Nearly 25 years ago, Cigar Aficionado chose five of Cuba's greatest cigars in a short feature called the Star Cigars of Cuba—Hoyo de Monterrey Double Corona, Cohiba Robusto, Cohiba Esplendido, Punch Punch and Montecristo No. 2. They were the icons of Cuba's cigar industry, each one a benchmark that any serious connoisseur had to have in their humidors. We believed the Stars of Cuba were the best smokes produced on the island at the time.
Since then, highly touted cigars have vied for inclusion in Cuba's greatest smokes. Who can forget the original Trinidad Fundadores, Montecristo Edmundo or Cohiba Siglo VI? But we decided to take a closer look at today's cigars, and we were not looking for shooting stars that came and went. We wanted to identify the best cigars of Cuba today, the ones that have not only passed the test of time, but have matched the quality shown by the first class of Stars. After studying our tasting reports, examining our own smoking experiences and re-smoking many of the cigars on our final list, we have come up with our choices for the greatest cigars made in Cuba today.
Two of the original stars stayed on our list—The Hoyo de Monterrey Double Corona and the Montecristo No. 2. The newcomers shouldn't surprise anyone who loves a great Cuban cigar—the Bolivar Belicoso Fino, the Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2 and the Cohiba Behike BHK 52.
The Hoyo Double received the highest score of any current production cigar we ever rated in Cigar Aficionado magazine: 99 points. That 1992 review was accompanied by this tasting note: "Perhaps Cuba's greatest cigar. The Hoyo de Monterrey Double Corona is a benchmark for the cigar world. It is gorgeous and smokes like a dream. The aromas and flavors are incredibly distinctive and reminiscent of chocolate, nutmeg and cinnamon." Within what seemed like days, connoisseurs snapped up boxes of Hoyo Doubles like they would never see them again. We couldn't even find one in our own humidors when we did a 20th anniversary tasting in 2012—they had all been smoked.
Current production Hoyo de Monterrey Double Coronas, which measure 7 5/8 inches long by 49 ring gauge, like all Cuban double coronas, maintain the smooth balance that Hoyos are known for, with the same sweet spice core, hints of coffee beans and cocoa that are delivered on a medium body smoke. Like the original 1992 star, this cigar takes a minute to warm up after lighting, but it has vast aging potential (if you stay away from it in your humidor). We scored it 96 points.
The second cigar that showed the staying power to remain a Star is the Montecristo No. 2, a pyramid (or torpedo) that measures 6 1/8 by 52 at the foot, its fattest part. In every cigar lover's mind, the Monty 2 epitomizes a torpedo. We have rated it repeatedly over the years, perhaps more than any other Cuban cigar. "There is nothing quite like it," we wrote in the original Stars of Cuba tasting note. "The Montecristo No. 2...represents the best in Cuban craftsmanship...it is a bombshell of a smoke, packed with spicy, rich flavors that go on and on with each puff." In 2013, we named it our Cigar of the Year.
Current Montecristo No. 2s have an impressive oily Colorado wrapper that when lit, produce a full-bodied smoke that are simultaneously smooth and easy. There are notes of leather and cocoa bean, all integrated with a light earthiness that produces an extremely well-balanced cigar. We rated this cigar 96 points. It's pretty simple; if you like robust figurados, this is the cigar for you.
There are many great Cohibas, like the Robusto, Esplendido and Siglo VI, but the Cohiba Behike BHK 52 outperforms them all. From its inception in 2010, this 4 3/4 by 52 cigar has been made with Cuba's best tobaccos, and its production has been zealously protected in the El Laguito factory in Havana. The blend includes a small leaf called medio tiempo that was no longer used as a separate tobacco leaf after the Cuban Revolution in 1959. The cigar also comes with a classic pigtail head, making it a recognizable stick on retailers' shelves.
We named the Behike 52 Cigar of the Year in 2010, and the 2016 version rivals the original. The cigar has been mostly absent from the world's retail market for much of the last 18 months, something that's also true for the Behike BHK 54 and the Behike BHK 56—which have never done as well as the smaller BHK 52 in our repeated taste tests. The brand is a victim of shortages of the country's highest quality tobacco after three mediocre harvests in a row. But retailers are reporting that they have begun to receive stocks once again, albeit in limited quantities. The Behike line is one of the most expensive cigars on the market today, but it is worth the price. The 97-point smoke tends to be creamy and velvety, with a mix of such pleasant notes as spices, wood and nuts.
The Bolivar brand occupies a special place in the cigar world—it is a true cigar lover's cigar. Often overlooked and under the radar, Bolivars have long been reliable smokes for people seeking strong, full-boded Cuban cigars, loaded with sweet spice like cinnamon and nutmeg, offset by the coffee notes. The Bolivar Belicoso Fino, a 5 1/2 by 52 figurado that has a slightly rounder head than a torpedo, offers a lot of punch in a smaller, shorter cigar, ideal for today's on-the-go cigar smokers. Named after Simón Bolivar, known as Latin America's liberator from Spain, the cigar has earned No. 9 Cigar of the Year in 2015, up from No. 16 in 2013 and No. 22 in 2008, a sign that it has been rising in reputation and quality.
The BBF, as regular smokers call it, scored 95 points. The same notes of sweetness and coffee beans dominated, and it lived up to the brand's reputation of being a powerhouse, with a full-bodied profile, but that sneaky honey sweetness belies a solid underpinning of earthy tobacco flavors.
The Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2 is another mainstay of one of Cuba's greatest brands. While the brand's Double Corona size has received most of the spotlight over the years, the Epicure No. 2 remains arguably Cuba's greatest robusto, measuring 4 7/8 by 50. (Hot on its heels is the Ramon Allones Specially Selected, but this cigar has yet to achieve the legendary status of the Epicure No. 2.) It's one of the few Cuban cigars also available in cabinets of 50, which have yielded some of the greatest smokes from Cuba in the last 30 years. In a Connoisseur's Corner tasting earlier this year, an Epicure No. 2 produced in 1992 scored a perfect 100 points, a clear sign of its long aging potential.
The Epicure No. 2 in this special tasting showed the classic flavor profile of the Epicure line: notes of white pepper, or a light spiciness, with a core of coffee beans. It's a medium-bodied smoke with excellent balance throughout, from lighting right through the last third of the cigar. It scored 95 points.
We polled Casa del Habanos in Havana, Hong Kong, London, Hamburg, Mexico and the Dubai Duty Free shop in the Middle East to research the availability and prices of these Star Cigars. All the cigars were in stock, save for the Behike in certain places. Happy hunting.