It happens all of the time—a smoker buys a box of premium cigars because a friend recommended them, or because he read a review, listened to a salesperson, or, in the worst-case scenario, liked the picture of the Corona-smoking elephant on the box. Beginners and seasoned herfers alike agree that it takes time to find your perfect brand. Early in my career, when I donned the now-defunct green JR apron and hustled stogies all day, many of our regular customers, several of whom had been smoking since the Garfield administration, still couldn’t find a stinkin’ cigar that they liked!
Sadly, sometimes a cigar that you enjoyed for years suddenly becomes unsmokable due to various reasons (perhaps your medication has made your go-to stogie taste like olive loaf?). Every so often, the quality of a once-reliable stick goes down the crapper. Or, after many years of romancing Ol’ Reliable, you simply just got sick of it. These, my frustrated friends, are good reasons to look into ordering a premium-cigar sampler pack to jump-start your taste buds.
Cigar samplers are sold in packs of various sizes and, most of the time, these packs are sorted by type, country of origin, flavor, or wrapper color, and offered in numerous ways, including gift sets, wood boxes, plastic zipper bags, and, on rare occasions, wooden travel humidors. If a manufacturer is heavily promoting a product, you’ll probably also get some kind of free swag, such as an ashtray, cutter, lighter, and/or other stuff that you really don’t need, but are probably thrilled to get; heck, free is always good! Be forewarned though: if you need a new toaster oven or pair of pajamas, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
If you are buying cigars for a friend, or you want to upgrade Uncle Benny, whose cheap stinkers smell like the Elephant Pavilion at the Bronx Zoo on a hot day, you may want to take some time to find out the general type of cigar that the recipient likes. Once you target someone’s strength preference, you’ll find that the following very popular JR samplers are excellent examples of gift presentation. (What? Did you think I was going to write a whole blog without plugging our stuff? Too bad, I got bills to pay!)
Altadis 10-Cigar Dominican Sampler (Mild to Medium Assortment)
Medium Money-Saver Sampler (Medium Bodied Assortment)
Octet of Nica-Goodness (Full Bodied Assortment)
Let us say, for example, that not one living soul has a clue what Murray the barber smokes, and thus, the above list is unhelpful. Then just take a guess and get him a well-known, top-quality sampler featuring premium cigars that every smoker has heard of like H.Upmann, Macanudo, Montecristo, etc. However, you may want to push forward and keep up the detective work; maybe some friend or family member has overheard Uncle Benny praising a cigar brand other than the dog-rockets he buys at the same gas station where he gets his sushi! It’s not worth the effort, you say? Then just stop reading this blog, and get the son of a bitch an ugly tie!
I’m sorry, but I have no tolerance for laziness and disdain from shoppers buying cigars as presents. You see, we aficionados love cigars as much as life itself; like the tasting of a fine wine, smoking a cigar is an occasion unto itself. We inspect the cigar with all of our senses. How does it feel? How does it smell? How does it taste? Starting from one little seed, the well-aged cigar that sits in our collective mouth has made a journey that has taken it halfway around the world…and, still, many regard it as simply a smelly bad habit? Bastards.
On the retail side of the biz, yours truly witnessed thousands of spouses, family members, and friends stumble into our store, often holding their noses, (yes, I’ve seen this many times) and buy the first inexpensive smoke they see without any thoughts of pleasing the poor cigar lover on the receiving end. Sadly, this is just a nuisance purchase to them. Meanwhile we cigar smokers actually take the time to buy the folks on our lists something special without passing judgment. And if you’ve ever tried to negotiate a fragrance department during the holiday season without collapsing from the pungently complex aromas of a French whorehouse, you will know what I’m talking about. (Sorry for the rant, for the billionth time, I digress!)
Once a person has gone through one or more premium sampler packs, he or she will have a better idea of which cigars to purchase in the future. These packs make ideal Christmas, Chanukah, birthday, Kwanzaa, Passover, and “Congratulations on being discharged from the mental hospital!” gifts, appreciated by novice, experienced, and psychologically unstable smokers alike.
Many times, finding that perfect cigar never completely happens. And, after all, who says you have to stick with one brand? Does anyone eat pickled herring every single night for dinner? (Okay, maybe that was a bad example, but you know what I mean.) The discovery of new brands, sizes, shapes, and wrapper colors is what makes this wonderful hobby so enjoyable! Here at good old JR Cigar, we always have tons of diverse samplers available. And, other than constantly buying single after single, is there a better, more fun, and more affordable way to discover the fascinating world of premium handmade cigars? You can bet your ash there ain’t!
So “sample up” today and have some fun!
To say we are currently in a major cigar renaissance would be an understatement. It seems that a new premium offering is hitting the shelves every Tuesday (sarcasm)! Now that would be a bad thing if they were all a bunch of dog rockets but, damn, just about every new brand lately has been a winner. The only tough part about this new boutique invasion is trying to decide which one to smoke. In addition, this new generation of cigarmakers always seems to have a soulful and esoteric story behind their latest creation. For example:
“Juan Shapiro Cigars is the story of one man’s journey through the murky streets of Memphis where his love of death-metal music, Twinkies, and the Dalai Lama gave him the vision to create a cigar like no other!”
Oy vey! It sure was a lot easier buying cigars in the old days when elderly Cuban-born, guayabera-clad cigarmakers with hands dyed brown by the leaf that they rolled just created a blend because it tasted good, end of story!
But don’t go by me; I’m just a crotchety old fart who is bitter because he gave away two houses and now resides in a one-bedroom apartment with two neurotic dogs, and is always losing his reading glasses. In fact, it’s good that the industry is filled with glamour these days and, yes, these new young guns with a poignant story behind their sticks are really cranking out some good product! Perhaps old Sigmund was wrong; maybe a cigar is not just a cigar anymore. Who cares what he thought anyway? Freudian theory revolves around the notion that the unconscious mind’s governing behavior is directly related to donuts and penises, that sick bastard!
Now that I wasted 10 minutes of your life that you will never get back, I’m going to tell you why I wrote this farkakte blog. So, if anyone is still there, sit back on your favorite recliner or toilet seat (or reclining toilet seat) and read on; I promise it gets better!
General Cigar Company is proud to present a legendary marque’s first new release in years: the Punch Signature, a cigar that pays homage to the brand’s famous 175-year history while presenting a bold new look and feel especially created for the modern smoker.
Let me tell ya, this cigar is simply stunning to look at. A band that features retro turn-of-the-century artwork sits on top of a chocolate-brown Ecuadorian Corojo wrapper that is just shimmering with oil. Grown between two volcanic mountains in the fertile Los Rios Provence of Ecuador, these tobaccos deliver a slow burn, unique taste profile, and wonderful aroma. For those looking for a smoke that is truly one of a kind, this cigar’s exclusive leaf is a first in the industry, and has never appeared on any other!
Under the hood, specially aged Nicaraguan and Dominican long fillers complete the blend and stay true to the medium-to-full-bodied Punch experience.
Beyond the aesthetics and amazing build quality, this puppy is jam-packed with flavor! In order to enjoy all of its Honduran goodness for this review, I smoked the 6 x 60 Punch Signature Gigante.
Upon lighting this beast, my palate was served a blast of spice, which soon gave way to an unparalleled complexity highlighted by leather, cedar, cinnamon, and spice notes, plus the added bonus of a lingering butterscotch taste on the tongue that was lip-smackin’ good. Much to my delight, these flavors stayed true right down to my final puff.
So, where can you buy the fabulous Punch Signature? Duh, JR Cigar, of course! Do you really think I would to send you to the competition? If I did, I would lose this job and at 60 years old, the best I could hope for would be a thankless position greeting odd-looking people at the local Wally Mart (or maybe a male stripper at my Aunt Sadie’s nursing home, but I’d probably hurt my back sliding down the pole. However, as usual I digress).
Order yourself a box of the new full-bodied Punch Signature Honduran cigars today—you can thank us later! In fact, they are so darn tasty that I’m going to smoke another one just as soon as the cramps from my breakfast burrito wear off.
It is a rare occurrence in this industry when you meet someone with not only a limitless knowledge of tobacco, but also the creativity and innovation to make his cigars completely unique. This is the case of legendary Pete Johnson, who began working with Pepin Garcia in crafting his famed Tatuaje line way back in 2003. Tatuaje cigars have received universal acclaim not only because they are outstanding smokes, but be also because of the ingenuity and distinct look to the brand: modern and cool, yet sleek and simple.
When Pete felt he had reached his limit with the Tatuaje line, he looked to expand his portfolio and, in 2012, he created L’Atelier Imports, a line of high quality and limited quantity. Like all of his previous endeavors, the L’Atelier has achieved great success and critical acclaim. This brings us to his most recent addition to the L’Atelier line; The Surrogates. Wishing to create a series of powerful cigars that were limited but also affordable, Pete ensured that each cigar under the Surrogate name offered a unique flavor profile, shape, and name. The Bone Crusher and Skull Breaker are powerful robustos with Connecticut Broadleaf wrappers and subtle notes of coffee and earth. The Tramp Stamp is a medium- bodied robusto with a covered foot and an Ecuadorian Habano Seed Oscuro wrapper. The Crystal Baller is a Toro with a Habano Seed wrapper, giving it a sweet and spicy taste. The Satin Glove is the only Churchill size and uses a dark Mexican San Andreas wrapper.
So far, the most popular two sizes have been the 6x60 Animal Cracker and its little brother, the cigarillo sized Cracker Crumbs. Both bear Habano Oscuro wrappers, making them dark and rich with blasts of pepper, coffee, and nutmeg. The Cracker Crumbs has taken the cigar world by storm and its popularity is still climbing; it takes a true innovator to create a cigarillo size that has become this popular. All of these cigars are quite limited and they are currently available at Jrcigars.com. Better Hurry!!
Father Theodore Hesburgh was maybe best known for running Notre Dame University. But he also for a time oversaw the Civil Rights Commission, the International Federation of Catholic Universities and several U.S. and Vatican delegations. He passed away last week. More than that though, Father Hesburgh smoked cigars for most of his 97 years and rarely had to buy them.
“Just when I think I’m getting low,” he told The Observer in 2013, “someone will come in out of nowhere and say, ‘hey, by the way, I was in Central America and I picked up something for you,’ and they come up with a box of cigars.”
Junior Tommy Schneeman said the president emeritus was smoking the first time he met him.
“He was over 90, and it was like, alright, interesting,” Schneeman said. “[He] never had any health problems, which is like a miracle in itself.
“… He was like, in his gravelly voice, ‘they’ve been trying to get me to quit smoking in here forever, but I told ‘em, if you don’t let me smoke in here, you’re going to have to take my name off the building.’”
So Hesburgh kept smoking cigars — and people kept sending them — until his death Thursday.
As a memorial, candles were put in front of the Notre Dame library named for him…in one of the holders, though, there was a cigar. Very appropriate.
And with that my part of this blog comes to an end. For the past 3 and a half years it has been my privilege to blog about the happenings in the cigar industry. Now it will be someone else’s turn. Until later. Thanks for the read.
We’ve kept you informed about the efforts in Nebraska to once again allow cigar smoking. It is now officially legal again for the state’s cigar bars. Governor Pete Ricketts signed the emergency bill late last week that reinstates the exemption to the smoking ban for cigar lounges. The Governor took the whole 5 days he had to either sign or veto the bill but in the end he signed it and it is now law.
The other side was pushing for a smoking ban in Kentucky, but it appears they lost. I know the CRA was working hard on the legislature.
House Bill 145 passed the House on Feb. 13 by a 51-46 vote. But that was the last vote on the bill.
Supporters of the bill complain that leaders of the Senate's Republican majority delivered the deadly blow two weeks ago by referring the bill not to Adams' Health and Welfare Committee but to the Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee.
That committee is chaired by Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London, who opposes a smoking ban. Robinson has not called the bill for a hearing and said Monday he would not comment on it until his committee meets on Thursday.
Let’s hope this holds it would be a victory for us.
The Habanos festival is over in Havana…it is not like Pro Cigar, instead it is the Habanos version of the IPCPR trade show. They roll out new products and show off their stuff to the worldwide wholesalers and retailers. With all the talk about the possible normalization of relations with Cuba (personally I am not sure it will happen) Habanos S.A.—the maker of Cuban cigars—predicted that once the embargo is lifted, it will immediately take 25-30 percent of the U.S. premium cigar market. Eventually it says it would end up with 70 percent of the U.S. premium market. No doubt the inclusion of Cuban cigars after being a forbidden fruit would increase cigar popularity.
“It would add to the mystique of the cigars that we’re making,” said Eric Newman, president of J.C. Newman Cigar Co., one of the largest American cigar companies.
Of greater concern to many American cigar companies are smoking regulations proposed by the Food and Drug Administration. Under the rules, cigar companies would be required to receive government approval before introducing new product lines and issue new health warnings.
Newman suggested the smoking regulations could shutter his company.
“We can deal with smoking bans, we can deal with the Cuban embargo, we can deal with high taxes — but we’re really concerned about the regulations from the FDA that could wipe us out of business,” Newman said.
But the interesting thing is while the Administration wants to open up Cuba and its biggest import is cigars, at the same time the FDA is trying to crack down on cigars and that would include the Cubans as well. But there could be time to stop the FDA. Last week, cigar makers were walking the halls of Congress to try to get support for HB 662 and S.441 which would keep the FDA out of our humidors. There was some success in that the Senate bill now has 12 sponsors and the House version is up to 52. We need more. You need to write to your Congressional delegation and get them to pay attention before it is too late. It’s easy to do it…just go here.
Then there is the whole issue of trademarks. Altadis owns Montecristo, H. Upmann and Romeo y Julieta, among others both in the U.S. and the Habanos versions. No problem there. But General Cigar owns Partagas, La Gloria Cubana, Punch and maybe Cohiba for the U.S. but not overseas. I say maybe for Cohiba because just recently the Supreme Court declined to hear a case on the Cohiba trademark. Cubatabaco was suing General for the rights over the Cohiba name and the last court ruling gave Cuba the win. General was hoping for SCOTUS intervention but that will not happen. The case now goes to U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s trial and appeal board.
cigar industry · cigar news · cigar shows · Cuban cigars · FDA
In talking with Davidoff CEO Hans-Kristian Hoejsgaard at Pro Cigar, he noted the success of the Davidoff Nicaragua, saying it has been the company’s biggest success since its Cuban days. He said that the interesting thing about the Davidoff Nicaragua is that it is not cannibalizing other Davidoffs in that 70 percent of the smokers are new to the brand.
Perhaps because of this success, the company announced it is buying over 370 acres of farmland in Honduras and Nicaragua. The land is in Condega, Nicaragua and the Jamastran Valley of Honduras. The company says it will allow them to continue to get top quality tobacco while allowing it the opportunity to experiment with new and existing seeds.
Davidoff also bought land by its box factory in Danli in order to build a new cigar factory there. The plot is about 450,000 square feet for the new factory and the factory itself in the first phase will have 185,000 square feet, allowing for a 60 percent increase in production for Camacho, Room 101 and Baccarat.
And on the retail side, Davidoff continues to make moves opening flagship stores… the latest one comes in the company’s U.S. hometown of Tampa. It will be a 5,000 square foot store that includes a nice lounge and the biggest Davidoff store in the world. According to CEO Hans-Kristian every Davidoff store will have a lounge because he foresees a time when the only place you will be able to smoke a cigar is in a cigar store.
cigar industry · Davidoff
At Quesada Cigars, they showed off their newest blend made by Manuel Quesada called the Quesada Reserva Privada.
Last year at Pro Cigar, the company marked its 40th anniversary with new cigars and this year it was something special. (The box is even special with a smooth almost glassy finish –it was so smooth I thought it was plastic but no it is wood-- and a hologram on both the band and box.) The key to this new blend is tobacco from the 1997 crop. At the time, Manolo noted that the weather was perfect that year and the leaves all looked great. He thought that crop could be something special and working with his father at the time, the Quesadas put some away in special palm leaf bundles to let the tobacco age slowly. Now they are using that 18 year old crop in this special release. Manolo says this is the best blend he has ever made. It uses an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper over Dominican San Vicente binder from 1997 and fillers of Dominican San Vicente from 1997 along with Pennsylvania ligero. There will be only three sizes and initially only a few accounts will get them. As for the cigars themselves, they were rolled in April of last year and are going to be aged one full year…which means no one outside of the Quesadas have tasted one yet. We were told the cigars will be available in April. The cost will be $13-$15.
Speaking of vintages…La Aurora released its newest Puro Vintage 2006 (this is the fourth edition and limited to 1500 boxes of 18.). The Salomon uses a maduro HVA wrapper grown in Ecuador over Brazilian binder and fillers from Nicaragua, Brazil and two different Dominican tobaccos from the Cibao valley. The cigar was featured as part of the Pro Cigar auction where one of two special humidors with the cigars was auctioned off. The special humidor contained the Puro Vintage Salomon which will be available, along with a Doble Figurado (the classic preferido No. 2 size) and a robusto gordo which were made just for the auction.
In addition La Aurora has finished building a new replica of the company’s original factory. Another version of the factory exists in Centro Leon a cultural museum complex donated by the Leon family and adjacent to former site of the La Aurora factory. The new replica located in Tamboril is part of La Aurora’s educational tour of the factory. The company has brought in real tobacco plants to give visitors a tobacco field experience without trekking through the dirt. Another addition to the factory is Cigar World which will be an educational facility. Plans call for seminars on tobacco to be given by former General Cigar president Daniel Nuñez and cigar legend Benji Menendez along with La Aurora’s master blender Manuel Inoa. That would be one seminar I wouldn’t miss.
Earlier, I mentioned the Pro Cigar Auction…that is another main purpose of the organization…to raise money for charities in the Dominican Republic. The auction on Friday night raised a record of just over $100,000 for Voluntariado de Jesus con los Niños and Hospicio San Vicente de Paul—non profit organizations that help sick children and poor elderly.
cigar industry · cigar shows · La Aurora · Pro Cigar · Quesada
While most of the country was shivering in the arctic cold, about 300 lucky souls spent their time in the sunny Dominican Republic last week for Pro Cigar. This is the annual event put on by the Dominican cigar makers to showcase their products and to help educate retailers and consumers alike.
The Pro Cigar festival began in La Romana—home to Altadis USA’s huge Tabacalera de Garcia—the world’s largest cigar factory. Most of the first day was spent relaxing at Casa de Campo, the 7,000 acre resort in La Romana. Tuesday was the tour of Altadis where the visitors got a chance to taste the newest Romeo y Julieta..Anejo. Anejo is going to hit the shelves soon. From La Romana, the group made the 5 hour trek to Santiago, the capital of cigar country.
Santiago is home to literally dozens of factories ranging from large to tiny, but all are devoted to making the best Dominican cigars. Guests at the Pro Cigar Festival had to pick from the events, which made it impossible to visit everyone.
One of the new additions to the tour was Jochy Blanco’s Tabacalera Palma in Tamboril. Jochy has been growing tobacco and making great cigars for years and just last year he was voted into Pro Cigar. At his factory we got to see brands like Black Abyss, the highly rated Aging Room series and the new Señorial by Jose Blanco—Jochy’s cousin. At the factory Jose conducted his tasting seminar, having the participants try to determine which wrappers were being used on one cigar. There were a total of 5 different wrappers to taste—each one in a separate band.
General Cigar got the participants a bit more involved. There, attendees got the chance to make their own cigars. Everything from actually bunching the tobacco to make the cigar, to putting a wrapper on it. In the end, each box was a Macanudo—but most likely one that no one would ever recognize for the construction nor taste…but it looked nice. General also rolled out a bunch of tobacco for tasting.
In addition to seeing the different tobacco leaves, the company made up little puros—small cigars rolled from the single leaf of each tobacco. This way, you could taste the characteristics of each leaf. There was Maduro, Nicaraguan Viso, Ligero and Seco, Pennsylvania and Broadleaf tobaccos along with leaves from Peru, Nicaraguan Ometepe, Paraguay, Dominican Olor Ligero and Colombian..all in all 24 different leaves to try. One thing I did learn from Benji Menendez was that Paraguayan tobacco is good filler for certain blends because it has no discernable flavors so you can use it to make, say, a 60 ring gauge without messing up your blend.
cigar industry · cigar shows · General Cigar · Jose Blanco · Pro Cigar
Last week, I mentioned the Cigar Rights of America had introduced a bill in the House to keep the FDA out of our humidors. Now there is a Senate companion bill in the hopper.
Folks I cannot stress how important this legislation is. Earlier this month, a piece in Barrons went over all the FDA issues. You know how everyone is excited about the possibility of Cuban cigars coming into the U.S.? Well if the FDA gets its way they will never make it to our shores.
Mitch Zeller, the head of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, stresses that the recent proposal “will allow us to propose further regulatory action on these and yet-to-be-conceived tobacco products.”
THE FDA HAS MADE SCANT EFFORT to understand the cigar industry. It concedes that it has little idea how many small handmade-cigar manufacturers exist in the U.S. and exporting countries. The agency estimates that compliance with the new regs will cost each small manufacturer up to $759,000 initially and another half-million dollars a year. The Small Business Administration’s Advocacy Office protested that the proposed regulations fail to discuss the costs of the proposed rule on many potentially affected small entities. If the new rules are finalized, many, if not most, small cigar producers will be driven out of business.
The Obama anti-tobacco campaign is driven by zealotry, not science. The FDA is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, which is carrying out a “strategic action plan” with “the bold vision of a society free from tobacco-related death and disease.”
The proposed anti-cigar regulations are based on the principle that the feds have moral and legal authority to prohibit any behavior they decree is harmful. As this principle gains ground, the government can consider bans on caffeine, junk food, and other allegedly addictive substances. But there will never be a Federal Register notice on the perils of total subjugation to imperious bureaucrats.
This commentary nails it. One of the only hopes we have is to get Congress to approve the legislation it now has. We have tried twice before, but now there is a new Congress and one that possibly is more agreeable to our plight.
The legislation needs more co-sponsors and needs to move. You can help by contacting your Congressman and Senator. Let them know you smoke cigars and vote. I don’t care if you have done this before, you need to do it again. CRA makes it easy, just go to the website and enter your zipcode. Please do it today.
cigar laws · FDA