As of this summer, I have a dozen IPCPRs under my belt. Well, some of those shows were RTDA's, so technically, that's not correct. Let's say, I've gone to 12 tobacco trade shows so far. This year, the daily diet of lamb chops, rib eye steaks, boudin blanc and pork sausages took some of the pep out my step as I navigated the convention. This often happens at these shows. You sample an untold amount of cigars, both day and night, and consume nothing but meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I consider myself a consummate carnivore, but since I've come back from the show, I've been eating fish.
So, 12 shows so far, and every year the show has a reverberating halo effect—you come home with dozens of new cigars that you end up smoking until the end of summer. Plus, here at Cigar Aficionado, we continue to report on the new releases of the show all the way until late August. I've only gotten through a small fraction of the samples I brought home with me.
The show floor layout was strange to me this year. Normally, the IPCPR takes the three largest companies and places their pavilions in different areas of the showroom. This creates a triangulation of foot traffic throughout the convention and helps to ensure that everyone covers most of the floor, square footage wise. This year, the three big guys (Altadis, General and Davidoff) were all practically right next to each other. By my estimation, this results in an imbalance and, consequently, many exhibitors on the fringe sections can get overlooked. I see few people actually conferring with the map of the exhibitors. Rather, it seems, people prefer to walk the show instinctively, as though perusing a market or bazaar. I always have lots to see.
If I was pressed to name a star of the IPCPR, it would be A.J. Fernandez. He introduced his new Bellas Artes brand and also gave out a limited-edition San Lotano cigar that's supposedly his father Isamael's personal blend. That's interesting. It's full of tobaccos from all over Nicaragua, and of varying types. But A.J. is also making the new Le Hoyo Amistad for General. Remember when Altadis let the Plasencias make a Montecristo and Rafael Nodal a Romeo y Julieta? General's done the same thing with A.J. The company gave him a shot at blending his version of Hoyo de Monterrey. It's strong and powerful. Probably the strongest Hoyo de Monterrey ever made. But they didn't stop there.
A.J. is also making a cigar called Time Flies for General's Foundry subsidiary. He teamed up with Michael Giannini for the project. And A.J. is making cigars for some boutique guys, too. Foundation's new The Tabernacle, which was also released at the show, comes out of A.J.'s factory as well. It's a broadleaf-based cigar, as is Foundation's new Charter Oak. You'd think that introducing two broadleaf cigars at the same show would be a redundancy, but it isn't. Different factories have different styles, and there's more than one way to express broadleaf, especially if you're brand owner Nick Melillo, who has a love, respect and fascination with broadleaf tobacco. He's also a Connecticut native, so there's some home state pride in there as well.
And let's not forget the new Aging Room Pelo de Oro that A.J. is making for Boutique Blends. It features a filler of all Pelo de Oro tobacco grown by A.J. Fernandez in Nicaragua. It's a low-yield tobacco that most farmers don't want to grow. And, like most things exotic, it isn't for everyone. I've heard Pelo de Oro tobacco described as everything from transcendent to peculiar. Perhaps it's an acquired taste, but Nodal told me that there was a lot of interest in the cigar at the show. He may run out of that cigar faster than he anticipated.
Speaking of rare tobacco varietals, Altadis has a new Montecristo called Pilotico Pepe Mendez, which contains a Pilotico tobacco developed and grown by José Mendez & Co. exclusively for Altadis. I wanted to try their new Romeo Nicaragua 505, but there were no samples at the show. Just boxes. I did get a Romeo Reserva Rare 11. Altadis says that the cigars were rolled 11 years ago, that only 11,000 were made, that it comes in 11-count boxes and it retails for $11. I asked if it was going to be released on November 11. The answer was no.
Illusione cigars has rebranded its Cruzado line once again. It was first redesigned a few years ago when brand owner Dion Giolito incorporated the word Illusione onto the band for better brand consistency across the portfolio. The packaging has been retooled once more. I also sampled one of his Garagiste cigars. It's named after the makers of cult wines in the Bordeaux region of France who create their wines in the garage, or at least under very modest and primitive wine-making conditions. There's a Garagiste wine movement in Paso Robles here in the U.S., too. This cigar line is a tribute to cult production and cult followings, but I don't think he makes them in his garage.
Mombacho, a.k.a. Tierra Volcán, has an exquisite Liga Maestro petit corona called the Pequeño. I know, I know their star roll-out of the show was supposed to be the Mombacho 10th Anniversary cigar, but I found their Pequeño to be very interesting. And although their new packaging is handsome and unifies their lines, I miss the old color scheme. It was different and distinct. I'm sure some consumer study will show that I'm in the insignificant minority.
Still haven't smoked the Venganza by Cornelius & Anthony yet, though I have one tasty-looking Robusto waiting for me in the humidor. The box art shows an old patent draft of the Bailey Machine Gun and it promises to be a strong, spicy cigar. Venganza means "vengeance" in Spanish. If the folks at Cornelius & Anthony have a vendetta against someone, I certainly don't know about it.
Nor have I had the chance to smoke Mike Bellody's Imperia Islero corona-sized cigar. He gave me one in passing one evening before the show. It's made by the Quesadas in the Dominican Republic. And speaking of the Quesadas I also have a Petit Corona from the new Fonseca Nicaragua line, as well as a petit corona called Ballibo from Falto cigars. That one is made by La Aurora in the Dominican Republic. I'm glad to see that so many cigarmakers are still making this classic size. It's one of my favorites, even if it's not the most popular.
Understandably, everyone is very anxious about the FDA. Nobody knows what to expect. Nobody knows how to prepare. Since the FDA dropped the regulatory hammer on the industry in May, it's promised to issue "guidance" to the industry as to what steps it needs to take for compliance. So far, the guidance has been sparse.
As of now, the FDA has only said that all new products need to be on the market by August 8. If the cigar companies make this deadline, they can sell the new cigars they introduced at IPCPR and submit applications for FDA compliance retroactively. And the grace period is two to three years, meaning that each company will have a few dozen months to understand the process all the while keeping their new products on the shelves. Outside of this August 8 deadline, the industry is still in the dark.
Most of the products I saw at the show should be on the market by August 8. That means a big flood of products for retailers very early on, but nobody can carry everything. And while there was an undertone of anxiety and frustration throughout the show—one exhibitor even thinks that this year's IPCPR convention was the last—most of the cigarmakers are doing what they know how to do: make cigars. As more "guidance" comes down from the FDA, they'll do whatever it is they need to do to adjust. Do they have a choice?