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The Power Train

Strong Cigars Fuel the Industry's Hottest Trend.
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Spacey, Jan/Feb 02

(continued from page 1)

Carrillo has always been known for his strong smokes, and in the mid-1990s his El Rico was an anomaly, a non-Cuban cigar that could outmuscle a Havana. Today, it has plenty of company.

José Seijas of Tabacalera de Garica Ltd., the Dominican cigar factory owned by Altadis U.S.A., has created beefed-up versions of Altadis's mild Montecristo and H. Upmann brands. He recently made H. Upmann 2000, a strong cigar with a Nicaraguan wrapper, and Montecristo Serie V, a powerful smoke wrapped in Cameroon. They are some of the fullest-flavored cigars to come out of an Altadis factory.

Angel Daniel Núñez, the man in charge of making Macanudos, has done the same for his employer, General Cigar Co. He recently created Partagas Black and Cohiba Extra Vigoroso, stronger versions of the two brands.

Caribe Imported Cigars, the company behind mild mainstays Baccarat and La Fontana, has come to market with a powerful pair of Honduran puros called Camacho Havana and Camacho Corojo. They're full-bodied cigars built in the style of the Cubans of old.

Even Davidoff of Geneva has joined the strong-cigar bandwagon. A stalwart devotee to the temple of mild cigars, Davidoff finally acknowledged the strong-cigar trend by releasing the Davidoff Millennium Series last summer.

Carlos Fuente Jr., the creator of the Fuente Fuente OpusX and Ashton VSG, is one of the biggest believers in full-flavored cigars. He and his father, Carlos Sr., who run one of the world's biggest handmade cigar operations, have built their formidable reputation on a portfolio of stronger cigars. But in 1980 strong cigars were a problem for the company.

"People started complaining that our cigars were too heavy, too rich. We had a lot of complaints," says Fuente Jr. "It was a time, an era, where we had to adjust. And we had to survive."

Fuente made milder blends, and began using Connecticut-shade tobacco for the first time in the company's history to appeal to the tastes of the time.

"There was a trend towards light -- light beer, light Coke, light, light, light. The big companies in the cigar industry determined what taste was, because they determined the [advertising] campaigns. And there was a whole campaign about mild," says Fuente Jr. "I always hated that word -- 'mild.' 'Smooth,' I like, but not 'mild.' So every ad in every trade magazine, every ad that you would see, was always 'mild,' 'sweet.' And that really bothered me. We didn't want that; I didn't want to smoke that."

As recently as the early 1990s, Dominican cigars were pigeonholed as mild smokes. That's no longer true. If the VSG and Fuente Fuente OpusX aren't convincing enough, take a puff of the latest cigar to come from the Tamboril factory of La Flor Dominicana. Aptly named the Ligero, the cigar is strong enough to weaken the knees of even a seasoned smoker.

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