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.
#2 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.
#3 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.