Boutique Cigar Brands
Many of the cigar smokers were well into their Litto Gomez Diez Chisel Puros. It was Cigar Aficionado's number three cigar of the year for 2008 and Litto Gomez spoke about the cigar during a ten-minute cigar break. While the spice and flavor of the Dominican tobacco was starting to set in, Gomez stepped off the stage and David Savona stepped on to introduce three boutique cigarmakers for the next session: Alan Rubin of Alec Bradley Cigar Co., Sam Leccia of NUB and Cain, and Pete Johnson of Tatuaje Cigars, but only Leccia and Rubin were in the room. Johnson was nowhere to be found. Rubin brought a jovial tone to the panel by showing up wearing two sleeves of fake tattoos which, from far away, looked very convincing.
"Having a panel of tattooed cigarmakers is very important," joked Rubin.
All the cigarmakers on the panel started with a passion for the cigar industry and have, within the last few years, grown exponentially in popularity. Although none faster than Sam Leccia, whose NUB and Cain cigars are made by Tabacalera Oliva S.A., who began an aggressive marketing campaign as soon as his brands hit store shelves.
"I've been smoking cigars since high school," said Leccia. "In 2000, I went to a factory and was intrigued and blown away by what it takes to make a cigar. I didn't have access to any tobacco so I would actually take apart cigars and mix them together just to play around. Then I became a territory rep for Oliva."
Savona took the mic and called again: "Pete? Pete are you out there?" There was some laughter throughout the crowd and Savona prompted Rubin to speak.
Alan Rubin was an importer of what he called "hard goods" before entering the cigar business in 1997.
Moderator David Savona gave Pete Johnson some good natured ribbing about showing up late.
Eventually, Rubin met cigarmaker Hendrik "Henke" Kelner who made his Occidental Reserve brand. Rubin did everything from pass out his cigars at golf courses to send them straight to tobacconists at a competitive price point. "Ultimately," he said, "this is a relationships business."
Then a shaken Pete Johnson appeared bleary eyed and out of breath.
"I'm very sorry, this is not an insult to the panel or to anyone," said Johnson. Apparently he had met a wine maker the night before and had been sampling his work until 6 a.m.
"Obviously he makes cigars and not watches," said Savona, adding that Johnson's Tatuaje brand was named hottest cigar brand in america by Cigar Insider.
Pete Johnson, the creator of the Tatuaje brand, the hottest cigar brand in America.
Rubin added "It's not a numbers game. We just want to make great cigars. A small company can listen to what you guys are saying."
Johnson agreed, " Like Alan said, we don't have to cut great brands just because they don't sell. I just make cigars I like and eventually someone will like it as much as I do."
Leccia spoke a bit about his unorthodox NUB cigar, which has only been on the market for about a year and a half, yet has become immensely popular.
Sam Leccia created the prototype for NUB cigars in his garage.
The Alec Bradley Tempus is also about a year and a half old.
"We saw some tobacco from the Trojes farm in Honduras and we thought this was really unique," said Rubin. "We fermented the stuff right and when I smoked it I just knew it was something special, so we hit the market with Tempus."
Johnson mentioned his new brand that is coming out called El Triunfador. "It isn't a strong cigar, but as far as flavor goes, it's a nine. I'm not doing very strong cigars right now. That's what Tatuaje brown label is for."
None of the panelists offered a specific formula for turning a small, obscure brand into something successful, but Johnson closed the panel with some advice that he has always followed: "Don't force it. Don't ever try to hard sell your brand to anybody. If you know in your heart that you love it, someone else will too."
And with that, the crowd went to lunch.
Photos by Sjodin Photography
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