Commentary: The New Fuente Nicaraguan Cigar Factory is a Big Deal

23 May 2018

When it comes to classic, old-school cigars, few brands come to mind more than Arturo Fuente. In an era of so many brands bringing new cigars to market constantly, Fuente has never given in to that pressure of the new release treadmill, or the need to chase trends. All of which makes their recent announcement particularly noteworthy.

Yes, Fuente had a presence in Nicaragua in the 1970s prior to the Sandinista revolution that wiped out many international investors. But now it is back in a big way. Using land the Fuentes have used to grow Nicaraguan tobacco for a while, the Domincan cigar giant announced recently it is building a new cigar factory in the heart of Estelí with the name “Gran Fabrica de Tabacos La Bella y La Bestia.”

I, for one, am very excited to see what the new Nicaraguan factory can create. Fuente makes cigars that stack up well at every price point, from the bargain bin mixed-filler Curly Head to the ultra-premium limited edition Opus X releases. Fundamentally, though, they’ve always been characterized by Dominican tobaccos, especially fillers.

The prospect of an abundance of Nicaraguan tobacco in new Fuente blends sounds good to me. That Fuente brought in Felix Mesa of El Galan Cigars (maker of the Doña Nieves) to run the Nicaraguan operations is especially promising.

The announcement is also a sign of the emergence of Nicaraguan cigars.

Not that long ago, Nicaragua was third among countries when it came to importing handmade cigars into the United States, behind Honduras and far behind the Dominican Republic. Today, for the second straight year, Nicaragua has edged out the Dominican Republic, with Honduras a distant third.

Put simply: If you were starting a new cigar company today, the most obvious place to build your factory would be Nicaragua. Yes, labor costs that are lower than the Dominican Republic. But the biggest reason would be the access to Nicaraguan tobaccos.

In many ways, Fuente’s announcement is the culmination of Nicaragua’s ascendance. In short, it’s a big deal, and a sign of the where the U.S. cigar market is now.

Patrick S

photo credit: Fuente

Cigar Review: El Titan de Bronze Redemption Sun Grown Habano Lancero

21 May 2018

Earlier this month, I published a photo essay documenting my recent visit to El Titan de Bronze. Even if you’re not familiar with this small factory on Calle Ocho in Little Havana, Miami, chances are good you’ve enjoyed its cigars at one time or another. El Titan de Bronze counts companies such as Drew Estate, Warped Cigars, La Palina, Cornelius & Anthony, Padilla, El Primer Mundo, Cremo, and many others as clients.

From the outside, you could easily mistake El Titan de Bronze as a mere retailer. The whole operation is only 2,200 square feet. But—unlike all the other cigar spots that dot Calle Ocho, many of which employ a window roller or two to lure tourists—El Titan de Bronze is a living, breathing factory full of rich history.

Its staff is also often called upon to not only craft cigars for other brands, but to also offer guidance and assistance when it comes to blending (one exception here is Willy Herrera of Drew Estate, who apparently does just fine on his own). The expertise El Titan de Bronze brings to the table is evident in its house blends, which are available for sale online—but, I am told, are mostly bought in-person at the factory.

Included in the lineup of house brands is El Titan de Bronze Redemption Sun Grown Habano. This blend features Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos around a sun-grown Ecuadorian Habano wrapper.

Cuban-seed Santo Domingo and Nicaraguan filler tobaccos, an Ecuadorian binder, and (as the name implies) a dark Habano wrapper. The Corona (5.75 x 48) sells for about $8.50 apiece. Six regular-production vitolas are available, including the Lancero (6.75 x 38), which retails for about $9. (Beyond the six core sizes—Churchill, Churchill Corto, Toro, Belicoso, Corona, and Lancero—there are five additional formats that are listed as “subject to availability.”)

The Redemption Sun Grown Habano Lancero sports a well-executed pigtail cap and attractive dual bands of white, gold, and blue. It is moderately firm from head to foot with no hard or soft spots. The wrapper is uniform in color and dry with a few large veins. The cold draw is moderately firm, and the soft pre-light notes remind me of hay and molasses.

Many cigars offer fleeting moments of brilliant notes of roasted nuts. For whatever reason, this typically emerges after the first third is completed. In this case, however, that awesome flavor takes center stage right from the get-go. Other tastes include spicy cedar, white pepper, and cinnamon. As the Lancero progresses, a salted caramel note joins the fray to add some creaminess and sweetness.

Then, at the midway point, the entire profile takes a turn, abandoning the roasted nuts, sweetness, creaminess, and spice for a mellower (and, frankly, less interesting) flavor of bread, cereals, and dry oak. Fortunately, this retreat is short-lived. Just as you might begin to lose interest, the roasted nut note comes back, as does the spice.

Throughout, the burn line is straight and the ash holds well off the foot. The draw is tighter than I would like in the first half—even for a lancero—and, as a result, the smoke production is a bit below average. Everything opens up nicely in the final third, though.

I am a fan of lanceros, which is why I gravitated towards this size for my first foray with the El Titan de Bronze Redemption Sun Grown Habano. That said, I can’t help but think the experience would have been improved by the clearer draw that’s likely afforded by the thicker sizes. I look forward to giving those a try. For now, this cigar earns a rating of three stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Paul Garmirian 15th Anniversary Churchill

20 May 2018

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.”

Paul Garmirian’s 15th Anniversary Belicoso Extra (6.75 x 52) makes my short list of all-time favorite cigars, which is probably why I’ve rarely smoked the similarly sized Churchill (7 x 48). The cigar, made by Davidoff in the Dominican Republic along with the rest of the Paul Garmirian line, features a Nicaraguan wrapper and aged filler tobaccos. There’s a Burgundian characteristic that comes through in the cigar: light tannin, red fruit, with musty wood that would remind you of an old wine cave. It’s a flavorful blend, but also exquisitely balanced. A real treat, even with it’s premium ($17) price tag.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Guardian of the Farm JJ

19 May 2018

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.”

Collaborations are all the rage in the cigar industry, and Guardian of the Farm joins the party. This Nicaraguan puro was created by Max Fernández (son of Aganorsa S.A. owner Eduardo Fernández) and Kyle Gellis (owner of Warped Cigars). It has garnered much praise. The Apollo (6 x 44) vitola was Cigar Aficionado’s No. 8 cigar for 2017. The JJ (5.25 x 50) begins earthy and strong, with a little back-of-the-throat tickle that, happily, fades quickly. After that, the cigar stays consistent with some pepper, a little cedar, occasional citrus, and sweetness. Smoke production is plentiful, and it burns straight from start to finish. All in all, a most satisfying cigar.

Verdict = Buy.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Weekly Cigar News Sampler: Premium Cigar Regulation Exemption Passes Committee, Davidoff Releases Wagner, and More

18 May 2018

As we have since July 2006, each Friday we’ll post our sampling of cigar news and other items of interest from the week. Below is our latest, which is the 579th in the series.

1) On Tuesday, we learned the unfortunate news that cigars had been dealt a major legal blow. Judge Amit P. Mehta of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a decision, siding not with the cigar industry groups who were challenging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulation of premium cigars and other tobacco products, but with the FDA. “If you’re looking for someone to blame for yesterday’s ruling, don’t focus on the judge, but on the Congress that authorized the FDA’s regulation of cigars in the first place,” we wrote on Wednesday. “And don’t forget: Today’s Congress still has the power to repeal it.” Little did we know, later that same day, the industry would be rewarded with a glimmer of hope. The fiscal year 2019 budget, as approved by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations, includes some positive language. “The language as adopted by the committee blends past efforts, by not only providing an exemption for defined premium and large cigars, but changing the ‘predicate date’ for cigars and pipe tobacco from burdensome pre-market approval procedures to the time of the deeming rule issuance, from February 15, 2007 to April 25, 2014,” reads a statement from Cigar Rights of America (CRA). “This amendment once again sends a clear message that the regulations advanced by the FDA go well beyond the congressional intent of the Tobacco Control Act,” said Glynn Loope, executive director of CRA. Mind you, this isn’t the first time such language has made it out of committee only to be eliminated from the final spending bill. But the inclusion of the language at this juncture is a bit of welcome news in an otherwise dreary week.

2) The latest release from Davidoff’s Vault program that offers rare and vintage cigars is the Wagner, which went on sale today. It was originally issued in Europe in 2004 to honor Swiss tobacconist Wagner Tåbak‑Ladeli. Davidoff said it was its “first tailor-made cigar.” The Vault has been a consumer hit, with most offerings selling out in a few hours.

3) Random Read: Why Burger King is blasting Bach.

4) Inside the Industry: Villiger recently announced the opening of a new factory, Villiger do Brasil, located in the Brazilian state of Bahia. The factory will be devoted solely to Brazilian puros, including the Villiger San’Doro Maduro, which is available in the U.S. market.

5) From the Archives: “It’s a versatile rye that’s plenty good enough to be sipped straight (as I recommend), but you wouldn’t be heart-broken if your buddy throws a bunch of ice cubes in it or decides to mix it in a Manhattan…. If you’re a rye fan who hasn’t tried Sazerac Rye, you’re missing out.”

6) Deal of the Week: StogieGuys.com recommends Bespoke Post, a monthly collection of awesome items (think fine bar accessories, shaving kits, workout gear, and more) delivered for just $45. Of note is the Churchill box, which features four exclusive cigars, an ashtray made of reclaimed wood, an odor-eating candle, cedar spills, and a cutter. Once you are signed up, there is no obligation; you can skip or purchase each month. Sign up soon to be eligible for the June box.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Stogie Guys

News: Judge Rules Against Industry Challenge to FDA Cigar Regulations

16 May 2018

Judge Amit P. Mehta of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a 70-page decision yesterday in CAA v. FDA, largely ruling against the cigar industry groups that brought the legal challenge to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulation of premium cigars and other tobacco products.

The Cigar Association of America, International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association, and Cigar Rights of America filed the legal challenge last year claiming the FDA’s move to extend tobacco regulations to cigars and other tobacco products violated the Administrative Procedures Act, as well as the First and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution.

The one win for the industry groups relates to pipe tobacco. The Obama-appointed judge found the FDA was “arbitrary and capricious” when it designated tobacco retailers who blend pipe tobaccos in-store as domestic manufacturers under that Tobacco Control Act. That issue was remanded back to the FDA for further consideration.

The judge rejected claims that the FDA violated the Administrative Procedures Act when enacting the deeming rule, putting cigars under the Tobacco Control Act. He also rejected claims that the large cigar warning labels violate the Constitutional rights of cigar manufacturers who were required by the law to put health warnings on products and advertisements for cigars. (The picture above is of required warning labels in France, which are only slightly larger and more colorful than what is required under the FDA.)

Although the judge noted the “basic unfairness” of enforcing the warning labels and associated costs while the FDA was reconsidering the regulations and may soon change them, he ultimately deferred to the agency’s authority.

Judge Mehta’s decision can (and very likely will) be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. An adverse ruling by a three-judge panel of that court could then be petitioned for review “en banc” by the full court, after which the U.S. Supreme Court could be asked to review that decision.

Analysis

Legal precedent is stacked against those challenging executive agency rules. The “Chevron Doctrine” gives wide deference to executive branch agencies when it comes to interpreting the law. As a result, an agency like the FDA gets the benefit of the doubt in the eyes of federal courts when it comes to interpreting the limits of its authority.

The good news is, in addition to a likely appeal, this isn’t the only legal challenge to the FDA rules. A lawsuit filed by Global Premium Cigars in Florida includes additional claims that the FDA’s actions violate the Regulatory Flexibility Act, designed to protect small businesses from over-burdensome regulations. And an additional lawsuit brought by El Cubano Cigars and the Texas Cigar Merchants Association in Texas challenges the regulations including the warning label requirements.

If any of the various appellate courts split on an issue, it increases the likelihood the U.S. Supreme Court could weigh in on the issue. Although the odds are still long, legal experts believe there is an increasing skepticism on the Supreme Court for the deference afforded executive branch agencies under the Chevron Doctrine.

Ultimately, though, the best hope for stopping FDA regulations of cigars remains outside the courts. Short term, the FDA’s restarted rulemaking process could provide relief for the cigar industry, as the Trump-appointed FDA commissioner has already initiated a new direction for tobacco regulations.

The more fundamental, if difficult, solution is to repeal the FDA’s authority over premium cigars. Once the FDA was granted the power in 2009 to extend its authority over cigars, it was inevitable that eventually the agency would exercise that power.

Back in 2009, some in the cigar industry weren’t particularly worried about the FDA’s new powers over tobacco because the law’s primary target was cigarettes. While it may have been true that cigarettes were the primary target, it was short-sited to think FDA regulation wouldn’t eventually expand to cigars.

Cigar maker Steve Saka provided his reaction to yesterday’s ruling in a Facebook post: “Basically the court is saying that what the FDA is doing is wrong and unjust, but legal… This is a byproduct of an inept Congress that lacks the moral fortitude to fix the colossal mistake they created and bureaucracy run amok. It is beyond frustrating and infuriating.”

In short, if you’re looking for someone to blame for yesterday’s ruling, don’t focus on the judge, but on the Congress that authorized the FDA’s regulation of cigars in the first place. And don’t forget: Today’s Congress still has the power to repeal it.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Time for a Little Cigar Love

14 May 2018

We seem to be living in an age of nearly constant complaint. Dissatisfied with a company? Rip ’em on Yelp. Unhappy with any political situation? Tune in to your favorite cable news channel and watch your adversaries get roasted. Angry with someone? Blast him or her in a Twitter takedown.

Well, I’m here to go in the other direction. Let’s raise a glass to cigar manufacturers and toast the quality of their work. I think the caliber of cigar-making may be the highest it’s been in a long, long time. It’s certainly seems to me to be the best since I began regularly smoking cigars more than 15 years ago.

Back then, it was not all that uncommon to run across a plugged stick. Or one that burned terribly unevenly. Or one that wouldn’t really burn at all. Other problems included things like finding a thick stem rolled in with the filler leaves or a bunch so loose the burn became both ridiculously rapid and disgustingly hot.

Now, frankly, I can’t recall the last time I had a cigar that didn’t perform at least adequately.

Of course, this is just my opinion, based on my experiences. I do smoke a lot of different cigars because of StogieGuys.com, though I have to admit my selections rarely include really cheap smokes, bundles, or bargain-basement house brands.

But even when I do try one of those, I usually find the draw and burn quite acceptable. Case in point was a recent house blend I tried from one of the major mail-order operations.

I thought it was awful. So bad, in fact, that I only smoked about a third before tossing it aside. That was because I didn’t like the flavor, the harshness, and the finish, not because its combustion properties weren’t up to snuff.

There are probably a lot of reasons for the wide-ranging improvements, and those in the trade would obviously be better able to elucidate them than me. But I can say that, to me, it is certainly a positive sign that the industry continues on an upward path.

All in all, a great reason to celebrate with a great cigar.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys