Quick Smoke: CLE Chele Robusto

8 Jan 2017

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.”

chele-1

This new offering from Christian Eiroa is a box-pressed beauty partially wrapped in tissue paper with a striking blue and silver band. The blend is an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper around Nicaraguan filler and binder, creating more pepper and kick—and more smoking interest—than might typically be expected of a Connecticut cigar. Construction and smoke production in the Robusto (5 x 50) was excellent. It’s a tasty treat, well worth the list price of around $7.

Verdict = Buy.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Drew Estate

Quick Smoke: Dunhill Aged Maduro Short Robusto

7 Jan 2017

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.”

dunhill-maduro

This new Dunhill line—the brand’s first maduro—was introduced last summer in three sizes. The extremely dark wrapper encloses what distributor General Cigar calls “the classic Dunhill Aged blend” of Dominican leaves. If you’re a maduro fan, you’ll almost certainly enjoy the characteristic flavors of coffee, cocoa, and tobacco sweetness with a little added kick. It’s especially one to consider by those in colder climes seeking a quicker winter smoke. The drawback is the $10.45 price, but you’ll find boxes of 10 online at less than $6.50 per stick.

Verdict = Buy.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Stogie Guys Friday Sampler No. 512

6 Jan 2017

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.

sindustry

1) Black Label Trading Co. yesterday announced the upcoming release of Sindustry, a three-vitola blend that sports a Mexican San Andrés wrapper around Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. The brand will be part of the Black Works Studio (BLK WKS) portfolio, which also includes the Killer Bee, Green Hornet, NBK, and Rorschach lines. It is made at Black Label’s Fabrica Oveja Negra factory in Estelí. “I’m very excited about our first Limited Edition at BLK WKS,” said Black Label Trading Co. creator James Brown. “Sindustry is a big, bold, badass smoke. The flavor profile is very unique with flavors of black currant, clove, and coco paired with the rich earthiness of the San Andrés wrapper.” Each of the three sizes—Robusto, Toro, and Lancero—will be available in February. They will retail in the $9.50 to $10 range.

2) Tickets are on sale now for Big Smoke Miami, which will be held at the Fontainbleau Hotel in Miami Beach on Friday, April 7. The entrance fee is $325, and the event runs from 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM (you can get in 60 minutes earlier by paying an extra $50). Included in the price is the opportunity to visit with at least 25 premium cigar makers, drinks, food, and, of course, cigars. That said, Cigar Aficionado, the host of the event, notes “smoking is permitted in all outdoor areas of the hotel.” So it is not yet entirely clear if attendees will be able to smoke on the event floor, which is presumably indoors.

3) Also on sale now are tickets for The Great Smoke, an annual event put on by the Palm Beach-based retailer Smoke Inn. The $150 ticket gets you a commemorative bag with goodies, 45 cigars, and a wide selection of fine food, wine, spirits, and beer. Additionally, you can secure tickets to the pre-event dinner, hosted the night before at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, and a day-after brunch.

4) From the Archives: Our interviews archive features numerous conversations with well-known (and not so well-known) interesting people associated with the cigar industry. In one of our earliest interviews (going way back to 2007), we spoke with Michael Fayerverger, the general manager of one of the most famous cigar destinations in the world, Casa Fuente.

5) Deal of the Week: Cigar enthusiasts seeking a great deal should check out this clearance on Thunder by Nimish, part of the Rocky Patel line. All boxes of 20 are being blown out at the discount price of just $66, bringing the per-cigar cost down to $3.30. But don’t wait too long; this deal is sure to sell out quickly.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Black Label Trading Co.

News: Small Cigar Brands Face Potential 2017 FDA Death Spiral

4 Jan 2017

FDA-cigars-large

Cigar companies have a big problem. Nearly every business decision they make is impacted by FDA regulations, but the full details of those regulations haven’t yet been determined.

The 499-page deeming regulation finalized last spring officially took effect August 8. While that document provides an outline for the agency’s intentions, it leaves out many important compliance details. Even where guidance documents have been issued, the standards laid out in those documents are not legally binding (i.e., they can be changed at any time). And many other critical questions have not been addressed at all.

The resulting unpredictable cost of compliance is a serious issue for all cigar makers. The burden hits smaller brands the hardest, however, because they are least able to cope with such uncertainty. While FDA user fees are distributed proportionally according to each company’s market share, the unknown cost of successfully applying for FDA approval for a particular tobacco product will effectively be the same whether the company sells a few hundred units per year, or hundreds of thousands of units.

In a recent discussion of the ongoing process of complying with the FDA, Skip Martin of RoMa Craft Tobac described the problem cigar makers big and small face: “What we don’t know is how much that [Substantial Equivalence approval] process will cost us. We don’t know the details of what a substantial equivalence process will look like because there has never been one approved for a cigar ever.”

Even as the FDA delays many deadlines, small companies face tough choices. With product registration deadlines fast approaching, companies have to decide how much to invest in such registrations. Assuming the worst and providing numerous highly detailed registrations may maximize the likelihood of the registrations being approved. But it also increases the costs.

While the cost of gaining FDA approval—most likely through the Substantial Equivalence (SE) pathway, or by being a grandfathered pre-2007 product—is the biggest future hurdle, even the documentation needed for registration carries substantial costs, especially for a small company. Something seemingly as simple as who qualifies as a domestic manufacturer is unclear under the FDA regulations. Cigars may be rolled abroad, but what packaging changes within the United States qualify a brand as a domestic manufacturer?

That is an open question. The answer holds serious implications for the future business prospects of a company.

In the same conversation about the FDA process, attorney Frank Herrera, who represents dozens of cigar companies, gave a most lawyerly answer about whether or not you should register: “If you think you might be [required to register now], do it, list it.” In terms of maximizing the odds of complying with the FDA, Herrera is, of course, correct. For a small company operating on thin profit margins already, though, these costs could be prohibitive, or at least partially unnecessary.

Compliance with the FDA isn’t the only hurdle cigar makers and importers face. Retailers are liable if they sell a non-compliant product. This means retailers—especially large online and catalog sellers—are making buying decisions based on who appears likely (or not) to comply with all FDA regulations. Reports are already surfacing that retailers are cutting back on purchases of cigars they doubt will be on the market in two years.

So even before any deadlines pass, small cigar makers face a dilemma: Not spending money now on FDA compliance to show retailers you are likely to be on the market in two or three years means lost sales today, and those sales today may be the difference between having the funds or not to successfully pursue Substantial Equivalence in the future.

Meanwhile, with it totally unknown exactly how much a successful SE application will cost, continuing to sink money today into a process that ultimately may be cost prohibitive could itself be a fatal business decision. If a cigar maker runs the numbers and decides the volume of sales of product don’t warrant the currently unknown cost of investing in FDA approval, they risk that product being seen by retailers as a “zombie cigar” (destined to be killed off soon by the FDA).

When it comes to complying with costly regulations, larger companies with deep pockets are always better able to deal with the uncertainty. For boutique brands sold in smaller quantities, those costs represent a much higher percentage of their operating costs. As deadlines approach this year, smaller companies face impossible decisions with the fate of their businesses at stake.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Illusione 88

2 Jan 2017

illusione-88

This is the cigar that got the Illusione brand off the ground. In 2004, Dion Giolito—today well-known throughout the industry for his height, unique hairstyle, obsession with conspiracy theories, and cigar blending abilities—opened a cigar shop in Reno. Shortly thereafter, with assistance from Pete Johnson of Tatuaje fame, he bought 50 boxes of robustos that would become his house blend. He called the cigar “88,” commemorating the year he moved to Nevada, and named the brand Illusione.

illusione“Illusione sounded like an inside secret,” Giolito recently told Cigar Aficionado. “An indie cigar for people part of an inner circle. Plus, the word Illusione sounded nice. Very European.” Today, all the cigars in the original Illusione lineup (also known as Original Documents) have unique names that refer to Giolito’s faith, a significant year in his life, or his favorite numbers at the craps table.

Illusione debuted at the 2006 industry trade show within the Tatuaje booth. At the time, the cigars were crafted in Honduras at the Raices Cubanas factory; production has since moved to the TABSA factory in Nicaragua, where the five-pack of 88s I smoked for this review were made.

This well-made robusto (5 x 52) retails for about $8 and is notably heavy in the hand due to its tight packing of Nicaraguan tobaccos. At first glance, the cigar has a rustic appeal, though the quality is evident. The clean, milk chocolate-colored wrapper has tight seams, minimal veins, and a fine, toothy surface. There is a floral pre-light scent, and the triple-cap clips cleanly to reveal a smooth cold draw. The simple, thin, black and white ring band is very loosely applied; it can be slipped off the cigar easily.

Once an even light is established, an oily, rich, medium-bodied taste emerges with a core of dry wood, cinnamon, white pepper, cocoa powder, and traces of leather. The finish is characterized by a floral sweetness, and the texture is simultaneously airy and a bit sandy. After a half inch or so, a delightful creamy nuttiness comes to the fore. Coffee and mint join in around the midway mark. The finale reminds me of oily coffee beans with a gentle cayenne heat.

The 88’s combustion properties are imperfect but not troublesome. Each of my five samples required some touch-ups along the way to stay lit and burning evenly. The gray ash is flaky, yet it manages to hold well off the foot. Smoke production is above average.

We interviewed Giolito in 2008, when Illusione was still young. Then, he told us the greatest challenge in creating a brand was “dealing with all of the liars. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in this side of the business it’s that everybody lies—farmers, factory owners, managers, etc. My biggest challenge has been to get my ideals and approach across to these guys without them cutting corners every time the cat’s away. Sometimes the leaf you choose is mysteriously not the leaf that goes into the cigar. I’ve refused entire orders because of one component. I need to be able to look someone in the eye when they ask me what my favorite cigar is and tell them it’s the one I make. I don’t want to be the guy that makes a cigar and smokes someone else’s. There are a lot of those guys out there.”

While a lot has changed since 2008, Giolito’s passion for excellence still comes through in the 88. This is a flavorful, satisfying, well-balanced robusto, and I think Illusione’s trademark floral sweetness comes through particularly well in this format. The Illusione 88 earns a very respectable rating of four stogies out of five.

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

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Crowned Heads Las Mareas Olas

1 Jan 2017

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.”

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Stealthily released earlier this year, Las Mareas by Crowned Heads is a Nicaraguan puro produced by My Father Cigars. This corona gorda (6.1 x 46) runs about $9 and fearures a Corojo wrapper, likely from My Father’s Nicaraguan farms. The blend is a straightforward, balanced, and enjoyable mix of roasty wood, leather, and light spice. It is a distinctly unique blend from most of the cigars produced at My Father, though the same excellent construction you’d expect.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

 

Quick Smoke: Davidoff Escurio Petit Robusto

31 Dec 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.”

escurio

Davidoff is as inextricably linked to the Dominican Republic as it is to super-premium luxury and high price tags. In recent years, however, the brand—crafted by industry legend Hendrik “Henke” Kelner—has ventured to other soils, namely Nicaragua and Brazil. In 2015, Davidoff launched the Brazilian-themed Escurio, which boasts an Ecuadorian Habano-seed wrapper, a Brazilian Cubra binder, and a filler blend that includes Mata Fina and Cubra tobaccos from Brazil paired with Dominican leaves. The Petit Robusto (3.25 x 50) retails for about $8 and is notable for its short-format, condensed delivery of a spicy, complex profile of black pepper, espresso, natural tobacco, oak, and earthy mustiness. Construction is absolutely perfect and the smoke production is voluminous and rich. It’s a delicious, intense indulgence that won’t leave you disappointed.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys