There are some that look forward to this award even more than our top 25 list, and I understand why.
Factory of the Year isn’t a most improved award; it’s a recognition that throughout the year, one single place—no matter the brand, shape or price—made notable product. This is the second year when our reviewers have voted on factories instead of simply relying on averaging scores, a decision we made because we believe this award should reflect all the cigars we smoked from a particularly factory, instead of simply those we scored.
FACTORY OF THE YEAR: TABACOS VALLE DE JALAPA S.A.
In 2012, Illusione took a gamble. It moved production of Singularé, its limited edition series that was barely a series at the time, to a relatively new factory in Estelí, Nicaragua called Tabacos Valle de Jalapa S.A. (TABSA). The cigars were not great, as we noted at the time; not bad, but not up to the standards we expected from Illusione. And that’s because standards were exactly what TABSA needed.
The factory is owned by Eduardo Fernández Pujals, the same man who owns the Casa Fernández brand and the large Nicaraguan tobacco operation, AGANORSA. While TABSA had good tobacco, it had work to do when it came to making premium cigars consistently. Thankfully, it found Dion Giolito of Illusione. Giolito is not an easy client for any factory to have: he’s obsessive, demanding, firm and perhaps most importantly, he likes to be in a factory a lot more than your typical client.
Looking back on it, the Singularés of 2012, probably this site’s least favorite of Illusione’s creations, might have been the most important in the company’s history. It was most certainly the most important for TABSA; it started the process that made TABSA what it is today, a world class factory.
Tabacos Valle de Jalapa S.A. has never been short on talent from Cuba: Arsenio Ramos, Jacinto Iglesias and Chandio headline the list. This year, it got a noted boost from stateside with Nicholas Melillo, the former tobacco czar at Drew Estate and current head of Foundation Cigar Co., who had his debut line, El Güegüense, produced at TABSA.
It was one of two factories to have five or more new cigars rate 91 or higher this past year and was the only factory to appear in the top three of all four reviewers factory rankings. When you look at what it has been able to produce this year for brands like Illusione, Warped, Foundation, HVC as well as the Casa Fernández product out of Nicaragua—it’s clear 2015 was a banner year.
Honorable Mentions: Cigars Davidoff, Fabrica de Tabacos NicaSueño S.A, My Father Cigars S.A, Tabacalera La Flor S.A.