Back in the Pleistocene—the 1950s—mildness was the name of the game for most cigar smokers; Candela wrappers, it seemed, were all the rage. Fast-forward 60 years, into the present, and much has changed. Today we like our steaks cooked medium rare, we drink our martinis extra dry, and we want our cigars to grab us by the taste buds and smack us around (in a good way). That means spice, but it can also mean strength, for the two often go hand in hand—you need some muscle in the tobacco if you want to preserve all that flavor.
Without further ado, we present five solid smokes that are guaranteed to spice up your life. Just don’t light ʼem up on an empty stomach.
My Father Cigars – Le Bijou 1922
In 1961, at the age of 11, José “Pepin” Garcia rolled his first cigar in Cuba. He has since established a factory and farm in Estelí, Nicaragua. Le Bijou 1922 is a reissue of his first non-Cuban cigar, made more than a decade ago. Hand rolled in Nicaragua, this new version is noticeably stronger, thanks to a dark Habano oscuro wrapper and a little more ligero in the Nicaraguan filler. If it makes you woozy, try the box-pressed torpedo instead, which delivers a mellower flavor. We present this as Exhibit A in evidence of how different shapes can affect a cigar’s overall strength.
Opus X – Perfection X
This is a classic 6¼ × 48 toro version of Carlito Fuente’s first commercially successful all-Dominican cigar. When it premiered in the early ʼ90s, this smoke rivaled many Cuban cigars in both strength and scarcity; and in fact, it still does. Perfection X is composed of a shade-grown Dominican rosado wrapper and Dominican binder and fillers, with all tobaccos coming from Chateau de la Fuente. The cigar is offered in many sizes and shapes, but this standard-sized parejo best showcases the cigar’s leathery strength and underlying spice.
Tatuaje – Belle Encre
Last year, to celebrate its 10th anniversary, Tatuaje introduced two all-Nicaraguan cigars, one being the 5 ⅜ × 42 Belle Encre maduro, which earns our respect for its balance of strength and spice. The clipped foot of this picturesque perfecto makes it easy to light, and a lot of medium-full dark chocolate and cinnamon is packed into a relatively small shape. As for the French name, it means “beautiful ink” and refers to the numerous cigar-band tattoos that cover the torso of Pete Johnson, Tatuaje’s founder.
Padrón – 1964 Anniversary Series
The Anniversary Series of these all-Nicaraguan cigars first hit the market in 1994, commemorating the 30th anniversary of the cigar company’s inception. Although all Padrón cigars are puros, the Anniversary Series is distinguished by the fact that every leaf—whether wrapper, binder, or filler—has been aged at least four years. In addition, these smokes are box pressed, which makes their earthy spice slightly mellower but still maintains the overall richness.
Graycliff – Espresso
Hand rolled in the Bahamas by Cuban expats, the aptly named Espresso delivers plenty of strength. In fact, it’s the strongest cigar in our lineup. Composed of a rugged Costa Rican wrapper teeming with nut-and-cedar characteristics, an Ecuadoran binder, and a filler blend of Costa Rican, Honduran, and Philippine tobaccos, this triple-fermented, ultra-full-bodied smoke is not for the faint of heart.