Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2 SLB 1/40Best enjoyed with Glenmorangie Nectar D'Or 12 years
Translated to "Hole of Monterrey" for the concave terrain favored by growers of premium tobacco in the town of San Juan y Martinez, this cigar brand was founded by Spanish immigrant Don Jose Gener y Batet in 1865. Gener already owned the La Escepcion brand, but registered an entirely new one for Hoyo's premium products, which were favored in Britain. Later, both brands would be purchased by a company that would develop the Davidoff cigar line.
When the revolutionary government of Cuba unilaterally nationalized cigar manufacturing in 1959, the Hoyo de Monterrey plantation continued to be recognized as one of the great "Vegas de Primera" or first-class tobacco fields. Its gates are right at the town's main square and serve as a place of pride and landmark.
The brand is renowned for its Double Corona and for the range of medium- and slender- gauge vitolas known as the Le Hoyo Series. There is also the prestigious Epicure Series.
The Epicure no.2 is a very popular robusto. It is crisp, fruity, and airy, with excellent burn. Aficionados recommend enjoying it aged a few years and puffed on outdoors.
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Cohiba Behike 54Best enjoyed with Macallan 12 years
Easily the most famous of cigar brands, Cohiba is produced in Cuba for Habanos S.A., the Cuban state-owned tobacco company. The name cohiba derives from the Taino word for "tobacco." If you want to ensure your Cohibas are made in Cuba, look for the Habanos S.A. logo. Otherwise, you may end up with Cohibas produced in the Dominican Republic for US-based General Cigar Company, which makes the cigars eligible for US importation
The Cuban Cohiba brand was established in 1966 as a limited-production private brand supplied exclusively to Fidel Castro and high-level officials in the Cuban government. The cigars were often presented as diplomatic gifts, allowing the Cohiba brand to develop a "cult" status among those fortunate enough to receive one. It was first released for sale to the public in 1982.
Cuban Cohibas are made with tobacco leaves from the company's very best plantations in San Juan y Martinez and San Luis in the region of Vuelta Abajo. The cigars are made with a blend of three kinds of leaves. Typically, leaves undergo two fermentations. For Cohiba, two of the leaves undergo a third fermentation.
Its rarest and most treasured line is called Behike. It incorporates a particular kind of tobacco leaf called "medio tiempo" that imparts the cigar's exceptional character and flavor. The lead is scarce, coming from the two upper leaves of the sun-grown tobacco plant. Due to the foliar position in the plant, the flavor and fortaleza of the Habano concentrate with greater intensity in these particular leaves. But not all tobacco plants produce the medio tiempo. As such, great dedication, care, and attention is required to grow each plant, notwithstanding the changing climatic conditions. The delicate conditions under which the prized leaves are coaxed out make for the very limited production. Each cigar bears a band with two holograms for security identification.
Davidoff Puro d'Oro MagnificoBest enjoyed with MaceIlan 15 years
Ukraine-born Zinio Davidoff was raised in a tobacco merchant family. The eldest of four sons went to Latin America to learn about the industry and, at 24, took over his parents shop in 1530. He was particularly successful in marketing the Hoyo de Monterrey and is credited by many as the inventor of the first desktop cigar humidor, which preserves cigars in the same conditions of humidity and temperature under which they were rolled in Havana.
In 1967, Zinio was approached by Cubatabaco, Cuba's post-revolution state tobacco monopoly, about creating a personal brand of cigars for his stores. The cigars were rolled in the newly established El Laguito factory in Havana, which also rolls former president Fidel Castro's private cigars, Cohiba. Zinio sold his small but highly successful tobacco shop in Geneva to the Max Oettinger Company in 1570.
During the late 80s, disputes over quality and ownership rights of the brand led to the end of the Davidoff and Cubatabaco partnership. The Cuban Davidoff line was officially discontinued in 1991, and an agreement was signed that no more Cuban Davidoffs would be sold in Davidoff shops worldwide. A Dominican-made Davidoff cigar hit the market in November 1990 and production of the sizes that had been made in Cuba continues to this day. The Davidoff brand is widely recognized for popularizing Dominican premium cigars.
The best of Davidoff is the Puro d'Oro Magnifico line, made with four-year, aged, hand-selected Dominican fillers and capped with a traditional pigtail. Each cigar wears an elegantly embossed golden band at the foot. Like the original Davidoff packaging of the 1940s, the cigars are boxed in 25-cigar wheels, wrapped with a white silk ribbon.
The Puro d'Oro Magnificos feature a strong, spicy taste. Aficionados recommend enjoying them after a fine meal or as the finale to a congenial evening.
Montecristo No. 2 1/40Best enjoyed with Suntory Yamazaki 12 years
Inspired by the Alexandre Dumas novel The Count of Monte Cristo, the brand was founded in 1935 by Alonso Menendez and rolled in the Particulares cigar factory he purchased.
The brand is known for employing lectors on the rolling floor to read to the torcedores (cigar rollers) as they worked, with The Count of Monte Cristo being a popular choice. The practice vanished, but commemorated in two of the brand's lines: the Edmundo and Edmundo Dantes El Conde, named after the novel's protagonist.
The Montecristo logo on the cigar band, consisting of a triangle of six swords surrounding a fleur-de-lis, was designed by John Hunter Morris and Elkan Co. Ltd., the brand's British distributor.
Montecristo later acquired the faltering H. Upmann brand and factory, moving production there. The business continues to this day.
Through the efforts of the Alfred Dunhill company, the Montecristo brand became the most popular Cuban cigar in the world. It accounts for roughly one-quarter of Habanos S.A.'s worldwide cigar sales.
While Montecristo's No.4 is the most popular and often recommended to new cigar smokers, the No. 2, recognized by its pointy tip, is often thought of as the gold standard for all other cigar brands.
The No. 2 is described as powerful from the start, with rich wood and spice flavors that maintain a creamy feel the whole way through.
Partagas Serie D No. 4Best enjoyed with BenRiach 16 years
From the south of Spain, Catalan Don Jaime Partagas y Ravell migrated to Cuba where he founded La Flor de Tabacos de Partagas in 1845. Having owned many of the best plantations in the Vuelta Abajo, he was able to choose from among the finest tobaccos on the island. In addition, Don Jaime experimented with various methods of fermenting and aging tobacco. He is also credited for hiring the one of the first lectors to read and entertain the cigar rollers as they worked.
Authentic Cuban-produced Partagas cigars are one of the most revered and highest-selling cigars in the world, trailing only Montecristo in annual sales.
The Serie D No. 4 is among the best robustos and sometimes described as a "New School Habano." It is strong and full bodied, with aromas of wood and spice in equal doses.
Photographs by Pat Mateo
This article originally appeared on Vault Magazine Issue 19 No 1 2015.