San Cristobal - Boutique Brand Deep Dive

Do you like parrots, images of lush tropical flora, shiny awards, and vibrant colors? If the answer’s “no” to any of the above, then you may want to remove the cigar band from your San Cristobal cigar.

Regardless of whether or not you appreciate the ornately illustrated band and cigar box that encompasses each of San Cristobal’s offerings, chances are this Nicaraguan cigar maker has something in its portfolio for you to appreciate. 

The collaborative brainchild between legendary cigar-maker Jose “Pepin” Garcia, and his son, Jaime Garcia of “My Father Cigars” fame and the Ashton family, the San Cristobal line is a potent powerhouse in the modern cigar landscape. Although the Pepin or Garcia name may not be blatantly imprinted on each band or cigar box, San Cristobal is 100% a Garcia Family creation… well sort of… actually. Perhaps we’d best hold off on expounding upon that side of the story until a tad later.

For now, rest assured in knowing that this portfolio contains some of the most highly revered premium cigar blends on the market today. Plus, did we mention they've got parrots and gold? If that doesn’t get your pirate eye patch a flappin’ I don’t know what will.

There’s a reason why Klaro Cigars stocks and includes San Cristobal cigars in its various membership and multi-pack deals. Everything we’ve come across bearing this brand’s name has been exceptional. Here's why we think you’ll find San Cristobal's line of cigars to be remarkable too. 

An Old Soul in a New Suit

Even from a Cuban standpoint, the San Cristobal cigar brand has not been around for all that long. As records show, the San Cristóbal De La Habana line has only been rolling out classic cigar types since its surprisingly laggardly inception in 1999. 

Currently operated by Habanos S.A., the original version of the San Cristobal is one of the most recent brands to be added to the Cuban state-run cigar giant. Although there was a brand with the same name in existence way back in the day, it disappeared when the Communist Revolution began to materialize and so did much of its history.

The San Cristobal de la Habana brand of today relies upon tobacco from the Vuelta Abajo region and is rolled at the La Corona factory in Havana, alongside such recognizable names as Hoyo de Monterrey, Montecristo, Por Larranaga, and many more Cuban cigar staples. But whereas the inexpensive Cuban offerings from San Cristobal remain focused on the light to medium side of a cigar flavor profile, the non-Cuban cigar alternatives prefer to live life a bit more on the “robust” end.

Reincarnation and Recognition

For Jose ‘Pepin’ Garcia, life has always been filled with cigars. What began with him hand-rolling stogies at eleven in Cuba soon earned him a name as one of the more skilled “torcedoras” in Cuba, eventually landing him widespread recognition as a world-class master cigar-maker.  

Upon immigrating to the U.S. in the early 2000s with his family, Pepin started life afresh in Florida. Torn between the benefits of being an entrepreneur in capitalistic American culture, and pining for his home back in Communist Cuba, Pepin worked tirelessly to bring his dream of becoming a greater cigar maker to life.

After crafting one small-scale boutique brand after another in Miami’s Little Havana district, Pepin made an executive decision to seek out the source of the tobacco he had been blending in America. Being that Cuban tobacco was still on the “no-fly list,” Pepin decided to hop down to Nicaragua to see where these fantastic medium to full-bodied blends were coming from and hopefully set up a secondary shop way down south. 

Thanks to the help of Pepin’s son, Jaime Garcia, this father-son team was able to get their Nicaraguan operations off the ground after just a few brief years, with the official launching of the non-Cuban San Cristobal cigar brand occurring in 2007. 

Having already established a name for themselves as two of the best cigar makers in history, Pepin and Jaime had little issue earning praise for their cigars. 

Almost completely self-reliant concerning tobacco cultivation, curing, fermenting, and rolling, the San Cristobal spin-off continued to grow in popularity year after year. But well before all of this came to pass, there was a hurdle that had to be overcome, which is precisely when another famous father-son duo stepped through the cigar smoke and took center stage.

Tobacco Nerd Note: Although My Father Cigars is the house responsible for all non-Cuban San Cristobal offerings, the company was founded after the San Cristobal brand’s launch. It would not be until the summer of 2009 that the “Garcia Family Industrial Park” (My Father Cigars) would open its doors for the first time in Estelí, Nicaragua. 

Within this seven-acre complex, you will find nine buildings, housing over 1,900 employees, all of whom are tasked with a duty that helps create a total of twelve different lines of cigars, as well as limited-edition releases, and contracted production runs.

The Ashton Advantage

As the father-and-son names and faces of the iconic Ashton Cigars brand, Robert Levin and Sathya Levin have seen and done it all when it comes to top-shelf nicotine. Longtime veterans of the tobacco biz, the Ashton family holds a firm grasp on the pulse of the cigar market, and are experts at the art of making both shrewd and successful business decisions.

With America’s interest in premium cigars slowly but surely rekindled after the great cigar boom's inevitable bust in the 1990s, the Levin’s were on the lookout for fresh business opportunities, and the Garcia family had just what Ashton desired.

Being that Ashton is both a cigar brand and a distributor, the collaboration between the two families was destined to be a success. After blending up a sensational prototype cigar for the Levins, a deal was later struck in 2006, and San Cristobal was reborn as a collaborative effort between both families and brands. 

Within a year, Ashton Cigar Distributors had its first Nicaraguan smoke set for release, a Nicaraguan puro sporting a parrot emblazoned cigar band and the name San Cristobal. Ashton referred to the line as “Ashton's first new brand” since the launch of La Aroma de Cuba under its name back in 2000. The full-bodied line proved to be a huge hit, despite the popularity of strong cigars still being a few years out.

Come 2015, the first of several limited-edition shipments of the oscuro wrapper leaf-clad San Cristobal Ovation were hitting shelves, which as you shall soon see, propelled the San Cristobal cigar brand into uncharted territory.

Tobacco Nerd Note: As the story goes, the Levins procured the U.S. trademark for the non-Cuban San Cristobal cigar brand way back in the 1980s, but never really did anything with it until Pepin and Jaime Garcia came along. Being that the Ashton family is well-known for its clever business tactics, it may come as no surprise to learn that the firm had just left the brand on the back burner in the hopes of someday finding the spark it so desperately needed.

Say Hi to the San Cristobal Line

San Cristobal

As the Nicaraguan version of the San Cristobal brand got off the ground, Ashton kicked things into high gear by launching a blend that was loaded with aroma, and a full-bodied character. This recipe for promotion and cigar potency proved to be a wise move, and before long the likes of Cigar Aficionado were slapping 93-point score cards all over these stogies. This subsequently earned the cigar a spot as a “Top 25 Cigars of the Year '' for San Cristobal, which needless to say generated a huge amount of noise in the cigar market. 

What began life as a Nicaraguan puro has since evolved into an Ecuadorian-wrapped Cuban-seed oscuro that prefers to punch well above its modest price point. Expect loads of strength, flavor, and aroma from this cigar, with hints of dark chocolate, black pepper, stone fruits, espresso, and caramelized praline. All backed by a hefty dose of sweet tobacco strength.

San Cristobal Elegancia

A personal favorite here at Klaro Cigars, the San Cristobal Elegancia is equal parts mild and wild. Packing a shade-grown claro Connecticut wrapper straight from Ecuador, this grassy mild-to-medium strength natural is one of those stogies that’s appropriate for virtually any occasion. 

Keep your palate prepped for nuances of creamy cashew butter, lemongrass, and a hint of toffee in this 91-point-rated light cigar, earmarking the Elegancia as one of our favorite smokes when a mild cigar flavor profile is in order.

San Cristobal Ovation

Once limited to special release status, the Ovation line from San Cristobal utilizes an ultra vintage form of maduro leaf called an “oscuro” cigar wrapper for its oily outer layer. Pulled straight from the mineral-rich volcanic soils of San Andrés in the southeastern regions of Mexico, this full-strength dark cigar makes for an ideal after-dinner digestif.  

Brimming with dark baker’s chocolate, tannins, spice, and Belgian candy sugar, the Ovation is a fantastic full-strength maduro cigar. 

San Cristobal Quintessence

Like all of the other cigars within its readily available portfolio, the San Cristobal Quintessence relies upon Cuban-seed long-filler tobacco that was raised in Nicaragua, and a wrapper leaf straight out the mountains of Ecuador. 

Awarded a 95-rating in 2022, and a #3 “Cigar of the Year” status in 2021 from Cigar Aficionado, this medium-to-full cedary smoke provides the palate with a rollercoaster of flavor in every pull. A must-smoke experience if stronger cigars are your thing.

San Cristobal Revelation

Hailing from various Garcia family estates, the Revelation line out of the San Cristobal offshoot comes wrapped in a dark fudge-colored Ecuador Sumatra cigar wrapper leaf. Providing medium strength from its Nicaraguan filler and binder, this smoke comes riddled with smacks of vanilla, toasted pecan, leather, baking spices, and a distinctly earthy undertone.

Ranked as one of Cigar Aficionado’s “Top 25 Cigars of the Year” in 2014, the Revelation line has since gone on to earn a 92-rating from the publication in 2018, and win praises from a multitude of cigar-oriented outlets.

Tobacco Nerd Note: The name “San Cristobal” means St. Christopher in Spanish, an overt nod to Christopher Columbus, and the original name for the city of Havana from the days when it was first established in 1519. Cuban versions of San Cristobal cigars are offered in four styles, all of which are named after the fortresses that defended the city during the days of Spanish colonialism. Recent releases have favored the names of the oldest streets that streak through Old Havana.

Parting Puffs

As fans of pretty much anything produced by the Garcia Family, we here at Klaro Cigars wholeheartedly encourage people to try any San Cristobal cigar that strikes their fancy.

Available in a bevy of popular cigar sizes and shapes, San Cristobal has become one of the more intriguing multi-family collaborative projects we’ve come across in recent memory.

Is everything within this line of Garcia/Ashton cigars bred for everyone’s personal taste? That depends upon whether or not you can smoke strong cigars. Sure, there’s the Elegancia line, but even that treads water closer toward the medium end of the adult swim-oriented tobacco pool.

Non-Cuban San Cristobal cigars are blended and intended with the robust premium cigar blend snob in mind. The smoker with a taste for the sunny tropics, but an even stronger lust for the nightlife. 

Granted, there’s a really good chance that this same type of adventurous cigar smoker will pack some cigars bearing an Ashton Classic claro pedigree for good measure as well. You know, just because passing out poolside due to puffing away on a strong cigar can be a wee bit on the embarrassing side.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.