Small Batch Smokes
Premium cigar companies are finding big success with small-scale releases
From the Print Edition:
Jeremy Irons, March/April 2013
In any industry, from cigars to bourbon to craft beer, the notion of small-batch or limited production usually implies high craftsmanship, rarity and exceedingly superior stock. The time and care afforded to small-production operations can often separate artisan, luxury products from homogenized commodities, and while cigar-smoking skeptics may dismiss phrases such as "limited edition" as overused buzzwords, cigar manufacturers have been taking the terms very seriously. So seriously that almost every major player in the business is offering a small-batch or limited-edition cigar line in one form or another.
The cultivation of high-quality, low-yield tobacco is evident, as more and more small-batch expressions find their way to the market, garnering high scores and critical praise for both character and distinction. In lieu of their larger production core lines, small-batch releases give cigarmakers the chance to experiment creatively with rare tobacco that they may never see again, and turn it into a limited offering.
Small batch, depending on the company and the project, either means that a regular-production cigar is made in very small, controlled quantities each year, or that a singular batch of unique tobacco is allotted for a one-time production run—one and done—and when the tobacco is finished, the brand is gone.
Take for example EPC Cigar Co., which makes E.P. Carrillo cigars in the Dominican Republic. Brand owner Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, who started as a boutique cigarmaker in Miami, began his Short Run campaign in 2010 as a limited-edition offshoot of his core E.P. Carrillo line.
"My decision to start the Short Run was based on tobacco that I thought had special characteristics but was not available enough to use in regular production lines," says Perez-Carrillo. "So far, the Short Run releases have been one-time runs. We experiment with seeds and tobaccos from areas that fall outside the realm of those found in our normal brands."
The first E.P. Carrillo Short Run in 2010 focused on a Sumatra-seed Ecuadoran wrapper with a Dominican and Nicaraguan blend. In 2011, Perez-Carrillo used an Ecuadoran Habano 2000 wrapper for Short Run, and last year he layered an Ecuadoran Connecticut wrapper over a Connecticut broadleaf binder for the 2012 Short Run. Every Short Run only sees about 108,000 cigars per release. By comparison, Perez-Carrillo's regular-production core lines total around 1.5 million cigars each year.
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Litto Gomez, maker of La Flor Dominicana cigars in the Dominican Republic, also comes across small quantities of distinct tobaccos but knows that there aren't always enough to make a sustainable brand. In 2006, Gomez made use of a small amount of Sumatra-seed wrapper that he grew on his farm in La Canela, Dominican Republic, and released the LG Small Batch. It came in one size: 7 inches by 52 ring.
"Every LG Small batch we make can't be replicated because those tobaccos used from that specific year don't exist anymore," says Gomez. "Depending on how much tobacco is available, we make from 20,000 to 30,000 Small Batch cigars. But for the last LG Small Batch release [Small Batch No. 4], we only made a little over 15,000 cigars because we just didn't have enough good-looking wrappers to make any more."
Gomez has released four LG Small Batch editions since 2006, each of them boxed in crates of 120 cigars and draped in strikingly dark, oily oscuro cover leaves unlike anything else in the La Flor Dominicana line. While all have been Dominican puros, made only of Dominican tobacco, the cigars have varied in size and in blend.
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JONATHAN DREW — NEW YORK, NY, UNITED STATES, — May 8, 2013 1:41pm ET
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