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Cigar Insider: A.J. Fernandez of A.J. Fernandez Cigars

1 Mar 2011

A.J. Fernandez may be the best cigar maker you haven’t heard of. But not for long.

Born in Cuba where he worked with the legendary Alejandro Robaina, Fernandez has quickly gained fame making cigars for other cigar companies including Rocky Patel, Padilla, Graycliff, and Gurkha, as well as making exclusive cigars for catalog giant Cigars International (for whom he makes Diesel, Man O’ War, La Herencia, and other smokes.) At the 2010 industry trade show, Fernandez introduced his first solo national brand, San Lotano. (For more on San Lotano, read our reviews of the Connecticut and Habano.)

Via email (with translation help from company co-President Kris Katchaturian) I asked A.J. Fernandez about Cuba, Robaina, Niacaraguan tobacco, and his new San Lotano blend.

Stogie Guys: Growing up in Cuba, did you notice cigars playing a role in the country’s culture? How did you first become involved with the cigar industry?

A.J. Fernandez: I noticed it a lot. It is an integral part of our culture. I come from a generational family of tobacco growers. I was born and raised in San Luis, Cuba (this is in the Pinar del Rio region). This part of Cuba is known worldwide because most every local is involved directly or indirectly with tobacco. Mostly, I remember when I was a child helping my grandfather stripping the leaves. I have always loved the natural aroma of tobacco. I guess, you could say, it is in my blood.

SG: You’ve been described as the protégé of the “Godfather of Cuban tobacco,” Alejandro Robaina. Tell us about what made him so special. What was the most important thing he taught you about cigars?

A.J.: That is a fine compliment. Too much, even. He was a great man and mentor. But I won’t say that I am the protégé of Alejandro Robaina. Our families had a longstanding relationship with each other. We had great respect for him… I idolized him. We would often get together and I would listen to everything he had to say. I suppose one concept that I always keep close to me is to continually tinker with different (leaf) blends. You never know what you might fall upon.

SG: What made you decide to leave Cuba? Why did you settle in Nicaragua?

A.J.: My father wanted to keep my family close together. He came to Nicaragua in 1997 to run the fermentation process for his nephew, Nestor Plasencia. I joined in Nicaragua shortly thereafter. I used that golden opportunity to become independent, utilizing the knowledge which I brought from Cuba to begin my own factory.

SG: You use a lot of Nicaraguan tobacco in the blends you create. What is it about Nicaraguan tobacco that you think makes it so special?

A.J.: In my opinion, the Nicaraguan tobacco is totally unique. Hey, it’s beautiful. Why? It combines the perfect balance of aroma and strength. I am very proud of the quality of leaf here. It is a gift from above to work with such high quality product.

SG: Tell us about the new San Lotano blend, you first independent, nationally distributed cigar line.

A.J.: San Lotano is crafted from carefully selected Cuban-seed leaves. The ligero is aged more than five years. This aging results in a naturally sweet aroma and fine balance. I also make it with lots of passion.

SG: What do you think about the quality of Cuban tobacco? What would you do if you had access to Cuban tobacco for blending today?

A.J.: People ask this question often. For me, Cuba has very rich and complex tobacco. If I were given the opportunity to mix it with my Nicaraguan product? Oh man, we would have some highly sought-after blends.

SG: Besides those you make, what are some of your favorite cigars to smoke for your own enjoyment?

A.J.: What a difficult question. Like asking what my favorite food is. There are so many excellent lines today, both new and old. I would hate to leave something out. Naturally, I am so busy making new blends I do not have a lot of time to smoke outside product. Was that diplomatic enough of me?

SG: Give us the one-sentence pitch: Why should a cigar smoker who has never smoked one of your cigars try one?

A.J.: It is not only in the exacting method in which we ferment our tobacco, which gives great balance to our blends, but also in the passionately intense supervision of the rolling process for that perfect construction.

Thanks to A.J. Fernandez for taking the time to talk to us. For more information on his cigars, visit AJFernandezCigars.com.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Insider: Author Mark Carlos McGinty

29 Dec 2010

Through seven years of writing his second novel, a historical tale woven through Cuba, Tampa, and revolution, Mark Carlos McGinty had a faithful companion.

“I’d take a cigar and go outside and…ponder where the story was going to go. Maybe bring a notepad with me and just jot down some ideas,” said McGinty, 35. “Yeah, it did get me through a lot of, I guess, moments of writers block, if you want to call it that.”

That’s only appropriate. His book is, after all, titled The Cigar Maker. It’s filled with the sights and sounds of turn-of-the-20th-century Tampa when it was truly Cigar City. Drawing from his own family’s past as well as historical events, McGinty artfully spins a story that is both exciting and educational.

Perhaps the biggest revelation for many is the book’s focus on the Cuban community in Tampa. “Everyone thinks of Miami when they think of Cuban-Americans,” McGinty said, adding that Tampa’s cigar industry in Ybor City attracted waves of immigrants for decades before the 1959 revolution. “In fact, sometimes I have to make it a point when I’m talking about the book to tell people that these events all happened before the Cuban Revolution, before Castro.”

His mother’s family was among those in Tampa, and McGinty spent quite a bit of time there with relatives when he was growing up. Her books about the area and Cuba inspired him. The main characters in The Cigar Maker, Salvador and Olympia Ortiz, are modeled on McGinty’s maternal grandparents. McGinty’s parents are now retired in Tampa, and he visited frequently researching the book.

The book has another family connection, too. McGinty’s wife did the striking cover illustration, a cigar-smoking rooster wearing a derby and striding across a tobacco plantation. The rooster made such an impression that it’s now available on mugs, T-shirts, and other items.

For those who want to experience the feel of early 1900s Ybor City, McGinty said quite a bit remains. “The streets are still paved with bricks,” he said. “And a lot of the old buildings are still there. They’ve just been restored and converted into modern-day buildings.”

He particularly recommends stopping by the buildings that housed five old social clubs: “They look like cathedrals.”

Tampa is the site of a new promotional push for The Cigar Maker, with efforts to get it featured in Ybor City shops. McGinty’s also targeting cigar smokers as a natural audience at B&M events like his recent appearance at Perfect Ash, just outside Minneapolis-St. Paul.

He’s most excited about an upcoming trip to Havana. He and his wife are part of a sanctioned delegation of artists and writers slated to visit in February.

“There’s all kinds of red tape, so we’re still working through the red tape,” McGinty said. “But the person who’s organizing the trip sounds pretty confident that it’s going to happen.”

While I think just about anyone will enjoy The Cigar Maker, cigar smokers in particular should find it fascinating. You can order it from McGinty’s website, Amazon, or just about any bookstore. Numerous e-reader versions are available at Smashwords.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Insider: Benny Gomez of Casa Gomez Cigars

25 Aug 2010

Like a lot of those who spend their workdays among cigars and tobacco, Benny Gomez is a gregarious, engaging man who enjoys talking about his family, his heritage, and his creations.

Benny Gomez of Casa Gomez CigarsThese days, more cigar smokers will be able to get to know Benny as he devotes greater time and energy to visiting smoke shops to get the word out about his two cigar lines: Casa Gomez and Havana Sunrise. “I still haven’t pushed it out there that much,” he said at a recent, well-attended event at my buddy Arnold Serafin‘s new shop in Spring Hill, Florida. “It costs a lot of money in advertising and promoting.”

But these days he’s ready to make it happen. He cited several reasons, including settlement of some legal issues, working with his son, Loren, in the business, and a recent tweaking of the Casa Gomez blend.

The cigar, created in 2004 by Benny to honor his Cuban father and his role in cigars, comes from Luis Sanchez’s Dominican factory. Benny decided he wanted to ramp it up a bit and added some Nicaraguan ligero to the blend. But he explained that he wasn’t seeking to simply create a stronger smoke. “I didn’t want just a powerful cigar,” said Benny, whose operation is based in his hometown of Miami. “I wanted that sweet texture that comes out of real good ligero leaf.”

One aspect of the business in which Loren has become heavily involved is the Internet. The Casa Gomez website is a work in progress, with direct consumer sales added recently. Loren is also active on several cigar forums.

When I spoke with Benny in July, he and Loren were preparing for another trip to the IPCPR Trade Show in New Orleans. Benny said he hoped to build on last year’s experience when he met many retailers.

But he said he will still utilize the same pitch for his cigars. He’ll hand them out with a simple request: “Smoke it and come back. I want your opinion.”

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Insider: Frank Herrera of La Caridad del Cobre

4 Aug 2010

One of the great things about writing for StogieGuys.com is that I get to meet some interesting people involved in the industry. Frank Herrera is no exception. Frank is an intellectual property lawyer in Florida, publisher of CigarLaw.com, and the owner of La Caridad del Cobre (LCDC). He recently spoke with me about starting his company, the next step for LCDC, the state of the trademark law in the industry, and more:

frankherreraStogie Guys: How does a lawyer end up in the cigar industry?

Frank Herrera: Back in 2001, when I was a new lawyer, I began to help some small cigar makers with the trademark applications. One cigar maker who has been in the business since 1995 or so came to me with a trademark dispute. At the time I was working for a law firm that did not allow me to alter my billing, or otherwise provide pro bono work for business clients. I basically gave him lots of advice on how to defend himself. I told him what books to read, where to get them, and basically gave him a litigation plan on how to fight the trademark dispute. Years later I ran into him at IPCPR (then RTDA) and he thanked me. He told me that he followed my advice to the letter and defended himself and won his case. He told me that winning saved his company and gave him the strength to continue in the business. His new cigar’s name is reflective of his company’s resurrection.

In 2002, I took on the Guantanamera case. Since then, we’ve been defending the trademark against Corporacion Habanos, S.A. at the Trademark Office and now on appeal at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Apart from the Cohiba case (which General just won) this is the longest running cigar trademark dispute between a U.S. company and Cuba. Thus, in representing these clients since 2001, I’ve learned a great deal about all aspects of the industry. Over the years I learned to appreciate the uniqueness of the industry. I particularly like the fact that it combines all the things that I enjoy: cigars, trademarks, history, culture, agriculture, and of course the social aspect.

SG: What has been the biggest challenge in launching La Caridad del Cobre?

FH: The biggest challenge getting LCDC off the ground is actually convincing myself to commit to the project. I started the brand in early 2009, but I made some bush-league mistakes. The biggest early mistake was that I approached it as a hobby. At that time, I was intimately familiar with the business (having counseled clients on nearly every aspect of it), but yet I was only spending a few hours a week on the brand. At IPCPR last year I shared a booth with a friend just so I could dip my toe in the business at the national level. That was a considerable waste of time and resources since I was completely unprepared. The minute I got back from IPCPR I committed myself to making a great product and to work on the brand. I’m excited about this year’s IPCPR, and I think that you will agree that I got my shit together. Another big mistake was refusing help from some very notable persons in the industry.

Over the past year, that has changed. I’ve been extremely lucky to be associated with some great minds in the cigar business. Most have helped me in recognition of my long hard (and until recently solo) fight against Cuba’s trademark wars. In a strange way, defending these cases against Cuba is my way of political protest. I like to think about it in the context of a U2 lyric about Helter Skelter… “This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles…we’re stealing it back.” Thus, Fidel Castro stole Guantanamera and a multitude of other trademarks, dreams, lives, etc… “I’m stealing it back.” It’s not enough that Cuba has been socialist/communist for all these years disrupting lives and families. Now they are filing countless trademark oppositions and cancellations against small, under-funded cigar companies for their use of terms or phrases that are their only way of preserving their pre-Castro culture. Fuck them.

SG: What is the next step for your company after the trade show?

FH: The next step for LCDC? Fulfill the IPCPR orders and tour the country visiting shops. Continue to create cigars that I can stand behind and be proud of. I’ve got lots of ideas for new brands, new vitolas, and new blends, so I’m excited about dedicating myself to this. I wanted to come out with a cigar this year called “La Fiera,” which means fierce woman (I’ve encountered a few over the years), but I just couldn’t find the right blend to bring that cigar to life. I’m certain that I can breathe some life into her by next year. I’m also working on a Tres Triste Tigres culebra. The name means the “three trapped tigers. ” It’s the title of a famous book written by the Cuban author Guillermo Cabrera Infante. It’s going to be two naturals inter-twined with a maduro. In the myth/religious story of La Caridad del Cobre, three men were in a rowboat and were facing death on the high seas. It was two white Cubans and one mulato. Thus, the idea is blend the LCDC myth/religious story with Guillermo Cabrera Infante’s Tres Triste Tigres.

SG: What is your opinion on the state of trademark law in the industry?

FH: This industry is all about trademarks. Let’s face it: Without a trademark, only the true aficionado would be able to differentiate most cigars. Trademark law is hot across the board regardless of industry, and the cigar industry is no different. However, unlike other industries, a great deal of cigar disputes are actually between Corporacion Habanos, S.A./Cubatabaco and small to mid-size family-owned cigar companies. Over the past ten years Cuba has committed itself to clearing the record of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) of any trademark that looks, smells, or tastes like it might suggest a connection with Cuba.

It might surprise you, but I think that cigar trademark disputes should be resolved without any litigation or lawyers. The cigar industry is like no other industry. To use a sexist phrase, it’s much more gentlemanly. Gentlemen should resolve disputes without lawyers and the courts.

SG: Do you remember your first cigar?

FH: My first cigar? Must have been an unbanded candela that I stole from my uncle Arturo Herrera when he was visiting my family farm in central Florida. I was like 14 or 15. Loved that guy. He would visit with my aunt Lola and I just remember the smell of the cigar and their happy faces. They’ve both passed on, but I still remember him with a cigar and those good times. Not sure that you could pay me now to smoke a candela but, who knows, maybe I’ll come out with one in the future. Of course, I can’t call it Arturo for trademark purposes (laughter). Maybe Lola?

SG: Besides your own stuff, what other cigars have you been enjoying lately?

FH: I dig anything that Dion Giolito makes. Gran Habano. Canimao. La Tradición Cubana.

Many thanks to Frank Herrera for speaking with us. For more information, visit CigarLaw.com and La Caridad del Cobre.

Patrick M

photo credit: Facebook

Cigar Insider: David Ze of Tin Tin’s Cigar Bar

17 Jun 2010

[Editors’ Note: The following is a guest article authored by Chris Verhoeven, a friend of StogieGuys.com who is studying at Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam.]

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down and enjoying an Oliva Serie O Maduro with the owner/operater of Tin Tin’s Cigar Bar, David Ze, in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. We talked about cigars and the all-to-present encroachment of anti-smoking laws, which certainly stretch beyond U.S. borders.

David Ze of Tin Tin's Cigar BarTin Tin’s is currently the only cigar bar in The Netherlands, a feat made possible by Ze’s efforts to maintain opposition to the laws within the court system, as well as by being the sole employee of the bar. Recent developments, however, have changed the status quo for Dutch smokers and made life more difficult for those who wish to preserve the tradition.

I had a conversation with Ze between the hustle and bustle of his lively, leather couch-equipped establishment. Among other things, we talked about the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the crosshairs of government regulation.

Stogie Guys: Do you remember your first cigar?

David Ze: I remember it was about 16 years ago. I can’t recall what brand it was. One of the Dutch ones.

SG: Do you have a favorite cigar?

DZ: Not really, too many good smokes. Depends on the hour of the day, what you had for dinner…When it’s 11 in the morning you don’t start with a Romeo y Julieta Churchill. You just don’t do that (laughs).

SG: What made you decide to open a cigar bar?

DZ: As a consumer I thought it was something missing in Holland. When I was in the Caribbean and the U.S. it was normal to have a cigar bar. These laws…People in the Netherlands think that around the world you can’t smoke. But even in the U.S. there are places like this. A nice place to have something to smoke and a nice drink.

SG: As a bar owner, what do you find you like to recommend drinks to pair with a fine cigar?

DZ: In the European Union people are used to drinking cognac and whiskey, but I like to advise them on rum. It’s more unknown here.

SG: Tell us a little bit about the Dutch smoking laws and how you and your bar are impacted by them.

DZ: It’s very easy. If you have a premises with a liquor license you are touched by the laws. There were some court cases where places with one owner and no staff were left out of it. [But] there was a high court ruling recently that said businesses like me, you’re not allowed to smoke anymore. The thing is, we’re going to have elections with a new government and things can change again. So if a government civil servant comes in now and gives me a fine I can take my case to court and see what happens.

In our less structured conversation, it was apparent that the change in the laws was frustrating Ze. “If you’re a vegetarian, there’s no reason to go to the butcher,” he says. But, joking aside, Ze stated that the recent court case truly has made things more difficult by changing the previous “safe work environment” laws to more strict “health code” laws, under which he currently operates under the constant threat of fines.

Ze finds intrigue in the creative measures cigar bar owners take to help secure their livelihood. He is inspired by a bar on one of the French-owned islands that was able to have their establishment declared an embassy with “sovereign soil,” on which the French smoking laws have no authority. Ze aspires to such autonomy and vows to continue to fight for the freedom to enjoy cigars in The Netherlands.

Chris Verhoeven

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Insider: Chris Kelly of the Tesa Cigar Company

5 May 2010

Headquartered in a lounge on the Near North Side of the Windy City, the Tesa Cigar Company is led by Chicago native Chris Kelly. Chris is an “atypical” cigar maker who meticulously creates blends from Tesa’s own factory in Estelí, Nicaragua, with a variety of enticing wrappers and filler tobaccos from Nicaragua. His offerings include the Shaman, Series Finos F500, Havanitas, Gran Cru, and the Vintage Especial (third on our list of the Top Ten Cigars We Reviewed in 2009).

Chris Kelly of the Tesa Cigar CompanyChris—pictured in front of a national monument for Augusto Sandino in Managua, Nicaragua—recently spoke with StogieGuys.com about mastering the trade, the challenges of working in another culture, and what sets Tesa apart from the competition.

Stogie Guys: You don’t look like the typical cigar maker. Your age, your base in Chicago…What gives? How did you get involved in the industry?

Chris Kelly: I am the atypical cigar manufacturer. I’m a 24-year-old Irish kid from the South Side of Chicago. I was blessed to grow up in the cigar business, as my father has had a cigar store there for almost 30 years. I have spent the better portion of my life from infancy to now around cigars and cigar smokers. Needless to say, they have become my life’s passion. My father has always been ahead of industry trends and in the early 90s he began taking trips to Nicaragua with the Padróns and Perdomos. While there, he developed a relationship with a small factory and began having brands made for his store. A couple years later we began wholesaling product. When quantities went up we ran into problems. I couldn’t sell bad cigars. My father bought a building in Nicaragua and offered to let me make cigars. At 18 I said, “Hell yes!” and have been doing it ever since.

SG: In terms of blending and cigar production, what sets Tesa apart from other manufacturers?

CK: We’re unique in our blending. When I was learning to blend, the level of guidance from experienced people was about zero. This industry is very family-oriented for the most part and so great-grandfathers pass their knowledge of tobacco down to grandfathers and then fathers and so on. I had none of that generational knowledge passed on to me, which made my start in blending and manufacturing a very difficult task. When I began in Nicaragua, I was a cigar smoker and that was it. Just about zero Spanish, one or two contacts in the country, no raw material knowledge, no processing knowledge, blending or construction knowledge—let alone how to deal with people from another culture. That was an awful lot to take in at 18, but this was what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a tobacco man. I was forced to approach everything thinking outside the box. This has helped define both our cigars and our company. It has also cost quite a bit of money from my earlier ignorance.

SG: What are some of the biggest challenges in making cigars the way you do?

CK: The biggest challenges are definitely with tobacco, both availability and the lack of deep pockets. We had some serious availability issues to overcome for the first two and a half years. Finally, I was permitted by tobacco growers to purchase Grade A tobaccos. Those tobaccos were just “not available” to me in the beginning, which forced me to be totally involved in my manufacturing process. A lot of oversight is needed with “workable” material and not top grade. That practice has become a part of why we’re different.

SG: What was the most difficult Tesa line to blend? Which line is the best-selling?

CK: Each blend has had its peculiarities that we’ve run into, every single leaf of tobacco is different, and tobaccos react differently with other tobaccos. The difficulty level becomes a major factor when you’re driven to make a cigar that is complex, well-balanced, rich, and well-constructed. That is very difficult. Right now our best cigar is a toss-up between the Cabinet 312 (a nice medium-full body with big and dark flavors of espresso, bittersweet chocolate, with fleeting hints of citrus) and the Vintage Especial (a mild-bodied Connecticut with a very creamy texture to the smoke, subtle yet intricate flavors of almonds and butterscotch—very complex for a mild blend).

SG: How long have you had a lounge in Chicago? What sort of surprises does that enterprise present?

CK: We have had the lounge in Chicago for about a year and a half. The biggest surprise to me has been people’s gravitation to the lounge. Obviously, in opening the lounge I anticipated customers, but there is a wonderful energy in that place. People don’t want to leave and, when they do, they’ve already planned when they can come back. We have created upwards of 100 new cigar smokers out of that store. Twenty-something’s think it’s the coolest thing they’ve seen. They stumble in looking for cigarettes and say, “Wow, what’s this all about? I didn’t know people still smoke cigars.” More women frequent our lounge than I’ve seen in many cigar shops. The synergy of people is top shelf. The lounge is critical for the longevity of this industry and society as a whole.

SG: Regarding your factory in Estelí, how is doing business in Nicaragua different than doing business in the U.S.?

CK: Doing business in Nicaragua is very different. You are dealing with a different culture in a foreign language. It took a considerable amount of time to hone my diplomacy and people skills to work side-by-side with them. You have to understand the people, their history, beliefs, and ideals before you can begin to relate to them. It’s very humbling to be working down there; save Haiti, it’s the poorest country in our hemisphere. To be there on a daily basis seeing what true poverty is and understanding what that means to the person who is impoverished is truly life-changing. The Nicaraguan people are wonderful and very strong.

SG: What would you say to those readers who have never tried a Tesa?

CK: Why not try a Tesa? I smoke what I make and I work very hard to bring to market a superior product. It may not become your favorite, but I personally guarantee that it will be a very enjoyable experience for you. It’s difficult to get people to try products from a new company, but we’re not new. We are the best kept secret in Nicaragua and the industry. Give me a shot at your taste buds.

SG: Aside from your own creations, what else do you smoke?

CK: Right now, I’m smoking quite a few Ligas from Drew Estate—both the Number 9 and the T-52s. Personally, aside from my products, I think it’s one of the most under-appreciated sticks out right now. Great flavor, complex, lots of depth, and the construction is excellent. Other than that, some Pepin stuff here and there, the Davidoff maduro is a nice smoke, and some other odds and ends.

Many thanks to Chris Kelly for taking the time to speak with StogieGuys.com. For more information and to order Tesa cigars online, please visit TesaCigars.com.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Insider: Eric Hanson of Second Growth Cigars

15 Apr 2010

I recently had the opportunity to meet Eric  Hanson, the man behind the Second Growth Cigar Company. We met at the historic Georgetown Tobacco shop in Washington to chat about his project while we smoked the result of his work.

EricHanson2ndGrowthSecond Growth comes in only one size: an immense (7.9 x 54) smoke that takes a full two hours to enjoy. Produced by Henke Kehlner of Davidoff, the cigar is  mild- to medium-bodied, extraordinarily creamy, and balanced, with subtle notes of cedar and spice. The single sample I smoked had plenty of subtleties and twists to keep an attentive smoker enthralled.

After our talk, I followed up by email to get some more details about his unique project.

Stogie Guys: With so many excellent cigars already out there, why introduce Second Growth now?

Eric Hanson: You’re right, there are a lot of excellent cigars already out there. Second Growth is the elite prestige bracket of the marketplace. What is interesting about the above premium consumer is their desire for unique experiences. Second Growth is blended to be the perfect compliment to a fine glass of Bordeaux or American meritage wines.

SG: Tell us a little about your wine and cigar pairing philosophy.

EH: The philosophy is simple. It is all about complimenting not competing flavors. When paired with Bordeaux blends and American meritage wines, Second Growth provides a perfectly synchronized flavor experience. While the wine flavors emanate from the rear of the tongue majestically working forward through the palate, in perfect harmony, the smoke from Second Growth begins stimulating the front of the palate imparting its flavors while traveling to the back of the mouth. The rich fruit of the wine prepares the palate for the complex interplay of spice, leather, and chocolate notes delivered from this exceptional cigar.

SG: You worked with Henke Kelner of Davidoff on this cigar. How did he come up with this blend for you?

EH: We were at the factory on other business and decided to show Henke Sr. and Jr. the box and concept for Second Growth. Both were fascinated with the concept and immediately we started discussing the type and aging of the tobacco one would need to execute an elegant project like this. For the next few hours we smoked several cigars and reviewed many bundles of unique hybrid tobaccos. Then, like a bolt of lightning, Henke Jr. said he had the perfect cigar for this project. Earlier in the year Alladio (master blender) and Henke Sr. came up with the blend for Henke Jr.’s 36th birthday. What type of cigar do you get for Jr. for his 36th birthday? A Cuban? No! The best filler, binder, and wrapper ever grown from the aging room at Tabadom that is never to be in regular production. We all smoked the cigar and had some Chateau Gruaud Larose and we all realized we had found the perfect cigar. Father and son agreed to let us use HMK 36 and Second Growth was born. There was only enough tobacco for 19,480 cigars or approximately 1,000 boxes.

SG: The presentation of the Second Growth is unique. Tell us about the box and band you selected.

EH: The box is unlike any other vessel for cigars in cigar industry history. Each Second Growth cigar box is hand furnished by Irish master craftsman James Rowe in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. We purchased 50 wine barrels from a famous Second Growth classified winery from Saint Julien Bordeaux, France, and had them flown to New Hampshire. The wine barrels had been used during the maturation of a famed vintage. The concentrated fruit aromas emanating from the barrel staves envelope each cigar, imparting a timeless elegance and accentuating the beauty of the wine-stained woodworking. The natural fruit essence from the fine wine mingles with the spice; leather and chocolate notes in the rare aged tobacco create a taste synthesis befitting the most discerning connoisseur. I think you will enjoy this smoke!

Like the box the band is also very unique and has a great story. While the label on a cigar has always acted as both advertising and badge for the cigar maker, it originated to provide a simple, utilitarian function. The cigar band was invented during a time when it was customary for gentlemen to wear white gloves. All original bands were woven from silk or cotton fabric, the band acted as a barrier to prevent the smoker from staining their gloves. We liked the elegance of the story we embarked on a journey to restore this tradition. With Second Growth we liken it to returning to this golden age of cigars by wrapping each with a wide, woven, luxurious band reminiscent of those days gone by. We believe this extra step adds the perfect finishing touch for such a rare offering.

SG: What were some of the challenges you faced bringing this cigar to market?

EH: Helping the press and blog sites to understand whom this product was designed for. The traditional cigar industry insider seems to think that for something to be special it has to be full-bodied or incredibly strong. We disagree entirely…while there is a time for strong cigars we also believe there is equal time for medium-bodied cigars that show time-honored craftsmanship and deep understanding of the interplay of different tobaccos and how to deliver a complete flavor experience with elegance and nuance; a cigar that can be enjoyed alone or with a fine glass of wine or during a great meal. That was our biggest challenge.

SG: $30 is a lot for a cigar. Why should someone buy it?

EH: This box of cigars is for the oenophile and connoisseur. Someone with an excellent palate and taste. It’s an experience of a lifetime and the train is only stopping once.

SG: When you’re not pairing cigars with wine, what is your beverage of choice with a fine cigar?

EH: Have you ever tried Vodka with cigars? H+S vodka is perfect…and yes I am biased because I am the founder of that company and the creator of that product also.

SG: After the 20,000 Second Growth cigars are gone, what can we expect next?

EH: Good question. Projects are in the works…look out for a wildly complex cigar to be paired with Big Napa Cabs and Super Tuscans. God I love this job!

Many thanks to Eric Hanson for taking the time to talk about Second Growth. For more information, visit their website.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys