natural)

Padron Serie 1926 No. 2 (Natural)

It’s important to consider Padrón’s résumé before lighting up this resplendent cigar. Padrón has been named Cigar of the Year three times (the current record holder). The Serie 1926 cigar has occupied the No. 2 spot twice. And a Padrón cigar has been in the top 10 ever since Cigar Aficionado has been handing out its Cigar of the Year Awards (since 2004). So the Padrón Serie 1926 No. 2 is more than merely a great cigar—it’s a legacy of achievement backed by years of consistency.

The Serie 1926 is named for the birth year of company founder and patriarch José Orlando Padrón, who died at the age of 91 on December 5. It’s an all-Nicaraguan blend and one of the most powerful, full-bodied cigars in the entire Padrón portfolio. But Padrón is meticulous in its blending—if the tobacco is strong, it will also show elegance and sophistication.

Every puff of the No. 2 reflects this marriage of power and grace from the delightfully earthy core to its rich coffee bean character, all accented by a sweet, underlying woodiness and black tea finish. The smoke is dense, the draw perfect and the cigar emblematic of the inimitable Padrón style José Orlando Padrón perfected over 53 years of making cigars.

Rank: 2
Made By: Tabacos Cubanica S.A.
Factory Location: Nicaragua
Wrapper: Nicaragua
Binder: Nicaragua
Filler: Nicaragua
Dimensions: 5 1/2" By 52 Ring Gauge
Rating: 96


#3 Oliva Serie V Belicoso

Oliva Serie V Belicoso

Ten years ago, Oliva Cigar Co. released its Serie V, which was the strongest, most full-bodied cigar the company ever created. But it was also impressive in its ability to render layers of richness and complexity in spite of its power. Ten years later, we found ourselves with the same excellent product. It’s difficult enough to maintain such quality and consistency, but even more of an accomplishment when you consider this: Oliva has been acquired by a larger company.

In 2016, Oliva Cigar was bought by European cigarmaker J. Cortés Cigars N.V., who wanted a premium brand in its portfolio. Naturally, there were concerns about the Oliva cigars changing and quality suffering. Luckily for the cigar-smoking world, J. Cortés kept Oliva president José Oliva on board after the acquisition, to help ensure that quality was maintained. So far, the change has been seamless and the Serie V remains remarkable for its ability to convey high volumes of flavor, especially at such a low price point.

The blend is centered around strong, ligero tobacco from Nicaragua’s Jalapa Valley and a high-priming wrapper to complete the taste profile, which is rich in earth, leather and spice though balanced with a sweet touch of molasses.

Rank: 3
Made By: Tabacalera Oliva S.A.
Factory Location: Nicaragua
Wrapper: Nicaragua
Binder: Nicaragua
Filler: Nicaragua
Dimensions: 5" By 54 Ring Gauge
Rating: 95


#4 Bolivar Belicoso Fino

Bolivar Belicoso Fino

The Cuban Bolivar brand has long been the choice for fans of stronger cigars. And as more Americans get the chance to sample Cuban cigars (due to the relaxed restrictions on their purchase), Bolivar is often a preferred choice on account of its fuller body. While it isn’t one of Cuba’s largest brands, it certainly has a very long history and a loyal, international following.

Sadly, there aren’t many sizes in the Bolivar portfolio left to choose from, and only two of them are large cigars. There’s the Royal Corona, which has previously won Cigar of the Year, and then the Belicoso Fino, a beautifully tapered smoke crafted with a signature earthy core and plenty of sweet, savory notes ranging from salt and nuts to chocolate and graham cracker.

The cigar is indeed strong and earthy, but do not mistake that for crude or rustic—each element of flavor is conveyed to the palate in measured, balanced layers. And, unlike most Cuban cigars, the Bolivar Belicoso Fino comes in both dress boxes and wooden cabinets, which are a bit more difficult to find. For this tasting, we sampled cigars from the slide-lid cedar cabinets, and yes, there was the welcome hint of cedar as well.

Rank: 4
Made By: Habanos S.A.
Factory Location: Cuba
Wrapper: Cuba
Binder: Cuba
Filler: Cuba
Dimensions: 5 1/2" By 52 Ring Gauge
Rating: 94


#5 Alec Bradley Tempus

Alec Bradley Tempus

After starting his tobacco career producing mild- to medium-bodied cigars, Alan Rubin, owner of Alec Bradley Cigars, decided to try his hand at a full-bodied smoke more than 10 years ago. The result was the Alec Bradley Tempus, a cigar made in Honduras with Honduran and Nicaraguan tobacco.

The main focus of the Tempus blend is the wrapper leaf, which Rubin procured from a farm in the Trojés region of Honduras. For Rubin, the wrapper went beyond any generic Honduran flavor profile and imparted a very particular, estate-specific taste. For those who know a Latin phrase or two, the word tempus is Latin for time, and that’s exactly what Rubin needed to perfect this blend. It took him years. When he finally finished the cigar, the strength surprised him, but he found that the blend elevated the wrapper, rather than overshadowed it.

The blend works particularly well in the Centuria size. Because Centuria isn’t a very thick cigar, the wrapper has far more influence on the taste. The overall effect is quite delicious as each puff leaves the smoker satisfied the way a sip of hearty stout would satisfy a beer connoisseur.

Rank: 5
Made By: Fabrica De Tabacos Raices Cubanas S. De R.L.
Factory Location: Honduras
Wrapper: Honduras
Binder: Honduras, Indonesia
Filler: Nicaragua, Honduras
Dimensions: 7" By 49 Ring Gauge
Rating: 94


#7 My Father Cigars The Judge Grand Robusto

My Father Cigars The Judge Grand Robusto

It’s big. It’s bold. And it’s box-pressed. Made by the Garcia family in Nicaragua, My Father’s The Judge Grand Robusto can be an imposing cigar, just by way of its girth. This is certainly a powerful smoke, but it isn’t just strong for the sake of being strong. There’s a purpose to its strength, and plenty of interesting flavor to justify the high-octane tobacco inside.

It starts with an Ecuadoran Sumatra-seed wrapper, two Nicaraguan binders (Corojo and Criollo) and filler from three of the Garcia family farms. My Father The Judge was intended to be a more full-bodied offshoot of the first My Father, and that’s saying a lot—the original is no mild blend.

My Father The Judge debuted in 2016 with two chunky sizes. The Grand Robusto is the shorter, fatter of the two—and a reflection of today’s smokers who have a large appetite for thick, strong cigars. If high volumes of heavy smoke are what you want, this cigar delivers, with satisfying notes of chocolate and gingersnap driven by an underlying red pepper spice and plenty of nutty character. It burns slow and cool, and while the blend doesn’t show much restraint, The Judge has an unforgettable beauty to its brashness.

Rank: 7
Made By: My Father Cigars S.A.
Factory Location: Nicaragua
Wrapper: Ecuador
Binder: Nicaragua
Filler: Nicaragua
Dimensions: 5" By 60 Ring Gauge
Rating: 93


#9 Plasencia Alma Fuerte Generacion V

Plasencia Alma Fuerte Generacion V

The Plasencia family has been growing tobacco for five generations, and to this day still provides high-quality leaf to a huge portion of the premium cigar industry. They also make cigars under contract for many clients. But, unless you were in the business, the name didn’t resonate with cigar consumers. The father-and-son team of Nestor and Nestor Andrés Plasencia wanted to change that.

Previous attempts to create a brand with their name on it fell a bit flat, but in 2016, they released the Plasencia Alma Fuerte. This time, they got it right. Translated to “strong soul,” the blend is indeed full bodied, and it’s made with aged tobacco taken from Plasencia’s vast library of vintage leaf. While the primary component is Criollo ’98, Alma Fuerte is a blend of tobacco from four growing regions: Estelí, Condega, Jalapa and Ometepe. All the tobaccos come together quite cohesively in the Generacion V, a box-pressed Salomon-style cigar full of tapers and curves.

As you might expect, the Generacion V requires some time. Cigars of this shape normally take awhile to warm up and begin steady combustion. But once it does, it rewards the smoker with layer upon rich layer of cocoa powder, leather and toast.

Rank: 9
Made By: Plasencia Cigars S.A.
Factory Location: Nicaragua
Wrapper: Nicaragua
Binder: Nicaragua
Filler: Nicaragua
Dimensions: 7" By 58 Ring Gauge
Rating: 93


#11 Partagas Lusitania

Partagas Lusitania

The Partagás Lusitania has been around long enough to be considered one of Cuba’s iconic and classic cigars. In 2017, it was one of the finest cigars we smoked. But double coronas like the Lusitania require a particularly large, pristine tobacco leaf to fully cover all seven and a half inches of the cigar. Inconsistent crops and poor weather in the last few years have created a bit of a shortage of large, high-quality wrapper leaf in Cuba. This did not stop Cuba from producing fantastic Lusitanias. Our samples came from a 10-count box with a December 2016 box code, so somehow these lovely smokes have not been plucked up by aficionados in the know. These Lusitanias begin floral and sweet before imparting layers of leather, cedar and almonds.

Rank: 11
Made By: Habanos S.A.
Factory Location: Cuba
Wrapper: Cuba
Binder: Cuba
Filler: Cuba
Dimensions: 7 5/8" By 49 Ring Gauge
Rating: 93

 
#19 Romeo Y Julieta Short Churchills

Romeo Y Julieta Short Churchills

For many years, the Romeo y Julieta Churchill was a classic in the Cuban portfolio. It’s still one of the quintessential Cuban cigars, but worldwide distributor and marketing monopoly Habanos S.A. decided it was time to create some offshoots of this well-known standard. Today, Romeo has a regular Churchill, Petit Churchill and Wide Churchill, but the one to look out for is the Short Churchill. While the others are fine cigars, this year, none impressed us as much as the Short. It’s the size of a standard robusto and a complex composition of ripe apple, red wine and sweet toffee, all tied together by a rich, toasty undertone. The flavors are clear and pronounced but not at all overwhelming, nor are they competing for dominance.

Rank: 19
Made By: Habanos S.A.
Factory Location: Cuba
Wrapper: Cuba 
Binder: Cuba
Filler: Cuba 
Dimensions: 4 7/8" By 50 Ring Gauge
Rating: 92
A sublime and complex composition of ripe apple and toasty qualities that develop oaky, red wine notes, rich leather and a sweet toffee finish.

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If this affects you, please contact us regarding a stockist of these tobacco products in your area.


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