In the summer of 2005, Drew Estate began working on a new cigar blend aimed towards the ultra-premium tier of the cigar market—more specifically, a heavy-hitting blend that met the high standards of Drew Estate President and Founder Jonathan Drew and former CEO Steve Saka. At the time, Drew Estate was primarily known for its infused cigars and the company wanted to make it clear to consumers that they were capable of playing ball with the industry’s leading names in traditional premium cigars as well.
By 2006, key team members Jonathan Drew, Steve Saka, and Nicholas Melillo (former director of tobacco & cigars) had amassed a collection of 50-plus blends that were slowly being whittled down into a more direct vision of the final product. Eventually, according to former CEO Steve Saka (at the time), the three blends that competed for the winning recipe were code-named “No. 3,” “No. 4,” and “No. 9,” with the ultimate selection being a tweaked version of the original No. 9 base blend. This became the inspiration for the marketed cigar, using simplistic cabinet-style boxes and bands made to emulate the look of factory samples (i.e. “ligas”); the name itself translates to mean “Private Blend No. 9.”
Liga Privada made its formal debut at RTDA 2007 (the industry’s annual convention, now known as IPCPR), being introduced in a singular 6″ x 52 toro format. Since this time, the brand has expanded to include multiple blend variations—many of which are based off of the other aforementioned original 50-plus core blends—including the Liga Privada T52 and a host of single-sized blends, collectively known as the Liga Privada Único Serie.
On July 13th of this year, only one day before IPCPR 2018, Drew Estate announced not one, but two new additions to the company’s Liga Privada collection: Liga Privada H99 Connecticut Corojo and Liga Privada 10-Year Aniversario. These new additions mark the most significant updates to the brand since the 2009 followup release of the Liga Privada T52. While both blends come as an homage to the brand’s 10th anniversary, it is the Liga Privada 10-Year Aniversario that is specifically marketed as such.
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Liga Privada 10-Year Aniversario Breakdown
- Wrapper: Criollo (Connecticut River Valley)
- Binder: San Andrés Otapan Negro Último Corte
- Filler: Nicaraguan | Honduran
- Factory: La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate (Nicaragua)
- Production: Limited (1,000 boxes of 10 cigars for 2018)
- Vitola: 6″ × 52 (Toro)
- Price: $17.90 (MSRP)
Like the original Liga Privada No. 9, the cigars feature a toro vitola, Nicaraguan and Honduran fillers, and a Connecticut-grown wrapper (a signature feature of the Liga series). The most notable changes come in the cigar’s wrapper and binder, using a select Mexican-grown binder and showcasing a dark, heavily fermented Criollo-seed wrapper.
Liga Privada 10-Year Aniversario is limited in nature, but is not a true limited edition cigar, as the company has intimated that new sizes (Robusto, Corona Doble, and Torpedo) will be introduced in limited quantities in the coming years. For 2018, production has been limited to only 10,000 cigars (1,000 boxes of 10), which will retail for a suggested price of $17.90 per cigar.
Liga Privada 10-Year Aniversario doesn’t hold any punches, instantly distinguishing itself from the rest of the collection through the use of black, wooden boxes and inverted-color bands. The cigars are laid out in flat, hinge-lid boxes of 10, being individually separated by cedar slats. Other distinguishing factors are found on the finishing touches of the cigar’s wrapper, offering a “Cola de Pescado” head (previously seen on the Único Serie UF-13 Dark, essentially a cross between a pigtail and fantail designs) and a “Pies Tapado” foot (aka extended/shaggy foot).
The pre-release samples (smoked for this review) lack the ornate head and foot stylings, but are otherwise rolled using the same blend. These cigars show a double cap with a Cuban-style squared off shape and an overall dark and oily wrapper appearance. This leaf is much darker than your average Criollo; the coloring is dark chocolate with undertones of maroon, being somewhere between smooth and lightly toothy on the texture. Under the cover leaf, the filler bunch is very firm, being an overall impressive presentation (especially for a pre-release sample).
The cigar smells of raw tobacco, like taking in a handful of raw leaves at the Drew Estate factory. There are additional notes of dark Hershey’s syrup (very distinct), wet soil, and bitter cocoa. The aromas are sweeter on the foot, with notes of cedar and chocolate chip cookies. The pre-light draw is a combination of the former experiences, being primarily soil and chocolate chip cookies—revealed through a surprisingly easy, medium-resistance draw.
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Liga Privada 10-Year Aniversario takes quite a while to light; this is most likely due to the dense bunch (previously mentioned) and a generous usage of ligero primings (the highest, strongest tobacco priming) throughout the blend. The first few draws are savory and zesty, stinging through the nostrils with notes of charred steak and freshly cracked black pepper. This savory theme is continued with the taste of the cigar’s freshly cut tobaccos against the tongue, jolting the taste buds with flavors of Himalayan pink salted steak. Flavors are rounded out throughout the rest of the cigar’s first inch with loads of black and white pepper, bitter chocolate, and anise on the finish.
Curiously, this Liga does not ooze with smoke, as enthusiasts have come to expect from Liga Privada cigars. Instead, there is a medium-light amount of smoke, pulled through an increasingly tightening draw (the draw started around medium, but is now verging on firm territory). In this portion—around one inch burned—the cigar requires double puffs to remain adequately lit; this eventually leads to a touchup that seems to set the toro back on track. Early in the smoking experience, the Liga Aniversario could be pegged around medium in flavor, medium-full in strength, and an overall body just a tic under full. On the palate, the cigar shows a somewhat dry smoke texture, primarily reacting with the sweet and bitter taste receptors.
When the Liga begins settling in—around two inches—it’s very apparent. The cigar finally begins spewing smoke in true “Liga fashion,” opening up with dark and bitter chocolate, and finishing with a long-lasting nicotine tingle on the tongue. There is also a tightness in the lower throat, another signal of the cigar’s high strength content. Leather, cedar wood, licorice, and aged tobacco join the mix throughout the second third. In this portion, the cigar reaches its advertised full strength, requiring frequent sips of water.
As the smoking profile develops, it is very “palate enveloping,” coating the entire tongue and making individual flavors difficult to pinpoint (usually a sign of a well-balanced blend). That being said, there are sweeping sensations of cold mint chocolate, classic leather, and vanilla (pairing with bourbon, vanilla and coffee notes are very apparent). Salted and charred steak has remained the best overall descriptor throughout the smoking experience; this profile is rounded out by dark espresso and black licorice nearing the cigar’s finale.
Would I Smoke This Cigar Again?
Absolutely—this is a very concerted effort by Drew Estate, delivering magnificent strength without compromising flavor. When the cigar eventually begins firing on all cylinders, the strength hits you with a nostalgic feeling like that of your first cigar smoking experiences; when nicotine content could be detected more easily, playing a larger role in a smoker’s overall perception of a given blend. It’s become clichéd in the modern cigar scene to warn of a cigar’s strength—advising one to “eat a full meal” prior to lighting. But in the case of Liga Privada 10-Year Aniversario, this could not ring more true. This is a nighttime smoke if ever there was one; I recommend smoking with a steak dinner and full-bodied red wine (or perhaps directly following said dinner).
- Liga Privada 10-Year Aniversario is scheduled to launch in December 2018 (along with the Liga Privada H99 Connecticut Corojo).
- The famed Liga Privada logo has been altered, replacing the “9” or “T52” symbols with a new “10,” sitting just below the usual, coat of arms look of the Liga brand.
- Images with black bands are of final release product, images with white band are of pre-release smoking samples.
- Flavor: Medium-Full
- Strength: Full
- Body: Full
- Salted charred steak
- Bitter chocolate
- Black Licorice
- Black & white pepper
- Smoke Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
- Pairing Recommendation: Barrel-proof bourbon, Syrah wine, Himalayan-salted steak, Barrel-aged stout
- Purchase Recommendation: Box buy
There have been many changes in personnel at Drew Estate since the launch of the Liga Privada No. 9 cigar more than 10 years ago. With Liga Privada 10-Year Aniversario, the cigar marks the first major addition to the brand since Willy Herrera took over as Master Blender at Drew Estate. But it is clear that the vision—lead by company President and Founder Jonathan Drew—is alive and well, with the Drew Estate team crafting a fitting homage to the fan-favorite brand without missing a stride.
Liga Privada 10-Year Aniversario is described as a strong smoking experience, using a diverse blend of tobaccos from four countries and being wrapped in a heavily fermented Criollo wrapper from Connecticut. In actuality, the cigar is perhaps even stronger than advertised, being—without question—the most intense smoking experience to bear the Liga name. The Aniversario is bold, dark, and rich, delivering enough savory flavor to combat the commanding strength. Comparing to previous Liga cigars, it is perhaps most similar to the T52, only amped up tremendously. There are also slight hiccups, such as an inconsistent draw and smoke output, but the cigars prove to be self-correcting, delivering a surprisingly long, powerful smoking experience—one that enthusiasts and collectors alike would be remiss to let slip through their nicotine-stained fingers upon the cigar's eventual release.
- Great balance of strength and flavor
- Long smoking time
- Fitting addition to Liga Privada collection
- Some samples showed draw inconsistencies, which were usually self-correcting
- Will be too strong for many smokers