Every year, the editors of Cigar Aficionado have one of the best tasks in the cigar world: smoking and rating the top 25 cigars of the year. In 2007, it was the fourth time we have tackled this job. We always know in advance that it is one of the most pleasurable tastings of the year. The biggest problem is that it is getting harder and harder to pick the best cigars because there are so many good ones on the market.
The process started with our tasting coordinator, Gregory Mottola, putting together a list of the best-scoring cigars of the year. We limited the final list to 45. No cigar made the cut that had received lower than 90 points in either the magazine or Cigar Insider, our online newsletter. That's quite a benchmark, and it produced an amazing list of cigars. The cigars were then passed out to the tasting panel, which included both of us, James Suckling, Dave Savona, Mike Marsh and Jack Bettridge. Each cigar was tasted blind and judged on our 100-point rating scale. After we concluded that round, we narrowed the final selection to the 10 highest-scoring cigars, and then retasted them. We gave a Padrón Serie 1926 one of the highest scores ever in the magazine for a current-production cigar: 97 points. A clear winner.
On another front in the cigar world, the news is not as good. The cigar industry is facing a major challenge. Congress has passed legislation that could increase the price of individual cigars anywhere from a dime to a dollar. Called the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, the congressional measure calls for a $35 billion increase in funding for the program, financed through higher taxes on cigarettes and cigars. Under the current bill, the cigar industry would have to produce about $800 million in tax revenues, up from the $200 million it creates now. President Bush vetoed both versions of the bill, and there didn't appear to be enough votes in Congress to override the veto of the reworked version. Sooner or later, however, industry leaders expect Congress to arrive at a compromise bill that satisfies the president. When that happens, it is likely that cigar smokers will be paying more for their cigars in 2008. For more detailed information on the bill, see the Cigar News section on page 172.
But there's good news too. 2007 will be the third consecutive year that imports of premium hand-rolled cigars have exceeded 300 million sticks. Through September 2007, imports were running more than 7 percent ahead of 2006, and industry experts predict at least a 5 percent increase over the 320 million cigars imported in 2006. Those numbers are being driven by significant increases in cigars from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, which are producing their greatest quality cigars ever. But there have been improvements in cigars from Honduras and Mexico too.
Our congratulations go to the Padrón family for the # No. 1 cigar of the year, the Padrón Serie 1926 No. 9. What a great cigar, and the second time the Padróns have earned the No. 1 cigar of the year accolade. In fact, they've never been outside the top five. But check out the next four on this year's list: a Fuente Fuente OpusX PerfecXion No. 2 from the Dominican Republic, a Montecristo No. 2 from Cuba, an Oliva Serie V Torpedo from Nicaragua and an Ashton Virgin Sun Grown Torpedo from the Dominican Republic. Those four cigars, numbers two through five, are all torpedos. And each is a truly outstanding cigar.
So go search out Cigar Aficionado's top 25 cigars. Visit your local tobacconist. You'll find cigars on the list that range from $5 to $35. If 2008 turns out to be a tough year economically in the United States, cigar smokers won't have to suffer. You will have more great cigars to choose from than ever before.