Archive by Author

Commentary: Putting Cigar Industry Consolidation in Perspective

17 Sep 2014

On the heels of last week’s news that industry giant General Cigar had acquired the Toraño brands—and that Toraño would be shutting down—seemingly everyone had an opinion to voice. I saw viewpoints ranging from indifference to surprise to downright anger.

There remain many unanswered questions. Why did Toraño make this move now (assuming there is a reason beyond Charlie Toraño wanting to spend more time with his family)? Is General actually committed to maintaining the current Toraño portfolio as-is, or will there be changes to the existing blends? Will new Toraño offshoots/brands be launched by General? And what’s going to happen to Leccia Tobacco?

But whether or not you like this latest consolidation, it’s important to recognize this won’t be the last major deal joining brands that were once distinct. Longtime StogieGuys.com readers may recall several past articles where we’ve explained why:

“There are plenty of reasons to expect consolidation will continue to be a theme in the industry. Via economies of scale, larger companies can better adjust to the many tax and regulatory burdens that cigars now face. Combining sales forces and distribution channels can lower costs, keeping prices down for consumers while keeping profit margins healthy. Increased buying power also ensures access to the best tobacco available, as well as bigger advertising budgets.”

Other motivations behind cigar industry consolidation (though not necessarily motivations behind General’s acquisition of Toraño, mind you) might include:

• Expanding geographical scope/reach
• Capturing new clients and more market share
• Acquiring technology, property, and recipes
• Reviving undervalued brands
• Diversifying the portfolio of offerings

This article in the Harvard Business Review summarizes a study of 1,345 mergers over a 13-year period. It found, “once an industry forms or is deregulated, it will move through four stages of consolidation.” The result is an industry that is balanced and aligned. This final (fourth) state is defined as the top three companies claiming 70% to 90% of the market.

Consolidation Curve

I’ll resist the temptation to try to identify which stage of the so-called “Consolidation Curve” the premium cigar industry currently occupies. If, as I suspect, it’s pre-stage four, we can expect more consolidation on the horizon—like it or not.

-Patrick A

photo credit: Harvard Business Review

Cigar Review: E.P. Carrillo New Wave Connecticut Gran Via

15 Sep 2014

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, this “mad genius” of tobacco he has been.epc-nw

Gran ViaOne undertaking that has helped solidify Ernesto Perez-Carrillo’s post-General Cigar success has been the New Wave Connecticut blend. In 2011, it joined the E.P. Carrillo portfolio, which now also includes Cardinal, Inch, E-Stunner, La Historia, and the Core line.

Made at Tabacalera La Alianza S.A. in the Dominican Republic, New Wave Connecticut is E.P. Carrillo’s first Connecticut. It sports an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper around a Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. It is available in six sizes: Brillantes (5 x 50), Stellas (5.1 x 42), Divinos (6 x 52), El Decano (6 x 60), Selectos de Oro (6.1 x 43), and Gran Via (7 x 49).

I picked up a five-pack of Gran Vias for $35. This long, somewhat slender vitola has a thin, golden, almost pale wrapper with minimal veins and a wrinkled surface. The foot emits pre-light notes of green raisin, dried apricot, and sweet hay. A simple guillotine cut reveals an easy cold draw. In the hand, the cigar feels a little light, and there are some soft spots.

Those who expect all Connecticut-wrapped cigars to be mild will be surprised by the New Wave Connecticut, even from the start. The body at the outset is decidedly medium with flavors that include black pepper, cedar, and honey. As one might anticipate, there are also tastes of cream, nut, and sweet hay. The texture is toasty and buttery.

The strength builds at the midway point and beyond as notes of pepper and warm tobacco take hold. The finale tastes more Nicaraguan than Connecticut. All the while the combustion properties are solid, including a straight burn line, true draw, and good smoke production. Only the ash leaves something to be desired; it is flaky and temperamental.

I would agree with Ernesto Perez-Carrillo that the Divinos is probably the better vitola. The Stellas is no slouch either. But the Gran Via is excellent, and a tremendous value at only $7. I award it four stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

 

Cigar Tip: How to Spot an Excellent Tobacconist

10 Sep 2014

These days I travel a fair amount for my regular job, staying a few nights here and there with meetings during the day and little to do in the evening. So, naturally, wherever I go I try to find a good (non-private) cigar lounge or tobacconist so I can enjoy a smoke, catch up on some emails, do a little writing, and perhaps even have an adult beverage or two.

Cigar Store Indian

While there are lots of great lounges and tobacconists across this fine nation, believe me when I say that sometimes a good locale is hard to find. I’ve been mentally compiling a list of attributes common among the good shops/lounges. Today I thought I’d share them.

Maintains good selection, fair prices. This one is obvious. I assume I’ll be paying more for the sticks than I otherwise might be able to find online—and I’m completely OK with that. But I don’t think it’s necessary to charge crazy mark-ups, either. And the selection should be big enough to require more than a few minutes to peruse, with the usual suspects and hopefully some hard-to-find smokes as well. House blends, when done right, can add an exclusive touch.

Serves coffee and/or liquor, or implements BYOB. I realize local ordinances and laws may make this impossible, but nothing goes better with a fine cigar than coffee, bourbon, rum, wine, scotch, etc. I’m happy to pay the shop/lounge for drinks, if possible; BYOB is a great alternative. If nothing else, providing coffee or water for free, or for purchase, is a great idea.

Has a friendly, attentive staff. Nothing is worse than being rushed, watched like a hawk, completely ignored, or assumed to be a petty thief. I love it when the staff says something like, “Welcome. Would you like some assistance picking out your cigars, or would you prefer to browse the selection yourself?”

Stays open later. Time and again I find many shops and lounges close early in the evening—like an hour or two after a normal work day. I understand it isn’t always possible, but I love it when they stay open late enough to have a post-dinner smoke. Bonus points for shops that recognize there are important sporting events that need to be watched, and that often merits staying open later if there’s a crowd.

Provides comfortable seating with access to power outlets. I don’t need decadence, but I don’t want to sit in a lawn chair, either. Plentiful, spread-out seating with solid ventilation is preferred. This is what makes me want to hang out, spend money, and come back.

Makes cleanliness a priority. I’m not asking for much. Empty the ash trays, dust the surfaces, and vacuum after those three guys got pizza crumbs everywhere. Also, the bathroom shouldn’t look like the opening scene of Saw.

Takes good care of the product. The cigars you sell should be in perfect smoking condition at the time of purchase. Period.

Values entertainment. Good TVs, WiFi, and maybe even a poker table. These touches go a long way. Cigar events are great, too.

What am I missing? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

-Patrick A

photo credit: Flickr

Cigar Review: Crowned Heads J.D. Howard Reserve HR52

3 Sep 2014

It was back in early 2010 when we first reported on the major deal that united Stockholm-based Swedish Match, parent company of General Cigar (Macanudo, Punch, La Gloria Cubana, Hoyo de Monterrey, Partagas, Cohiba), and the Denmark-based Scandinavian Tobacco Group (CAO, Toraño, Henri Wintermans). In the ensuing months, many CAO executives left, and the company moved from its home of Nashville to Richmond.

JDHRIn 2011, details began to emerge about Crowned Heads, a new cigar company formed by Jon Huber and other former CAO employees. The same cigar fans who bemoaned the loss of CAO (as they once knew it) were able to cheer for a new boutique startup. “Crowned Heads is influenced by a time when quality, pride, and integrity mattered,” reads the Nashville company’s website. “We strive to bring our vision to reality and invite you to live in our world.”

The Crowned Heads world revolves around a handful of distinct blends, with Four Kicks, Headley Grange, and J.D. Howard Reserve comprising the core. The latter was introduced at the 2013 industry convention in five vitolas: HR46 (6 x 46), HR48 (5 x 48), HR50 (5.6 x 50, figurado) HR52 (6 x 52), and HR54 (5 x 54).

Named for the alias outlaw Jesse James used when he lived in Nashville, J.D. Howard Reserve employs a Brazilian Arapiraca wrapper, Ecuadorian Sumatra binder, and Nicaraguan filler. It is intended to be medium- to full-bodied and made by Ernesto Perez-Carrillo at his Tabacalera La Alianza S.A. factory in Santiago, Dominican Republic.

I purchased a five-pack of J.D. Howard Reserve HR52s for $48.50 ($9.70 per cigar). This toro-shaped vitola comes complete with an old-school band; a thick, moderately oily wrapper with a few prominent veins; and a well-crafted cap. A simple V-cut is all that’s needed to open up a smooth cold draw. The wrapper leaves a slight red pepper spice on the lips.

Once an even light is established, a savory taste of wood, meat, black pepper, and leather emerges. At times, a subtle sourness is present. And while I don’t typically think of sour flavors as particularly pleasing in cigars, in this case they’re subdued enough to not be a distraction. Throughout, the resting smoke boasts a pleasant nutty creaminess.

A sensation I can only describe as “mesquite” best exemplifies my overall impression of the rustic flavor. Not much changes from beginning to end, at least in my experience, save for an intensification of heat and spice in the final third. All the while the construction is outstanding, including a straight burn line and an ash that holds incredibly well.

To be frank, I am neither enamored nor disappointed with the J.D. Howard Reserve HR52. Though I will say the price point is a little high for my liking; I’d prefer to pay about $6-7 for a smoke of this caliber rather than the asking price, which is approaching the $10 mark. For me, it clocks in at three stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Hoyo de Monterrey Le Hoyo des Dieux (Cuban)

30 Aug 2014

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.”

Hoyo

There’s no telling how long this Le Hoyo des Dieux (6 x 42) had been resting in one of my humidors before I fired it up earlier this week. I would wager at least a couple years. And that’s a good thing. I typically find—unlike your average Nicaraguan, Dominican, or Honduran—most Cubans are in need of post-purchase aging. In this case, the time I invested (albeit on accident) paid good dividends. The texture is bready and the complex flavors include vanilla, syrup, graham, and sweet hay. This was a good buy for about $10.

Verdict = Buy.

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Leccia Tobacco Luchador Loco Perfecto

27 Aug 2014

In February, Sam Leccia of Leccia Tobacco announced he was “looking to put the cigar industry in a headlock” with a new blend called Luchador (Spanish for “wrestler”). In keeping with its Mexican wrestler theme, that blend was formally introduced on Cinco de Mayo.

LuchadorLuchador is the third line to come out of Leccia Tobacco, which is distributed by Toraño. It’s hard to believe the outfit has only been around for about a year. I know many people who consider Leccia’s Black and White blends to be regulars in their rotations. Time will tell if Luchador performs as well as those inaugural lines.

Luchador features a Mexican San Andrés wrapper around an Ecuadorian Habano binder with filler from Nicaragua, Pennsylvania, and Honduras. “I wanted to create something fun, yet different and exciting,” said Leccia. “With Luchador being a combination of exotic blends and flavors with a Mexican wrapper, I thought it was time to tap into my childhood fascination of Mexican pro wrestling.”

Four regular-production vitolas are available: El Hombre (5 x 54), El Castigo (6 x 60), El Guapo (6 x 50), and Loco Perfecto (6 x 58). Each bears a red, white, and green band (think Mexican flag) adorned with the image of a Mexican wrestling mask.

I paid $43 for a five-pack of Loco Perfectos ($8.60 per cigar). This is the most unique size of the bunch with a pointed cap, a tapered foot, and a firm, bulging midsection stuffed densely with tobacco. The exterior is toothy, moderately oily, and rustic. The pre-light notes include leather and syrup, and the cold draw is easy.

After using a few wooden matches to light the narrow foot, a spicy flavor of black pepper, leather, black dirt, and cinnamon emerges. The texture is bready, and a subtle cocoa sweetness adds balance. Even before Loco Perfecto reaches its widest point, the draw is very airy—and it will verge on a little too easy for smokers who prefer some resistance. The smoke production is excellent.

Towards the end, the sweetness is more pronounced and the spice more restrained. All the while the burn line remains true and the gray ash builds solidly off the foot. The draw couldn’t be more effortless.

I’ve grown to appreciate the fact that Mexican San Andrés wrappers are somewhat divisive. Some love them, some hate them, and some are content with the diversity they afford. I count myself in the latter category. Truthfully, the Leccia Tobacco Luchador Loco Perfecto is a nice smoke that’s a good representation of the San Andrés flavor profile, albeit unremarkable. I score it three and a half stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Room 101 HN 615

25 Aug 2014

About one year ago, Matt Booth’s Room 101 Cigars—which is affiliated with Camacho and manufactured and distributed by Davidoff—launched a new line called Serie HN.

HN 615The line derives its name from its Honduran Criollo ’98 wrapper (the “H”) and the use of Dominican Navarette tobaccos (the “N”). Room 101 describes the unique HN recipe as follows: “Honduran Criollo is widely-known for its signature taste—rich, rugged, and filled with intense spice. By itself, Criollo can be slightly one-dimensional. However, when expertly combined with tobaccos such as Mata Fina from Brazil and a creamy Dominican Navarette, the richness and spice of Criollo comes to life in an unimaginable way.”

HN comes in five formats: 213 (5.5 x 44), 305 (5 x 50), 615 (7 x 48), 808 (6 x 60), and Papi Chulo (4 x 42). (The numbered sizes are named for the area codes of Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, and Hawaii, respectively.) Each vitola is made at the Agroindustrias Laepe factory in Honduras with a production run of 20,000 cigars.

I smoked three 615s for this review. This Churchill-sized smoke costs $7 and comes complete with a milk chocolate-colored, moderately oily wrapper that has tight seams, few veins, and a well-applied cap. Firm to the touch, the 615 shows a solid cross-section of tobaccos at the foot, yet it has an easy cold draw. The pre-light notes remind me of baking spices.

Room 101 describes the HN as “multi-dimensional and full-flavored” with “medium intensity” and “a level of balance unmatched by most.” While such advertising copy is usually an exercise in hyperbole, my experience with the 615 is pretty much in line with that description. I would agree the skinny Churchill has moderate strength with full flavors, and the balance is quite harmonious—especially for a cigar that often retails below $8.

The flavors themselves range from roasted nut and woody spice to sweet cream and white pepper. I’ve grown to really enjoy smokes that have a creamy nut characteristic, and the HN 615 has that in spades. The quicker you smoke, the more a cayenne pepper spice reveals itself. In the final third, the sweetness loses ground to earthy, leathery tones.

Throughout the lengthy seven-inch smoke, the 615 performs admirably in the department of construction. I found a straight burn, solid ash, smooth draw, and good smoke production across all of my samples.

I have two more Room 101 Serie HN 615s left from the five-pack I bought, and I plan to try to set them aside to see how age might impact the cigar. More realistically, I’ll likely fire both up before the summer is over. Because right now, in my book, this smoke is worthy of a commendable raring of four stogies out of five.

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

-Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys