As the Veterans Re-Discover the Modern Cigar Market

By Editors & Staff

I’m not trying to brag, but as the Publisher & Editor in Chief of Cigar Chronicles, I definitely think I have one of the coolest jobs in the world . I mean it is pretty cool to take a time-honored, luxury, leisurely past-time, like cigar smoking—and make it your job. The rest of the guys here have pretty cool jobs too, and it was interesting listening to a conversation between Associate Editor, Gregory L. Pease and two of our professional cigar reviewers and columnists; Tad Gage and Russ Ouellette recently. All three guys have been in and around the business for the last 30-years. However, Greg and Tad had been sticking to their tried and true smokes for the past few years in their roles as consumer smokers. Since they signed on to work for Cigar Chronicles they have been experiencing a plethora of brand new, and somewhat new cigars, but all new cigars to them. These recent cigar happenings turned into an interesting conversation from these veteran aficionados.

Let’s eavesdrop on the conversation heard ’round the water cooler at the Cigar Chronicles virtual offices –

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Tad Gage

Tad Gage

Tad Gage: We’ve chatted about various aspects of fermentation and leaf aging, and some of the marketing hype involved. But you can bullshit as much as you like and the end product still tells the story. I have been so impressed with some of the cigars I’ve been reviewing, on quality, consistency, aging and, well, everything. As you may have noted, I’m not afraid to give a 90-plus rating to a great cigar and, likewise, I am not shy about giving an 80 or lower if warranted.

But I’ll tell you, I have encountered more outstanding cigars in these recent tastings than in the past several decades. I have some awesome cigars in my cellar I’ve been aging for 20 or more years. But what is being developed today truly rival the best I’ve ever had. Do you guys agree? I wish we could do Cuban smokes, but I am not sure they would stand up to what’s being created today outside Cuba.

Greg responds: I was telling someone this very thing earlier today, that some of the cigars that are in current production are amongst the finest I’ve ever tasted. In fact, the Gurkha Special Ops I smoked a couple days ago for review reminded me very much of the very best cigars I smoked nearly thirty years ago, before the boom resulted in a lot of crap being delivered to market. It had that bold, old fashioned taste. My notes indicated that it had all the wonderful taste of a particular batch of Brazilian bundles we got into the shop in 1982, but it was as though the cigars had been sent to finishing school before being delivered. Bold, powerful, earthy, yet balanced and sophisticated.

I haven’t had a clunker yet, but I know they’re out there. Poor Russ had to suffer through one not long ago.

Don’t get me wrong. I still love the unique flavors and aromas that can only be found in some of the best Habanos, but with the stuff that’s coming out of the better producers today, I can’t say that I miss them.

Russ chimes in: No argument here. Cigars like the Fausto, Liga Privada #9 and Camacho Triple Maduro among many others are as good as any I’ve ever smoked. I’d love to play around with some of these tobaccos. [For blending into pipe tobaccos.]

Gregory L. Pease

Gregory L. Pease

Tad: Although we have lost a couple of traditional production areas, particularly the Canary Islands and Jamaica, and reduced availability of leaf from the Connecticut River Valley and Cameroon (although neither has entirely disappeared as cigar growing regions), the addition of many new places has opened the door to both new varieties of leaf and new influences of soil, moisture and climate. Cultivation has never been more extensive or sophisticated in places like Ecuador, Brazil, Nicaragua and Honduras. And while Mexico was really a major source of binder leaf, I’ve always thought the growing conditions produced a somewhat harsh leaf. Now we’re seeing binder leaf from many nations with the necessary tough properties but IMHO considerably more depth, variety and complexity. And I’m seeing things I never saw before, like high quality wrapper leaf from Brazil. Cigar manufacturers have so many more options to create new and different blends.

Greg: I agree with this, though I admit, I still miss the best of the Jamaican and Canary Islands cigars. I still have a few La Regentas that are a tiny bit over the hill, but still delicious, and a few of the old Jamaica-produced RJ lonsdales that never fail to make me smile. Those distinctive tastes haven’t been recreated, for the same reason that the distinctive taste of Habanos hasn’t been recreated. But, you’re right, Tad. I don’t cry over the losses as much as I celebrate the gains. There are some truly magnificent cigars being made now with flavor profiles unlike anything I’ve ever smoked, and others that seem like even better examples of great smokes from the past. It’s a fantastic time for the cigar lover.

I do wish more of the great blends were being made in corona and lonsdale shapes, and that more consumers would recognize these for the great shapes that they are. The shapes do require more care in blending, in rolling and in smoking, but I’ve always felt them worth the trouble to slow down. Is it just a matter of educating the consumer on the superiority of the 43-44 ring vitolas? Or, are the manufacturers doing more baseball bats because it’s easier to make a flavorful, balanced smoke in a fatter gauge?

I wonder, sometimes, why it is that cigar smokers are more willing to embrace the new, while so many pipe smokers continue to cling to the old legends, despite being offered the same sort of broadened landscape in pipe tobaccos.

Russ Ouellette

Russ Ouellette

Russ: And let’s not ignore some wonderful leaf from Costa Rica and Peru (I love Costa Rican Marrón wrappers). Although I agree with the harshness, in general, of Mexican cigar tobacco, there’s some great dark San Andres wrapper leaf that packs a lot of espresso and dark chocolate flavors.

I also miss the Jamaican and Canary Islands cigars, especially Montoya, which was a box-pressed Cameroon wrapped smoke which was creamy and cedary. I’m also on board with you, Greg, on the corona and lonsdale shapes. In fact my favorite of the Montoyas was a lonsdale. If the flavor you crave comes from the wrapper, smaller ring gauges make more sense on a percentage basis.

As far as cigar smokers being more willing to accept and embrace the new blends and approaches, it’s probably more a function of the cigar smoking population being somewhat younger than pipe smokers, but if history teaches us anything it would be that pipe smokers will probably, in twenty or thirty years, speak of many of today’s blends in the same reverent tones that they use about John Cotton’s or Sobranie today. That is, if tobacco is still legal, then.

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So there you have it. Part of the joy of this job is being able to listen to three guys, who have each been smoking cigars for more than 30-years, talk about the past, present and future of cigars with the enthusiasm and wonder of a kid with a new toy.

Kevin Godbee

Kevin Godbee is the Publisher & Editor in Chief of Cigar Chronicles, but around here we just call him El Jefe… except for The Zman. He calls him Godsmack. Kevin started smoking cigars in 1998 and started an online cigar magazine & community site in 2005. (The site was acquired in 2008 and no longer exists.) He launched PipesMagazine.com in 2009, and in less than three years the site has become the largest trafficked pipe smoking related site, and the #1 Source for Pipes and Pipe Tobacco Information.

In the beginning of his career, Kevin worked in the hobby and specialty toy business for 16 years in sales, marketing, advertising and product development for three different manufacturers, and with his own company.

Over the last 10 years working in the online business, he has become an expert in Internet Marketing and SEO. Kevin is a Certified Master Tobacconist (CMT) through Tobacconist University, a member of Cigar Rights of America and is a "Media Member" of the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association. In his spare time he sings, plays guitar, cooks, and enjoys all the wonderful places to go and things to do in beautiful downtown St. Petersburg, Florida where he lives in his penthouse bachelor pad. Kevin has been smoking cigars for 14 years.

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