And the top cigar of 2012 is. First, a bit of what this is and what it is not. This is a compilation of 53 published lists, both traditional publications and online organizations, in an effort to find any trends, and most importantly, a consensus. The written content is all mine; it is not endorsed by any organization or individual whose list appears as part of The Consensus with the exception of halfwheel. If you need to, view the Excel document as one thing and the analysis as another.
It is a rather confusing and daunting task to attempt to make a claim about a consensus, let alone the work that is needed to put this together, but I find it necessary given the proliferation of top cigar lists in today’s landscape. This seems even more interesting given that few of the 53 operate in any of the same manner. That being said, I can say with pretty good certainty, when it comes to best new brand, brand of the year, factory of the year, country of the year and cigar of the year—we, as a publishing community, have a consensus.
- Any list created by an organization that published in 2012 was eligible. The organization needed to publish at least one other time in 2012 in addition to the list
- Up to 35 entries were taken from each list.
- Only lists that declared best of or something in a similar likeness were used. For publishers with multiple lists, the only lists that was used was the one that was closest to this goal.
- Because of the diversity in lists, specifically parameters and methods, cigars were classified by blend unless only a single vitola received nomination. If a manufacturer specified the blend of a specific vitolas was different or “tweaked” it was considered its own separate entry.
- Cigars were given points for each individual list. The highest ranked cigar received 35 points, the second highest 34 points, etc.
- In the case of ties, points were split between the respective places. For example, if two cigars tied for third place, both cigars would be awarded 32.5 points, the average between a third and fourth place ranking, the next ranking cigar would be awarded 31 points, the fifth place ranking.
- Categories were ranked by total points.
THE CONSENSUS 2012
(Click on the picture to be taken to the applicable halfwheel review of each cigar.)
BRAND OF THE YEAR — HAVANA CELLARS
This was actually quite close, with Drew Estate only slightly trailing Pete Johnson’s Havana Cellars/Tatuaje. While Havana Cellars is brand of the year, when you factor in Johnson’s new L’Atelier Imports—which he emphatically describes as a complete separate entity—Johnson’s presence on the lists of 2012 is virtually equal to: Alec Bradley, Altadis, Arturo Fuente, Ashton, all of the Davidoff Group sans Room101 (AVO, Camacho, Davidoff, Griffin’s, Winston Churchill & Zino), J.C. Newman and Padrón—put together. The absurd part of it all is Havana Cellars didn’t have a single cigar on The Consensus Top 25, although L’Atelier Imports’ flagship LAT and the Johnson-blended La Dueña were both on the list.
TOP 10 BRANDS
- Havana Cellars
- Drew Estate
- My Father Cigars
- Crowned Heads
- Joya de Nicaragua
- Habanos S.A.
- Ortega Premium Cigars
- SAG Imports
- E.P. Carrillo
NEW BRAND OF THE YEAR — ORTEGA PREMIUM CIGARS
This was also not so close, with Eddie Ortega’s new company having nearly double the amount of points as the next closest new company, L’Atelier Imports. Ortega released a single line, in two different wrappers, and placed both on The Consensus 10, one in third place. The company itself ranked eighth, in front of the likes of Ashton, Fuente, LFD, Padrón and others. Regular production and lower price points, Ortega Premium Cigars is a breath of fresh air for the new company categories. As far as complete newcomers to the industry, Ezra Zion, who ranked 34th out of 75 brands, takes that honor.
TOP 5 NEW BRANDS
- Ortega Premium Cigars
- L’Atelier Imports
- Espinosa Premium Cigars
- Ezra Zion
- Fabricas Unidas
FACTORY OF THE YEAR — MY FATHER CIGARS S.A.
This. Was. Not. Close. My Father Cigars S.A. racked up more points than the second, third and fourth places combined. To put it in other terms, the García-owned factory had a better performance in The Consensus than the Bahamas, Costa Rica, Cuba, Honduras and the United States did, combined, or every factory outside of Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. While Havana Cellars’ performance in The Consensus again isn’t shocking, My Father as a brand was third, a fairly dramatic jump compared to last year. Those two showings plus Eddie Ortega’s strong performance created an absolute landslide.
TOP 10 FACTORIES
- My Father Cigars S.A.
- Tabacalera La Alianza S.A.
- La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate
- Raíces Cubanas
- Fabrica de Tabacos Joya de Nicaragua S.A.
- Tabacos Rancho Jamastran
- Tabacalera Fernandez
- Nica Sueno S.A.
COUNTRY OF THE YEAR — NICARAGUA
It was never going to be a question of who was the top spot, but Nicaragua accounted for more points than every other country combined, which is a bit much. It had six of the Top 10 factories, four of the Top 5 Cigars and over half of the Top 25.
TOP 5 COUNTRIES
- Dominican Republic
CONSENSUS CIGAR OF THE YEAR — CyB BY JOYA DE NICARAGUA
There was a consensus. The cigar formerly known as Cuenca y Blanco appeared on 25 of the 53 lists, the next closest cigar by that measure, the Ortega Serie D Maduro, appeared on 17. The only logical statistical category that CyB failed to win was MODE for the top cigar, Headley Grange took that place on five lists (with a tie for a sixth) compared to CyB’s two top spots. But the numbers for total score weren’t close, the eponymous release from Dr. Alejandro Martínez Cuenca and José Blanco had a lead over the second place Oliva Serie V Melanio that was roughly seven times what Undercrown had over its second place rival when it won the award last year. As a brand Joya de Nicaragua received one other vote for a cigar that was not CyB and yet, the brand still finished in the top 5.
Every list has its different goals and parameters, but The Consensus Top 25 was almost entirely a collection of new cigars. Nat Sherman Timeless was a single store release until 2012, Four Kicks debuted last November and the Liga Privada Feral Flying Pig came out in the last week of 2011. Add Liga Privada No. 9 and Undercrown to the three barely not new cigars, there are 20 new cigars.
THE LIMITS TO LEs
There is one true limited edition in The Consensus Top 10 and only five in the Top 25, and I think that’s telling. Across the board, both in print and online, the cigars that end up on these lists are regular production items. I think we might have actually reached a peak in the sense of true one-and-done limited editions for a variety of reasons and I think a showing like this will only push manufacturers further away from it. What we will see going forward are more regional releases, more prereleases as limited editions for select stores and annual limited releases, which have been around for a while a la Fuente.
Whether or not it’s worse than La Aurora’s near shut out last year. But after 641 entries (read: votes), Christian Eiroa’s Tabacaleras/Fabricas Unidas brands received six total entries, three of which came from one source. And it’s not for a lack of newness. Eiroa is the latest in what has become a growing trend of new companies entering the market with a plethora of brands and lines, in the case, three brands from three different countries. Like La Aurora, Eiroa appeared in plenty of the media sources that made up The Consensus, but only made it onto four of the 53 lists. With the success of alternative approaches, i.e. committed single line development, from Crowned Heads, RoMa Craft and Ortega Premium Cigars there is some room for an argument to be made about which strategy might be best, however, all three of the aforementioned would probably tell you it’s more about the cigars versus strategy.
SURPRISES IN A GOOD WAY
- 262, Rodrigo and Ezra Zion — Ashton, Altadis, Fuente, General, Padrón and Rocky Patel didn’t make the Top 25, all three of the smaller and newer brands did. The new media-friendliness helps a lot.
- Turns out if you make a really good cigar, it doesn’t matter if it costs $13. — Enter the Oliva Serie V Melanio.
- Cuba Was Represented, Kind Of — I always thought it would be hard for Cuba to do well at all on this list absent maybe another BHK-type release in terms of American interest. Despite the fact the vast majority of lists come from organizations that rarely review a cigar from Cuba, Habanos S.A. finished sixth amongst brands and had a cigar in the top 40. Some might say this is a bad thing for personal reasons, but that’s neither really here, nor there.
SURPRISES IN A NOT SO GOOD WAY
- LFD & Viaje — The former has more (active) reps on Twitter than anyone besides Oliva and the latter has more buzz per production than anyone in the industry across both forms of media. Neither fared well as far as these lists went. Viaje’s best showing was Friends and Family at 39th place and the Litto Gomez Diez 2012 Chisel ranked 69th, the highest for Gomez & co. While LFD managed to finish 18th as far as brands were ranked, Viaje was 38th. Both companies put out a lot of new cigars, in somewhat in reversal of what seemed to apply to nearly every other brand on the list, the bulk of La Flor Dominicana and Viaje’s entries in The Consensus are the rarest and most expensive from each respective company.
- New Brands Aren’t Going to the D.R. — It’s a problem that is not new, but rarely talked about. On the flip-side of Nicaragua’s success of recent years is how few new companies are going to the Dominican Republic. Perhaps it just takes a few dozen hours with this raw data, but when you look at what’s going on outside of E.P. Carrillo, MATASA and PDR, the Dominican Republic is attracting very little new clients as far as the U.S. premium retail market is concerned, or at least as far as things are published.
- Fuente’s 2012 Gets Worse — Internally things are different, but Fuente publicly had a year that was not memorable. It began in late 2011 with a fire that was massive to say the least and became one of a few factors that led to a complete delay of the company’s 100th anniversary celebration, something Carlos “Carlito” Fuente Jr. had been planning for nearly a decade. It was outside of both the Top 30 Brands and Top 100 Cigars as far as The Consensus went.
Talking Tobacco, a blog run by retailer PipesandCigars.com, had 11 of the Top 25, including two in the same position as they appeared on The Consensus. The Blowin’ Smoke podcast, which had six of its nine cigar list on The Consensus, shared three similar rankings in common with The Consensus. It should be noted, this is not the “media accuracy” category, as none of the lists used to make up The Consensus are touted as predictions of The Consensus itself. The Smoking Greek had 10 entries on The Consensus and Tony Casas had eight of his ten entries appear on The Consensus.
Cigar Aficionado’s Top 25 shared three similar entries with The Consensus and halfwheel shared seven.
Pictures via Brooks Whittington, halfwheel.