In the premium cigar world, enthusiasts anxiously await the arrival of the industry’s largest convention each year, known as the IPCPR (International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association). This is where manufacturers of all sizes gather together and display their latest and greatest, offering deep discounts to cigar retailers nationwide. It is because of IPCPR’s massive size and selling potential that most brand’s wait for this event to introduce their wildest concoctions—the cigars that will be the driving force for the year to come.
With the annual event now only weeks away, we thought we’d take a moment and recognize the most interesting releases to make their way to fans before the show. Some of these cigars were announced at last year’s IPCPR but didn’t see a full launch until 2017, others were surprise launches that capitalized on the lack of blockbusters in this half of the year, and still others were “sneak peek” releases that will be featured at the 2017 IPCPR but managed to hit the shelves first!
In any case, this is what’s been the latest, greatest, most talked about and, more importantly, most smoked cigars for the first half of 2017.
All Out Kings
All Out Kings is one of the most highly anticipated regular production cigar releases in recent memory. This is due to many factors: (a) AOK is a collaboration between two of the most creative, unorthodox brands in the industry (Drew Estate and Caldwell Cigar Co.), (b) AOK marked the first high-profile collaboration from the famed La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate factory since 2009’s Illusione Nosotros, (c) the cigar was delayed multiple times, eventually making its official debut a full thirteen months after its announcement. Meanwhile, sneak peek versions were popping up on social media (samples handed out at IPCPR 2016 and a small pre-release to meet an FDA release deadline) and receiving rave reviews.
All Out Kings is technically a Caldwell release, marking one of the first maduro blends for the company. This was achieved through the blending talents of Drew Estate’s Master Blender Willy Herrera and Robert Caldwell, offering big flavors without foregoing balance and finesse.
Technically, Plasencia 1865 debuted their ultra-premium Alma Fuerte line in October, 2016; but the cigars didn’t make their way to the vast majority of smokers until the tail end of the year, with rave-reviews and high accolades from die-hard enthusiasts cropping up on social media at the beginning of 2017. The cigars come from the legendary Placencia family, whom are among the largest producers of Nicaraguan tobacco and own multiple factories throughout Central America. The Plasencias are best known for manufacturing other brand’s cigars (Rocky Patel, Crux Cigars, Alec Bradley, etc.), but the Alma Fuerte has boisterously declared the family’s intentions to make their own name known in the market of premium (and ultra-premium) cigars.
Alma Fuerte is a Nicaraguan puro blend using the Plasencia’s finest tobaccos. The cigars utilize eye-catching packaging (including a box that doubles as an ashtray) and unorthodox vitolas (including a unique, hexagonally-pressed gordo) that have succeeded in making Alma Fuerte one of the most talked-about cigars for 2017 thus far.
REVIEW: Plasencia Alma Fuerte Nestor IV
AVO Syncro South America Ritmo
AVO Cigars debuted their Syncro series of cigars in 2015 with the AVO Syncro Nicaragua, offering a balanced “synchronization” between the Dominican tobaccos for which the company is known, and the more intense properties of Nicaragua’s tobaccos. Both this cigar and its successor, AVO Syncro Nicaragua Fogata, ranked among Cigar Dojo’s Top 10 Cigars of the Year (2015 and 2016, respectively).
AVO continued the theme in 2017, releasing the AVO Syncro South America Ritmo in May. Ritmo is Spanish for rhythm, keeping with AVO’s established usage of musical concepts in their cigars. For this blend, AVO maintains their Dominican heritage at the cigar’s core; but it’s perhaps the lowest percentage from the brand to date, as a whopping six other countries make up the other components. With an Ecuador wrapper, Mexican binder, and fillers of Nicaragua, Peru, Brazil, Honduras, and Dominican Republic, AVO showcases an exotic profile; balancing untamed spices and earthy flavors with a complex and sophisticated backbone.
Camacho Box-Pressed (BXP)
Camacho surprised cigar hobbyists at the start of the year with a series of three cigars from their core lineup, each receiving a tweaked blend, box-pressed shapes, and updated packaging. In our opinion, this is a fantastic strategy to breathe new life into tried-‘n-true brands, making for cigars that feel new (because the modern cigar enthusiast craves the new), all the while showcasing a safe/familiar experience at its core.
The three cigars were Camacho’s most popular: Corojo, Connecticut, and Ecuador. Each blend received a turbo boost in the cigar’s filler, adding Pennsylvania Broadleaf to amplify Camacho’s already-bold-focused smoking experiences. Of course, the cigars were also box-pressed (a technique rarely seen from Camacho), which is known to alter a cigar’s profile—changing the cigar’s draw and smoking temperature, as well as allowing the tobaccos to further meld.
Cigar Dojo Imperial Stout Barrel-Aged
Okay, okay so we don’t like to toot our own horn too much but lets face it, the Imperial Stout Barrel-Aged project that we did in collaboration with Camacho is without question one of the most unique cigar releases in years. Overview: used bourbon barrels from Heaven Hill Distilleries were sent to Oskar Blues Brewing Company in Longmont, where they were used to create Ten FIDY Barrel Aged Imperial Stout. Those same barrels were then shipped to Honduras and used to age premium tobacco. The process imparted a marvelous, malty, chocolate flavor to the all-maduro blend. These highly-limited, 6″ x 50 toro cigars are set for a June 30th release at SmokeInn.com. You can get more information on the cigar here.
PHOTO REVIEW: Imperial Stout Barrel-Aged
This Nashville, Tennessee-based brand is playing all the hits for 2017, kicking off the year with a slew of fan-favorite limited editions that no self-respecting collector could resist. For starters, two of Crowned Heads’ first limited edition cigars have returned—Four Kicks Mule Kick and Headley Grange Drumstick. Mule Kick (Crowned Heads’ first limited edition cigar) uses an amped-up version of the brand’s first cigar release, Four Kicks and was originally released in 2012. For 2017, the original size and blend have returned, with the company shipping four times the original allotment (20,000 cigars, compared to 5,000). Headley Grange was their second cigar, and thus the Drumstick was their second limited edition release. This 7½” x 38 lancero showcases the same blend and size of the 2013 original (slightly tweaked filler to accommodate the cigar’s slender size), but releasing a slightly more limited batch for 2017 (10,000 cigars, compared to 15,000).
The other two notable limited edition releases from CH come in the way of The Angel’s Anvil 2017 and Las Calaveras Edición Limitada 2017—which are both annual releases that offer new blends/sizes each year. The Angel’s Anvil is now in its fourth year, with the 2017 blend reverting from 2016’s maduro blend, moving the profile back to the Habano style seen on the first two iterations. But the most legendary of all Crowned Heads’ limited editions is Las Calaveras, a Day of the Dead-themed series that is also in its fourth release year. This blend, unlike the previous three, is produced in Nicaragua at the famed My Father Cigars factory. For 2017, the cigars revert from the heavy Broadleaf wrapper used on the 2016 model, showcasing an Ecuadorian Habano leaf more akin to the wrappers seen on the 2014 and ’15 cigars—only utilizing a maduro shade (as opposed to the darker oscuro of ’14 or lighter rosado of ’15). This is the only cigar (of the four listed) yet to be released, with an expected launch later this month… prepare yourself for the madness that is likely to ensue.
Davidoff 702 Series
In the same way Camacho was able successfully reinvigorate their existing blends with a subtle tweak, Davidoff has done the same with the 702 Series. This should come as no surprise, as Camacho is a Honduran-based subsidiary of Oettinger Davidoff Group. Davidoff’s esteemed Tabadom Holding, Inc. facilities, on the other hand, are based in the Dominican Republic—where the company produces their most popular blends under the Davidoff name, often dubbed “White Label Series” cigars.
White Label cigars consist of a variety of blends, typically wrapped in a light-bodied, Ecuadorian Connecticut leaf. For the 702 Series, debuting in January, Davidoff has taken seven of these cigars and replaced the mellow Connecticut wrapper with a more intense, three-seed hybrid, Ecuadorian Habano 702 leaf. Building on the solid blend “under the hood,” which Davidoff has carefully manicured over the past three decades, the new 702 wrapper makes for an unusually complex, yet rich experience that manages to trigger each of the five senses of taste in near-perfect harmony. Currently, the 702 Special «R» Robusto holds the highest Cigar Dojo ranking for 2017.
REVIEW: Davidoff 702 Series Special «R»
L’Atelier Imports’ latest project is Identité, a cigar that showcases the unique attributes of Sancti Spíritus tobacco in all three portions of the cigar’s blend. The concept is simple: L’Atelier has utilized Sancti Spíritus in one portion or another of nearly every blend they’ve ever released; therefore, one could make the logical conclusion that this special ingredient has become their identité (French for “identity”).
The cigars were introduced at L’Atelier’s IPCPR booth in 2016, but didn’t reach the market until April, 2017. What makes the cigar exciting is the all-star blend, showcasing portions from cigar fanatic’s favorite L’Atelier blends, all rolled into one… Such as the high-priming Sancti Spíritus wrapper from the L’Atelier Selection Spéciale, a similar binder to the L’Atelier Maduro, and similar fillers from the La Mission blend!
REVIEW: Identité Mélange Spécial No. 2
Muestra de Saka
Steve Saka, notable industry guru and former Drew Estate CEO / current proprietor of Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust, teased his first limited cigar since pioneering the legendary Liga Privada Único Serie, debuting at IPCPR 2016. The line is termed Muestra de Saka (translating to “Samples of Saka”), and the concept is best described by Steve himself:
Muestra de Saka is produced at the Joya de Nicaragua factory and will be made in very small batches (1,650 boxes for the first batch), with each size in the series taking on unique blends to best suit the vitola. The first of which is Muestra de Saka Exclusivo, a 6″ x 52 toro that arrives in individually coffined boxes of seven cigars. The Exclusivo uses a three-country blend that is based around a core of Nicaraguan tobaccos, making for a surprisingly smooth and mellow body, highlighted by a velvety texture and notes of butter and cinnamon.
Okay, so the name sounds French and makes use of diacritic marks—it has to be from Pete Johnson, correct? Correct! The man is known for his love of wine, which often shows through in many of his cigar projects from both Tatuaje and L’Atelier Imports. This holds true with Négociant (pronounced like so), which is a French term that details a process in the winemaking world where grapes, must, and/or wine are bought, tweaked, and sold under the purchaser’s own label.
How does this translate to cigars? This is where Pete shows off some clever creativity… Story goes, L’Atelier Imports had been working on a new blend that itself was somewhat borrowed from a certain preeminent cigar manufacturer, as they have been know to do (see Surrogates). The blend utilized a Mexican leaf for one of the cigar’s two binders and was wrapped in Ecuadorian Connecticut. The resulting performance was allegedly so good that Don Pepín García (owner of My Father Cigars and manufacturer of Tatuaje and L’Atelier products) himself raved of its unique characteristics. This is where Pete steps in, whom is the founder (and co-founder) of both brands. Pete saw the perfect opportunity to become the négocier of his own brand, banding the golden-hued cigar in a matching, gold iteration of the prolific Tatuaje label and presto, Négociant was born.
Juan Cancel and Bill Ives, two of the three founding members of Cubariqueño Cigar Company and long-time Cigar Dojo members (including a Hall of Fame induction in 2014), took to the air in January of this year to announce their third cigar release during a guest appearance on Cigar Dojo’s Smoke Night Live show. The cigars were described as covering the milder profile that had been lacking in Cubariqueño’s lineup, offering a Connecticut Shade wrapper and being named Protocol Themis. The cigars are the third core-line release from Cubariqueño, each labelled under the Protocol moniker—which is a play on Juan and Bill’s backgrounds in law enforcement.
Themis continues this theme, being named for the Greek goddess of divine law and order. Themis is often depicted as Lady Justice, shown blindfolded and holding a set of scales and a sword—most commonly seen outside courthouses and legal institutions. For this blend, the cigar showcases the preferred profile of William Agathis, the third founding member of the company, whom is best known for his Berkeley Humidor cigar shop in Berkeley Heights, NJ. Themis, like Protocol (2015) and Protocol Probable Cause (2016) is being produced at the La Zona factory in Nicaragua, offering a medium strength and full flavor, derived from an all-Nicaraguan interior. The cigars formally debuted at a Berkeley Humidor launch party on May 13th, with plans to expand nationwide at IPCPR 2017.
It’s only the first half of 2017 and Quesada has already unleashed three new/reimagined blends that have enthusiasts on the hunt. For starters, the brand unveiled their latest anniversary-themed cigar with the Manuel Quesada 70th (aka “MQ 70”). MQ 70 was blended by Manuel (Master Blender at Quesada Cigars) himself, offering a special blend to suit his revered palate and released to the public to commemorate his 70th birthday. The cigar makes good use of some of Quesada’s most prized tobaccos, showcasing the primarily-Dominican blend in two sizes (6″ × 52 Belicoso, 6″× 50 Toro), each limited to 1,000 boxes of 10 cigars.
REVIEW: Manuel Quesada 70th Belicoso
The other two releases both come way of special, limited edition projects in collaboration with Cigar Dojo (in one form or another). The first is dubbed “Dojo de Luxe,” showcasing a special, tweaked version of Manuel (Manolo) Quesada’s 40th Corona Clasica blend, offering this refined and classically-geared Dominican blend in a stunning, perfecto vitola! Introduced in March of 2017, the cigars were the culmination of over a year’s planning, bringing the Dojo’s knack for fun and creative experiences to cigar enthusiasts in a limited offering of 500 boxes of 10 cigars. This marked the sixth Dojo-branded cigar and the first of which to utilize a non-maduro profile.
The second such project is Quesada’s Q d’etat, a revival of the brand’s cult-hit, limited edition series from 2012. Q d’etat (pronounced “kyo͞o dey-tah”) is a play on the French phrase, coup d’état, meaning “a sudden and decisive action in politics, especially one resulting in a change of government illegally or by force.” This is, of course, a play on the FDA’s assault on the premium cigar market and was among the first of such concepts when originally released in 2012. There are three cigars in the series, each using weapon-themed names such as Molotov, Howitzer, and Daga. In addition, the cigars take on a similar shape to their name, with Molotov being a short figurado with a shaggy head (resembling the fiery rag in a molotov cocktail), Howitzer being a stout, 6″ x 60 gordo, and Daga showcasing a long and slender, dagger-shaped salomon. These cigars are being offered to Cigar Dojo members at a steep discount (through online retailer Payless Cigars & Pipes) before being officially launched at IPCPR 2017.
Swamp Thang joins the list of IPCPR 2016 introductions that didn’t hit shelves until well into 2017. To be fair, this candela-wrapped deviant delivered on its promise to be unveiled to attendees of Drew Estate’s third annual Kentucky Barn Smoker event, held on October 1, 2016 in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Since the introduction of the brand’s original fire-cured offering (MUWAT Kentucky Fire Cured) in 2013, they’ve held special events at the curing barns used to impart the unique, BBQ-like character of the cigars.
Kentucky Fire Cured Swamp Thang and Swamp Rat formally began shipping in April, 2017, introducing the first spinoff of the Kentucky Fire Cured brand. Admittedly, the smokey tendencies of fire-cured tobaccos aren’t for everyone, but when Drew Estate unveiled the first-ever, commercially available combination of fire-cured tobaccos and a candela wrapper… cigar hobbyists of all sorts couldn’t help but take notice. Drew Estate describes the cigar as, “not like any other Candela cigar you have ever smoked,” and, “a uniquely balanced, complex and savory cigar; perfect for fans of both Fire Cured and Candela tobaccos.”
Swamp Thang comes casually bundled in green craft paper, contrasted by bright illustrations of a swamp monster (think Creature from the Black Lagoon) and swamp rat (because, what would a Drew Estate project be without a rat?!). Inside are 10 cigars that use two wrappers: an oozy-green candela and a more traditional, natural-shade leaf; splitting beneath the cigar’s band for a fun transition of flavor profiles.
REVIEW: Kentucky Fire Cured Swamp Thang
Fresh off the heels of winning Cigar Dojo’s number 1 Cigar of the Year for 2016, Warped Cigars has introduced a modest update to one of their most popular limited edition releases: Flor Del Valle Sky Flower. Warped has become known for creating buzz around limited production offshoots of their core-line cigars and Sky Flower is no different. The blend was originally launched in 2015, tweaking the original Flor Del Valle cigar to include the rare medio tiempo tobacco in the cigar’s filler. This is a leaf that was made famous by the Cohiba Behike BHK, where an additional priming found above the standard ligero priming has been discovered on a very small percentage of tobacco plants. Where ligero is typically the strongest and most flavorful tobacco priming, medio tiempo takes this line of thinking to the next level. Sky Flower 2017 began shipping in limited quantities to select retailers in April, offering the same 5⅝” x 48 Gran Corona size as the original release.
RoMa Craft surprised the craft cigar market in 2016, introducing a new blend to be sold exclusively in the German market; partnering with August Schuster GmbH & Co. KG. for distribution. The brand reportedly was the result of a tour through the German market and Schuster family factory in 2015, where RoMa Craft was inspired by certain tobaccos found within the Schuster’s massive tobacco inventory. Naturally, this “mystery tobacco,” which is used in the Wunder|Lust filler blend, has been speculated as being Cuban tobacco. The rest of the blend showcases an Indonesia Besuki binder (not unlike the Cigar Dojo / RoMa Craft Whiskey Rebellion 1794) and Brazil Mata Fina wrapper.
The cigars were on display at RoMa Craft’s IPCPR 2016 booth, being formally introduced at Germany’s annual Inter-tabac convention later that year. And while the cigars technically debuted in 2015, it wasn’t until February of 2017 that the first full-sized orders arrived at German retailers, making it possible for American smokers to order the cigars from certain online German retailers. RoMa Craft is undoubtedly among the most sought after boutique brands among U.S. smokers, and with Wunder|Lust being a German-exclusive release, the cigars have become that much more desirable—it’s the perfect storm of difficulty and attainability for the die-hard enthusiast or collector.