Happy New Year to everyone. I hope you enjoyed ringing in a new decade as much as I have. This past year has seen some amazing cigars and this years list includes not only those released in 2019 but some from 2018 that did not make it into the review cycle the year they were released.
Number 1 Boutique Cigar for 2019 – Southern Draw Kudzu LUSTRUM
This year we had a clear winner for the Number one boutique cigar of 2019. The Southern Draw Kudzu LUSTRUM. This cigar was a celebration of the 5 year anniversary of Southern Draw Cigars, a company that has grown significantly over the years. The leaf used in the creation of the LUSTRUM was set aside 5 years ago in anticipation of making this cigar. The wrapper itself is a thick and oily Medio-Tiempo Habano leaf which encases a Nicaraguan Ometepe binder and vintage Nicaraguan long-leaf fillers. Hand crafted by A.J. Fernandez, the Kudzu LUSTRUM way was expressed in a single, Belicoso Fino 5.5 x 52 (box pressed) vitola.
I take some heat from those that ask how I can rate a cigar so high. The LUSTRUM scored a 99. My answer to that is simple, if you were to smoke a particular cigar, and smoke a number of the them, and each sample performed the same with balanced and delicious flavors and aromas and an excellent, trouble free burn – what would you rate it? I have a hard time saying it would be anything shy of the high 90’s. Of all the cigars smoked and reviewed on Stogie Press in 2019, the Southern Draw Kudzu LUSTRUM clearly meets that criteria.
The Southern Draw Kudzu LUSTRUM starts off with fragrant pre-light aromas that include sweet fruit and baking spice notes off the foot, along with a very inviting mild spice along the barrel. The cold draw is spot on with restriction and delivered notes of earth, pepper, and savory spice. Upon the first lit puff your palate is graced with a full volume of thick smoke filled with notes of cream and coffee. It transitions into a savory and natural tobacco sweetness along with a sweet floral aroma as the burn shows oodles of oiling above the crisp char line. A hint of cocoa adds to the profile as the savory notes morph into a sweet BBQ sauce sensation. The underlying core is sweetness even to the point of sweet cherry nuances down in the final third. This is a cigar your get every cent you spent for it. You will want to take it down to the nub, for there you will get a final burst of savory notes once again.
Yes this was rated a 99 and rightfully so. Southern Draw and A.J. Fernandez collaborated on a most outstanding cigar that truly represents what a anniversary cigar should be.
Number 2 – Tarazona 305
Another highly rated cigar this year, the Tarazona 305 was a tweaked blend from the small Tarazona Cigar company. The original Tarazona 305 hit the market back in 2014 and Eddie Tarazona was off the grid for a few years and returned in 2019 without skipping a beat. Unable to source the original leaf he worked with, Tabacalera William Ventura stepped in and helped a brother out. The beautiful, aged, and shiny Mexican San Andres wrapper on this cigar houses a deliciously sweet Ecuadorian Sumatra binder and a Nicaragua fillers. The wrapper has a mild grit, light marbling, and tinge of red clay hue in it.
With enticing sweet “curing barn” tobacco aroma along the barrel and fruit notes off the foot, the Tarazona 305 is just pleasantly inviting. It had an earthy note in the perfectly restricted cold draw and eventually offered a growing black pepper. Once ignited, the Tarazona 305, opened the nasals with a solid burst of pepper that quickly receded and opened up to an array of flavors throughout the burn starting with dry fruit notes that grow into a spicy fruit sensation with added notes and nuances of cedar, chocolate, sweetness, mint, espresso, and ultimately finishing with a dry berry note down at the nub.
As I said in the review, and will say again – welcome back Eddie Tarazona!
Number 3 – Crux Epicure Short Salomone
I met the team from Crux Cigars at my first IPCPR 5 years ago. I have enjoyed watching them grow and flourish over the years and there has not been a year where they did not make our top 25 cigar list. This boutique cigar company has been producing quality premium cigars since day one of their existence, and this year we honor them with the number 3 cigar of 2019 for their Crux Epicure Short Salomone.
The Crux Epicure Short Salomone was as spectacular as the original Epicure from 2 years ago. In actuality, I feel it is better than the original. It was another cigar I smoked down to the nub, in fact I smoked two of them and they both preformed flawlessly. The complex flavors and aromas in this hour and a half smoke included, white pepper, dry fruit, cream, almond, cinnamon, dark chocolate, toasted caramel, spice and finishes with coffee.
Number 4 – MBombay MQBA Vintage Reserve Nikka
Those that know Mel Shah from MBombay Cigars, understand he is one that does not rush his craft to the market. The company aspires to created amazing cigars for the most discerning palate and keep production at a reasonable and manageable number for a boutique cigar company. The MBombay MQBA Vintage Reserve Nikka is a great example of the company’s strive for excellence.
Starting with pre-light notes of a spice, sweetness, and fruit the MBombay MQBA Vintage Reserve Nikka takes you on a flavorful and flawless journey including notes of coffee, fruit, cocoa, citrus, almond, cedar, dry leather, spice and finally sweet nut down at the nub.
Not only did the DBL Cigars Tamo Lindo El Amarillo Fancy Belicoso garner the inaugural Stogie Press 2019 Readers Choice awards, but it rounds out the top 5 boutique cigars of 2019. Francisco Almonte and his team at Dominican Big Leaguer (DBL) Cigars hit this one out the park. This cigar is not only a visual masterpiece, with its expertly crafted box pressed barber pole belicoso construction, but it was also a flavor filled delight.
The DBL Cigars Tamo Lindo El Amarillo Fancy Belicoso starts to entice your senses long before you ignite it with a DBL Cigars signature cinnamon raisin note along the barrel while the foot exuded cinnamon and butter toast notes. Once fired up, this hour-plus smoke starts with butter and spice notes joined with floral aromas and takes you on a relaxing journey of coffee, citrus, caramel apple, sweet cream and finishing with a savory spice down at the nub.
Number 6 – C.L.E. Wynwood Hills Mayhem
The C.L.E. Wynwood Hills Mayhem was a terrific 1 hour plus smoke and offered a consistent set of spice and savory flavor notes. I would not described the Mayhem as complex but it did have some shifts and moves in flavor and aroma. From a construction perspective, the Mayhem held an amazing ash.
Number 7 – Rodriguez Cigars Reserva Privada Robusto
I can not speak highly enough about Key West, Florida based Rodriguez Cigars and owner Danny DiFabio. In the case of the company’s Reserva Privada, it is a cigar any mild cigar smoker would want. Filled with flavorful transitions throughout the journey and pristine construction qualities this is a cigar made to relax and enjoy with a nice cup of Cuban coffee or a sweet late night cordial. There was just a mild jaggedness to the burn but nothing that caused any problem. The oils on the wrapper continued to develop throughout the journey as did the flavors and aromas.
Number 8 – MBombay M.Esteli Toro
Did I mention how spectacular the craft from Mel Shah has been over the years. The MBombay M.Esteli Toro is a great way to get into the MBombay experience with an easy price point in the $7.00 to $8.00 range. There is no skimping on quality and flavor and this just shows how you can still find a fine premium cigar that does not break your wallet. The flavors were plentiful and the aromas shifted and changed throughout the journey keeping my interest in every puff. This a cigar that has enough complexity for the most experienced cigar enthusiast and one a newbie can learn a lot from.
Number 9 – Artesano del Tobacco Viva La Vida Toro
The first time I sampled the Viva La Vida (live the life), I sat back and said wow! This is Good! Real good! I smoked through many more, and I shared with friends and they all agreed this is a fine cigar. Of course, the Viva La Vida is produced for brothers Billy and Gus by the one and only A.J. Fernandez. The flavor and aromas of the Viva La Vida evolved in a pleasing and refined manner through the journey.
Number 10 – Providencia Trinitas Corona
This small boutique cigar company from the Ft. Worth, Texas area has been producing cigars for a few years now. The Trinitas is by far my favorite of the numerous blends they have introduced. This year, they moved to create a corona vitola of the Trinitas and it was a scrumptious and turned out to be the best in their lineup. For a small vitola, this cigar packed a punch and delivered a complex yet balanced array of flavors and aromas. When I think about corona vitolas, I think of my favorite, the Cuban Montecristo #4, the Providencia Trinitas is damn close.
Numbers 11 – 25
Number 11 – La Barba Ricochet Cru Mexi-Sol Petite Corona
Number 12 – Hubbard Cigar Connecticut Toro
Number 15 – Platinum Nova Platinum Batch Torpedo
Number 17 – Casdagli Cigars Daughters Of The Wind Robusto
Number 18 – Isabela Cigars Pepper-Head
Number 19 – Room 101 Farce Habano Robusto
Number 20 – Crux Epicure Maduro Toro
Number 21 – Crowned Heads/Drew Estate La Coalición Siglo
Number 22 – Black Label Trading Co. – Last Rites Viaticum
Number 23 – Hiram and Solomon Veiled Prophet Monarch
Number 24 – El Artista Big Papi The Slugger
Number 25 – Left Hand Cigars Lefthander
In no particular order the following deserve mention as they were pleasing and enjoyable also.
- Providencia Cigars Bloodshot
- Dissident Soap Box Robusto
- Chaffiot Collection Original Connecticut
- ACE Prime M.X.S. Dominique Wilkins
Well, that wraps up 2019, I hope you all have a outstanding new year and new decade. The challenges facing the cigar industry will continue through the next decade and especially in 2020 as the FDA regulations take hold and will be more enforced not to mention the raise of the national tobacco age to 21.
Changes for 2020 and Beyond
With all this in mind, this is the last of the Stogie Press top 25 boutique cigars list. Starting in 2020 we will have three separate lists broken down by market capitalization. There will be a list for large cap, medium cap, and small cap companies, based on the number of cigars they produce each year and an award for each category. We will announce more on this as we get into the new year. We feel this accounts for what we have seen as growth in the industry and where some of the original small companies are no longer “small”. It will also allow us to give credence to the large cap companies which, although we have rated, we have never ranked. Each list will have a select 10 cigars for a total of 30 overall. Out of the best of each list we will also announce the best cigar of the year overall.
The Rating Scale will also change sightly, as we will add some additional parameters in the negative and positive area and we will start each cigar at a 94 before points are added and deleted. We expect the rating numbers to decrease based on this, but that does not preclude a cigar from still getting a very high rating, as I feel a pristine cigar is still worthy of a high 90’s rating.