Archive | March, 2016

Commentary: Could Cuban Cigars Save the Non-Cuban Cigar Industry from the FDA?

30 Mar 2016

Obama Castro press conference, Havana

In April 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took the first major step towards invoking its authority to regulate premium cigars. At the time, it seemed likely that by the end of 2014—if not certainly in 2015—the FDA would finalize its rule subjecting cigars to FDA regulation, including a pre-approval process for cigars introduced after 2007 that would cost cigar makers up to a projected $400,000 per new cigar brought to market.

The comment period for the proposed regulation closed in August 2008 after nearly 55,000 submitted comments, with over half of them from cigar smokers concerned about the impact of the new regulations. Since then, the rule-making process has slowed considerably.

It took over a year after the close of the comment period for the FDA to submit a proposed rule to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which finally took place last fall. Normally, the OMB review process is completed in 90 days, but nearly six months later there has been no further action. Now, rumors suggest the process is frozen. So why the delay?

The most likely answer may be Cuba.

After seemingly ignoring Cuban-American relations for most of his presidency, President Obama has taken significant steps toward normalizing relations with Cuba in the final years of his final term, culminating with the historic visit to Cuba earlier this month. With Cuban cigars being one of Cuba’s most notable and economically important exports, one can reasonably infer that thawing diplomatic relations may be throwing a wrench into FDA efforts to regulate cigars.

Consider the impact of the proposed regulations on Cuban cigars. The FDA has taken the position that, because of the text of the law that authorizes the agency to regulate cigars, it cannot exempt cigars introduced to the U.S. market after February 15, 2007. (We covered this in significant detail last year.)

For non-Cuban cigars, the impact would be huge. For Cuban cigars, none of which can be legally sold or marketed in the U.S. as long as the embargo remains law, the impact would be total.

As you should know by now, the FDA had two options in its proposal for regulating cigars. Option one would treat all cigars the same. Option two would create an exemption for premium cigars that meet certain criteria, including being composed mostly with long-filler tobacco, not being flavored, and having a suggested retail price of at least $10. (One estimate projected that 85% of cigars fall under the arbitrary $10 point.)

One open question about the FDA rules under either option is how cigars introduced after the 2007 cutoff, but already on the market when the rule goes into effect, would be treated—especially those introduced before the FDA took any action towards regulating cigars, or even before the bill authorizing the regulation was signed into law in 2009. Immediately pulling those cigars off the market would be extremely disruptive, not to mention impractical and grossly unfair. Therefore, a grace period where the cigars could remain on the market pending an application for FDA approval seems likely. Of course, non-Cuban cigars, like Cuban cigars, that are not currently on the market wouldn’t be helped by such an accommodation, and options for specifically exempting one country’s imports but not another would not be justified by the legislation (and also could violate international trade commitments, not to mention basic fairness).

For Cuban cigars, the majority of which would probably meet the premium definition, especially with likely price hikes due to increased demand should they become legal in the U.S., option two would allow Cuba’s most famous product to be sold almost immediately if and when the embargo ends. Option one, on the other hand, would keep Cuban cigars off the world’s largest cigar market until they undergo the pre-approval process. Considering that the FDA has taken years to rule on a small percentage of the pending tobacco products already waiting for FDA approval, that wait could be almost indefinite when they go to the back of the line after thousands of non-Cuban cigars.

Unfortunately, indications are the FDA has resisted option two (a purported leaked copy of the rule the FDA transmitted to OMB didn’t include a premium cigar exemption). Further rumors suggest the White House and OMB favored an exemption for premium cigars while FDA opposed one, which has contributed to the likely delay at OMB.

All of which brings about more questions than answers. But  now there’s certainly a compelling case that changing relations between Washington and Havana, and the potential impact on Cuban cigars, could be a significant reason for the delay in implementing a final rule regulating cigars.

If true, then possibly only the president’s unilateral desire to re-establish trade with Cuba is stopping the U.S. government from devastating American cigar retailers, non-Cuban cigar companies, and the tens of thousands of people in the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, and elsewhere that depend on making cigars for the American market. What does it say that the only thing that might save non-Cuban cigars is the desire to not harm the Cuban government-owned cigar industry?

In many ways, the question is as troubling as the answer. But given the destructive impact of FDA regulation on cigars, any reason for delay or possible reprieve would be most welcome.

Patrick S

photo credits: IIP Photo Archive

Cigar Review: E.P. Carrillo Generosos Toro (Casa de Montecristo Exclusive)

28 Mar 2016

EP Carrillo Generosos

In February, Casa de Montecristo (CDM)—a successful three-location tobacconist in Chicago—launched a retail website, which notably boasts exclusive releases from brands like My Father Cigars, Tatuaje, Drew Estate, and more. “CDMCigars.com will not only feature a fantastic selection of the finest cigars available, but will bring the consumer interactive features such as wish lists, a virtual lounge, chances to purchase extremely rare cigars, and periodic raffles,” stated a CDM press release. “The newest cigar releases, limited edition products, certified aged vintage cigars, and the finest accessories will also be featured.”

GenerososIncluded in the list of CDM exclusives is a cigar from E.P. Carrillo that hit the market in 2013: Generosos (Spanish for “generous”). This blend sports an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper, a Dominican binder, and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua. It is marketed as a “fantastically smooth smoke” that’s “medium-bodied” with “smooth, earthy, and nutty” flavors and “a slight hint of spice with a creamy finish.”

There are three vitolas available at CDMCigars.com: Toro (5.9 x 52, $10.74), Robusto (4.9 x 50, $8.94), and Gordo (6.25 x 60, $11.64). (A box-pressed Torpedo was also previously available, but this format is not listed online.) The E.P. Carrillo Generosos Toro has a lumpy, milk chocolate-colored wrapper with a slight red tint. The surface is criss-crossed with thin white veins, and the feel is consistently moderate from head to foot.

Once lit, the airy cold draw and soft pre-light notes of sweet hay transition to a dry, woodsy profile of cinnamon spice, campfire, tea, and creamy peanut. Hints of sweetness are particularly evident on the retrohale and in the aroma of the resting smoke. The open draw contributes to a somewhat papery texture, yet the Toro does not lack for flavor. Decidedly medium-bodied throughout, the interplay between spice and sweetness over an oak-like base is what I’ll remember most about this experience.

Fortunately, the cigar’s physical properties do not inhibit my enjoyment of the Generosos in the slightest. The white ash holds well off the foot, the burn line stays straight and true from light to nub, and the smoke production is above average.

I’ve come to expect a lot anytime I light up an E.P. Carrillo creation. Since the founding of his second cigar company about six years ago (his first, El Credito, was sold to General Cigar in 1999), Ernesto Perez-Carrillo has impressed my colleagues and I time and again with the impressive quality and craftsmanship he instills in his boutique offerings. The Generosos blend is no exception. Tasty and well-balanced, the E.P. Carrillo Generosos Toro is worthy of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Warped Futuro Selección 109

27 Mar 2016

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief take on a single cigar.

futuro-109

After the Warped Futuro Selección Suprema earned our first top rating of 2016, I decided to check out the other vitola from the release, the slightly larger Selección 109 (6 x 52). The cigar, which carries an MSRP of $9.75, features a head that is rounded at the top but with a little more taper above the band than a traditional parejo. Once lit, it produces a full-bodied combination of powdery sawdust, earth, paper, and savory, salty notes. The 109 is slightly fuller-bodied and maybe a touch less complex than its smaller brethren, but both are easy to recommend.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Drew Estate Pope of Greenwich Village

26 Mar 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.”

20160323_023919000_iOS

Part of Smoke Inn’s longstanding Microblend Series—which commissions custom, limited edition blends from top manufacturers—the Pope of Greenwich Village is crafted by Drew Estate exclusively for the Florida-based retailer. The single-vitola (6 x 40) cigar, named for the 1984 black comedy film of the same title, sports a Mexican San Andrés wrapper, Connecticut stalk-cut Habano binder, and Brazilian Mata Fina and Nicaraguan fillers. Fans of Undercrown will find familiar flavors, along with a hearty dose of red pepper, espresso, pecan, and dry oak. Construction is exquisite, and the panatela size is as enjoyable as it is refreshing. You can get a ten-pack for $85 or a five-pack for $42.50; I suggest you do so, especiallyif you’re appreciative of the Drew Estate approach to blending and prefer thinner-format smokes.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Stogie Guys Friday Sampler No. 472

25 Mar 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.

Mary Landrieu1) Mary L. Landrieu, former Democratic member of the U.S. Senate and current consultant to Cigar Rights of America and the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association, authored a piece in the Washington Times on Wednesday about the Obama Administration, forthcoming FDA regulations, and the Cuban cigar industry. “The notion of an American bureaucracy intruding into an industry that poses no threat to the American general public, is purely for discerning adults, and serves as a source of invaluable jobs from the Pinar del Río region of Cuba to the Jamastran Valley of Honduras should not be acceptable,” she writes. Landrieu’s comments come at the heels of President Obama’s just-concluded trip to Cuba, the first time a sitting president had visited the communist isle since 1928. “First, there should be a commitment to advance political reform and civil liberties for the Cuban people before we pursue economic and trade relations,” she argues. “Congress should thoroughly review issues of human rights and personal freedom in Cuba before advancing any of more than a dozen pieces of filed legislation intended to normalize relations.” You can read the entire piece here.

2) “Nanny-staters in Australia have [stripped] brands and logos away from not just cigarettes, but cigars, which are not addictive and not inhaled,” reports the Washington Free Beacon. “As a result, the plain packaging law the country passed five years ago is having devastating consequences for an economy a world a way that depends on tobacco: the Dominican Republic, and the men and women who make that nation’s premium handmade cigars… Plain packaging laws rest on the belief that consumers are so weak-minded that a shiny label will get them hooked on smoking… Cigars were not the stated target of Australia’s plain packaging law, but nevertheless got wrapped into the legislation. Stripping trademarks and brands from the handmade cigars produced in the Dominican Republic—the largest exporter in the world—not only affects their economy; it offends their heritage.” Read more here.

3) Inside the Industry: Cornelius & Anthony Premium Cigars announced the addition of a second line, Daddy Mac (the name is a tribute to owner Steven Bailey’s father, Mac Bailey). The line is being produced at Eric Espinosa’s La Zona factory in Nicaragua and is set to be released in four sizes (Gordo (6 x 60), Toro (6 x 50), Robusto (5 x 50), and Corona Gorda (5.5 x 46)), each presented in boxes of 20. The blend features a Brazilian wrapper, Ecuadorian binder, and Nicaraguan filler.

4) Contest Update: Please join StogieGuys.com in congratulating Steve C. of Waynesville, North Carolina, and James S. of Parma, Michigan, as the two winners of our Búho giveaway. Both will receive sampler packs from Búho, as detailed in our February review of the Búho Primero Connecticut Shade Robusto.

5) Deal of the Week: The best deal is free cigars. To celebrate the annual release of Punch Rare Corojo, Punch is running a sweepstakes to give some away. Sign up here.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Wikipedia

Tip: Sensibly Shaving Your Cigar Spending

23 Mar 2016

cigars-shelf

Soon after the new year is when many cigar manufacturers announce price increases, so the spring seems like an appropriate time to consider some ways to stretch your cigar budget.

To that end, here are a few suggestions for ways I’ve gotten more cigars for less without having to cut back on enjoyment.

Go low. Try some of the lower-priced entries from quality manufacturers. But not just any of them. Look for cigars you enjoy that the big online retailers frequently mark down as come-ons. Two that I almost always keep in my humidor are Perdomo’s Lot 23 Robusto and Holt’s Old Henry Robusto, a house brand made by My Father Cigars for the Philadelphia-based retailer. Lot 23 Robustos can almost always be found for around $4.50 each by the box, but 5- and 10-packs show up on sale at considerably less. Holt’s usually offers Old Henry Robustos at $4 apiece by the box of 25. But they almost always have a freebie attached that lowers the per-stick cost even more. Sometimes it’s a sampler pack, though lately it has been a triple-flame torch lighter.

Look for a new look. Keep abreast of manufacturers changing the look of their cigars. A redo in packaging often means big price reductions on the cigars with the old look that are still on tobacconist shelves. Retailers need to move them so they can display the latest incarnation. I got terrific bargains on numerous old Avo vitolas when Davidoff discontinued some and dressed the others in new bands and boxes. A similar situation developed when Davidoff redesigned the Camacho line a couple of years ago.

Back of the pack. If your tobacconist has a discount table or holds periodic sales, be prepared beforehand. You can do this by keeping an eye on what cigars aren’t selling. In other words, don’t look just for what’s new. Look for what’s old. Try one and, if you like it, watch for them to hit the bargain bin. I recently scored a box and a half of La Jugada Habano Double Coronas at half price. I knew I liked La Jugada with some age, and I’d have been willing to keep them for a while. But in this case, I not only got a bargain, but the tobacconist had kindly aged them for me because they’ve been sitting on the shelf for close to two years.

So, what tips and tricks do you have to save money on cigars? Share the wealth so we can all do better.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Aging Room Bin No. 1 B Minor

21 Mar 2016

B Minor

B-MinorYears ago, when the literary editor for the Chicago Daily News came across a book he particularly liked, he’d run review after review in the paper. I feel a bit like that with Aging Room’s Bin No. 1, although this is just my second. And I waited more than a year since my previous review.

So, why go back now? Well, I’ve smoked my last cigars from the box and they were just so good I feel like I need to make sure you’re aware of it.

Also, the addition of a Lancero and a limited-edition box-pressed vitola, neither of which I have tried, brought it back to mind.

The B Minor is a tor (6.125 x 52). It sells for about $12 and comes in shiny boxes of 20. If you like larger ring gauges, it is also available in thicker formats (5.25 x 54 and 6.25 x 63). The wrapper is an Ecuadorian Habana over Dominican filler and binder.

The characteristic that stood out after nearly a year and a half in the humidor was smoothness. All that made the Bin No. 1 such an enjoyable smoke seemed to be sanded down just a tad and locked together in a velvety, even experience. I couldn’t help but think of the spice and sweetness as having become intertwined in some sort of cigar smoke double helix.

In the original review, I wrote that because the tobaccos in the Bin No. 1 were already well aged, “these may not be the best candidates for long-term aging because it would be a shame for them to lose the zesty qualities that stand out.”

I’m not sure if my supposition was right or wrong. On the one hand, I certainly found improvement in 16 to 18 months. On the other hand, that amount of time is pretty short for those who are serious about aging cigars.

And my guess is that a year or two is probably all you’d want to wait.

But if you have the patience, I recommend it. What I found was that an excellent cigar got even better, moving the B Minor up to a five-stogie rating.

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

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys