Now, you already know about super famous cigars like Arturo Fuente’s Don Carlos Eye of the Shark and Warped’s Guardian of the Farm (named after the American bulldogs that guard the Aganorsa fields in Nicaragua). We’ll consider the chart-toppers to be adequately written up at this point. Instead, this article is to put the spotlight on a few animal-inspired cigars you might not be as aware of yet. These are quality premium smokes from companies you’ll probably still recognize.
Let’s turn your humidor into a zoo. Here we go!
#1 – Espinosa Murcielago (“Bat”)
Espinosa Cigars is headed up Erik Espinosa. If you don’t know him, he’s the man behind 601 La Bomba. It’s a monster ligero-packed bastard of a cigar that comes in sizes all the way up to the 7 x 70 F-BOMB. The thing somehow got the Cigar Aficionado judges to give it a 91, but that might just be purely based on intimidation. The legends say that, just when you go to light it up, a tiny hand will sometimes reach out from the bundled tobacco to slap you in the mouth before your first draw.
This cigar is a little more refined.
As with pretty much every cigar these days it seems, this one was blended in collaboration with the ubiquitous AJ Fernandez. Naturally, it relies on a core blend of Nicaraguan long-fillers. Then, since the bat is a creature of the night, the Murcielago takes a Mexican San Andrés wrapper as the cover leaf.
The smoke is quite a potent experience, with medium-full strength and full body. You’ll get lush draws packed with earthy cocoa flavor and a noticeable pepper kick. Anyone who’s smoked Mexican San Andrés tobacco before can tell you that this comes with the territory, so go in ready for the spice and you’ll have a great smoke.
If you’re more of the kind of smoker who likes subtle and mellow flavors, this probably ain’t the stick for you. In fact, animal cigars as a whole probably won’t be your bag, although we’ll see what we can come up with on the list. When cigar makers name their stogies after animals, they’re usually trying to evoke ferocity and primal power, not gentleness.
#2 – 5 Vegas Series A Animal
They knew they wanted it to be named after an animal, but obviously didn’t feel the need to choose one. And 5 Vegas doesn’t have to get more specific than that. After all those decades of success, 5 Vegas is a brand where you know what you’re going to get. These are classic Cuban-style cigars that typically aren’t topping the charts but are totally reliable and consistent in their quality. People who are fans of the brand have been reaching for 5 Vegas cigars for quite some time because they don’t have to wonder if they’re going to get a dud or not. They know that a 5 Vegas band means a decent, quality smoke that won’t break the bank.
So what’s up with the Animal cigar? Well, ever hear of Noah’s Ark? Because that’s what’s going on in the filler blend. There’s a gaggle of well-aged tobaccos, including Dominican, Honduran, and Nicaraguan leaf. No clue if the leaves were rolled in two by two, but 5 Vegas (aka “Cinco” Vegas) clearly had to pull in a bunch of different shipments of tobacco to make this one happen.
Around that marvelous mix, there’s a rich Costa Rican maduro wrapper. Now, if you’re like most of us, you probably haven’t had a chance to sample any tobacco from Costa Rica. You’ve had tons of cigars from Nicaragua, to the north, and lots of Connecticut wrappers grown in Ecuador, far to the south. But right there in the middle, just above Panama, is Costa Rica, getting ignored by most of the cigar world. By pulling up tobacco from unheralded soil, the Series A Animal is bringing something a little bit new to your humidor.
If you’ve been following the 5 Vegas company for a while, you know that the Plasencias are now responsible for much of what you get under the 5 Vegas brand. This means that the tobacco is expertly-grown and the cigars are still meticulously blended. Despite the wildness of the name, the Animal blend delivers a really relaxing experience, with smooth earthy flavor led by dark chocolate and a perfectly sweet finish. The fact that it brings medium-full strength makes it just potent enough to be called “Animal,” but we find this one to be a fairly mellow smoke overall.
The 5 Vegas Series A Animal, in essence, is a high quality bit of puff from an incredibly reliable cigar maker, with a little Costa Rican twist to keep things interesting.
Now, Let’s move on to something a little more titillating.
#3 – La Aurora Black Lion
Many locations in the Caribbean have longstanding cigar making traditions. There are special regions, cities, and families for those who care to study the history of an industry that’s one of the oldest in the New World for a number of islands.
One of those islands is Hispaniola, in modern times divided into the nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. For Haiti, the tobacco and cigar industries are largely dormant at this point in time due to a number of difficulties. But in the DR, across the island to the east, cigars are life for hundreds if not thousands of people that work for the cigar companies.
The oldest of these is La Aurora. The roots of this plant go deep indeed.
You probably don’t think of them when you think of Dominican cigars or tobacco. Companies like Arturo Fuente, Davidoff, and the brands owned by Altadis (Montecristo, RyJ, H. Upmann) and General Cigar (Partagas, Hoyo de Monterrey, Punch, Macanudo) generally are top of mind for cigar fans in the US. But longer than anyone else, the La Aurora cigar company has been rolling up stogies in the DR.
The Black Lion blend is a medium strength animal cigar that features a hell of a mix inside. This ain’t no Dominican puro. While it’s true that the filler blend packs in tobacco from the Dominican Republic’s Cibao Valley, leaf from Brazil, Nicaragua, and Peru also are included in the Black Lion. Then, more Brazilian tobacco is used for the binder and wrapper, making this one dark king of the jungle. With a variety of exotic fermented tobacco, you’ll get deep notes like leather and cedar, but also bright flavors like black pepper and mandarin. The Brazilian cubra wrapper also brings in a nice aroma of clean chocolate for you to “chew on” as you smoke.
Like the Dominican blends that have raked in all the awards and accolades? Try an animal cigar from a company that’s been growing in the region longer than anyone. You might have a memorable encounter with the lord of all beasts.
#4 – Gurkha Viper
This one’s not as dangerous as it sounds. Gurkha’s often trying to cultivate a scary image, but delivers balanced and artful blends that are quite delicious and smooth. You can look ferocious while smoking them or displaying the bands, but only Gurkha fans know that some of the blends are quite gentle.
The Gurkha Viper cigar is definitely one of these.
It’s a mild-medium strength cigar that’s build around a core of Nicaraguan long-filler tobacco. Around that you’ll find a Dominican binder and a Dominican habano wrapper leaf. What it lacks in potency it makes up for in complexity. There’s a bit of spicy chocolate intertwined with earth and cedar. Surprisingly, you also get a small touch of that green tobacco taste, too, but it’s super subtle. It actually makes this kind of fun to smoke – like chasing a snake through the grass, the note is hard to find but exciting to seek out.
As far as animal cigars go on this list, this may be the only one that’s box-pressed. This makes for a nice open draw that helps this one from getting too concentrated on the tongue. That way, you can enjoy and explore the different notes more easily. Sound like nonsense? Well, some folks definitely have finely-tuned palates that can detect a richer array of flavors. For the rest of us, we can usually tell the difference between “tasty smoke” and “not tasty smoke,” which is good enough to qualify as a fan of cigars.
Now, let’s go rattle the tiger cage.
#5 – Gran Habano Persian King – Tiger
We’re now three generations deep in Honduras with the Rico family, and the quality of the tobacco is as reliable as ever. You’ll find Gran Habano scoring wonderful marks, with the latest La Conquista release charting as high as 93 points with Cigar Aficionado. The Persian King Tiger is something a little different, with Gran Habano blending up one of the most popular tobaccos of the day: Nicaraguan leaf. There’s a touch of Honduran tobacco in the mix, but for the most part, this is pure Nica.
As with most cigars, the centerpiece is the wrapper leaf, which on the Tiger is a sun-grown Nicaraguan maduro. It’s a shame that the company missed the opportunity for a tiger stripe wrapper, but we’re not the ones who have to deal with what a pain in the ass that would be to roll, so we can’t complain. In the future, though, that would be a really fun special edition to see the Ricos attempt. Maybe a sun/shade combo would be cool, with a dark maduro leaf streaked with light Connecticut shade for contrast. It would be an inverted tiger!
Okay. Okay. Back to the cigar at hand.
Tiger is a reference to the size and shape of the cigar. The Persian King comes in Rajah (5 x 60) and Tiger, a 6 x 60 gordo. This actually used to be called the Shaggy blend, but since those days it’s clearly received a promotion. Now that it’s a royal smoke, maybe the placebo effect will make the blend even more enjoyable?
Well, if you’re into classic maduro flavors, you’ll probably like this animal cigar. There’s dark chocolate, espresso, and a peppery charred wood note that we really dig when we’re in the mood for it. A smooth flavor profile is definitely appreciated, but sometimes we need a little kick and a cigar called the Persian King Tiger should probably deliver that.
Sometimes a little clawing is just what you need, right?
There are no wild native tigers in the Americas, so maybe this should have been called the “Jaguar.” You’ll have to take it up with the cigar when you get it, although we’d recommend showing a little respect when taking on a fat beast of a cigar like this.
How about something more tame for the next one?
#6 – 7-20-4 Hustler Series Dog Walker
7-20-4 cigars are the hottest thing around, if you’re a northeastern smoker from the late 1800s. If you’re still under a hundred years old and didn’t get to experience New Hampshire’s 7-20-4 cigar brand in its heyday, then stick around. The revival by Kurt Kendall, a local cigar retailer (and now importer, blender, and cigar maker) could reach those same heights again given a little time.
In fact, the company is well on its way with a 91 rating from Cigar Aficionado for the Hustler blend, which is a great cigar for the company to hang its bowler hat on. This one’s a certified treat!
The Dog Walker is a nice compact 4 ½ x 40 corona. But that’s not what’s fun about this one. What makes it neat is the barber pole wrapper, which features Ecuador Connecticut tobacco swirling around Brazilian leaf. Inside, there’s a Costa Rican binder and a blend of Nicaraguan long-filler tobaccos to complete the cigar.
The smoke comes out bold – spicy and sweet, with loads of toasty cedar to keep you puffing along. It’s a medium strength cigar, but one that shows promise for 7-20-4’s blending abilities and that marks this company as one to keep an eye on as new stogies hit the market.
Manchester, New Hampshire was once RG Sullivan's home for cigar production. His factory still stands in downtown Manchester to this day. Now, a story that began in 1874 is getting a fresh chapter once again after the book nearly ended forever when the Cuban embargo cut off tobacco supply.
This Hustler Dog Walker animal cigar is more than just a good blend – it’s the hope of restoring a neat part of American cigar history. So take Fifi out for a stroll – you’ll probably enjoy yourself.
Let’s pop open a box with one more blend, then call it a day.
#7 – L'Atelier Surrogates Animal Cracker
What the hell is an atelier?
It’s a French term for a studio, workshop, or place of creation. It’s definitely used in fashion for a place where design happens. And for people in the cigar industry, it’s clearly got some meaning, too. The process of blending takes up some space, and people responsible for deciding which tobaccos to use in a cigar definitely need a “laboratory” to use as their workspace where they can make test rolls and smoke them to get a feel for how a group of leaves will come together.
Say something like “uh-TEL-ee-yay” to get the pronunciation right.
For this animal cigar, the blender of the moment was none other than Tatuaje’s Pete Johnson, who collaborated with the Garcia family (My Father cigars) in Nicaragua to put the Surrogates Animal Cracker together. In true Pete Johnson style, it’s a nice rustic cigar with a potent array of flavors that can’t be ignored.
The cigar itself is a big biscuit: a 6 x 60 gordo that will keep you busy for quite some time. Clear your schedule if you’re aiming to make it to the bitter end. The smoke earned a 91-point rating from the folks at Cigar Aficionado, and it was all about the flavor profile. They reported earthy flavors ranging from coffee to peated Scotch, along with a distinct citrus note and a chocolatey finish.
Much of those aromas comes from the Nicaraguan long-fillers and binder, and the Ecuadorian habano oscuro wrapper brings in serious complexity. For a medium-full smoke, this one’s more animal than animal cracker, but we’re just happy to get yet another delicious and interesting cigar in our humidors. Animal crackers are just about the most boring food around, fit for toddlers and people who are trying to recover from violent illness, but the cigar version is anything but.
We hope you’ll give some of these off-the-beaten path animal cigars a shot.
For better or worse, the call of the wild is one we never ignore.