Sunday morning seemed like a slow one in Vegas, as the revelers who embraced the upbeat spirit of Sin City seemed to be sleeping in a bit. So when the doors opened on the second day of the IPCPR (PCA) trade show, it was a bit slow.
Two of the busier booths were the home of brands that have had a very good 2018: EPC Cigar Co. and Foundation Cigar. While they are owned by very different people, the two have some things in common: EPC makes our Cigar of the Year, and Foundation makes our No. 3 cigar.
EPC is run by Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, a man who has been making cigars almost as long as I’ve been alive. His booth was a testament to his recent accolades for EPC Cigar, which is celebrating 10 years in 2019. Ernie is a gentleman, and a guy I’ve known for 24 years. I met him at my first trade show, back in the summer of 1995.
He told me something that surprised me. “I’ve learned so much in the past 10 years,” he said. He thinks he’s making better cigars today than he was back in his La Gloria days, a statement that’s hard to argue with given the 96-point rating of his Encore Majestic.
We smoked them together while chatting at his busy booth, and the smoke was just what I remembered when we named it Cigar of the Year—robust, intense, well crafted and bold. It was delicious. Ernesto has a superb-looking gift pack, combining figurado sizes of his Encore and La Historia blends.
Not long after seeing Ernie, I went by the small but packed Foundation Cigars booth. This is Nick Melillo’s company, and it has only been around since 2015. Nick is a younger guy, but he’s been making cigars for some time. His Instagram handle is NICKrAGUA, for he spent a considerable amount of time as an even younger guy working for Drew Estate. This is not his first cigar rodeo.
Foundation has come onto our radar screens in a big way with the superb showing of his Wise Man Maduro Robusto (95 points), our No. 3 cigar of the year. Nick was a ball of energy. Among his new cigars this year is Highclere Castle Victorian, a darker, stronger version of the Highclere Castle cigar. He’s also changing Menelik, a cigar once available only at events, and turning it into a retail brand. It will be a limited edition, priced at $13.
Cigars have long been selling in the sweet spot of $8 to $10 at retail, but this year there are plenty of cigars coming out in the $10 to $20 range. In addition to Menelik, there’s the 25th Anniversary La Flor Dominicana mentioned in yesterday’s blog, which is an $18 smoke. I sat down with Michael Herklots on Sunday, and we had the Timeless 2019 Limited Edition, which will retail for $17. The new Joya de Nicaragua Número Uno L’Ambassadeu is priced at $15, and Perez-Carrillo’s anniversary figurados will go for $20 each. The H. Upmann 175 Anniversary Limited Edition will sell for $18 per cigar.
Of course, not everything is new here at the trade show. Some companies are not coming out with new product, among them Padrón Cigars. The company, the only three-time winner of Cigar of the Year, has long been conservative, and new products from them are a rarity.
Last night was a fun one, with a dinner thrown by Ashton. I spent the night chatting with Robbie, Sathya and Meera Levin, and had a cigar with Carlos Fuente Jr., the longtime producer of Ashtons for the Levin family. It was good to catch up, talk about the old days and the new.
Signing off from Las Vegas. More to come later in the week.