Strange as it may seem, the world of premium cigars (at least as far as the US is concerned) has revolved around a singular event for the better part of a century. Call it the RTDA, call it the IPCPR, call it the PCA—it all boils down to an 86-year-old trade association representing all things premium tobacco. Essentially, the IPCPR is the industry’s annual gathering—a physical representation of the biggest names in cigar manufacturing and retail. More importantly, at least for the cigar hobbyist, the event signals the kickoff of nearly every new cigar to come for the next 360 or so days.
Whether you’ve been glued to the steady stream of press releases leading up to the event, or you followed along with the action live, or perhaps you’ve tuned out all together, it can become somewhat of a chore to sift through and separate the curds from the whey. Personally visiting nearly every booth at IPCPR 2019, we’ve gone back and listed our picks for the top 11 standout cigars/brands—i.e. the stuff you’re going to want to get your hands on throughout the remainder of 2019.
#11 Guardian of the Farm Nightwatch
Guardian of the Farm Nightwatch follows in the footsteps of the brand’s original 2016 collaboration with Warped Cigars. The original brand used a Nicaraguan puro blend that was sourced from the company’s own Aganorsa tobaccos, grown throughout Nicaragua. Guardian of the Farm benefitted from a more modernized look/feel, quickly becoming Aganorsa Leaf’s most acclaimed offering, being ranked as Cigar Aficionado’s No. 8 Cigar of the Year for 2017. It then became only a matter of when we would see a followup release; and that time is now! Like the original, Guardian of the Farm Nightwatch features only tobaccos grown by Aganorsa; this includes a Corojo binder and Corojo and Criollo fillers. But the cigar’s secret ingredient is its dark Corojo maduro wrapper. This is a proprietary leaf, being unique in that it is grown under shade (as opposed to the traditional sun-grown maduro wrappers). Nightwatch showcases a familiar expression from Aganorsa, while being darker and more intense in profile—all the while maintaining an attractive price range of $8.50 to $9.95.
#10 Camacho Distillery Edition
First there was American Barrel-Aged, then there was Nicaraguan Barrel-Aged, and finally, there was Imperial Stout Barrel-Aged. Over the past four years, Camacho has steadily become known for their prowess in the art of aging tobaccos in used oak barrels. In 2019, Camacho is taking the strategy from more of a limited nature to an everyday affair, showcasing each of their core blends (Corojo, Connecticut, Ecuador) with tweaked recipes—now including barrel-aged tobaccos throughout various aspects of each cigar. All three Camacho Distillery Edition cigars will be offered in a singular toro size (6″ x 50), each containing Corojo tobacco that has been aged a minimum of six months in used bourbon barrels.
#9 Farce Maduro
Following Room101’s brief departure from the cigar industry in 2017, the brand returned with a splash at the 2017 IPCPR show, moving production from Honduras to the Dominican Republic and partnering with Caldwell for distribution; much to the delight of cigar enthusiasts. And while the return came with a bevy of collaborations, it wasn’t until nearly a year later that company owner Matt Booth showcased the brand’s first post-Honduras core-line offering in Farce—an Ecuadorian-wrapped blend with a diverse filler. Farce was followed by the Farce Connecticut later in 2018, and the two cigars have now been joined by the Farce Maduro. While many of Room101’s offerings at IPCPR 2019 could arguably make it onto this list (the brand is celebrating its 10th anniversary, including a limited-edition anniversary blend), it’s the Farce Maduro that seems to be taking the lead at this point. The cigars showcase a Mexican San Andrés maduro wrapper, Ecuadorian Sumatra binder, and fillers from Nicaragua and the US (Connecticut and Pennsylvania Broadleaf).
#8 Protocol Sir Robert Peel
Yeah, yeah, Protocol isn’t exactly a brand that screams luxury… being spearheaded by two of the most fun and off-the-wall personalities in the business: Juan Cancel and Bill Ives (both Cigar Dojo Hall of Fame members—shocker). But with the brand’s fifth core-line offering, the duo decided to buck the party-fueled narrative that has become potentially more well-known then their law-enforcement backgrounds, showcasing the regally outfitted Protocol Sir Robert Peel at IPCPR 2019. The cigars—arriving in both Rosado and Maduro variants—are named after a British statesman that is often considered the father of modern-day policing. Like all Protocol cigars, Sir Robert Peel is manufactured at Erik Espinosa’s La Zona factory in Estelí; though the two blends aim to set themselves apart through the usage of more premium selections of tobacco, doing justice to the cigar’s namesake and Protocol’s first attempt at a luxury-priced smoking experience.
#7 Antaño CT
Cigar smokers have been living in the age of the amped-up Connecticut for a good while now; so it comes as little surprise that, when the company often credited with sparking the full-bodied craze to begin with (Joya de Nicaragua with the Antaño 1970) decided to join in the fun, the collective attention of cigar geeks across the country had successfully been captured. Antaño CT is a high-octane expression of the Connecticut Shade smoking style, building on the full-bodied tendencies of its predecessor—using all-Nicaraguan tobaccos throughout its core—balanced against the creamy, buttery, silk-like characteristics of the cigar’s newfound Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper. Antaño CT is slated to arrive in four sizes later in July, priced in the $8 to $10 range.
#6 La Coalición
There’s been some serious muddying of the waters over the past decade in terms of what constitutes a collaboration. Concerning companies such as Crowned Heads, who doesn’t own their own factory, all of their cigars are manufactured by a third party—these are contract cigars. Realistically, if Jon Huber (Crowned Heads co-founder) so felt the urge, he could bill all his brands as collaborations. But this is not the case. So, when Jon introduced the company’s new La Coalición cigar at IPCPR 2019 as a true collaboration—whereby input was genuinely reciprocated between both Crowned Heads and Drew Estate Master Blender, Willy Herrera—we felt inclined to take him at his word. This collaboration is felt in the branding itself, with the name translating to mean The Coalition (or The Alliance). Jon and Willy worked together at Drew Estate’s famed La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate factory in Estelí, showcasing a final product that includes a Grade-A Dark Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper, Sumatran binder, and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. The four-size lineup is a bit more pricey than some on the list, topping out at $15 per cigar—hobbyists can expect to find them in the September timeframe.
#5 Alma del Fuego
Nearly three years after the Plasencias first unveiled their modernized effort to bring their own family name to consumers—with the Alma Fuerte cigar being introduced somewhat quietly at the Carnegie Club in New York City in October of 2016—the ardent cigar enthusiast is now quite familiar with the ultra-premium experiences that the Plasencias have to offer. Front and center is the Alma Series, which was kicked off with the Alma Fuerte cigar and followed with Alma del Campo not long afterwards. Originally said to contain five unique blends, the Alma Series saw its third entry at IPCPR 2019: Alma del Fuego. Translating to mean Soul of the Fire, the cigars are characterized by a punchy Nicaraguan puro recipe, including a heavy dose of leaves harvested from the country’s Ometepe island, as well as a sun-grown leaf from the family’s farms in the Jalapa Valley—said to highlight the cigar’s boldness and complexity.
#4 ME II
No, we’re fairly certain that Tatuaje Cigars owner, Pete Johnson, isn’t attempting to affix his name to the list of Harvey Weinstein victims… ME II is actually a clever play on one of the brand’s beloved releases circa 2012: Tatuaje Mexican Experiment. For 2019, Pete decided to bring back the Mexican Experiment in limited quantities, as well as a non-limited sequel: ME II. The updated blend brings with it the same overall makeup of all-Nicaraguan binder/fillers, topped off with the blend’s signature Mexican San Andrés wrapper—though the ME II includes slightly more ligero in the filler, making for a spicier experience, punctuated with a bit more pop on the palate. We’re confidant that Pete will do a better job bringing back one of our cherished favorites than his pals in Hollywood (we’ll never be able to forgive Tim Burton for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).
#3 The American
Most smokers know J.C. Newman for either: (a) their Dominican work with the Fuentes (Diamond Crown, Julius Caeser, Black Diamond); or (b) their Nicaraguan-made Brick House cigars. Following 2019, there may be one more cigar-producing region added to this list: America! J.C. Newman has been re-examining their impressive history as of late (being the oldest family-owned premium cigar maker in the USA), resulting in the much-welcomed effort to re-invigorate the iconic El Reloj factory in Tampa’s Ybor City National Historic Landmark District. More importantly (at least for now), the new outlook has resulted in one of the most impressive specimens to come out of the IPCPR trade show: The American. Billed as the first truly all-American cigar, The American features an American puro blend, boxes made in America (using American-grown wood), American hinges, bands, and of course—cigar manufacturing. The blend is sourced from USA heirloom leaves, including Connecticut Havana and Amish-grown Pennsylvania Type 41 tobaccos in the filler. This is rounded out with a Connecticut Broadleaf binder and, for the first time, a Florida Sun Grown Corojo ’99 wrapper from Jeff Borysiewicz’s burgeoning FSG farm in Clermont, Florida.
#2 Sobremesa Brûlée
“This is not your grandaddy’s Connecticut;” a phrase that’s become so commonplace in today’s marketplace that it’s beginning to lose its luster. Steve Saka, proprietor of Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust, then stood out like a sore thumb when he—after years of requests from cigar enthusiasts—begrudgingly introduced his take on a Connecticut-style cigar, using the selling point: this is your grandaddy’s Connecticut! Sobremesa Brûlée builds on the success of the original Sobremesa blend, removing the Pennsylvania ligero and ramping up the usage of Nicaraguan Condega seco, so as to best compliment the soft and nuanced qualities of the cigar’s signature ingredient—a top-shelf grade of BW Ecuadorian Connecticut Shade wrapper. Sobremesa Brûlée is blended to showcase a nostalgic expression of Connecticuts of yesteryear—the way Steve Saka remembers them. This is not to say the cigars are lacking in flavor, only that the mild wrapper has been properly balanced by a softer supporting cast. Saka recommends, “This is not a cigar to be smoked casually, but rather a relaxing smoking experience meant to be savored slowly.”
Not to be confused with the previous cigar (or at least its creator) on this list, Baka showcases an increasingly rare sight in the premium cigar scene: a new core offering from RoMa Craft Tobac. Creeping up on the decade mark, RoMa Craft originally built its success on a gritty smoking experience known as CroMagnon. Over the years, the theme of early man has carried over to the bulk of RoMa Craft’s cigars (CroMagnon, Aquitaine, Neanderthal), which now includes the RoMa Craft Baka. Continuing in the brand’s small-batch mentality, Baka boasts a special selection of African Cameroon tobacco as the wrapper component. Fans may recognize this ingredient from its binder placement in the CroMagnon and Aquitaine cigars, but with Baka, RoMa Craft has selected a more premium grade, darker variety of Cameroon than is commonly seen. The complete blend is not divulged at this time, though Honduran leaves from the Jamastran Valley and Nicaraguan Condega are included. The end result has been described as unlike a traditional RoMa Craft profile, pulling back in intensity to highlight the spicy qualities of the Baka’s premium Cameroon wrapper. Only two formats are slated for release this November (with the potential for a third size), with the eventual project covering the same seven sizes as the original CroMagnon collection.