So you’ve taken a few puffs from a cigar or two or your pals have been firing up in your presence and now your curiosity is ripe. What is it about a cigar that intrigues so effortlessly? The tantalizing room note, the command that sets in from brandishing a burning Churchill in front of your buddies, or how about the taste?
Premium, handmade cigars harbor allure for a number of reasons. But cigars are not solely relegated to the simple big-shot factor they’re often portrayed as encouraging in the media. Smoking a fine cigar imparts a moment of reflection and indulgence few other products can offer. We liken the enjoyment of a premium cigar to that of a vintage bottle of wine or a patiently aged whiskey.
Family, tradition, pride, and generations of tobacco-growing and blending expertise lie at the root of the most lauded cigar brands, and for good reason. It’s not easy to make a premium cigar and many skilled, caring hands are involved in the process – as well as a great amount of time. Curing, blending, and aging select tobaccos to create the inevitable taste and aroma you access requires much patience and knowledge.
When you’re just getting into cigars, navigating the tremendous menu of historic and contemporary brands available today can be intimidating, not to mention all the fuss over Cuban cigars – but that’s another story altogether (and, no they’re not the best).
To simplify things a bit, we’ve created an easy-to-follow roadmap of the Top 10 Cigar Brands for Beginners. Some you may have heard of, some may be unfamiliar, but they are all readily available at most premium cigar retailers and all are worthy of your consideration.
Best Cigars for Beginners
Ashton raws on a 35-plus-year history that culminates in a tremendous portfolio of top-rated, award-winning blends. The brand effectively bridges the gap between accessibility and refinement. The place to start is Ashton Classic. Hands down, it’s no accident Ashton Classic established the brand’s presence as one of the “Top 5” cigar companies in the world. Much of that success is owed to the legendary Fuente family, makers of Ashton, whose generations of cigar-making mastery bear a number of unmistakable hallmarks for consistency, excellence, and taste.
Ashton Classic is both rich and elegant, as well as approachable. A golden-blond Connecticut Shade wrapper leaf is harvested from the fertile soils of the Connecticut River Valley and blended over a stunning recipe of premium aged binder and filler tobaccos grown on select Fuente family estates in the Dominican Republic.
The blend is handcrafted in a wide variety of shapes to deliver a mild profile of almonds, cashews, and coffee beans with a touch of signature Dominican spice. Ashton Classic is luscious, creamy, and ideal for new cigar smokers prospecting for an easygoing yet indulgent taste. Silky aromas accompany a smooth, irresistible finish perfect for a day on the golf course or kicking your feet up in the backyard hammock.
Romeo y Julieta 1875
When we talk about cigars, it’s impossible to leave out a discussion of Cuba. Although you can bring authentic Cuban cigars back to the States when you’re traveling abroad, Cubans are still not available for sale in the U.S. Commonly, however, you will encounter a number of “Cuban-legacy brands” – cigars that are manufactured outside of Cuba for the domestic U.S. market under their well-known Cuban brand names.
The majority of Cuban-legacy cigars are handcrafted in the Dominican Republic or Nicaragua. While Cuban-made brands often get a lot of attention (because everybody wants what they can’t get), the Dominican and Nicaraguan editions are just as good in their own right and are often far more consistent.
Among the best-known Cuban-legacy brands is Romeo y Julieta. Yes, the brand is named for Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. Dating back to the late 1800s, Romeo y Julieta cigars have made their way into every premium smokeshop around the globe.
The most fitting Romeo entrée for new cigar lovers is Romeo y Julieta 1875. This mild to medium-bodied blend pays homage to the year the brand was founded and has been a bestseller for decades. A gingerbread-hued Indonesian wrapper leaf marries a distinctive blend of long-filler tobaccos grown in the Dominican Republic.
Notes of chestnuts, black pepper, leather, and fresh ground coffee mingle from beginning to end. Chances are solid your pals will applaud your taste in familiar, high-quality name brands like Romeo y Julieta. Plus, the blend is handmade in a number of popular shapes for a reasonable price.
Arturo Fuente needs little introduction when it comes to premium cigars. The brand spans generations of Fuentes that can be traced back to Cuba in the 1800s. In the face of fires, hurricanes, embargos, and civil wars, the Fuente family’s resilience is unquestioned. They have made premium cigars in a number of nations over the years and no adversity has stopped their enterprise.
It is in the Dominican Republic, however, where their modern-day odyssey began and where their success is cemented. It could also be related that the Fuentes have elevated the notion of premium cigars – outside of Cuba – more so than any other family to date. The late family patriarch Carlos Fuente Sr. built his family’s brand with his son, Carlito Fuente, into a marvel of prosperity, quality, and renown.
A number of the most sought-after cigars available today are credited to the Fuente family, including Fuente Fuente Opus X, Arturo Fuente Anejo, and Arturo Fuente Hemingway. While you may not find all of these coveted editions at your local smokeshop, the original Arturo Fuente blend enjoys a bit more distribution, with no less attention to detail.
Arturo Fuente 8-5-8, in particular, is an elegant Corona-shaped smoke, handcrafted in three distinct wrapper varietals: Natural, Maduro, and Sun Grown. We recommend beginning with the Natural variety which consists of a luscious Cameroon wrapper leaf over a patiently aged interior of Dominican binder and filler tobaccos. The flavor profile includes notes of nutmeg, almonds, coffee beans, and authentic Dominican spices.
Rich, medium-bodied, and sublime, the original Arturo Fuente blend presents a sensational introduction to premium cigars handcrafted by a family that places quality, consistency, and taste above all else.
San Cristobal Elegancia
Jose “Pepin” Garcia (also called “Pepin”) is more than a patriarch to the Garcia family, makers of San Cristobal. For many decades, Pepin oversaw cigar production in Cuba for a number of celebrated Cuban brands, including Romeo y Julieta, Montecristo, and Cohiba. Throughout his tenure in Cuba, Pepin trained some 200-plus cigar rollers to handcraft some of the most famous brands in the world.
In the early 2000s, however, Pepin immigrated to the States to begin anew with his son, Jaime Garcia, and daughter, Janny Garcia, in what would amount to a meteoric rise in the premium cigar industry in the U.S. market.
The Garcias began humbly in a small factory in Miami’s famed cigar-making district, Little Havana. Having gained a number of accolades making a handful of smaller boutique brands like Tatuaje, the Garcia family rose steadily and expanded production in Nicaragua as they established their own brands, namely My Father.
Although many cigars in the My Father portfolio may be a bit on the strong side for a beginner cigar smoker, the 91-rated San Cristobal Elegancia is drawn from a superb blend to show off Pepin’s inherent talent for making rich, versatile cigars with moderate intensity and a more approachable finish.
An Ecuador Connecticut wrapper leaf embraces a silky and spicy amalgam of aged Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos grown on Garcia family estates. Notes of white pepper, toast, and almonds mingle throughout a creamy finish in a handful of classic shapes that present the blend with distinctive nuances.
By the end of 2015, the Garcia family had earned two “#1 Cigar of the Year” titles from Cigar Aficionado, one for the 97-rated My Father Le Bijou 1922, and an earlier award in 2012 for their popular, 96-rated Flor de las Antillas. Both smokes beam with intensity, balance, and a spicy Nicaraguan impression. And both are best served after dinner. The Garcia family is well-known for making dense and decadent cigars that you wouldn’t want to dive into on an empty stomach.
Save each of these celebrated blends until you’re a bit more experienced and prepared to take on a stronger, more potent cigar. For now, start with San Cristobal Elegancia and taste Pepin’s facility for satisfying newer cigar lovers.
Tons of cigar lovers gained their introduction to premium smokes over the years through Macanudo thanks to its ubiquitous presence. Practically any establishment that sells cigars in any way, shape, or form carries Macanudo, from premium cigar retailers to big box chains to convenience stores. The brand is owned by tobacco giant General Cigar Company whose sprawling portfolio includes a number of Cuban-legacy brands, such as Cohiba, Punch, and La Gloria Cubana.
Macanudo is distinct from the pack, though, as the brand’s roots lie in Jamaica, not Cuba. Macanudo was developed to satisfy for the growing demand for cigars in the U.S. in the years following the trade embargo with Cuba. Today, Macanudo is handcrafted in the Dominican Republic and is most closely associated with its flagship blend, Macanudo Cafe.
The creamy, mild recipe is handmade from an easygoing amalgam of Mexican and Dominican binder and filler tobaccos beneath a light and silky Connecticut Shade wrapper leaf. Tasting notes of nuts, cereal, and buttered toast deliver approachable spices that remain hospitable throughout a less intense finish.
La Aroma de Cuba
La Aroma de Cuba claims Winston Churchill as an early devotee, dating back to the late 1800s when Churchill was stationed in Cuba as a young naval officer. Today, the brand is handcrafted to an award-winning standard by the Garcia family (of My Father fame) in Estelí, Nicaragua.
La Aroma de Cuba offers a remarkable portfolio with a number of versatile, balanced cigars, including the 95-rated former “#2 Cigar of the Year,” La Aroma de Cuba Mi Amor, and the ultra-rare limited edition, La Aroma de Cuba Noblesse.
The original, 93-rated La Aroma de Cuba blend is an excellent preamble to this acclaimed brand. Drawn from a sumptuous Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper and a premium aged core of Nicaraguan tobaccos harvested from select Garcia family estates, La Aroma de Cuba is regarded for its unrivaled value.
Notes of brown sugar, molasses, cedar, and leathery spices produce exquisite aromas in a number of classic shapes. Pick up a box the next time your pals plan to invade your man cave if you want a parade thrown in your honor!
Montecristo is another world-famous brand hailing from Cuban origins. Today, the brand transcends its Cuban heritage with a full lineup of premium blends handcrafted in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. Its Dominican portfolio is the better-known of the two and includes the original Montecristo recipe.
Like Romeo y Julieta, Montecristo is named for an iconic work of literature, The Count of Monte Cristo, by French writer Alexander Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers. Beginning in the mid-1800s, lectors (meaning lecturer or reader) were employed to alleviate boredom and fatigue among cigar rollers in Cuban factories. The Count of Monte Cristo quickly became a beloved work requested by many factory workers. By the mid-1930s, Alonzo Menendez, owner of the Partagas brand, introduced the first Montecristo cigars as an homage to the classic tale.
Today, the original Dominican-made Montecristo blend is a bestseller, both for its recognizable historic brand name and for its mild, rich flavors. A Connecticut Shade wrapper leaf blankets a light and silky interior of Dominican binder and filler tobaccos. A sweet, grassy finish resides at the end of a nutty profile of coffee with cream, oak, and luscious spices.
The widespread familiarity Montecristo enjoys and the pleasant aroma and flavor the brand delivers deserve attention from new cigar enthusiasts looking to develop their palates.
The Padron family is well-known to connoisseurs and newcomers alike. Padron is a tough brand to ignore, but why would you? They make amazing cigars and have won Cigar Aficionado’s prestigious “#1 Cigar of the Year” title no less than three times in the past 15 years.
Cigars within the Padron portfolio account for some the highest-rated blends ever produced. The brand’s best-known releases include Padron 1964 Anniversary, Padron Series 1926, and Padron Family Reserve, all of which are handmade in Nicaragua from the family’s oldest stores of premium tobaccos.
If you’re on a budget, the aged Padron releases may prove a bit much for the pocketbook, but rest assured the original Padron blend delivers a marvelous portrait of the brand’s signature tasting notes at a less expensive price. All Padron cigars are handcrafted from a luscious blend of Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos beneath your choice of a Natural or Maduro wrapper leaf, also harvested in Nicaragua’s lush soils.
Cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne, baking spices, and coffee bean notes feature prominently across the Padron portfolio. The Maduro wrappers display an enhanced sweetness, and when you’re prepared to delve into celebrated smokes like Padron 1964 Anniversary and Padron Series 1926, ultra-refined flavors emerge due to the extensive aging the cigars receive. Treat yourself, you’re worth it.
Rocky Patel Vintage 1999
Rocky Patel is a cigar-making icon today, but his success wasn’t born overnight. Having established himself as a successful Hollywood attorney, Rocky Patel transitioned into the premium cigar business during the Cigar Boom of the 1990s. His first brand, Indian Tabac, gained an audience and enjoyed a positive reception from a handful of premium retailers around the country.
After hearing time and again that he wouldn’t make it in the premium cigar industry as an outsider, Rocky’s determination kicked in and culminated in his eponymous Rocky Patel brand. Today, the Rocky Patel portfolio is home to an unprecedented number of top-selling blends that are handmade in Nicaragua and Honduras.
Ever creative and rarely satisfied, Rocky is not one to rest on his laurels and pushes himself to develop new cigars on a regular basis. When it comes to navigating the brand’s vast collection, Rocky Patel Vintage 1999 is a great place for new cigar smokers to begin.
An elegant Connecticut Shade wrapper embraces a creamy profile of Dominican and Nicaraguan tobaccos that furnish a medium-bodied finish without overwhelming. Notes of cedar, toasted cashews, and black pepper surface in a variety of classic sizes that burn cool and consistently.
When you’re ready to tackle a slightly spicier, beefier profile, the 95-rated Rocky Patel Decade is drafted from an earthy and oily Ecuador Sumatra wrapper leaf. Rocky is also known for pumping out a hearty supply of top-selling, budget-friendly bundles like Rocky Patel Renaissance and Rocky Patel Mulligans. When you need a batch of utility smokes for the golf course or good cheap cigars for beginners, Rocky Patel is an easy source to rely on without sacrificing a hint of flavor or quality.
Brand founder Nick Perdomo Jr. built his company from the ground up beginning in the budget category. The premium lineup he produces nowadays bears a number of bestselling, popular cigars for an unbeatable value. Determination, hard work, and a relentless passion for handcrafted cigars are at the core of the Perdomo family’s philosophy.
Perdomo cigars are handmade in Estelí, Nicaragua with an unwavering attention to detail. A number of the brand’s most prominent blends are available in multiple wrapper leaf varieties, including Ecuador Connecticut, Maduro, and Sun Grown options.
Perdomo 10th Anniversary Champagne is a magnificent introduction. The blend stands out for its medium-bodied character, courtesy of a blond Connecticut-seed wrapper grown in Ecuador and a rich center of long-fillers from Nicaragua. Flavors of white pepper, cedar, toasted nuts, and leather reveal complex aromas in an approachable profile that concludes on the smooth side.
A number of Perdomo cigars are blended in slightly bigger ring gauges to guarantee a cool, razor-sharp burn that lasts longer and finishes easy. Don’t overlook Perdomo when you’re building your first cigar collection. You’re bound to discover a number of gems that will please your palate.