Cigar Snob’s annual Top 25 list turns 10 this year, and the timing for this diamond anniversary is splendid. The year 2021 saw a continuation of growth building on the stellar sales year that was 2020. Premium cigar sales went deep and wide, making 2021 a great year for mainstream brands, iconic blends, and new releases.
Each year, we assemble a list of cigars that have ranked 91 or better during the year. You see the ratings in every issue, but for us, the smoking is daily, in the relentless pursuit of the best of the best. We sit, puff, ponder, write, repeat. You’ll see some familiar faces on this list. Like the New York Yankees of the 50s or the Chicago Bulls of the 90s, there are brands that have winning in their blood. The cigar world is wonderfully open to refinement and excellence and there will be a time when the kings will be toppled. Today, we give you what worked in 2021.
And a lot worked. We saw demand escalate, which kept some favorites on constant back order. “I take whatever I can get whenever I can get it,” one brick-and-mortar operator told us this summer.
Such an approach is paying off big time. The Cigar Association of America tells us that premium cigar imports were up 55 percent through July. The supply still can’t quench the demand. We’re in a good place.
Also in 2021, we met again in person for some trade shows and – you make the call – it was better than nothing. It will get even better if everyone keeps their perspective. That will mean fewer “virtual” experiences – a contradiction in terms, no? – and more of us embracing, hanging out and enjoying our pastime together.
Take a few minutes with the Top 25 list and feel free to vent, praise, and enlighten us at [email protected]. We always enjoy hearing from you.
1. Oliva Serie V Melanio Maduro
Manufacturer: Oliva Cigars in Nicaragua
Wrapper: Mexico; Binder: Nicaragua; Filler: Nicaragua
Vitola: Torpedo; Physical size: 6 1/2 x 52
In the years since we’ve been releasing a Top 25 list, the Oliva Serie V Melanio has been on a constant upward trend in popularity and growth. This type of climb in sales doesn’t always result in consistent quality. In other words, many brands that experience this type of growth lose quality over time and it’s understandable. More sales means more cigars have to be made and more cigars means more tobacco has to be grown and processed. It’s often a recipe for an inverse relationship between sales and quality but that has clearly not been the case with the Oliva Melanio and Melanio Maduro. Our Cigar of the Year for 2021, the Oliva Serie V Melanio Maduro Torpedo is perhaps enjoying its best year ever in terms of quality and consistency. The company has not stopped investing in infrastructure and technology since 2012; in fact they’ve increased those investments recently by opening additional factories and buying more land in which to grow tobacco.
We tasted the Oliva Serie V Melanio Maduro Torpedo countless times in the lead up to this list. When we got the list down to the Top 5 the panel blindly re-tasted all five over and over and unlike other years this Top 5 is heavy on box-pressed maduro torpedos, three out of five to be exact. After every single round of tastings, the Melanio Maduro came out on top, sometimes by a slim margin but every time to be sure. The Oliva consistently shows off an impeccable construction and a flavorful profile of dark chocolate, caramel, and roasted almonds balanced by super-smooth pepper and earth in the background, and it’s topped off with an aroma of leather, coffee, and cedar. Congratulations to our 2021 Cigar of the Year, the Oliva Serie V Melanio Maduro Torpedo.
2. Liga Privada H99
Manufacturer: La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate in Nicaragua
Wrapper: USA/Connecticut; Binder: Mexico; Filler: Honduras & Nicaragua
Vitola: Toro; Physical size: 6 x 52
From its release in 2006, the Liga Privada line has been a star. The original release, the Liga Privada No. 9, was initially launched to a limited number of retailers around the country. Fans of the brand would reserve their boxes, and many stores had to implement buying limits; it was insanely popular almost from day 1. The company subsequently released a bevy of different sizes including the wildly popular and sought after Flying Pig. Three years later the T52 version of the Liga Privada was born and, although its popularity never quite reached the level of the No. 9, it appeared on our Top 25 list in 2012, 2018, and 2020. The T52 uses a stalk-cut Habano wrapper grown in Connecticut. The wrapper gives that blend a unique flavor and aroma not commonly found in regular production blends. Drew Estate is constantly innovating in every facet of the cigar business, but their work on the tobacco front is at once its most groundbreaking and under-the-radar. The Liga Privada H99 is the result of such innovation. Along with their growing partners in the Connecticut River Valley, they developed and grew a Corojo hybrid that, when combined with the Mexican San Andrés binder and fillers from Nicaragua and Honduras, brings out a new level of refinement and sweetness to the Liga lineup. Longtime fans of Liga Privada No. 9 may or may not find this blend to their liking but lovers of classic, Cuban-style cigars should fall in love with the H99. In our view this blend bridges the gap between New World, over the top, Liga-style intensity and Old World sensibilities of balance and complexity.
3. Montecristo 1935 Anniversary Nicaragua
Manufacturer: San Lotano Factory in Nicaragua
Wrapper: Nicaragua; Binder: Nicaragua; Filler: Nicaragua
Vitola: No. 2; Physical size: 6 1/8 x 52
The art of cigar making is quite a tedious one. Hour after hour and day after day cigar makers sit at their stations making these gems that we delight in turning to ash. The work can be a bit monotonous and in the days before we could all create our own playlists on a personal device, ‘lectores’ or readers would read aloud the news of the day as well as novels to the cigar makers to keep them entertained. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas was so loved by cigar makers and read so many times to them that factory owner Alonzo Menendez decided to create a new brand calling it Montecristo. It went on to become the standard by which all cigars were to be compared to. Fast forward to today and the brand is once again taking its place among the very best in the world, this time employing all Nicaraguan tobacco and being made by AJ Fernández in his San Lotano Factory in Ocotal, Nicaragua. This year’s #3 cigar is a box-pressed torpedo that is bursting with flavors of bittersweet chocolate, espresso, and toasted almond balanced by notes of pepper and sweet cedar.
4. My Father La Promesa
Manufacturer: My Father Cigars in Nicaragua
Wrapper: Ecuador; Binder: Nicaragua; Filler: Nicaragua
Vitola: Lancero; Physical size: 7 1/2 x 38
My Father Cigars is no stranger to these lofty rankings. Since we’ve started putting out our Top 25 lists there has been a My Father product at or near the top of the list every year. Looking back it has only been ranked outside of the Top 10 once. That was in 2016 when the Don Pepín García Cuban Classic came in at #11. This year’s #4 cigar, the My Father La Promesa, was inspired by Don Pepín’s promise to his family when he left Cuba. He promised that they would triumph in the United States cigar business and boy did he make good on that promise. The La Promesa blend in any format is excellent, but the lancero is absolutely sublime. The blend delivers a ton of flavor and a surprising amount of strength in comparison to the other shapes. It is impeccably well balanced with a combination of cocoa, sweet red pepper, cedar, and cream joined by a pleasing tanned leather aroma in the smoke.
5. Sin Compromiso
Manufacturer: Joya de Nicaragua in Nicaragua
Wrapper: Mexico; Binder: Ecuador; Filler: Nicaragua
Vitola: Selección No.2; Physical size: 6 x 52
Some cigars are simply undeniable. We smoke blind throughout the year looking for the best regular production cigars we rated that year and when we start to whittle the list down, certain blends just keep climbing and all you can do is put it where the panel ranks it. The Sin Compromiso No. 5, a 6 x 54 toro, famously landed in our top spot back in 2018, the brand’s debut year. Brand owner Steve Saka, his small team at Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust, and his factory partners at Joya de Nicaragua have managed to achieve a level of consistency that is truly remarkable for a small cigar company. We are still and probably always will be in love with the No. 5 vitola but the Selección No. 2 is undoubtedly giving it a run. The Sin Compromiso is a medium plus strength blend with a core of dark chocolate, smooth pepper, and sweet earth accompanied by a complex combination of caramel, vanilla, and oak. This level of nuance is rarely seen in a cigar this flavorful and powerful. That’s what separates it from the pack.