Well folks, here we are, at the end of yet another fantastic year in the great world of cigars. We’ve witnessed many new cigars from the industry’s top manufacturers, brands, and blenders - as they shared their newest ideas and creations. In fact, so much happens throughout a single year in this crazy industry, that sometimes it can be a bit mind-boggling to sort it all out. It’s at this time that we at Cigar Dojo, and many others throughout the industry, like to take a step back and remember the greatest achievements of a very successful year.
Before we delve into “the good stuff”, allow me to lay down the criteria for our list of the Top 10 Best Cigars of 2013. You see, this isn’t your ordinary “top 10”, this is the list for the average guy, someone we like to refer to as “Joe 6-pack”. Now let me explain: when we (Cigar Dojo staff) first started developing a taste for these hand-rolled delicacies, we quickly came to the conclusion that we needed to taste the best cigars available. “We’re casual smokers,” we told ourselves, “and we don’t have time to smoke every cigar out there.” Naturally, we scoured the web looking for “The Top 10 best Cigars” lists, only to find that most of these lists consisted of cigars that were super rare, expensive, or worst yet, illegal (I’m looking at you, Cuba!). Most people have this idea of cigar smokers as rich, fat, snooty old guys that sit around in their mansions lighting Cuban cigars with one hundred dollar bills… We’ve found that’s not the case. Fact is, the average cigar smoker is just a regular dude. He (or she) may not have a lot of money, but his taste buds know what they like - and it ain’t crap.
Cigar Grading Criteria
For any cigar to be considered for Cigar Dojo’s Top 10 Cigars of the Year list, it must meet the following 4 requirements:
- Release Date: 2013
- Legality: Valid (Sorry Cuba)
- Price: $10 or less
- Availability: Wide release (no limited editions)
You may notice a few things about this list that differentiate us from other cigar lists. Most obvious is our $10 price limit, we feel this allows for cigars to achieve that superlative quality you’re looking for, without breaking your budget. The 2013 release date may seem obvious, but these “little details” don’t seem to be a priority for some. To make our list, the cigar must be a new release for 2013, i.e. the cigar wasn’t sold to the public prior to this year. Of course, the cigar cannot be Cuban because it would then be illegal to purchase in our country. Which brings me to availability - Joe 6-pack wants a cigar that’s attainable, it may not be sold at every brick and mortar, but if all else fails, he can always buy it online.
Now, because of this strict criteria, we had to cut a few favorites from the list. And as much as we hated to see them go, it had to be done. For the curious, here are some of our favorite cigars of 2013 that didn’t meet all of our requirements for one reason or another, they are listed below in no particular order.
601 La Bomba Warhead | La Sirena Sea Lion | Sosa Underground Connecticut | Sosa Stout | Ortega Cubao | Ortega Wild Bunch Island Jim | D'Crossier Diplomacy | Kuuts Placeres Reserva | Tatuaje Regios Reserva 2013 | Tatuaje Black Label Corona Gorda 10th Anniversary | Sindicato Hex | Room 101 Big Delicious | Hermosa Cigars Double Ligero | Davidoff Nicaragua | Benji Menendez Partagas Master Series | L'Atelier Extension de la Racine | Quesada Oktoberfest Dunkel
A few of these cigars are of considerable mention, and are so outstanding that we recommend the purchase of at any point they may present themselves to you (and if your wallet can manage). These may not be the easiest cigars to find, nor the most cost-efficient, but they are most definitely superb.
Tatuaje 10th Anniversary - $10
Rereleased for brand owner Pete Johnson’s 10th anniversary in the cigar biz’, the Tatuaje 10th Anniversary comes in two vitolas - the Bon Chasseur (5 3/8” x 52 parejo) and the Belle Encre (5 3/8” x 42 figurado). We find that both sizes are of equal quality, and it is simply a matter of personal preference between the two. Expect a classic smoke with this cigar, it exhibits a medium-plus body with flavors of coffee, chocolate, leather, and delicate spices through the nose.
Liga Privada UF-13 Dark - $14
Strong and to the point, this cigar has nothing to hide. The Liga Privada UF-13 Dark uses a dark, Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper, along with a Brazilian Mata Fina binder and Honduran and Nicaragua Cuban Seed filler tobaccos that deliver full strength power and flavors. Expect this 5 1/2” x 52 Robusto to entertain your palate with full-force flavors of chocolate, roasted coffee beans, malt, and black pepper.
Room101 Master Collection One Mutante - $10
This is a 7” x 38 Lancero with a San Andres Ligero Rosado wrapper that looks as impressive as it smokes. Volumes of of thick, white smoke billow from every puff as the intricate smoke evolves throughout a very pleasing journey. Expect a dynamic smoke, filled with flavors of cedar wood, spice, savory meat, and organic vegetables.
La Palina Mr. Sam - $12
This 4.75” x 54 robusto cigar features a dark Ecuadorian Habano wrapper with Nicaraguan fillers and binder. On the nose and palate the cigar is rich and spicy, with an underlying sweetness to finish. Expect full flavors of cedar wood, musky spice, and sweet tobacco; as well as many other underlying complexities.
La Palina Goldie Laguito No. 5 - $18
Making a big splash in the cigar scene this year, La Palina’s limited edition releases (The La Palina Collection) are quickly becoming cult favorites among cigar enthusiasts. The Goldie Laguito No. 5 is a masterfully rolled 5 5/8” x 54 cigar that incorporates a beautiful Ecuador Habano wrapper, an Ecuador binder, and Nicaraguan and Dominican filler tobaccos. This is a luxurious smoke, with creamy flavors of butter, table cream, nutmeg, and mellow spices.
Cigar Brand of the Year
Throughout 2013 it seemed one brand name just kept coming up. Countless posts of “Name the Best Cigar of the Year” yielded the same results time and time again. Relatively new to the cigar scene, this brand has made leaps where others only took steps, and has made itself known as a company that produces the finest of cigars. It is because of these reasons that we have decided to make La Palina Cigars our 1st ever Cigar Brand of the Year winner! Their spectacular releases in the “La Palina Collection” in particular are some of the most excellent cigars available today.
Top 10 Best Cigars of 2013
Now that you’ve had the chance to see what didn’t make our list, let’s get down to business and see which cigars had all the right ingredients to be considered the “best of the best”. These are cigars that, not only caught our attention for one reason or another, but also the great cigar community. You see, at Cigar Dojo, we witness thousands of enthusiasts smoking, commenting, and critiquing nearly every cigar in existence on a daily basis. Through the power of the Cigar Dojo smartphone app, we are able to quickly weed-out cigars that don’t read on the pulse of the cigar public. In conjunction with the Cigar Dojo community, and our discerning tastes, we are able to form this carefully curated list that takes into account cigars that are actually being smoked and enjoyed by cigar enthusiasts across the globe. And now, without further ado, we present to you our list of the top 10 cigars of 2013.
DRUM ROLL PLEASE.......
#10 Herrera Esteli - Lonsdale
A complete departure from any cigar to come out of the Drew Estate factory, the Herrera Esteli is a classic, Cuban-style smoke made by master blender Willy Herrera. Everything about the Herrera Esteli embodies the classic Cuban cigar style; heck, if it didn’t consist of Ecuadorian, Honduran, and Nicaraguan tobaccos, this would be a Cuban cigar! The flavors are smooth and buttery, with roasted nuts, spices, caramel, and vanilla rounding out the profile. While the cigar is available in a number of sizes, we felt the 6” x 44 Lonsdale showcased the cigar’s flavors best.
#9 L’Atelier Maduro - MAD54
Incorporating a completely different blend than the original L’Atelier cigar released last year, the Maduro showcases brand owner Pete Johnson’s skills in using dark, Connecticut Broadleaf tobacco. At 4.5” x 54, this short Robusto cigar has a solid, sturdy construction. The wrapper is dark and oily, with about as much tooth as a medium grit sandpaper. One would expect a cigar of this nature to give a serious punch, however once lit, you may be pleasantly surprised. Silky smooth flavors of milk chocolate abound, much like a cup of hot chocolate with loads of sweet vanilla cream. Smoke the L’Atelier Maduro for dessert, your taste buds can thank me later.
#8 J.D. Howard Reserve - HR50
A throwback to Wild West outlaw Jesse James, the J.D. Howard Reserve manages to capture the feel of the lawless 1800’s. The cigar is rugged and gritty, with a fuzzy, Brazilian Arapiraca wrapper that smells of hickory wood tree bark and brown sugar. The flavors are interesting but straightforward, this is certainly a “no frills” smoke. Charcoal, hickory smoke, bacon, cedar, and coffee will thrill your taste buds from start to finish. We found that the 5 1/2” x 50 Robusto size smoked just right, with loads of smoke, a great draw, and requiring no touchups throughout.
#7 Leccia Black - 552
Are you ready for something a little different? Meet the Leccia Black, a Dominican cigar that incorporates fire-cured tobacco. Yes, it’s an ancient technique in which the drying tobacco is exposed to the smoke of a smoldering fire, creating smokey, woodsy flavors (as you might expect). And while this method is nothing groundbreaking, none have managed to incorporate it as flawlessly as the Leccia Black. An Ecuadorian Habano wrapper and a Nicaraguan Rosado binder conceal a number of tobaccos blended together to form the cigar’s filler, one of which being a Kentucky fired-cured tobacco known as “Dark Fire”. Brand owner Sam Leccia manages to blend these tobaccos together in such a brilliant manner that the fire-cured tobaccos don’t taste “flavor infused” or “gimmicky”, and tie into the smoking experience very naturally. We suggest you pair this cigar with a nice Kentucky straight bourbon to let the cigar expose its interesting flavors of charred wood, whiskey, aged tobacco, leather, and barbecue sauce.
#6 Nat Sherman 1930 - Corona Grande
Nat Sherman has been on a roll lately, reinvigorating its brand with expertly blended cigars coming out of Quesada Cigars’ MATASA factory in the Dominican Republic. As with their 2012 Nat Sherman Timeless releases, the Nat Sherman 1930 is blended by Manuel Quesada, one of the best cigar blenders in the industry. Expect a more complex smoke than their prior releases, as the Nat Sherman 1930 exhibits rich flavors of spice, leather, earth, and espresso that weave their way throughout this engaging smoke. The Corona Grande vitola we chose for this cigar is 6” x 46, which we felt had an absolutely perfect draw and smoke output. With a medium/full body, this is easily Nat Sherman’s most intense smoking experience to date.
#5 El Centurion - Belicoso
What would a Top 10 cigar list be without an appearance of a Don Pepín García blend? Well here it is - a Nicaraguan puro incorporating four unique seed varieties: Corojo Habano, Criollo, Sancti Spiritus, and Criollo 98 as the wrapper. The El Centurion has a rough, toothy exterior, with an exceptionally potent aroma of leather, tobacco, and chocolate chip cookies. Like all Pepín cigars, you’ll find the El Centurion burns perfectly, especially with a few weeks of age in your humidor. The flavors are dark and dry, with a bitter, dark chocolate being most noticeable - I may even recommend pairing with a glass of cold milk! Also, look out for white pepper in the retrohale, and coffee, leather, earth, and nuts to compliment that rich, bold chocolate. At the price point, this cigar is an absolute no-brainer - treat yourself to an El Centurion when you’re in the mood for something decadent.
#4 L’Atelier - LAT46 Selection Spéciale
Incorporating a higher priming of the Sancti Spíritus leaf seen in many of the new releases from Pete Johnson and Don Pepín García, the L’Atelier LAT46 Selection Spéciale is a darker, stronger version of the core L’Atelier cigar. Coming in at 5 5/8” x 46, the SS (for short) allows you to really get a good taste of the special wrapper being used throughout the L’Atelier lineup. Coffee, pepper, and nutty flavors abound, with a spiciness through the nose, and a sugary sweetness rounding out the finish. As one might expect, the construction is top notch, with a silky smooth wrapper and a razor-sharp burn line. Expect a quality, well balanced smoke, similar to the original LAT, but with more intensity and concentrated flavors.
#3 Illusione Rothchildes
Quite possibly the best “bang for your buck” cigar on the market today, the Illusione Rothchildes is a flavor bomb wrapped up in the form of a small, 4 1/2” x 50 Rothschild cigar. The Rothchildes is captivating from start to finish - from its classic Cuban presentation, to its satisfying, full-bodied smoke. A medium-brown Mexican San Andrés wrapper conceals Nicaraguan innards, having a fuzzy, gnarled look about it. Bright, floral and leather notes comprise the aroma, giving way to a clean, effortless draw. The flavors are clear and unmistakable throughout, with dark fruits, zesty spices, cocoa, leather, and a campfire smokiness that really “sticks to your ribs”. The cigar possesses all the qualities of a $10 smoke, yet at less than half that price, it proves that cost doesn’t dictate flavor. I’ll say this about the Illusione Rothchildes - I’ve never known someone who’s smoked only one.
#2 Nica Rustica - El Brujito
A mottled, twisted, and veiny Connecticut Broadleaf Mediums wrapper runs its way down the Drew Estate Nica Rustica - not quite the description you’d expect for the No. 2 cigar of the year? Just wait. The cigar weighs in at 6” x 52, a Toro that DE labels “El Brujito”. You see, Drew Estate intended for this cigar to be primitive, to have the look and feel of a cigar you might expect the first users of tobacco smoking. And as the name implies, it is rustic. On the foot, the tobacco is unfinished, with the wrapper extending and covering the open end. The head is twisted into a rudimentary pigtail cap, and a matte-finished yellow band finalizes the rustic vibe, with the “Nica Rustica” name appearing as though it has been stamped on at the last minute. On the nose, you will be greeted with a blast of black licorice, tobacco, and leather - it’s so distinct, one could sit and ponder the nose for a good while without even lighting up! The flavors are rich and concentrated, an earthy base is topped with roasted coffee beans, hay, anise, and a subtle spice. But it’s the absolutely superb construction that earns the Nica Rustica such high accolades on our Top 10. A perfect draw, ungodly smoke output, solid ash, and an unwavering burn line make for one fantastic smoke - not once in all our trials with this cigar did we have to relight or perform any touchups. This is not a cigar that needs to be “babied”, just sit back and enjoy what a good cigar should be.
And the best cigar of 2013 goes to....
#1 La Jugada Habano - Robusto
I know what you’re thinking, “How the heck do you say that?” Well, as brand owners Danny Moya and Nelson Ruiz explain, it’s “La-who-gada”, and it translates to “the play” or “the move” in reference to their favorite cigar accompaniment, dominoes. Okay so we know how to say it, but what makes this Habano so darn tasty? Before I delve into all the stats, flavors, and subtleties of the La Jugada Habano, let me say that this cigar wasn’t picked for the top spot solely by the Cigar Dojo crew. If you’re familiar with the Cigar Dojo app, you’ve no doubt seen this cigar mentioned before - in fact, this may be the most-smoked (or at least talked about) cigar on the app. As I mentioned earlier, we have a close monitor on the cigar community, we know what cigars are being smoked and talked about on a daily basis, and the popularity of this cigar factored into our selection of the La Jugada Habano as the No. 1 cigar of the year.
Now, on to those delicious flavors! The La Jugada Habano is wrapped in a delicate, Ecuadorian Habano leaf; which gives the cigar a beautiful appearance, with light veins and seams. The smell is a distinct barnyard aroma, with corn nuts to boot. Now brace yourself, because upon lighting you will be figuratively punched in the face - both with flavor and strength (and an emphasis on strength). Rumor has it, the Habano gets its extra strength kick from a secret double binder, one of which being Nicaraguan, the other: classified. Flavors of white pepper and toasted nuts rush across your palate, down your throat, and out the nostrils almost instantaneously! The finish is long and allows you time to regain composure, “What just happened?” you may find yourself pondering… Then more hearty flavors make themselves evident - cornmeal, pepper, Mexican spices, and sweet/salty/savory meat explode on your tongue and out your nose. Two words of warning: eat a big meal before smoking, and retrohale at your own risk. The flavors out the nostrils will bite, but will reward if you can handle it. For those that have ever experienced the wonder that is pork green chili, you’ll find this cigar pleasantly familiar. But the La Jugada Habano isn’t all fire, balancing out the robust substance of the cigar is a nice, refreshing vanilla in the finish; acting as a sort of palate cleanser between puffs. This is certainly a cigar that must be experienced first hand.
2013 is over and gone, we’ve smoked some of the best cigars the world has to offer, and there’s only one thing on our minds - what’s in store for next year? Until then, we’ll see you on the Dojo!
And as we like to say at Cigar Dojo - never smoke alone!
The replay of the live awards show can be viewed here....