Yup there is still more from Pro Cigar. Thursday night everyone had the chance to have dinner with one of the cigar makers. I picked Manuel Quesada because I knew he would be releasing his 40th anniversary Quesada at the party. The food was wonderful and the cigar… certainly different, unlike anything I have ever seen.
The commemorative cigars will be limited. The picture does not give you the full effect but it is a 6.75” X 50 Salomon which is box pressed in the center to 33 ring gauge. It is basically flat in the center. Yet it does not affect the draw. The wrapper is a nice San Andres maduro. The other limited cigar is a box pressed Toro measuring 6 “ x 49. The blend will not be going away after this limited run, instead 3 cigars measuring 6” x 75, 6” x 54 and 5” x 52 will become part of the core Quesada line. Prices are going to run from about 8 to 13 dollars. They will begin shipping next month.
Friday at Pro Cigar was a tour of La Aurora and a luncheon with rum pairings with cigars. There was nearly a riot here. We simply did not have enough time. But the first cigar we had was the Family Reserve blend paired with Ron Barcelo Imperial. It was pleasant and a good pairing. But here is where things got dicey. The second pairing was a special commemorative version of the Imperial, a 30th anniversary rum finished in white oak and burgundy wine barrels. It was paired with the Black Diamond Perferido. The broadleaf wrapper really set off the rum and they were a perfect match. When we were told to put them down, about half way into the cigar… people were grumbling.
But the final pairing was the best yet. La Aurora had a special rum made by Barcelo to mark the cigar company’s 110th year and that rum was paired with an original release Cien Anos robusto from 2003. Alas we could not take our time to truly enjoy this remarkable pairing because there was still more to do. I was fortunate and able to catch a ride with Manuel Inoa, La Aurora’s master blender, so I didn’t have to get on the bus. It is good to know people.
Friday afternoon was a poker game to benefit charity, the top winner or last man standing got a free ride to next year’s Pro Cigar. Congrats to Carl Cheek, who got lucky.
Friday night, the finale was held at the Centro Espanol club in Santiago. Here about 750 people in all had dinner, listened to fantastic music and bid on items for charity. There were special boxes of cigars and even a humidor shaped like the city’s famous monument. In all, between the poker tournament and the auction, Pro Cigar raised about $80,000 for Voluntariado de Jesus con los Ninos ( a charity for children) and the Sociedad San Vicente de Paul ( a retirement home for low income seniors.)
Drew Estate, which recently added 60,000 square feet to its Esteli, Nicaragua facility, is now adding to what it distributes. The Royal Agio Cigars will come under Drew’s marketing for the United States starting in April. Drew, as most everyone knows makes and sells, Acid, MUWAT, Nica Rustica, and Undercrown among others like the Liga Privada #9 and other Liga blends. Royal Agio, on the other hand is not well known in the U-S. The company has been around for 110 years and is still family owned. It began in 1904 in the Netherlands with Jacques Wintermans as its founder and 4th generation Boris Wintermans now runs the company today. The company makes Panter, which is a small cigar along with Balmoral and Mehari’s.
Have you gotten it yet? You can always go here to see it. Now some people are talking about a new Partagas that is shipping soon… Heck we have it on the cover of the catalog. It is the Partagas 1845 Extra Oscuro. It uses a Habano Connecticut wrapper in oscuro color, meaning really dark, over a Dominican binder with Dominican , Honduran and Nicaraguan fillers. They should be in any day.
But the whole new catalog talks a lot about Partagas and check out my feature on Benji Menendez who just retired from General Cigar.
If you look closely at his hat, you’ll see it is a dinosaur. Benji says that hat symbolizes that he is a dinosaur. I tend not to agree but we had a great time catching up in Miami where Benji is recovering from eye surgery. Speaking of Benji, be sure to check out his Master Series of Partagas..
For all the partying that will be going on here in Santiago, there was also a pall that had been cast over the festivities. The Fuente family, which has seen its share of hardships over the years, suffered another huge loss just three weeks ago, two weeks before Pro Cigar. Carlos Suarez, the son of Cynthia Fuente and Wayne Suarez, nephew to Carlito, cousin to Liana and grandson of Carlos Fuente died following a traffic accident in his hometown of Tampa. He was 20. Way too young. Heartfelt condolences go out to the Fuentes and Suarez families.
The newly named Quesada Cigars has spiffed up its factory to showcase the new name which took effect January first. (The Quesada family had operated for years at MATASA for the manufacturing and SAG Imports for distribution in the U-S.)
The family released its 40th anniversary cigar at the festival but during the week the family was talking about the Ninfa. These were very special cigars but again small ring gauge…actually ridiculously small considering. There were only 600 of the cigars made and 12 retailers across the United States get one box of 50. The cigar uses the Quesada Espana blend and in a 7” x 33 it is virtualy impossible to make. Think about it there are 4 leaves in the filer in a 33-ring gauge! That was why the cigar is so limited. The cost for the Ninfas, if you can find them, is $13 each.
Still talking about small ring gauges, Monday, we had the chance to visit a non Pro Cigar factory, PDR Cigars in Tamboril.
Here is where Abe Flores makes about 4 million cigars a year. That is quite a lot and Abe would like to make more but he is flat out of space. Flores makes A. Flores, A. Flores Gran Reserva, PDR 1878, Pinar del Rio for his own brands along with cigars for others such as the highly rated Gurhka 125th and the La Palina Classico blends. He also makes cigars for Kristoff and others.
One of the things about Flores is that he is not going with the trend for huge ring gauges and huge lengths. He says, “Big ring gauges lose some of the mystique of the cigar. While they may last all night, you often lose a lot of the flavor.”
To that end, Flores has released the highly successful half corona in the Gran Reserva line. They come in boxes of 50 or tins of 5. They are a 3.5” x 46 size at about $5. For his next trick, he will be bringing out a terrific small batch cigar using what he calls a Cubra Habano wrapper and measuring 6” x 38. Yup, 38 ring gauge. The cost will be between $7 to $8.... and they should be out this summer.
Flores shares some of his space with Jochi Blanco who stores tobacco in the building but Abe says in the next few weeks, Jochi will be building another facility in the free zone to be able to store his tobacco and Abe hopes that will free up space so by the end of the year he can really increase capacity.
Speaking of Jochi, his cousin Jose Blanco is another name from the industry, known for years as the sales guru for La Aurora and then after his retirement in 2011 he moved to Joya de Nicaragua for two years. Not one to stay idle for long, Blanco, back in the Dominican Republic, is now developing his own line of cigars, Señorial by Jose Blanco. His new company is Las Cumbres Tabaco. The cigars will be made in his cousin Jochi Blanco’s factory—Tabacalera La Palma. Jochi’s factory is also home to Boutique Blends whose Aging Room Quattro F55 Concerto scored number 2 cigar of the year for 2013 in CA.
Blanco has always wanted to make his own cigar. It was something he often talked about while at La Aurora and while at Joya de Nicaragua, he collaborated with factory owner Alejandro Martinez Cuenca on the Cuenca y Blanco but after a conflict in the name became the CyB.
According to Jose, Señorial by Jose Blanco will come in 5 sizes 5.5’ X 46, 5.25” X 52, , 6.25” X 52 figurado, 6” X 54 and a 6” X 60. There is no word on pricing and the blend is not even finished, although Jose says he has narrowed it down to one of two finalists. Jose is making the cigar at cousin Jochi’s factory. He hopes to have the cigars out by summer.
As the first official day of Pro Cigar in Santiago, the day was spent with a tour of the General Cigar factory. It was one of way too many options that were presented to me but I figured what the hell.
Spent much of the day with Jhonys Diaz, the man who is head of operations for General. Often, the company will give us a special cigar for the evening dinner and Wednesday night was no exception. It was not a new cigar but the Benji Homage, a special cigar made to honor Benji Menendez who retired from the company at the end of last year.
The Homage is a limited edition of 15,000 cigars released at Benji’s retirement party at Club Macanudo in New York. It is a 6.5” x 54 using an OSA wrapper with a broadleaf binder and Nicaraguan and Dominican fillers.
In talking with Jhonys and Ernest Gocaj—General’s director of tobacco procurement—both expressed a fear of running out of tobacco…eventually. General has a huge stockpile of leaf and is working to keep it that way, but they both noted that more and more of the younger people are turning away from the farms of their parents and thinking about taking jobs in the city, wearing a suit and working in an office rather than the hard work necessary for growing tobacco. Couple that with these bigger ring gauge cigars which take more tobacco and while all the companies are trying to grow more, there are fewer people wanting that arduous life of a tobacco farmer. It could be a challenge in the future, and in the meantime it may continue to drive prices higher as tobacco prices increase.
At the international press conference, Pro Cigar announced that there are about 280 attendees for the day events and the night dinners will reach around 600. Overall, the ten members were optimistic about the future of the Dominican cigar industry. Pro Cigar President Henke Kelner said the Dominican cigar industry is still growing. Hans-Kristian Hoejesgaard of Davidoff noted that the industry grew about 3-4% worldwide for the country. He also expects new opportunities in Europe this year since the EU has ended the favored nation status for Cuba, meaning the higher taxes imposed on Dominican cigars will now apply to the Cuban product as well. For the Pro Cigar members this removes a huge price advantage for Cuban cigars and allows them to compete on a level playing field in Europe.
However he said in the last minutes of last year, the EU set up new tobacco directives which would mandate new warnings inside cigar boxes and require the companies to track and trace all components to cigars. Ostensibly the track and trace component is designed to combat counterfeit or bootlegged cigarettes, but the EU noted that while initially affecting cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco it would eventually cover all tobacco products like cigars. Pro Cigar is concerned because the regulations could mandate from which farm the tobacco originated, where was it cured, what is the nicotine content….many regulations meant to kill the industry by thousands of paper cuts. It could also mean smaller manufacturers would not be able to compete with larger companies due to the cost of these regulatory burdens. The new rules do not take effect for 8 years and Pro Cigar will be lobbying the EU to try to mitigate the damage.
The end of the day was a tough assignment…a scotch and cigar pairing presented by David Savona and Jack Bettridge of Cigar Aficionado. (Several of the Pro Cigar members are fans of whiskey, in fact the idea for this particular seminar came from Litto Gomez of La Flor Dominicana. In previous festivals, cigars have been paired with coffee, wine and rum.)
The scotches were a 12 year old Glenfiddich, a 12 year old Cardhu and a 10 year old Talisker paired with a Don Julio Punta Especial and an H. Upmann 1844 Reserve which got a top 25 cigar of the year last year.
The general consensus was that the lighter Cardhu and the heavier Tallisker were tough to pair with the cigars, yet still a good match. The panel and most of the participants preferred the Glenfiddich with the Don Julio and the Upmann.
Pro Cigar is going on this week in the Dominican Republic. It is the annual festival that celebrates Cigar Country, the Dominican Republic, which is the largest exporter of premium cigars to the United States. As of October, the D.R. has sent over 112-million cigars into the US this year. (Nicaragua is second with 85-million.) With the festival there will undoubtedly be a launch or at least an announcement of some new products. But even before that, there is new stuff heading out shortly.
Ernesto Perez-Carrillo who joined Pro Cigar last year with his factory Tabacalera La Allianza, will be releasing a couple of new things. One is a short run of the Inch to be shipped in the next week or so. The 2014 Inch short run will be a medium to full cigar using a Dominican Corojo ’06 wrapper, over Nicaraguan Corojo ‘99 binder and Nicaraguan and Dominican fillers. They will come in 3 sizes, a 5.975” x 60, 5” x 62 and the inch itself which is 6.125” x 64. Pricing will be from $8.50 to $11.
The second thing out of the factory is a special alliance between two friends and two companies -- EPC and Foundry Cigar Company (a division of General Cigar). The project reunites Michael Giannini with Ernesto. Giannini was hired by Ernesto to be the sales manager for La Gloria Cubana.
But he started right as Ernesto sold his company to Swedish Match and then later became part of General Cigar. In 2009, Ernesto left General to found EPC while Giannini stayed on running La Gloria initially, then becoming General’s Creative Director and the founder of Foundry—General’s company within a company.
The two have remained friends over the past 5 years and now, according to Cigar Aficionado, they have come up with a joint project.
Both Giannini and Perez-Carrillo are staying in their current positions at their respective companies, but they have joined forces to create a limited-edition smoke called Re+United. The cigar is made with tobaccos from both men, and is the result of their working and blending together, just like the old days.
"This is all about friends getting together and having fun," said Giannini.
Perez-Carrillo says the two saw each other at the Gran Alamirante Hotel in Santiago a while back and they thought it would be a great idea to work together again. Says Ernesto, “Back in around 2000, I bought 800 bales of Piloto Cubano from the 1998 crop when I was with General. I asked Michael if General still had any of it left and it still had some. I knew I wanted to use that tobacco again. And the project has been fun because Michael has eveoled over the past 5 years since I left General.” Adding, “5 years down the road we both have matured.”
The cigar will be limited (1,500 boxes of 10) and come in only one size, 6.5” x 54. The wrapper comes from General’s huge library of tobaccos and is an 8th priming Ecuador Havana leaf grown by Oliva Tobacco. The binder is Connecticut broadleaf from Perez-Carrillo’s stockpile with fillers from Nicaragua and the Dominican Piloto from General. The cigar was made at Ernesto’s factory and will be marketed by his company. The cigars are done - all they need now are the boxes. Ernesto hope to be able to ship in the next few weeks.
Excalibur lives on
A couple of weeks ago, I told you about General Cigar dropping the Excalibur Legend series, it is also cutting No V , No VI and No VII all in Maduro and the Banquets in the aluminum tubes. But the company is coming out with a couple of new Excaliburs. The 660 Natural is the first Gigante from Excalibur and will come in a 20 count regular box and a smaller 10 count box in tubes. Judging from its name the 660 will be a 6” x 60 Excalibur and will retail for $7.79 each. The other new addition is the Short Crystal measuring 5.25” x50 with a price of $7.49.
So the rest of the week will be spent with the cigar makers in the Dominican Republic. Many of the Pro Cigar attendees are in La Romana now, visiting the huge Altadis factory. The official kickoff is Tuesday night. I’ll be bringing you more as stuff happens.
Last week, you may have remembered the new study on third hand smoke. I knew something was not right with that one and actually had forgotten that when the bid went in for the research, the good “scientists” at UC Riverside had given away the game. They came up with their conclusions BEFORE even getting the grant. They start innocently enough.
"The goal of this application is to determine the effects of Third Hand Smoke on wound healing. ... It is known that first-hand smoke and secondhand smoke (SHS) inhibit wound healing but nothing is known about the effects of third-hand smoke (THS) on wound healing.”
Ok so little is known about third hand smoke…(cuz it doesn’t exist) but that does not stop the valiant researchers…
“…these studies will also help adult smokers understand that their family members are severely affected if they undergo surgery and return to a THS-polluted environment because their healing process will not only be altered but will also be significantly delayed... the proposed work will benefit the public by providing a better understanding of the cause of impaired healing among individuals who are constantly exposed to Third Hand Smoke, i.e. smokers themselves, children and elderly parents in households of smokers, waiters and waitresses in bars and housekeepers in hotels or houses of smokers."
That research scored a quarter of a million dollar grant in 2010. But they aren’t done. Last year, the same group studying the same subject scored another $434,000. Why?
“… they will provide regulatory agencies with the experimental evidence to formulate and enforce policies to reduce exposure of infants, children, adults, elderly and workers in indoor environments where smoking occurs.”
So they already made up the conclusion that third hand smoke exists and is toxic without doing research. Oh and you can see where this is headed… no smoking anywhere because of the third hand smoke.
Dr. Michael Siegel—a common sense tobacco control advocate—says this is ridiculous.
This story demonstrates how low the integrity of research in the tobacco control movement has sunk. In today's tobacco control movement, we can draw conclusions before even conducting research because we are apparently capable of predicting the results of our experiments before they are carried out.
Siegel says it is making a mockery out of the tobacco control movement. Yup they continually beclown themselves.
The big news last week was drug store CVS’s decision to stop selling tobacco. That was a decision the company made, not San Francisco nor Boston. Good for them, although CVS will stand to lose about $2-billion dollars in revenue because of it. Now the thing is, most media outlets are only talking about the cigarette aspect, but the company is also dropping cigars, snuff and chewing tobacco. No word on e-cigs yet.
Why are they doing it? Well it could be a marketing decision, or they may see the writing on the wall when cities like Boston and San Francisco pass laws outlawing it.
As CVS CEO Larry Merlo put it: “We've come to the conclusion that cigarettes have no place in a setting where health care is being delivered.”
The new ban goes into effect October 1st. But it does raise a question from Brad Rodu, who is a professor of medicine at the University of Louisville.
If CVS embraced this thinking storewide, it would yield to abstinence-only advocates and stop selling condoms, promoting penicillin sales instead. That would be one more win for Big Pharma, and another loss for rational and science-based policies.
If you are in Kentucky, you had better get busy. House Bill 173 has cleared a House committee and the supporters say it is gaining momentum.
House Bill 173 would forbid lighting up at work and indoor public places — including restaurants and bars —where advocates say non-smokers are exposed to the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. It would ban electronic cigarettes the same as regular smokes.
Of course it would.
Rep. Tim Moore, a Republican from Elizabethtown who opposed the measure Thursday, said that while he prefers to patronize businesses that prohibit smoking, people should be responsible for their own choices.
Exactly right. Flood the state house with calls opposing this ban in Kentucky, home of Fire Cured Tobacco now used in the MUWAT KFC, George Rico’s American Puro and Sam Leccia’s Black label.
I neglected to mention the new addition to Drew Estate. The company built a new 60-thousand square foot building right across the street from their factory in Esteli and moved in a couple of weeks ago. It took them only 3 days to move all the company’s tobacco into it.
The new building, which cost about $4 million dollars and is called DE2, houses the company’s pre-industry facilities, meaning it is where all the leaves are processed. Before, the company had a bunch of bodegas scattered around Esteli and even over in Jalapa because they simply did not have room within the 96-thousand square foot factory. (They had been storing around 15-thousand bales in the factory as it was.) In fact, according to co-founder Marvin Samel, the company was up against the wall in terms of cigar production making about 95,000 long filler cigars daily. Now after having moved the tobacco out of the factory and the other bodegas, the company should be able to increase production by about 15% this year. They have been planning on this move and the opening of additional space in the factory adding more pairs of rollers. That means more production of Acid, Undercrown, Nica Rustica and Willy Herrera Esteli. Alas, it will not mean more production of the popular Liga Privadas because they are still up against a limit on the tobacco they need for those cigars.
Fifty years ago, the Beatles landed at JFK and forever changed the face of music. I remember being two months away from my eighth birthday, sitting at the kitchen table while the news was on in my home. In those days, suppertime meant you watched the news… period (and god help you if you changed the channel before the weather report)! It was all just background noise for this fat kid to negotiate another Jewish brown cuisine meal lovingly served by my mother. On February 7, 1963, my young life changed forever. Ignoring the news as usual, I saw my parents curiously proceed into the living room to watch the segment broadcasting four shaggy-haired guys with douchey Pan Am bags walking down the ramp of their plane, which had just landed in New York. My dad, being the cantankerous conservative curmudgeon that he is, was saying something to the effect of, “Look at these freaks! They look like girls with that hair!” On the other hand, my liberal kind of cool mom was fixated on the screen with a smile on her face as she tried to figure out why she thought these guys were hot! And within two minutes, little fat me wanted to be just like them… and I hadn’t even heard one of their songs yet!
The music scene in the late ’50s and early ’60s was a bland one at best. Record companies manufactured teen idols like Fabian, Bobbie Rydell, and Frankie Avalon that were high on style but very low on substance. Their hair was neat and their outfits average; they looked like prep-school boys off at their first day of school, and these American teen idols ruled the airwaves. And in my house, it was even more severe: I was stuck listening to Dad’s Perry Como and Buck Owens records! I knew Mom would be more receptive, as she could often be heard saying, “Murray turn off your music already. Mutual of Omaha is starting!”
When the Beatles landed in New York, they had an immediate impact. Although their records were already being played by radio stations around the country, this was America’s first chance to put a face to the sounds. They were different with their long hair and footwear that soon became known as “Beatle Boots.” They played their own instruments and, more importantly, wrote their own songs—great, great songs (which I still hadn’t heard up to this point). It’s a fact that, in this era, not many kids at my age listened to music… unlike today where six-year-old kids are already hitting the iTunes download button!
Two days later, they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show for their first live TV broadcast, which was watched by approximately 74 million people—over 40% of the American population (as per Wikipedia). On the show, Sullivan, in his corpselike stoicism, presents them as “these youngsters who call themselves the Beatles,” and then introduces them by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen… the Beat-les,” much like he’d he says it the same way he would Harry and his dancing Chihuahuas. Ed’s next words are completely drowned out by the collective (and horrifyingly shrill) sound of teen girls who sounded as if they were being chased down the road with a chainsaw!
Correction: Actually 73.5 million people viewed this event. After their first note, my father babbled words like shit, crap, and garbage, and then retreated to the bedroom to avoid what he proclaimed “hideous noise.” Mom and I, on the other hand, were mesmerized! Dad began his decade-long tirade about how this younger generation is destroying our country, every sentence beginning with, “When I was your age... blah-blah-blah.”
Then there was an immediate phenomenon of people, without haste, picking their favorite Beatle; mine was George (my first man-crush). As a side note, this led to my current infatuation with Wolf Blitzer (I’m getting counseling for this), and Mom joined the majority of women who swooned over—you guessed it—Paul (my dad must have felt so hurt that Buck Owens never got the same recognition. But this was a man who worked for the US government, fought in the Korean War, and sported nothing longer than a crew cut. He did mellow out in his later years: one day while accompanying him on a trip to Pep Boys, I heard him humming to a Peter, Paul, and Mary song on his car radio… but as usual, I digress!)
What happened next was like snowflake turning into an avalanche! By April of 1964, the Beatles held 12 positions on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, including the top five spots. Neither feat has been matched by any other artist to date. The top five songs were Can’t Buy Me Love, Twist and Shout, She Loves You, I Want to Hold Your Hand, and Please Please Me. Absolutely incredible!
They went on to become the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed acts and were quickly followed by the other rock-band giant, the Rolling Stones, and this was just the beginning of a profound musical renaissance as hundreds of other amazing bands soon hit the charts.
Just a thought… maybe we should make February 7 a national holiday? Why, you ask? Well, this band spawned more kids’ desire to pick up a guitar and start writing their own songs than any other band in the world. This band changed how music was written. This band changed how a band should look. This band changed the social landscape. This band was a revolution. Plus, any holiday is an opportunity for another Toyotathon and door buster event at Macy’s.
On a personal note, if it wasn’t for the Beatles, I would have never been fortunate enough to have lived through the most revolutionary and creative era in music history… even at the expense of my grandmother calling me a dirty hippy-dippy-yippy for about 10 straight years (and I still don’t have a friggin’ clue what a “dippy” is).
So, thank you John, Paul, George and Ringo, for the massive gift you gave to the world. Thanks, lads.