I'm back from the IPCPR trade show with enough cigar samples to last me the rest of the summer. I'm acquainted with most of them in some way or another, but there are a few that I am most curious about and really don't know what to expect. The list is below. I'm not saying that these cigars are the best, or the hottest, or the hippest. I'm not proclaiming them to be the most boutique, the most authentic, the dark horses, the cult classics or the ones most likely to be named Cigar of the Year. No. All I'm saying is that these cigars (in no particular order) have piqued my curiosity for one reason or another and I will most likely be reaching for these first once I've given my palate a few days to rest from power-smoking the IPCPR.
1. Hit & Run
Admittedly, it was weird seeing Matt Booth disembodied from the Davidoff booth, but he did alright with his small space, most of which was dedicated to old arcade games from the 80s and 90s. As I'm sure you've already read, Hit & Run marks his new start in the biz, sans Davidoff, and is a collaboration with Caldwell Cigar Co. The cigar is made with an Ecuadoran Habano wrapper, Indonesian binder and Dominican filler. It's also produced in the Dominican Republic, which is new territory for him. But he treads familiar ground with his sakura symbol on the cigar band, the Japanese cherry blossom. Its petals are the red, brown and gold shades of a samurai autumn. I think that's a haiku.
2. Viaje 10th Anniversary
Hard to believe, but Viaje turns 10 this summer. To celebrate, brand owner Andre Farkas created three 10th Anniversary ceramic jars—a white one, a charcoal gray one and a glossy black one. The cigars inside that last jar are the ones I'm most interested in. He only made a few hundred of that particular jar and the double-tapered salomones within look most intriguing. It's made of all Nicaraguan tobacco grown by agricultural conglomerate Aganorsa.
3. Florida Sun Grown
It looks like the premium cigar industry has a new tobacco appellation: Florida. Or, if what Orlando retailer Jeff Borysiewicz says is correct, a very old tobacco appellation that's once again up and running, mostly thanks to him. Made by Drew Estate, Florida Sun Grown started as an in-store only cigar, but has now gone national, and as the name suggests, the cigar is made with tobacco grown in the open Florida sunlight.
Borysiewicz first planted his test crops in Clermont, a town in Central Florida about 40 minutes away from his Orlando-based Corona Cigar Co., back in 2013. Once he realized the Criollo and Corojo was smokable, he went on with the project. The Florida tobacco is only in the binder and filler, so it's not a single-origin product, but I don't mind. Even Tropicana's oranges don't all come from the same state. (The American from J.C. Newman, however, does use Borysiewicz's Florida tobacco as wrapper.)
4. Hamlet 25th Year By Rocky Patel
Hamlet Paredes, a former Cuban cigar roller and Habanos ambassador, decided to leave Cuba two years ago and work for Rocky Patel. Hamlet's first attempt at blending a cigar without Cuban tobacco was respectable and I commend him for going outside his comfort zone. Before Rocky, Hamlet ever only blended Cuban tobacco. Now, with the tobaccos of the world still at his disposal, he's created Hamlet 25th Year. The name is a nod to his 25 years in the cigar business. Did he return to his roots and try recreating the taste of Cuba with non-Cuban tobaccos? Or did he experiment even further in a way he could have only dreamed of in Cuba?
5. Curivari Onassis
Andreas Throuvalis likes to make a lot of brands. Last year, he introduced more SKUs than I can remember, and they were released in very, very small amounts. So small that he didn't even have any samples. This year, he had them—and they're beautiful. Lots of cigar manufacturers try to capture the splendor of old Havana by either resurrecting old Cuban brands or designing labels in the old-world style. Few are as successful as Throuvalis and his myriad Curivari lines.
Most of his new releases have Greek themes or Grecian motifs—Cyclopes, Pythagoras, Archimedes—and all the bands look as though they were minted in the 1920s. But one in particular, the Curivari Onassis, has really got me interested. The Nicaraguan wrappers are beautiful, the band is charming and this year, he's only making about 20,000 of them. If that's not a Spartan approach to the industry, I don't know what is.
6. Hoyo La Amistad Silver
It seems that the two companies in charge of all the major Cuban heritage brands are relying on A.J. Fernandez to take these classic lines into the future (or at least into the present) with modern interpretations that respect the history, yet appeal to today's smoker. Last year, General Cigar gave A.J. a crack at blending Hoyo de Monterrey with Hoyo La Amistad. It was bold and strong. This year he's doing it again with Hoyo La Amistad Silver. It may or may not be as strong. A.J. says that the blend is slightly different with alternate primings and other Nicaraguan tobaccos. But "different" can mean a lot of things, and I look forward to finding out exactly how different this new Hoyo is going to hit my palate.
7. Monte By Montecristo AJ Fernandez
This year, it appears that all roads lead to A.J. Fernandez. Remember when Altadis U.S.A. let the Plasencias blend a version of Montecristo? Now they're giving A.J. a shot. The Monte by Montecristo AJ Fernandez is his take on one of the most recognized cigar brands in the world. Being of Cuban heritage, he's honored to be part of an iconic brand such as this one, but there are a lot of Montecristos already in circulation. Can this one really stand out? I think AJ is more than up for the challenge. He has access to a lot of tobacco and I truly believe it's a matter of pride for him to make this Montecristo taste like no other.