Cigar of the Year – Dave’s Picks

Different year, different cigars…but still it’s time to take stock, look back and make some decisions about what were the truly interesting, uniquely remarkable cigars that I burned in the preceding twelve months.  

For whatever reason, I didn’t award as many cigars a “Perfect 10” rating in 2018. Could just be that I’m getting more picky. Could be an unconscious reaction to the last couple years when I’ve had what I consider to be too many real contenders for Cigar of the Year status. Only 3 blends automatically made it into the “contender” role this year.

Before we get to the Contenders, let’s look at the much larger list of sticks that rated very highly and were almost there. There’s nothing wrong with any of these stick; they were all rated a 9.5/10 by me during the 2018 review year and I thought about throwing some into the ring as Contenders for COTY, but decided to continue the practice of only Perfect 10s getting a second look for the most elevated status.

I’m not going to talk at length about any of the Runners-up, just list them. And there are some 9.5 rated sticks that didn’t make the list. To make this list, they had to be 9.5 rated AND they had to leave a great impression on me through today…it could be months since I’ve smoked one, but I have to remember that time quite well…that kind of impression!

RUNNERS-UP

Avo LE 2005 (30th Anniversary release)

Tatuaje Nuevitas Jibaro

Tatuaje 15th Anniversary Rosado Claro

Avo LE 22 (30th Anniversary release)

JFR Lunatic Torch

Davidoff Gusto (Vault Series)

Camacho Candela

CONTENDERS

throwbackCamacho Liberty 2005 Throwback

This isn’t the first time that Camacho has made it into my end-of-year roundup, but it’s the first time in a while and it’s the first time that a Limited Edition has been the subject. As I recall, I was very skeptical that this cigar would even be good. I’ve had a couple Liberty Series sticks and not been all that impressed…good, sure…$23 good? Hadn’t had one yet.

But this redux of the 2005 Liberty Series was spectacular. Full-bodied, spicy, earthy, chocolatey, complex and wonderful. When I finished the first one, I had to smoke a second one to make sure I didn’t just get a random “amazing stick” from a box…then a third because the first two were so good. I’ve been through 5 or 6 now and would love to have 2 or 3 boxes more, but financially that just doesn’t make sense.

I had hoped they would last a while, but we sold through about 4 boxes of these between two Burns locations this year. A solid feat since we still have Liberty sticks from 2014 on the shelf for $7 less than these. Flat-out, not many of our customers are the type to pop for a $20+ Camacho. But I found a few and they kept coming back and buying them all up. I’m going to repeat what I’ve said a few times this year…Best. Camacho. Ever.

MB11Davidoff Master Blender Selection 11

This massive project from Davidoff is destined to play out over several years as there will surely be a lot of stores that end up having a lot of these blends in stock for a long time. Basically, it was this: 15 different blends with Eladio Diaz signature bands on them (implying that he blended them all); no declaration of country of origin for tobaccos, just tasting notes for each blend; retailing for $35+ (depending on individual states’ tax structures); each store that got them got 30 of each blend creating a massive buy-in for the project. 

I know several people that have smoked many more of the blends than I have…and a few that have smoked them all. Every single one has mixed reviews of the blends, which is kind of to be expected since not everyone likes every blend equally. One of the early sell-outs at Burns, though, was #11. I reviewed it and picked up a couple more. I told a few people about it…and before I knew it, it was gone. 

Savory, salty, and a little sweet. Plenty of Davidoff musty funk. A little bit of white pepper and citrus and leather. This is one seriously rich and complex smoking experience. It’s one of those times, I declared it “one of the best Davidoffs I’ve ever had.” And that is true…although they have been on a bit of a roll this year with limited release cigars that are simply amazing. Vault releases like Gusto, LE 2011, and Superior; Year of the Pig; the 50th Anniversary Diadema…and this one. I have to say the Master Blender Selection 11 is my favorite of what they released this year. I wish I could get another 5 or 6 to stash for long-term aging…I’m intrigued with what Davidoff’s blends can do with some time. I hope they put this blend into the regular release rotation somehow.

CIGAR OF THE YEAR 2018

HighclereCOTYHighclere Castle Corona by Foundation Cigar Company

I was honestly ready to crown this cigar as Cigar of the Year way back a year ago…I actually posted the review for it on January 1, 2018, and it was a front-runner for the honors all year long. Then when I got ready to re-smoke the contenders to make sure I found that my shop didn’t have any. I ended up getting one from a friend and customer who had bought a box nearly a year ago on my recommendation…he said they had gotten even better.

Lighting it up again just a couple evenings before Christmas, I found that everything I remembered about the cigar was still true. A mild, creamy sweetness up front, with a surprising pop of pepper and deeper chocolatey sweetness coming out from behind. I’ve always put it down to the Brazilian binder being what gives this Connecticut Shade-wrapped beauty its originality and pop. Although the “Big Lifestyle Magazine” rated Foundation’s Wise Man Maduro as their #3 Cigar of the Year for 2018, I think they missed the boat…while that cigar is definitely good, this is an instant classic. I can’t remember if I said it during my original review, but I’ve said it more than a few times in the shop since, and I’ll repeat it here:

This is the best Connecticut Shade-wrapped cigar to hit the market in at least the past five years.

Every time I smoke one of these, I’m reminded that I said that and the cigar in my hand reinforces that belief…and it’s not as if there haven’t been some great Connys put out in the last half decade. The Robusto and Churchill sizes are very good, but the Corona is definitely where the magic lives for this blend.

An amazing flavor profile, approachable level of body and strength, slight-elevated-but-still-reasonable price point, and wide-spread availability all work together to put the Highclere Castle Corona over the top as my Cigar of the Year for 2018.

David Jones

David has been smoking premium cigars since 2001. He is co-founder and editor-in-chief of Leaf Enthusiast. He is a full-time retail tobacconist, working for Burns Tobacconist in Chattanooga, where he has also organized the Chattanooga Tweet-Up for the last four years. He is also an independent graphic designer and typesetter. Twitter: @dmjones1009

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  • Sam C.

    Nice list! Thanks for the reviews, David.

  • Craig White

    Hi, David. Great review and great blog. Was just in Chattanooga for New Years to see family (we used to live in Chattanooga/Cleveland for 20 yrs). Went to Burns (East) everyday for my cigar fix – love the barber chairs! Am looking forward to trying your COTY – Connecticuts are my favorite. You mentioned your picks were based on specific memories. What are some of these?