Commentary: Impressions from the 2015 Premium Cigar Trade Show in New Orleans

21 Jul 2015

StogieGuys.com has been covering the annual International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR) Trade Show for nearly ten years now. To kick off our post-convention coverage—which will certainly include lots of details, commentary, and reviews—I wanted to first provide my high-level impressions. So I’m summarizing some of those today. (I chose the word summarizing carefully here; we’ll likely expand on some or all of these topics in future articles.)

IPCPR 2015

Before I get started, though, I’d like to make a few comments. First, this year my colleague and I chose to simply share brief Facebook updates (which were embedded here live). We wanted to keep our hands as free as possible for note-taking, picture-taking, materials-gathering, walking the huge floor, networking, and—of course—smoking. So while we’ll concede our coverage thus far is less than comprehensive, we feel this strategy will result in you getting the complete picture over time, rather than a regurgitation of everything all at once. Besides, let’s face it: These days there’s no shortage of cigar information websites, many of whom do a good job getting all the new release info out there quickly. We encourage you to read widely and patronize our peers.

Second, bear in mind I’m organizing my thoughts while on a plane home to Chicago from balmy New Orleans. I haven’t yet had time to read the coverage and commentary from other media outlets. For all I know, what I have to say today may already have been written and published elsewhere. Maybe not. But please do not mistake any consistency in my impressions with plagiarism; if today’s commentary is very similar to other thoughts you’ve already seen, that really wouldn’t surprise me. After all, we all attended the same show.

UF-13 on Bourbon Street

Overall Attendance Seemed Down

The New Orleans setup is more spread out (and rectangular) than the Las Vegas site, which seems square and more compact. Even so, it’s safe to say attendance seemed lacking this year. Several cigar makers lamented this off the record, while many others claimed their sales were higher than anticipated (a running theme: “Yes, attendance is lower, but the serious buyers are here.”). A few hypotheses for the lower numbers include higher costs to attend, a feeling that attendance is less necessary than it used to be given how quickly info spreads via the web, and the oft-heard claim that New Orleans is a less exciting, less accessible venue than Vegas. Word is the next three Trade Shows will be held in Vegas. My take? Aside from the humidity, New Orleans is a fine host city with ample convention space, easy access to lodging, great cuisine, and no shortage of nightlife.

The Sheer Number of Exhibitors Was Staggering

I heard the number of exhibitor booths was up to nearly 350 this year. I couldn’t help but have the thought that looking at the floor directory map was almost like peering directly into the cigar bubble. For an industry facing a tremendously perilous political climate it’s surprising to see the volume of new releases, new manufacturers, and elaborate booths (the most expensive of which were upwards of $300,000). If any single person can claim they visited every booth, I’d be surprised and impressed.

Cautious Optimism Concerning the FDA

Our comparative advantage in the cigar media space is thorough, well-informed coverage of the political challenges facing premium cigars. So we went out of our way to ask as many cigar makers as possible what their thoughts are, how they’re preparing, and what they think the most likely outcomes are. With the very real possibility of every cigar introduced after February 15, 2007 being made illegal by the U.S. government, it was interesting to hear so much cautious optimism. Major themes from cigar makers include: operating business as usual until the new regulations are announced; confidence that an exemption for premium cigars over $10 (or a similar price) will be adopted; and confidence that the date will be moved to the date the regulations are announced or enacted. Fun fact: IPCPR estimates 85% of cigars currently held in humidors were introduced after February 15, 2007.

Little Talk About U.S.-Cuban Relations

This was the first Trade Show since officials in Washington and Havana have made strides toward normalized diplomatic relations, yet few seemed interested in discussing the topic. I don’t expect anything to change vis-à-vis the embargo anytime soon. Still, I was anticipating more hype about the possibility of Cuban cigars in the U.S. (or Cuban tobacco within cigars imported into the U.S.). Again, the common theme among cigar makers was business as usual until otherwise notified. But I have to think some outfits are excited about the possibilities, while others are likely lamenting the escalation of trademark wars, new competition, and added complexities.

Most Exciting Cigars

Sobremesa

I’d prefer to not speculate about which new releases will be the hot best-sellers. If you want this kind of analysis, I suspect you won’t have trouble finding all sorts of opinions. But at the expense of almost certainly failing to mention several cigars that will likely wow me, I can share with you the new smokes I’m personally most excited to try. They include Sobremesa from Steve Saka’s new Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust (pictured above), Henry Clay Tattoo, CAO Pilón, Kilo, Neanderthal SGP, Partagas Aniversario, Padrón Dámaso, Undercrown Shade, AVO Synchro Nicaragua, Pinar del Rio’s Connecticut Valley Reserve, and El Güegüense from Nicholas Melillo’s new Foundation Cigar Co.

Stay tuned for lots more from the IPCPR Trade Show, plus a flurry of reviews.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Drew Estate

StogieGuys.com Live Feed from the 83rd Annual IPCPR Trade Show

18 Jul 2015

July 18-20 we’re live at the 2015 International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR) Trade Show in New Orleans. Expect many updates in the coming days and weeks, but while we’re here walking the floor and attending the event, the best way to keep up with all the news is following us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. (We’ve included the Facebook feed below.)

Check back often for up-to-the-minute updates, photos, videos, and new information as we cover the IPCPR convention just like we have for nearly a decade. If you have questions you want asked, in addition to leaving a comment on this post, you might also try reaching us on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Stogie Guys Friday Sampler No. 439

17 Jul 2015

As we have since July 2006, each Friday we’ll post a mixed bag of quick cigar news and other items of interest. Below is our latest Friday Sampler.

IPCPR Trade Show1) Starting tomorrow, Patrick A and Patrick S will be reporting live from the 83rd annual International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR) Trade Show. Check StogieGuys.com throughout the day on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday as we post information, videos, photos, and more. The annual gathering of cigar manufacturers, retailers, suppliers, and media is closed to consumers. It will feature many new cigars and cigar accessories, along with seminars on government affairs, how to get and keep good customers, and steps retailers can take to improve their businesses. This will be the first Trade Show since IPCPR announced it was moving its headquarters from Georgia to Washington, DC. The last time the event was held in New Orleans was 2010 (before New Orleans implemented its recent smoking ban). Following the event, expect a flurry of reviews and information about new releases. For now, you can check out some of our pre-IPCPR coverage here, here, and here.

2) Cubanacan Cigars was evidently very surprised to learn (via the media, no less) that cigar maker and Cuban tobacco grower Hirochi Robaina would be leaving Cubanacan for La Palina, and was planning on taking his HR brand with him. “Though we are all still in shock about Mr. Robaina’s decision, we are not surprised,” wrote Robert Mederos, owner of Cubanacan, in a press release. “Do not mistake our initial silence for acquiescence. We are deeply saddened that we even have to respond to actions that speak louder than words in the court of public opinion, and these actions do seem to be well planned and executed, having caused irreparable damage to our company… We hold dear the freedom of speech this nation grants us to have a voice, but along with it there are also consequences and we feel in this case these actions will have to be resolved not on the grounds of perception, confusion, and internet fiction but on the grounds of facts presented through due process in a court of law.” When asked if a lawsuit is being seriously considered, or who Cubanacan thinks owns the HR brand, a Cubanacan spokesman declined to comment.

3) This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Fuente Fuente Opus X (FFOX) line. To celebrate, Prometheus is offering FFOX 20th Anniversary Father and Son Humidors, which come with 50 vintage Fuente Aged Selection cigars. Each humidor (MSRPP $4,000) includes two FFOX Original Belicosos, which were made in 1994 and have never been released. Only 200 of the limited edition 20th Anniversary Father and Son Humidors will be made.

4) Inside the Industry: Drew Estate announced yesterday that the Liga Privada Único Serie Ratzilla would be launched as a limited release to retailers participating in Drew Estate’s Drew Diplomat Retailer Program. The Ratzilla (6.25 x 46) is one of the most sought-after blends in the Liga Privada Único Serie line and has only seen a handful of retail releases to date. This release will make the largest Ratzilla production ever.

5) Deal of the Week: This “Silver Tray Sampler” includes five cigars for $26, but don’t wait too long  to cash in (the deal ends tomorrow). Included are the Padrón Ambassador Maduro, Quesada Q40 Salomon, Oliva Serie O Toro, Gurkha Wicked Indie Toro, and La Flor Domnicana Colorado Oscuro #2.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: IPCPR

Commentary: Big Questions for the 2015 Cigar Trade Show

16 Jul 2015

IPCPR15

On Friday I’ll be flying to New Orleans for the annual International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR) Trade Show. It’s always a flurry of activity, not to mention a great way to take the pulse of the cigar industry and see many friends.

We’ll have lots of coverage (check back Saturday for more details). But in preparation I’ve been thinking about the questions that will come up repeatedly. While part of our coverage will, of course, be getting the scoop on the new cigars being introduced, I also anticipate these three questions coming up a lot:

What’s hot?

What’s good? What’s getting the buzz? What new cigar surprised you (in a good way)? After a day or two talking with people you tend to get an idea for which cigars have the most buzz. Two days out, we already know many of the new cigars that will be introduced, but there are still many that won’t be known until the show floor opens Saturday.

Here’s an early prediction for “buzziest” cigar: Padrón’s new Connecticut line. Full new lines are few and far between for Padrón, which makes this one highly anticipated. Until attendees get a chance to smoke it, though, you never know what the reaction will be. Inevitably, at the cigar shops and bars after the show floor closes, when the booze starts flowing, you get the unvarnished opinions about what’s surprisingly good and what’s underwhelming.

When do we go back to Las Vegas?

I’ve attended two previous Trade Shows in New Orleans, one in Orlando, and three in Las Vegas. Every time the show isn’t in Las Vegas, you hear complaints about how it should be. (Not to mention the humidity of New Orleans in the dead of summer.) Invariably, manufacturers say foot traffic and attendance are better in Sin City. Plus, let’s face it: The entire city is built to host such events, with limitless hotels, restaurants, and venues for events large and small.

So why isn’t the Trade Show in Las Vegas every year? IPCPR officials have their reasons. They want the show to be closer to East Coast, and they want to vary the off-site entertainment offerings (not everyone loves Las Vegas) especially since many retail shop owners bring their spouses along who aren’t all that interested in spending every hour of the day negotiating cigar deals.

Still, I think there is an even more fundamental reason why the Trade Show doesn’t just stay in Vegas every year. There are only a few places large enough to host the show that also allow for smoking in the convention center, and moving it around keeps the potential hosts in line. Officials in Las Vegas and New Orleans know their city could be eliminated from consideration if their anti-smoking policies go too far, so keeping multiple places in the mix serves an important purpose. Nevertheless, next year the show will be back in Las Vegas, and I’m sure most manufacturers will be happy to be back.

Ready for the FDA?

As my colleague pointed out last month, FDA regulation is the cloud that hangs over everything at this year’s convention. The regulations were due in June and could drop at any moment. I look forward to asking cigar makers about what preparations they are making. For example: Have they begun to think about which post-2007 cigars they will push for FDA approval if the process costs hundreds of thousands of dollars as expected, and which will they simply just stop selling in the U.S.?

I’ve already noted how prices are likely being impacted by the pending regulations. If the FDA adopts Option Two with an exemption for cigars over $10, it will encourage more $10+ cigars, but at that price consumers expect something special. Every year a significant number of new releases disappear, or are at least relegated to the discount bins before the next show. My biggest worry is that most new cigars from this year’s Trade Show are just walking dead, not because of natural competition, but because even cigars that have limited success won’t be worth the high cost of attempting to seek the FDA approval necessary to keep them on the market under the FDA regime.

Exactly how prepared the industry is remains to be seen. I suspect some companies are flying by the seat of their pants, while others have been working FDA regulation into their plans for years. It is certainly something I look forward to asking cigar makers about. I only hope the answers are comforting about the future of the industry.

Patrick S

photo credit: IPCPR

Cigar Review: George Rico S.T.K. Miami Zulu Zulu Mas Paz Edition Nicaraguan Habano Corona Gorda

15 Jul 2015

In my review of the Corojo No. 5 Maduro 2011 last week—a Gran Habano smoke that recently got a makeover—I mentioned the Florida-based operation of the Rico family also recently added a few sizes, discontinued a vitola in the G.A.R. Red line, and introduced the George Rico S.T.K. Miami Zulu Zulu Mas Paz Edition.

Zulu Zulu Mas PazThe Mas Paz Edition is made in Miami at G.R. Tabacaleras Co. Cigar Factory & Lounge. A percentage of sales benefit a non-profit organization that will fund renovations for La Casa de la Madre y el Niño, an orphanage in Bogotá, Colombia.

The cigar’s packaging was designed by Mas Paz, an artist who was adopted from La Casa de la Madre y el Niño when he was one. “I am blessed to have been adopted into a home where I have food, clothes, and a loving family,” reads the artist’s website. “It is my mission to do what I can to help. I work to spread the message of Mas Paz, by sharing a positive message and my story to the world along with a quarterly donation to my orphanage, raised with 5% of all income gained from paintings, projects, and my online store.”

The George Rico S.T.K. Miami Zulu Zulu Mas Paz Edition comes in two wrapper varieties: Ecuadorian Connecticut and Nicaraguan Habano. Both have Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos and come in three sizes that retail for $8.25 to $9.27: Lancero (7.5 x 40), Rolo (6 x 54), and Corona Gorda (5.6 x 46).

The Nicaraguan Habano Corona Gorda receives high marks for appearance. The first impression is accentuated by the eye-catching wax paper sleeve. Underneath is a pigtail-capped cigar with a reddish hue and pre-light notes of rich syrup and coffee. The cap clips cleanly to reveal a smooth cold draw.

Once lit, a medium-bodied profile emerges with notes of espresso, leather, and campfire. There’s an underlying earthiness, along with a floral taste. Creamy peanut and a little cocoa help add balance. If smoked too quickly, some less-than-pleasant bitter tones come through, yet the Corona Gorda is still a mostly soft-spoken specimen with little nicotine or spice. The finale is characterized by citrus, coffee, and leather.

I was only able to smoke one Corona Gorda for this review (which was, in full disclosure, provided to me by Gran Habano), but that single sample performed admirably in the combustion department. Throughout, the burn line remained true; only one touch-up was needed along the way. The ash held firm, the draw was easy, and the smoke production was slightly above average.

At times, the Mas Paz Edition Nicaraguan Habano Corona Gorda is a little flat. At times, it speaks with understated complexity and balance. It’s the kind of cigar that seems like it might improve significantly with some age, and I’m tempted to buy a few to test my hypothesis. Right now, I’m scoring it three stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: When More Can Be Too Much

14 Jul 2015

IPCPR15

If there’s one word that seems to unite most cigar makers, it’s “new.”

The seemingly irresistible urge to introduce new blends, new line extensions, new brands, new tobaccos, new curing methods, and on and on reaches its annual pinnacle at the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR) Trade Show, which starts this weekend in New Orleans.

Ironically, though, if you ask most cigar retailers to name their top-selling brand, the answer you’ll likely get is Padrón, a manufacturer that rarely introduces anything new. The old-school company isn’t particularly invested in social media, either, but it burned up the online cigar community with its recent announcement of a new Connecticut line.

Of course, if you’re a cigar manufacturer competing for shelf space with companies like Padrón, Altadis, General, Fuente, and others, having something new might seem like your safest bet. But is there a risk in going too far in that direction?

I thought about this the other day when I was smoking a Kristoff Galerones Intensivo. I picked it up for about $9 at a shop I visit occasionally because it was a chance to try a stick I hadn’t had, and one about which I’d heard good things.

It was a very enjoyable smoke, combining solid strength with spice, cedar, and coffee. The three-country filler blend (Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, and Honduras) worked well with the Brazilian Arapiraca wrapper.

So, I wondered, how come I’ve smoked so few Kristoff cigars?

The answer, I’ve surmised, is the same as for some other brands I rarely light up, such as Rocky Patel or Ghurka. It’s not that I have anything against them or their cigars. In fact, I’ve smoked some that I liked a lot.

But, overall, brands that have so many lines and so many new entries lose my attention and focus. Even when I smoke something I like from them, it tends to get lost in their plethora of cigars.

Truth be told, even someone like me who spends quite a bit of time reading about cigars and the industry, as well as listening to podcasts, just can’t keep up with everything.

With IPCPR, there’ll be a raft of new releases. I’d like to try them all. That, of course, isn’t possible, so I’ll smoke the ones I can find, try to remember the ones I don’t, and possibly add one or two discoveries to my list of favorites.

And I’m sure there’ll be quite a few that I miss.

George E

photo credit: IPCPR

Cigar Review: Nomad Estelí Lot 8613 Toro

13 Jul 2015

When it comes to the naming of cigar brands, blends, and sizes, cigar makers can be pretty darn creative (or crazy, depending on your point of view). I suppose the diversity and, yes, strangeness of names is partly due to the challenge of coming up with something that’s marketable and descriptive that hasn’t already been used in the vast tobacco lexicon.

Lot 8613Case in point: Fred “GodFadr” Rewey, owner of the Orlando-based Nomad Cigar Co., named his first Nicaraguan cigar “Lot 1386” to honor the approximate coordinate of Estelí. The subject of today’s review, “Lot 8613,” simply flips that coordinate. (Bonus points to the first commenter to locate that coordinate.)

In any event, the Nomad Estelí Lot 8613, which was launched in April, marks the fifth full-production cigar for Nomad and the third full-production cigar in Estelí. (Lot 1386 was a limited to 307 12-count boxes.) “I blended the cigar at the end of 2013 (the same time I blended the C-276),” said Rewey. “This cigar, along with the C-276, was the result of a three-month stay in Nicaragua, blending, learning, and hitting the fields… I chose ‘Estelí Lot 8613’ because it was very reminiscent to the Lot 1386 LE that I released in 2013. Although the blend is nothing close to the original LE, the smoking experience was similar to me on some esoteric level.”

Estelí Lot 8613 boasts an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. Five sizes are available, all made at Tobacalera A.J. Fernandez: Robusto (5 x 50), Coronita (5.5 x 46), Toro (6 x 50), Grand Toro (6 x 58), and Churchill (7 x 48).

The Toro retails for about $8. It’s a handsome, oily specimen with a milk chocolate-colored wrapper that has only a few thin veins. The feel is moderate to slightly spongy throughout. The cap clips neatly to reveal a smooth pre-light draw, and the foot has an aroma reminiscent of sweet hay and cocoa.

The flavor opens with oak, honey, and a little subdued cayenne. A raw, meaty spice jumps in after a quarter-inch and is particularly pronounced on the finish if you smoke quickly, but dissipates as fast as it arrived. Thereafter, cream, earth, and citrus take center stage. The texture is bready and the body is medium to medium-full. The cigar wraps up much the way it began with oak and honey.

With good combustion qualities across the several samples I smoked, the Nomad Estelí Lot 8613 Toro is a pleasure, though by no means a memorable standout. The most appropriate rating, in my judgement, is three stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys