Every mature industry likes to evoke a golden age when its practitioners were at their best. Carmakers are shameless in their references to the 1950s. The music business yearns to recapture the 1960s. And the cigar industry has begun to hark back to a time when every man wore a hat to work and smoked wherever he damn well pleased.
This era is the mid-20th century, the glory days after the Great Depression and before the Great Society. One cigar shape dominates the cultural representations of that period: the perfecto. Tapered at both ends and as fat in the middle as Rocky Marciano’s thumb, the perfecto’s appearance proclaims its elite status.
The shape fell out of favor in the 1960s, but in the 1980s, Carlos Fuente Jr., president of cigar manufacturer Arturo Fuente, could not shake the memory of the perfectos his grandfather smoked. “We found my grandfather’s old molds and decided to start producing perfectos again,” he says. “No one else was rolling them because they’re difficult to manufacture. You have to make the exact shape of the perfecto in your hand. If you put in just a half-leaf too much tobacco, the cigar won’t burn or draw.”
The introduction of Fuente’s 4-inch Hemingway Short Story perfecto in the early 1990s reignited the category. Smokers loved the tiny cigar’s light yet complex flavor and that they could finish one in half an hour. While the industry has designated no particular classification for the Short Story and its successors, what could be better than petit perfecto?
Although the Short Story remains the classic of its genre—a cigar beloved by both veteran smokers and neophytes with tender palates—worthy competitors have emerged. My favorite is the Punch Champion, a double-ringed delight that packs the boldest flavor of any petit perfecto I have sampled. The Champion makes a great after-dinner cigar that partners well with a smoky single malt, especially after a steak. In fact, the Champion could even make hospital food palatable. The maduro version of the Macanudo Diplomat offers a similar but less powerful flavor for those not quite ready to take a Punch.
With its gorgeous colorado wrapper, the Avo Domaine 20 is one of the best-made petit perfectos. This mellow, slightly cedary cigar produces a flawless white ash you will not want to flick off.
A few petit perfectos taper symmetrically at both ends, creating a distinctive shape that calls to mind Spider-Man’s J. Jonah Jameson. Of these, Drew Estate’s Natural Leche carries the most authentically comical appearance. But the most interesting flavor can be found in Carlos Toraño’s Signature Collection Perfecto, which tickles you with subtle hints of cinnamon, grass, pepper, and lime.
For smokers who can seldom spare time for a Churchill, these petit perfectos deliver a cooler, more refined smoke than any cigarillo can. Consider a fedora optional.