The first major cigar awakening—at least in the U.S.—occurred during the early-to-mid ’90s, known as the great cigar boom. This era helped to shape the world of premium cigars for years to come, injecting the premium cigar space with fresh ideas and diminishing the notion that non-Cubans were intrinsically second-rate. This included fuller-bodied smoking experiences than ever before, larger ring gauges, new wrapper styles, and the ultra-premium category.
But the era was not without its share of drawbacks, most notably being the lack of tobacco inventory and a disregard for the quality standards that separate the premium cigar category from the non-premium. This was due to the sheer number of inexperienced manufacturers entering the space as a means to take advantage of the growing demand. In a reactionary movement, cigars that emerged after the dust of the boom had settled brought out the aforementioned innovations with a renewed focus on the craft—quality over quantity, you might say.
This mindset has largely continued to this day, with a less-fervent yet longer-lasting feeling of a mini boom in the craft cigar space. The general feeling is that premium cigars began to draw heavily from the craft beer movement not long before it, with enthusiasts taking pride in making their cigar selections based on a knowledge of tobacco and the cigar industry that had not been previously available. Today’s cigar enthusiast is fairly educated and firmly set on a ceaseless quest for newer, bigger, progressive flavor experiences to add to their repertoire.
And while there certainly isn’t anything wrong with this approach—with a fierce competition helping to drive innovation like never before—enthusiasts may inadvertently be overlooking many of the most exceptional smoking experiences available. Longevity should not be taken for granted, and newer (or more boutique) is not always better. In fact, when visiting the factories of the old guard, the unsuspecting cigar enthusiast may be surprised to find a level and appreciation of craft that far surpasses that of the contemporary flavor of the week.
We’ve listed 10 such cigars below, prompting cigar enthusiasts to revisit some tried-and-true cigars that helped set the stage for the modern era.
Perdomo Reserve 10th Anniversary Champagne
Forget hunting for that yellow cello, Perdomo Reserve 10th Anniversary Champagne cigars have come pre-packed with the stuff for years. Of course, this is not representative of the cigars’ age, but rather its quickly recognizable designation as Champagne. The cigar debuted in 2002, being made to commemorate the company’s 10th anniversary. The blend consists of an Ecuadorian Connecticut Shade wrapper over the Perdomo family’s famed Cuban-seed Nicaraguan tobaccos throughout the interior. This recipe is surprisingly full in body, often being credited with kicking off the modern trend of fuller-bodied Connecticut smoking styles. And it holds up to this day—being one of the most ubiquitous cigars in humidors across the country—known for its dependability, creamy smoking texture, and bright flavors of buttered toast, white pepper, clean cedar, and espresso creme.
Diamond Crown Maximus
In 1996, the late Stanford Newman helped to usher in the decade’s famed cigar boom with an ultra-premium cigar known as Diamond Crown, made to commemorate J.C. Newman Cigar Company’s 100th anniversary in 1995. The cigars were made in collaboration with the Fuente family, boasting highly aged tobaccos, a unique double-fermentation process, strictly 54 ring gauges (which was pushing boundaries at the time), and an associated higher price tag than was expected for the time ($8–$16 per cigar). In high demand, the line was followed by Diamond Crown Maximus in 2003, a cigar that significantly boosted the strength over what had been offered by J.C. Newman until that point. This cigar was not only a collaboration with the Fuente family, but the Olivas as well. This included high-priming, heavily fermented selections of the Fuentes’ Dominican leaf, joined by an oily, sun-grown wrapper from the Olivas’ farms of the El Bajo region of Ecuador. With a luxurious presentation and a smoking profile to match, Diamond Crown Maximus remains a symbol of refinement to this day. And while the profile is no longer considered the benchmark in terms of body, the cigar remains a worthy compliment to after-dinner smoking sessions, hitting the palate with hearty characteristics of aged leather, espresso, charred oak, anise, and roasted nuts.
La Aurora Preferidos 1903 Edition Diamond
Ask the average person to visualize a cigar and the result will undoubtedly resemble La Aurora’s iconic Preferidos line. This is because of the cigar’s perfecto shape—bulbous in the center and elegantly tapered at each end—the kind you may remember Tom (à la Tom and Jerry) or W.C. Fields puffing on. Preferidos launched in 1999 as an homage to La Aurora’s origins (founded in 1903), where founder, Eduardo León Jimenes, would craft similarly shaped cigars. Today, Preferidos is arguably the most recognized perfecto available (although the cigars are now rolled in parejo formats as well), encompassing a massive range of smoking profiles that includes seven different tobacco recipes. Among these is the La Aurora Preferidos 1903 Edition Diamond, a Connecticut Broadleaf maduro-wrapped blend that includes a Dominican maduro binder and all-Dominican fillers. As one of the newer Preferidos (released in 2012), this cigar brilliantly combines La Aurora’s impressive heritage with a profile for the modern era. The Diamond is among the fullest-bodied selections in the Preferidos collection, having a balanced, concentrated combination of strength and body, offering sweetness, woodsy characteristics, and just the right amount of complimentary bitterness—a fantastic representation of what a Broadleaf-wrapped cigar can offer.
Davidoff Grand Cru
Depending on how you look at it, Davidoff’s core-line Grand Cru line dates back to either 1991 or 1946. This is because the cigar was the first offering from Davidoff founder, Zino Davidoff, originally crafted in Cuba as the Château series following World War II. When Davidoff made the move from Cuba to the Dominican Republic in 1990, the line was rebranded as Grand Cru, maintaining the original spirit of fine French wine. Grand Cru is made from the famed Dominican tobaccos of the Kelner family’s TabaDom farms throughout the country; these leaves are wrapped in a bronze-hued Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper, which is a shade or two darker than the conventional Connecticut leaf. Specifics on the cigar’s blend are not listed, as Davidoff’s master blenders pride themselves on not simply following a recipe book, leaving themselves at the mercy of each harvest’s differing outcomes. Instead, the cigar is re-blended on a continual basis, using the proper ingredients that will deliver the outcome and flavor profile cigar enthusiasts have come to expect from the Grand Cru line. This is a cigar that will undoubtedly fly over the heads of newcomers to the cigar hobby, as its delicate intricacies are best appreciated by the seasoned palate. The result of complete vertical integration, top-tier ingredients, and craftsmanship of the highest level, Davidoff Grand Cru delivers a mild-to-medium intensity and a focus on nuance and complexity. This is evidenced by highlight flavors of white oak, buttered nuts, sweet florals, must, and cream—a true celebratory smoking experience.
La Flor Dominicana Cameroon Cabinet
La Flor Dominicana is one of an elite group of cigar manufacturers to enter into the premium cigar scene during the cigar boom of the ’90s (sans generations of tobacco experience dating back to Cuba) and succeed. Being thought of as one of the more innovative forces in the premium market, LFD cigars are commonly known for strength (i.e. ligero), elaborate craftsmanship (including their proprietary chisel vitola), and Dominican-focused smoking profiles. But while each of these facets can be found with the La Flor Dominicana Cameroon Cabinet, it’s certainly not the experience that first comes to mind when overviewing the juggernaut that is LFD. La Flor Dominicana Cameroon Cabinet came about in the early 2000s, eventually being put on hold to rework the blend and allow for added aging of the cigar’s signature Cameroon wrapper. The cigars returned in 2007, now sporting a four-year-aged wrapper and a more amped-up recipe that included Dominican and Nicaraguan tobaccos. Cameroon Cabinet is rolled in small batches, offering a characteristic spicy-sweet profile with an edge. This includes a medium-full body and flavors of sweet molasses, oak, leather, and fiery cinnamon.
Ashton Aged Maduro
The Ashton Aged Maduro is about as old-school as it gets in terms of Broadleaf-wrapped cigars on the market today. This blend was concocted by Carlito Fuente in collaboration with Robert Levin, founder of Ashton, being among the first Ashton blends produced by the Fuente family (debuting in the early ’90s). Bearing the same band as the original Ashton cigar, the two blends laid the groundwork for Ashton to become one of the more dominant names in premium cigars today. Ashton Aged Maduro is rolled with one of the darker Broadleaf wrappers you’re likely to come across; this leaf surrounds the Fuentes’ vintage Dominican tobaccos throughout the binder and filler. The result is a much milder maduro than today’s enthusiast is accustomed to, allowing nuanced, bittersweet flavor to shine. This includes notes of chicory coffee, baker’s cocoa, rain-soaked earth, and a touch of vanilla sweetness.
Joya de Nicaragua Antaño
Joya de Nicaragua Antaño is the former heavyweight champion of the premium cigar world, debuting in 2001 as a means to pay homage to the company’s heritage (hence the name, translating to Yesteryear) and simultaneously capitalizing on the growing demand for Nicaragua’s full-bodied smoking characteristics. Despite Joya de Nicaragua being the oldest manufacturer in Nicaragua, it is this cigar that set the tone for the company we see today. Antaño was brought about following the acquisition of Nicaragua Cigar Co. (as Joya was formerly known) in 1994 by Dr. Alejandro Martínez Cuenca, rehiring of many of Joya’s original factory workers and encouraging them to craft a true Nicaraguan puro that would embody their legacy. Unsurprisingly, this included all-Nicaraguan tobaccos, being finished with an oily Criollo-seed wrapper. Antaño is often credited with setting the benchmark for full-bodied cigars in the modern era. And while there are certainly fuller-bodied selections at this point, Antaño remains a valid contender in its class, offering perhaps more balance and depth than the nicotine-crazed blends that now tip the scales in terms of strength. This is a hearty smoke, boasting prototypical Nicaraguan flavors of earth, leather, peppered steak, gingerbread, and freshly roasted coffee beans.
Henry Clay is one of the few Cuban-born brands that is better-known for its non-Cuban production, being rolled primarily in the Dominican Republic and falling under the umbrella of Altadis USA. Today there are multiple spinoffs of the cigar, though it is the original, non-cellophane-packaged Broadleaf blend that seasoned enthusiasts most affectionately associate with the name. This includes respected industry veteran Pete Johnson, who named the cigar (in the Brevas vitola) his No. 5 pick for all-time favorite maduro cigars when polled by Cigar Dojo in 2016. This cigar is like a tobacco time machine, transporting the smoker to the maduro-wrapped blending style of a bygone era, including a rustic Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper and all-Dominican binder/fillers. Henry Clay is medium bodied (at best), being nicely balanced and bringing out the wrapper’s gritty influence with flavors of damp earth, bittersweet espresso, oak, and lingering florals. Look for these in 50-count boxes sans cellophane for verification.
Don Pepin Garcia Original
Before there was My Father Cigars there was the Don Pepin Garcia Original, or Don Pepin Garcia Blue Label, as it was then known. This was among the first brands created by the now-legendary José “Don Pepín” García after founding a small boutique factory in 2002, located on Calle Ocho in Miami’s famed Little Havana neighborhood. The cigars have experienced their fair share of changes over the years—including a name change, a new look, new tobaccos (as the García family began growing their own leaf), and a new factory—though the most important facet has remained: the man behind the brand (i.e. Don Pepín García). This cigar is a true representation of Pepín’s renowned talents as a blender and craftsmen, dating back to his Cuban beginnings in the industry in 1961, his later accolades as one of the country’s most talented torcedores, and the dominance he now holds as a top manufacturer in the world. Naturally, Don Pepin Garcia Original smokes with a similar character to that of a Cuban Habano, though with a notable increase in intensity, boasting the black pepper kick that Pepín has become well known for. Made with the Garcías’ Nicaraguan tobacco and wrapped in Nicaraguan Corojo ’99, DPG Original smokes with a medium-full body and flavors of cracked peppercorn, toasted bread, cedar, cocoa, and brown sugar sweetness.
Arturo Fuente Flor Fina 8-5-8 Rosado Sun Grown
Undoubtedly the rarest cigar on this list, Arturo Fuente Flor Fina 8-5-8 Rosado Sun Grown first debuted with extremely small quantities in 2002. The blend returned in 2009 and again in 2018, each sharing the statistics of Dominican filler, an undisclosed binder, and a special sun-grown rosado wrapper from the Oliva family’s farms of Ecuador. This is somewhat of a sleeper from Fuente, as enthusiasts often make a distinction between the company’s core-line offerings and those that are branded with an “X.” Yet here lies the Rosado Sun Grown, banded with the company’s green-accented Gran Reserva label and finished with a cedar sleeve—a cigar that could seamlessly blend in with the sea of Fuente cigars that line the walls of humidors across the country. And while many of these aforementioned cigars smoke just as fine today as ever, the 8-5-8 Rosado Sun Grown is clearly in a league of its own. The cigar is sized at 6¼” x 47, having the Fuentes’ familiar maple syrup aroma at the foot and lighting up with an impressive level of balance and clean flavor. The performance is classic, through and through, showing standout flavors of cinnamon, cedar, candied nuts, sage, and Demerara sugar.