Archive by Author

Quick Smoke: Warped El Oso Ursus 2016 Limited Edition

15 Jan 2017

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.”

El-Oso

Made at El Titan de Bronze in Miami for Warped Cigars, El Oso Ursus is a store-exclusive for Atlantic Cigars. The corona gorda (5.6 x 46) uses a reddish brown Ecuadorian wrapper around a binder from Ecuador and filler from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. The cigar features medium-bodied roasted notes with coffee and light leather. This is a fine, well-made cigar, but it’s somewhat one-dimensional and nowhere near the best from the Warped brand, which features some fantastic smokes.

Verdict = Hold.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

News: Small Cigar Brands Face Potential 2017 FDA Death Spiral

4 Jan 2017

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Cigar companies have a big problem. Nearly every business decision they make is impacted by FDA regulations, but the full details of those regulations haven’t yet been determined.

The 499-page deeming regulation finalized last spring officially took effect August 8. While that document provides an outline for the agency’s intentions, it leaves out many important compliance details. Even where guidance documents have been issued, the standards laid out in those documents are not legally binding (i.e., they can be changed at any time). And many other critical questions have not been addressed at all.

The resulting unpredictable cost of compliance is a serious issue for all cigar makers. The burden hits smaller brands the hardest, however, because they are least able to cope with such uncertainty. While FDA user fees are distributed proportionally according to each company’s market share, the unknown cost of successfully applying for FDA approval for a particular tobacco product will effectively be the same whether the company sells a few hundred units per year, or hundreds of thousands of units.

In a recent discussion of the ongoing process of complying with the FDA, Skip Martin of RoMa Craft Tobac described the problem cigar makers big and small face: “What we don’t know is how much that [Substantial Equivalence approval] process will cost us. We don’t know the details of what a substantial equivalence process will look like because there has never been one approved for a cigar ever.”

Even as the FDA delays many deadlines, small companies face tough choices. With product registration deadlines fast approaching, companies have to decide how much to invest in such registrations. Assuming the worst and providing numerous highly detailed registrations may maximize the likelihood of the registrations being approved. But it also increases the costs.

While the cost of gaining FDA approval—most likely through the Substantial Equivalence (SE) pathway, or by being a grandfathered pre-2007 product—is the biggest future hurdle, even the documentation needed for registration carries substantial costs, especially for a small company. Something seemingly as simple as who qualifies as a domestic manufacturer is unclear under the FDA regulations. Cigars may be rolled abroad, but what packaging changes within the United States qualify a brand as a domestic manufacturer?

That is an open question. The answer holds serious implications for the future business prospects of a company.

In the same conversation about the FDA process, attorney Frank Herrera, who represents dozens of cigar companies, gave a most lawyerly answer about whether or not you should register: “If you think you might be [required to register now], do it, list it.” In terms of maximizing the odds of complying with the FDA, Herrera is, of course, correct. For a small company operating on thin profit margins already, though, these costs could be prohibitive, or at least partially unnecessary.

Compliance with the FDA isn’t the only hurdle cigar makers and importers face. Retailers are liable if they sell a non-compliant product. This means retailers—especially large online and catalog sellers—are making buying decisions based on who appears likely (or not) to comply with all FDA regulations. Reports are already surfacing that retailers are cutting back on purchases of cigars they doubt will be on the market in two years.

So even before any deadlines pass, small cigar makers face a dilemma: Not spending money now on FDA compliance to show retailers you are likely to be on the market in two or three years means lost sales today, and those sales today may be the difference between having the funds or not to successfully pursue Substantial Equivalence in the future.

Meanwhile, with it totally unknown exactly how much a successful SE application will cost, continuing to sink money today into a process that ultimately may be cost prohibitive could itself be a fatal business decision. If a cigar maker runs the numbers and decides the volume of sales of product don’t warrant the currently unknown cost of investing in FDA approval, they risk that product being seen by retailers as a “zombie cigar” (destined to be killed off soon by the FDA).

When it comes to complying with costly regulations, larger companies with deep pockets are always better able to deal with the uncertainty. For boutique brands sold in smaller quantities, those costs represent a much higher percentage of their operating costs. As deadlines approach this year, smaller companies face impossible decisions with the fate of their businesses at stake.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Crowned Heads Las Mareas Olas

1 Jan 2017

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.”

las-mareas-1

Stealthily released earlier this year, Las Mareas by Crowned Heads is a Nicaraguan puro produced by My Father Cigars. This corona gorda (6.1 x 46) runs about $9 and fearures a Corojo wrapper, likely from My Father’s Nicaraguan farms. The blend is a straightforward, balanced, and enjoyable mix of roasty wood, leather, and light spice. It is a distinctly unique blend from most of the cigars produced at My Father, though the same excellent construction you’d expect.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

 

Quick Smoke: Paul Garmirian 15th Anniversary Belicoso Extra

25 Dec 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.”

Knowing this Quick Smoke would publish on Christmas, I decided to return to an old standby cigar adorned with a band that matches Santa’s hat. Paul Garmirian Cigars makes many smokes I enjoy, but my favorite PG blend is the 15th Anniversary, and this Belicoso Extra is my favorite size. It’s savory and meaty with plenty of wood, leather, and spice. Best of all is the combination of full flavors with harmonious balance. Any cigar smoker would be lucky to find a few of these in their stocking, or maybe even a box under the tree.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Curivari Achilles Eternos

18 Dec 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.”

achilles-eternos-1

After being nearly uniformly impressed by the cigars I’ve smoked by the Nicaraguan-based Curivari brand, I’ve been making a point of getting acquainted with their remaining offerings. Achilles Eternos, introduced in 2013, is a softly box-pressed torpedo (6.5 x 52, $9.50) utilizing all Nicaraguan tobacco, including an attractive light brown wrapper. Once lit, I was somewhat surprised to find flavors that can best be described as grassy and raw. There is also wood and roasted notes, but too often they were overshadowed by unpleasant vegetal flavors and a notable lack of balance. Even with adequate construction, I cannot recommend the Curivari Achilles Eternos based on my first experience.

Verdict = Sell.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Umbagog Toro Toro

14 Dec 2016

umbagogtt-1

What’s supposed to be wrong with my Umbagog? That’s the question going through my head while smoking this cigar, the second Broadleaf-wrapped smoke created by Steve Saka for his Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust portfolio.

The reason that question came to mind wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the cigar—I did—but that Saka created the bundled cigar to use Broadleaf wrapper deemed too “ugly” for his premium Mi Quireda line. The name, which refers to Saka’s favorite fishing spot, Umbagog Lake, implies this is a cigar to smoke while fishing or anytime when you may not be too concerned with the aesthetics of your cigar.

Looking through the brown paper-wrapped ten-pack, some cigars had obvious flaws like multiple speckled discolorations. For others, whatever made it not Mi Querida-worthy was less easily discerned. Too much color variation? Too prominent veins? (The above photo shows the cigars side-by-side with a Mi Querida.)

Let’s be honest here for a moment: The “factory second” discount cigar that tastes the same as a premium offering but, supposedly due to a small flaw, isn’t quite good enough to make the final cut is a time-honored marketing ploy that has disappointed many a budget-conscious buyer. Still, I had high hopes for Umbagog, especially given Saka’s reputation as one of the more detail-obsessed people in the industry. (It should be noted Saka has never called Umbagog a factory second, but merely a more affordable cigar in simple packaging that provides an outlet for Broadleaf not quite good enough for his higher-priced Mi Querida.)

Beyond the wrapper, Saka has said this cigar isn’t exactly the same blend as Mi Querida, though it’s very similar. Think slightly different primings or grades of tobacco but the same basic Nicaraguan components, all out of the same factory (NACSA) in Estelí, Nicaragua. Seven sizes are listed. I smoked four of the Toro Toro vitola (6 x 52) for this review.

The Toro Toro is heavy on the spice and earth with charred oak, chocolate milk, and white pepper that lingers on the palate. Umbagog is full-bodied with a thick, powdery mouthfeel. There are only slight variations from start to finish, including a building wood spice.

Visually, while Umbagog may not be top-grade, the construction is nonetheless excellent. The draw is firm but not tight, and the cigar burns evenly leaving a sturdy ash in its wake.

Umbagog’s flavors are not as refined as Mi Quireda, and its appearance is almost purposely unrefined, but it is plenty tasty and is offered at an excellent value ($60 for a bundle of ten). All of which earns the cigar a hearty recommendation and a rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Illusione Cigares Privé 660 Corojo

11 Dec 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.”

illusione-cprive-1

A blend previously only available as a store exclusive, Cigares Privé was added as a full-production line by Illusione shortly before the IPCPR Trade Show earlier this year. The blend is listed simply as having a Corojo wrapper with Nicaraguan binder and filler, and I’m smoking the gordo size (6 x 60). (There is also a Mexican Maduro wrapper version, and both come in a gordo, plus a pressed toro and a robusto.) After some initial sourness, the cigar settles into a woody, bready profile with light spice and nice medium-bodied balance. This is another winner from Illusione and I particularly look forward to trying it in a more traditional vitola.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys