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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I have some great tobacco but not enough to make millions of cigars." The Aging Room Small Batch M356 is produced in the Dominican Republic, and the Presto size grabbed the No. 16 spot on Cigar Aficionado's 2011 Top 25 cigar list. Made entirely of Dominican tobacco, including some Habano-seed ligero, Aging Room Small Batch M356 is not a "one-and-done" cigar, but a regular-production brand made in small quantities.
"The average production of my Small Batch brand is about 80,000 cigars per year," he says. Nodal's follow-up release, the Aging Room Small Batch Quattro F55, came out last year, and earned an average score of 91 points in a Cigar Insider vertical brand tasting. It features an Indonesian Sumatra wrapper that so enamored Nodal that he built a brand around it. "Quattro can have a larger production than the Small Batch M356," assures Nodal. "But once this tobacco is finished, so is the brand."
Nodal is not the only one who has recently blended a small-batch brand around a wrapper leaf. When Jon Huber of Crown Heads LLC came across a small lot of wrapper leaf that was too dark in color to be consistent with his core Four Kicks line—but too attractive and tasty to reject—he decided to create a limited run called Mule Kick.
"We needed to utilize wrapper leaf we'd already purchased that was too dark for the Four Kicks line," says Huber. Mule Kick could be reasonably classified as a small-batch brand within a small-batch brand, as the regular Four Kicks production is already very limited. Made at Tabacalera Alianza in the Dominican Republic by Perez-Carrillo, the Four Kicks brand is about a year and a half old and has an annual production of only 300,000 cigars—a small number by premium standards—but the Mule Kick had an exponentially smaller production run of only 500 boxes of 10 (or 5,000 cigars). Mule Kick came and went, becoming somewhat of a cult release as a result of its rarity.
"It wound up snowballing for us and the reception it received far surpassed anything we'd anticipated," says Huber.
Viaje, a relatively new cigar company, takes a unique approach to the business. When Viaje started in 2008, two traditional core lines—Platino and Oro—anchored the portfolio. From these lines, brand owner Andre Farkas would later release small novelty editions of limited-production cigars like the Stuffed Turkey, the Skull & Bones and the Daisy Cutter. The curiously named limited editions created so much interest that they became significantly more popular than Viaje's core Oro and Platino lines. In fact, smokers were ignoring these two traditional base brands almost entirely, far more intrigued with cigars like the C4, Super Shot or Roman Candle. Viaje's two traditional lines simply sat on store shelves. Given this reality, Farkas reevaluated his business model and decided last year to focus the entire company solely on limited-edition runs. Oro and Platino are still produced, but in very restricted quantities and are now billed by Viaje as another small-batch brand. Viajes are made consistently each year in small amounts at the Raices Cubanas factory in Honduras.
"I always wanted to be a small-batch producer, but I couldn't start out that way," says Farkas. "Last year I moved Oro and Platino to a once-a-year rolling. So now I'm 100 percent small batch. My average production run of any brand is 200 boxes of 25 for the year."
Smaller companies, however, are not the only ones capable or driven to producing high-quality, small-batch cigars. Rocky Patel brought his namesake Rocky Patel Fifty line to market last year in celebration of his 50th birthday. When compared to Patel's yearly production of premium cigars numbering well into the millions, the Fifty had a total run of only 6,000 boxes, which translated to three sizes at 2,000 boxes each. The Robusto earned the No. 8 spot for the Top 25 Cigars of 2012. Made in Nicaragua at Patel's Tavicusa factory, the Fifty is blended around a dark, Ecuadoran Habano-seed wrapper. Its Nicaraguan double binder and Nicaraguan filler make for a heady, powerful smoke that is full of character and a distinction not often associated with high-volume operations.
When large numbers for long-term brands are projected, consistency can sometimes take priority over uniqueness or quality. But huge companies such as General Cigar Co., Davidoff of Geneva and even Habanos S.A., the global distribution giant for the Cuban cigar industry, have all created small-batch editions that are different from their mainstay brands.
Recall the Benji Menendez Partagas Master Series Majestuoso from General Cigar. Named after veteran blender and cigar maker Benjamin Menendez, General produced 5,000 boxes of the Majestuoso, a 6 by 46 cigar blended by Menendez himself using a dark Cameroon wrapper and a Habano-seed binder from Connecticut. It garnered the No. 15 spot on Cigar Aficionado's Top 25 Cigars of 2009. "With a small-batch cigar, we are able to call on our resources to utilize tobacco that's limited, and not available in a sufficient quantity for a full release," says Menendez. "Also with small batch cigars, we traditionally seek tobacco from individual farms." The cigar was such a critical and commercial success that General commissioned another limited run of the Partagas Master Series last year, this time in a different size-a beefed up 6 by 54.
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JONATHAN DREW — NEW YORK, NY, UNITED STATES, — May 8, 2013 1:41pm ET
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