What is a boutique cigar? That question has been asked by aficionados and enthusiasts for years causing much debate within the community. Definitions of what makes a cigar brand boutique include: Brands who do not own their own factory, brands who only produce lines in small batches, and even cigars manufactured in a small factory.
Certainly, all of the above definitions are true, but none of these definitions truly get to the heart of what a boutique cigar really is. At Simply Stogies, a boutique cigar is one produced by passionate individuals who are creating a cigar more for their love of the leaf than their desire to “just make money.” Certainly, every boutique brand hopes to replicate the success of boutique brands, such as Jonathon Drew (Drew Estate) and Pete Johnson (Tatuaje), but the primary concern of every boutique brand is the quality of product that they produce. Here is our top 10 must-try boutique cigar brands of 2020
Casdagli Basilica Line
The history of Casdagli Cigars begins in Cuba and was initially known as Bespoke Cigars. Founded by Jeremy Casdagli in 1997, their cigars were rolled by master torcedor Carlos Valdez Mosquera until his retirement in 2013. It was then that Jeremy began a relationship with Hendrik Kelner Jr. and the first four brands (Traditional Line, Club Mareva Line, Bascilica Line, and Cabinet Selection) of Casdagli Cigars began to be produced at the Kelner Boutique Factory in the Dominican Republic. Casdagli’s latest line, the Daughters of the Wind, is produced at the IGM Boutique Factory in Costa Rica.
As I have said several times, both on the podcast and in reviews, Casdagli Cigars scream elegance. You feel completely underdressed when smoking one from the comfort of your home. There is an heir of luxury and sophistication when lighting up a Casdagli Cigar. The two must-try cigars from Casdagli are the Traditional Cotton Tail and the Mareva Spalato LE; though, Jeremy Casdagli may tell you that the Traditional Grand Café is the way to go.
Foundation Cigar The Tabernacle
The Foundation Cigar Company was founded in June 2015 by Nicholas Melillo. Nick had been working for one of the largest boutique brands in the industry for more than a decade when he decided to start his own company. Nick took his passion for the leaf and his love of the Nicaraguan people and parlayed them into a unique and wonderful line of cigars. Foundation now boasts eight brands including El Güegüense, The Wise Man, Charter Oak, THE UPSETTERS, the Highclere Castle, and the Highclere Castle Victorian.
Two great introductions to Foundation are the Tabernacle Havana Seed CT #142 Toro and the El Güegüense Lancero. Honorable mention has to go to the Menelik. Once an event-only cigar, it was so popular that Nick made it part of the regular production. Listen to the passion that comes from Nick Melillo here.
Stolen Throne Crook of the Crown
A relative newcomer in the cigar industry, Stolen Throne Cigars was started in 2019 by JR Cannon and Lee Marsh. Based out of Virginia, Stolen Throne Cigars embodies our definition of boutique cigar. You can listen to Lee Marsh talk about quality over quantity, the industry, and how the name Stolen Throne came about here.
Their first offering, Crook of the Crown, was a collaborative effort with master blender Noel Rojas and took the cigar world by storm. You can read our review of it here. Their sophomore release is the Call to Arms. The Call to Arms is a fantastic follow-up (here’s a link to our review) that keeps their momentum moving in the right direction. Both the Crook of the Crown (both vitolas) and the Call to Arms (both vitolas) are our must-try from Stolen Throne. Look for their third release, Phantom Queen, to be released sometime in early 2021.
P.G. Cigars (its name taken from the initials of its founder, Paul Gamirian) might be the oldest boutique cigar company on our list. Before launching P.G. Cigars in 1990, at Georgetown Tobacco in Washington D.C., Paul Gamirian received his Ph.D. in International Politics; however, his love of cigars found him traveling around the world and documenting it in his book The Gourmet Guide to Cigars.
Dr. Gamirian’s love and passion for cigars comes through loud and clear in his blends and his choice of vitola. In fact, according to the P.G. Cigars website, P.G. Cigars claims it was the first to introduce the belicoso vitola in the U.S. With nine core lines and several limited editions available, P.G. Cigars has something for everyone. The best cigars from P.G. have to be the Gourmet Series Belicoso and the P.G. 25th Anniversary Connoisseur.
Patina Cigars was launched in May 2017 by Mo Maali. Mo has taken his knowledge of the industry and parlayed that into a great cigar experience. Mo cut his teeth on the retail side of the industry, before moving into a sales manager position for another boutique cigar company. Maali says of the Patina name, “Patina is an oxidation process that, over time, produces a green film over bronze or copper. In the same spirit, our experiences in life shape our opinions, attitudes and beliefs. Just as those buildings underneath the patina retain their original character, we too as human beings will always be ourselves at our core. No matter what happens in life, always be true to yourself.”
Patina Cigars started with two core lines, their Connecticut and Habano lines. Earlier this year, Patina added a third line to their portfolio with their Patina Maduro line. With the addition of the Patina Maduro, Patina Cigars now has something for every cigar smoker. The must-try cigar from Patina is the Patina Connecticut Toro. This cigar is not only the perfect companion with a cup of coffee in the morning, but it is the cigar that I point brand new cigar smokers to most often. The Patina Connecticut Toro offers those new to the hobby a flavorful and mild experience.
Dapper Cigar La Madrina
Launched in 2013, Dapper Cigar Company is “an artisanal cigar company,” according to owner Ian Reith. Based in Fresno, California, Dapper cigars are rolled in the three different factories in Nicaragua and in the Dominican Republic and include six different lines. The original intent, according to this interview with Ian Reith, was to only make a single cigar. With the help of Cuban cigar master Gonzalo Puentes, who procures the tobacco for Dapper, Ian has a unique and boutique cigar company that should not be missed.
The first must-try cigar from Dapper Cigar Co. is the El Borracho Edmundo. The El Borracho sports a Mexican San Andres wrapper over Nicaraguan binder and filler. The blend produces a well-balanced and satisfying cigar experience. (You can read our review here.) Another one to try is the Dapper Cubo Maduro Toro. This blend also sports a Mexican San Andres wrapper but over Nicaraguan Habano binder and filler. The Cubo Maduro offers a mild cigar experience, despite being a maduro. With tasting notes of dark chocolate and coffee, it is an instant classic. (You can read our review here.)
Debuting in the US in 2016, Cavalier Genève sets themselves apart from the competition by putting an edible 24 karat gold diamond on every cigar. Started by Sebastien Decoppet, a former Swiss businessman, Cavalier Genève cigars are rolled in the San Judas Tadeo Facotory in Danli, Honduras. Another unique aspect of Cavalier Genève, outside of the 24k gold diamond on each cigar, is that each cigar is blended by three different individuals: Sebastien, Eylin Decoppet, and Adin Perez, owner of the San Judas Tadeo Factory.
Cavalier Genève has two core lines, the White Series and the Black Series II (and small batch vitolas within them); two regional lines, USA and Switzerland; and three limited edition lines, 2018, 2019, and 2020. The must-try cigars from Cavalier Genève are the White Toro (my personal favorite morning cigar due to its medium strength and nuanced flavor profile) and the Black Series II Robusto.
Isabela Cigar Company
Isabela Cigar Company is, as Jeremy Casdagli would say, “boutique as f*ck.” Isabela is a small cigar manufacturer based out of Miami and founded by Johnny Piette in 1997. According to the Isabela website, Johnny learned the trade from Cuban Master Vicente Ortiz. Their cigars are not rolled in a traditional factory, but are rolled in “a glorified garage/motel.” Regardless of where they are rolled, Isabela cigars are a unique cigar experience that highlights the passion that Johnny Piette has for the craft.
Keeping with their “boutique as f*ck” status, Isabela has several limited-edition cigars. The best cigars from Isabela are the Isabela Fire-Crackers and, if you’re lucky enough to find them, the Isabela Time-Traveler 2019 (which we scored a 9.0). Look for more from Isabela as things start to open at the end of 2020.
Epic Cigars, launched in 2014, is based out of the Dominican Republic and was founded by Dean Parsons. Rolled in the Von Eiken Cigar Factory (formerly the Charles Fairmorn Cigar Factory), Epic Cigars is the epitome of what a boutique cigar should be. With four core lines and two limited editions, Dean Parsons chooses to focus on quality over quantity, with a relatively focused lineup of cigars.
Every Epic Cigar I have had has been masterfully constructed and blended to be complex and nuanced, even when medium-full strength. The first cigar to try from Epic is the Epic La Rubia Robusto. This is a great anytime cigar that is squarely in the mild-medium spectrum but is anything but boring. It pairs great with both coffee and bourbon. Another cigar worth checking out from Epic is their limited-edition San Andreas Project E Gran Ola. The Project E (see our review here) with its unique “band” and wonderful complexity is a wonderful cigar experience that should not be missed.
Coming in at arguably the largest boutique cigar maker on our list, Micallef has earned their right to be here based on their commitment to quality in each brand they offer. Launched in 2016, Micallef Cigars has a great story on how they began. The Gomez Sanchez family’s van broke down in front of a cigar lounge where entrepreneur Al Micallef was smoking. After tasting the cigars they rolled that night, Al began a partnership with the Gomez Sanchez family to manufacture and blend cigars. (You can listen to my interview with Micallef Cigars President Dan Thompson here and my interview with Micallef National Sales Director Andy Yaffee here.)
With sixteen brands under two lines, all blended and rolled in Esteli, Nicaragua, there is a lot to choose from. The first cigar to try from Micallef is their Connecticut Robusto. The first cigar that I found to actually have a “buttery” smoothness to it, the Micallef Connecticut Robusto is a great cigar to pair with coffee. The second cigar to smoke from Micallef is the Migdalia Toro. The Migdalia is a favorite among their Ambassadors (a grass-roots group of Micallef Cigar fans). Comprising a San Andres Habano wrapper, aged Sumatra binder, and aged Dominican and Nicaraguan filler, the Migdalia is a unique cigar experience. Honorable mention has to go to the Micallef A (formerly the To Be Named) which was named by their Micallef Ambassador group.
*NOTE: Micallef Cigars, in an effort to support local B&Ms, is not available online but through their Ultimate Inventory Program Partners.