Reading Time: 3 minutes Earlier this year Erik Espinosa released a third wrapper blend to his collaborative effort between AJ Fernandez and Mayor of Flavortown, Guy Fieri, with the Knuckle Sandwich Connecticut. Catch Gary’s review of the Toro here.
CA Report: Pro Picks – Best Starter Cigars
Pro Picks: 15+ Top Cigar Recommendations for Beginners
by John Pullo
We all started somewhere.
Our “first” – that starter cigar that got us on to the path to smoky happiness – was usually one of those “firsts” you’d remember, alongside first car, first kiss and first adult beverage. Mine was a Don Diego. Didn’t throw up, because it was nice and mild (having already acquired a taste for cigarettes made it easy to partake). But times have changed, evident by a quick survey of the current cigar landscape: FDA be damned, it seems there are many more cigars that beginners could and would enjoy than there were “back in my day…”
If you’re a regular reader of Cigar Advisor, you may already have a few easy-smoking favorites that you recommend to your cigar-curious pals. Consider growing your short list with my picks, for the reasons I’ve noted below.
If you’re new to Advisor, or new to cigars in general, I’d like you to give these 15 or so picks a look…because if you’re going to go head first into cigars, we want to make sure you have a good, flavorful smoking experience for your first – so you’ll be back again and again for more.
Here’s the thing about making recommendations, especially cigars for beginners…ask any of us cigar nuts, and we’ll be happy to rattle off a dozen recommendations for cigars we think you’ll like. If you are moving from machine-made cigars like Blackstone by Swisher cigars to premiums, there are a couple schools of thought on the best way to pick yourself a starter smoke:
- Go easy, and start with a very mellow cigar. While it’s a simple strategy, you risk limiting yourself to what could be some very uninteresting cigars – causing you to lose interest. Don’t give up!
- Pick a cigar based on the kinds of food and drinks you like. Do you enjoy lite, simple foods? Or Viking hall inspired feasts? Pick a cigar that’s too light for what your palate is used to, and again – you may lose interest. A mild smoke is not always the perfect starter cigar.
- Seek the help of a tobacconist or experienced cigar enthusiast. This is someone who knows to ask you some general questions that will help narrow down what starter cigars you’ll probably enjoy most.
But without me knowing your food preferences, or what those particular epicurean tastes of yours happen to be, I can’t necessarily pinpoint the perfect first cigar for you…but I can prescribe some tasty smokes that are pretty damn near one-size-fits all, and that I think will catch your taste buds by surprise (and for the better).
Bonus: few of these cigars are more than 5 or 6 bucks a piece, which also won’t send a cigar noob into sticker shock. Yes, good cigars can be expensive – but they don’t have to be, as evidenced by this lineup.
For your first “real cigar,” I’d skip the big, 60-plus ring jawbreakers, and long-burning vitolas like Presidentes and most Churchills – and go for more manageable sizes where and when you can, like Coronas, Corona Extras, Robustos and the like. It’s not that I don’t want you to enjoy a little extra satisfaction, it’s more that I don’t want to overpower you with a 2-hour smoking experience you may not be prepared for.
Acid Kuba Kuba
Well, this one’s a no-brainer. Kuba Kuba has introduced many a brother of the leaf to the great cigar world, and a good number of them enjoy this cigar so much they’ve never moved on to anything else. Hard to argue why: sweet, creamy and decidedly aromatic, ACID Kuba Kuba is one of those starter cigars that’s easy to smoke, yet delivers more total flavor than you’d expect from mild robusto.
Rafael Gonzalez is a Cuban heritage brand, where the original is decidedly mild; this version, however, introduces you to some interesting flavors while leaning a little more to the medium side. A U.S. Connecticut Shade-grown wrapper hugs a 3-nation blend and smokes incredibly smooth, offering proof that a beginner cigar doesn’t need to be a mild, flavorless smoke.
Oliva Serie G
While a true cigar noob may appreciate the lightly sweetened cap of the Flor de Oliva, I would recommend the Oliva Serie G (and specifically, the Belicoso) for 2 reasons. First, the genuine African Cameroon wrapper has a buttery flavor that balances the somewhat spicy Nicaraguan fillers; second, it’s a great option to try out this shape. Bonus: all that, for a sub-$5 price tag. No wonder the old hands smoke this one every day.
Perdomo Craft Series Pilsner
The Perdomo Champagne is a go-to when we recommend starter cigars; today I’m opting for the Craft Series Pilsner, especially if you’re a beer nut who’s just getting into cigars. By blending this cigar to be paired specifically with lighter lagers and ales (and yes, pilsners), Perdomo has done you a favor by telling you what to expect from this cigar: smooth smoking, easy on the palate and refreshingly light on the finish.
Vega Fina Nicaragua
Because it’s so mild, the original Vega Fina has long been a pick given to beginners; I wanted to give you something with a little more depth in the flavor department instead. All Nicaraguan tobaccos make Vega Fina Nicaragua smoke a little bolder, but not abrasive to the taste buds – even if you’re new to cigars, this will not overpower you. I have been smoking a ton of these lately, mated with my morning coffee – and highly recommend you do the same.
Rocky Patel Vintage Connecticut 1999
Rocky does not shy away from using top-notch tobaccos in his premiums, evident in the Connecticut ’99. All of the components are well-aged, from the Dominican and Nicaraguan long fillers down to the CT wrapper leaf; the cigars are then aged an extra 4 months after rolling. The result is a toasty, mellow smoke that runs in direct contrast to Rocky’s more heady blends.
When we reviewed this cigar, I seem to remember one of us mentioning that Quintero would be on our short list of starter cigars – but only if you enjoy heartier foods and drinks, as it will stand up a little bit better to your preferences. For sure, this is not a mild cigar; but there’s no harshness to this smoke, either. Instead, expect a floral aroma, earthy flavors and favorable price point for what is, actually, a rather beefy Dominican cigar…so take it slow.
Joya de Nicaragua Cabinetta Serie
Because of their super-full bodied reputation, you may be surprised by my including a Joya on this list. Don’t be: the Cabinetta is much less aggressive, thanks to some select Nicaraguan long fillers that actually smoke like velvet. I like the Joya Cabinetta Churchill as a beginner cigar here because it’s undersized versus other Churchills, making it a little easier to consume. Just be sure to pace yourself, so it doesn’t punish you – It is still a Joya, after all.
My Father Connecticut
For those of you who are new to My Father cigars, here’s the 411: peppery, rich n’ satisfying Nicaraguan smokes are what they do best. But – surprise – Don Pepin can do mild, smooth and creamy just as well, as you’ll see in the My Father Connecticut. Still very flavorful by way of a Nicaraguan tobacco core, the Ecuador CT wrapper is icing on the cake. If you pick this highly-rated My Father as one of your starter cigars, I’ll bet it’s still in your rotation years from now.
New World Connecticut by AJ Fernandez
AJ Fernandez is another cigar maker based in Nicaragua, and who accents many of his blends with peppery, home-grown leaf. And though it’s intended to be a mild Connecticut, there’s no shortage of tangy bite in New World. This is a great way to dive head first into the deep end of more flavorful starter cigars: the smoke is lush and creamy, the aroma is sweet and enticing, the flavors more nutty and mellow, the price tag pretty inviting.
The ideal starter cigar has some body, without the bite…and that’s what makes this Fonseca an attractive entry on our list. Dominican tobaccos are “tercio aged” – an old Cuban method of deep fermentation, where the tobaccos are baled up in the bark of palm trees to achieve optimal flavor and an oh-so-smooth smoking experience. The Fonseca Classic has been a standard for years; try the Fonseca Serie F if you find this verison a little too mild for your tastes.
Cusano has unveiled a decidedly straightforward smoke: Dominican long fillers, Connecticut wrapper (sometimes you just don’t mess with a tried-and-true recipe). The blend is decidedly mild; so is the hit to your wallet, making it worth your while to give this premium a go-round to see if you like “the Dominican flavor profile.”
Excalibur has been a go-to starter cigar since the boom – it’s also been a staple on just about every golf course in America. A spinoff of Hoyo de Monterrey (one of the OG’s of the cigar game), this Honduran legend features an A-grade Connecticut Shade wrapper. A peek behind the curtain reveals Honduran and Nicaraguan tobaccos, along with a heaping scoop of Piloto Cubano tobacco from the Dominican. If you want an old-school intro into the world of cigars, do it with Excalibur.
Not all Dominican tobacco is the same – as you learn more about cigars, you’ll see that tobaccos from the same country can exhibit wildly different tastes. In the case of Avo Classic, you get ‘em all rolled in to one, as five different tobacco varietals are combined under a luxury class Ecuadorian Connecticut outer layer. If mild, creamy and delicious sound like the ideal combo to you, it’s worth your time to add Avo to your must-try list.
Now for some standard “go-to’s” that I skipped, but that would well be worth your while to try as you smoke your way through the myriad starter cigars out there. Consider these if you’re in a pinch and not ready to rock the boat with some of my off-the-beaten-path picks above…
Montecristo – your first cigar doesn’t need to come with a steep, $12 cover charge. It certainly can, I’m just saying it doesn’t have to. But as with many things in life, you do get what you pay for.
CAO Gold – this has been a standard starter for years. Mild n’ mellow, this is a great pick if you want a straight up, traditional no-nonsense smoke.
Plasencia Reserva Organica – if you’re new to cigars and want the “authentic” taste, go with Plasencia’s 100% organic tobacco blend. You can pat yourself on the back for being so earth-conscious too.
The Judge Volume 2 – a newcomer from Jesus Fuego, this new version of the Judge is tamed by a Connecticut wrapper…just know that if you like it, I expect you’ll be chasing the fuller-bodied original in no time.
Macanudo – like a 6” putt, Macanudo is a gimme in the world of starter cigars. The blend is smooth; a full generation of cigar lovers were introduced to handmade premiums with some smooth Macanudo magic – if you want in on tradition, grab one and do your part.
Romeo – cigar lovers by the millions have been trained at the knee of the master: Romeo. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the selection in front of you, go for Romeo y Julieta – it’s almost a can’t-miss strategy.
Almost anything from the original Fuente line – whether it’s their Cameroon-wrapped picks that have been staples since the dawn of the modern era of premium cigars, or even their under-the-radar Montesino cigars, those who enjoy mild cigars wouldn’t steer you anywhere else than Fuente. Hint: listen to them, if only to see why they enjoy their Fuentes so much.
My cigar rookie friends, that list should give you some solid starter material to work with. Don’t panic over the amount of info I’ve given with each blend – if you’re going to get into cigars (or deeper into cigars), it’s worth taking the time to figure out what you like and why – and really enjoy the experience that smoking a good cigar can bring you. Happy Hunting!
Got other picks for some good starter cigars, or want to tell us what was your first? Comment below!