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Cigar Spirits: Laphroaig Lore

24 Aug 2016

I generally reach for bourbon or rum in the summer months, while reserving single malt for when the weather cools down. Something about the smokey style of Islay Malts especially, like Laphroaig, are perfect for a chilly evening in the fall or winter.

Laphroaig LoreBut I didn’t want to wait to try the new Lore. Introduced earlier this year, Lore fills the vacancy in the Laphroaig lineup left by the 18-year-old expression, which was discontinued last year. A bottle retails for a hefty $125.

Lore doesn’t carry an age statement but mixes older and newer whisky, described on the Laphroaig website as “a marriage of classical Laphroaig styles and many ages of Laphroaig; some as old as vintage 1993. The marriage draws from the peaty power of Laphroaig with the smoothness of double matured stock finished in European oak hogsheads.”

The result is a totally new Laphroaig from what you might be used to, but one I found extremely enjoyable. The classic smoke and peat provide the background of the whisky but there is whole lot more going on here.

The nose features smoke and seaweed along with pear and shortbread. The palate layers sherried notes of fruit and fudge over brine, spice, and maltiness. The finish is both rich and clean with peat, honey, sugar cookies, and oak.

I understand those who are frustrated by the trend towards NAS (non age statement) whiskies on both sides of the Atlantic. That said, Lore is an example of how a whisky not locked into an age statement can provide plenty of depth and complexity by blending old and new whisky.

Somewhat by chance, I smoked a Cameroon-wrapped cigar while sampling Lore, and I can’t recommend the combination enough, as the light spice of the Cameroon wrapper goes perfectly with the rich peat. Specifically, try La Flor Dominicana Cameroon Cabinet, Arturo Fuente Don Carlos, or Drew Estate Nirvana.

Patrick S

photo credit: Laphroaig

Quick Smoke: E.P. Carrillo Original Rebel Rebellious 52

14 Aug 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.”

EPC-Rebel

Considering most of the rest of the revamped E.P. Carrillo offerings feature classic packaging, upon inspecting the band of the brand new Original Rebel maduro line, I thought this must be a new value or bundle stick. It isn’t. The 5.5-inch, 52-ring gauge cigar sells for just under $10. Rebellious is the name given to the maduro blend, as opposed to the Maverick, which features an Ecuadorian wrapper. Rebellious has a dark Broadleaf wrapper, Ecuadorian binder, and Nicaraguan filler. The result is a rich cigar full of earth, powdered cocoa, subtle wood, and just a hint of red pepper spice. When it comes to flavor and construction, I was impressed.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: A Closer Look at the Impact of the FDA Cigar Pre-Approval Process

10 Aug 2016

FDA-cigars-large

The Food and Drug Administration’s cigar regulations officially took effect on Monday, August 8, a date that will likely live in infamy for the handmade cigar industry. If you follow the industry by reading sites like this one, or if you spend a lot of time in cigar shops, you probably have heard that these regulations will be very bad for premium cigars. That’s true. But the full story is complex.

For starters, the full impact of the rules will take years to see. The various components of the new rules are wide-ranging with differing impacts. Warning labels, ingredient disclosures, sample bans, advertising regulations… Each create burdens for cigar companies, most of which can be passed to consumers. (The only rule change that likely won’t have any real impact is the part of the rule that sets the minimum age for purchasing cigars at 18, since that is the law everywhere already.)

The Biggest Change: FDA Pre-Approval Requirements

By far the biggest change is in what it takes to sell a new cigar in the United States. Before the FDA rules took effect, if you wanted to sell a new cigar, the process for doing so was relatively straightforward.

Basically, if you wanted to bring a new cigar to market and you didn’t own your own cigar factory, you found someone who did and struck a deal. Work out quantities, delivery date, and terms of payment and, depending on how active a role you wanted in blending and quality control, you could have a new cigar for sale in a matter of weeks or months if you were willing to pay for it. (Of course, there are more details and paperwork left out here but, fundamentally, that’s what it took.)

With the FDA rules having gone into effect on Monday, now, before you can sell or market that new cigar in the United States, the FDA must give you its permission. (Within two years, every cigar introduced after February 2007 will have to go through the same process.)

Estimates for the cost of obtaining that permission vary widely from $20,000 to $100,000 or more. Each cigar product (including each size and each packaging option) would need its own approval, though the FDA says the cost per approval should decrease if approval requests are bundled together, presumably as in multiple new sizes of the same blend.

Ultimately, whether the higher or lower estimates prove correct will have a huge impact, with the higher the costs the larger the barrier for new cigars. But just as important, if not more important, is the cost associated with how long the process takes. The FDA told us that the agency has a goal of acting on Substantial Equivalence approval requests (which are the route most cigars are expected to use) within 90 days. That may be the stated goal, but it is one many are skeptical the FDA can achieve, especially when you consider that many of the first cigarette approval requests took years for the agency to act on.

Uncertainty is the Biggest Cost

Talking with those in the cigar industry, I don’t think it would be an understatement to say that uncertainty of how the rules will be applied is almost worse than the impact of the rules themselves. Planning an ongoing business while facing unknown but potentially devastating regulations is all but impossible.

Hypothetically, if by spending $40,000 on the first application and $5,000 on additional sizes of the same blend guaranteed approval in six months, the impact would be bad, especially for smaller companies. But at least it would be known. What is scarier for a company, especially a small business, is spending that money on an application and then potentially having the FDA reject it, or sit on it for years without taking action. This is especially true since you already paid money to have the cigar made for testing and would have to spend more money to secure tobacco to make more when the approval is granted, if it is granted at all.

It’s easy to see how this uncertainty would be paralyzing to a cigar business that already has enough challenges making cigars that appeal to fickle consumers.

Loopholes in the FDA Pre-Approval Regime

I’ve never liked the word loophole when applied to complying with government rules. It implies there is something wrong with complying with the law to the letter, even if it isn’t in the exact way the regulators intended. But whatever you call it, as with any complex law, from the moment the FDA rules were written those affected naturally started to look for ways to lessen the impact.

The most obvious way to avoid or delay the full brunt of the FDA rule was to get cigars on the market prior to August 8. The flood of new cigars this summer suggests many companies took this approach, which buys them 18 months to see what the FDA approval process looks like, and another six months after that to sell their cigars without FDA approval.

Some companies are taking this even further with what are being called “stealth cigars,” which are cigars being delivered to one or a few retailers prior to the deadline without any fanfare with the intention of announcing the “new” cigar publicly at a later date when they are ready for wider distribution and marketing. Although I haven’t seen any examples as of yet, smart companies that were selling cigars in 2007 should have seen the possibility of the grandfather date issue, and made sure that cigars that normally may have been discontinued were kept alive with a small token amount of sales just to keep their options open.

Another possible loophole would be selling limited editions and other cigars overseas where retailers there could then sell them into the United States absent FDA regulations. Since the FDA regulations only apply to cigars made in the U.S., or imported or distributed into the U.S., direct-to-consumer sales from overseas could potentially legally bypass the FDA. Currently, many shops overseas are willing to ship Cuban cigars into the United States, and although the recipient may be violating the U.S. embargo on Cuban products, there isn’t any prohibition on buying cigars for personal use that aren’t of Cuban origin.

Judging the Impact

The full impact of the FDA regime will take at least two years to judge. Because of the flood of new cigars in advance of the rule’s effective date, we are entering a long period of transition. Further, until cigar makers have an idea of how much the approval process will cost and how long it will take, it will be too soon to know how they will react.

Any prediction made now is purely speculative, and absent enactment of the Traditional Cigar Manufacturing Preservation Act, the best we can do now is hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

Patrick S

photo credits: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Tatuaje Black Tubo

7 Aug 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.”

Tatuaje-Black-Tubo

Released in 2009, this cigar had the better part of the decade to rest. It was the second Tatuaje Black Label (said to be Pete Johnson’s personal blend), following the original, now somewhat mythical, Corona Gorda jar release. The torpedo-shaped cigar features a good bit of black pepper combined with paper and bread. Not as full-bodied as more recent Black Label Tatuajes, it is lighter with more straightforward spice. I’ve smoked quite a few Petit Lanceros and Corona Gordas recently, and although the Black Tubo is enjoyable, the more current vintage Tatuaje Black cigars are smoking better.

Verdict = Hold.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Royal Agio Balmoral Añejo XO Rothschild Masivo

30 Jul 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.”

balmoralXO

Unlike the limited edition Balmoral Añejo 18, the XO doesn’t state the exact age of its Brazilian Arapiraca wrapper. However, we’re told the wrapper, the Dominican binder, and the filler tobaccos from Nicaragua, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic are all “eXceptionally Old,” hence XO. The large robusto (5 x 55) performs flawlessly with a solid gray ash, straight burn, and an open, easy draw.  I’d classify the XO’s flavors as muted and subtle, but also complex. There’s a rich creaminess, raisin bread, and just a hint of wood and cinnamon spice. This is the type of cigar I’d smoke with a rich cup of coffee or a balanced brown ale.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Partagas Serie P No. 2 (Cuban)

24 Jul 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.”

Serie P No. 2

I’ve had this Cuban puro resting in a tube in my humidor for at least a few years. With all the new non-Cuban cigars being introduced this week at the IPCPR Trade Show in Las Vegas, I decided to check out a Cuban that is anything but new. (Of course, if the cigar could legally be sold in the U.S., it would not be grandfathered as exempt because it was not sold or marketed in the U.S. in 2007.) This pirámide is medium-bodied with a typical Cuban profile with cedar, leather, roasted nuts, and just a bit of woody spice. Although he foot of the cigar has been a little beat up by the metal tube (something I’ve seen before from these) construction was generally without incident.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

News: FDA Cigar Regulations Already Disrupting Handmade Cigar Industry

20 Jul 2016

FDA-cigars-large

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations covering the cigar industry don’t take effect until August, but the impact on cigars is already apparent. The regulations, which have already prompted two lawsuits against the agency (a long-planned lawsuit by the CRA, IPCPR, and CAA was filed last week), threaten to stifle the introduction of new cigars, plus the continued sale of any cigar introduced after February 15, 2007.

With the annual IPCPR Trade Show set to start next week, cigar makers are already announcing new cigars at a record pace, with plenty more expected next week. The reason is clear, as cigars introduced after August 8 will have to wait for FDA pre-approval before being marketed or sold in the United States, while those on the market before that date can be sold for two years without needing pre-approval.

Exact details of the pre-approval process are still unknown, which only fuels the urgency of getting new products to market. Most industry sources hope cigars will be approved as “substantially equivalent” to a product on the market prior to the February 2007 date, but even that standard may be difficult and costly to establish.

According to the FDA’s final rule, the agency estimates it will take 300 hours for each Substantial Equivalence (SE) report, which works out to two months of time for one full-time employee. Industry sources believe the cost of each SE report would likely be even greater than the FDA’s estimate, possibly $100,000 or more.

Those estimates are per SE report, and the FDA requires pre-approval for every tobacco product. This would likely include every new cigar size and packaging combination. For example, if a cigar is sold in 10-count and 20-count boxes, each would need a separate approval. Presumably, so would samplers created by the manufacturer, and potentially even samplers created and sold by retailers.

Needless to say, those costs are prohibitive for small cigar brands for whom a large volume vitola may only sell tens of thousands of units in a year. By introducing lines now ahead of the August 8 deadline, those small manufacturers buy themselves 18 months before they have to decide whether to submit them to the FDA for approval.

By then, cigar makers will have a better picture of the costs and requirements of achieving FDA approval, so they can decide if seeking approval makes economic sense, or if they will be forced to withdraw cigars from the market by August 2018 (after which cigars introduced after February 2007 can no longer be sold unless they have begun seeking FDA approval).

Unfortunately, this means many of the new cigars being rushed out before the deadline are living on borrowed time. While the results of the lawsuits could change the FDA regulations, such lawsuits are always difficult to win. In the meantime, while there will be a lot of excitement over the next two weeks as numerous cigars are announced, the devastating effects of FDA regulation on the handmade cigar market are already showing.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys