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The 12 Best Cigars to Smoke in 2021

From the best cheap cigars to the best to smoke at a Bachelor's Party, here's everything you need to know to get the right sticks.

best cigars gear patrol lead full
Henry Phillips

To novices, smoking a cigar — hell, just venturing into a local cigar store to buy one — can feel more daunting than fun. The mechanics of properly smoking one (how to draw without inhaling?) don’t come naturally. Faux pas (when to ash the thing?) abound. And then there’s the basic question of which cigar, in a room stuffed with boxes of the things, to buy.

You’re not imagining it: cigar smoking is full of tradition, ritual and enigma. The good news, says Pierre Rogers, is that cigar smokers form a natural, welcoming community — acolytes not just to the rolled leaf, but to lighting them up together.

Community is Rogers’s purview. He’s the founder of PuroTrader, the world’s largest peer-to-peer cigar trading platform, hosted in an online service that also includes community-created cigar ratings, forums and blog posts. Rogers created the service as a searchable e-humidor for collectors after discovering that someone had stolen a single cigar out of a prized box he’d been saving for over a decade. “Initially, we set out to create a way for every collector for free to build an online humidor — a way to catalog their own collection, take notes on each cigar, and then make it searchable. You could log on and look at anybody’s humidor, anywhere in the world. The inevitable conclusion to that was, ‘You got something I want — how do we make that happen?'” he says.

A baseline of knowledge will help you focus on those pleasures and making new friends, rather than discerning the difference between a V cut and a straight cut. So I asked Rogers to give me a rundown of cigar etiquette and basic knowledge, along with the cigars he loves most, across a range of prices and through the common categories of mild-, medium-, and full-bodied. Consider them a good starting place to figure out what you like and don’t like.

The Short List

How to Smoke a Cigar

Step 1: Cut the cigar.

“Before you light it, you’ve got to cut it. The trick with a cut is when you look at any cigar, any shape, you can see where the roller has rolled an extra cap line between the wrapper of the cigar and head of the cigar. When you cut, you want to cut just above that line. You’re only removing the cap. You’re not cutting into the wrapper. If you cut into the wrapper, i.e. you cut a little too much off of the top, it will start to unravel and fall apart in your mouth. There are several different kinds of cuts: A straight cut is the classic way to do it.” — Pierre Rogers

Step 2. Toast the foot.

“[Use] a match or a butane lighter. You want to use the heat, not the flame. You want the cigar to be a quarter inch to an inch above the flame, and you want to toast the foot of that cigar. Rotate the cigar and toast. You should be literally toasting it. Browning just the edges, just barely. Don’t get any char or flame on the wrapper. — Pierre Rogers

Step 3: Draw and rotate.

“Once it’s evenly toasted, still using just the heat, draw and rotate. That should only take a moment to light it if you’ve properly toasted it, since the cigar is primed to make that happen. The different types of tobacco in there are meant to be smoked in a linear fashion; you don’t want a third of the bottom to be lit, because then you’re only tasting that one piece, and destroying the profile. Another obvious but overlooked tip: when using a match to light, let the head burn off, and only use the stick of wood to light the cigar. Allow the sulfur head to dissipate, because you don’t want to pull any of that into the cigar.” — Pierre Rogers

Step 4: Keep the cherry cool.

“One of my tips about maximizing the enjoyment of any cigar, cheap or expensive, new or old, is to keep the cherry cooler. You do that by taking long, slow, easy draws on the cigar. Don’t take short pulls where you heat up that cherry. That’s a way to create acidity, acridness, and a burnt carbon taste. — Pierre Rogers

Step 5: Taste the cigar.

“Allow the smoke to come into your palate from the tip of your tongue, front to back and side to side. You don’t want to push all that smoke out too rapidly. Just gently exhale the smoke. Obviously, with cigars, you’re not inhaling. It’s just for the flavor. So think about how that flavor hits your tongue. Start with the basic ones. Is it salty? Sweet? Bitter? Sour? Those are basics. We tend to all agree on those things. — Pierre Rogers

Step 6: Ash the Cigar

“The best way to do it is a light touch on the ash tray, and roll the cigar to let the ash fall off. The real reason you do it is to control the temperature of the cherry, the lit part. You want to keep it well lit but cool. There’s a perfect ratio. If you don’t smoke your cigar fast enough, because there are no additives in a cigar, it’ll go out. The cherry gets too cool. However if you start puffing away on it, and the cherry becomes really bright, it becomes bitter and acrid, and you don’t want that. So there’s this balance that you’re always trying to strike between keeping your cherry fully lit but as cool as possible.” — Pierre Rogers

Cigar Terms to Know

Wrapper: The single leaf that literally wraps the outside of the cigar. It imparts around 60 percent of the cigar’s final flavors. Its flavors have to do with its country of origin, the way it’s grown (in the sun or shaded) and the type of tobacco plant. Different examples include Connecticut, maduro, claro and oscuro.

Filler: The innermost leaves rolled within a cigar, almost always a blend of different types of leaves.

Binder: The tobacco that helps hold a cigar together. It must be the strongest leaf in a cigar, but also imparts flavor.

Ring Gauge: The diameter of a cigar, measured by sixty-fourths of an inch. The bigger the ring gauge, the bigger the diameter.

Head/Cap: The end of a cigar that is cut and put in your mouth. Make sure not to cut off the entire cap, which will unravel the wrapper.

Foot: The end of a cigar that is lit. Smell this end before lighting to get a whiff of all the tobacco inside.

Strength and Body: Are not the same. The strength of a cigar has to do with how powerfully its nicotine affects the smoker; the body has to do with the impact of the cigar’s flavors in the mouth, its mouthfeel, and its overall richness.

The Best Cigars of 2021

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Best Overall Cigar
Davidoff White Label Short Perfecto
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The quality of the tobacco here is extremely high, and it’s a benchmark of construction. It’s smaller than other Davidoff cigars, meaning it won’t won’t break the bank, and it is an excellent example of a mild-bodied cigar that’s still rich and complex.

Tasting Notes: Starts with hay and buttery smoke, transitioning into earthiness and even a touch of pepper spice in its final third.

Filler: Dominican Republic

Binder: Dominican Republic

Wrapper: Ecuadorian-grown Connecticut

Best Splurge Cigar
Illusione Epernay
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Illusione Epernay

This box-pressed cigar was designed to cater to the European profile — it’s milder than many Americans prefer — and it was named for the famous Champagne region. Just like a bottle of bubbly, it might be best saved for special celebratory moments.

Tasting Notes: Distinct floral notes give way to honey, coffee and cedar.

Binder: Nicaragua

Filler: Nicaragua

Wrapper: Corojo, Nicaragua

Best Budget Cigar
Nat Sherman Sterling Selection
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An approachable, balanced, and affordable cigar with fantastic construction. A prime example of the pleasant nuance of a Connecticut wrapper.

Tasting Notes: Connecticut wrappers impart a creamy, buttery flavor, with notes of cocoa, wood, and toasted bread. This cigar in particular is the perfect pairing with a cup of coffee.

Filler: Dominican

Binder: Dominican

Wrapper: Ecuadorian-grown Connecticut

Best Mild Cigars
best mild cigars
Henry Phillips

“A mild cigar is similar to a great cup of coffee with a touch of half and half in it,” Rogers says. “It’s warm and rich, but it’s also soft and very approachable.” According to him, the best examples come from the Dominican Republic; they also tend to have a Connecticut wrapper, which is golden and light in color. “The flavor tends to be very subtle and soft,” Rogers says. “No sharp edges, no bitterness. Something that on a fresh palate with nothing in your stomach you can really enjoy, and it won’t disrupt your day. That’s what a great mild cigar is to me.”

Most Approachable Mild Cigar
Nat Sherman Sterling Selection
Henry Phillips

An approachable, balanced, and affordable cigar with fantastic construction. “They do a great job with all the finesse that goes into it — the branding, packaging, and the nuance of the cigar itself — and at a very reasonable price point,” Rogers says. It’s a prime example of the pleasant nuance of a Connecticut wrapper.

Tasting Notes: Connecticut wrappers impart a creamy, buttery flavor, with notes of cocoa, wood, and toasted bread. This cigar in particular is the perfect pairing with a cup of coffee.

Filler: Dominican

Binder: Dominican

Wrapper: Ecuadorian-grown Connecticut 

Best Short Smoke
Davidoff Aniversario Short Perfecto
Henry Phillips

“Davidoff is the Mercedes-Benz of cigars,” Rogers says. That means high quality — at a high price. The quality of the tobacco inside is extremely high, and it’s a benchmark of construction. But this smaller cigar won’t break the bank, and it is an excellent example of a mild-bodied cigar that’s still rich and complex.

Tasting Notes: It starts with hay and buttery smoke, transitioning into earthiness and even a touch of pepper spice in its final third.

Filler: Dominican Republic

Binder: Dominican Republic

Wrapper: Ecuadorian-grown Connecticut

Best Mild Yet Complex Blend
Foundation Highclere Castle Churchill
Henry Phillips

Nicholas Melillo, the founder of Foundation Cigar Company, hails from “the great state of Connecticut.” That means he has a great appreciation for the light-colored wrapper that bears the Connecticut name, and the creamy smoke it produces. The Highclere Castle uses Nicaraguan filler and Brazilian binder to add complexity to the mild flavors.

Tasting Notes: Creamy, with pepper, citrus, and leather.

Filler: Nicaragua

Binder: Brazil

Wrapper: Ecuadorian-grown Connecticut 

Best Medium Cigars
best medium cigars
Henry Phillips

An increase in the body of the cigar has a lot to do with with how its smoke feels in your mouth. “Is there an oiliness there? A richness?” Rogers asks. “Wine people call it mouthfeel, and it’s no different with cigars.” Medium cigars are what most people end up smoking — they’re a great middle ground. “It provides enough strength that can be paired nicely with everything from a coffee to a bourbon. Flavors tend to be richer, the mouthfeel warmer and oilier. The smoke tends to be denser and richer,” Rogers says.

Best Box-Pressed Cigar
Illusione Epernay
Henry Phillips

"This is a fantastic box pressed cigar,” Rogers says, indicating its squared-off shape from quite literally being pressed into a box. It was designed to cater to the favored European profile — milder than Americans prefer — and named for the famous Champagne region. And just like a bottle of bubbly, it might be best saved for special celebratory moments.

Tasting Notes: Distinct floral notes give way to honey, coffee and cedar.

Binder: Nicaragua

Filler: Nicaragua

Wrapper: Corojo, Nicaragua

Best Spicy Cigar
Tatuaje Tattoo Series
Henry Phillips

Founder Pete Johnson and master blender Don ‘Pepin’ Garcia are well respected for making cigars that consistently receive high scores from reviewers. The secret may be “Cuban-esque” flavors, stemming from Cuban-seed Nicaraguan-grown tobacco.

Tasting Notes: More spice and pepper than other medium-bodied cigars, though it also features cocoa, sweet cream and cedar notes.

Binder: Nicaragua

Filler: Nicaragua

Wrapper: Habano, Ecuador

Best Big Stick
Camacho BG Meyer Gigantes
Henry Phillips

Part of a bolder series of cigars made by Camacho, the Gigantes is a play on the 6-inch by 54-inch cigar format, with a large ring gauge. But bigger cigars aren’t necessarily more intense: a larger size means more airflow and less density of the tobacco.

Tasting Notes: Grassy and earthy, with subtle spice, mocha, woodiness, and a berry sweetness.

Binder: Brazil

Filler: Nicaragua, Dominican Republic

Wrapper: Habano

Best Mellow Smoke
Padron 1926 Series
Henry Phillips

Padron is a beloved cigar-making institution, founded by Jose Orlando Padron, a Cuban refugee living in Miami, in 1964. The 1926 series is their most limited, and the natural wrapper version (as opposed to the darker, pungent maduro) is a mellow, smooth smoke.

Tasting Notes: Caramel sweetness, a cedar-y tang, and notes of black and cayenne pepper.

Binder: Nicaragua

Filler: Nicaragua

Wrapper: Natural, Nicaragua

Most Balanced Smoke
Ashton Estate Sun Grown
Henry Phillips

While Ashton is generally thought of as an entry-level cigar, the ESG (Estate Sun Grown) jacks up the price tag. “Because of that high cost, it doesn’t get fair press,” Rogers says. Its sun-grown wrapper (as opposed to the more common shade-grown) creates a more oily, pungent leaf.

Tasting Notes: Oily nuts, leather, earth and cedar, with a light, creamy smoke.

Binder: Dominican Republic

Filler: Dominican Republic

Wrapper: Sun-grown, Dominican Republic

Best Full-Bodied Cigars
best full bodied cigars
Henry Phillips

Full-bodied cigars can go in a few different directions, particularly, becoming spicy. “You can have a few different kinds of spice,” Rogers says. “A white pepper, black pepper, or even a cayenne pepper.” Those larger flavors can hold their own against a steak dinner or a peaty Scotch. “But the key here remains balance. Strength is not flavor. When you smoke that cigar, you want the palate to be full of flavor. Rich, complex. That’s what makes a great full cigar — not the strength,” Rogers says.

Best Cognac Barrel-Aged Cigar
Arturo Fuente Anejo
Henry Phillips

In 1998, the OpusX’s downfall was to cigar smokers’ benefit: After Hurricane Georges created a shortage of wrapper tobacco, the brand switched to Connecticut broadleaf maduro wrapper aged in Cognac barrels, and the Anejo was born. The OpusX returned, of course, but the Anejo stuck around, treasured for the sweetness that wrapper layered atop the spicy, robust binder and filler.

Tasting Notes: Cognac, oily sweetness, butter and nuts.

Binder: Dominican Republic

Filler: Dominican Republic

Wrapper: Connecticut Broadleaf aged in Cognac barrels, America

Best Maduro Cigar
Padron Series 3000 Maduro
Henry Phillips

Padron grows its own maduro wrappers rather than sourcing them, then wraps them around long-aged Nicaraguan binder and filler. The result is one of the most balanced full-bodied cigars around.

Tasting Notes: A “barnyard” earthiness that gives way to cocoa sweetness and oily nuttiness.

Binder: Nicaragua

Filler: Nicaragua

Wrapper: Nicaragua

Best Affordable Full-Bodied Cigar
Ashton VSG
Henry Phillips

This is Rogers’s pick for an affordable, full-bodied cigar, with plenty of flavor and solid construction despite Ashton’s entry-level price. Its bold flavors are thanks in part to a sun-grown Ecuadorian wrapper that’s oily and rich.

Tasting Notes: Cedar, espresso, and dark chocolate.

Binder: Dominican Republic

Filler: Dominican Republic

Wrapper: Sun-grown, Ecuador

Best Collector’s Cigar
Fuente Fuente OpusX
Courtesy

When it was released in 1995, the OpusX proved that Dominican-grown, Cuban-seed tobacco could be the best in the industry. Ever since its release, it’s been considered one of the best full-bodied cigars on the market, and is a collector’s favorite.

Tasting Notes: Cayenne pepper and leather.

Binder: Dominican Republic

Filler: Dominican Republic

Wrapper: Dominican Republic

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