News: Small Players in Cigar Industry Vow to Keep Going

18 May 2016

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Uncertainty. Apprehension. Determination.

These seem to sum up the feelings of some of the smaller players in the cigar world. Small players whose business will be greatly impacted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s new tobacco regulations. In statements both on and off the record, those who create and market boutique cigar expressed both anger and resolve to StogieGuys.com.

“You have to play the hand the best you can with what you have,” said Jeff Haugen, co-owner of Crux Cigars. “We’re going to have to adapt.”

While some were reluctant to openly discuss the potential impact or their plans, others were blunt.

“It’s a mess,” said Sandra Cobas, owner of the highly regarded cigar manufacturer El Titan de Bronze, located in Miami’s Little Havana since 1997. Cobas is confident she’ll be able to remain in business, but “it won’t be the same.”

Particularly troubling for her is the Feb. 15, 2007, grandfather date on which cigars had to be on the market to qualify for an exemption from regulation. While El Titan’s four lines should qualify, many of the smokes she produces for other brands will not. And that means her current level of eight to twelve employees will almost certainly shrink. “These are working people,” she said. “It’s very upsetting. Very upsetting.”

The economic impact will be widespread, she added, ticking off those impacted, from tobacco growers to box makers, cigar band lithographers to glue manufacturers.

“How about in Estelí? How about in the Dominican?” where cigar-making has boomed in recent years, she said. “They think they’ve got an immigration problem now? They don’t know what they’ll have.”

Mel Shah realizes his MBombay cigars will also face the full thrust of the regulations because they came to market only a couple years ago. Just what the FDA’s approval process will be, or how much it will cost, however, remains uncertain.

“Everything that we hear right now… it’s all speculation,” said Shah. “They’re going to charge this, they’re not going to charge this. The whole nine yards. There is nothing… in black and white as to how much it’s going to cost us. Once we have that, then it will be a more definitive strategy.”

Shah’s position as owner of both a cigar brand and a cigar shop (Fame Wine & Cigar Lounge in Palm Springs, California) provides a well-rounded perspective.

As a measure of what lies ahead, he noted that about 70 percent of the cigars on retailers’ shelves these days were introduced after 2007.

The FDA regulations, scheduled to go into effect this summer, offer a small window for cigars that aren’t grandfathered. Those on the market before Aug. 8 can remain on sale until Aug. 8, 2018, before having to apply for approval.

That’s led to conjecture that brand owners will rush cigars to market in order to take advantage. But Haugen, and others, said that’s not their plan.

“We’re certainly not going to knee-jerk any reactions of which way we’re going to move,” Haugen said, noting that all Crux lines are post-2007. “I’m not interested in just jamming a bunch of brands out there to get something going.”

One point of agreement was that, while it’s too soon to know the full impact, they will survive.

Most, in fact, echoed the sentiment of Ernesto Perez Carrillo in his response to the FDA: “We are here to stay.”

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Drew Estate

Cigar Review: Drew Estate Nica Rustica Belly

16 May 2016

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Whether by design or coincidence, Nica Rustica feels like a discount version of the immensely popular Liga Privada No. 9. Both feature Connecticut Broadleaf wrappers (Liga uses “Broadleaf #1 Darks” while the Nica Rustica uses a “Broadleaf Medium”), and both debuted in just one size—a toro—before later growing to multiple vitolas.

BellyContinuing to follow in Liga’s footsteps, last year Drew Estate expanded Nica Rustica with two new sizes: the immense Belly (7.5 x 54) and the Short Robusto (4.5 x 50). They join the original El Brujito vitola (6 x 52), which is named for an ancient image found on a rock in Estelí. The image depicts a Pre-Columbian shaman—thought to be one of the earliest users of tobacco for “ceremonial and medicinal rituals,” according to the Drew Estate website.

In addition to the Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper, each Nica Rustica format includes a Mexican San Andrés Negro binder (which is also the wrapper on Undercrown) with Nicaraguan filler tobaccos from the Estelí and Jalapa growing regions. Intended to be “medium- to full-bodied,” “rustic,” and “un-polished and unrefined,” Jonathan Drew calls the blend a tribute to the people of Nicaragua.

With its dark, oily, toothy, slightly reddish wrapper and generous proportions, Belly is an intimidating cigar. Before the first puff, you can sense the flavors are going to be rich and heavy, and the pre-light notes of leather, cocoa, and earth seem to validate those expectations. The imperfect cap clips easily enough to reveal an ultra-easy cold draw.

After setting an even light to the closed foot, the first thing you’ll notice is the voluminous smoke production. The thick, dense smoke seems to ooze from the foot virtually effortlessly, which helps you dive head-first into the bold tastes of dark chocolate, roasted nuts, white pepper, and espresso. The texture is chalky. A fleeting vegetal note is particularly noticeable on the retrohale—a sensation that should be familiar to fans of both Liga Privada No. 9 and Undercrown.

There are few profile changes throughout, rendering the beginning, middle, and end of this huge cigar all very similar, save for an increase in intensity at the finale. If you’re a fan of how the Belly tastes at the outset, chances are you’ll be fine with the consistency; that said—especially for such a large cigar that takes at least two and a half hours to burn from light to nub—a shift in flavor or texture would have been welcome.

In terms of construction, the Nica Rustica Belly doesn’t live up to the high standards set by Drew Estate. While the ash is solid, the draw smooth, and the smoke output extremely high, the burn leaves much to be desired. Frequent touch-ups are necessary to keep the cigar burning evenly.

Even so, this is still a good bang-for-the-buck at around $8, especially considering the size and big flavors. Add this to your list if you’re looking for a large time-filler with bold, dense flavors. In my book, the Belly earns three stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Tatuaje Black Cazadores

15 May 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-singulare-2014-sq

Tatuaje-Black

Earlier this year, Tatuaje’s Pete Johnson announced the Black line would be expanded to five sizes, all in similar 20-count flip-top boxes. One of the new sizes is Cazadores (6.4 x 43), which is one of my favorite sizes in the original Brown line, so I was interested how it smoked with the Black blend. I found a pleasant combination of bread and cedar, along with a honey sweetness and just a hint of pepper. The cigar starts off medium-bodied but bumps up to medium-full as it progresses. The new sizes of Tatuaje Black are just hitting stores this month. If you enjoyed the original offerings, the Cazadores is well worth seeking out.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: El Güegüense Corona Gorda

14 May 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.”

Corona Gorda

Made at the TABSA (Tobaccos Valle de Jalapa) factory in Nicaragua using Aganorsa tobacco, El Güegüense—also known as “The Wise Man”—is the first blend from Foundation Cigar Co., which was launched in 2015 by former Drew Estate employee Nicholas Melillo. The Nicaraguan puro has a beautiful Corojo ’99 wrapper from Jalapa that’s described as “rosado rosado café.” My favorite El Güegüense vitola is the Corona Gorda (5.6 x 46). It boasts a medium-bodied profile with well-balanced flavors of cedar, honey, melon, and subtle sweetness. With excellent combustion properties, ample complexity, and a sub-$10 price tag, this cigar has been a fixture of my regular rotation since it was released.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Stogie Guys Friday Sampler No. 479

13 May 2016

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.

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1) In response to the FDA’s announcement last week (which included some very misleading statements) of its final rule regulating cigars, where the FDA rejected its own option to exempt premium cigars, Cigar Rights of America (CRA) has launched another petition to the White House. Readers may recall that in 2012, years prior to the FDA proposal, a similar petition garnered enough support to warrant the eventual response by the director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. Back then, he stated the “FDA has heard the input from stakeholders about the possible differences in the public health impact of premium cigars compared to other cigars. We are taking this into account as we consider potential regulatory options around the categories of cigars.” Obviously, given the final rule, the pleas of the over 40,000 signers of that petition were ignored.

2) While signing the petition to the White House is certainly worthwhile, a second petition launched by CRA is directed at the branch of government that, at this point, is more likely to take complaints seriously. The CRA’s petition to Congress lets Americans demand their representatives “support S. 441 and H.R. 662, which would exempt premium cigars from FDA regulation and oversight, as well as to support language adopted by the House Committee on Appropriations on April 19, 2016, calling for an exemption for premium cigars from FDA oversight.” At this point, barring an intervention by Congress or an intervention by the courts, the FDA rule will go into effect on August 8, 2016.

3) The FDA’s overreach to regulate handmade premium cigars has already found some critics in Congress. Notably, Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a three-time co-sponsor of the bill to exempt premium cigars from FDA regulation, released a statement excoriating the Obama Administration and the FDA: “The FDA’s announcement today that it plans to regulate all tobacco products is just another example of the Obama Administration’s regulatory overreach and nanny-state mentality. This regulation takes an overly-broad approach to regulating these products. While we can all agree that tobacco products should not be marketed to children, I still believe that my bipartisan amendment, recently approved by the Appropriations Committee in the Agriculture Appropriations bill, provides the same framework for new tobacco products without needlessly subjecting small businesses to unnecessary regulations and without treating law abiding adults like naïve children.”

4) From the Archives: If reading all the news about the overbearing FDA regulations on cigars has you reaching for a stiff drink, we’ve got you covered there, too. Our A-Z Guide to Bourbon features everything from super-premium, highly acclaimed classics to bottom-shelf hidden gems. If you’re more of a rye fan, check out our Guide to Rye.

5) Deal of the Week: In light of recent events, every cigar smoker has good reason to join Cigar Rights of America, or renew/extend their current membership. If you want to smoke excellent, exclusive cigars while you do so, consider purchasing this Cigar Rights of America Limited Edition Sampler. Each sampler includes a CRA membership (you can also use it to renew your existing membership) with ten exclusive cigars.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: WhiteHouse.gov

News: FDA Misleading Public About Cigars and Youth

11 May 2016

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There is no getting around the fact that the final FDA rule released last week is a nightmare for premium handmade cigars.

Although premium cigars represent just 2.1% percent of all cigars smoked in the United States (according to the FDA, 300 million of the 14 billion total cigars sold), the vibrant creativity that has come to represent this small handmade portion of the cigar market will be hit with the overwhelming burden of complying with rules that require FDA approval for every cigar not on the market before February 15, 2007.

Within each brand, every size of that blend that was introduced after that date will have to apply for FDA approval, or be off the market, by August 2018. So literally thousands of blends would have to apply, something no one (including the FDA) expects to happen.

In its public statements regarding the rule and within the 499-page rule itself, the FDA repeatedly alludes to the need to regulate cigars to protect children. But a closer look shows the facts don’t support the claim. In fact, at least one of the statements the FDA told the public about this is demonstrably false.

FDA Misstates Current Law

In its press announcement of the new rule, the FDA made the following statement: “Before today, there was no federal law prohibiting retailers from selling e-cigarettes, hookah tobacco, or cigars to people under age 18.”

This claim struck me as odd, at least in respect to cigars, so I asked an FDA spokesman for clarification. Despite multiple emails back and forth, I never got a substantive answer to my question: Does the FDA know of anywhere in the U.S. where the sale of cigars to minors (under 18) was not already illegal?

At one point in the exchange, I was referred to the “CDC [Center for Disease Control] or a group like the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids,” which seemed strange given that the FDA had just designated itself the chief regulator of cigars.

Despite that, I asked both groups that the FDA referred me to. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids confirmed that every state prohibits sales to minors (and that Alabama currently also prohibits sales to those age 19). The CDC spokesman made it even more clear that the FDA was wrong in its announcement that prior to these rules federal law did not prohibit sales of cigars to minors.

The CDC spokesman wrote the following back to me: “In response to your question about selling tobacco products to persons under the age of 18. The federal minimum age of sale for tobacco products is 18. States are free to make it higher, but not lower.”

In other words, the federal agency that the FDA referred me to directly contradicted the statement put out by the FDA. Of course, by then the FDA’s misstatement had already been repeated in numerous news accounts of the new regulation.

FDA Cites 29-Year-Old Adults as Evidence of Youth Usage

But the FDA’s deception on this issue doesn’t end there. Within the rules, especially in the justification for not exempting premium cigars, the FDA repeatedly conflates underage use of cigars with choices made by adults.

The final FDA rule repeatedly uses the phrase “youth and young adult(s),” 56 times to be exact, within the rule. So I asked the FDA how they defined young adults and “what would be the oldest a person could be and still be considered a ‘young adult’ by the FDA?”

I was told “young adults” and other references to age groups depended on the specific studies being cited. A look at those studies show that some used 25 while others used 29 as the upper limit for “young adults.”

So while the FDA is using the age-old justification that their rules are necessary “for the children,” the fact is they are citing studies about the choices made by 29-year-old adults, men and women who could have legally served in the U.S. military for over a decade, to do it.

New Rule Really About Restricting the Choices of Adults

At other times, the FDA drops the pretense of the regulations being about youth access all together. At one point in the rule (page 178), the FDA states that it agrees with the proposition that if premium cigars are exempt from the rule, “the current population of premium cigar users would be left unprotected, potentially decreasing the likelihood that they would quit.”

Further, in the FDA’s announcement, a quote from Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell specifically states that the aim of the rule goes far beyond children: “Today’s announcement is an important step in the fight for a tobacco-free generation.” So if anyone had any doubts that the FDA wants to totally eliminate tobacco, that statement by a cabinet-level appointee should erase them.

The irony is, even if the new rules were actually designed just to restrict use by minors, the grandfather date set by the legislation that empowered the FDA to regulate cigars means that, barring a sweeping act from Congress, there will always be pre-2007, non-FDA regulated tobacco products out there for lawbreaking minors to find ways to illegally acquire. Better enforcement of laws already on the books might fix that, but the regulations announced last week won’t.

Meanwhile, thousands of premium handmade cigars will be wiped off the market in just over two years, serving no purpose except to restrict the choices available to the adults who choose to enjoy them.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Book Review: The Cigar: Moments of Pleasure

9 May 2016

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Spectacular.

That is the only word I can think of to adequately describe this large-format, colorful book that explores every imaginable facet of cigars.

The Cigar: Moments of Pleasure is a book that could come only from someone who loves cigars, or, in this case, two people who love cigars. Morten Ehrhorn (writer) and Justin Hummerston (photographer) spent five years traveling the world to explore cigars, tobacco, and those who love them. Interestingly, the pair is based in Denmark, known in the tobacco world far more for its relationship to pipes than to cigars.

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But you’d have a difficult time finding a book with more or better cigar information. Far too many coffee-table books of all kinds are heavy on photographs and light on written material; far too many cigar books offer little more than a rehash of accepted wisdom and twice-told tales. Not so with The Cigar.

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The book is truly an exhaustive and extensive presentation. Sure, we’re all familiar with photos of fields in Pinar del Río, say, but how about a look at tobacco curing houses in Indonesia? In another spot, you’ll find six pages devoted to soil. Then there’s a meticulous exploration of the effects of nicotine on the brain, not to mention all the interesting tidbits throughout. Did you know, for example, that Cuban cigars are packaged in the box with the darker wrappers on the left side?

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In fact, I can’t think of any aspect of cigars that Enrhorn and Hummerston missed. The book is, literally, 312 pages of fascination.

For a cigar lover, simply opening the book is to be captivated, drawn in, and captured.

The Cigar: Moments of Pleasure is published by the award-winning Copenhagen firm Forlaget Enrhorn Hummerston and can be purchased on Amazon, as well as at online retailer Cigars International.

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You’ll also have a chance to win the review copy we received from the publisher in the coming weeks. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for details on that and other giveaways.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys