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2018 CA Report: 10 Cigar Boom Cigars Your Humidor Shouldn’t Be Without
The Cigar Boom Backstory
As the decade of the 1990s fades further into the mist of days past, I felt it was time to whip-out my old Perelman’s Pocket Cyclopedia of Cigars and answer the question: What were some of the best Cigar Boom cigars? Actually, there were quite a few. However, while a good number of these cigars continue to grace retail cigar store shelves, many more Boom era cigars have been fated to the annals of cigar history.
And speaking of history. . .
As the decade of the 1990s rolled into view the cigar business was just another business, and a struggling one at that. The majority of customers were men either nearing social security, or already on it, and only about 100 million cigars were being sold annually. That may sound like a lot, but on the whole, the cigar industry was barely getting by.
So, when did the Cigar Boom begin?
The actual cause is uncertain, but sometime during 1992 lightning struck, and one year later imports were up near the 120 million mark. By 1996, that figure more than doubled. Moreover, demand was so high manufacturers couldn’t make cigars fast enough. Good tobacco was becoming a rare commodity and backorders began to soar. So great was the interest in premium handrolled cigars, it seemed like just about everybody and their brother was buying a cigar factory in the Dominican Republic or Nicaragua.
No doubt, the debut of Cigar Aficionado magazine in late 1992 was a bellwether for the increased interest in premium cigars. Books like Richard Carleton Hacker’s The Ultimate Cigar Book (1993) and Perelman’s Pocket Cyclopedia of Cigars (1995) also became valuable references for anyone who wanted to drill deeper into the premium cigar phenomenon. Add to that the economic boom that was being stoked by the advent of the worldwide web. Cigars were also showing up even more in movies, television series, and sporting events – some stadiums even built cigar lounges.
By the end of the decade, many cigar factories began folding like cheap cameras. Many of their owners were prospectors in it for a fast buck, rather than true tobacco men like the José Padróns, Carlito Fuentes, and Ernesto Perez-Carrillos of the industry.
Today, with the myriad boutique cigar brands, along with the major manufacturers, the industry has seen a new, way less feverish “boom,” as more and more cigar smokers, especially younger adults, have discovered the pleasures of premium cigar smoking.
For this article I wanted to highlight cigars that were “game-changers,” like the La Gloria Cubana Wavell, Ashton Cabinet, and Camacho Corojo. You’ll also find some Cuban legacy cigars in the list – the Cohiba “Red Dot” Dominicana and Rafael Gonzalez, for example. And although some of these cigars may be more high profile than others, they have all earned a badge of distinction by receiving high ratings scores.
So, let’s step in the Hot Nub Time Machine and take a closer look at these classic cigars that are deserving of space in every cigar smoker’s humidor.
Ashton Cabinet Selection No.8 (ca. 1988)
Size: 7″ x 49
Wrapper: U.S. Connecticut Shade
Binder & Filler: Dominican Republic
Entering the market in 1985, you could say that Ashton Cigars were the first “pre-Boom” cigars. It wasn’t until 1993 that Ashton captured the attention of the premium cigar-smoking public by running a half-page ad in Cigar Aficionado with the impenetrable slogan: “Uncompromising Quality.”
There was truth in their advertising, too. From the first, Ashton cigars have been made at the Arturo Fuente factory in Santiago, Dominican Republic by only the most highly skilled rollers.
During the Boom, the Cabinet line became a standout among cigar enthusiasts for its exquisite Connecticut Shade wrappers and 4-5 year aged tobaccos, and perfect balance. The No.8 personifies everything wonderful about the line issuing mellow layers of oak, cream, and sweet spices.
La Gloria Cubana Wavell (ca. 1992)
Size: 5″ x 50
Wrapper: Ecuador Sumatra
Binder: Dominican Republic
Filler: Dominican Republic, Nicaragua
Legend has it that the La Gloria Cubana Wavell was the cigar that really set the Cigar Boom 90s in motion with its “90” rating in Cigar Aficionado. Its creator, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, began working beside his father in 1970 at the family’s El Credito Factory in Little Havana, Miami. After his father’s passing in 1980, Ernesto took over the reigns. Two years later, something happened that changed everything. Here’s the story in Ernesto’s own words:
“1982, a gentleman who used to work with me brought back from England a pack of Cuban Davidoff Dom Perignon cigars. That cigar woke me up and I said, ‘Hey – there’s something out there you’re not familiar with.’ That’s when I realized that I had to find my own niche; to do something that’s different than what I was doing at the time if I wanted to succeed in the business.
“We had just started promoting La Gloria Cubana… basically from that time to about 1990, ’91. I had also started working with some Nicaraguan tobacco, which completely changed the whole way I was blending cigars. . . most everybody would blend using Dominican, Brazilian Mata Fina, Cameroon wrapper, Connecticut wrapper – those were basically the blends. So when I added this leaf of Nicaragua, it just changed the whole complexion of the cigar. And the first blends we made with it in La Gloria Cubana, I think that’s what got us notoriety in Cigar Aficionado where we got the high ratings. . . It was one of the first cigars that really impressed me, and when I started smoking it, I said this is what I’m looking for.”
Although today Ernesto’s success has continued with his own E.P. Carrillo Cigars, the La Gloria Cuban Wavell continues to be a regular favorite for its rich taste, excellent balance, and creamy flavors of cedar, coffee, and spice.
Excalibur by Hoyo de Monterrey No.1 (ca. 1992)
Size: 7¼” x 54
Wrapper & Binder: Connecticut Broadleaf
Filler: Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua
Named for the legendary sword, Excalibur cigars were released as a lighter-tasting alternative to their heartier Hoyo de Monterrey cigar cousins. Originally made at the Villazon factory in Corfradia, Honduras, which closed its doors in 2009, Excalibur’s dual Connecticut broadleaf binder and wrapper and three nation core blend remain the same today.
Excalibur had a classy vibe to it and eventually became a favorite among golfers, especially the double corona-sized No.1. Priced affordably, it issued a medium-bodied smoke with well-balanced flavors of earth, cedar, and sweet spice, and subdued notes of coffee and cocoa. Moreover, its 7¼” x 54 dimensions could get you through at least the first 9 holes.
After the Boom, as tastes began to shifts to more full-flavored cigars, the line branched off into the Excalibur Cameroon and full-bodied 1066 Dark Knight selections.
Padrón 1964 Anniversary Imperial (ca. 1994)
Size: 6″ x 54, box-pressed
Wrapper: Nicaraguan Sun Grown Maduro
Binder & Filler: Nicaragua
Since they debuted in 1964, Padrón cigars have managed to carve a reputation of excellence so deep among cigar smokers that they are every bit as coveted as the finest Cuban cigars. Until the release of the Padrón Damaso in 2015, Padróns have been made entirely with Nicaraguan tobaccos.
To celebrate the company’s 30th anniversary, Padrón released what was originally called, the “Padrón 30th Anniversary Series.” Better known today simply as the Padrón 1964 Anniversary series, these puros distinguished themselves by using even longer-aged tobaccos and sharp-cornered, Cuban trunk-style box-pressing, which quickly became a trend among other manufacturers.
The Padrón 1964 Anniversary series eventually became so popular it was being counterfeited. To stop imitations, Jorge Padrón began issuing the 1964 Anniversary and all of Padrón’s subsequent anniversary cigars with serial numbers.
Brimming with Padrón’s signature coffee and cocoa notes, along with plenty of earthiness, spices, and caramel, the 90+ rated Padrón 1964 Anniversary Imperial Maduro continues to be one of the best examples in the line.
Arturo Fuente Cuban Corona Maduro (ca. 1995)
Size: 5¼” x 45, figurado
Wrapper: Connecticut Broadleaf
Binder & Filler: Dominican Republic
Arturo Fuente cigars date back to 1912 when 10 years earlier, family patriarch, Arturo Fuente, left Cuba after the Spanish-American War and resettled in Tampa, FL.
Arturo’s son, Carlos Fuente Sr., took ownership of the company in 1958 and production remained in Tampa through the 1960s. Rising labor costs and an inability to find skilled rollers moved the factory to Mexico, then Puerto Rico, and in the 1970s, to Estelí, Nicaragua. After the Sandinistas burned down their factory in 1979, a year later the brand moved to Santiago, Dominican Republic.
One of their most significant releases during the 1980s was the Hemingway line. Then in 1996, after Carlos Fuente Sr. and his son Carlos “Carlito” Fuente Jr. developed one of the first Dominican-grown wrappers, they introduced the iconic Fuente Fuente OpusX. A Dominican puro, rave reviews ensued, and OpusX not only became an instant classic, it set the stage for a wave of full-bodied cigars.
But even with the success of the Opus X cigars, Fuente’s core line continued to offer great-tasting, well-made cigars at affordable prices like the Fuente Cuban Corona featured here. Released in 1995, this slightly tapered figurado not only received pretty high marks at the time, it remains one of the bestselling frontmarks in the Arturo Fuente stable. Its medium-bodied smoke issues a sweet, woody flavor underscored by an appealing spiciness, making it a smart buy at a modest price.
Avo XO Maestoso (ca. 1995)
Size: 7″ x 48
Wrapper: Ecuadorian Sun Grown Connecticut
Binder & Filler: Dominican Republic
One of the classiest acts of the cigar industry today, Avo cigars were first introduced in 1987. However, Avo Uvezian’s inspiration for making his own brand came five years earlier during a trip to Switzerland for his daughter’s christening. It happened after dinner one night when Avo smoked a very expensive Cuban cigar that he felt wasn’t worth its price.
Enter Hendrik Kelner, master blender for Davidoff Cigars, who agreed to make a cigar for Avo. That cigar was the line known today as Avo Classic, and they sold 120,000 of them the first year alone –well before the Boom. By 1995 Avo sales were up to 750,000, and the following year, Davidoff bought the rights to the brand and took Avo to a staggering 2 million in sales.
Released in 1995, the Avo XO series took the Classic up a notch to a medium-bodied smoke using a blend of six-year aged Dominican tobaccos capped in an exquisite, Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper leaf. The Churchill-sized Maestoso brims with harmonious notes of sweet cedar, nutmeg, coffee bean, leather, roasted nuts, and spice for a delectably complex cigar that can be enjoyed anytime of day.
Cohiba Red Dot Corona (ca. 1997)
Size: 5 1/8″ x 42
Wrapper: African Cameroon
Binder: Indonesian Jember
Filler: Dominican Piloto Cubano
There is probably no word more iconic when speaking of the world’s best premium cigars than “Cohiba.” Made famous in Cuba and often associated with Fidel Castro, it was General Cigar who, in 1978, first registered the Cohiba brand in the U.S. and introduced a three-size, un-banded Cohiba selection that year.
Insisting the Cohiba name was the property of the Cuban government, a legal battle between the Cuban cigar industry (Habanos, S.A.), and General ensued for decades.
By the time the Cigar Boom 90s rolled around, General had expanded the brand and in 1997 officially debuted the “Cohiba Red Dot” selection, which was distinguished by its own unique branding and filling the COHIBA “O” in red.
Comparisons to Cuban Cohiba cigars would have been unfair. Obviously, the Havana-made versions couldn’t be duplicated. So, the idea was to create a cigar that could stand on its own, while being worthy of the Cohiba name. The blend still consists of spicy Dominican Piloto Cubano long-fillers balanced by a savory Indonesian Jember binder, and finished in a semi-sweet African Cameroon wrapper.
Since its release, the Cohiba Red Dot has continually received high scores for its flawless construction, rich taste, and fragrant aroma, and the Corona is one of the best representations of the line. The cigar issues creamy, medium-bodied smoke revealing caramelized flavors of cedar, spice, nuts, coffee bean, and molasses.
Creme de Jamaica Churchill (ca. 1999)
Size: 7½” x 49
Wrapper: U.S. Connecticut Shade
Binder: Indonesian Besuki
Filler: Dominican Piloto Cubano
The fallout from the Cuban embargo turned Jamaica into a mecca for premium cigars. During the 1960s and 70s Jamaican-made cigars such as Royal Jamaica, Temple Hall, Crème de Jamaica, and Macanudo rose to popularity in the U.S. The latter three brands were all made in Kingston by General Cigar at the Temple Hall factory, which General later purchased in 1969.
Jamaican tobacco was also used in these cigars for its high quality and unique flavor. Moreover, the cost of doing business in Jamaica was low. That was until a hurricane in 1988 devastated the island. But the expense of rebuilding eventually forced General Cigar and others to leave Jamaica for lower production costs in the Dominican Republic.
Of these early Jamaican brands, Macanudo rose to the peak of fame and never looked back. However, Crème de Jamaica, released in 1999 as an exclusive to Famous Smoke Shop, turned out to be an affordable alternative. Flavor-wise, if you removed the bands, it was sometimes hard to tell them apart.
Crème de Jamaica disappeared for a while, but today they’re back with the original 1999 blend of Dominican Piloto Cubano fillers, Indonesian Besuki binder and U.S Connecticut Shade wrappers. The smoke is mellow and creamy with sweet notes of cedar, leather, and spice, especially in the Churchill size.
Rafael Gonzalez Robusto (ca. 1999)
Size: 5½” x 54
Wrapper: Ecuadorian Connecticut
Binder: Connecticut Broadleaf
Filler: Honduras, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua
Originating in Cuba in 1928 under the name, “La Flor de Marquez,” Rafael Gonzalez became the official, registered trademark name in 1936 by the Cuban Sociedad El Rey Del Mundo. The Rafael Gonzalez brand is also known for having introduced the 6½” x 42 “Lonsdale” cigar. Originally called the “Cervantes,” it became the favorite of Hugh Cecil Lowther, the Fifth Earl of Lonsdale. Since Lowther was a well-known sporting chap and distinguished cigar aficionado of his day, the name was changed in his honor.
Additionally, on the lid of each Cuban Rafael Gonzalez box was an inscription stating that the cigars should “be smoked from Havana within a month of shipping.” Otherwise, they should “be ripened carefully for a period of one year.”
Still in production by Habanos S.A., it’s the post-embargo, Honduran-made Rafael Gonzalez cigars that have become a fashionable favorite in the U.S.
Blended with a three-nation long-filler core, Connecticut Broadleaf binder, and an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper, the smoke offers a smooth, mellow, toasty-nutty character with some sweet tobacco notes in the wider ring gauges. Even better is, they’re mighty good right out of the box.
Camacho Corojo Toro (ca. 2000)
Size: 6″ x 50
Wrapper/Binder/Filler: Honduran Jamastran Corojo
A late Boom bloomer, so to speak, in 2000 the Camacho Corojo cigar became the new benchmark as to what would follow at the turn of the millennium – bold, and even bolder cigars. But first, let’s back up a little. . .
Camacho cigars were founded by Simon Camacho, a Cuban émigré who opened his Miami, Florida cigar factory in 1961. Camacho had access to some of the best tobacco, and later began developing tobaccos, himself, in Nicaragua. As a result, Camacho cigars became so popular, both in the U.S. and Europe, that they caught the attention of none other than Sir Winston Churchill who became a customer.
Simon Camacho died in 1990, and in 1995 the brand was purchased by Caribe Cigars founder, Julio Eiroa. Eiroa moved production from Nicaragua to his Rancho Jamastran farm in Danlí, Honduras where he was growing tobacco from genuine, heirloom Cuban Corojo seeds – one of the only strains that doesn’t require being blended with other tobacco varieties.
Shortly thereafter, Julio’s son, Christian Eiroa, was made president of Caribe. The company’s core brands, Baccarat “The Game,” and La Fontana Vintage, were mostly mellow in body, but the Camacho Corojo would change everything. Like its sibling brands, it was a Honduran puro, but it was blended with stronger, higher priming tobaccos and advertised as “the quintessential embodiment” of what they called, “The Original Bold Smoke.”
Even though the full-bodied Fuente Fuente Opus X preceded the Camacho Corojo, Camacho continued to build its brand on those savory Corojo tobaccos. As a result, when cigar smokers were looking for full-bodied cigars, they turned to Camacho.
The Oettinger-Davidoff Group bought the brand in 2008, and Camacho Corojo Toro remains one of the finest representatives of the line. The cigar exhibits exquisite craftsmanship, and its complex smoke issues rich flavors of sweet cedar, leather, nuts and peppery spice.
Since the new FDA deeming regulations have gone into effect, one of, if not the only positive thing to come from them is that some of these Boom cigars have begun to reappear in the market, with more possibly reappearing in the years to come.
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