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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

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

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

Quick Smoke: Gran Habano Persian King Rajah

13 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.”

The unbanded Persian King from Gran Habano features a Nicaraguan Habano wrapper with a band of Connecticut wrapper near the foot. The binder and filler are Nicaraguan. The toro-sized Rajah sells for under $6 and features a silky floral sweetness, especially while the Connecticut wrapper is being combusted, combined with roasted and creamy notes. Enjoyable medium-bodied flavors, good combustion, and a reasonable price earn it a recommendation.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: The T. Toro (Caldwell, A.J. Fernandez, and Booth)

9 May 2018

Few things are as temporary as a cigar industry retirement, which frequently is more about waiting out a non-compete than a desire to stop working with cigars. So it was a breath of a breath of fresh air when Matt Booth didn’t claim retirement when he and Room 101 ended their partnership with Davidoff. (Then again, Booth may have been too young for anyone to believe a retirement from an industry he clearly enjoys.)

“I decided not to renew. The contract ended, and I think that it’s time for a new beginning for Room 101. I am grateful for the years of partnership and support from Davidoff,” Booth said when he announced what would be just a six-month hiatus from the cigar industry in January 2017.

Sure enough, in July 2017, Booth announced he was back and collaborating with Robert Caldwell on two new cigars. The first of the two was Hit and Run, made in the Dominican Republic.

The other is The T., a collaboration between A.J. Fernandez, Robert Caldwell, and Matt Booth. Originally called The Truth, this collaboration was renamed after a copyright issue, presumably with Tatuaje (which makes a vintage cigar called La Verite, French for “the truth”), not with those gaudy propagandists at TheTruth.com.

The T. comes in 5 box-pressed sizes, including the 6-inch, 52-ring gauge Toro ($11.50). The cigar is a Nicaraguan puro made at Tabacalera A.J. Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua S.A.

It is well-constructed and firm to the touch with a dark, oily wrapper. Combustion is excellent, with a sturdy ash, easy draw, and even burn.

Once lit, the cigar features roasted cashews and black coffee notes, combined with leather and clove. It’s medium- to full-bodied with some slight tannic dryness.

As the cigar evolves, charred oak, barnyard, and light black pepper notes emerge. Different from most A.J. Fernandez-made Nicaraguan puros, but still an enjoyable cigar.

I didn’t particularly enjoy Caldwell and Booth’s Hit and Run collaboration, but this cigar hits my palate in the right way. Good construction and satisfying flavors earn this collaboration 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: La Gloria Cubana Trunk Show Liga JD-05

6 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.”

This large torpedo from the original 2013 La Gloria Trunk Show release was the blend created primarily by Jhonys Diaz (hence “JD”). The entire line uses homogenized tobacco for the bands, in this case dye-cut with the La Gloria logo. The cigar has an aged Sumatra wrapper around undisclosed binder and filler and features lots of spice (baking spices, cinnamon, and cayenne) layered over a core of cedar and cream. It’s an enjoyable medium- to full-bodied cigar.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Spirits: Michel Couvreur Overaged Malt Whisky

2 May 2018

What exactly is Michel Couvreur Overaged Malt Whisky? I’ll let the front label of this enigmatic offering explain: “Distilled in Scotland. Vatted from various over twelve-year-old whiskies traditionally ennobled with sherry oak casks and bottled in our French Burgundian caves.”

Michel Couvreur, who passed away in 2013, produced and sold wine for many years before falling for single malt scotch. He then began buying unaged single malt from various Scottish distilleries and shipping it to his cellars in Burgundy, France, for extended aging in mostly sherry casks before being blended together.

The Overaged Malt Whisky is the Michel Couvreur offering you’re most likely to encounter in the United States. The whisky is aged at least twelve years, though some accounts suggest it is “vatted from 54 whiskies aged 12 to 27.” Because it is hard to find, prices may vary significantly (I found a deal at $50 plus shipping, but $70 or more seems more the norm).

To get at the whisky you’ll have to bust through a traditional wine cork (it’s a product of Burgundy after all) that is sealed with wax. Apparently, the best method is to leave the wax alone and just go at it with a corkscrew. Once open, you’ll find a nose that combines dried flowers, light smoke, damp red wine barrels, and fruit cake.

On the palate, the sherried notes (candied almonds, oloroso, figs) dominate, but with the added complexity of pears, berries, and smoked pork combined with the slightest whiff of peat and musty notes imparted from the wine cellars where the whisky is aged. The finish is lush and long with more red fruit, musty earth and just a bit of unique funk that’s hard to describe.

Supposedly, the folks at Michel Couvreur drive to Jerez to pick out fresh sherry casks from well-known sherry producer Equipos Navazos. At a time when Scottish distilleries are finding it tougher and tougher to find good sherry casks, Courvreur’s small-scale access gives it an advantage that comes through in its whisky.

To me, it outshines most of the twelve year sherried single malt whiskies (including Macallan). So if that’s your style of single malt, don’t be afraid to try Michel Couvreur Overaged Malt Whisky.

It’s a true after-dinner drink, perfect with a well-balanced cigar. A good, balanced Cuban like the Cohiba Siglo VI is an ideal pairing. For a non-Cuban cigar, try the Cabaiguan Robusto Extra, Davidoff Colorado Claro, or Paul Garmirian 25th Anniversary.

Patrick Sphoto credit: Stogie Guys