We're in the middle of our IPCPR wrap-up coverage. By "we" I mean the Cigar Insider, and by wrap-up coverage, I mean an A to Z recap of everything we saw at the trade show in as much detail as possible. Or as much detail as we deem to be relevant. We released our first Cigar Insider installment a week ago and made it to the letter "D."
In recalling the show, I can't help but remember some of the odd or different or annoying things that happened. While it's great to see so much of the industry all together in one place, some things just keep popping back into my head.
Like the mechanical bull at E.P.C. Cigar Co.'s booth. It was there one day, gone the next—not exactly sure why. The bull was a clever way to play off the E-Stunner, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo's newest brand, and the strongest cigar he makes. There's a bull on the band. Ernesto tried to shame me into taking a ride on that mechanical beast and to tell you the truth, I would have done it, save for one thing—the Internet. Sure, I would have mounted it, and yes, I eventually would have been flung off. No problem. But I also know that the second I straddled the saddle, ten camera phones would have come out all held by jeering cigar smokers just waiting for me to be tossed directly into the adjacent booth. The way I figure, I probably would have been jettisoned straight into General Cigar. I decided to walk over to General instead.
At 6,000 square feet (60 booths), General tied with Davidoff for biggest set of the show. Their pavilion was more like a World's Fair exhibition than a simple convention-type setup. Makes perfect sense. Fifty years ago, General Cigar constructed an entire 15,000 square foot building at the legendary 1964-65 World's Fair in New York City (the building's renowned architect, Cecil Alexander, just passed away on July 30). It featured daily magic shows by Mark Wilson in the General Cigar Hall of Magic where "a pretty girl floats in the air...another is cut in half...a pair of detached hands perform amazing acts." Or so the World's Fair program claimed. A giant outdoor smoke machine blew smoke rings 10 feet in diameter into the open sky every 20 seconds and there was a display of "the world's most expensive box of cigars" at the pavilion's "Galerie du Tabac." Whatever those cigars were, they went for $500 per box. Again, this was in 1964-65.
Nearly 50 years later, the most expensive box of cigars at General's IPCPR booth was the Partagas 150 commemorative humidor. It holds 150 smokes and retails for nearly $10,000. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, $500 in 1965 equals about $3,700 today, so it seems that General has upped the ante.
And while General did not have a celebrity magician like Mark Wilson to make pretty girls disappear, they did have Michael Giannini hosting the Foundry Tobacco Company section of General's exhibit. This is the second year that General Cigar included the Foundry booth as part of its pavilion. Foundry was the steampunk-styled brainchild of Giannini. When the booth was first conceived last year, it was designed to look like a study or laboratory straight out of a Jules Verne novel and was full of curiosities that included a Tesla plasma globe.
This year, it was more macabre with skulls and bones and pickled brains in jars. Stepping into that portion of the booth was like stepping onto a movie set. Giannini pointed to a table full of odd tools and dubious-looking instruments. "I imagine this was Jack the Ripper's table," he said with a laugh. I looked up at one of the attractive promotional models standing nearby, oblivious. "A pretty girl is cut in half." Allakazam! She just smiled and handed out cigar samples. Why did you have to put that thought in my head, Mike? Why?
Other tobacco curiosities included Foundry: War of Currents. These are cigars rendered in unusual shapes created to represent the rivalry between Nicolai Tesla and Thomas Edison. And, ladies & gentlemen, step right up to see Compounds, Elements & Musings, Foundry's tobacco interpretations of the periodic table of elements. Gold (Au), Plutonium (Pu) , Argon (Ar) and Carbon (C), all have their own cigars in very unique cases. Europium (Eu), for example, is expressed as a 7 inch by 70 ring cigar with the picture of a merman on the band and box. I'm not exactly sure what the correlation is between mermen and Europium, but if mermaids can sell tuna fish and coffee, I don't see why mermen can't sell cigars.
And speaking of 7 by 70 inch cigars, General wasn't the only one offering up these colossi. Boutique Blends (the boutique arm of Habana Cuba Cigar Co.) debuted a Swag "S" 7 by 70 called The Bawse; E.P.C. Cigar has a 7 by 70 in their Inch line; and Asylum 13, which is made by Christian Eiroa's Tabacaleras Unidas, went so far as to roll a 6 inch by 80 ring cigar. I saw it. Aptly named the 80 x 6, the cigar is about as thick as the cardboard tube you find inside a roll of paper towels. Sometimes I don't recognize this industry.
There was a lot of buzz in Eiroa's booth. His new Eiroa brand is very smartly packaged and a lot of retailers got the chance to sample Factory Fresh cigars, which come out of his Wynwood factory in Miami. The IPCPR even awarded Christian with a Best In Show award for the medium-size exhibitor category. The only reason I found Eiroa's booth in the first place was because he was fairly close to the Cigar Aficionado booth.
I have to be honest: the show was not laid out well. Aisles were not clearly numbered, the convention's promenades and causeways ended abruptly, booths were situated without continuity and space was awkwardly partitioned. Take Ezra Zion for example. I eventually found them, but through no help of signage or the program booklet. The outer-fringe rows of the exhibitors just came to a strange end. Then across an inexplicable rift of dead space was another auxiliary grouping of cigar companies right next to the food vendors. I looked up and saw the art deco angels of Ezra Zion's logo. I was most interested in their newest release called Tantrum, a single-size petit corona packed with lots of powerful tobacco. Ezra Zion is owned by three principals—Kyle Hoover, Chris Kelly and Alan Fonseca—and Tantrum is made in Miami at Tabacalera Tropical/Casa Fernandez. They are a young company but have amassed an impressively dedicated following.
I think actor Armand Assante had as difficult a time navigating the show as I did. He was at the IPCPR doing a cigar promotion for Victor Vitale. You remember Vic. He used to have a distribution company called the Cigar Agency LLC. The Agency had brands like Ortsac and Hammer+Sickle. Hammer+Sickle took over its own distribution and I'm not entirely sure what happened to Vitale's Cigar Agency but now he has his new company called Legacy Brands. One of Legacy's cigars is called Ora Vivo, of which Assante is somehow involved. Basic entropy caused Assante and I to pass each other on more than one occasion, though every time I saw him on the showroom floor he looked as lost as I was. Didn't he play Odysseus once? No matter.
Assante wasn't the only celeb there either. I heard that Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the show too. Apparently he had spent some time at the Quesada S.A.G. booth, but by the time I got there, Terence Reilly told me that I had just missed the Austrian Oak by a few minutes and showed me a picture of Arnold that he captured on his phone for proof. As consolation, Reilly gave me a sample of the new Quesada Oktoberfest Krone. The blend was formulated to pair with Oktoberfest beers. This new size is a tidy little corona. You'll read more about S.A.G.'s new releases and everyone else's in Cigar Insider's upcoming installments.
I lit up the cigar and sat next to Raquel Quesada at one of the tables. She's an instrumental part of the Quesada family business and has helped to conceptualize the newer projects like Tributo and Tres Reynas. I asked if she had any more samples of Quesada cigars. "Hold on," she said, and stepped away. I didn't see her again for the entire show. Now, I'm no celebrity magician, but I've yet to meet anyone who can make a pretty girl disappear better than I can.