Well here we are again, nearing the end of the year and of course that means preparation for the Stogie Press 2015 Top 25 Cigars featuring boutique and small batch brands. I have been giving hints since July as to who might make the cut and of course the final countdown list is top secret, and we still have some more cigars to sample. Although the official countdown is not released till January we will be letting you know those that officially made the cut.
Once again I’ll get asked what we define as a boutique cigar brand and I think the best way to answer that is from Roberto Lopez of Santiago Cigars. I sat down with Roberto the other week when he made a visit to one of my local Brick and Mortar shops.I asked him how he would describe a boutique cigar brand. He describes boutique as a company whose owner is involved in every aspect of the business from selecting the leaf, to blending, rolling, box design, packaging, distribution, sales, and finally marketing and promotion. One can compare it to something like craft beer breweries. They have their fingers on the multiple heart beats of the business.
Most of the larger cigar companies we all know, started out as a boutique company and over time grew in size, making it more difficult for the owner to oversee all operations. I agree with Roberto’s description of boutique and we will try to adhere to this definition in our selection but there are some companies that fit int he middle and they may make the cut also so don’t be shy with your comments when the list is released next month.
This year, like in past years, there were new boutique brands that introduced their inaugural blends at the IPCPR. We sampled many of them and some had memorable cigars. It is not easy being a new brand, you are up against some stiff competition with established brands both big and small and consumers have their favorite brands and particular palates. Then there is the selection of the factories and hope that you get some of the better rollers assigned to your project not mention the ever increasing cost of tobacco leaf that may not align with your budget. As more cigars hit the market the better leaf becomes more expensive resulting in a pricier cigar. Sometimes that price point on an introductory brand may not appeal to the consumer who is unfamiliar with your company.
We applaud the owners of these small businesses as they put their all into the product. Because of them the market has shifted and been greatly influenced giving us more flavorful smoking experiences that the most established brands have to compete with. Just like craft beers they may never be the Budweiser of the cigar market like General, Altidas, Swisher, or Davidoff but their dream is alive and well. Heck, Jonathan Drew started a small company back in the 1990’s and was acquired by Swisher International and Sam Leccia by General Cigar. And even though Sam was acquired by one of the big boys he is still operating as a boutique line under that umbrella. The only difference is he has deeper reach into some of the best tobacco in the world. So if you have a great consistent product and produce the flavor and experience the consumer desires you will grow.
In the final analysis boutique brand owners are special and rock stars in their own right. They put everything they have into a passion that we love.
As small tease of our 2015 Top 25 Cigars let me offer you a glimpse of some of the newest boutique lines that made our cut.
- MLB Cigar Ventures – The dry draw of Mike Bellody’s Imperia cigar gave us tea flavor with a back ground of spice which got our palates warmed up for the journey we were about to embark on and that was just the start.
- El Yayabo Cigars – Owners of farms that have been supplying tobacco to some of the biggest names for years their introduction to the market was nothing short of spectacular with notes of cherry, spice, wood, maple syrup with impeccable construction.
- Dominican Big Leaguer – Owner Francisco Almonte was mentored by the likes of Litto Gomez from La Flor Dominicana and Carlos Fuente. The DBL Formula is a exotically spiced cigar that is chocked full of flavor that dances on the palate throughout the solid burn.
- Kafie 1901 – Dr. Gaby Kafie introduced a Connecticut shade cigar that is simply a delightful light to medium smoking experience. The well aged tobacco used in the Kafie 1901 blends make a big difference to the cigar smoking experience and I am glad Gaby took the time to do this right.
- Santiago Cigars – Roberto Lopez introduced 3 blends this year that cover the full spectrum of flavors and smoking experience. The Habano blend is a delight and though I have not posted the Connecticut review yet it can be simply described as not a sissy Connecticut.
So there you have it the first 5 that made the cut. Over the next few weeks we will post the remainder 20 and then on New Years Day we will announce the breakdown.