Burning Bright

  • Richard Carleton Hacker

Photography by Cordero Studios

Celebrations and cigars have always gone hand in hand, and never more than during the winter holidays. In Victorian England, it was customary to hand out Havanas on December 25, while in America, decorated Yuletide cigar boxes were all the rage as early as the 1860s. This year the tradition continues with special editions and hand-rolled trends, including larger ring gauges and stronger blends. We have puffed through them all to put together our guide to the best of 2011’s holiday smokes—from an Alec Bradley Black Market gordo wrapped in velvety Criollo Jalapa 98 to a deeply mellow 10-year-old Padrón No. 85 to a rich-as-plum-pudding EPC Elencos torpedo—all in the truest spirit of the season, and with the added inspiration that the reason cigars come in boxes is that it makes them easier to wrap as gifts.

RARE RELEASES

DAVIDOFF WHITE EDITION
The elegant white lacquered box and 2011 vintage footband offer hints that this cigar stands apart. Five-year-old San Vincente and Piloto filler tobaccos plus a Peruvian Corojo binder and a Dominican Criollo wrapper were used to create a 5½ × 52 belicoso supremo with a silky, medium-bodied smoke. Only 8,000 boxes of 10 are being produced. ($19 each/$190 per box of 10) www.davidoff.com

 

LA AURORA GRAN RESERVA PREFERIDO
La Aurora is the oldest cigar factory in the Dominican Republic, and its 1903 Preferido Perfecto is the flagship of the line. This year has seen the one-time, double-banded release of the Gran Reserva Preferido Corojo, made with tobaccos that have been aging since 2003. Its complexity limits production to 125 cigars a day. ($16.80) www.laaurora.com.do

 

DOMUS MAGNUS
This is the Casa Magna Nicaraguan puro pumped up with Nicaraguan tobaccos from different regions and a 5-year-old sun-grown wrapper. Only 5,000 boxes of 10 cigars each of the two sizes—a 53/4 × 52 Optimus and a 63/8 × 55 Primus—are being produced. Box-pressed and pigtailed, either shape can sneak up on you like a snifter of cask-strength Macallan. ($8.95–$9.95) www.sagimports.com

 

FONSECA CXX
It may be pronounced like the alphabet (see-ex-ex), but the letters represent Roman numerals: 120 years of the Fonseca brand. This Dominican cigar uses a Cuban-seed Vuelta Arriba wrapper, plus Cuban-seed Dominican and Nicaraguan tobaccos in the filler. Distinctive with its pigtail cap, it is smooth and spicy, with a nutlike finish. Two thousand boxes each of three sizes—corona, robusto, and 60-ringed gordo—are available. ($6.95–$7.95) www.sagimports.com

 

DAVIDOFF 100 YEARS GENEVA
The late Zino Davidoff’s father, Henri, opened his Geneva tobacco shop in 1911, and a century later there is a cigar honoring the occasion. A Criollo rosado wrapper from the Dominican’s Yamasá Valley and a filler of five aged tobaccos create the rich, rib eye–like flavor of this 5 × 52 robusto. ($22) www.davidoff.com

 

MUSCLE CIGARS

HEMINGWAY SHORT STORY MADURO
With a ring gauge of 46/49 and a length of only 4 inches, this stubby figurado packs a knockout punch with its dark-chocolate-hued Connecticut broadleaf maduro wrapper. Combined with Chateau de la Fuente–grown Dominican binder and filler, this short smoke will be released only during the holidays. ($6.75) www.cigarfamily.com

 

MACANUDO CRU ROYALE POCO GORDO
At first glance, one would think this is a toro grande smoked to the nub. But this muscular ministick is full size and full strength. With its Ecuadoran-grown Habano-seed wrapper and its Nicaraguan, Dominican viso, and Brazilian Mata Fina filler, plus a proprietary Dominican La Vega Especiale binder, it is tantamount to a straight shot of strong whiskey. ($4.99) www.cigarworld.com

 

EPC ELENCOS SERIES
The Ernesto Perez-Carrillo family has done it again: If you missed the Edición Limitada 2010 last year, Ernesto, son Ernie III, and daughter Lissette have brought back the blend in three different sizes. With a Brazilian Habano wrapper, Dominican binder, and all-Nicaraguan filler, all are hearty smokes. ($190–$250 per box of 20) www.epcarrillo.com

 

ALEC BRADLEY FINE & RARE
With a dark, spicy Honduran wrapper almost obscured by a band that contains more information than most wine labels (including signatures of the roller, buncher, and factory supervisor), this is the first of company president Alan Ruben’s Fine & Rare Collection, sometimes called the HJ10i to reference the blend. There are 10 tobaccos in this 6 × 52 cigar, resulting in espresso flavors intertwined with Jamaican and Chinese spices. ($14) www?.alecbradley.com

 

JAIME GARCIA RESERVA ESPECIAL SUPER GORDO
The son of Cuban expatriate José "Pepin" Garcia has produced this 5¾ × 66 masterpiece, the epitome of the trend toward larger ring gauges. With the family’s proprietary Nicaraguan filler and binder and a Connecticut broadleaf wrapper, dark chocolate and black coffee are packed into every puff. ($9.50) www?.myfathercigars.com

TATUAJE FAUSTO
The winged devil stamped on the box hints at the alluring power that lurks beneath the Ecuadoran Habano maduro wrapper. The Fausto’s Nicaraguan filler and binder produce a heady yet velvety smoke. The cigar is available in four sizes; the 6 × 50 is our favorite. ($8.00–$8.75) www.tatuajecigars.com

 

TATUAJE LA CASITA CRIOLLA
This cigar’s name—which refers to the small houses in the tobacco fields—was a pre-Batista Cuban brand. Today, it has resurfaced as a Connecticut broadleaf puro made by Jaime Garcia in Estelí, Nicaragua. It has medium strength but is subtly sweet, with nuances of wet straw and rye wheat—perfect for a Blanton’s single-barrel bourbon. Three sizes are offered. ($6–$7) www.tatuajecigars.com

 

PUNCH GRANDOTE
This full-flavored Honduran brand is often associated with charbroiled steaks and just about any brown spirit. This latest incarnation is a 6¼ × 60, the largest ring gauge of any Punch yet. Both a natural and a double maduro (with maduro wrapper and binder) are offered. ($5.79) www.cigarworld.com

 

FINE MEDIUMS

 

ARSEN CONNOISSEUR SELECTION
Named after company owner Arsen Gasparyan, these Dominican puros are manufactured in the Augusto Reyes factory in Santiago. The slightly sweet, mild-flavored cigars are available in three sizes. ($6.40–$6.80) www.vitolier.net

 

ROCKY PATEL XEN
This box-pressed Connecticut shade cigar, conceived by Nish Patel, Rocky Patel’s brother, is made in Estelí, Nicaragua. Its Ecuadoran-Connecticut wrapper produces a smooth, creamy smoke. Four sizes are offered. ($6.25–$7.50) www.rockypatel.com

 

JAIME GARCIA RESERVA ESPECIAL LIMITED EDITION
The individually numbered white lacquered box contains 6½ × 52 toros, 15 of them wrapped in broadleaf viso leaf while the 16th sports a Connecticut shade wrapper. The Nicaraguan filler, which includes two leaves of rare Pelo de Oro tobacco, is complemented by both. ($16) www.myfathercigars.com

 

HAMMER & SICKLE MOSCOW CITY
The defeat of Communism is embodied in this cigar, which comes in either a four-pack or a pewter box suitable for storing secret documents. The rugged yet oily Connecticut broadleaf wrapper is thick enough to require judicious lighting, but rewards with silky undertones and a delicate spice worthy of a Glenfiddich 18 Year Old. ($9–$11) www.cigaragency.com

ZINO PLATINUM Z-CLASS
Its inspiration was the Mercedes-Benz C-Class car, and this rich and leathery smoke emits a smoothness akin to a C63 AMG cruising on a carpeted roadway. Packaged in metal tins of 20, four shapes are available. ($8–$12) www.zinoplatinum.com

 

H. UPMANN 1844 RESERVE
This cigar garnishes praise from a serious chef: "Robust but not overpowering," says Casey Overton of the Loft at Montage Laguna Beach. With its shade-grown Ecuadoran Cubano wrapper, Nicaraguan binder, and Dominican filler, "a Manhattan would go just fine with it," Overton adds. ($5.25–$6.75) www.altadisusa.com

 

ROCKY PATEL VINTAGE 2003
Semisweet, nutty, and full of spice, this complex cigar boasts a triple cap, an 8-year-old Cameroon wrapper, and Nicaraguan and Dominican filler. Five sizes are offered. ($7.55-$10.80) www.rockypatel.com

SAN CRISTÔBAL ELEGANCIA
Made in Estelí, this cigar combines a Nicaraguan binder and filler with a silky Connecticut-seed Ecuadoran leaf. A reputation-making cigar, in five sizes. ($5.95–$6.90) www.ashtoncigar.com

LE BIJOU 1922 BOX PRESSED TORPEDO
With an espresso-hued Habano oscuro wrapper and Nicaraguan binder and filler, this new box-pressed 61/8 × 52 torpedo adds a slightly mellower flavor to a normally full-bodied smoke. ($11.75) www?.myfathercigars.com

 

LA PALINA EL DIARIO
Made in the Raices Cubanas factory in Honduras, El Diario ("the daily") complements the original La Palina Family series. With its Honduran rosado Corojo ’99 wrapper, double Honduran binder, and Nicaraguan filler, it starts strong but throttles down to a medium-full flavor of sweet burnt cedar and cappuccino. Five sizes are produced. ($9.80–$11.55) www.lapalinacigars.com

 

PUFFING PEACOCKS

ALEC BRADLEY BLACK MARKET
It is a shame that half of this dark, velvety Criollo Jalapa 98 wrapper is obscured by a paper sleeve, as intriguing as it may be. The sleeve covers a midband, which should also be removed to get the full length of enjoyment from this ruggedly packaged smoke. Five sizes are offered, including our favorite, a 6 × 60 gordo. ($7.40–$8.00) www?.alecbradley.com

 

DOUBLE EAGLE
The elongated K5 crystal block that encases this thin, missile-shaped 6¼ × 52 belicoso captures both the attention and the imagination. With just 1,000 cigars produced, this meaty Nicaraguan puro is a host gift that will not be forgotten. ($25) www.cigar?agency.com

 

LA GLORIA CUBANA RETRO ESPECIAL
Nostalgically banded, with no two boxes alike, this cigar smokes contrary to tradition, with 80 percent of the flavor coming from the Nicaraguan and Dominican ligero filler and only 20 percent from the double Mexican and Nicaraguan binder and Connecticut-Honduran wrapper. Four shapes are offered. ($7.00–$8.15) www.cigarworld.com

MILESTONES TO SAVOR

AVO 85TH ANNIVERSARY
With his white Brioni suit and mimbre hat, Avo Uvezian is a legend within the cigar industry. What better way to celebrate the maestro’s 85th birthday than a limited edition of an elegant Cuban shape, the 65/8 × 50 diademas, sporting a Dominican wrapper exclusive to this cigar? ($17.50 each/$175 per box of 10) www.avo.com

 

ROCKY PATEL FIFTY
Rocky Patel’s 50th birthday provides the occasion for an outstanding cigar using an 8-year-old Habano oscuro wrapper from Ecuador and a double binder encircling a "secret" Nicaraguan filler. The flavors are intertwined with sweet spice and coffee. Three shapes are produced, of which the 61/8 × 52 torpedo is our favorite. Crystals spell Rocky’s name on each of the 2,000 (per shape) numbered boxes. ($19–$22) www.rockypatel.com

 

PADRÓN FAMILY RESERVE NO. 85
The Family Reserve line usually marks the number of years the Padrón family has made cigars. "This year," says president Jorge Padrón, "it happens to be the 85th birthday of my father, José Padrón." So there is a No. 85 instead, a Nicaraguan puro made with 10-year-old tobaccos in natural or maduro. The 5¼ × 50 cigar is rich and meaty, with chocolate overtones. ($20 each/$200 per box of 10) www.padron.com

WRAPPED AND READY
This is the season of gifting, but sometimes a box of cigars may be inappropriate, while a single cigar is not quite enough. The solution is a small, prepackaged presentation of premium cigars. The J.C. Newman Diamond Crown Holiday Collection ($57, www.cigarfamily.com) consists of three Diamond Crown cigars not otherwise available. Each 6¾ × 54 double belicoso features a different wrapper—Cuban-seed Ecuadoran sun-grown, Cameroon, and Connecticut shade. The cigars are housed in a velvet-lined leather case available at select Diamond Crown merchants and cigar lounges.

Davidoff’s celebrated Puro d’Oro cigars have been hand-rolled into a compact 4 × 41 size and packed five to an elegant Momentos tin ($33, www.davidoff.com), providing a 20-minute smoke full of coffee and spice. La Aurora has taken one each of its five differently wrapped and colorfully tubed Preferidos and packaged them in a Treasure Box sampler ($104, www.laaurora.com). The unique shape of the La Gloria Cubana Artesanos de Obelisco has lent itself to a triangular five-pack ($45, www.cigarworld.com). And a limited production of the Partagas Benji Master Series Collection, a 6 × 54 toro, is presented as a 12-cigar set housed in a leather-bound, gold-stamped book ($124.99, www.cigarworld.com), thus providing the final chapter of these coveted cigars.

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