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The New Golden Age

Marvin R. Shanken, Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
Arnon Milchan, September/October 2008

A few years ago, we dubbed our era the Golden Age of cigar smoking. At the time, great new cigars were hitting the market and some older brands were updating their blends and dramatically improving quality. We were wrong.

Now, we have to say that today is the Golden Age for lovers of fine, premium hand-rolled cigars. You could argue, we guess, that the golden age is just continuing, and you would be right about that too. But today’s cigars are even better than the ones that we commented about a few years ago, and they just seem to be getting better all the time. Why do we say that? We just got back from Las Vegas, this year’s host to the cigar industry’s biggest trade show, now called the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association, or IPCPR.

Attendance was up from last year, and there was the usual complement of big, well-designed booths. When people weren’t gambling or sightseeing or recovering from the previous night’s parties, the show floor was busy with retailers from the United States, and all over the world. It was astonishing how many good cigars were available, including ones from companies that we never would have expected. Several notable trends were evident. A lot of manufacturers are creating or putting new emphasis on the lancero size, about 38 to 40 ring gauge and seven inches long. That’s a cigar that gives a lot of prominence to the wrapper leaf, and since it’s thinner, it smokes more quickly than, say, a double corona. We also observed that the shift toward really strong, full-bodied smokes is moderating.

The buzzword was flavor, but not at the expense of a harmonious balance. We smoked some cigars that are going to be on retailers’ shelves this fall. We’re not going to mention any names yet, but some cigars from some very big and traditional manufacturers will pleasantly surprise you. We advise you to throw out your preconceptions about some venerable brands and to try some of these new products this fall. Why is the improvement continuing to happen?

First, cigarmakers are not sitting on their laurels. They are continuing to experiment with wrappers and filler tobaccos from all regions of the world, and shedding some of their old, dare we say outdated, notions about what makes up a great blend. We even had one cigar that you won’t be smoking until the end of the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba; the cigarmaker acquired some Cuban wrapper leaf and put it on his existing blend. It was fabulous. That kind of creativity bodes well for all cigar smokers.

Second, and maybe more importantly, the big cigar tobacco growers are producing bigger and bigger quantities of some of the world’s best wrapper leaf outside Cuba’s Vuelta Abajo. The leaves are dark, oily and flavorful, and they are opening the door on great new blends. As with cigarmakers, there is a greater attitude of experimentation among growers than ever before. Sure, storm clouds still remain on the horizon. New taxes. Tighter smoking laws. A souring economy. But retailers are responding by building new lounges where their customers can legally smoke, and they are becoming much more aggressive with creative promotions, finding new ways to get customers into their stores. And that’s where you can decide for yourself whether this is truly a new Golden Age for cigars.

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