Topper Cigars, which have been made since 1896 and have been the product of machines for decades, have been completely recreated. In a return to its roots, the brand is being made once again by hand.
This summer, the first handmade Toppers in some 50 years will arrive in cigar shops. The smokes, made entirely from tobacco using a blend of chopped filler leaves, are bargain-priced at less than $3 per smoke and taste strongly of Connecticut broadleaf tobacco grown in north central Connecticut.
"Broadleaf is our foundation," says Chris Topper, owner of Topper Cigar Co., which is based in Meriden, Connecticut. Topper likes to say he was weaned on broadleaf, spending time with his father looking at tobacco in the fields near his boyhood home. Toppers have always been made with Connecticut broadleaf wrappers, and the cigars also have some broadleaf tobacco in the filler blend, which also includes tobaccos from the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua.
The cigars are being rolled by hand in Santiago, Dominican Republic, by Durfort Holdings S.A., run by Phil Zanghi. Using the chopped tobacco, making the cigars offshore and cutting his margins allows Topper to charge only about 25 cents more per cigar than he did with his machine-made version, even though this new version uses bigger pieces of tobacco than the machine-made variety. "There are longer pieces in this version," said Topper, who explained that the old machines that once made his cigars could only use tobacco that was small, or the leaves would clog the devices. "They're taking a lot of the longer pieces that are too short for long-filler cigars," he said.
The cigars are made with square molds, giving them a pressed look.
The smokes come in four old-school sizes, none of them thicker than 48 ring gauge. The Breva (pictured) measures 5 1/2 inches long by 46, Grande Corona is 6 by 47, Ebony is 5 1/2 by 47 and Old Fashioned Perfecto is 4 7/8 by 48. Each cigar has a suggested retail of $2.60.
These new Toppers are packed in wooden boxes, each containing 30 cigars. (The machine-made versions came in cardboard boxes, each with 50 cigars.) The boxes have a distressed, old-school look, and each size has a different border color. Topper expects them to arrive from Santiago by month's end.
There's also a more bargain Topper version that comes in a five-pack called Broadleaf, which retails for $9.75 per pack, or $1.95 per cigar. These cigars, which are also handmade, are made with lighter wrappers than the other Toppers.
The Topper brand was created in McSherrystown, Pennsylvania in the late 1800s. They were originally made by hand with Cuban tobacco on the inside (which was legal at the time) and broadleaf wrappers. As labor rates soared in the United States and the workforce rolling Topper cigars aged, Topper switched its brand to a machine-made smoke in the 1960s. Unlike the vast majority of machine-made cigars, Toppers remained all-tobacco smokes, without fillers or homogenized wrapper.
For much more on broadleaf, see the October Cigar Aficionado, on newsstands soon. To watch a video showing how broadleaf is planted, click here.