Just when you thought you knew everything about premium cigars, another facet of the cigar industry pops-up, like identifying cigar boxes by their year and factory. So what of it? For one, it’s about making sure you’ve purchased the right box of cigars; secondly, it will refine your cigar expertise; and third, it’s vital information for those who collect vintage cigar boxes.
Factory identification tends to play a bigger role with Cuban cigars because Cuba has altered their factory seals and codes several times over the years. Moreover, unless you’ve really done your homework, trying to identify a vintage box of Havanas can be quite confusing. Since Cubans are still verboten in the U.S., I don’t want to take up too much space on them, but like so many other things pertaining to premium cigars, you have to start in Cuba.
In the beginning…
According to one source, cigars were originally sold in bundles covered with pig bladders, and a vanilla pod would be placed inside the package to stem the odor. These were eventually replaced by large wooden chests that could hold up to as many as 10,000 cigars.
In 1840, English banker, Herman Upmann, opened a branch office in Havana and would ship Cuban cigars back to his London colleagues in boxes made of Spanish cedar due to its ability to prevent cigars from drying-out and extend the aging process. Though it wasn’t until 1844 that Mr. Upmann bought a cigar factory and gave birth to the now famous H. Upmann cigars brand, the cedar box became the standard form of packaging for handmade cigars, and remains so to this day.
Prior to 1960, all Cuban cigar stamps were also printed in English. After that, the Cuban stamps were changed to Spanish like, “Hecho en Cuba.” It wasn’t until 1985 that Cuban cigars were given specific box codes. Until then their boxes had only one stamp which read “Hecho en Cuba.” The idea to begin using encrypted codes was instituted by Francisco Padrón, then-president of Habanos S.A. The new codes included information about the factory, the month, and year of their release.
In 1989, the inscription “Totalmente a mano” (“totally handmade”) replaced the older inscription “Hecho a mano.” Boxes were also stamped “Cubatabaco,” but in 1994 it was changed to “Habanos S.A.,” and in 2004 the Spanish term “Tripa corta,” was added for cigars made with “short filler.”
The Cuban coding system contained letters and numbers that identified the factory in which a particular box was made, while some parts of the codes were used only for internal purposes. Say a box had defective cigars; the code would tell them what factory it was made. And because tobacco quality changes from year to year, encoding dates were also used to establish when the crop was harvested. The coding system is much too complex to explain in detail here. Suffice it to say, the codes have been changed several times over the years due to counterfeiters who have been able to figure them out.
Thinking outside the box
If you pick up a box of premium cigars and turn it over you’ll usually find a stamp of some kind. It could be an imprinted or branded stamp citing nothing more than the manufacturer’s name and country of origin. However, you may also find a second stamp indicating the date, the section the box was stored at the factory, or even the signature of the box inspector. Today the type and number of stamps vary by manufacturer. In some cases they will place the inspection numbers and inspectors name on a tiny piece of paper inside the box. So, let’s get to the details…
According to the Cigar History Museum website, there are two kinds of information on every cigar box: optional information and information required by law. Optional information could be anything from a company guarantee or slogan, advertising, copyright and registration dates, the type and/or source of tobacco, pictures; even hype, whether it was true or not.
There were really no rules, which opened the door to abuse by some manufacturers. For example, under the lid of the cigar box the label might say, “Tampa’s Finest Cigar!” while the label on the bottom of the box might say they were made in an Ohio cigar factory. But if you checked the cigar maker’s I.D., which was required by law, you might learn that the cigars were really made at a backyard barn factory in Connecticut. So, the only information you could trust on a box of U.S. made cigars was the information mandated by tax law, as follows:
- Tax stamps (1863-1959)
- Cigar maker I.D.’s (1866-1960’s)
- Caution notices (1868-1959)
- Tax paid notices (1917-1959)
Therefore, if you’re a collector, the only information you’ll be able to verify are the aforementioned requirements. However, because the federal government changed the requirements so often, it actually helps when trying to nail down the date for a specific box of cigars. Following are the years that regulations governing cigar boxes were changed: 1863, 1864, 1865, 1866, 1868, 1869, 1871, 1872, 1873, 1875, 1878, 1879, 1883, 1891, 1895, 1897, 1898, 1901, 1904, 1909, 1910, 1914, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1920, 1926, 1928, 1931, 1932, 1942, 1946, 1959, 1960, 1962, 1964, 1976, and even after that.
Rather than having to memorize all those years, Tony Hyman, cigar historian and curator of The Cigar History Museum, developed an easy way for cigar smokers and collectors to identify vintage cigar boxes. You can find it on cigarhistory.com’s Easy Dating page.
Show us your brand!
Cigar maker ID’s also played an important role in finding tax evaders. Since they were required by law all a tax inspector had to do was check three vital facts: 1) who was the manufacturer, 2) the location of the factory, and 3) the number of cigars in the box.
During the past two centuries, six different methods have been used for dating cigar boxes as shown in the following timeline:
Type I: Hot branded (1866-1872+) – This information was referred to by the federal government as the “factory brand” because it was required to be hot-branded with iron dies like those used on old crates and barrels. Since only several thousand cigar factories were in operation during the hot brand era, boxes from this period are extremely rare, and branding iron-type boxes even rarer.
Type II: Round with name (1872-1880) – After 1872 boxes could be engraved with a round ID containing the maker’s name in the top part of the circle, the tax district and state in the bottom of the circle, and the number of cigars in the center. This form was used during the 1870’s, making it easy to identify boxes from that decade.
Type III: Round with factory number (1880-1883+) – In 1880 the manufacturer’s name was replaced by a federally assigned factory number placed at the top of the circle. This requirement only lasted several years, when the Type IV I.D. was introduced in 1883. The catch here is that round type III I.D.’s are not reliable for dating because, even though they were not required, they were still legal even after 1883; so many companies continued with the type III I.D. for many years.
Type IV: Three line I.D. (1883-1910) – In 1883 the three line I.D. had become the standard and was used on 95% of all wooden cigar boxes through 1918.
Type V: I.D. w/notice (1910 – 1959) – As noted above in 1910, the 3-line ID was still used after 1910, but also printed on the bottom was the Caution Notice, followed by the Tax Paid notice during the 1920’s, and often printed as a single line. The law also required the Caution Notice to repeat the factory number and tax district. As cardboard boxes became more the norm, these I.D.’s were more often printed, rather than engraved.
Type VI: Novelty I.D.’s – Though a minimum type size was specified, manufacturers had a lot of leeway as to what style of I.D. they wanted to use on their boxes. It could be the company’s trademark with an animal, like an eagle, or any number of images, some of which could be quite detailed. To cut costs, several 19th century factories put their I.D. in a single line imprinted on the top of the box under the top brand. Because of the large variety of novelty I.D.’s that were used they are not as reliable for box dating.
Identifying cigars by their boxes today
When it comes to box designs, today, just about anything goes. From the simple bôite nature Spanish cedar boxes used for Davidoff cigars (and many other manufacturers), to the sculpture-like boxes of Perdomo’s Edición de Silvio cigars, to the traditional “Renaissance period” style boxes like La Aroma de Cuba, to CAO’s Concert series cigars whose boxes look like mini-guitar amps, designers continue to amaze cigar smokers with their ingenuity.
In addition to the required I.D.’s and familiar country of origin seals that overlap the top and side of most cigar boxes, you may find the following on the bottom of some boxes: a label with a bar code and a sticker identifying the lot and inspector’s initials (often written by hand); imprints of the factory name & logo; serial numbers, plus the aforementioned pieces of paper with the inspector’s name, box lot, etc., and finally, the most obvious of labels, the U.S. Surgeon General’s Warning.
So, the next time you’re significant other drags you to an antique store, a yard sale, or you just happen to be in a cigar store that has some vintage cigar boxes, you’ll know what to look for. In the end, it’s just another part of the premium cigar experience.
It’s ironic. Every day some anti-smoking group wants to take the cigars out of our mouths by advocating another smoking ban, while at the same time minions of new cigar smokers are getting ready to enjoy their first cigar. If you’re among the latter group you may be asking yourself, “What cigar should I smoke first?”
Fair question. With thousands of premium cigars to choose from, it can be a little intimidating. Just walk into a store with a big walk-in humidor and you’ll know what I mean. If you ask most experienced cigar smokers, or the manager at your local cigar store, they’ll usually suggest something mild like a Macanudo Cafe, a Don Diego, or a Baccarat; all good choices, too. So why start with a mild cigar as opposed to a Camacho Triple Maduro or a Padrón Serie 1926? Look at it this way; if you were learning how to cook, you might want to start by making something simple like an omelet rather than Veal Cordon Bleu. Like any pastime you pursue, you have to start at the beginning, and with practice, climb the rope ladder of experience. The same goes for learning how to smoke premium handmade cigars.
Mild cigars are generally best for newbies because one of the most important aspects of smoking cigars is developing an appreciation for the flavor properties in different tobaccos. A mild cigar won’t overpower you. I can cite a number of instances where first time cigar smokers lost their lunch. Which reminds me; DO NOT INHALE regardless of how mild the smoke tastes. (If you’re a former cigarette smoker, this may take some getting used to.)
Mild doesn’t mean bland
Over the years, cigar smokers tend to drift towards more full-bodied cigars. The reason is, as you develop a taste for premium cigar tobacco you eventually tend to desire more flavor, and the most flavorful (in terms of strength that is) are the full-bodied, or what I call full-flavored cigars. Strength is only one component of the cigar, and in this writer’s humble opinion, flavor trumps strength.
On the other hand, “mild” doesn’t mean bland. Some veteran cigar smokers tend to believe this (often for the reason I just pointed out). However, there are plenty of cigars classified as mild that are light years from bland. Recently, some of the top cigar makers have begun introducing cigars with milder wrappers like U.S. and Ecuadorian-grown Connecticut. Connecticut is one of the most widely used mild wrappers and is also sought for its sweet aroma. Ecuadorian Connecticut is also mild, but with a little more flavor and a shade or two darker in color. So, when searching for that first cigar, browse the cigars with Connecticut wrappers first. Other mild wrappers recommended for new smokers are Sumatra (or Indonesian) and African Cameroon. Keep in mind that many full-bodied cigars are also rolled with these leaves, so be sure the cigar you choose is listed as “mild” in the retailer’s store, catalog, or on their website. I would even add “medium-bodied” cigars to the mix. So also keep in mind that there are plenty of excellent, medium-bodied “first-smoke” candidates available to new cigar smokers.
Suggestions from a “professional cigar smoker”
Since it would take up too much space, I can’t list every good mild and medium-bodied cigar available. So, without turning this post into a commercial, here’s a line-up of cigars that I’ve recommended to new cigar smokers over the years with a good share of success.
- Arturo Fuente 8-5-8 Flor Fina (Cameroon natural)
- Carlos Toraño 1916 Cameroon
- Flor de Oliva (Sumatra natural)
- Gispert (natural)
- Gran Habano #1 Connecticut
- Macanudo Gold Label
- Occidental Connecticut Reserve
- Perdomo 10th Anniversary Champagne
- Rocky Patel American Market Selection
Seek and ye shall find
You can start with one of the above, or maybe you’ll find something else. If you like your first cigar, you may want to return to it or, more than likely, you’ll want to try something else. For this reason, I would also recommend starting with a sampler that has a mix of mild and medium cigars. Samplers are a great way to discover your first cigar, for one, because of the variety of cigars in the pack, and secondly because you have a better chance at finding the right cigar for you until you’re ready to move on; maybe even more than one in the pack will satisfy you enough to buy a box. Moreover, part of the fun of discovering the wonderful world of premium cigars is trying new and different blends.
A trendy business
As a new cigar smoker you should note that the cigar business is also a trendy one. Recently, plump, extra-wide-body cigars have become all the rage, while about five years ago Lanceros (long, skinny cigars) were in vogue, and for the better part of the last 14 years, manufacturers have been making stronger and more complex cigars. Lately, as I’ve spoken to cigar smokers who have been partaking for decades, I find that many of them have tired of the heavy stuff and are returning to milder cigars. Even the great Don Pepin has just released Don Pepin Connecticut selection, a mild Nicaraguan cigar with an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper. I don’t think those cigar smokers are going to give up their Liga Privada No.9‘s, Alec Bradley Prensados, Ashton ESG‘s, or Oliva Serie V’s anytime soon, but you can be pretty sure the majority of them started out just like you!
Why The Dominican Republic Grows Great Tobacco
Though Nicaragua has become the breeding ground of choice for many tobacco growers, in terms of sheer numbers, The Dominican Republic remains El Rey (the king) of the Central American tobacco-growing nations. The DR accounts for more than half of the cigars sold in the United States. Of course, the Dominican had a big lead. After the Cuban Revolution in 1959, many of Cuba’s best growers and blenders emigrated to the DR. Most histories of Dominican tobacco production credit Carlos Toraño Sr. for introducing Cuban seed to the country, which we know today as Dominican “Piloto Cubano;” though it should be noted that many other Cuban tobacco men brought their seeds with them to other countries such as Honduras and Nicaragua. Due to their minuscule size – less than the size of a pinhead – they were easy to smuggle. When the Sandinistas overran Nicaragua, even more found their way to the DR. This helped further solidify the country’s cigar industry.
Like Cuba, Nicaragua, and Honduras, the Dominican Republic has a specific region that’s most favorable for growing the best Cuban seed tobacco – the Cibao Valley. Located between the northern Cordillera Septentrional and the southern Cordillera Central mountain ranges, if you follow the Yaque River northwest you’ll find several villages in the Yaque Valley, a sub-region of the Cibao valley, that are known for producing some of the world’s richest tobacco: Navarette, La Canela, and Villa Gonzalez. It is in the Yaque Valley region where you’ll find the richest and deepest topsoil, and where most of the black cigar tobacco is grown. Another reason the Yaque Valley is so ideal for growing tobacco is its microclimate is more conducive to producing hearty plants due to its excellent drainage, plentiful sunlight, and afternoon breezes which keep the plants from overexposure to heat. To put it another way, the Yaque Valley and Villa Gonzalez are to the Dominican Republic what the Vuelta Abajo and the town of Pinar del Río are to Cuba, respectively.
Southwest of Villa Gonzalez is Jacagua, renowned for its tropical microclimate and ultra-rich soil. Navarette, in the northwest region of the valley is drier; therefore, the soil is irrigated by a vast series of canals to make up for its drier microclimate. Because each village has its own unique climate and soil, the tobaccos grown on certain farms have their own unique flavor properties. The Dominican tobaccos which are considered “the industry standard” are La Canela, a very rich-tasting, full-bodied leaf which is grown northwest of Villa Gonzalez. The other is Jacagua which is grown just southwest of Villa Gonzalez and produces a finer and much more attractive leaf. This is why when you see the blend information on Dominican cigars and other premiums, the name of the leaf represents a specific region within the country.
Common Types of Dominican Tobacco
Tobacco production in the Dominican Republic starts in July or August when the growing areas are prepared. In September, 35 to 45 day-old plants are placed in the seedbeds where they are constantly monitored to avoid diseases, certain types of mold, and leaf-devastating insects.
Since under the right conditions, tobacco will grow just about anywhere, every tobacco-growing country has its own indigenous tobacco. The two primary families of tobacco grown in the Dominican Republic are “Olor Dominicano” and “Piloto Cubano,” But there is also a third type of tobacco grown in the D.R. called “San Vicente.”
Olor Dominicano is the D.R.’s native strain, and produces a leaf that is thinner and smaller than Piloto, but has a marvelous aroma (olor means “smell” or “aroma” in Spanish) and excellent burning qualities. This is why so many Dominican-made cigars use Olor Dominicano (or simply “Olor”) for the binder portion of the blend.
Piloto Cubano tobacco is grown from Cuban seed originating in Cuba’s Vuelta Abajo region. The result is a more malleable leaf with a fuller body and richer flavor than Olor, making it ideal for filler. Due to its ample flavor properties, you will also find Piloto Cubano in many cigars made outside of the D.R.
San Vicente is a hybrid of Piloto Cubano and was originally developed on the San Vicente farm in Cuba’s Vuelta Abajo. It’s less potent than Piloto Cubano and a little more acidic on the palate. This leaf is commonly found in the blend of most Avo cigars.
Famous Dominican Cigars
The center of the Dominican cigar production is in Santiago, home to Tabacalera La Aurora, the country’s oldest cigar factory and maker of La Aurora cigars. Other manufacturers, either in or near Santiago produce such renowned brands as Arturo Fuente, Avo, Macanudo, Partagas, La Gloria Cubana, La Flor Dominicana, Montecristo, Davidoff, Zino, Ashton, Fonseca, Aging Room, H. Upmann, Romeo y Julieta, and so many more, space just won’t permit.
At one time, the Dominican Republic was considered the source for “milder” cigars. However, with the growing popularity of tobaccos from Nicaragua, Honduras, Brazil, and Peru, to name but a few, Dominican-made cigars now span the entire spectrum of strength and complexity. Moreover, since growers have been producing high-quality Dominican wrapper for over two decades, now there are more Dominican puros being made than ever before.
The Dominican Republic is also a popular tourist spot for its lush terrain, beautiful beaches, and challenging golf courses. If you’re planning a trip there and would like to see how Dominican cigars are made, tours of several top factories including La Aurora and La Flor Dominicana are also available.
Viva La Republica Dominicana!
Try some Dominican cigars!
All this talk about fine Dominican cigars have you hankering to sample some for yourself? Check out our Best of the Dominican Republic #3 Sampler! It contains 10 Dominican-made stogies that show off the best that the country has to offer. You’ll find Macanudo, Aging Room, Four Kicks, and more! Oh yeah, and did I mention that it’s currently on sale for a whopping 49% off MSRP? You won’t find a better bargain on these outstanding Dominican cigars.
Some things are so intuitively easy you hardly have to think about them. Starting a car, making coffee with a K-cup, buttoning a shirt. You’d think that refilling a cigar lighter would be just as simple, right? Yes, but there’s a little more to it than you think, and by following the instruction guide below, you’ll not only learn how to fill your cigar torch lighter correctly, you’ll add many more months, even years, to its lifespan.
First things first: Fuel
Torch or jet flame lighters are the most commonly used lighters among cigar smokers. They run on butane, a liquid gas that’s easy to find and relatively inexpensive. But when filling or re-filling your lighter you don’t want to use just any butane. You want the most refined butane, not the stuff they sell behind the counter at the corner convenience store. The reason for this is, the more refined the fuel, the less impurities in the gas. For example, Vector butane is refined five times, while Xikar’s Purofine™ butane is so highly refined that the level of impurities is less than 15 parts-per-million, making them both excellent for use in all jet flame lighters. The cleaner the fuel, the more efficiently your lighter will work, which means the chances of clogging are also greatly reduced. Never use any fuel that is not at least triple refined.
TIP: Before filling your lighter DO NOT SHAKE THE CAN of fuel. This will cause the gas propellant to seep into the fuel tank during filling.
Filling your cigar lighter
The first thing you want to do, even for a new lighter, is release all of the fuel tank’s pressure by depressing on the inlet valve located on the bottom of the lighter. To do this you can use a small screwdriver, a ball point pen, or a cigar accessory that comes with a “bleeder.” Some lighters even include a bleeder in the box. Depress the valve holding the lighter in its upright position, as you do when you light your cigar. Repeat until you no longer hear any hissing coming from the valve. You can also release the air pressure by pressing the ignition and holding the trigger down until any hissing ceases.
Next, turn the flame adjustment to the lighter’s lowest (-) setting. This keeps the opening tight for a more efficient filling, and helps limit the amount of air that could get in by keeping the adjustment dial open to full bore. Turn the lighter upside down and insert the tip of the butane valve over the fuel valve. Now, press down firmly and hold it for about five seconds. If your lighter has a fuel tank window and it looks like it hasn’t filled completely, you can repeat this procedure, but keep in mind that it will only fill-up so much. It’s almost impossible to “top-off” a butane lighter.
After filling you’ll notice that the can and the lighter will be very cold. Wait three to five minutes before igniting the lighter. This permits any excess butane to evaporate, and will bring the liquid gas up to room temperature.
Finally, set the flame adjustment dial or wheel to the height you prefer. Do not open the valve all the way. This will not only cause the flame to shoot out like the exhaust pipes on a dragster. It can also cause the flame to cut out, and more importantly, you’re wasting fuel. Start by adjusting the dial to its midway point. This should give you a good strong flame and then you can adjust it up or down from there.
TIP: An optional trick that will help you fill your lighter more efficiently is to place your lighter in the freezer for about 5-10 minutes. This lowers the air pressure in the lighter. By doing this, when the sub-zero gas hits the freezing cold lighter the fuel will enter faster and more completely. If your lighter has a fuel window, you’ll notice the increase in speed that it fills-up.
Filling a lighter at high altitude
If you happen to live in a high-altitude part of the country like Denver, CO, it is critical that you use fuel that is at least quadruple-refined and higher. Also, make sure that you keep your lighter’s fuel tank as full as possible at all times.
As before, you want to allow the fuel temperature to reach room temperature. One way to do this is by simply holding the lighter in your hand for a minute or two. You can also put the lighter in your pants or a shirt pocket.
Next, adjust the flame dial or wheel to the (-) setting. This will allow more oxygen to enter the combustion chamber and will improve your lighter’s ignition and flame height, by compensating for the lack of oxygen at higher altitudes. At lower altitudes, turning the adjustment wheel towards the (+) setting will increase the fuel flow.
When igniting, depress the trigger slowly until you hear the gas hissing out, then finish depressing the trigger to ignite the flame. Do not do this repeatedly to ignite the flame faster. A slow, deliberate, motion will decrease ignition failure.
In-between cigars, when you’re not using your lighter, keep the adjustment setting at the midpoint as mentioned above. The next time you light your cigar adjust it by turning the dial higher or lower as needed.
Storing your lighter after use
If you plan on storing your lighter for a long time period, wait until you’ve used up as much fuel as possible, then empty all of the remaining fuel. If you did not completely empty the lighter before storing and the lighter has not been used for a long period of time, when depressing the ignition trigger it may appear to be no longer working. If so, simply empty all of the fuel from the lighter as described in the first paragraph under “Filling your cigar lighter” above, then refuel and adjust the flame level as noted. This should help fix the problem.
Topics related to federal regulation tend to appear so complicated that many people just don’t bother to pay attention. The aim of this article is to try and simplify what the Federal Drug Administration proposes with regard to regulating premium handmade cigars, and what cigar smokers can do about it. Yes, this is also one of the few pending regulations where we, the people (at least the people who enjoy smoking premium handmade cigars), can raise our voices in an effort to influence what the FDA will eventually enforce. More on how to do that later, but let’s start at the beginning so you can understand what the FDA regulations are proposing.
The Back Story – FDA Cigar Regulations
The main issue at hand is how premium cigars will be defined. Due to the nature of how premium handmade cigars are produced, distributed and marketed, this seems to have gotten the Drug Administration tied-up like a Culebra, so here’s what they’ve proposed:
Either the FDA would regulate all cigars, machine-mades, premium handmades, et al. as one all-inclusive product, or, create a new definition for what they call “covered cigars,” and therefore, premium cigars would be identified as a product that …
- is wrapped in whole tobacco leaf
- contains a 100% tobacco leaf binder
- contains mostly or all long-filler tobacco
- is made by manually rolling the wrapper, filler, and binder
- has no filter, tip, or non-tobacco mouthpiece, and is capped by hand
- weighs more than 6 lbs. per 1000 units
- does not have a characterizing flavor other than tobacco
- has a retail price of no less than $10 per cigar
A few of the above definitions are reasonable. For example, being wrapped in a whole tobacco leaf, containing 100% tobacco leaf filler, and manually rolling all of the cigar’s components, but makers of premium handmade cigars have already been doing that for generations. However, definitions such as having no “characterizing flavor other than tobacco,” and having “a retail price of no less than $10 a cigar” warrant a major FAIL.
Think about it. If a premium cigar was to be defined as one that did not have a characterizing flavor other than tobacco, cigars like ACID and Java by Drew Estate, CAO flavours, Tatiana, Maker’s Mark, etc. could be headed for annihilation. And since the federal government is capable of any misdeed, let’s take it one step beyond. This reg could mean that even cigars aged in cedar rooms, rum barrels, wine barrels, not to mention other natural methods that blenders use to improve the flavor of their tobaccos would be classified as “non-premiums” under this restriction.
Make your comment to the FDA here: Tobacco Legislation Action Center
As for premium cigars being defined as a cigar that sells for no less than $10 a stick (even after any discounts or coupons have been accounted for), any single premium cigar selling for less than the required $10 per stick would be regulated beyond all reason. That would account for 85% of the cigars on the market! This begs the question: Are all of the premium cigars priced under $10 any less “premium” than those costing $10 or more? According to Cigar Rights of America Executive Director, Glynn Loope: “In the history of FDA cigar regulations, we cannot find a precedent for the federal government dictating the price of a consumer product.” Do you see how insidious this is?
A day that will live in infamy
On the morning of April 24, 2014, the FDA issued its first round of regulations for cigars. For cigar manufacturers, retailers, their suppliers, and consumers, this announcement had all the impact of the Normandy invasion.
One of the 78 items in this “foundational document,” as the FDA Commissioner called it, that pertain specifically to cigars, is a ban on sample cigars. How’s this for a scenario? Your local cigar retailer announces they’re featuring deals on a new frontmark from XYZ Cigars. You walk in; the XYZ sales rep offers you a sample hoping you’ll like it enough to buy a box. Yet, if the federal government is able to enforce such a mandate, the manufacturer will lose the opportunity to hand out that sample, and you lose the opportunity to smoke it.
Within the “Deeming Regulation,” the federal government also wants cigar manufacturers subjected to a pre-market review before their cigars ship to retailers. This “review” would require things like inspections, testing and other forms of analysis, maybe even on-site observation by federal agents, and who knows what other forms of scrutiny the FDA can think of, all prior to release.
By their own admission, the FDA states that it will take a company 5,000 hours to complete this process. Add in the lawyer fees, and even the big manufacturers like Altadis USA, General Cigar, and Davidoff, could wind up spending millions of dollars just to get their new cigars on the market, not to mention companies like Arturo Fuente, Perdomo, Drew Estate, Oliva, Padrón, Carlos Toraño, Gurkha, and Rocky Patel, among others. As for the boutique cigar marketers like Tatuaje, CLE, Alec Bradley, E.P.C., Crowned Heads, Aging Room, et al., it would be tantamount to setting-off a nuclear bomb.
Good News, Bad News
The legislation still pending in Congress, bills H.R. 792 and S. 772, which would exempt premium cigars from FDA oversight altogether, are still breathing thanks to the thousands of cigar smokers who have contacted their federal representatives. Should they pass, this would send the FDA a powerful “hands off!” message. As of this writing, 156 bi-partisan members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 16 U.S. Senators have supported these bills, but our work as cigar smokers is not over yet.
Other obstacles cigar smokers will have to negotiate include restrictions on advertising and marketing, regulations on self-service sales, such as cigar stores with walk-in humidors; rules concerning events and promotions, including groups who want the FDA to succeed.
Recently, the American Association of Family Physicians (AAFP) added their signature to a May 27, 2014 letter sent to the leaders of the House Committee on Appropriations by the American Public Health Association (APHA), in which the parties opposed any potential amendment to the FDA funding bill that would exempt cigars from the agency’s proposed tobacco deeming regulations
“We oppose any amendment that would interfere with the current rulemaking process, prevent a science-based decision-making process, and place a broad category of cigars beyond the reach of FDA,” said the May 27 letter, which was crafted by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and signed by more than 30 medical organizations. “An amendment to exclude certain types of cigars would prevent FDA from implementing even basic common-sense rules such as requiring manufacturers to report what ingredients are contained in their products.”
Counterattacks like these, and there are more to come, plus clever attempts to control the flavor, cost, distribution, and production of premium cigars add up to one thing: Prohibition.
How you can help
The FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products originally stipulated a 75 day public comment period, and as of this writing 33,411 comments had been received by the CTP. However, in a statement released on Friday, June 20th by the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Assoc. (IPCPR), the FDA has extended the comment period until August 8, 2014 for cigar smokers to state why they believe premium cigars should be exempt from FDA regulation. There are a number of ways you can help put a halt to the proposed regulation:
- Go to the Tobacco Legislation Action Center, where you’ll find all of the information and links you need to have your voice heard.
- Continue to pressure your Congressmen and Senators about bills H.R. 792 and S. 772, plus the proposed FDA rules. Don’t blather. Just tell it as you see it, and insist they take action or they’ll be minus your vote on Election Day.
The worst thing concerned cigar smokers can do is sit back on their laurels assuming that everyone else will do the heavy lifting. In cases such as this, in which the very cigar industry itself is facing potential annihilation, everyone has to pull their weight.
Smoke Cigars for Freedom!
As you might imagine, Famous Smoke Shop is a huge supporter of the CRA and many other organizations that are fighting to protect all of our rights. If you want to make a financial contribution AND score some killer smokes at the same time, we’ve put together our Ultimate Freedom Cigar Sampler. This pack contains a seriously awesome selection of stogies, featuring Cohiba, Padron, La Gloria, Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta and many more. The best part is that Famous is going to donate the proceeds from sales of these sampler packs directly to the organizations dedicated to protecting the cigar industry from these overreaching regulations. These cigars are already among the best and most popular on the market today, but they will taste even better when you smoke them knowing that they money you spent on them is going to support the future of premium cigars.
One of the email questions I receive on a pretty regular basis is, “After delivery, how long should I keep my cigars in the humidor before smoking them?” For all intents and purposes, the cigars should be “smoke ready” right out of the box. Just about all of the leading manufacturers age their cigars for a minimum of 6-months in Spanish cedar-lined rooms before shipping. Depending on the cigars, it could be as long as three to five years, and in some cases, even longer; then you have the tobaccos, themselves, which may have been aged for any number of years. It’s safe to presume that a sizable segment of cigar smokers smoke that first cigar out of the box within the first few minutes the package arrives, or at least within the first 24 hrs. Why not, right? OK, but based on my experience and what I’ve learned from other cigar smokers, letting your cigars rest for even a few days after placing them in your humidor results in a better smoke. This is generally referred to as “settling.” There are any number of things, that can “upset” your cigars while in transit. By letting them settle in your humidor the tobaccos should return to their pre-shipping state. As for cigars bought in a retail store, each store’s humidor set-up is different, and some are better or worse than others. Therefore, even in the case of a same-day sale, it doesn’t hurt to let your new cigars buddy-up with your other smokes for a day or two. The choice is yours.
So what if you were to let your cigars rest even longer? Say a month, six months, a year, two, even several years. Of course, it depends on the cigar and how much patience you can muster. There’s no specific time period, which is why this topic can make for a sticky debate among cigar smokers. Let me give you a recent example which demonstrates that even a home aging your cigars period as short as a week can make a difference. I recently bought a box of cigars from a very reputable manufacturer. Though I had smoked this brand in the past, I hadn’t smoked this particular line extension which used a different wrapper. I based my purchase on the quality of the brand, the blend, my past experience with the company’s cigars, and the price. I placed half of them in my office humidor and took the remaining cigars home. As tempted as I was to light one up, I waited until the next day. Not only did the cigar not live up to my expectations, I was constantly relighting it. They were probably still too moist. Two days later, I smoked another. Not much difference, but they were tasty. One week later – actually, as I was writing this very article I had one going – the flavor had improved significantly. So, I decided to wait another week before I had the next one. I concluded that after a month they’d be even better, and by the time I get to the last few, they’ll be wonderful.
Home aging your cigars tip: Always have a good supply of cigars to smoke on hand while your new arrivals are aging.
So what about long-term aging, like two years and beyond? An email I received within the last few weeks begged the question. Three years ago the customer purchased a 5-pack of a certain high-profile cigar.
“The one I had then was only so-so,” wrote the customer. “However, after 3 years, the remaining ones were amazing. I guess the whole ‘aging improves cigars’ thing really is true! What do you think the ideal time is for aging? 3 years on those [cigars] was great. [Is] 4 better? 5? More? I’ve heard that cigars can keep improving for decades…is that true?” My answer was basically this: I have some top-flight cigars that have been in my humidor for almost 10 years. Mainly because, like a lot of smokers, I was “waiting for the right time” to smoke them. I should know better. Some of those extra-long-aged cigars have held up, but some haven’t. That said, three years could have been right for those cigars. By the customer’s logic it made sense that the longer he aged those cigars, the better they’d get. Then again, they may have tasted just as good after one or two years. The thing is, like some wines, if you age a cigar too long it will lose its bouquet; that is unless it is under very special conditions that can slow the aging process down long enough to keep them fresh for a decade or more. There’s no reason to age most premium cigars more than two to three years. Even some cigars that are blended using a lot of oily ligero long-filler will mellow-out nicely after just one year.
Some cigar makers like Jorge Padrón and Pete Johnson will tell you there’s no need to age their cigars any longer. Light ‘em up and enjoy them for Pete’s sake (no pun intended). Without a doubt, some cigars require extra aging, and almost all do taste better with more time on them, say six months to a year. Again, it depends on the cigar. Secondly, if you prefer smoking the finer cigars on the market, why wait so long when it’s not all that necessary?
At the risk of sounding like your grandmother, you could be hit by a bus tomorrow…then what? You get the idea. In other words, smoke ‘em if you got ‘em and enjoy ‘em, but age them on a per-cigar basis. You’ll eventually know which cigars improve best or least by experimenting with different time periods. Two to three years max? Perhaps. But four to five years or more? I think that’s pushing it.
Even with all the wild, wacky and dumbass hijinks you see daily on the internet, there’s one place where etiquette is still the norm – the cigar lounge. Not surprisingly, Zino Davidoff is credited for what we call “cigar etiquette” today. He even wrote a book about it, and I can’t think of a better person to write such a book than Mr. Davidoff. Zino was the quintessential “gentleman,” from his grooming, to his clothes, right down to the way he smoked his cigars. I’m talking “Old World” manners; when men opened doors for women, and removed their hat when entering a room. Though some of those customs have survived, today anything goes. But step into a traditional cigar lounge and you’ll think you stepped into the Bizarro world. I’m not saying that cigar lounges are for the stiff upper lip type; quite the contrary. That said, there are some guidelines that will help you become a better cigar smoker. Even some of Mr. Davidoff’s rules are a little too Victorian by today’s standards. For example: holding the cigar between your index finger and thumb, rather than your index and middle fingers. Zino felt the former method was more “elegant.” He may have had a point, but the way you hold your cigar is pretty much considered your own business. Another is removing the band so as not to “advertise” how costly (or cheap, for that matter) your cigar is. Though many cigar smokers still apply this rule, it appears to have faded over time, since a lot of other smokers want to know what you’re smoking. It’s also a great conversation starter. More often than not today, the band comes off when the ash gets too close. Continue reading
It would be easier to weigh than count the number of emails I’ve received over the years with questions about cigar humidors, especially on how to season one. I’ve written about how to season a humidor on more than one occasion; I’ve even done a video on how to season a humidor which you’ll see at the end of this article. But before you watch the video, read what to do first, since there are some things covered in this article that may not be in the video, and vice versa; then it will all come together nicely.
So, you’ve just purchased a new humidor because your cigars are starting to pile up and you want to keep them fresh for as long as necessary. Here’s what to do: Continue reading
You hope it never happens, but one day when you least expect it…BAM!, your cigar begins to unravel on you. Your heartbeat increases; your mind becomes cluttered with frustration. “How am I going to smoke this cigar now?” you ask yourself. The last thing you want to do is trash it, especially if it’s a favorite, a pricey primo, or both.
The unraveling wrapper is one of those snafus that’s hard to fix unless you just happen to have some roller’s glue, and most cigar smokers don’t own a bottle of roller’s glue. The good news is, depending on how and where the cigar is unraveling there are several ways you can repair it, and you don’t have to be a torcedor either. Just keep in mind that whichever method you use, be it the remedies listed here, or your own invention, wrapper leaf can be very delicate, so caution and patience are the keys to getting the job done right. Finally, NEVER use spit; it just doesn’t work. Continue reading
Today I’ll be giving you all my Montecristo White Series cigar review. To start off with a little history behind the band, Montecristo White Series cigars were created to complement the original Cuban Montecristos. They did a pretty good job, too. Though it’s difficult to compare the two note-for-note, the White series certainly has many of the same characteristics found in the Havana-blend. The Ecuadorian Connecticut Shade wrapper is cured to a light, buttery blonde color similar to Cuban Corojo. If I were to put the brown Cuban Montecristo band on this cigar, you’d probably think it was the original. Using a Nicaraguan binder and a core blend of Dominican and Nicaraguan long-fillers, the White offers a rich, creamy and naturally sweet taste found in many Cuban cigars. Since the Montecristo White Series has its own distinctive character, I’d rather not digress any further on comparisons to its contraband cousin. Continue reading