At last, that time of year where we all make our subjective lists that piss everyone off because their favorite smoke was not in the top three. Some of you will not find your favorite smokes or brands, and wonder what was he thinking?!?! How is (insert LE boutique release here) not on his list?!?!? But we are all different, and I love me some mild-medium bodied cigars my friends, so take this list as a recommendation of mild-medium cigars. That’s what is beautiful about this hobby and lists like this. You get a snapshot of what one person likes, and ideas of smokes to grab at the B&M. My list is comprised of cigars I reviewed in 2013, including some that are not new releases, because honestly there are too damn many cigars out there to review all of them in a year. So let us call this, Catfish’s Top 13 almost new releases he reviewed in 2013 that are mostly mild-medium because he does not like full bodied cigars and spicy ligero.
My criteria was simple, I first thought of all the cigars I bought boxes of, which are the top eight. I then thought about the other cigars I immediately bought five or more of and created a list. Then I made a list, that could honestly be interchanged, because I love all of them, and hate to rank them, but it had to be done I guess. The ranking is where I put the most thought into, specifically in regard to how these cigars might fare among all palates, not just my own.
*****Click on the title of each selection for a direct link to the original review*****
1. Regius Orchant Seleccion Robusto: The Regius Orchant takes the cake in 2013 as my Cigar of the Year, as Regius and Mitchell Orchant truly hit one out of the ballpark with this blend. Given the goal was to make a similar blend to a Partagas PSD4 Cuban out of Nicaragua, I had to give these guys the distinction as they not only achieved this goal, but created a superior product. It may take a distinguished palate to understand the “real flavor” the Orchant has to offer, or one that has experienced their fair share of crooked triple caps and vintage Habanos. To a degree, this blend may be over the head of some folks, but given my affinity for aged Habanos and someone whom primarily smokes cigars from that region, I cannot help but be impressed with what they have achieved. The Orchant is as good as an aged Habanos, cheaper than any limited production, and ready to smoke without aging. This is an extremely limited run, so if you see them, buy them. I highly recommend this to Habanos fans specifically and collectors of vintage cigars.
2. Smoking Jacket Favoritos: Deciding this as number two broke my heart at times, as I was blown away by my initial prerelease sample. This would be my objective cigar of the year, in that I believe the Smoking Jacket will have a broad range of appeal and hit many palates. There is body to impress any smoker, yet complexity to tease any aficionado. I found the blend sophisticated, beyond that of the normal palate, and blended by a genius. If the price tag were double, I would have no problem justifying it, as I have smoked plenty of Davidoff and Zino releases that are three times the price with the same complexity. Hendrick Kelner Jr, whom we have nicknamed HKJ now, will be a force for decades to come in the cigar industry. I highly recommend the Smoking Jacket to every smoker, and can attest to the appeal to guys like me, and the full bodied fans we have on our site. All three of HKJ’s releases made my list this year, and I would imagine, will be making my lists for years to come. The Kelner Boutique Factory (KBF) is open for business folks, and you best jump on the train and buy them up, as every release is limited.
3. La Aurora 100 Anos Maduro: This was not a hard choice, as I honestly creamed myself when I reviewed this cigar. So take this as a huge case of blue balls. You cannot buy this cigar anywhere, if you can, BUY IT IMMEDIATELY. Personally, I smoke maybe one maduro a month, or every other month, so when I do I normally grab for a Padron. When I see a price tag of $20 a stick, I normally scoff, but had no problem grabbing a pair when I saw these, and of course they were sold out when I went back to get more. So yeah I hate putting a unicorn on the list, but damn this was good, and everyone needs to know if you happen to find some hiding somewhere to spend the money…
4. Elogio Habano Robusto: Ever hear about a cigar from every reviewer and smoker you know that is supposedly phenomenal and a must try? That is what the Elogio Habano was, and when I finally traded for one with my buddy Kuzi, I was blown away and bought a box immediately. To me, the Elogio Habano embodies the beauty of traditional Cuban blending and quality finish, with a modern nutty rich flavor profile only found in Nicaraguan tobacco. This is the kind of cigar that as a primarily Habanos smoker, I can relate too immediately. Nabil and company have created a true small batch gem, which can compete with any Habanos, and truly set Nicaragua apart. This is one of those blends that makes me think Nicaragua can compete with Habanos, and a perfect example of full flavor without body. I will be buying boxes of these honestly, and highly recommend them to anyone.
5. Regius Black Label Robusto: This is my subjective cigar of the year, in that I have bought several boxes, and smoked a ton of them. The Regius Black Label may not hit every palate, but every smoker will walk away saying, “damn that was good.” I have seen countless new smokers, old school smokers, and full-bodied fans buy these at my shop and walk away impressed. This is a prime example of a refined Habanos palate blending rich Nicaraguan tobacco and producing a full flavored gem. Even as the 4th cigar of the day, the Regius will pop. For me, the Regius Black Label was a game changer, and raised my expectations of what I want out of a Nicaraguan cigar.
6. El Cedro Robusto: The response to this blend was surprising to me, as when I first reviewed the El Cedro, I found it to be blended to the old school smoker’s palate. I could taste the lineage handed down over decades of experience to HKJ from his father. In other words, only mild-medium crusty cranky picky cigar smokers like me would like it, but I was wrong. I was amazed when Anwar, the owner of El Cedro, told me the blend contained Nicaraguan ligero, and when my fellow brothers at Cigar Federation all responded positively to the blend. There is something unique about the El Cedro, which appeals to all palates. There is body and flavor up front to tease the full-bodied fan, with a smooth finish full of detail for guys like me. Of all the HKJ blends, this would be my personal favorite, and a cigar I could smoke all day, any time, all the time, for the rest of my life, and DAMNIT there was only 500 boxes made so you should try them as soon as possible (#buynow as Logan would say!). Again, given the small batch production of Kelner Boutique Factory, if you like it, stock up. I cannot wait to see what Anwar and HKJ cook up in the future, and if you have not heard Anwar’s story, give this INTERVIEW a listen, as he truly embodies the spirit of America. I cannot wait to sit down and have a smoke with Anwar, as he is a true gentlemen of the leaf.
****FYI...this blend is not called 14k. We have labeled it as such on review and website, and are changing that. What my dumbass thought was 14k, was actually the Phoenecian letters ARZ from right to left, which mean cedar.****
7. H Upmann Half Corona (Cuban): No surprise here at number seven, as I have a love affair for small cigars from the island. I remember seeing these and wondering why anyone would waste their money on such a small vitola, yet I kept seeing fellow Habanos fans freaking out and buying dozens of boxes. Once I finally fired one up out of a five tin, I was floored at how much flavor came out of such a small vitola. I bought an OR box immediately, and have plowed through another. This is the perfect cigar when you only have 30 minutes and want the best. For a grad school student, this is it. I can put five in the tin, take it out on the town, have one during a commute, or sneak it in between work, the gym, and night classes. Granted, the Half Corona is not the most complex cigar on earth, but the amount of spice is perfect, and classic Upmann flavors right up front. No need for aging, just be forewarned… The Half Corona’s are like little crack nuggets of tobacco.
8. Cabal Short Robusto: After reviewing all three KBF releases, my respect for HKJ grew immensely, and the Cabal was the first thing I planned on reviewing after IPCPR. The first one I got from Chris blew my mind on a chicken fried palate in Vegas, so I knew once I got home I would fall in love, and I did. I describe the Cabal Short Robusto as something you will not have in your humidor, and arguably one of the most unique blends I have ever smoked. In such a small package, you get a full blast of flavor up front, oozing depth from multiple countries that will confuse the most educated smoker. I sent some to a good friend and fellow aficionado opening a shop this year, and he described the Cabal as, “the most complex Nicaraguan cigar I have ever smoked.” Needless to say, he was surprised when I told him what Chris and HKJ used in the blend, and asked where he could buy boxes. The Cabal is the type of cigar that will appeal to many different types of smokers, and Chris has a modern vision and appeal I think will afford him a long career in the industry.
9. Curivari Seleccion Privada Natural Robusto: Last year, the Curivari Reserva 4000 was second on my list, so I had to stop by the booth in Vegas this year and say hello. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to speak to the owner, as he was busy the entire show, and rightfully so. One of the wonderful young women at the Curivari booth gave us several samples, so I made sure to hand them out to all the guys, and I grabbed a natural and maduro Seleccion Privada. I remember smoking the maduro with Alan from Ezra Zion and raving about it, so when I sat down to review the natural, my expectations were high, and met accordingly. Given the price, I am amazed at the quality of corojo and criollo these guys are working with. Balance and depth is an understatement, and I firmly plan on buying boxes of these, just as I did last year with the 4000. The molasses notes really stuck out to me and provided a most memorable experience. I remember searching for boxes while I was smoking, which typically means I am hooked.
10. Gran Habano Zulu Zulu Habano Lancero: Oh man, this cigar whooped this mild-medium fans arse, and I loved every minute of it. The Zulu Zulu lancero was not a cigar I would normally freak out over, as I am not a huge fan of spicy cigars or Nicaraguan ligero, but the balance and complexity knocked my socks off. I have become a huge fan of George Rico’s blending, even though his cigars have more body then I normally like. The Zulu Zulu is a perfect example of why I love reviewing, as I get to try cigars outside my normal tastes, and find cigars I might not try based on my preferences. I have a stash of these bad boys aging patiently in one of my humidors, and I look forward to them when the occasion calls.
11. Ezra Zion Tantrum: I think it is safe to say the Ezra Zion guys have shaken up the cigar industry, and the Tantrum was just another example of them blending a show stopper. The Tantrum is a perfect example of a full-bodied cigar blended with balance, power, and a clean finish. While the power may not appeal to all smokers, the finish proves that body and power can be blended with an exquisite finish. Whatever these guys are doing is working, because every blog, rating site, and boutique magazine covering cigars is talking about them, and the Tantrum hit the full-bodied crowd upside the jaw.
12. Jameson Red Label Robusto: I had to give some love to my favorite Connecticuts of the year, and the Jameson Red Label was my new favorite. While I do not get the chance to have a morning cigar with coffee, when I do, I want a perfect experience, and the Jameson delivers. The Red Label is light, sweet, and vibrant enough to excite the palate without overpowering, providing the perfect canvas for a pairing with coffee, or a dessert beverage later in the day.
13. AKA Solace Cloud Nine: Another fantastic Connecticut wrapper that I had to give a shoutout too. Jay and Co over at AKA are producing some killer cigars, and the Solace will not disappoint. As the resident conny whore at CFed, this was easily one of the best conny’s I have ever smoked, and has enough body to attract full-bodied smokers. I was not surprised to find many fans of the AKA brand dig the Solace, and I only hope we bring them on in the store so more folks can find the AKA line.
Final Thoughts: Well another year has gone, and my lord I have been able to experience a ton of wonderful cigars. Plasencia made cigars hit my list again and it seems like those guys are just producing wonderful tobacco if the right palates are blending. The trend of medium-bodied Nicaraguan cigars continues to impress me and provide an alternative to the powerful full-bodied offerings I likened to the country in the past. Obviously, I was very impressed with the initial offerings from Hendrick Kelner Jr as well, as all three of his blends made my list. HKJ is producing some wonderfully complex multi-country blends that are unlike anything else in the industry right now, and I cannot wait to see what comes next. I strive for ultimate objectivity in my reviewing process, but this list is purely subjective in opinion. I am a mild-medium fan at heart, and my tastes and ranking move along that line. However, I always say taste is subjective, but quality is not, and all of these blends are fantastic and I stand by my recommendations accordingly.
****Here’s to long ashes, a great holiday, and another year of great reviews and smokes in 2014. I am grateful and blessed to get to participate on this fine website and collection of individuals at Cigar Federation. Thanks to all the Fed Heads that keep us going, and all the wonderful folks in the industry I have had the pleasure of meeting and tasting their cigars. Any questions, feel free to ask as always.****