You see the word “vintage” in a cigar’s name – but what does that actually mean? Go beyond the marketing-speak and get our close-up look at the tobaccos used for premium cigars, what constitutes a true “vintage cigar” and our 10 top “vintage” picks.
2019 CA Report: 10 Strong Cigars That Should Be On Your Bucket List
Challenge Accepted: 10 Strong Cigars that Should Be on Your Bucket List
“Take the challenge,” they said… “you’ll have a blast,” they said. Okay, while I don’t back down from a good challenge, this one involved smoking ten cigars to review that are known for nicotine-powered strength. Yeah, it was a blast all right – more of a detonation to my palate and my brain as I began having conversations with dead relatives in broad daylight. Well, thank God I didn’t smoke them all in one day – I spread them out over two weeks so I could really enjoy the nuances of each one. And, the main thing about every one of these sticks is that they are what you all know as “flavor bombs”, so I made sure to take the right amount of time for the proper experience.
What Makes a Cigar Strong
I called upon a friend to help me understand the approach to making a strong cigar that has great flavor. Erik Espinosa (head of the La Zona Factory in Esteli, Nicaragua) blends and creates outstanding cigars like Laranja, 601, Crema, and Las 6 Provincias, and I knew he could give me some valuable insight. He’s the creator of the 601 La Bomba, a cigar that comes with its own caution on the Espinosa website: WARNING: Extremely full-bodied cigar – NOT recommended for novice smokers.
So, I asked Erik what constitutes a strong cigar, and he said, “That’s a great question, nobody has every asked me that before.” After a few seconds of thought, he replied, “Well, of course it’s higher nicotine content that gives your strength, and you’ll get that from different types of ligero tobaccos. But where the ligero is grown, and how aged plays a big part.”
So, I then asked what’s his approach to blending a strong cigar, and that’s when his voice perked up. “I am genuinely inspired when I’m creating a blend of any kind of cigar. But the key to making a really good cigar,” he said with purpose, “is starting with really good tobacco. I know that sounds simple, but when you start with good tobacco, you’re already way ahead of the game. Even if the greatest master blender in the world uses shitty tobacco, he’s not gonna make a good cigar.”
“I like to use Nicaraguan ligero because I feel it’s the closest thing to full-flavored Cuban leaf,” he said, “And then again, it depends on what region in the country. Hey, you know I love good food and I love to cook,” (when this guy comes to our office, he brings gourmet Italian meats, cheeses and fresh baked breads he picks up from a deli in Philly, and we eat like it’s the last freakin day on earth). “I take the same approach in cooking as in cigar making – when you start with excellent ingredients, your chances improve in creating a fantastic dish that everybody loves. So, when making a strong cigar that has a lot of flavor, I not only choose the type of leaf I know will give me the strength and body, it also has to be very high in quality, because you know that you always get what you pay for.”
So check out the 10 bombers I accepted the challenge to smoke and give me your thoughts in the comments section below the article. Now, the only thing I’ve got left to say is… INCOMIIIIIIIIIING!!!…
Origin: Nicaragua Size: Short Churchill (4 ¾ x 48) Wrapper: Ecuador Habano
This was Steve Saka’s vey first cigar introduced from Dunbarton Tobacco. He not only puts a ton of thought into his cigars, he puts a lot of thought into the names, as well. He told me that Sobremesa is the time that folks in Latin American countries spend with their family and friends after dinner – no TV, Twitter, or Facebook, just quality time enjoying life. Steve loves very full-bodied cigars and when blending, he sticks to his core competency. Nicaraguan long fillers are blended with Pennsylvania Broadleaf ligero, along with a Mexican binder. The result is powerful, yet smooth as silk, and just loaded with flavorful complexity. Strong cigars can certainly be smooth and creamy, and that’s why this is truly the perfect after dinner cigar, especially paired with an espresso or a zesty red wine like an Australian Shiraz.
601 La Bomba
Origin: Nicaragua Size: Atom (5 ½ x 46) Wrapper: Nicaraguan Habano
Erik Espinosa named this one for a damned good reason, as the La Bomba has all the subtly of an M-1 tank in a china shop. This Nica-bomb even has a fuse at the top, warning mellow cigar smokers to run for cover. While it’s earthy, peppery and spicy, it’s got an espresso-like flavor in the profile that makes it just so damned enjoyable from start to finish – if you can make it that far. It’s the extra-fermented Nicaraguan ligero that powers this long-range rocket, with nice complexity and excellent balance. Smoke this nicotine loaded weapon with a strong Cuban coffee and you might take a few personal days at work, (okay, I’m a damned light weight) but it will be worth every puff you take.
La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero
Origin: Dominican Republic Size: Chisel (6 x 54) Wrapper: Ecuador Sumatra
Bang, wham, zoom, right in the kisser, Alice. Bet you didn’t expect THAT from a cigar that hails from the Dominican Republic. And yet again, here we have a very strong cigar that has a nice smoothness and is extremely well balanced. While it’s definitely front-loaded with a whole lot of pepper and spice, a really nice sweet cedar component sets in while the flavor ramps up as it continues to burn. The chisel is a cool shape, (almost like a reed on a clarinet) that cuts best with a punch cutter, where you punch through the cigar instead of snipping the head. I once smoked this stick around 12 noon on an empty stomach during a poker game, and after 20 minutes I thought every hand I had was a royal flush, and I kept going “all in” as my buddies kept saying I ran out of money ten hands ago. This is one hell of a flavorful cigar and is meant to be enjoyed with whiskey and a very comfortable lawn chair.
Southern Draw Jacob’s Ladder
Origin: Nicaragua Size: Gordo (6 ½ x 60) Wrapper: Pennsylvania Broadleaf
Robert Holt’s Southern Draw company is becoming well-known for its wickedly tasty smokes that come out of the AJ Fernandez factory. And while he’s made a big hit with sticks like Rose of Sharon and Firethorn, it’s the Jacob’s Ladder that became a game changer for the company. With an all Nicaraguan filler (including Esteli ligero) and a dark chocolate brown, “well-aged” Pennsylvania Broadleaf wrapper, Robert, himself says you need to take caution because even he makes sure he has a full stomach before smoking this one. Is it really “that” strong? Well, I’ve been smoking a lot of cigars for a couple of decades and I think it is – but it has so much flavor that you just can’t put the damned thing down. And it’s from AJ, so, you know the construction and burn is impeccable. Loving this one.
Four Kicks Black Belt Buckle
Origin: Dominican Republic Size: Sublime (6 x 54) Wrapper: Connecticut Broadleaf Maduro
This is a little number that a lot of you may not know about, but if you are a fan of explosive flavor and good strength, this is a must-try from our good friends at Crowned Heads. Now, the smokers who “do” know about it have given the Black Belt Buckle an extremely high rating on the Famous website – so you don’t have to only rely on what I say. It’s very earthy and peppery at the start, but after about a half inch or so, some wonderful natural sweetness sets in due to its gorgeous dark and oily Connecticut Broadleaf Maduro wrapper. I paired it with a pour (or 5) of Knob Creek bourbon and the sweetness of both created some palate pleasing rapture. Guys, if you’re a fan of full, strong and flavorful, you have simply got to give this a try.
Camacho Triple Maduro
Origin: Honduras Size: Robusto (5 x 50) Wrapper: Mexican San Andres
The Triple Maduro is a strong and extremely tasty Honduran stick which makes it the perfect specimen for this article. In the past, a cigar that was a double Maduro meant the color of the wrapper was twice as dark, but in this instance, the “triple” refers to Maduro wrapper, binder and Maduro leaf in the filler. Christian Eiroa, who originally blended this one said it took many months to get the burn right because the leaves are thick and not so easy to work with. But, damn, he got it right, and created an earthy stick with a very pronounced and sweet aroma. BOLD is the trademark of Camacho and the Triple Maduro is the poster child for their brand identity. Pair it up with an aged dark rum that’s molasses-based and the wow-factor will be quite high.
RoMa Craft Tobac CroMagnon
Origin: Nicaragua Size: Knuckle Dragger (4 x 52) Wrapper: Ecuador Habano
RoMa Craft is a boutique brand that’s growing by leaps and bounds because they deliver on everything they make. The Cromagnon uses full-bodied tobacco from Nicaragua, and this line is a stunning example of the perfect balance where taste meets strength. Notes of leather and spice hit you hard upfront like a wake-up call to your taste buds. But maybe after only a quarter inch or so it gets smoother and smoother while the flavor and complexity intensifies. It delivers so much rich flavor that you start thinking things like, “I’d better stock up on more of these,” well, that’s definitely how I felt. This is the cigar you light up after a hearty steak dinner with a serious belt of bourbon or Scotch, as the flavors meld amazingly well with each other. The people who smoke these regularly are hardcore fans for a damned good reason – as I said, this one delivers every time.
Rocky Patel Sun Grown Maduro
Origin: Nicaragua Size: Toro (6 ½ x 52) Wrapper: Connecticut Broadleaf Maduro
When Rocky was a guest on our Facebook live show he handed me this dark brown beauty for my honest opinion. Well, it not only knocked my proverbial socks off, I told Rocky it even gave me a little buzz. There’s Nicaraguan fillers, two binders, and a supple and silky-smooth Connecticut Broadleaf Maduro outer leaf that cries out to be cut and lit. Flavors like dark cocoa and earth are quite pronounced, and I swear it just gets tastier and tastier with every pull. I think every one I’ve fired up was with a dark coffee or espresso and I’m sticking with that. The Sun Grown Maduro is a well-constructed premium, and in 2016 it was even named the number two cigar of the year. Some people get on Rocky’s case for making a plethora of different blends, but I’m telling you, he took his time with this one, and I am a real fan.
Casa Magna D. Magnus II
Origin: Nicaragua Size: Primus (6 ½ x 55) Wrapper: Nicaraguan Habano
While Roman Emperors didn’t have the opportunity to smoke premium cigars, I think they would have loved this line-up being named after them because of their distinct power and sheer good taste. This Manuel Quesada creation is everything that dark, rich Nicaraguan tobacco is known for, and if you enjoy a hefty smoke, then the D. Magnus II is right in your tobacco wheel house. Before I smoked one, I was warned by several BOTL’s, “make sure you eat first” because the nicotine is all there, but it’s just so flavorful that you’ll never stop for a rest. I personally love dark fruit and dark chocolate notes in a profile, and this really hit my sweet spot, especially with the 20-year-old Tawny Port I matched it with. A sophisticated smoke.
Joya de Nicaragua Dark Corojo
Origin: Nicaragua Size: La Niveladora (6 x 52) Wrapper: Nicaraguan Corojo
I refer to this as the chocolate bar of cigars and let me tell you that it is one hell of a dark, oily, and sweet smoking chocolate bar. And power, yeah, it’ll knock your solid white ash into next Tuesday if you’re not careful. The first thing you notice is that glistening Corojo wrapper with its luxurious coffee bean color. And, inside are locally cultivated Nicaraguan tobaccos aged for three full years. Add those together and you have a cigar that exudes explosive flavors and aroma that is without question meant for a more serious and educated connoisseur of the leaf. And like several of the other cigars I mentioned, while it is intensely full-bodied, it displays a smooth and creamy mouth feel that really heightens the senses while smoking. I relished this with a nice espresso, a glass of good port, and a few pieces of very dark chocolate, and I don’t think there’s a dessert on the planet that could match the experience.