You may or may not know this, but 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the Fuente Fuente OpusX cigar. I'd say that this brand has the distinction of being America's first true cult cigar. Other cult brands have followed, but none have achieved quite the same cult status.
Seeing how new cigar brands come out every year, one might wonder how any particular start-up brand is lucky enough to attain that coveted cult status. In the case of Fuente Fuente OpusX, there were a few factors. Firstly, there was buzz from Cigar Aficionado back in 1994. An article called "Seeds of Hope" chronicled Fuente's growing of Dominican wrapper back in a time when it was widely believed that you couldn't grow good Dominican wrapper leaf. The article certainly drew some attention, not to mention criticism. At that point, the cigar didn't even have a name.
Then, Cigar Aficionado rated some of the FFOX cigars and they performed phenomenally. But here's the critical detail: When the ratings came out, the cigars were not yet available. This, of course, created a demand before the brand was even released, and the cigars' surrounding mystique has kept them back-ordered ever since. Tell someone that they can't have something, and the demand becomes ten-fold. People are predictable in this respect, I suppose.
Though Carlos "Carlito" Fuente Jr. himself never intended it to be an inaccessible phenomenon. He simply wanted to prove that he could make a cigar entirely out of Dominican tobacco. His traditionalist father, although cautious, supported Carlito's endeavor nonetheless.
Now, 20 years later, here we are, and the state of the Fuente Fuente OpusX has indeed evolved. The Cuban-seed cigars have become synonymous with rarity and luxury. Its loyal following of dedicated cigar smokers and collectors has only become more passionate and, at times, fanatical. Auctions and charity events surrounding the FFOX have raised millions of dollars for the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation. And Fuente now has the freedom to make OpusX in curious and capricious sizes, many of which are not even commercially available and never will be.
I just got back from the Fuente factory in the Dominican Republic last week, and, in addition to giving me unrestricted access to the facility, Carlito has given me an assortment of esoteric Opuses.
First, there's the God's Whisper, which I've written about before. It's a small robusto that only wears the more subdued Fuente Fuente OpusX secondary band. Carlito does that sometimes. The style and embossing on the band is unmistakably FFOX, but not quite as bold as the standard commercial monogram. Carlito calls God's Whisper his personal blend in his personal size.
I also have something called The Toymaker's Reserve. It's a long, thin pigtailed cigar not quite as long as his other lanceros. According to Carlito, people have referred to him as "The Toymaker," a title he happily embraces. He actually has a few old fashioned toy chests at the Fuente factory which are located in a dimly-lit brick room that Carlito keeps at a chilly 55 degrees. If you consider yourself a Fuente fanatic, then those toy chests are the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; the lost Dutchman's gold mine; the Vatican library of cigars.
"You know, I don't even have a key to this room," Fuente said with a chuckle. He wasn't kidding. He had to find the keeper of the keys somewhere on the factory floor. The chests are packed full of all kinds of experimental iterations of the Fuente Fuente OpusX—lanceros made with tobacco from original FFOX crops harvested in the '90s; cigars with hybrid wrappers that never produced enough yield for a full production; Don Carlos Fuente Sr.'s personal blend rolled into all kinds of shapes and sizes; and strange cigars with whimsical names like the Chili Pepper or the Scorpion.
By the way, there's a new brand coming our way. It's called the Fuente Fuente OpusX OXO, and comes in a glossy, yellow box enameled in the same shade as a yellow Ferrari. Mind you, this is not the yellow Prometheus anniversary humidor, but an entirely new brand with a different yellow box and near-black wrappers. OXO stands for "OroXoscuro," or OroXscuro for short. I smoked a sample and it seemed considerably sweeter than normal FFOX cigars.
Inspired by all of Carlito's creative cigars, I made a strange request myself. Seeing how Fuente makes FFOX cigars shaped like footballs and baseballs, I asked him to make me a cigar in the shape of a shrunken head. I suggested he call it the ShrunkenX and give it little earrings with the Fuente Fuente OpusX symbol. Carlito was not amused.
"My footballs and baseballs are all functional," he answered. "You can smoke them. How are you going to smoke a head?"
Good point. But I reminded Carlito that although you can indeed smoke a football, people rarely do. His special cigar sculptures are collected and displayed as works of artful craftsmanship and that's exactly how I intend to treat the ShrunkenX.
I'm not sure whether or not I'll ever get my ShrunkenX. Carlito reached into the toy chest and gave me something else instead. It's called the PJ. It's long and thin and has an odd tip. I'm not going to tell you what it stands for or even the required ceremony for smoking it. Use your own imagination. Either that, or ask Carlito yourself next time you see him. If you're lucky, maybe he'll even give you one. Just don't ask about it in mixed company.