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CA Year-End Report: 2018 Top 25 Best New Cigars of the Year
Cigar Advisors’ Top 25 Cigars of the Year: the Best New Cigars of 2018
This is a good time to love cigars.
If you’re the adventurous type who seeks out the new cigars as soon as they hit the cigar shop shelves, it’s been a great year: the quality is about the best it’s ever been, and the past 12 months have wowed us with more diverse and great-tasting new blends. . .plus, there’s plenty to go around as more premium cigars in total have been imported from both the big names and boutiques alike.
So, now’s the time when we look back at the cigars that arrived during 2018 and give you a quick n’ tidy recap of the selections we think are totally worth your time.
Many people misconstrue these “top cigars of the year” lists as straight-up “inside baseball.” In other words, a list that can only be appreciated by the most educated, pro-level palates. . .or a list that’s stacked with full-bodied cigars that are wickedly deep and complex in flavor. . .or cigars that are super-pricey. Sure, some of our picks embody those qualities, but many of them are also perfectly good cigars for beginners, because our goal is to help you get as much enjoyment as you deserve from this cigar-smoking hobby.
We enjoy turning our fellow cigar lovers on to new things, so we’ve focused on 2018’s new releases; some of the names you know, and you’ve been with us on them since Day 1, thank you. Others may have flown under your radar or just haven’t convinced you it’s time to give ‘em a try. We hope this list will give you a few reasons to be bold and take the plunge.
How We Picked Our Best New Cigars of 2018
Since we don’t do scores, stars, or grades when we review cigars, our recommendation process for these Top 25 cigars is as simple as this: “Damn, that was a good cigar.” And to make sure we gave each of these releases their due, we polled an assemblage of palates (because everyone’s is different), that represent a cross-section of Famous Smoke Shop experts: your humble Advisors, our retail Master Tobacconists, and our Buyers who are often among the first to test-drive the new releases.
So, we smoked all the new stuff that’s arrived since the beginning of the year; the ones that we felt were The Ones are on this 2018 Best Cigars list, because we enjoyed them that much, and we felt you needed to know about them, too. (If we’re anything, we’re transparent.)
Important disclosure for this and every CA Report or list we release:
- No one pays us to include their cigars. We don’t do advertising, and no one does us any favors to be included. We just liked their cigars.
- No Cubans.
- The cigars are listed in alphabetical order by brand.
See below for our Best New Cigars of 2018: you’ll get an interesting tidbit about why each cigar stood out to us. If you decide to give one (or all) of these cigars a try, we hope you find something equally interesting to share about your experience in a comment at the end.
Alec Bradley Prensado Lost Art
The Alec Bradley Prensado made headlines in 2011 as the #1 Cigar of the Year and never looked back. So, how do you follow that act? The Alec Bradley Prensado Lost Art is how you do it. A lush Nicaraguan-Honduran core blend is framed by a dual Nicaraguan-Honduran binder for a doubly-delicious treat, and pressed inside a plush Honduran Corojo wrapper. More complex than its older brother, the aromatic smoke teems with well-balanced flavors of earth, sweet cedar, dark chocolate, and roasted coffee, with a note of peppery spice on the finish. – Tommy Zman
Asylum Medulla Oblongata Medulla Maduro
It’s no surprise that the Medulla Oblongata made it into the Top 25. Handcrafted at Christian Eiroa’s El Aladino factory in Danlí, Honduras, the core is a perfectly-balanced blend of rich-tasting Honduran long-fillers grown on Christian’s El Corojo farm capped with a lusciously dark Mexican San Andrés wrapper. This super-sized parejo offers a creamy salvo of earth, sweet spices, cedar, caramel, and more, that’s altogether mesmerizing from foot-to-nub. Without question, one of Asylum’s most inventive creations that’s also made in a box-pressed version and an all-Honduran leaf selection. – Gary Korb
Camacho Scorpion has come out of retirement…Now made new for ’18, the Scorpion Sun Grown is rolled with a core of Honduran and Nicaraguan tobaccos, then clad in an Ecuador Habano wrapper to deliver on Camacho’s promise of a “bold” cigar (there’s also a sweeter Connecticut version that smokes with less of a sting, if that’s more to your liking). Each is crafted in three sizes, from Robusto on up. We release plenty of “Most Affordable”, “Best Buy” and “…You Should be Smoking” lists throughout the year; expect to see both versions of Camacho Scorpion showing up on many of them moving into 2019. – John Pullo
Casa Fernandez Miami Aganorsa Maduro
The tobaccos grown by brand founder, Eduardo Fernández, on his Aganorsa farms in Nicaragua have become all-the-rage among cigar smokers who crave rich, balanced, full-flavored cigars with about as close a refined Cuban character as it gets. Handcrafted and box-pressed to perfection in Miami, FL, this handsome cigar boasts a Mexican San Andrés Maduro wrapper that beams with a dark, oily glow. Marrying perfectly with the diverse Nicaraguan core, the smoke issues creamy, caramelized flavors of sweet spices, cocoa, and coffee bean on a long, luxurious finish. – GK
Cedrus by Southern Draw
Southern Draw founder, Robert Holt, pushes the envelope to its outermost edge in this strapping, box-pressed figurado made in limited edition. Named for the Red Cedars of the Pacific Northwest and “The Cedars of Lebanon” of biblical fame, Cedrus flaunts a diversified recipe of Nicaraguan Corojo ’99 & Habana ’92 tobaccos and Dominican Piloto Cubano, pressed in a rarefied Indonesian Besuki capa. The well-balanced smoke hits the mark on all counts issuing rich notes of berries, sweet spices, cedar, and cocoa on a long creamy finish. One of the best arrivals from Southern Draw to-date. – GK
Cornelius & Anthony Aerial
In case you’re wondering just how complex a Connecticut cigar can be…Cornelius & Anthony Aerial has set a new bar and secured a spot in our Top 25. The Bailey family has been growing tobacco in Virginia for near 150 years; for Aerial, they partnered with Erik Espinosa at La Zona with the goal of creating an “unprecedented spicy Connecticut.” The surprising depth of flavor comes from the combo of Erik’s choice Nicaraguan fillers, the Bailey’s USA-grown binder and an Ecuador Connecticut wrapper. Open the box and you’ll read, “A great smoke, like cream, always rises to the top.” This one has delivered as promised for us, while adding “Best Brand 2018” honors from Cigar Journal magazine along the way. – JP
Crowned Heads Court Reserve XVIII
This is Crowned Heads’ thank you note. As Jon Huber & Mike Conder’s team has been winning acclaim (and fans) with their cigars since 2011’s Four Kicks debut, it’s usually their annual Las Calaveras that turns heads and stokes the cigar cult followers. This year, they repay the faithful with the limited edition Crowned Heads Court Reserve XVIII, made under the guidance of Ernesto Perez-Carrillo: Mexican San Andres leaf covers an Ecuador binder and Nicaraguan core tobaccos, which we like for its sweet, yet creamy-full smoke. Others have called it “stunningly good” and “the one that stood out.” But grab it while you can, as Court Reserve is limited to a one-time release of 150,000 cigars. – JP
Diesel Whiskey Row
This medium to full-bodied gem is yet another high-scoring stick hailing from the AJ Fernandez stable of rollers. Now, when you talk about the tobaccos, the binder doesn’t usually get all the love, but this leaf happens to be aged in Rabbit Hole Bourbon barrels. The inner leaves are a mix of Nicaraguan aged 5-8 years, and the reddish-brown wrapper leaf is a 5-year aged Ecuadorian Habano beauty. First off, that binder leaf not only gives the cigar a nice sweetness in taste, but a wonderful aroma as well. You’ll find an earthiness, cedar, and that bourbon barrel aged effect makes this a great new addition to your humidor. Coffee and bourbon are the pairings of choice. – TZ
Encore by EP Carrillo
The master, Ernesto Perez Carrillo has truly outdone himself, crafting a cigar that I personally think is one of the best of the best from 2018. Encore is the second premium offering released under the Perez Carrillo Family Series (La Historia being the first) and anywhere you look, you’ll only find outstanding reviews on this one. Although it’s crafted in the Dominican Republic, the cigar features all-Nicaraguan tobaccos bundled and aged for two full years in palm tree bark (tercios) to give it its unique and robust flavors. Complex notes of coffee, cinnamon, citrus and spice will make both you and your taste buds very happy campers. [Ed. note: the Encore by EP Carrillo Majestic was given #1 Cigar of the Year honors by Cigar Aficionado, as well.] – TZ
Fratello Navetta Inverso
Fratello is one of the more favorably talked-about brands in boutique circles; made at Joya de Nicaragua, this Fratello was cleared for liftoff in Summer ’18 and has found its way into our best-of list for the year. Fratello Navetta Inverso is an “inverse” version of the 2017 Navetta – the same tobaccos, but used in different positions and in different proportions. For instance…Navetta has an Ecuador-grown wrapper, Dominican binder and Nicaraguan fillers; Navetta Inverso upends the blend, with Nicaraguan Habano in the wrapper position, over an Ecuador binder and Dominican and Nicaraguan fillers. Fratello founder Omar de Frias said, “It does not cease to amaze me how one leaf of tobacco can change a blend entirely.” We found it to be a delicious decision. – JP
Herrera Esteli Brazilian Maduro
Sun-grown to the north of Rio and stalk-cut, Mata Fina smokes smooth, rich and sweet. Willy Herrera likes it for its floral and earthy notes: “I love the sweetness of it, the floral notes it has…I always wanted to work with it, but it’s very expensive and hard to get.” Good thing about Drew Estate is that they have a tobacco warehouse the size of a Home Depot – meaning there’s plenty of Mata Fina to make the new Herrera Esteli Brazilian Maduro, featuring that wrapper draped over a Connecticut Broadleaf binder and a core of Nicaraguan tobaccos. This Maduro burns medium, with a good quantity of dense smoke, and tastes as intended. But I will note that Willy is being a bit humble here; we put it in our Top 25 because we found it to be much smoother than the “gritty floral sweetness” he described. – JP
HVC Cerro (Natural)
The “Havana City” story continues with this remarkable Cerro selection from HVC brand founder, Reinier Lorenzo. Named for El Cerro, one of Havana’s oldest neighborhoods, the blend uses three-year-aged Aganorsa Farm-grown tobaccos seamlessly rolled in a vintage Corojo ’99. Moreover, Lorenzo has captured the rich flavor and floral notes for which the finest Cuban cigars are known in an outstanding Nicaraguan puro. Once lit, the creamy smoke unleashes a complex assemblage of earth, pepper, floral essences, sweet cedar, some citrus zest, and a thin ribbon of chocolate. – GK
OneOff is a resurrected brand from the people at Illusione and most recognizable with its “peace sign” on a red band. This is a medium-bodied all-Nicaraguan offering, but it is very full-flavored with a nice complexity and balance of flavors that really stand out. A really nice spice is there throughout the smoke that mingles wonderfully with the other flavors but never overshadows them. Cedar is prominent in both the taste and the aroma making it even more pleasant for those around you. There’s also a touch of a cinnamon-like sweetness and a black licorice/anise flavor as well. I smoked it with a good bourbon and I’m wanting more. – TZ
Indomina by AJ Fernandez
AJ Fernandez makes outstanding cigars that are generally recognizable by their flavor profiles, but for this one, he was definitely thinking outside the (cigar) box. Loosely translated, Indomina means untamable, which kind of makes sense based on the unusual medium-bodied blend he created. Your filler is a zesty mix of Nicaraguan from various regions, while the binder is Mexican, giving it some earthy, peppery spice. But it’s that gorgeous outer leaf that makes this a special smoke – an Ecuador-grown Habano 2000 wrapper, a Cuban-seed/Connecticut Shade hybrid (Damn, say THAT 5 times fast). The profile is earthy, woody, and leathery, but a nice touch of sweetness rounds it out so very nicely. – TZ
Joya de Nicaragua Cinco Decadas
Joya de Nicaragua Cinco Décadas marks the “five decades” since the day Joya turned out their first premiums. Their celebration cigar is a puro that honors “our most memorable milestone yet,” said Joya’s Dr. Alejandro Martínez Cuenca, “and the most memorable of celebrations always require that you rise to the occasion.” This first batch completes the throwback by offering these cigars in the same two sizes that were rolled at Joya back in 1968: a 6” x 54 Diadema, and a 7” x 50 El General Churchill. The good news: this anniversary cigar is not a one-and-done release… Cinco Decadas production will be capped at 5,000 boxes this first year, but will continue in small-batch fashion moving forward. – JP
La Aurora Preferidos Hors D’Age
Made in only one size, a wide-ring Toro, this limited edition Hors D’Age from La Aurora takes their highly-acclaimed Preferidos range to the umpteenth level of craftsmanship and complexity. The blend of extra, two-year-aged-plus tobaccos from three nations (Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Colombia), all of which were harvested in 2006, plus the exquisite Ecuador-grown wrapper – also from 2006 – combine for a rich, creamy, well-balanced banquet dominated by peppery spice, while revealing enticing notes of cedar, oak, cinnamon, roasted nuts, nutmeg, bittersweet chocolate, and more, on a long, complex finish. – GK
A hit right out of the gate, La Vencedora seems to have found itself on several “best of the year” lists. This highly-rated selection from Villiger boasts an all-Nicaraguan leaf blend made at Joya de Nicaragua. Tailor-made for the cigar smoker who craves that deep, dark Nicaraguan character, the construction is first-rate, while the well-balanced smoke offers a medium-plus body with a satisfying medley of earthy spice, pepper, and natural sweetness. Pair it with a fine Bourbon and the cigar reveals even more intricate flavors. – GK
Macanudo Inspirado Red
The newest addition to the Macanudo Inspirado line, released in Spring 2018. Many add oomph to a cigar by blending it with Nicaraguan tobacco…but Inspirado Red grabs another gear and goes full-bodied by adding a potent, high-priming Habano wrapper to a well-aged mix of Honduran Jamastran, sweet Jalapa, earthy Ometepe and powerful Esteli-grown Nicaraguan tobaccos. Pepper and spice are words rarely found in a Macanudo discussion; the Inspirado Red has plenty of them, along with wood, earth and an underlying sweetness and a creamy smoke that kept our interest throughout. And clearly, we’re not alone – two of Inspirado Red’s three sizes are customer-rated 90 and above. – JP
Ramon Allones by AJ Fernandez
I think the words I would use to describe this cigar are “elegance” and “power”. First off, it is indeed one of the most stunning looking packages you’ll see on the market today, with its regal colors, band, and crest. But the cigar itself is dark, toothy and brimming with oil from that Medio Tiempo, Nicaraguan Habano wrapper leaf. While this looks like a true tobacco beast, it’s really not a strong cigar, but rather very full-flavored, hence my use of the word “power”. It starts off a little peppery like many of AJ’s sticks, but then comes a burst of dark bittersweet chocolate, wood, leather, spice, and a delicious hit of black cherry to please the palate. – GK
Rocky Patel Olde World Reserve Corojo
The faithful had demanded it; so after a 10 year hiatus, Rocky has relented and reintroduced Rocky Patel Olde World Reserve. This RP classic has returned to form with a new look, and a bit of “Choose Your Own Adventure” fun: opt for the OWR Corojo (like I did), and you’re enjoying a cigar that’s all-Nicaraguan on the inside, and wrapped at El Paraiso in Honduras with homegrown Corojo. Or, turn to Olde World Reserve Maduro, which hails from TAVICUSA in Esteli, where an updated blend is treated to a Costa Rican Maduro topcoat. My Corojo experience was very refined – a soft box press, medium body with tangy-sweet and licorice flavors mixing with warm spice on the retrohale. Ten years in the making, Rocky fans…your wait is over. – JP
ROMEO by Romeo y Julieta San Andres
Powerful, spicy, and drop-dead delicious are a few of the accolades I’ll start out with about this cigar. While you don’t normally hear that kind of description about a Romeo, well, this sure as hell ain’t yer grand-pappy’s Romeo. Made in collaboration with AJ Fernandez, it is an incredibly robust, oily, full-bodied Maduro, featuring a toothy, dark and delicious outer leaf hailing from the Mexican San Andres Valley. It’s quite rich but by no means overpowering, with notes of dense dark chocolate, earth and pepper, with an interesting bitter sweetness that comes out to play as the flavor builds all the way through. One hell of a tasty cigar. – TZ
San Cristobal Ovation
Only 2,000 boxes have been produced of this limited-edition cigar made by Garcia Family Estates, and they’re going to be hard to get a hold of, but I urge you to make the effort. The Ovation is incredibly rich, full-bodied, and full-flavored, with the complexity you’d expect from a limited Don Pepin run. The dark San Andres Oscuro wrapper is double fermented and has been aged for two long years, producing a deep cocoa-like sweetness as it mingles with the Nicaraguan inner tobaccos while burning. There’s an earthy, woodiness in the flavor, with a pleasant leathery finish. This is truly one of those “treat yourself with your favorite libation” smokes. – TZ
Todos Las Dias
It’s no secret that Steve Saka of Dunbarton Tobacco’s wheelhouse is making powerful cigars – I’m talking bold, rich, full-bodied and strong. The Todos Las Dias certainly follows suit with its oily, peppery, bang-your-palate behavior profile. The name basically translates to “all the days,” which is a tribute to his workers who put a ton of passion into their work every single day. And if you’re passionate about full-flavored sticks, this needs to be on your to-do list. Like I said, it’s peppery and spicy, with notes of dark espresso, wood, and a nice underlying sweetness to give it some amazing balance. Not meant for an empty stomach. – TZ
Trinidad Estelí by Plasencia
One of the most impressive, humidor-worthy debuts of the year, the Trinidad Estelí by Plasencia is the definition of a well-balanced puro with legs. Nestor Andrés Plasencia carefully selected the Nicaraguan tobaccos for this blend and landed a bullseye on all counts. The cigar is deftly rolled, draws effortlessly, and issues an ultra-creamy, medium-bodied banquet of sweet spices, earth, and cedar with a well-rounded finish. A formidable rival to its Havana-made cousins, the Trinidad Estelí is available only at Famous Smoke Shop. – GK
Warped Gran Reserva 1988
Many who smoke Kyle Gellis’ cigars claim they’re the closest thing to Cubans you can get your hands on. Whether or not that’s true, this much can be said about the Warped Gran Reserva 1988: the combo of sharp spice, long n’ sweet finish plus a toasty, floral aroma satisfies the way many in-demand Havanas do. Like last year’s Guardian of the Farm, the tobaccos for 2018’s Warped puro are grown exclusively on Aganorsa’s land in Nicaragua; they’re blended to smoke on the full side. Enjoy it in one size (and one size only): a 5 ¼” x 50 Robusto, for upwards of an hour and a half of spice-laden contentment. – JP