Big Smoke Meets WhiskyFest Is Coming May 28th. Buy Tickets Now.

Cigar Industry

Special Report: 2018 Year In Review

An analysis of all of the cigars rated by Cigar Insider this year
Dec 18, 2018 | By Gregory Mottola
Special Report: 2018 Year In Review

Cigar Insider’s Year in Review is an all-encompassing recap of every cigar this newsletter rated throughout 2018. But this is far more than simply a list of cigars and scores. This is an analysis that looks at all of the year’s reviews and examines that data from different angles: by score, by country, by brand, by size and by price. Presenting the data through various perspectives provides more context and insight into how the handmade cigar industry has performed in the calendar year. As always, every cigar reviewed by Cigar Insider was purchased at retail and smoked blind.

We rated 273 cigars this year, and most of them were new releases. The brands we rated are a reflection of the current premium market and include small-batch cigars, limited editions and large-scale brands with wide, national distribution. You’ll also find some classic mainstays that have been a major presence in cigar store humidors for many years. 

The quality level of these cigars is quite high. Ninety-five of the 273 cigars scored 90 points or higher—that’s 35 percent. And 49 cigars scored 91 points or higher, earning our highest accolade of Humidor Selection. Every major cigar-producing country has cigars on that list, though 29 of the cigars in this elite segment hail from Nicaragua.

If you’re looking for a 90 pointer, you’re more likely to find it from Cuba than any other country. Out of the 22 Cuban cigars we rated this year, 14 of them (63.6 percent) scored 90 points or higher. That’s a larger percentage of 90s than any other country. The cigars in the test were a combination of core Cuban brands, new releases, Edición Limitadas and a few Regional Editions.

Half of the American-made cigars we reviewed scored in the 90s, but the sample size was small, a mere six cigars. Nicaragua ranked third, with 47 of its 133 cigars (35.3 percent) reaching or surpassing 90 points. The Dominican Republic was nearly neck-and-neck with Nicaragua, as 27 of the 83 Dominican cigars (32.5 percent) made it to 90 points. 

Honduras had the least impressive performance, with only three of its 25 cigars making it to 90 points, or 12 percent. Costa Rica had an even smaller sample size than the U.S. (four cigars, one of which scored 90 points) and is statistically irrelevant.

Average Score By Country

Country # Of Cigars Rated Avg. Score
U.S.A. 6 Cigars 90
Cuba 22 Cigars 89.7
Nicaragua 133 Cigars 88.9
Dom. Rep. 83 Cigars 88.3
Honduras 25 Cigars 87.6
Costa Rica 4 Cigars 87.3

The top score this year came from a very small brand, the Warped Serie Gran Reserva 1988 Robusto, which scored 94 points. Made in Nicaragua at the Aganorsa Leaf factory (formerly known as TABSA) and produced in small quantities, the cigar came to market in August and is named for the birth year of brand owner Kyle Gellis.

Eight cigars this year scored 93 points and half of them came from Nicaragua, which is now exporting more handmade cigars to the United States than any other country. The cigars in this small grouping range in blend, body and even price. On the more expensive end, the Padrón Family Reserve No. 44 (Natural) was one of the pricier cigars to score 93 points. It should come as no surprise to see a Padrón on the upper echelons of this list. The company’s cigars consistently achieve high scores in Cigar Insider, and the Family Reserve is another example of excellence from Padrón. This was a cigar once reserved for private events where a family member was present (hence the name) but eventually, Padrón decided to release the cigar commercially. The Family Reserve is made in Nicaragua with Nicaraguan tobaccos.

Of the many varieties found within the My Father range of cigars, the Garcia family still manages to make each one distinct and interesting. This is particularly true of the My Father La Opulencia, a 2017 release made from a blend of Mexican wrapper and Nicaraguan filler and binder tobaccos. The Toro size scored 93 points and is made at the My Father Cigars factory in Nicaragua, where all My Father cigars are rolled. 

It seems that whenever a large cigar company wants a modern reboot of its classic brand, the company turns to cigarmaker A.J. Fernandez. That’s what Altadis U.S.A. did. And through the collaborative efforts of Fernandez and Rafael Nodal, head of product capability for Altadis U.S.A., the Montecristo Nicaragua Series was born. The brand hit the market in August, and the Robusto scored 93 points. Fernandez makes it in Nicaragua using only Nicaraguan tobaccos. 

Also from Nicaragua, the Alec Bradley Black Market Estelí Torpedo is a follow-up to the first Black Market brand, only this version is made at the Plasencia Cigars S.A. factory in Estelí, Nicaragua. At 93 points, it has a predominantly Nicaraguan blend, save for one of its two binders, which comes from Honduras.

Top Scores of 2018

Brand Country Score
Warped Serie Gran Reserva 1988 Robusto Nicaragua 94
Alec Bradley Black Market Estelí Torpedo Nicaragua 93
Cohiba Siglo VI (Tubo) Cuba 93
E.P. Carrillo Encore Majestic Dom. Rep. 93
Herrera Esteli Miami Toro Especial U.S.A. 93
H. Upmann Connossieur B Cuba 93
Montecristo Nicaragua Series Robusto Nicaragua 93
My Father La Opulencia Toro Nicaragua 93
Padrón Family Reserve No. 44 (Natural) Nicaragua 93
Alec Bradley Black Market Estelí Churchill Nicaragua 92
Alec Bradley Black Market Estelí Toro Nicaragua 92
Arturo Fuente Hemingway Classic Dom. Rep. 92
Arturo Fuente Hemingway Work of Art Dom. Rep. 92
Enclave Broadleaf Churchill Nicaragua 92
Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2 Cuba 92
Illusione Cruzado Short Robusto Nicaragua 92
Joya De Nicaragua Antaño Gran Reserva Robusto Grande Nicaragua 92
Joya Silver Corona Nicaragua 92
Micallef Gomez Sanchez 1RA Generacion Leyenda No. 1 Nicaragua 92
Montecristo No. 2 Cuba 92
OneOff +53 Super Robusto Nicaragua 92
Padrón Family Reserve No. 45 (Natural) Nicaragua 92
Padrón Family Reserve No. 50 (Natural) Nicaragua 92
Quai d'Orsay No. 54 Cuba 92
Ramon Allones Gigantes Cuba 92
Ramon Allones by AJ Fernandez Churchill Nicaragua 92
Ramon Allones by AJ Fernandez Toro Nicaragua 92
Room101 Farce It is a Magnum Dom. Rep. 92
Tatuaje Fausto FT153 Toro Nicaragua 92
Trinidad Santiago Belicoso Dom. Rep. 92

Two Cuban cigars scored 93 points, one a new release and the other a cigar that’s been around for more than 15 years. The H. Upmann Connossieur B started shipping globally earlier this year and is a cigar made exclusively for La Casa del Habano and Habanos Specialist retail stores. The Cohiba Siglo VI has been out since 2003 and became a favorite among Cohiba fans almost immediately. Upon its release, it was the thickest Cohiba on the market. It was also the first Cohiba to show off the next generation of Cohiba bands printed with embossed gold lettering to thwart counterfeiters.

Ironically, the only Dominican cigar to score 93 points doesn’t have any Dominican tobacco at all. The E.P. Carrillo Encore Majestic is made in the Dominican Republic at Ernesto Perez-Carrillo’s Tabacalera La Alianza factory, but it’s rolled with only Nicaraguan tobacco, all of which come from the three major growing regions of the country: Jalapa, Condega and Estelí. It was previewed at the 2016 IPCPR, but Perez-Carrillo thought the wrapper needed more time, so he waited until March of 2018 to bring it to market.

American-made, handmade cigars are rare, but they can be superb, and this year one excelled with a score of 93 points: the Herrera Esteli Miami Toro Especial. The brand is owned by Drew Estate, conceived by Willy Herrera (Drew Estate’s master blender) and made at the small El Titan de Bronze factory in Little Havana. This is a departure from the core line, which is made in Nicaragua, and differs in blend, incorporating an Ecuadoran wrapper and binder along with filler tobacco from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

For a broader perspective on 2018, we’ve organized the 273 rated cigars ranked by average score by brand. The highest ranking cigar brand with more than one cigar rated was the Padrón Family Reserve, which scored an impressive 91.4 point average for its five cigars. Only one of the cigars in the line scored lower than 90 points. 

Cuban Cohibas averaged 91.3 points over three cigars, a positive indication for the quality of Cuban Cohibas, albeit from not a particularly large sample. My Father La Opulencia averaged 90.5 points, with six cigars rated. And we rated eight Arturo Fuente Hemingway cigars, which delivered a brand average of 90.1 points, giving this Dominican line of perfectos an impressive showing of consistency. 

Where The Top Scorers Are Made

Country Cigars Rated 90 Points or Higher Percent
Cuba 22 14 63.6%
U.S.A. 6 3 50.0%
Nicaragua 133 47 35.3%
Dom. Rep. 83 27 32.5%
Costa Rica 4 1 25.0%
Honduras 25 3 12.0%

Cigar Insider rated 133 Nicaraguan cigars this year—more than any other country—and they had an average rating of 88.9 points, which is a very strong indication of quality and consistency given the large number we tested.

But why did we rate so many cigars from Nicaragua? The answer points to the export numbers. Last year, Nicaragua exported more handmade cigars to the U.S. than any other country. And judging by the import data for 2018 so far, it looks like Nicaragua will be the leader this year as well. 

Nicaragua’s dominance is reflected in tobacconists and cigar shops across the U.S. as Nicaraguan brands have a strong presence in many retail humidors. Nicaraguan cigars are very hot right now, and the city of Estelí (the country’s epicenter for handmade cigar production) is experiencing a boom. Despite the high volume pouring into the U.S., Nicaragua’s cumulative average is compelling evidence that it can sustain quality while still meeting large demand. High-performing brands like Padrón Family Reserve, Joya de Nicaragua Antaño Gran Reserva, Montecristo Nicaragua Series and My Father La Opulencia all had brand averages in the 90s, helping to keep Nicaragua’s year-end average quite high, despite the high volume.

Now the second largest supplier to the U.S., the Dominican Republic had an overall average of 88.3 points representing the 83 Dominican cigars we smoked in 2018. Top-scoring brands from the Dominican Republic include Arturo Fuente Hemingway and E.P. Carrillo Encore. While not averaging quite as high as Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic performed better than Honduras, which had an average overall score of 87.6 points for its 25 cigars. Costa Rica’s average of 87.3 points is statistically irrelevant, as the calculated mean is for only four cigars.

2018 Best Buys

Score Cigar Price
90 Gilberto Oliva Reserva 5x50 $5.80
89 Gilberto Oliva Reserva 5.75x43 $5.25
89 Henry Clay Rustic Cheroot $4.25
88 Brick House Double Connecticut Corona Larga $6.00

Many of these averages are comparable to the performances in 2017 Cigar Insider ratings. Cuba and Nicaragua each had an average that was down 0.4 points from their respective 2017 numbers. Ratings for Dominican cigars rose slightly this year, up 0.2 points from the average score in 2017. Honduran cigars, by contrast, showed a relatively steep decline, down by 1.6 points from last year. 

While it was easy to find a top-quality cigar in 2018, most of the top-scoring smokes were expensive, some of which had retail prices of $25, $30 and $42 going all the way to £69 (nearly $86) per cigar. Bargains and steals were scarce. Of the 273 cigars we smoked this year, only four were classified as Best Buys, which means they have a suggested retail price of $6 or less and scored 87 points or higher. Oliva’s Gilberto Oliva Reserva topped the small Best Buy list, scoring 90 points and retailing for only $5.80.

Cigar lovers looking for a bargain are most likely to find it with Honduran cigars. The average suggested retail price for the 25 Honduran cigars we rated was $10.56, the lowest of the survey. The average price for cigars coming out of the Dominican Republic was $11.21, with Nicaragua slightly higher at $11.48. Cuban cigars showed the highest average retail price at £25.59 (about $31.82).

The market has moved away from smaller, thinner traditional sizes in favor of thicker robustos, heftier toros and bulkier figurados, and our ratings reflect those trends. Cigar Insider rated very few petit coronas, lonsdales or panetelas this year. Oddly enough, the Miscellaneous category scored highest, averaging 89.2 points. Churchills followed with an average of 89 points for 29 cigars. The figurado category was only a tenth of a point behind, averaging 88.9 points over 48 cigars. Figurados can be torpedos, belicosos, perfectos or any shaped cigar with a point, curve or taper. 

Average Score By Size

1. Miscellaneous 12 Cigars 89.2
2. Churchill 29 Cigars 89.0
3. Figurado 48 Cigars 88.9
4. Corona Gorda 95 Cigars 88.8
5. Corona 6 Cigars 88.7
6. Double Corona 2 Cigars 88.5
6. Robusto 57 Cigars 88.5
8. Lonsdale 3 Cigars 88.0
9. Petit Corona 3 Cigars 87.7
10. Grande 17 Cigars 87.5
11. Panetela 1 Cigar 86.0

Corona gordas (also known as toros) was the largest category by volume. We rated 95 corona gordas and the category maintained an average of 88.8 points. Classic coronas were next at the No. 5 spot with an average of 88.7 points for 6 cigars. Double coronas and robustos tied with the same average of 88.5, but we only rated two double coronas compared to 57 robustos, still a very popular size among consumers. Three lonsdales and three petit coronas averaged 88 and 87.7 points, respectively, while 17 grandes (60 ring gauge or larger) posted an average of 87.5 points. The one panetela we reviewed averaged 86 points, the lowest average of the year. 

Looking at the year-end numbers, one thing is quite obvious: the market is teeming with Nicaraguan cigars. Some are quite expensive, others more reasonably priced, but currently, Nicaraguan cigars take up a lot of shelf space in the humidor and this was reflected in the high number of Nicaraguan cigars we rated in 2018. 

As our scores indicate, quality is being upheld despite the big demand for Nicaragua’s cigars. However, you can still find top-scoring smokes from the other three major cigar-producing countries. There was no shortage of high-scoring, excellent cigars. And if you look at each suggested retail price, they’re not all expensive. Relatively speaking, there’s a cigar for almost every budget, taste and preference, although you might have to look a little harder for some more than others. 

More in Cigar Industry

See all
2022 Imports Off To Decent Start

2022 Imports Off To Decent Start

The ultra-hot handmade cigar market continues to show signs of growth.

May 2, 2022
New President And Board Members For TAA

New President And Board Members For TAA

The Tobacconists’ Association of America consists of roughly 250 shops in the United States, along …

Apr 19, 2022
The Lineup: What Cigars To Expect at Big Smoke Meets WhiskyFest 2022

The Lineup: What Cigars To Expect at Big Smoke Meets WhiskyFest 2022

The second-ever Big Smoke Meets WhiskyFest—coming to Hollywood, Florida on May 28—is coming up fast, …

Apr 7, 2022
456 Million Handmade Cigars Shipped To U.S. In 2021

456 Million Handmade Cigars Shipped To U.S. In 2021

Shipments were up by 25.3 percent over 2020.

Mar 17, 2022
Cigars International To Open Third Retail Store in Texas

Cigars International To Open Third Retail Store in Texas

The Lone Star State is getting a new, massive Cigars International retail store in San Antonio.

Mar 16, 2022
Big Smoke Meets WhiskyFest: A Top-Tier Lineup Of Cigar Stars Are Speaking At The Seminars

Big Smoke Meets WhiskyFest: A Top-Tier Lineup Of Cigar Stars Are Speaking At The Seminars

The second-ever Big Smoke meets Whiskey Fest is coming Saturday, May 28, at the Seminole Hard Rock …

Mar 16, 2022