It’s Monday afternoon and the IPCPR is over...manufacturers are busy tearing down booths and tabulating orders; retailers are wondering where all their money went; bloggers are desperately trying to finish their stories or videos and get them posted before “the other guy”; weasels and assorted other hangers-on are making their way back home with their Halloween bag of goodies. I watched the coverage from afar and came away with a few thoughts...
THINGS TO LOOK FORWARD TO...
There are a multitude of new blends and it seems like even more new line extensions making their ways to your local brick and mortars in the coming weeks and months. I had a conversation a few months ago with a cigar company executive who queried: “Are there too many new cigars coming out every year?” On the one hand, I can see the “Yes” answer when a store already has full shelves and just cannot accommodate new products without getting rid of something that’s already there. What do they sacrifice? (Obviously, something that doesn’t sell well, but then you have to evaluate that issue...do they not sell well because of something the store has done or because they just aren’t perceived as a good cigar? Almost every store carries Macanudo and Romeo y Julieta because they sell the living daylights off almost any other brand in the country...but many enthusiasts don’t get excited over either of them). From my standpoint, as a continually curious consumer and as a blogger...I love the plethora of new brands, blends and extensions hitting the market every year. It’s hard to say where I’ll find my next “favorite cigar” or “cigar of the year” candidate. Here are a few of the new blends and line extensions that sound most interesting to me at the moment, based on the coverage I’ve seen:
- CAO OSA Lot 46 - A size that should have been included with the original release last year.
- Foundry - General Cigar trying something totally different from a marketing standpoint...but will the tobacco be totally different, too?
- Partagas Benji Menendez Master Series LX - Menendez is truly a legend and his last Master Series was one of the best things General has EVER produced.
- Room 101 Daruma - Matt Booth hasn’t missed the mark with any cigar he’s released lately.
- Drew Estate Papas Fritas - mixed filler, smaller ring gauge Liga Privadas? Okay...I’m interested.
- My Father La Dueña - Papa Pepin has his cigars; Jaime has his; now Janny will have hers. Makes the family business complete.
- Joya de Nicaragua Cuenca y Blanco - Jose Blanco is one of the most knowledgeable cigar people I’ve ever met and I was very excited to hear of him joining forces with Joya de Nicaragua. From everything I’ve heard, this cigar is gold.
- L’Atelier - Pete Johnson’s new brand...actually an all-new company, headquartered in Miami instead of L.A., where the rest of Pete’s stuff is. Some say these are copies of the Cuban Cohiba Behike in size and overall marketing approach. I say...”Who cares?!?” I’d rather smoke one of Pete’s products (made by My Father Cigars again) than any cigar produced by the tyrannical Communist regime of Cuba any day.
- La Flor Dominicana Oro - Litto told me about these in my interview with him last month and I’ve been looking forward to them ever since. Still waiting for them to announce a Coronado Maduro Chisel, though....I can dream, can’t I?
- Altadis has shortened the name of Montecristo to “MO” on some of their new marketing pieces...boxes and such. While I think Altadis trying new things is a very good thing, I do question some of the specific design and marketing decisions: emphasis on “ME” in ROMEO and “MO here.
- EloGio is a great brand. I love their cigars and I’ve only been able to find them in one of my regularly visited shops (UPtown’s in Nashville). All reports are that they produce a nearly microscopic number of cigars every year, although they do own their own farm and factory. They have obviously emphasized quality over quantity and that’s not a decision I disagree with. But I wonder why they bother with the expense of a booth at the IPCPR show. They had exactly one new cigar in one size to show this year and I suspect they had to spend a fair amount of time telling retailers, “No, we don’t have enough product to add you to our retailer list.” With production where is stands, they could grown their dealer network at a more than adequate speed based solely on the buzz they generate...at least that’s my belief.
- Do we REALLY need more gigantic ring gauge cigars? There are exceptions to the rule, but I have found that ring gauges of 56 or more tend to “dumb down” the flavor profile of a cigar. Some of my favorite blends by some of my favorite cigar makers have been nothing but “Blah!” when expressed in a 60 ring gauge vitola. I know they sell, but I’ll just go on the record saying I wish they didn’t. I’d love to see more Lanceros and Lonsdales, Coronas and Corona Gordas.
- ACID G-Fresh: Drew Estate’s ACID infused line, in single humidified packs to be sold at Circle K...what could go wrong? On second thought, it’s the sale of single cigars...especially flavored cigars...at convenience stores that has added the most fuel to the FDA’s fire to regulate all cigars. Now one of those convenience stores sticks will be the same as what is sold in many “real” cigar stores around the country. I’m sorry, but I don’t see how this will help our side of the fight.
I DO NOT THINK IT MEANS WHAT YOU THINK IT MEANS...
What is “boutique” when it comes to cigar brands? Is it a specific number of cigars produced in a year? If so, then many companies that were at the forefront of the boutique cigar movement have long-since passed from the definition. On the other hand, what if it has to do more with attitude than anything else? In that case there is no question that Tatuaje (and associated brands) and La Flor Dominicana still belong in the “boutique” category and probably would remain there even if they were producing and selling 50 million sticks a year.
I think “boutique” has more to do with independent thought and willingness to “bet the farm” on daring and unique products. It has to do with putting quality over quantity every day and twice on Sunday...a recognition that if you can produce massive numbers of cigars without sacrificing quality, then so be it, but a realization that the more you produce the harder it will be to maintain the standards you set. It has to do with marketing in a way that is unique...you’ll rarely see pictures of boutique brand owners standing in the field gazing lovingly at a tobacco leaf or hanging out with their father and grandfather who were also in the business. These guys don’t have the “tobacco pedigree” as it were...they weren’t “born in a field and swaddled in a tobacco leaf” as one boutique manufacturer put it to me. To use a completely overused corp-speak phrase...they “think outside the box.”
I’ve seen the “boutique” appellation thrown around by big companies a few times and I think they either have the meaning wrong or want to redefine it: in my mind, you can’t just declare a brand “boutique” because you want to. The desire is to tap into what’s “cool” in the eyes of today’s cigar enthusiasts and I understand that from a business standpoint. But I don’t think calling your own product “boutique” will fool anyone who knows (as many enthusiasts do) that your annual production numbers in the hundreds of millions, if not billions, of cigars (counting machine-made).
What you have come up with may be one of the best things your company has ever produced. It may be produced by a smaller group of blenders and rollers (within the larger company). In all likelihood, what is being made should be defined as “Small Batch” or “Limited Edition” rather than throw around the “B” word.
To be clear, I support the large and (somewhat) aging cigar companies trying to modernize their blends and attitudes. Without such a change, I think they face declining sales as their most loyal buyers get older and pass on. I just don’t support an attempt to redefine a category to fit what they are doing just because the word is currently enveloped in coolness.