There it is. You see it in every worthy humidor. You have seen every power broker smoking them. You have heard legend after legend about the one cigar brand that you can call the King of Cigars and receive no pushback.
Do they really live up to the price and the hype though?
Are there other cigars that smoke as well as Padron?
Why is Padron at the top of the mountain?
To better understand its current place in the market, let’s take a brief look at Padron’s origins.
For starters, they have the DNA of American Cuban cigars. After an early life already worthy of a book, José Orlando Padron arrived in the US and eventually traveled by bus from New York to Miami. He quickly realized that the cigars being smoked by the Cuban exiles were nowhere near as good what they were used to smoking back in Cuba. Cigars of the quality that José grew up around could not even be purchased in Miami.
The first shipment of Nicaraguan tobacco is met as it arrives in the United States. 1967.
Determined to honor his ancestral vocation of tobacco farming, and to offer a better product, José begins rolling cigars in a small shop off of Calle Ocho in Miami and does pretty good for a little while until one day Nicaragua comes knocking.
At this point, Joya De Nicaragua was really the sole brand rolling in Nicaragua.
So José gets access to the full body Nicaraguan tobacco while most people are still figuring out what its essential qualities are, and he blends it in a way that others were not.
The story then goes that the Cubans in and around Miami went nuts over these Nicaraguan treats. These cigars are said to have been unlike anything else being made at the time. I’m unsure what these original cigars looked like in person, but for the past 20+ years Padron almost exclusivey makes box pressed cigars. For the most part, they also limit their offerings to just two iterations of each cigar – a natural and a maduro.
With prices upwards of $15 on the low side and $34 on the high side, the question becomes – is it worth it?
I think it is important to mention that Padron bills itself as a Nicaraguan Puro. While that may be true for the natural, everyone in this industry “knows” the maduro is actually San Andres. Obviously I do not work at Padron, but when I tell you that every single person I’ve spoken to that has been to the factory, knows the family, and knows the brand has brought it up at some point – it’s becomes harder to imagine it being anything else. Looking at the wrapper, I would easily be able to believe that I’m looking at San Andres.
The next characteristic that demands mentioning is that there are very few cigars that are as consistent as Padron. On my palate, the natural and the maduro versions are very similar. In fact, nothing much changes for me at least from size to size and year to year. Simply put, once you know Padron you know what to expect from every experience thereafter. It starts out good and ends good but the flavors, in my opinion, do not change much. No determination is being made on whether this lack of transition is good or bad, it is just worth noting as part of the typical smoking experience. Almonds, dark roast coffees, chocolate and molasses…these are the flavor notes that you often get from Padron cigars. Whether or not those notes are what everyone looks for in a cigar, the consistency does give way to some of the many Padron rumors that cigar lovers enjoy speculating about.
One of the rumors that keeps making its way around is that they use a special process involving overcooking the tobacco – an process not unlike the additional heat and time needed to brew a dark roast coffee.
Another big rumor often associated with the brand is use of bethune. Cigar tobacco is made of naturally cured and fermented tobacco with no additives or flavorings, however bethune is a kind of loophole that blurs that line. Tobaccos must be kept moist and pliable before they can eventually be rolled into cigars. This is the reason you should let most cigars rest for 3 months after rolling. So, as it relates to the use of bethune in the cigar industry – instead of only spraying water on and around the tobaccos – factories will instead spray a homemade concoction often composed of boiled tobacco clippings or stems, maybe cocoa powder or rum or tea and use that to give it a distinct flavor unique to their factory. Though rare, some factories still rely on this technique. For as long as I’ve been smoking cigars, it has always been speculated as to whether or not Padron is one of these factories. As it relates to their consistency in flavor, it wouldn’t be a surprise to find out that an additional process was being implemented. if Padron was implementing bethune in their cigar making process – one would have to acknowledge that they’ve gotten the recipe just right.
What is clearly not a rumor at all, as it relates to Padron’s dominance, is the draw. Their technique results in a cigar that has a very loose draw. This something that I cannot understand, because on any other cigar a draw like does not typically make for an enjoyable experience. Almost every Padron I have ever cut open is slightly too loose, which contributes to much fuller, sharper flavors. It also makes the cigar burn just a little faster, which is rumored to be what Orlando was looking to accomplish.
The industry celebrated the anniversary of José O. Padrón’s birthday earlier this month, and all cigar lovers join in honoring his legacy. Even as the industry continues to change, nothing can take away from the place that Padron has in cigar history. The Padron story is so powerful because it is the result of every obstacle overcome and every accomplishment achieved. Whatever the brand’s future, it was able to firmly place itself top of mind for an entire generation of cigar smokers
So are Padron cigars worth the money today? My two cents: buy a 10 count box of any Padron. Smoke them all. By cigar number 10 you will have gotten to know what the Padron experience is. After that you can make your own call, but at the prices being charged for Padron cigars – my answer is no. At least not on a regular basis. We exist in the most option-rich environment ever in cigars. Now, there are plenty of full body chocolatey box-pressed Nicaraguan cigars out there that offer a great experience at a reasonable price.
That being said, none of them are quite Padron.