The 2023 Cigar Aficionado Top 25 is out, the most crucial and talked-about list in the cigar community. Manufacturers and retailers love it for its potential to drive sales with high ratings leading to instant turnover, especially in the last week of the year.
It is also a burden for a lot of manufacturers to win, as demand goes through the roof and many manufacturers aren’t ready to handle such a spike in demand. Either there is not enough manpower to make the cigars, sometimes there’s not enough of a specific tobacco to make the blend and the manufacturers face a lot of critique from the potential buyers when they can’t find the cigar they are looking for. Becoming the #1 cigar of the year can be a huge success and a burden at the same time.
A year after Alec Bradley’s Prensado Churchill became the cigar of the year 2011, Alan Rubin said in an interview with Cigar Aficionado that his company grew 70% that year, triple of the average growth of the previous years, just because of that #1 ranking. In that interview he also said “People were calling, friends that I had, and they would call and say ‘Give me 25 boxes of Prensado Churchill.’ And the truth is if they called at the end of the day we were basically out of inventory. As soon as I said no, they said ‘You’re not the same company you used to be. I thought we were friends.’ I’m never one to want to say no, I always want to say yes. I didn’t want to say no. I overpromised. And I hurt a lot of people. And the truth is, we burdened the factory. In that one year we grew 72 percent. Unmanageable. And we put demands on the factory and we didn’t have the processes in place. It had an effect on the entire company. Across all the lines. If you look at how that translates back, we had to dedicate a lot of our production to Prensado. So, therefore, the other brands began to suffer. I had to take production from other products that we had in our portfolio to try and take care of my friends that were looking for the product.”
What you read on the internet and hear in cigar lounges every year again is that the top 25 is paid for. The company that pays the most gets the #1 spot. I refuse to believe that. If that was the case, Habanos would have never won and they did a few times. They are not allowed to advertise in, nor pay an American publication due to the trade embargo and Cigar Aficionado is an American publication. In fact, by buying Cuban cigars, Cigar Aficionado is actually breaking the law as Americans are not allowed to buy Cuban products anywhere in the world according to the embargo, but let’s leave that aside.
Now some of you will counter with “they do that because nobody would take them seriously if they never have a Cuban number one”. Then I ask, General Cigars/STG spends a lot of marketing money with Cigar Aficionado, why has there never been an STG cigar on the top spot? Why didn’t we see a Macanudo, CAO or Non-Cuban La Gloria Cubana win the title? Explain me that.
Every year I look at the top 25 and compare that to my personal preferences. Often, I wonder why a certain cigar scores so high, but it’s all about preferences. The top 10 of this year is quite to my liking, eight of the ten cigars I would comfortably buy in a cigar lounge, and the other two I would smoke if someone offered them to me (trust me: there are many cigars that I refuse, not from a snobbish point of view, but if I know I won’t enjoy it I rather see you give the cigar to someone who will). I have not smoked all cigars below the top 10, but the ones I did were quite enjoyable (West Tampa Red, Foreign Affair, La Flor Dominicana, Ashton, Cohiba, Tatuaje, My Father), except for the Romeo y Juliette Linea de Oro which underwhelmed me.
But now to the bad: the number one is extremely hard to find. Even before becoming cigar of the year. And that’s the third year in a row that a cigar with such a limited reach and available in such limited quantities is chosen to be the number one cigar of the year. This year it’s the Opus X Reserva Chateau, which is close to impossible to find. Last year it was the H. Upmann #2, also extremely hard to find and before that the Padron 1964 Torpedo Natural in a time when Padron struggled to meet demand. They not only struggled, but failed as international markets didn’t get supplied for two full years and lead times are still close to a year now. By choosing these cigars, Cigar Aficionado makes it impossible for cigar enthusiasts to get to taste the number one cigar of the year and that’s a shame.