Last year we began a new tradition at Cigar Dojo, unveiling our Cigar of the Year awards on New Year’s Day. We’re picking up right where we left off for 2014, showing our picks for the best cigars of the year, as well as a few other categories we’re unveiling for the new year. We feel it just wouldn’t be right to show our picks for 2014 before the year was even complete, you never know when you’ll get that last minute mail-in entry (Papas Fritas–2012)…
At Cigar Dojo, we smoke our fair share of cigars each year (as you may expect), and like all year-end lists, our decisions are subjective. That being said, we feel we gain a unique perspective of the cigar scene based on the sheer magnitude of cigars smoked on a daily basis through the Cigar Dojo app–the world’s most-used cigar app. Using Cigar Dojo as a tool to measure cigar enthusiast’s viewpoints on each and every new cigar release across the globe, we’re able to accurately “whittle-down” a list of only the most well-received cigar releases throughout the year.
Cigar Grading Criteria
If you’ve tuned-in to our year-end lists in the past, you’re most likely aware of our Joe 6-Pack-style awards. In our Cigars of the Year list, we like to keep the average smoker in mind, guys that love top-notch flavor, but may not have the means to track down ridiculously limited (or expensive) cigars. We call this guy “Joe 6-Pack”, and let me assure you, Joe knows a good cigar when he sees it! Our intention is for you to be able to take this list to your local B&M and easily try all (if not most) of the cigars on this list! No limited edition (sold out), illegal (Cuban), or ridiculously expensive cigars that just aren’t within the reasonable smoker’s budget.
The official guidelines for this year’s list are as follows:
- $10 range (cigars must be under $11)
- Sold in the USA
- Regular production (no limited editions)
- Released in 2014 (this may include new vitolas for previously released cigar lines)
Cigar Dojo’s year-end choices for the best cigars of 2014 are chosen by the entire Cigar Dojo staff based on a unique grading criteria. Every cigar considered for our list is smoked by all members of Cigar Dojo and judged based on draw/smoke output, flavor/complexity (weighted), construction, and overall enjoyment. The final ratings are then averaged to give each cigar its final score.
Cigars may receive a different score for our awards than previously rated by the Cigar Dojo reviews.
2014 Exceptional Awards
New for 2014, we’ve added 6 Exceptional Awards categories, showcasing cigars, brands, and other achievements that would otherwise go unrecognized by our traditional Top 10 Cigars of the Year awards.
Our categories for 2014 include:
- Best Under-the-Radar Cigar
- Most Innovative Cigar
- Best Presentation
- Best Luxury Cigar
- Best Limited Edition Cigar
- Brand of the Year
Best Under-the-Radar Cigar
The Cigar Dojo top 10 best cigars of the year award goes to cigars that are generally easy to pick up at your local brick and mortar. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some gems out there that are a bit more difficult to find. We call these cigars “under-the-radar” since the average cigar smoker might not be aware of them.
- Arandoza Red Label
- Kuuts Nicaraguan
- Epic Corojo
- Crux Ninfamaniac
The Arandoza Red Label is one of the better Mexican San Andrés releases of the year, out of many. This diamond-in-the-rough puts out a massive amount of thick, white, satisfying smoke. One of the best kept secrets in Florida, Arandoza Cigars Red label is a powerful cigar that will grab your attention and not let it go.
Most Innovative Cigar
This award recognizes new, unique, and otherwise experimental strides in the cigar world. Whether it be the use of new tobaccos, unorthodox vitolas, or more–this awards goes to the cigar that took a step out of the norm to bring us something new.
- Camacho Double Shock
- Quesada 40th Anniversary Salomon Press
- La Jugada Nunchuck
Created as an homage to the Cigar Dojo community, there’s no question that the La Jugada Nunchuck is one of the most inventive cigars we’ve seen to date! For this limited release, two cigars were banded together with a conjoining pigtail cap, making for the first ever nunchuck cigar. We give equal parts credit to both La Jugada for the concept, and the La Zona factory for the execution.
Presentation plays a huge roll in the way we, as cigar smokers, make our decisions in the humidor. It can often be the difference between making and breaking a brand. And despite what you may tell yourself, it does make a difference in how you perceive a cigar. This award goes to the cigar with the most attention to detail and overall appearance in presentation.
- Camacho Liberty Series 2014
- D’Crossier L’Forte
- Davidoff Year of the Sheep Limited Edition 2015
The D’Crossier L’Forte is a sight to behold, boasting a first-of-its-kind completely solid cedar wood box, comprised of aged Cedrela odorata cedar. 18 layers of black lacquer paint and gloss, as well as custom gold trimmings, make for a truly stunning presentation.
Best Luxury Cigar
A luxury cigar is one that embodies our finest accomplishments. These cigars are reserved for our most special occasions and should be nothing short of fantastic. They may often be in the higher price range, but we know even Joe 6-Pack deserves a taste of luxury now and again.
- Nat Sherman Joel Sherman 75th Celebration
- Padrón Family Reserve No. 50
- Ashton Symmetry
- D’Crossier L’Forte
- Davidoff Art Edition 2014
Created in a single vitola of 7 1/2″ x 46, the new, limited edition Joel Sherman 75th Celebration uses an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper over Dominican fillers and binder. This is a long and extremely enjoyable smoking experience, filled with subtle, intricate, and evolving complexities throughout. Superb construction meets delicate flavors of cream, spice and honey, making for an unquestionably luxurious smoking experience.
Best Limited Edition Cigar
Our Top 10 list excludes any limited edition cigars in an effort to show cigars that may be more easily found at the average B&M. Unfortunately this leaves out some of our favorite cigars from 2014, this is our chance to recognize the best limited edition cigar of the year.
- Tatuaje TAA 2014
- La Aroma de Cuba Noblesse
- La Palina Goldie Laguito Especial
- 601 La Bomba Bunker Buster
- Crowned Heads Tennessee Waltz
It has become an annual tradition that cigar fanatics look forward to throughout the year – the exquisite La Palina Goldie Collection. Each year, La Palina constructs a new vitola of the ever-popular Goldie cigar, created at the legendary El Titan de Bronze factory. Every cigar in this collection has been rolled by a single roller–Maria Sierra, a category 9 roller considered among the best in the world. This year’s Laguito Especial lancero vitola of the Goldie was quite possibly the best in the series, showcasing a brilliant balance of wrapper-to-filler ratio, combined with a more enjoyable length and smoking time.
It’s worth noting that two of the most popular limited edition cigars: The Undercrown DOGMA and the Sarsaparilla are not mentioned or nominated since they were Cigar Dojo creations. – End shameless plug.
Cigar Brand of the Year
This award goes to the brand that we feel had the largest impact on the cigar scene in 2014. With multiple well-received releases and a successful, well-managed expansion of their brand, we feel that Crowned Heads is without question the Cigar Brand of the Year. With exciting limited releases, such as Las Calaveras and the unique regional releases of Tennessee Waltz and Mason Dixon, as well as the solid addition to their core lineup with Jericho Hill, Crowned Heads has solidified itself as a crucial player in the cigar world.
Top 10 Cigars of 2014
We’ve smoked countless cigars throughout the year, narrowing down a sea of hopeful contenders into a solid lineup of 10. We feel these cigars are a realistic list of 10 of the best cigars you can currently buy at nearly any cigar retailer.
Beginning with number 10, our favorite cigars of 2014 include…
10. Caldwell Eastern Standard
Robert Caldwell, formerly involved with Wynwood Cigars, left the company to form Caldwell Cigar Co., a new brand that saw its introduction in 2014. The brand focuses on procuring rare and exotic tobaccos for use in their blends, creating small batch, ultra-boutique cigars that have already garnered a strong following. Since their introduction this year, Caldwell has released three blends, one of which we found particularly tasty! You may know it as the cigar with the old man on the band, but this interestingly packaged Dark Connecticut is officially titled Eastern Standard. Its pedigree is quite impressive, including a Connecticut Hybrid Ecuadoriano wrapper from 2006, Habana Dominicano binder from 2005, and fillers from ’06, ’07, and ’08 arriving from the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. We found the smoking experience to be refined and complex, having creamy notes of aged tobacco, cherry wood, espresso, and delicate Eastern spices that made for a really enjoyable smoking experience – the cigar evolves on cue, never leaving a dull moment.
9. Joya de Nicaragua Joya Red
Perhaps the most surprising cigar of 2014 was the newest release from Joya de Nicaragua. Wrapped in bright red packaging, the Joya Red is intended to appeal to the modern cigar smoker, contrasting the brand’s usual retro vibe. In an effort to bring Joya cigars back into the spotlight, this blend does exactly that! With flavors of nougat, white pepper, dried fruit, vanilla and a good dose of spice, the Joya Red makes you well aware of its intentions from the first puff. Sure, it ain’t the most complex stick, but this cigar gives a reliably good and refreshing smoking experience every time. This cigar has become one of our favorite go-to smokes because it simply performs as advertised, no questions asked!
8. Crowned Heads Jericho Hill
Marking the transition this year from Crowned Heads’ usual factory of choice – Ernesto Perez-Carrillo’s Tabacalera La Alianza S.A. in the Dominican Republic, into the acclaimed My Father Cigars S.A. factory in Estelí, Nicaragua, the brand released Jericho Hill. Like all Crowned Heads releases, much care went into the creation of the concept of the cigar, building around the theme of the legendary Johnny Cash. As the cigar is an homage to the “Man in Black”, Crowned Heads used a dark maduro wrapper – Mexican San Andrés, which is a first for their cigar blends. With all the buzz around this particular wrapper this year, we opted to put the San Andrés-wrapped cigars to the test, smoking many of the best offerings side by side: Jericho Hill beat out all but one (more on that later…). Superb flavors of chocolate, powdered sugar, aged tobacco, and a touch of spice make this cigar an absolute must-have for any humidor.
7. Camacho Ecuador
This cigar made a surprising last-minute entry into our list. But there was no question, when we smoked the Camacho Ecuador, we immediately rearranged our list to include it. It’s literally an explosion of flavor smoking this cigar, we can’t imagine there’s a palate on this earth that wouldn’t appreciate it! We loved that the flavor hit you immediately, it said, “Hey, I don’t have time to wait, give me everything I want in a cigar, and do it quick!” And while this may not be the most complex cigar on the list, this Ecuadorian Habano-wrapped smoke offers an ungodly amount of flavor, a perfect draw, loads of smoke, and a smile on your face – from start to finish.
6. Illusione Fume D’Amour
This cigar is sort of a sleeper hit, using no ligero tobacco it may sound to be a sort of bland blend, but Dion Giolito of Illusione manages to keep us impressed. It wasn’t until our second or third Fume D’Amour before we realized just how good this cigar is , having a mellow and subtle profile that may go unnoticed at first. But when the cigar is given the attention it deserves, it truly shines, having warm flavors of Graham crackers, caramel, and a pleasant sweetness that made the experience deliciously well-balanced.
5. Sindicato Corona Gorda
Sindicato Cigars made their way into the cigar scene in 2013, debuting three cigar lines that were met with a fair amount of buzz, considering the brand had been created by some of the big players in the cigar retail industry. For this year, Sindicato introduced their flagship cigar, an eponymously named Nicaraguan puro featuring a gorgeous display. With a box press, closed foot, and intricately crafted pigtail cap, this is an impressive cigar to hold, luckily the flavors held up their end of the bargain! We like to think of this as a dessert stick, with flavors best described as Graham crackers, cinnamon rolls, and cedar, thrown into one! In our experience, the Corona Gorda vitola performed leaps and bounds ahead of any other size in the line, we strongly recommend it when trying this cigar.
4. Herrera Estelí Norteño
Coming off the last couple years, we’re shocked there are only two maduros on our Top 10 list! Our favorite maduro this year was the Herrera Estelí Norteño. Like many new releases this year, the Norteño made use of a dark, Mexican San Andrés wrapper over Nicarguan fillers. But in our experience, the Norteño showed a complexity that others lacked. One becomes accustomed to that chalky, creamy burst of flavor so many San Andrés cigars deliver. It’s just that the Norteño did it better and more sophisticated – the tobaccos tasted incredibly well-aged, with spot-on flavors of roasted coffee beans, salt, black pepper, and sweet toffee candy.
3. Arturo Fuente Casa Cuba
We know what you’re thinking, “Didn’t this cigar release last year?” And while you’re half right, you’re also half wrong. The Casa Cuba has spent quite some time in a limbo phase, with its launch initially intended for 2012 to celebrate the company’s 100th anniversary. In 2013 the cigar saw an unusual pre-release, complete with a sub band that read “Pre Release 2013”. We were even tempted to add the Casa Cuba to our list last year, but couldn’t allow ourselves a “pre release” cigar with our strict grading criteria. Nonetheless, the Casa Cuba, Arturo Fuente’s first true new release in almost 20 years, has finally made it to the market, sans those strange sub bands… And boy are we happy! These cigars are everything you’d expect from a brand of this stature, with a price point that’ll have you feeling guilty – we’d gladly pay double what they’re asking for these things! The flavors are classic, showing Cubanesque notes of aged tobacco, cream, butter, hay, and just the right balance of spice.
2. Espinosa Laranja Reserva
If you’ve read our year-end lists before, you’ll know cigars made at the La Zona factory tend to place quite high, with good reason. La Zona has proved to be a force to be reckoned with in the cigar world, churning out solid cigar releases left and right. The newest release from Espinosa sought to show what could be done at the factory using a higher quality, Brazilian Laranja wrapper – the result is something your taste buds will be quite happy with! From the moment we tried the new Laranja Reserva at this year’s IPCPR trade show, we knew this cigar would be duking it out for the top of our list. It’s a different feel from the brand’s usual releases, it shows promising growth for Espinosa and sign that they’re not afraid to step out of the comfort zone. In our experience, the Corona Gorda size performed best, having subtle notes of cinnamon, citrus, and cabinet spices, before opening up into bigger flavors of butterscotch, cured meats, zesty spice, and leather.
1. Nat Sherman Epoca
It’s not often you find a new cigar release that dates back 85 years, but that’s exactly what Nat Sherman did for the release of Epoca. Originally created in 1929, Epoca was the first blend made for the now-illustrious Nat Sherman, using a “clear Havana” blend – meaning the cigars where rolled in the US, using imported Cuban tobacco leafs. Of course, this method is no longer possible, but that didn’t stop Nat Sherman from creating an homage to this beloved old brand.
Assigned the difficult task of creating a cigar to capture the smoking experience nearly a century old, Michael Herklots, vice president of retail and brand development, enlisted the help of the Quesada family. Taking advantage of the Quesada’s factory, located in the Dominican Republic, Epoca utilizes Nicaraguan and Dominican binder and fillers, finalized by a silky smooth Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper. And while there are no remaining Epoca cigars circa 1929 for which to compare, there is however the original artwork, which Nat Sherman was more than happy to resurrect.
As you can probably imagine, with all this juicy backstory to Nat Sherman’s new release, this was a cigar we were quite anxious to try for 2014. Our only worry for Epoca was that the whole theme of the cigar may be too good to be true – it wasn’t… From first puff to last, Epoca simply oozes deliciousness. And it’s no one hit wonder either, one of the reasons we fell so in love with this cigar was its ability to impress every time, no matter which vitola we chose or the setting we smoked it – this is a jaw-dropping smoking experience every time. The flavor profile is that of hay, roasted nuts, citrus, tea, honey, and salted caramel – a treat to say the least. In a year that proved to be dominated by the Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper, this cigar takes the cake – with interesting, creamy flavors packed into every inch! This is one of those cigars we could smoke three times a day and never tire from it. All we can say is, thank you Nat Sherman for giving us a taste of the ’20s!