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Small Batch Smokes

Premium cigar companies are finding big success with small-scale releases
Gregory Mottola
From the Print Edition:
Jeremy Irons, March/April 2013

(continued from page 3)

And consider Davidoff's yearly limited-edition smokes such as the Davidoff White Edition. Both the 2011 and 2012 White Editions feature alternative wrappers and stronger blends that deviate from the mild- to medium-bodied flavor profile of the core Davidoff line. Most recently, Davidoff's Year of the Snake is a 7 by 48 cigar with a hybrid Ecuadoran wrapper developed by blender Hendrik "Henke" Kelner and made in the Dominican Republic. Only 4,500 boxes of eight were made. Not to ignore its smaller brands, Davidoff keeps its Avo Uvezian range fresh as well by introducing an annual limited-edition anniversary cigar, which differs in blend, size and character with each release.

Habanos, despite its vast global reach, has mastered both the limited-production and the "one-and-done" format for its massive portfolio of Cuban cigars. The Cohiba Behike BHK, for example, is a regular-production smoke that is made each year in very limited quantities on account of the rare medio tiempo tobacco used for the line. The BHK52, which is the smallest size in the brand, took the top honor of Cigar of the Year for 2010. Habanos projected that it would only produce 150,000 Behikes for 2011.

The Edición Limitadas and Regional Edition cigars, on the other hand, are "one-and-done" releases of special, limited-edition sizes that have a fixed production number and are discontinued after that number has been reached. The limited-edition, or Edición Limitada program started in 2000. These cigars are special sizes of Cuba's large, well-known brands and, although limited, are shipped to retailers around the globe. The Cohiba 1966 Edición Limitada 2011 secured the number two spot for the Top 25 Cigars of 2012. It measures 6 1/2 inches by 52 ring and is unlike any other size in the normal Cuban portfolio.

Regional Edition smokes are made from Cuba's smaller, lesser-known brands. Like Edición Limitadas, they are rolled in unique sizes outside the normal Habanos brand portfolio, but these cigars are not offered worldwide. Rather, they're contracted for specific markets. Italy, Germany and the U.K., for example, can all request a limited run of unique cigars through their regional distributors. The brand and size is approved by Habanos and then a few thousand boxes are shipped to the specific region.

"For SEITA, which is the exclusive distributor for the Jose L. Piedra and Quai d'Orsay brands in France, the 2011 Quai d'Orsay Robusto Embajador was our very first Regional Edition," says Antoine Bathie, SEITA's premium cigars manager. Quai d'Orsay is one of the smaller Cuban brands, and the Embajador scored 92 points in Cigar Aficionado. Only 1,000 boxes of 25 were made and SEITA sold out of the entire allotment in only six months. "If I could go back in time, I would have increased my order by at least twice as much!" says Bathie. "Many cigar smokers have discovered Quai d'Orsay thanks to this program. This kind of innovation is an efficient way to recruit new aficionados to the brand."

The Regional Edition program officially began in 2005 with only two countries, Switzerland and Italy, participating. By 2007, national participation quadrupled and 2012 saw small batches of regional-edition cigars made for countries such as Canada, Switzerland, China and Lebanon.

But where do these limited editions leave the consumer? When faced with the choice between a pricy special smoke, or a tried-and-true brand, it isn't always easy for smokers to open their wallets and take the leap of faith.

"My feelings are mixed," says Nicolas Fauteux, an enthusiast from Quebec who smokes mostly Cuban cigars. "On one hand, it feels like a marketing ploy and I hate being taken for a fool. On the other hand, it does add a lot of variety. All in all, it's hit or miss. Many of Cuba's Edición Limitadas fall short of expectations. But the Cohiba Edición Limitada from 2003 is probably the best cigar I've ever smoked."

When asked if the increased price tag is justified, Fauteux responds: "Only when I like them. It's a gamble, but I accept that, and the pleasure of the chase to find and obtain them is worth the price of admission for me."

This mentality also applies to the non-Cuban cigar market.


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Comments   1 comment(s)

JONATHAN DREW — NEW YORK, NY, UNITED STATES,  —  May 8, 2013 1:41pm ET

Great article.
JD


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