Before we start naming the winners of our various awards, we should probably think of a name for what we call it beyond “awards week.” But, we also precede the awards with a look back at the reviews of the previous year.
This is the third time I’ve done this analysis and I didn’t need to look at the numbers to tell you what the biggest takeaway should be: we reviewed fewer cigars in 2021 than we did last year.
As it turns out, we published 226 cigar reviews during 2021, 47 fewer (16.91 percent) when compared to 2020.
THE (SMALLER) BIG PICTURE
There are a few different reasons for that. While none of our staff has knowingly tested positive for COVID-19, that’s not to say we were able to smoke cigars 365 days during 2021. Without getting much into our personal lives, one of us was in the hospital for multiple weeks thanks to a waterborne bacteria, one of us spent the better part of a month moving, and one of us got to spend multiple weeks in isolation after close COVID contacts, thanks mom.
All those took days away from us when we could smoke and given that the process for producing a normal review at halfwheel involves smoking three cigars, it adds up.
But the largest reason behind the drop in published reviews was because for many weeks during the first half of the year, there simply weren’t many new cigars shipping to stores. We had internal discussions at two different points of the year about how to handle this during 2021—follow-ups to similar conversations that took place in 2020—and came up with four options:
- A. Review fewer cigars
- B. Review more new cigars from the handful of manufacturers who were consistently putting out new products in the first half (Altadis U.S.A., General Cigar Co., Viaje, etc.)
- C. Review more cigars from the same line
- D. Review older cigars
Like most things in life, we settled on a combination of things, albeit definitely not Option C. We tried to avoid Option B because we didn’t want to give a handful of companies a lot of extra opportunities to qualify for the Top 25, but I’ll admit there’s no perfect solution.
I could spend hours trying to explain to you how we choose what to review, but I’ll try to briefly explain some of the factors involved. We aren’t trying to review the most number of cigars possible, we aren’t trying to review the cigars we think will score the best, and we aren’t reviewing simply cigars we actually want to smoke.
As the one that chooses 99+ percent of the cigars we review, I am mindful of trying to fairly distribute the number of reviews for a company based on my understanding of the size of the company and how many new cigars the company is likely to put out in a given year. It’s more art than science, and sometimes there are some inherently limiting factors, like the availability of new Cuban cigars. There are some companies (RoMa Craft, Viaje and Warped come to mind) that probably receive outsized influence amongst our reviews compared to the company’s total production, but I’ve tried to do a better job at spreading the reviews around.
Those 226 reviews we published in 2021 produced an average score of 86.27 (87.22 in 2020), the lowest average in the three years I’ve done this sort of analysis.
For a normal review, i.e. the ones published Tuesday-Sunday, we try to smoke three samples per review. For redux reviews and many of our Holy Grail Week reviews, it’s usually only one sample, which oftentimes produces a different distribution of scores.
Here’s the average score for each of those categories:
- Regular Reviews: 86.36 (87.01 last year)
- Redux Reviews: 87.06 (88.41)
- Holy Grail Week Reviews: 80 (86.33)
Note: The numbers mentioned for the rest of this article are going to reference the reviews as a whole, not just the full reviews. Also, when I saw “we reviewed X number of cigars” I’m referring to the number of reviews published and not the number of cigars actually smoked to produce said reviews.
At halfwheel, the most important score is 91. If a cigar scores 91 or greater and meets some other qualifications, it’s eligible for our Top 25. We had 36 cigars score 91 or above, though many of those were redux reviews or older cigars that would not meet those qualifications.
But that number is 17 fewer cigars compared to 2020, which is a 32 percent drop. Remember, we reviewed roughly 17 percent fewer cigars in 2021, so the decline in 91+ scores is outpacing the overall decline in the number of reviews.
For the first time, in the site’s 10-year history, there was not a cigar that scored 95+. Actually, the highest score for a cigar last year was 92, there were 11 of those awarded. It would take far more analysis to figure out why scores hit a proverbial ceiling at 92, but it wasn’t because of a change in scoring. We’ve used the same scoring methodology for years and it’s more than capable of giving cigars a score of greater than 92. For example, it took less than two weeks into 2022 for a 93 to be awarded.
On the flip side, the lowest score was a 40, albeit for a cigar that was roughly 80-years-old when I reviewed it. There were 18 cigars (7.96 percent of all reviews) that scored below 80 points. To add some context, that was ratio was 4 percent in 2020.
REVIEWERS BY NUMBERS
For the first time ever, we basically split the number of reviews evenly.
- Brooks — 87.3 Average (76 Reviews)
- Charlie — 84.29 Average (75 Reviews)
- Patrick — 87.2 Average (75 Reviews)
While I normally produce the lowest average scores, I was also the only one whose numbers changed dramatically compared to 2020. Brooks’ average score in 2020 was 87.25 and Patrick’s was 87.98. My average score was 86.41, meaning a more than two-point drop. The median scores were 88 for Brooks and Patrick and 86 for me.
I had 12 out of the 18 cigars that failed to score 80 points.
On the flip side, Patrick scored five cigars 92 points, Brooks scored four, and I scored just two.
As a reminder, none of us actually know what the scores will be as we are reviewing the cigars. Those numbers aren’t calculated until the reviews are turned in and right before they are published.
There’s not much that jumps out to me comparing this data by average score, but I was intrigued by the data points regarding the number of cigars we reviewed by country.
First, we reviewed more cigars from the Dominican Republic (63 last year) and Honduras (23) than we did in 2020. While it’s also a slight increase, remember, we reviewed roughly 17 percent fewer cigars in total, meaning those two countries far exceeded the frequency trend line. I think it’s worth pointing out that factories in those two countries, particularly Honduras, experienced far greater COVID-19 restrictions in 2020, specifically when it came to prolonged closures.
Nicaragua did not have the same sort of 2020 closures, but in conversations with people in the industry, it seems that the lasting effects of COVID-19 and the resulting world change might be more impactful in Nicaragua, certainly compared to the Dominican Republic and Honduras. We reviewed 38 fewer Nicaraguan cigars in 2021 compared to 2020, a 27.34 decline.
If nothing else, Nicaragua is the leader when it comes to countries producing new cigars, so if the quantity of new cigars declined in 2021, it’s no surprise our reviews followed suit.
|ADVentura & McKay||89||3|
|Black Label Trading Co.||88.67||3|
|Caldwell Cigar Co.||84.5||4|
|Córdoba & Morales||86.5||2|
|Davidoff of Geneva USA||89.21||14|
|Foundation Cigar Co.||84.25||4|
|General Cigar Co.||84.92||12|
|German Engineered Cigars||72||1|
|Hiram & Solmon||83||1|
|Joya de Nicaragua||91||2|
|JRE Tobacco Co.||88.67||3|
|Jas Sum Kral||83||1|
|La Flor Dominicana||88.25||4|
|Miami Cigar & Co.||86.5||2|
|Pure Aroma Cigars||87.5||2|
|RoMa Craft Tobac||89.67||6|
My Father (3 reviews) and Joya de Nicaragua (2 reviews) both averaged 91 point scores throughout 2021. There were two companies (Epic and Patoro) who averaged 92, but that was the result of only reviewing one cigar from each brand.
The full list of the Top 5 Companies by average score, for companies that received multiple reviews during 2021, is as follows:
- T1. My Father (91)
- T1. Joya de Nicaragua (91)
- 3. Oliva (90.67)
- T4. Alec Bradley (90)
- T4. Cavalier Genève (90)
If you pay attention to our awards of late, it should come as no surprise that Joya de Nicaragua has made this list before, this is the third straight year it’s been in the top five. It’s also the only company that’s managed to place in the top five in multiple years.
|AgroIndustrial Nicaraguense de Tabacos S.A.||84||1|
|Casa Fernández Miami||87||1|
|Charles Fairmorn Factory||89||1|
|De Los Reyes||83.33||3|
|Diadema Cigars de Honduras S.A.||87.67||3|
|El Titan de Bronze||88.25||4|
|Estelí Cigars S.A.||85||1|
|Fábrica Centroamericana de Tabaco S.A.||89||2|
|Fábrica de Puros Aladino at Las Lomas Jamastran||88.67||3|
|Fábrica de Tabacos Joya de Nicaragua S.A.||90.33||3|
|Fábrica de Tabacos NicaSueño S.A.||89.67||6|
|Fábrica Oveja Negra||88.67||3|
|Flor de Copan||90||1|
|G.R. Tabacaleras Co.||86||1|
|G.R. Tabacaleras Unidas||84||1|
|General Cigar Dominicana||81.4||5|
|J. Fuego Cigar Co. de Nicaragua||89||1|
|J.C. Newman PENSA||85.5||2|
|Kelner Boutique Factory||88||1|
|La Aurora Cigar Factory||86||3|
|La Flor de Copan||89.5||2|
|La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate||79.8||5|
|La Zona Cigar Factory||83.25||4|
|Las Villas Cigars||66||1|
|Micallef Cigars S.A.||86||1|
|My Father Cigars S.A.||89.79||14|
|Nueva Matacapan de Tabacos S.A. de C.V.||89||1|
|Plasencia Cigars S.A.||86.33||3|
|San Lotano Factory||83.75||4|
|Southern Classic Cigars||86||1|
|Supreme Tobacco S.A.||88||1|
|Tabacalara Las Lavas S.R.L.||87||1|
|Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia||89||4|
|Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia.||89||1|
|Tabacalera AJ Fernandez||87.5||12|
|Tabacalera de García||82.33||3|
|Tabacalera Flor de San Luis||87||1|
|Tabacalera La Alianza S.A.||88.67||3|
|Tabacalera La Flor S.A.||88.25||4|
|Tabacalera La Isla||83||2|
|Tabacalera La Palma||90||1|
|Tabacalera Perdomo S.A.||84||1|
|Tabacalera William Ventura||84.78||9|
|Tabaclaera de García||87||1|
|Tabacos de Costa Rica||89||1|
|Tabacos de Costa Rica S.A.||89||1|
|Tabacos de Exportación||87.33||3|
|Tabacos de Oriente||89.5||2|
|Tabacos Rancho Jamastran||86||1|
|The CLE Factory||85||4|
Similarly, Tabacalera Oliva de Nicaragua S.A.—or at least the two Oliva factories in Estelí that split the company’s production—averaged 90.67 points, the top average factory score.
The full list of Top 5 Factories by average score, for companies that received multiple reviews during 2021, is as follows:
- 1. Tabacalera Oliva de Nicaragua S.A. (90.67)
- 2. Fábrica de Tabacos Joya de Nicaragua S.A. (90.33)
- 3. Cigars Davidoff (90)
- 4. My Father Cigars S.A. (89.79)
- T5. Fábrica de Tabacos NicaSueño S.A. (89.67)
- T5. Raíces Cubanas (89.67)
Joya de Nicaragua and NicaSueño were both in the top five last year, the only ones in the top five to repeat. NicaSueño barely missed out on three consecutive years in the Top 5 here as in 2019 it finished in sixth, missing out on that fifth spot by .25 points.
You can download the full data here.