The Box-Worthies: Brian’s Top 10 Cigars of 2015

Drew Estate

This is the part where I whine about how hard it is to pick ten cigars I smoked in 2015, rank them and declare them the box-worthiest of all cigars to be box-worthy in that year. The truth is, this year’s list seemed easier to compile. I quickly put together a pool or 25 or so cigars to choose from in a tidy little text document. And then I lost the tidy little text document. A little later while I was drinking bourbon and looking through my document folder for “How To Fake Your Own Death and Move To Panama.pdf” I found the missing tidy little text document. It seemed like slightly less work to start sorting my list of favorites than disappearing without a trace, so I opted to finish the list. Besides, I have a whole life ahead of me to pretend to be deceased, but a very short window of time to publish a top 10 list of cigars.

It’s ordering the list that’s really the hard part, especially when you don’t give cigars numerical ratings. All the cigars are so good and in such different ways, it’s difficult to pick favorites. So here’s how I came up with a list: I took a piece of paper and wrote out a formula that takes into account appearance, aroma, flavor, construction and price. I then ate the piece of paper because it’s important to incorporate your gut feeling into important decisions like top ten lists. (Don’t worry, the paper was actually a slice of Velveeta.) Then I started writing. Now that you’ve had a chance to peek behind the curtain, let’s get to it.

The Rules
Rules. Nobody likes them, so let’s keep this brief. To be on this list, the cigar must…
1. Have been smoked by yours truly in 2015.
2. Have been liked by this guy more than almost everything else smoked in 2015.
3. Have been in production/produced and could reasonably be acquired in 2015. (No Mule Kicks, Gran Reserva Corojo No. 1’s, Viaje 5ths or Little Boriseses allowed.)

Honorable Mentions
This section is for cigars that didn’t make the list, but were close. A couple of them are violators of rule three.

Davidoff Nicaragua Belicoso
You probably saw the Davidoff Nicaragua Belicoso make quite a few appearances both on my social media accounts and editions of Brian’s Week In Smoke. If you’re familiar with the Davidoff Nicaragua line, you know there’s no such thing as Belicoso vitola. That’s officially true. Unofficially, a considerable number of them were created a few years ago before Davidoff decided against producing the size. These well-aged sticks quietly made their way onto the shelves last year. And they were excellent- considerably better than the unaged stock currently on shelves. (Which as you may recall were good enough to make it into 2013’s Top 10.) I have two reasons for mentioning this unreleased cigar in my top 10 list, and only one of those reasons is to brag. This demonstrates how well the Davidoff Nicaragua blend ages. If you happen to find old product in your local shop, you should try it.

Nestor Miranda Grand Reserve 2011
This gem was one of my favorite releases of 2011, and it just kept getting better with each passing year. If you can believe it, I was still able to acquire a box or two of Nestor Miranda Grand Reserve 2011’s in 2015. If they tasted as good in 2011 as they tasted in the years following, they would have made the top ten list for sure. I recommend buying them if you see them, I always do.

Padilla La Pilar
This La Pilar was actually on the list until I realized I had eleven entries, instead of ten. We can’t have that. But the good news is we can have the cigar very easily, as it’s readily available. I love everything about Padilla’s La Pilar- the balanced sweet peppery profile, the comfortable, flattened box-press and the budget friendly price tag. Every time I light one up, I ask myself “why don’t I smoke more of these?” I haven’t heard a lot of talk about the La Pilar, but it’s definitely a favorite at my local shop.

The List

10. Punch Signature
Let’s be honest, General Cigar produces a lot of new cigars every year, and many of them are… Well let’s just say they’re not all winners. They’re generally not bad, I just don’t think I’m their target audience. At the same time, I’m not surprised that every now and then they knock it out of the park- they’ve got a lot of resources at their disposal, both in terms of tobacco and talent, as well as willingness to experiment and adapt to the times. The Punch Signature is one of those homeruns. As I said in my first experience with it back in April of last year, “This is the most impressed I’ve been with a Punch cigar in quite some time.” Walt had a similar reaction in his review of the Punch Signature: “I was slapped right in the face by the wow factor.” I don’t think I need to go on, they’re box-worthy.

9. Tatuaje Avion
The love affair with the Tatuaje Avion that started in 2014 continued well into 2015. We drifted apart for a while I was off drinking beer in Belgium, exploring InterTabac in Dortmund and covering IPCPR in New Orleans, but my fondness for the chocolaty treat remained. I’m not a fan of the word “smooth” when it comes to describing cigars, in the best of cases it’s overused and meaningless, and at worst, it’s just completely wrong. But I’ll make a partial exception for the Tatuaje Avion- there’s a rich and smooth mocha note in this cigar that I love. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a punch of pepper in there too. They’re both integral parts of what is an unquestionably beautiful cigar.

8. Fratello Bianco
There’s usually one cigar at the trade show that really gets my attention. But it’s a busy time, with a lot of running from booth to booth trying to get interviews, which doesn’t lend itself to really enjoying many cigars. So there weren’t many wow moments at the show. But there was one a few weeks later when I lit up the Fratello Bianco at home. What a great smoke. I must have talked about it a lot, because a local tobacconist told me they brought them in just for me. Whether that’s truth or flattery, I’ve been happy to take advantage of the nearby supply.

7. Drew Estate Undercrown Shade
My experience with the original Undercrown in 2015 was very hit or miss. Some of them have been unexciting, but others, like the Undercrown Flying Pig I burned back in April, have been excellent. So I wasn’t sure what to expect from the new Undercrown Shade. Having Willy Herrera work on the blend turned out to be a very good call. Not only was it the best cigar I actually smoked on the floor at IPCPR, it has consistently lived up to that first impression.

6. Curivari Buenaventura
Hang on a moment, wasn’t the Buenaventura on last year’s top ten? Yes, yes it was. I still love and regularly smoke it and that’s what counts in my book. If the fact that an older cigar is on this top ten list bothers you, perhaps you’ll feel better about it when you learn that there’s a new Mini BV size, and it’s a wonderful short smoke. Great flavor, great value and now a great short vitola makes the Buenaventura a hard smoke to beat.

5. Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust Sobremesa
As I lit up my first Sobremesa late last year, I was wondering if I was in for an new Liga Privada blend with a band makeover. I was so pleased to find out that was not the case with Dunbarton’s inaugural cigar. Sure, it has a touch of that earthiness to it, but so much more nuance and subtlety to it than the No. 9 or the T52 I so enjoy. It’s definitely one of those cigars that rewards you for your close attention.

4. Room 101 Johnny Tobacconaut
Johnny Tobacconaut is another cigar I didn’t get around lighting up until late in the year, but its cosmic blend of tobacco made a strong impression. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I kept thinking “wow, this is a really good cigar” as I smoked it. The next time I was in a shop, I made a beeline for the Tobacconaut. The second one was just as good. So was the third. It’s a little pricier than some other entries on this list, but it’s well worth it.

3. Foundation El Güegüense
Ah, the El Güegüense- so hard to spell, so fun to say. And as it turns out, a very enjoyable cigar to smoke too. I don’t know how Nick’s forthcoming Coronal Mass Ejection is going to top the mass ejection of flavor put off by this heavily-umlauted stick. I might just take a third umlaut. In all seriousness, Foundation’s first cigar is expertly executed and worthy of the box buy.

2. Avo Syncro Nicaragua
As much as I love the unreleased Davidoff Nicaragua Belicoso in the Honorable Mentions, I love the AVO Synchro more, and that’s without the years of supplemental aging. The blend is a big step in the right direction, along a path that AVO started on with release of the well-received Heritage. And like the Heritage, it delivers a very satisfying, flavorful smoke a very reasonable price.

1. Arturo Fuente Don Carlos Eye of the Shark
Arturo Fuente went wild with the limited editions released late last year. I smoked most of them, and I have the empty wallet to prove it. In my mind there was one that was head and shoulders above the rest in flavor- the Don Carlos Eye of the Shark. Sure, I’ll admit to buying more of them than I might have just because of the round-to-square Shark vitola. Partly because it looks cool, and partly because I knew it the shape would inflate sales and limit availability. It turned out to be a very good call. The Eye of the Shark turned out to be one of the best Fuentes I’ve ever had.

A List of Lists
Haven’t had enough of lists yet? How about one from the days of yore? I’ve made a few lists in my tenure at Stogie Review, here’s some quick links to the previous five.
The Box-Worthies: Brian’s Top 10 Cigars of 2014
The Box-Worthies: Brian’s Top 10 Cigars of 2013
The Box-Worthies: Brian’s Top 10 Cigars of 2012
The Box-Worthies: Brian’s Top 10 Cigars of 2011
The Box-Worthies: Brian’s Top 10 Cigars of 2010
The Box-Worthies: Brian’s Top 10 Cigars of 2009