Cigar News

Los Angeles, December 31, 2010 – Buying a Gurkha cigar has not generally been for the feint of wallet. Kaizad Hansotia's unique designs of both cigars and the boxes they come in have made the brand unique on the U.S. market. However, even he knows that times are tough.

"Our retailers love our products," says Hansotia, "but they told us they wanted a Gurkha that everyone can afford and that everyone can enjoy. That's why we developed the Gurkha Ninja and Gurkha Viper series."

Are these cigars good enough on their own - without the stunning packaging that Hansotia is known for - to make an impression? We checked out both blends:

Gurkha Ninja:
[Dominican Republic: available in 6 sizes]
cgr pix-gurkha ninja band 150x250The Ninja blend is immediately recognizable by its black-and-white band and a nearly-black, oily, Brazilian-grown maduro wrapper. Densely packed, the cigars run from 48 to 60 in ring gauge and have a welcome heft in the hand before lighting.

The body is medium-to-full in this line, with a spicy aroma from the start. There is the expected sweetness, with a caramelized bent, plus a note of spice on the tongue on the finish. The draw and burn are very nice (no doubt thanks to the Cameroon binder) and the balance of the caramelized notes and lightly-spiced finish are delightful.

The flavor profile loses some intensity in the second half, but remains true to its initial pattern of sweetness and spice. This is an easy cigar to smoke, as it is never overpowering, but remains consistent with a mellow nature in the back half; it's a perfect companion after all but the heaviest dinners.

Introduced during the summer of 2010, the Ninja comes in boxes of 20 in all six sizes. Retail pricing is excellent at $5.05 to $6.25, not including local taxes.

Overall grade: : Exceptional.

Gurkha Viper:
[Dominican Republic: available in 6 sizes]
cgr pix-gurkha viper band 150x250Look for the red band with the white snake staring back at you and you have found the Gurkha Viper. This is a medium-bodied blend featuring light brown, Dominican-grown wrapper and binder leaves and get its oomph from the Nicaraguan filler leaves.

The Viper line is square-pressed and has a quite spicy aroma. The flavor also puts a spicy element out in front, with a modest note of caramelized sweetness underneath, that comes out of hiding mostly on the finish.

Fans of spicy - but not too spicy cigars will like this blend, which offers an even burn and an easy draw. The balance remains consistent, but the spice is never biting or rough, even with the introduction of a light, peppery note in the final quarter.

The Viper belies its fearsome name with a nicely-blended approach to spice that allows anyone to enjoy it. Thanks to its lively taste, it's a good candidate for outdoors and for golf. All six sizes are offered in boxes of 20 and are accessibly priced at $4.85 to $6.55 each, not including local sales and tobacco taxes.

Overall grade: : Excellent.

There can be no doubt that these Gurkhas are of first quality and will be a welcome addition to any smoker's humidor. Congratulations to Hansotia on producing cigars that can be enjoyed by a wide range of smokers and are accessibly priced for almost everyone.
~ Rich Perelman

cgr pix-smoke mag cover 2010-4 152x200Los Angeles, December 30, 2010 – "It's actually a storefront turned into a factory that will also have some retail. I was pushing to have it open in December, but it's probably going to be January. We're going to start out with about 10 to 15 Cuban rollers when we launch. Some are from the old El Credito factory; there's some other people that have been rolling cigars here in Miami already. They're going to be producing 250 to 300 cigars a day."

That's the effervescent George Rico, describing Gran Habano's new La Joya del Valle factory in Miami, in a wide-ranging interview in the new issue of Smoke. The facility will open next month at 1792 S.W. 8th Street in the Little Havana district, and signals the start of a new chapter for the unique father and son team of Guillermo and George Rico.

George noted in the interview with Dale Scott and Ted Hoyt that while the Gran Habano line has continued to do well, the company is branching out with new concepts that match up with his boutique mentality of producing very special, limited-production blends. Connoisseurs are already well aware of the Gran Habano Gran Reserva No. 3, a spicy and sweet blend that was rolled in 2008, has two years of aging in the box and used tobaccos as old as 2002. Said George, "We’re going to try to see if we can release one every year with a different vintage." And then there is the Azteca, Gran Habano's first maduro-wrapped cigar, with both the wrapper and binder of Mexican San Andres leaf.

But with the new Miami shop comes the opportunity to provide ever more individualized attention to the smoker. "We have a new structure in our company," he noted. "[W]e created a small portfolio of accounts that are going to carry a line of cigars under the 'STK Studios' banner, our design studios, to bring in younger people. It will be more cutting edge in our marketing. All of our different unique and limited edition cigars will be coming out of there. We're going to be doing two limited edition cigars per year, about 1,000 to 2,000 boxes and once they're gone, they're gone."<.p>

But the Ricos may be able to go even further: "There is another thing, it's actually a webpage I'm developing which is going to be within the new factory, something called the G.A.R. Deli - it's going to allow the consumer to have the capability to be blending their own cigars within our menu, manufactured, and shipped to the consumer via a retailer near them. It gives the power to the consumer to be creative and personalize their own blend."

Pretty impressive for a cigar-making operation which only started in 1995, from a family whose heritage was in growing tobacco rather than making cigars. Today, their Honduran factory churns out 15,000 cigars a day and their growing operations stretch from their native Colombia, Nicaragua and Panama.

But the Ricos are not alone among the buckeyes and boutiques which are - despite all of the obstacles - continuing to introduce new cigar brands to the U.S. market. In a companion story on new brands to watch, Matthew Michael introduces 13th Floor Cigars from Arizona-based Bryan Witt and 262 Cigars from the team of Clint Aaron, Jerry Ernst and Mike Justice, in addition to better-known boutiques such as Berger & Argenti (with brands such as Clasico, Entubar, Entubar Quad Maduro and Mooch), Sean Williams's El Primer Mundo, Brad Mayo's Jameson lines and Dion Giolito's Illusione.

One key for these new marketers that separates them from the wild days of the Cigar Boom of the 1990s is that they are working with established cigar manufacturers rather than starting their own factories from scratch. 13th Floor and El Primer Mundo cigars are made by Willy Herrera's El Titan de Bronze in Miami, while 262 Cigars works with the Alec Bradley Cigar Co. facility in Honduras, and so on. That gives each of them more time to work on marketing their brands, using not only traditional media, but also the new social-media revolution, notably Twitter, to allow fans to be closer than ever to the cigar makers themselves.

Those are only a couple of highlights in this holiday edition of Smoke, which pictures Andrew Zimmern - star of the Travel Channel hit "Bizarre Foods" - on the cover.

Naturally, there was a tasting, and 34 cigars were examined; 23 earned grades of 90 or better:

  • 94 points (3): Pinar Del Rio Oscuro Toro (Dom. Rep.), Camacho Liberty 2009 11/18 (Honduras), Perdomo2 Epicure (Nicaragua).

  • 93 points (3): Gran Habano Azteca Aguilas (Honduras), La Mezcla Cubana Titan (Nicaragua), Sublimes Robusto (U.S.).

  • 92 points (5): Alonso Menendez Robusto (Brazil); Macanudo Cru Royale Gigante (Dom. Rep.), Cusano 59 Rare Cameroon Robusto (Dom. Rep.); Cuban Crafters Cubano Claro Torpedo (Nicaragua); Los Blancos Nine Torpedo (Nicaragua).
  • There's a lot more in this issue, including a not-to-be-missed telling of the real story of Notre Dame's fabled George Gipp, by Bert Sugar. Did he really tell Knute Rockne to "win one for the Gipper"? Check out the new issue and find out!
    ~ Rich Perelman

    cgr pix-scales of justice 150hx194Los Angeles, December 29, 2010 – U.S. Federal District Court Judge Jed Rakoff ruled today that New York City's ordinance requiring that graphic images required to be posted wherever tobacco is sold - including cigar shops - intrudes on an area reserved to the Federal government and is invalid.

    In his written opinion in 23-94th St. Grocery Corp. v. New York City Board of Health, (1:10-cv-04392, U.S.D.C.-S.D.N.Y.), Rakoff called the campaign "laudable," but noted that "Even merchants of morbidity are entitled to the full protection of the law, for our sake as well as theirs," and that the New York City law "imposes burdens on the promotion of cigarettes that only the federal government may prescribe."

    He described the City's three-poster campaign as containing "graphic, even gruesome images of a brain damaged by a stroke, a decaying tooth and gums, and a diseased lung, accompanied by corresponding information about the dangers of smoking." But his opinion pointed out that the 1965 Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act (15 U.S.C. 1331-1341) pre-empts local regulation in this area.

    The suit was brought by three tobacco companies and by convenience stores which were being targeted by the City. Enforcement of the law had been suspended until January 1, with the ruling expected before the end of the year. City officials were disappointed with the decision, but did not indicate what their next step might be.
    ~ Rich Perelman

    cgr pix-habanos chevron 150hx183Los Angeles, December 29, 2010 – A significant decline in Cuban cigar exports has been reported for several years, but on closer inspection, the numbers don't seem to add up.

    Although Habanos, S.A. has declined to give export figures for cigars since 2002 (it has disclosed revenues instead), the numbers are available through the Oficina Nacional de Estadisticas, known by its initials as "ONE." Its Anuario Estadistico de Cuba 2009 offers a clear picture of the number of cigars produced by its factories for both national consumption and for export. From 2000 on (in millions of cigars):

  • 2000: Total - 245.9; National - 132.8; Export - 113.1.
  • 2001: Total - 339.2; National - 138.0; Export - 201.2.
  • 2002: Total - 327.3; National - 180.0; Export - 147.3.
  • 2003: Total - 308.2; National - 147.8; Export - 160.4.
  • 2004: Total - 354.7; National - 168.8; Export - 185.9.
  • 2005: Total - 404.2; National - 203.6; Export - 200.6.
  • 2006: Total - 418.1; National - 200.7; Export - 217.4.
  • 2007: Total - 411.9; National - 288.8; Export - 123.1.
  • 2008: Total - 386.7; National - 277.6; Export - 109.1.
  • 2009: Total - 373.2; National - 300.0; Export - 73.2.
  • That 73.2 million export figure for 2009 (the worst since 1996) was quoted in the Cuban government's newspaper for the Pinar del Rio region and picked up by Reuters in a report that noted the 66% decline in exports in just three years. But is that really accurate?

    The fall in exports can be partially explained by the worldwide economic turndown and notably the decline in international air travel, as Havanas are a popular duty-free purchase. But with Cubans suffering from bad economics at home as much or more than those in more developed countries, it is hard to believe the figures which show a rise in national consumption of cigars from 200.7 million in 2006 all the way up to 300.0 million in 2009! That is just not possible.

    Perhaps some of the cigars counted in the "consumo nacional" category were produced for foreign sales, but held back in Havana warehouses until the sales climate improves. That would certainly influence the count.

    But the bottom line is that sales are down and one can say with some confidence that total cigar production has been scaled back about 11% from 2006 to 2009, although Cuban cigarette production has remained steady. The true state of the island's famous cigar industry, however, would be better diagnosed if Havana's own accounting was a little more believable.
    ~ Rich Perelman

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