Breaking News: The FDA Just Issued the Final Rule Regulating Handmade Cigars and It’s as Bad as We Feared

5 May 2016

FDA-cigars-large

Today the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the final rule regulating cigars. We will have more coverages of this in tomorrow’s Friday Sampler and in the coming weeks, but for now here are some key points about the impact of the 499 page rule on handmade cigars:

The FDA Rejected Pleas for an Exemption for Premium Cigars

In its initial proposed rule, the FDA offered two options for regulating cigars: option 1 (which covers all cigars) and option 2 (which exempts handmade cigars over $10). In its final rule the FDA rejected Option 2 meaning that a $12 handmade premium cigar will be treated exactly the same under the rule as “little cigars” that are manufactured on the same machines that produce cigarettes.

February 15, 2007 Date for Grandfathered Products Remains Unchanged

While the so-called Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTC)—the bill giving the FDA the power to regulate cigars—didn’t pass until June 2009, the legislation sets February 15, 2007 as the cutoff date for tobacco products to be grandfathered in as exempt from needing FDA approval before being sold or marketed in the United States. There were hopes that the FDA would modify that date but they did not, meaning that products introduced past that date will be subject to the FDA approval process, although those currently on the market will be treated differently from those introduced after the regulation officially takes effect.

Regulations will Go Into Effect on August 8

While the text of the rule was released today it will not be officially published to the Federal Register until May 10, at which point a 60 day clock will start until the regulation officially goes into effect. Cigars introduced after August 8 will have to get FDA pre-approval before being marketed or distributed. Non-grandfathered (post-February 15, 2007) cigars on the market before August 8 can be sold for until August 8, 2018 after which they must apply for FDA approval to remain on the market. Notably, the 2016 IPCPR Trade Show is set to take place in Las Vegas at the end of July, meaning it will effectively be the last chance cigar makers have to introduce new cigars before the August 8 date for pre-approval is required.

FDA Approval Process Still Murky

The need for FDA approval of new cigars is the biggest reason why industry experts predict the rule will devastate the handmade cigar industry, including 30,000 Americans who work in the industry and over 300,000 workers abroad. While subjecting all cigars to this pre-approval process where they must prove the new product is “substantially equivalent” to a grandfathered or approved product, the exact standards the FDA will use to make this determination or exactly what scientific data would need to be included with the application is far from clear. The FDA also doesn’t seem to address if it has the capacity to deal with new applications in a timely manner.

Rule Enacts Sample Ban, Mandated Warning Labels

Starting on August 8 distribution of samples will be prohibited, meaning cigar shop events where attendees get to try a new product free of charge will be prohibited. Full implementation of warning labels on cigars should within two years depending on the date of introduction, with warnings “to appear on at least 30 percent of the two principal display panels of the package, and at least 20 percent of the area of advertisements”.

Legal Challenges Are Inevitable

Barring an Act of Congress, only a federal court case can stop enforcement of this rule. Legal actions to executive actions generally come in the form of either as facial challenge to the rule, or an as applied challenge. A facial challenge could being before the rule goes into effect and could ask for an injunction to stop implementation of part of the rule or the entire rule, although the standard for getting one is very high. A “as applied” legal challenge would allege that the FDA violated either a federal law or the Constitution in how it applied the regulations to a specific party. With such a major impact multiple federal lawsuits are likely.

The entire text of the 499 page rule can be found here.

Patrick S

photo credits: Stogie Guys

Drew Estate

Cigar Spirits: Bulleit Barrel Strength Bourbon

4 May 2016

Bulleit-Barrel-Strength

I’ve long held the opinion that the standard Bulleit Bourbon and Bulleit Rye are great everyday spirits for the price, which can be as low as $19. Bulleit’s 10 Year Bourbon offering is a tasty one, too, especially if you can find it for around $35. (In my home state of Virginia it’s closer to $50; in nearby Maryland I can find it for as low as $33 on sale, which makes it a real steal.)

Recently, Bulleit added a barrel-strength offering to its portfolio. The exact strength varies by batch from between 118- and 125-proof. The sample I received from Bulleit weighs in at 119.2-proof (59.6% ABV). Currently, it is being sold in Kentucky only (MSRP is $50 for a 750 ml. bottle and $30 for the 375 ml. bottle). It wouldn’t surprise me if this rolls out nationally, though, especially given its largely favorable response.

While the bourbon is bottled at the famous Stitzel Weller Distillery in Louisville, that isn’t where it was distilled. For many years, Four Roses distilled Bulleit bourbon on contract. That arrangement ceased over a year ago. Bulleit is currently building a new distillery, which is set to open before the end of the year. Still, while it isn’t disclosed (and reports are that Bulleit’s parent company has purchased distillate bourbon from other distilleries), in all likelihood this is from the stocks distilled at Four Roses.

The deep amber bourbon features a robust nose with sweet wood, pie crust, and just a hint of heat generated by the high proof. On the palate, Bulleit Barrel Proof features oak, cedar spice, cherry, butterscotch, and some barrel char. The finish includes caramel and vanilla with more spice and char.

Bulleit Barrel Strength doesn’t carry an age statement (except for being labeled as a straight Kentucky bourbon, which means it is at least four years old). That said, Bulleit is owned by liquor giant Diageo, which means it has the financial backing to patiently age barrels without the pressure to bottle too early. It shows. This is a very nice addition to the line and one that fans of barrel-proof bourbons will want to seek out.

The spirit pairs naturally with a full-bodied cigar. Suggested pairings include Liga Privada Dirty RatLa Flor Dominicana Limitado VArturo Fuente Opus X, and Tatuaje Havana VI Verocu. Hopefully not a Kentucky-only release for too long, Bulleit Barrel Strength delivers a rich blast of sweetness, wood, and spice that you’d expect from a properly-aged barrel-proof bourbon.

Patrick S

photo credit: Bulleit

Cigar Review: E.P. Carrillo Short Run 2016

2 May 2016

Short Run

When the man who made La Gloria Cubana a household name started his new family-run company in 2009, few in the cigar industry doubted he would be successful in his new venture. To date, by seemingly every measure, he has been.

Short Run 2016One undertaking that has helped solidify Ernesto Perez-Carrillo’s post-General Cigar success has been Short Run. So far, the line has resulted in one release per year—although, when it was first introduced, we were told there might be two Short Run blends per year. The concept is pretty simple: Make a limited run of a blend using tobacco that isn’t available in enough quantities for a full-blown release. (Read our thoughts on the 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2015 Short Run cigars by clicking on these links.)

“The Short Run 2016 takes a new direction and departs from our prior approach, since it is only one vitola,” reads a letter from the E.P. Carrillo team that accompanied my samples. “It is adorned with a beautiful honey Colorado wrapper from Ecuador that is smooth to the touch and alluring to the eye and utilizing unique tobacco from several regions in Nicaragua for the binder and filler.” Only 2,500 boxes of 10 cigars were made, with each cigar carrying an MSRP of $12.

The toro-sized smoke (6 x 52) is oily and light brown in color with minimal veins and potent pre-light notes of sweet hay and light syrup. Moderately firm to the touch, the well-constructed cap clips easily to reveal a smooth cold draw with a slight spice on the lips. Notably, the large, ornate band of gold and red is the most detailed, regal, and textured band to adorn an E.P. Carrillo cigar since the company’s inception—which may signal how Ernesto Perez-Carrillo feels about this particular release.

Once lit, the initial profile is characterized by a hearty dose of roasted nuts, spicy cedar, and graham cracker. Well-balanced with a creamy texture, it’s the kind of flavor the makes your mouth water significantly between puffs—and the sweet, abundant resting smoke doesn’t hamper my enjoyment either.

As it progresses, this medium-bodied treasure loses some of the cedar bite in favor of more graham and creamy nut. Oak, hay, and restrained leather add more balance without overpowering the core tastes. All the while the physical properties are excellent from light to nub. The gray ash holds well off the foot, the draw is easy, the burn line straight, and the smoke production is well above average.

If I were asked what flavors I most enjoy in a cigar, sweet cream, graham cracker, and roasted nuts would rank among my top tastes. The E.P. Carrillo Short Run 2016 has all three in spades. This cigar wasn’t blended specifically for my palate, but it might as well have been. Exquisite in every way while maintaining incredible balance and offering rare subtlety, I have no reservations about awarding this triumph a rare rating of five stogies out of five.

[To read more StogieGuys.com cigar reviews, please click here. A list of other five-stogie rated cigars can be found here.]

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Heritage 1492 Nicaragua Toro

1 May 2016

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

Heritage 1492

This cigar opens with a blast of jalapeño pepper before settling down with some sweetness, earth, and rich tobacco. Rolled by Oliva for GMD Group (which supplied my samples), the double-banded Toro (6 x 50) is sharply box-pressed and exquisitely constructed. It burns perfectly, produces lots of smoke, and has an excellent draw. The wrapper is Ecuadorian Habano with Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. One drawback is the price, which lists at $14, though I’ve seen it advertised online for as low as $9. If you’re a fan of Nicaraguan tobacco, it’s one to try.

Verdict = Buy.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Diamond Crown Julius Caeser Pyramid

30 Apr 2016

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

JC

Released to celebrate J.C. Newman’s founder, this Diamond Crown extension is a medium-strength, tasty cigar. Few details are released—the smooth, oily wrapper is labeled Ecuadorian Havana-seed and the other tobaccos called simply Central American. My guess—based on spices reminiscent of some Opus smokes—is a high proportion of Dominican filler. Like all Diamond Crowns, the Julius Caeser carries a high price tag. The Pyramid (6.5 x 52) retails between $16 and $20. I thoroughly enjoyed it with one caveat: The draw was a bit constricted and smoke production a little limited. But I would say this is one to consider when you want a celebratory stick.

Verdict = Buy.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Stogie Guys Friday Sampler No. 477

29 Apr 2016

As we have since July 2006, each Friday we’ll post a mixed bag of quick cigar news and other items of interest. Below is our latest Friday Sampler.

Powerbrand Camacho

1) Camacho yesterday announced a new line called Powerbrand, which will reside under its Master-Built Series. It is billed as an “intense, adrenaline-fueled cigar experience inspired by the power, performance, and acceleration associated with a classic V-twin engine, built to galvanize a brotherhood of freedom seekers.” The Powerbrand recipe includes a Habano 2000 wrapper from Ecuador, a San Andrés binder, and (predominantly Ligero) filler tobaccos from Nicaragua, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic. Three sizes will be available—Robusto, Toro, and Gordo—in the $11-13 range. Shipments to the U.S. will begin Monday, June 13. Oettinger Davidoff, Camacho’s parent, yesterday also reported strong cigar sales in 2015. “Against the backdrop of a declining market, both core brands, Davidoff and Camacho, reported gratifying double-digit growth of 10.5% and 34.4%, respectively,” according to a press release. “In addition, Oettinger Davidoff achieved a production record for the third consecutive time: It produced a grand total of 45.8 million cigars (previous year: 44.0 million) in 2015, an increase of 4.1%.”

2) Omar de Frias’ Fratello Cigars is shipping the “Fratello Branded Tray” to select retailers starting in May. “This tray combines the power of engineering with functionality and style,” said de Frais in a press release. “Cutting the total Fratello shelve space by 30% while increasing our cigar output by 10% was one of our main goals.” Contrary to an earlier announcement, the trays will not include a secret compartment. This is the second year Fratello is launching a special retailer tray; last year the company shipped 125 trays.

3) Inside the Industry: Miami native Eddy Guerra has been named director of marketing for Gurkha Cigars. He was previously a partner at the Thailand-based ChindAsia Capital Partners, which grew to become the largest distributor of non-Cuban cigars in Southeast Asia. “I met Eddy Guerra in Thailand, and we quickly became friends,” said Gurkha president Kaizad Hansaotia in a press release. “His knowledge about cigars and marketing acumen make him a tremendous asset to the Gurkha team. I look forward to a long and prosperous working relationship with Guerra.”

4) From the Archives: Summer is the season for travel, and it’s just around the corner. If you’re lucky enough to be planning a trip to Paris, be sure to read the Stogie Guys cigar guide to the City of Lights. You’ll find advice on where to buy and where to light up.

5) Deal of the Week: StogieGuys.com recommends Bespoke Post, a monthly collection of awesome items delivered to your door for just $45. Past boxes include barbecue accessories, shaving kits, coffee, and exclusive cigars from E.P. Carrillo. You can skip or purchase every month (or select a different box). This month’s options include a serious upgrade to your cocktail accessories, a kit for making barrel-aged cocktails, kits that include everything you need (but the booze) for an authentic Moscow mule or mint julep, and others. Click here to sign up today.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Davidoff

Cigar Review: Hoyo by Hoyo de Monterrey Robusto

27 Apr 2016

Long a General Cigar staple, Hoyo de Monterrey is the latest offering to receive a makeover. This time, the overhaul comes via a new line inspired by an earlier limited edition. The cigar even sports a different, shorter name—simply Hoyo—and, as you’d expect, modern bands, boxes, and promotion.

HoyoInterestingly, the new Hoyo was touted in a press release by General’s vice president of marketing, Alan Willner, rather than a cigar blender.

Hoyo is being offered to tobacconists in four sizes: Rothschild (4.5 x 50), Robusto (5 x 54), Toro (6 x 50), and Gigante (6 x 60). For this review, General provided me with a five-pack of the Robustos, which carry an individual MSRP of $6.59.

The tobaccos used in Hoyo reflect the blend from last year’s Hoyo Edición de Cumpleaños 150 limited edition that celebrated the 150th anniversary of the original Cuban Hoyo de Monterrey.

That cigar features a proprietary wrapper leaf called Estelí Habano Shade, which has been fermented longer and applied to the new Hoyo. It is thick and oily with little pre-light aroma. Under an Ecuadorian Sumatra binder is a filler mix of Pennsylvania ligero along with Nicaraguan tobacco from Estelí and Ometepe.

I found excellent construction, draw, and burn in each of the samples. Smoke production was top-flight. The cigars are densely packed, and a slow burn makes the fat Robusto last longer than many larger cigars.

For me, there’s often a fine line between peppery and harsh. Sometimes it shows up in a back-of-the-throat bite, sometimes in a lingering, coarse finish. With the Hoyo Robusto, it seems to show up in both, especially during the first inch or so.

The harshness backs down somewhat in the second half, with burned coffee and tobacco sweetness coming to the fore. Overall, though, there isn’t much development throughout the five-inch smoke.

While it’s nice to see a major cigar maker reexamine long-time brands, it can sometimes feel like they’re trying too hard to emulate their boutique competitors. With Hoyo, General has produced a perfectly acceptable cigar, but one that seems a bit heavier on the sizzle than on the steak.

On the other hand, with its reasonable price and excellent combustion properties that are characteristic of General Cigar, I’d recommend giving it a try. As for rating, I give the Hoyo Robusto three stogies out of five.

[To read more StogieGuys.com cigar reviews, please click here.]

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys