New releases & old favorites made for a very good year
“By the sweat of your face you will eat bread until you return to the fertile land. From it you were taken; you are soil, to the soil you will return.” — Genesis 3:19
What the heck do cigars have to do with the mission of this blog? Well, we toil by the
sweat of our brow in an industry with a 6-9 month sales cycle (at best). For many ad agencies, one good account per year is both sufficient and acceptable. That makes for a rare opportunity to celebrate the fruition of our labor. What better way to do so than by gifting and/or enjoying one of nature’s perfect organic treats — the Cuban cigar.
Historically, the cigar represents a time of celebration or victory. From the birth of a new child, weddings, business mergers, World Wars (Winston Churchill, anyone?) and perhaps most common, a victory cigar for a sporting event. Cigars and winning seem to go hand in hand for as long as I can remember. And Red Auerbach is our patron saint.
Year-end “best of” lists are ubiquitous, I know. But there is one in particular that I plug into while monitoring my own Cuban cigar collection: James Suckling’s Havana Insider list.
2018 was special for me as I finally had the opportunity to visit Havana and experience the cigar culture of Cuba firsthand. That September visit inspires this list.
My 2018 list focuses exclusively on regular production vitolas. While there is no disputing the quality of pricey Limited Editions; and special Regional Releases are great too, but it’s like “cheating,” akin to naming a $500 bottle of First Growth Bordeaux as a “Wine of the Year.”
Nobody asked me, but here is my subjective list of best Cuban smokes from 2018:
- Quai d’Orsay 50: 2018 marked a glamorous comeback for this marca; born as a regional brand targeted to the discriminate French market. Both the “50” and the “54” (named after their ring gauges) are reblended and repackaged from the original QdO brand. The result is an elegant short cigar. As refined as a Cohiba Robusto and richer than a Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure #2, this cigar tops my list. The perfect complement to a glass of champagne. Purchased as a 10 box from La Casa del Habano, Hotel Conde de Villanueva near the Port of Havana. 98 points
- Punch Punch 48: A new size and blend for a classic cigar. Double-banded as an LCDH exclusive, it is still a regular production cigar and is priced accordingly. But it’s what’s inside the wrapper that’s special. If you enjoy the Punch flavor profile, as I do, this cigar takes it to a new plateau. Rich, decadent, fresh. Purchased as a 10 box from the La Casa del Habano, Hotel Meliá Cohiba in Vedado, Havana. 97 points
- Partagas 898 Varnished: Unapologetically old school. This is what Cuban cigars tasted like 30 years ago. And I miss that. Long and skinny, this cigar bucks the current popular trend of thick, jawbreaker girths. The Lonsdale size is one of my favorites. The 898 is a classic in the earthy, spicy, peppery tradition of Cuban flavor profiles. A rare find, purchased as a 25 box in the 898 format at the un-snooty La Vega at Palacio de las Artesanías in Havana. 96 points
- Ramon Allones Small Club Coronas: These babies are little gems. Perfect for your employees or clients that “don’t smoke cigars.” There is no more exemplary small sampling of the alchemy and magic that Cuban soil and seeds can create. Majestic and bold. Not as complex as the RA Specially Selected, but more flamboyant. Purchased from an authorized Habanos SA dealer in Hong Kong. 96 points
- Hoyo de Monterrey Le Hoyo de Depute: Woody and creamy, hard to imagine this much flavor can emanate from such a small format. The perfect after-lunch cigar. Good things come in small packages. 95 points
- Trinidad Fundadores: Boy, did this cigar make a comeback last year. Long, thin and elegant, these lanceros drip honey. Sweet and rich, maybe the best turnaround story in the Habanos portfolio. A special occasion cigar, like after winning a major review. Purchased as a 24 count varnished slide-lid box. 95 points
- Fonseca No. 1: Another old school Lonsdale makes the list. A superb value, the tissue-wrapped No. 1 holds its own in any blind tasting. Unusually flavorful for a mild cigar. Good for the golf course or the 19th hole. Purchased as a dress box of 25 at La Casa del Habano in the basement of the famous Hotel Nacional, Vedado. 94 points.
- Partagas Serie E No. 2: Many of these boxes are rolled at the famous Cohiba-dominant El Laguito factory. And the quality/flavor concentration is on par with the vaunted Cohiba Behikes. These are rich, strong, bold after-dinner smokes. Not for the faint of heart. They are sold in 5 and 25 count semi-boite nature cedar boxes. 94 points
- El Rey del Mundo Choix Supreme: Inconsistent production and quality control. Admittedly, some are not so good. But, the good ones are absolutely glorious. I smoked a couple that were superior to the Cohiba Robusto. Sweet, mild and harmoniously balanced. When they’re on, they are great. 92 points
- Cohiba Exquisitos: What Cuban list would be complete without a Cohiba? These are slim, panatela-styled smokes. A tiny but powerful flavor bomb. Hard to describe grassy and honey flavors in the Cohiba tradition. Readily available. Don’t take them for granted. 91 points
- H. Upmann Petit Coronas: Unfortunately, this cigar was discontinued last year by Habanos SA. My favorite Petit Corona in the world. If you can find them, buy as many as you can and stash. No better example of a pure H. Upmann experience. Burns like a champ. 91 points
- Diplomaticos #2: I prefer this piramide to the Montecristo #2, and many smokers consider them cousins. Again, rustic old school notes. Yet somehow refined and elegant flavors. A miracle in construction. The “hairiest” wrapper in the Cuban portfolio. Good gracious, if someone said I could only smoke one Cuban cigar moving forward, this may be the one. 90 points