Max Foulkes gives us a reminder of the best Cuban cigars of 2022
A time most Habanophiles will endeavour to forget but one that will no doubt be spoken of for years to come, 2022 has been a year of privation, inflation, upset and, for the inhabitants of this celebrated island, great hardship due to be overcome. With a global pandemic, curing barn fires, hurricanes and decampment of Torcedores to neighbouring countries of notable tobacco growth, production of Cuba’s main export has diminished. Shortages the world over have forced smokers to reconsider the systematic ignition of certain cigars. With their candescence no longer admired on such a regular basis, a handful of cigars have enjoyed a new found notoriety due to their creation’s cessation. We’ve been lucky enough to have witnessed a number of new releases, no doubt rolled in limited quantities prior to this year of deprivation, and the rise of others to a level of esteem they’ve never held before. To follow are what I believe to be the the ten most important, ten most influential Cuban cigars of 2022.
The Por Larrañaga Galanes, Cuba’s oldest surviving marque’s most recent release, came to fruition in 2021 and saw demand outstrip production in 2022. A hugely popular cigar presented in varnished boxes of 10 baring the brand’s golden Anilla, unlike the Picadores that shares neither the band nor the blend. Enthusiasts worldwide itched for a cigar of a substantial gauge encapsulating the essence of the brand following the air of despondency accompanying the release of the aforementioned Picadores in 2014. Despite being palatable upon its release, this last year has done much to ameliorate this stick’s profile.
The H.Upmann No.2, a cigar that’s presence has been appreciated for many years already, surprised the community by receiving a decoration rarely bestowed upon cigars of its origin, Cigar Aficionado’s ‘Cigar of the Year’. Scoring a tremendous 98 points out of 100 (missing out on the last two perhaps due to current availability issues) this cigar of a supposedly standard release with a wrapper encompassing an equally standard blend rose to fame overnight. Pipping to the post cigars actually purchasable, let alone legally in the magazine’s country of origin, the No.2 was once a good cigar… now it is the best.
Sadly, after the death of his grandfather the inimitable Alejandro Robaina, Hirochi made the decision to move tobacco growth and cigar production to Nicaragua, promising Habanos S.A. he’d not imitate the Cuban marque’s branding. After supposedly not holding true to his word, the line of cigars introduced to the Cuban portfolio in 1997 is due to be discontinued. Over the years we’ve seen the production of the Clasicos, Don Alejandros and Familiares desist, leaving only two Vitolas in production for enthusiasts to enjoy. It is the Famosos (Hermoso No.4 48x5) that I hold dear. The extinction of this near Robusto is unlikely to upset many as much as it does me. It discomposes me greatly that Hirochi’s error in judgement has brought to a close an already short lived era of diversion.
Accompanying the return of flares, wide notched lapels, oversized collars and Cuban heals is a line of cigars that first encountered fire in the early 1970s. Quai D’Orsay, with the exclusion of the old matte brown band Coronas Claro, is a brand that has never much appealed to me. The No.54 is far from a 70s Vitola but suits those looking for a large cigar that can be both ignited and extinguished whilst remaining on one’s feet. Not a single Vitola from the line is available for purchase, perhaps contributing to the brand’s recent surge in popularity. I might go as far as to say Quai D’Orsay is the ‘new’ Hoyo de Monterrey.
The Romeo y Julieta Linea de Oro was originally announced in 2020 but seemed only to leave Cuba with the prospect of availability in 2022. Three cigars rolled to new yet modish dimensions were released to commemorate 145 years of the brand, the most unique of which is the Nobles (Triangulares 56 x 5 3/8). This is now the widest Figuardo in standard production (despite release being far from regular) surpassing the Cohiba Piramides Extra that held this title from 2012. For this reason alone this medium to full bodied ‘Torpedo’ deserves a place on this list.
The Ramon Allones Private Stock 230, a behemoth of a Puro (Partagas 16 50x170), was the first and only Uk Regional Edition of 2020, reaching merchants’ shelves 2 years later at a price one would expect a Regional to have risen to after at least 4 years on the market. Despite being a consumable, I doubt boxes are bought with consumption in mind. Having been lucky enough to have smoked one, I can tell you the blend is as far from that of a Ramon as one can get. Light to medium in body, delicate, aromatic, very much in keeping with my tastes and congenial to my palate. A fantastic smoke let down by its price and irreplaceability.
Following a theme not dissimilar, the Partagas Legado was the only Limited Edition of 2020. In keeping with the majority of the Cuban portfolio, this cigar is widely unobtainable. Adding insult to injury, this stick is actually very good, despite a large portion of examples reaching consumers under filled. A worthy addition to this list and one that happens to be adorned with a second band, a denotation of its superiority.
The Trinidad Reyes is a hugely important cigar, a demonstration of how the recent price hike has hampered the enjoyment of many. This 30 minute smoke went from a sensible, accessible acquisition to a peculiar choice overnight. With its purchase now considered a squandering of money by most, it’s fallen out of fashion for reasons more than its stature. Sadly, it tastes no better for its increase in value/cost but remains a fantastic cigar nonetheless.
The Montecarlo, the second Por Larrañaga to grace this list, is as snake hipped as the come and as unavailable as they get. Very much an example of the ephemeral nature of fashion, I was under the impression the Montecarlo’s Vitola fell out of it 40 years ago. It saddens me to see a cigar I hold so dear become so popular. I hoard my remaining sticks the way a dragon hoards its gold. It seems only fitting the cigars’ bands mimic this precious metal.
The Cohiba 55 Anniversario, the 2021 Limited Edition, will be released with a price to match its mammoth proportions. Just shy of 6” in length and boasting a 57 gauge, this cigar will hopefully provide sybarites with a profile we’re unable to find elsewhere. Its release will be as momentous as the occasion its production was intended to celebrate. Whether I shall take its availability as a sign things are returning to as they once were is another thing entirely.