Cigars of the Year, a Photo Essay

As May approaches the horizon, I wanted to take a look at the more memorable smokes of this year. It’s been an exciting 2019, and we’ve found some excellent new sticks at Stogies and Mash. Getting out to events, tasting and lighting up new cigars, it’s part of our passion for the gentleman’s vice. 2019 has opened us up to some premium items to enjoy. I wish there were a cigar version of the World of Whiskie’s we attended last month, but alas not here. I think another trip to the Big Smoke is in order in 2020; we’ll keep you all posted.

The Sticks: Our Cigars of the Year

First on our list has to be the Atabey Cigars we had at their event in February on the coldest day of the year here in Chicago. They’ve always been one of our number one sticks to buy and to smoke, no wonder it’s one of our cigars of the year. This winter brought a three-way split on a box between myself, Chris, and our good friend, Doctor Jon. There is a strict count on how many go in and out of my locker, but you can bet I will probably run out before the end of the year. They paired nicely with the scotch we drank that evening, but the draw is so perfect, and the flavor is so smooth. Hell, I can drink it even with a sweeter run or cognac or red wine and still enjoy every puff.

While Atabey gets special attention because of just how exceptional they are, there are more to list. The images in the slideshow below are some of our favorite cigars from 2019 so far. Feel free to browse and enjoy and read more on what we’ve experienced with each photo. If you have questions on any, please comment below. Also please remember to subscribe!

Long Ash Competition With Myself

Long Ash Competition With Myself

It's not usual for me to have a long ash, I tend to be too fidgety on the couch to keep it from tipping onto myself, my clothing, my chair, or even the floor. If I'm lucky, I'll make the ashtray in time to catch the spill, but that's only if I'm diligent about keeping up with my smoke. But every so often a stick comes along that naturally lends itself to a long ash, and this other Avo 30th Anniversary stick I got at Biggs for their event was one of them. I only regret leaving the band on so long, because when I went to remove it...I lost the ash.

Avo Syncro Ritmo 30 Years Limited Edition

Avo Syncro Ritmo 30 Years Limited Edition

I cannot describe how awesome it was to have this beast with something that actually stood up to the flavor of the cigar itself. Thanks to Jordan for forgetting the old label Weller on his last visit, the Wheated version was able to handle this Avo and all of the pepper and spice that it unleashed even while remaining enjoyable. It takes a special cigar in order to live up to the bottle of Weller, and it takes a special bourbon to live up to this kind of cigar. Perfect combination just as I learned I aced my midterms at school and was on the fast-track to graduate with honors. An excellent week, indeed!

Aging Room Pura Cepa

Aging Room Pura Cepa

This was a Big Smoke item we got in Vegas back in November last year, and it stayed a surprisingly long time in my box before I smoked it with some out-of-town guests that came to join me at the cigar lounge. Normally, I would have held off on this one for another year, but it called out to me. And with guests from Atlanta and Australia, there was just a mood for something exciting in the air. This delivered!

Black Label Trading The Bishop

Black Label Trading The Bishop

Not often do I find a brand I've never heard of that has something that makes me rant and rave about their products. Black Label Trading not only did that with The Bishop, but James Brown did it again with the Killer Bee below. While I didn't smoke this one on the day of their event, I did the next day and it was every bit as enticing, alluring, and amazing as the Killer Bee was for totally different reasons. Altogether, I think I'll be back again for more of their products.

Black Label Trading Killer Bee

Black Label Trading Killer Bee

Like The Bishop above, the Killer Bee is a blend of several very unique and well-sourced tobbacos that James sourced to make this cigar shine. A man who moves his family to Nicaragua to build his own cigar brand is not someone flippant about the fundamentals of good cigar-making, and this shows just how serious he is about his craft. Based on the recommendation of the sales rep I smoked this cigar that night and was instantly hooked. Bought three more for later!

Adabey Misticos

Adabey Misticos

Atabey is on a level of its own, in a world populated only by the genius of the creator, Nelson Alfonso. Nelson was in Chicago for this event when I smoked this cigar and was the reason we bought a box together with Dr. Jon to split three-ways. I keep a very close count of very few things in my cigar locker, but those Atabeys are off-limits to anyone except for the very closest of friends and aficionados in my life.

H. Upmann The Banker

H. Upmann The Banker

Featured on the first show of the year, this cigar was picked because of the smooth flavor, the easy draw, and the availability in most cigar shops around the country. What we didn't expect was to love it so much that we bought more before the show was even over. Together, the guests and I split a box of 20 between us and invested in enjoying more of these amazing sticks. I can't want to break open more on the long, warm days of summer.

The Big Smoke 2019

The Big Smoke 2018A few months back Tianhuai Dai, a frequent guest of the show, and I made our way to Las Vegas. There, we attended the annual Big Smoke put on by Cigar Aficionado every November. It was a blast; three days jam-packed with excitement and fun at the nation’s largest retail cigar show. It was two nights and three days of living and breathing our favorite vices, including some of the best fine spirits and wines on the market. Maybe this time next year we’ll have a visit to the IPCPR with more awesome stories and cigars. Check out the video and see some of the faces, the places, and the cigars we enjoyed at the show. Will you join us this year at the Big Smoke?

Cigar Vitola: What You Need To Know

Most people don’t know why cigars come in different shapes and sizes. Even then, they don’t recognize the shape of a cigar on sight. These different varieties, also known as vitolas, are an expression of the master roller’s vision for the final product. A cigar vitola can change the flavor, the burn profile, and even the time to smoke a cigar. This, just through minor tweaks to the shape and length of the cigar. With so many cigar vitola options out there, it can be difficult for beginners to choose the best cigar. I hope to give you some pointers to follow to help you make an informed purchase.

The fact is, cigar shapes can vary with the manufacturer, the brand, and even the series of a cigar. Hell, sometimes there are several cigar vitolas with the same blend. In a big brand, like Davidoff, some of their cigars can come in many different cigar vitola options. At a high level, cigars describe their size in two ways: length and ring gauge. The length of the cigar is usually given in the form of inches. Ring gauge, however, is the diameter of the cigar broken into the 64ths of an inch. Typically, brands do not follow the ‘one sizes fits all’ rule; people choose products based on their experience and preferences.

What do you need to know about cigar shapes

Although the size and shape of the cigar matter a lot, we’ve spoken before in the podcast on how the blend of tobaccos is more of an influence on the strength of flavor. That’s not to say the cigar vitola is unimportant; if anything, it’s a close second in overall impact, but it still holds sway. Chris discussed, in episode one, how the thinner the cigar, the hotter the burn. It’s simple physics: the same air pressure forced through a narrower tube will increase the amount of oxygen pulled over the tobacco and cause the flame to burn hotter. A 70-ring-gauge will pull almost half the amount of oxygen over the tobacco as a 35-ring-gauge cigar; that LaFlor Dominicana Digger will burn colder than the pencil-thin Lancero.

There is also the matter of the wrapper-to-filler ratio in a cigar, and how that influences flavor. In that same episode, we discussed how most of the flavor of a cigar comes from the wrapper; now imagine a cigar where the wrapper is 30% of the tobacco versus a cigar where it is 5% of the tobacco? You can see where having a very thin cigar might impart a vastly different flavor profile to the smoker than a thick cigar because of the lack of filler.

Where Does Cigar Vitola Factor In?

As more and more people begin to smoke cigars, we see the market has a wide range of cigar shapes. Despite the wide variety, the two most dominant shapes remain the Pajero and the Figurado. In the cigar lexicon, a Pajero has straight sides with an open foot and a closed head, which the smoker must cut before lighting up the cigar. They can be round or box-pressed, but usually take the classic form of a cigar: a cylinder, rectangle, or other traditional shape elongated in a tube. The Figurado cigars are not always or exactly a cylinder, usually made with a tapered head, tapered foot, or both!

Varieties of Pajero Cigars

Pajero cigars represent the most common type of cigar shapes that can have a slightly domed or exactly flat head. There are two common types of Pajero cigars: box pressed and Culebra. Below we have highlighted a few essential details about both of them:

Box Pressed Cigars

These cigars have a square shape; around the world, people love their shape and style. They are believed to have a money-saving design for the manufacturer, distributor, retailer, and buyer. Instead of putting them inside a box with the rounded bodies leaving air space between cigars, the box-shaped cigars are crammed and pressed into a geometric shape that cuts air from around the sticks. These cigars gain a square shape due to the applied pressure after or during rolling, and they ensure longer burning time with more consistent flavor.

A stack of box pressed cigars.
A Partagas Culebra with ribbon and label.

Culebra Cigars

Another exotic and classic form of Pajero cigars is Culebra, a very distinctive and unique cigar vitola. The cigar roller braids three different panatela Pajero cigars together after rolling. A well-rolled Culebra is a mark of a master cigar roller, however, as it is challenging to pull off the braid. As the tobacco is under pressure, the braid can tear or destroy the individual cigars in unskilled hands. Once braided, the cigars are traditionally tied together with ribbon at the head and the foot. Sometimes, rollers will also put a label around the full width of the Culebra in the traditional spot near the head.

Varieties of Figurado Cigars

There is a wide range of Figurado cigars, and each one of them finished with a unique shape. Some of the most popular ones are Perfecto, Piramide, Belicoso, and Torpedo. I’ve included a few essential details about all these categories below to help your hunt for cigars:

A bundle of torpedo cigars rolled together

Torpedo Cigars

This term is mostly used to define all types of Figurado cigars; however, they too have a specific shape that makes them stand out in the market. Generally, they are identified from their tapered and sloping head that curves to a point. Because of the curve, they have a tighter draw that pulls less air through the shaft and makes the cigar burn more coolly. This shape can bring a consistent flavor and taste through the entire length of the cigar.

Belicoso Cigars

Many buyers confuse them with Torpedoes, but these cigars have a sharper shape at the head that makes them appear the same as a bullet. Where the torpedo looks like the ones dropped from airplanes or shot from submarines, the Belicoso resembles a bomb or a bullet shape. While the name brings images of fighting and war, by definition, some manufacturers will mislabel a Parejo as a Belicoso because of the short taper.

A lit Belicoso cigar by Joya De Nicaragua
A single Piramide cigar by Macanudo

Piramide Cigars

As the name implies, it is Spanish for Pyramid; and as the structures of old, there is typically a taper from the foot to the head, which ends in a sharp point. Unlike the Torpedo which tapers just the length of the head, a Piramide will usually narrow along the full length of the cigar. Some will start with a broader gauge, like 55-60, at the foot and close to 40-45 by the head. Like others, sometimes manufacturers will label a Piramide as a Torpedo, so be careful when comparing cigars.

Perfecto Cigars

Perfecto cigars are generally observed to have two tapered, usually closed ends. Where the other Figurados will taper at the head, the Perfecto also tapers at the foot to either a closed point or a very narrow-width opening of 10-15 gauge. While a Perfecto may be perfectly symmetrical, there will be a clear head and a clear foot usually delineated by the position of the label. Others, such as the sub-vitola of Salomon, can have a Piramide head and a Belicoso foot.

A Davidoff Perfecto

While this is not an exhaustive list by any means, you can hopefully navigate the wide variety of cigars available online and in stores after reviewing these definitions. There can be hundreds of different variants in length, width, and end caps, but keep in mind that often the choice of a cigar vitola is a deeply personal preference. Find what you like, try out a lot of different shapes and sizes, and learn what you enjoy. While I have occasions where I crave the length and depth of a LaFlor Dominicana Double Ligero Digger at 8.5″ x 60 with a Pajero cap, there are others when I want a good Plasencia Alma Fuerte Sixto II box pressed at 6″ x 60 or an Opus X Belicoso XXX 4 5/8″ x 49.

As always, enjoy your smoke and live your best life. ¡Salud!

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