Please pardon the click-bait thread title. Let's start with a scenario a lot of us have probably faced at one time or another.
You walk into a cigar shop in most any town in the US (meaning NC's only, no Cubans). Looking around the humidor you don't see a single thing you've had before, though you do recognize a lot of brands, many of which you've smoked before - just not the same series, vitola, or whatever. You ask the kid manning the counter what's good and he just shrugs. But you're not really in the mood for exploring, you want something you can be sure you'll enjoy. What to you choose?
With the plethora of different cigars available today it can be hard to decide what to smoke. I know there are lot of cigar smokers who want to constantly try something new every time (I joke that it's the Pokémon approach - gotta' smoke em all). But with prices rising and budgets tightening, perhaps it's time to be more selective, even when trying something new. Maybe you like most everything you've had from a certain brand, a My Father or Arturo Fuente. Maybe something as simple as wrapper choice, like Corojo or Maduro. Or maybe it's a particular blender, like AJ Fernandez or Ernesto Perez-Carrillo. Or a company making many different brands, such as Drew Estate. What are yours? And what is it that draws you to an otherwise unknown cigar?
Personally, there's a deeper dive into the subject of brand loyalty and my own history with it too. But if this becomes a TL;DR, just skip it and stick to "above the fold".
Anyway, I grew up in an age when I think most cigar smokers were absolute brand loyalists. I know my dad certainly was. In the 1960's and 70's his was the Antonia y Cleopatra Grenadiers. Somewhere along the way he switched to Garcia y Vega English Coronas most of the time. Not exactly highfalutin' cigars; but he had a family to raise and a budget to stick to if he wanted smoke his usual 4 or 5 cigars a day.
When I first got into cigars myself, it was with smaller ones - Braniff #2 being my first choice, with Garcia y Vega Whiffs and Backwoods being more common simply because of availability. IDK, maybe I was trying to be like Clint Eastwood or somethin'.
Had my first Cuban while visiting Hong Kong in 1985. But proper cigars were still only a once-in-a-while treat. And I really didn't know what to buy in the US except a few I occasionally picked up at The Tinder Box. Frankly, I don't even remember names except high-volume brands like Macanudo, Partagas (NC), and Royal Jamaica. And nothing else about any of them was all that memorable. Then the Cigar Boom of the 1990's came along and I dove into the world of finer hand-rolled cigars in earnest - but with limited funds to spread around too much.
In the 90's my go-to's were El Rico Habano and Camacho. Not that I didn't try a lot of others, but both of these were budget friendly cigars (at the time) that I could afford to smoke regularly. El Rico Habano was a bold blend from the original El Credito factory (most famous for La Gloria Cubano). ERH is still around, though seemingly on "life support", no longer under the same ownership, and no longer making the Corona and Grand Corona sizes I favored. And Camacho has since evolved into a rather broader range than the simple Honduran goodness that, at its roots, came as close IMO to Cuban twang as anything legally available in the USA way-back when. Excalibur No.4 was another box-worthy favorite when there was a little extra in the pay-check that week.
The 2000's expanded my reach, and budget, as Nicaragua quickly became a dominate force in cigars. I think I probably did more exploring of NC's during that period than any other. I really can't say I had "a brand" other than Padron being the cigars I kept coming back to after trying so many others. I also found myself traveling overseas quite often and learning my way around the Cuban catalog beyond the smattering I'd had in the previous decades, becoming my main focus in 2000-teens right up to today. But that's a topic for another time and another sub-forum.
Still, it's that shifted allegiance that narrowed my focus with regard to NC's. I still smoke 'em, and I still buy 'em. Just not in the breadth or depth I once did. And that makes the original question of what to pick among unfamiliar choices that much more relevant for me. Certainly there are those brands, blenders, etc I know and love - Warped, Padron (still), Herrera Esteli, Perdomo, Casa Fernandez and offshoots using their Agnorsa tobaccos, just to name a few.
And I know I am not alone in having certain makers I'm drawn to. Ezra Zion, Roma Craft, Jas Sum Kral, and a double handful of others I am aware of being forum favorites, along with some I've already mentioned.
Bottom line: As much as experiencing variety has its own charm, even before the recent necessity of tightening our belts, most everyone has had go-to favorites. I've laid out some of mine, at least the ones that come first to mind. What are yours?