Small Batch Smokes
Premium cigar companies are finding big success with small-scale releases
From the Print Edition:
Jeremy Irons, March/April 2013
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"Our fans tell me that they have a lot of fun comparing editions from different years," explains Gomez. "They also know that when we run out of those cigars, we really do."
Some releases are based around single-estate and vintage tobaccos. In the case of Illusione Cigars, brand owner Dion Giolito has most recently launched his Singulares project, a very small line of cigars that showcases specific tobacco outside the portfolio of his core Illusione brand. Giolito's first run of Singulares came out in 2010 and was made at the Raices Cubanas factory in Honduras alongside his core line. But last year Giolito changed the factory location for Singulares. While Illusiones are still produced in Honduras, Singulares are now made in Nicaragua at the TABSA factory in Estelí. The 2011 and 2012 Singulares, made with different blends and different vintages, both came out last year packaged within the same box. The 2011 has a Nicaraguan Corojo wrapper, and the 2012 a Mexican wrapper from San Andrés. They share leaves from a Nicaraguan plantation called Chilimate, which Giolito says "grows very distinct tobacco." Only 1,200 boxes of 15 were produced.
Also inspired by estate-driven tobacco, Pete Johnson of Tatuaje Cigars created the La Vérité Tatuaje A.O.C. brand, which is a very limited run of smokes that come in only one size showcasing tobacco from one particular farm and one particular vintage. For the first release in 2009, Johnson chose to use a 2008 harvest from José "Pepin" Garcia's La Estrella Farm in Estelí, Nicaragua. The blend consists primarily of Habano-seed criollo tobacco.
"I can't make more of these," Johnson says. "There's no more 2008 tobacco." The crop only allowed for a production run of 50,000 cigars. His follow-up release of La Vérité was taken from the 2009 vintage and is a blend of Nicaraguan Habano seed criollo '98 and a small amount of Pelo de Oro for sweetness. There have been no subsequent La Vérité releases, but Johnson says that tobacco culled from a 2010 harvest is currently in storage for possible production in 2014.
One of Johnson's most popular small batches has been the Tatuaje Monster Series, limited runs of special smokes themed around the monsters of classic horror cinema. Released each year just before Halloween, the Monster Series generates considerable buzz. When the program began in 2008, only 13 retailers chosen via lottery were given the allotment of the inaugural monster cigar, called The Frank (named for Frankenstein). Johnson divided 666 boxes between the tobacconists. The concept has since generated so much interest (and disgruntlement among retailers who were not chosen) that Johnson expanded production to accommodate more of the market. Last Halloween saw The Mummy, whose limited run included an additional 3,100 boxes on top of the initial 666.
Oliva Cigar Co. has grown into one of the most prominent cigar producers in Nicaragua, so most of its cigars are meant for continuous production and sales on a broad scale. But once a year, the company releases a very limited production cigar, the Oliva Serie V Maduro Especiale. The smoke is what company president José Oliva calls "the maduro interpretation" of his Oliva Serie V.
Oliva Serie V Maduro Especiales were first launched in October 2008 as 6 1/2 by 52 pyramids made with Connecticut broadleaf wrappers. Oliva has altered the cigar over the years, changing the wrapper, tweaking the dimensions and moving from a figurado to a parejo. The one thing that has remained constant is the limited aspect—Oliva releases a mere 50,000 of the cigars every year. The cigar scored 92 points and was named one of Cigar Aficionado's Top 25 cigars of 2010.
On the edgier side of the industry, Drew Estate has found success by releasing a series of limited-production cigars that retailers have a difficult time keeping in stock. Brands such as the Liga Privada No. 9 and Liga Privada T-52 have very loyal followings. Liga Privada started out as the personal blend of chief executive officer Steve Saka, and it became so popular that Drew Estate is now perpetually back-ordered. Small-batch offshoots like the Liga Privada Único Serie, with unorthodox smokes such as the Ratzilla, Flying Pig and Dirty Rat, have cult followings.
Midsize companies such as S.A.G. Imports, which produces its flagship Fonseca line in the Dominican Republic, also have an interest in small-batch runs. "We usually need enough tobacco to make at least 1,000 20-count boxes," says Terence Reilly of S.A.G. Its Quesada Jalapa is a new limited-edition made with a specific Nicaraguan wrapper from 2002, but brands such as the Quesada Oktoberfest are continually produced, though in a controlled capacity. "The hybrid seed for Quesada Jalapa is no longer grown. We can't acquire more tobacco, so the cigar is a finite limited-edition. For Oktoberfest, the wrapper we require is consistenly available, but in low supply, so the brand is offered once a year, but in small quantities."
Rafael Nodal of Habana Cuba Cigar Co. recently reassessed his mission and reined in production, focusing on smaller batches of cigars. "There is no doubt that the decision to focus on small batches has been a success for me," says Nodal, referring to his aptly named Aging Room Small Batch M356. "Mass production satisfies a need in the market, but we've made a conscientious decision to limit the number of cigars we produce.
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JONATHAN DREW — NEW YORK, NY, UNITED STATES, — May 8, 2013 1:41pm ET
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