Cigar Studio First Habanos Specialist in Canada
Esteli – December 28
December – A Busy Month for AJ Fernandez
One of Nicarugua’s busiest cigar makers just got busier as AJ Fernandez has added several cigar brands to his production in 2017. Having purchased the former San Rafael factory in Ocotál, from Fidel Olivas and renaming it the San Lotano factory, AJ will now take over production of all of the Espinosa 601 line.
“We have to fulfill all of our back orders and the new factory will help us get caught up at once,” said Fernandez. “It’s 117,000 square feet and we have room for 240 cigar makers between those who bunch and the rollers, which is equivalent to 120 rolling tables.”
Erik Espinosa was thrilled with the transfer of 601 to the new factory. “My La Zona factory in Estelí has been producing quality cigars for close to five years now,” Espinosa said. “But I am unable to expand its production since I have already outgrown it. It’s a perfect opportunity for me to finally meet the demand for my cigars.”
This is the second major production announcement by Fernandez in December. Last week, AJ acquired the Sosa Family brands. Previously made by Fuente SA, he now owns Sosa Classic, Imperio Cubano and Santa Julia.
“I met Mr. Juan Sosa many years ago, and I always admired his cigar making skills and his longtime presence in the cigar industry,” A.J. Fernandez said in a statement regarding the acquisition. “I was recently introduced to his son Arby, and for the last few months we discussed the possibility of my family acquiring the Sosa family brands. Well, after many meetings, many cups of Cuban coffee and, of course, many cigars, we reached an agreement where both families will mutually benefit from this acquisition. My father, Ismael, and I are excited to take the Sosa name to new levels.”
Toronto – December 21
Joe Horvath, February 16, 1940 – December 20, 2016
The patriarch of the Canadian tobacco industry passed away yesterday surrounded by his loving family and his partner. Joe Horvath was 76.
Joe is predeceased by his beloved wife Judy and son Joey. Survived by his daughter Cathy (Colm O’Shea) and his adored grandchildren Calleigh, Ryan, and Jack; and partner Sandra Kay. He will also be greatly missed by his brother and sister in laws, nephews, cousins, friends, and colleagues.
Born in Toronto, son of the late Joseph and Margaret, brother to the late Margaret Albert (Leslie Albert Sr.). He attended De La Salle College where he helped win the OCSA 1957 Basketball Championship. He later joined his father’s cigar and pipe tobacco manufacturing business, The Ontario Tobacco Company, which he succeeded in 1977 by establishing his own company that he named House of Horvath Inc. in honour of his father. His company continues the family’s cigar tradition by welcoming the 4th generation.
Joe loved his work, family and friends, and his free time up north at the family’s cottage at Big Bay Point. A member of the Big Bay Point Golf Club, Joe may not have been remembered by his low scores but rather by his deep laugh and sweet waft of his cigar.
We will all miss you Joe.
Washington – October 14
Limits Removed For US Imports Of Cuban Cigars
The U.S. Treasury Department announced today that it has removed the previous limits on bringing Cuban cigars and Cuban rum back into the United States from any country in the world, Cuba or otherwise. As long as the cigars are brought back in personal baggage and are intended for personal consumption, U.S. Customs will let your Cuban cigars through.
This law applies only to cigars and rum that are enjoyed personally. Resale of Cuban cigars, and their distribution or commerce of any kind are still illegal, as the trade embargo remains in effect. .
This easing of restrictions opens up the entire world of Cuban cigar retail to U.S. cigar smokers travelling abroad. American citizens who go to Cuba, London, Dubai, Hong Kong or Switzerland, for example, will now be allowed to come home with Cohibas, Montecristos and other Cuban cigars, as well as bottles of Havana Club, Santiago and other fine Cuban rums.
This is a major step in normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba. In December 2014, the Obama administration allowed U.S. citizens returning from Cuba to bring back no more that $100 worth of Cuban cigars and rum. That concession was made after years of complete prohibition of any Cuban cigars or spirits.
Today’s new legislation was put in place to “to further engage and empower the Cuban people and promote political, social, and economic reform in Cuba,” said the U.S. Treasury in an official statement.
Tampa Bay – August 5
Carlos Fuente Sr. 1935 – 2016
Carlos Fuente Sr, the patriarch and Chairman of Tabacalera A. Fuente passed away last night. He was 81.
Tributes poured in from around the world. Fuente ran one of the world’s largest premium cigar companies. While his son Carlos Jr and daughter Cynthia Fuente-Suarez run day to day operations, Carlos Sr developed some of the worlds most famous brands like Opus X and Arturo Fuente. So good was the quality of their cigar making operations, that competitors like The Newman and Levine families entrusted Fuente with the manufacturer of their brands Diamond Crown and Ashton. Inducted into the CA Hall of Fame in 1997, his goal was never to be the biggest as he cared about being the best. Many of his cigars were perennial Top 10 ranked in that publication.
He passed away after a battle with stomach cancer surrounded by family in Tampa Bay.
Toronto – July 31
Cigar Studio Reaches Fundraising Goal of $20,000
Cigar Studio announced today that the goal of sending 25 children of military families to camp had been achieved. The benefactor organization, True Patriot Love confirmed that $20,000 had been donated to the charity.
“I’m thrilled naturally” said Jerry Hartman, Owner Operator of Cigar Studio. “It is such and awesome cause, one that is close to my heart. The generosity of suppliers and customers has been beyond amazing.”
While the formal part of the campaign is officially over, Cigar Studio continues to accept donations on behalf of TPL.
New York – May 20
Tobacco Shortages in Cuba
The Wall Street Journal reported today that Cuba is experiencing shortages of premium tobacco leaves and will not be ready for the boom in US and Chinese tourism that is starting for that country. Basic rules of supply and demand are coming into play. Farmers are being paid more money to grow tomatoes and melons so there is less leave being made available to Habanos SA. At the same time, fewer Cuban youth are seeking work as cigar rollers and factory employees since more and more desirable jobs are coming available as the country moves – slowly – allowing the creation of small private businesses.
According to the WST, annual tobacco production has declined by 21% in the past 5 years. Farmers simply are not getting paid enough to produce what used to be some of the finest leaf in the world. Tobacco grows much slower than many vegetables and requires more fertilizers and care, both in short supply. Receiving more money for exceeding quotas for growing tomatoes and cucumbers just adds another incentives to not grow tobacco.
Executives at Habanos claim they have plans in place to increase production by 20% over the next 5 years, the result of which would only get them back to pre-boom levels.
Cuban cigar smokers can only hope the plans work.
March 20 – Washington
Obama in Havana – Progress Lite?
US President Obama arrives in Havana today amid many questions remain about the real purpose of the trip and what can “Cuba Watchers” expect. As reported earlier here, probably not much, as legacy building over real progress takes priority.
Against the background of the upcoming Rolling Stones concert, Cuban baseball players being allowed to directly negotiate with MLB, and more Americans being able to fly directly into Havana, Obama arrives with very little that he can do to directly improve the lives of ordinary Cubans. His attempts to make these openings toward Cuba “irreversible”, while great photo ops for his library walls, have done little to improve human rights violations or political repression of citizens. And the Castro Brothers, while permitting some relaxation of rules governing small businesses – opening a restaurant or a B&B is easier today than it was 10 years ago – are baby steps to real reform. The Castro’s are experts in diffusing the frustrations of the average Cuban by allowing pointless “indicators” of progress – Mick Jagger to the rescue !. Sad that expectations are so low that crumbs like this concert are welcomed by the average Cuban.
This week all the world will be watching Obama walk through Old Havana, visit museums and meet with the odd dissident – at least those that Castro allows. Obama gave up cigarettes when he became President but might we see him light up on the lawn of the National as the sun sets? Doubt it. So unless this visit convinces Congress to lift the embargo – good luck with that – expect a lot more symbolic gestures than real economic reforms. Or as my pals in Havana say, Progress Lite.
February 19 – Toronto
Cigar Studio Announces Fundraising Program for True Patriot Love
Cigar Studio announced today that True Patriot Love will be the benefactor of its 20th Anniversary fundraising efforts.
True Patriot Love (TPL) is a national charity that supports and honors the sacrifices of members of the Canadian Armed Forces, veterans and their families in both times of peace and conflict. TPL funds unique programs and innovative research in the areas of family health and support, physical health and rehabilitation, mental health and wellbeing, and research and innovation. To date, True Patriot Love has committed over $15.1 million to charities across Canada on behalf of members of the Canadian Military.
“Since opening in 1996, we have had a strong track record of giving back to the community” said Jerry Hartman, Owner Operator of Cigar Studio. “Our Annual Pool Tournament for Big Brothers with Bondele Cigars/Alec Bradley raised $23,500 over 6 years; our 10th Anniversary Party at Cru raised $5,500 for the family of Bernardo Gonzales D’Silviera , a long time Habanos employee and friend who passed suddenly in 2006. In 2011 we began to raise money for Out of the Cold and today sales of our empty cigar boxes still contributes to that program at the local church. Given the milestone of reaching 20 years in this business and given the important and critical support and efforts of TPL, we chose them as our benefactor this year”.
With the help of both customers and suppliers, Cigar Studio will be direct funding to a Program that sends children of military families to camp for a week.
According to TPL’s Shannon Caskey, small and large corporations have an enormous impact at TPL. “The support of partners and corporate philanthropy helps True Patriot Love to continually fund programs and organizations that support Canada’s military, veterans and their families. These efforts, both small and large, make a profound difference in the lives of men and women who need our help. We are really pleased at Cigar Studio’s commitment to support our countries bravest men and women”.
Cigars Studio’s efforts begin March 1. Click here for update!
January 4 – Havana
Happy 50th Anniversary Cohiba!
The flagship brand of Habanos turns 50 this year. And what a party it should be as Cohiba will be featured prominently throughout the annual Habanos festival in February.
There are several parts to the story of Cohiba. Born in 1966, Cohiba was the first Habanos brand created after the revolution. Originally made exclusively for Castro, all blending and aging of Cuba’s finest tobacco was done in a mansion owned by British industrialist Casimiro Fowler (all such homes and properties were nationalised by the Cuban government following the revolution). The mansion was quickly turned into a factory. Its philosophy was the brainchild of one of Fidel’s most trusted and loyal revolutionaries, Celia Sanchez Manduley. Sanchez was part of Fidel’s cabinet pushing for the “new” concept of encouraging women to take non- traditional roles in Cuba society – like being able to go to school and work in jobs traditionally held only by men. The factory was named El Laguito and immediately it had a 100% female labor force.
The Cohiba name is an ancient Taino Indian word for the bunches of tobacco leaves that Columbus saw being smoked when he first landed in Cuba in 1492. The classic head profile from a female native remains its branding mark.
The tobacco leaves used in Cohiba are the finest that the island can grow and come exclusively from farms in the San Juan and San Luis areas in the Vuelta Abajo region. Among many unique features of the brand which makes it stand out and helps drive its exclusive status – and retail price – is the fact that two of Cohiba’s filler leaves, the seco and ligero, undergo additional barrel fermentation which adds smoothness to the blend.
From 1966 to 1982 Cohiba was smoked exclusively by Castro and his top lieutenants and was only seen outside of Cuba as gifts for heads of state. Since 1982 the brand has been available in the open market with somewhat limited availability. The brand consists of several distinct lines. From 1966 to 1989 the Linea Classic’s were created and consist of the fuller body sizes like the lancero (the original size created in 1966), panetella, exquisite and robusto. In 1992, Cohiba released a medium body line, the 1492 Linea series to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of Columbus’s epic discovery. It originally contained 5 sizes, Siglo’s 1 through 5, and the Siglo 6 in 2002. In 2007 the Maduro Line was released in 3 sizes. And perhaps because that line did not sell well around the world, the legendary Behike line was released in 2010. While there has also been a number of Edition Limitada and Reserva releases over the years, the Behike line remains the most exclusive for the brand.
The 18 Habanos Festival runs February 29 to March 4th.
New York – December 18, 2015
Second Cigar of the Year for Garcias
Taking home Cigar of the Year honors is becoming old hat for the Garcia Family. In 2012, their Flor De las Antillas Toro was CoY. And today, Cigar Aficionado Magazine announced that the My Father Le Bijou, 1922 Torpedo (boxed press) was their 2015 Cigar of the Year.
The original My Father brand was created by Jaime Garcia to honor his father, Pepin. A year later, Pepin decided to honor his own father with an offshoot brand called My Father Le Bijou 1922. Unlike the originals, which wear an Ecuadoran cover leaf, Le Bijou 1922 cigars are darker and stronger. The blend is Nicaraguan from top to bottom, showcasing Cuban-seed wrappers that the Garcia family calls oscuro. Only one size—this torpedo—is box-pressed. The date 1922 denotes the birth year of José Garcia, the father of José “Pepin” Garcia. Le Bijou means “the jewel” in French.
Pepin started as a roller in Cuba before emigrating to Miami and eventually opening up a tiny rolling gallery in Little Havana. Commercial and critical acclaim for his cigars allowed expansion into Nicaragua. Today, Pepin, Jaime and Janny Garcia lead My Father Cigars, and their factory in Estelí produces millions of cigars a year.
Congratulations on winning your second Cigar of the Year honors.
News Bulletin – A Personal Perspective
Toronto – Havana – November 28
Cuba and the USA – So What’s The New Norm?
It’s Saturday morning and I am outside on the patio of the Copacabana Hotel in Miramar. First cigar of the day is an H Upmann Connoisseur A, one of eight cigars I received at the Partagas dinner last night. I make this November trip one of my 2-3 visits to Havana each year. As a specialty tobacco store owner in Toronto – and one that sells Cuba cigars representing 45 % of business – I come to see what is going on in the cigar capital of the world, visit my friends, smoke some of my favorite cigars, drink some of my favorite rum, and to support and participate in the annual Partagas Cigar Festival.
But this year I had another box to tick.. Given restored diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba and the re-opening on the US Embassy in Havana etc,, I wanted to get some sense of what those changes were making (or were going to make) to the lives of ordinary Cubans. Was there any impact yet? Were there any visible and relevant changes that were impacting those things that matter to my friends and business associates, especially as they relate to my contacts with Cuba?
So far nada. Whatever change is “happening” it is at a brutally slow pace. Perhaps to be expected. Sure there are a few more Americans visiting – my friends in the hotels, cigar shops and bars are seeing more US visitors as travel restrictions are loosened. Last night we sat next to a table of guys from New Jersey – Jets fans if you can believe it – who flew from Miami without the need for a “humanitarian” purpose visa in their passport. They were giggling like school kids as they puffed Bolivar, Partagas, RYJ and Montecristo cigars all night long. And some guy from South Carolina who was there with his 4 buddies from their local cigar kept bragging that this was his first ever buzz from 12 year old Cuban rum. “It feels different” Whatever dude, we Canadians have been doing it forever.
I am no expert but whatever has happened so far is more symbolic than practical. Obama is doing what he’s doing for his legacy and to help Hillary win in Nov 2016. So far its politics over progress. Until the embargo is lifted – not going to happen until the Republicans get tossed – I am not sure how the lives of ordinary Cubans have changed yet. Granted I do not have contacts with relatives in Miami or elsewhere to check if the “flow” of financial support is increasing as US regulations monitoring money transfers get relaxed. Means I’ll have to come back soon!
Here’s the thing. Lawyers are the only ones who are and will continue to get rich on this until trademark, and physical and intellectual property issues get resolved. Even if the embargo were to get lifted tomorrow and the flow of “goods” restarted in earnest – not going to happen – trademark protection will stop this in its tracks. Do you think the companies that are currently selling Dominican and Nicaraguan made Montecristo, RYJ, H Upmann and Partagas cigars into the US will roll over and allow the real Cuban product onto cigar store shelves without a huge battle? Who are the rightful and legal owners of those brands? Same goes for brands like Bacardi and Havana Club rum.
And what about the other side of the pond. Who owns this great little hotel I am smoking my cigar in, or for that matter all the homes that the average Cubans now live in, or the small and large shops, corners stores, roads, railways, airports etc etc etc, that Castro stole from legitimate title holders in 1958-1960. Many of these owners fled when Fidel took their properties believing they would be back in 6 months as the revolution flamed out – or they protested too much and got two in the back of their head. Their grand children are now successful USA citizens living in Miami or where ever. They are holding their grandfathers’ legal title papers to their ancestral home in Miramar which is now housing some Cuban government hack or Department of Nothing office. Do you think they are not going to put up some sort of fight to get that home back. Oh hell yes they will.
And will Coke, ATT and airline companies that once had regular business in Cuba not seek compensation for 50 years worth of lost business. Oh hell yes again. Go long on Legal ETF’s.
This will take years to play out but eventually the lives of ordinary Cubans will improve as job opportunities increase via big influxes of capital and development. So in the meantime, I will finish my cigar and hope whatever happens does not take away from the magic that Havana is to me and my family.
Note – Jerry Hartman is the Owner/Operator of Cigar Studio in Toronto. He has been coming to Havana for the better part of 15 years.
Toronto – August 27
Ontario Tobacconists Raise Concerns On Government Flavor Ban
Given the pitfalls in proposed legislation governing the ban of certain flavored tobacco products, the Specialty Tobacco Merchants Association (STMA) continued their plan to educate the Ontario government of the risk associated with the new rules.
In a submission today to the Committee hearing final proposals to regulations that will ban certain products from sale in Ontario, the STMA reminded lawmakers that the new laws will result in lost tax revenue, encourage capital outflows as customers shop elsewhere, result in large job losses at the wholesale level, while outlining the geographic inequity of the ban.
“This is so unnecessary. Ontario tobacconists provide a secure distribution channel for controlled products such as cigars and pipe tobacco, as we are legally required to refuse entry to persons who are less than 19 years of age. This is stricter than the government owned LCBO. Banning these products in our stores make no sense as the proposed legislation is capturing premium products which were never intended to be banned.”
The STMA were clear that allowing these products to be sold in their stores would mean that they would not be available in 99% of retail locations in Ontario, tax dollars would remain in Ontario, job losses would be mitigated, and the ban would be equitable for citizens of Ontario as the members of the STMA are located throughout the province.
“We support legislation that bans tobacco from getting into the hands of youth, but these proposals will results in unintended consequences that will impact the Ontario economy.”
The STMA is the representative body for Ontario’s registered tobacco shops.
Havana – February 23
Cuba Predicts 25-30% Market Share of U.S. Market If Embargo Lifted
Cuban cigar-maker Habanos S.A. envisions gaining 25 percent to 30 percent of the U.S. premium cigar market if the United States lifts its trade embargo on Cuba, potentially selling 70 million to 90 million cigars per year, the company said today.
Habanos S.A., a 50-50 joint venture between the Cuban state and Imperial Tobacco Group PLC. (IMT.L), generated sales of $439 million in 2014 without direct access to the U.S. market. The prospect of the United States lifting its 53-year-old embargo improved after the United States and Cuba announced on Dec. 17 their intention to restore diplomatic relations.
In regulations published since then the United States now allows American travelers to Cuba to legally bring back up to $100 worth of tobacco and alcohol for personal use, which Habanos S.A. said would have an immediate impact on its sales in Cuba. With time Habanos S.A. would expect to capture 70 percent of the U.S. market, similar to the market share it has elsewhere in the world, company executives told reporters at the start of Cuba’s annual cigar festival.
“We estimate that in the first years we could have a market share between 25 and 30 percent, and some might consider that figure a little conservative,” said Jorge Luis Fernandez Maique, commercial vice-president for Habanos S.A. “But I can tell you that with that figure, 25 percent, we would be the market leaders.”
New Orleans – February 2
IPCPR Trade Show Heading to New Orleans in 2015
It’s now official. The IPCPR Convention and Trade Show will be moving from Sin City to The Big Easy this year for IPCPR 2015. This is the largest trade show and convention for the specialty tobacco and cigar industry in North America.
Finnie Helmuth, President of the IPCPR Board of Directors, said that “we just signed a contract for 2015 with New Orleans and are still working out a lot of the details.” The announcement marks the first time that the event has been in New Orleans since 2010. It was also held there in 2009 2 weeks before Katrina.
Since then, Las Vegas has seemed to become the preferred site in recent years, having hosted it in 2011, 2013 and 2014, with Orlando playing host in 2012. While Las Vegas earns points for being friendly to cigar smokers and having an abundance of dining and entertainment options that don’t require much travel, there have been concerns expressed about the costs of hosting the show in Las Vegas, partially attributable to labor as well as the significant prices for hotel rooms, meals and entertainment.
Helmuth said that the IPCPR has begun looking at sites for 2016 and beyond. Full conference details will be available in a few weeks.
Washington – December 18
U.S. Government Expands Relations with Cuba
The U.S. Government announced today that it is reforming its relationship with the Cuban government, allowing for the reduction of restrictions placed on trade, travel and the exchange of information.
In an effort to “cut loose the anchor of the past,” changes to policy include the construction of a U.S. Embassy in Havana, the expansion of authorized travel categories, the increased facilitation of remittances to Cuban nationals, increasing Cuba’s access to information and telecommunications and the ability of American citizens to return with up to $400 worth of Cuban goods, of which no more than $100 can be of alcohol and tobacco combined.
The policy, which has been in effect since January of 1961, is being repealed to drive economic and political reforms, recognizing Cuba as a legitimate neighbor and expanding opportunities for both countries.
Toronto – November 7
Ontario Patios To Go Smoke Free January 1
The Ontario Government announced further anti smoking measures today including a total smoking ban on all restaurant and bar patios in the Province.
Admitting their policy was too “patchwork”, the legislation standardizes where you can and can’t smoke in Ontario. Until now local municipalities enforced their own individual policies. And patio’s themselves had the option of allowing patrons to smoke, as long as the patio was not covered.
The provinces Smoke Free Ontario Act will be expanded January 1, 2015. It will also ban smoking on playgrounds, public sports fields and similar outdoor surfaces such as ice rinks. It will be illegal to smoke within 20 metres of them to keep children and athletes clear of second-hand smoke.
Montreal October 8
GVA/JC Newman Announce Canadian Contest Winners
Luc Dumulong, VP Sales and Marketing of Distribution GVA, today announced the stores that won their Fall sales contest. Store owners will travel to Tampa Bay for 3 days as hosts of JC Newman whose products were the focus of the promotion.
The stores were Cigar Studio Toronto, Sieverts Halifax, Nottingham Cigars Edmonton and Zigaren Calgary.
“Obviously these stores demonstrated great enthusiasm towards this program and showed a strong capacity to deliver!” said Dumulong. “They have rightfully earned their spots deserve the recognition and rewards of this fantastic trip.”
In addition to meetings with Newman executives the store owners will enjoy hospitality ranging from deep sea fishing, Tampa Bay Lightening hockey game in the Newman cigar lounge and several dinners at cigar restaurants in Tampa Bay.
President of Alec Bradley Canada
Joe Bondi, is pumped about his son Justin’s new title, President of Alec Bradley Canada.
Justin and Joe will take an ownership position in this new Alec Bradly company. ABC will be the exclusive sales agent and marketing company for all of Alec Beadly cigars in the Canadian market.
“This is a great opportunity for us. We have been great partners with AB, selling all of their cigars for years in Canada” said Justin. But this new arrangement will allow us to lower AB cigar prices in Canada by 20% and insure better distribution for these great products”.
Typical of the tobacco licensing process, Joes new license had not been issued at time of writing. “We should have everything in place by September. Hey the wait will be worth it, as we have big plans for this brand in Canada”.
Toronto May 2
Ontario Budget Maintains High Tax Rate on Cigars
Yesterdays provincial budget did not include higher tobacco taxes for cigars in Ontario. Both cigarettes and pipe tobacco did see increases.
Already at 56.6% of the taxable price, cigars prices in Ontario are some of the most expensive in North America.
While the budget was not approved and supported by the Ontario legislature, the cigarette and pipe tobacco increase went into effect at midnight last night.
Toronto March 11
Cigar Studio First Habanos Specialist in Canada
Cigar Studio in Toronto became the first Canadian store to be awarded the Habanos Specialist designation. The agreement was signed today by Jerry Hartman, Cigar Studio Owner and Roger Lanteigne National Accounts Manager Havana House. Havana House is the exclusive licensee in Canada of all Habanos products.
The Specialist program was launched worldwide by Habanos SA in 2013. The program was designed to create a consistent global listing of stores where Cuban cigar smokers can shop and obtain the best cigars from Cuba. Accredited stores who are invited to join the program receive the first offerings of new cigars and product launches, and given priority and exclusivity of promotions, access to Cuban cigar rollers and other special events put on by Havana House.
“Since opening in 1996, Cigar Studio has been one of our best and most loyal customers” said Lanteigne. “The store is a recognized leader in Canada in Cuban cigar product knowledge, special events and customer service in the industry. We are starting to roll this program out to qualifying stores in Canada and it was appropriate that Cigar Studio be given the initial accreditation.”
New York – December 18
The No 2 is No 1
Cuba’s Montecristo No 2 was named the Top Cigar of 2013 this morning by the tasting panel at Cigar Aficionado magazine.
The Montecristo No. 2 is certainly not a new cigar. The MC 2 is one of the original sizes of the Montecristo brand, which was created in Cuba by Alonso Menendez in 1935 and became the best-known of all the cigars rolled at Menendez, Garcia y Cia., the biggest cigar company in pre-Castro Cuba.
Cigar Aficionado reviewed all cigars that had scored at least 91 points in the magazine throughout 2013. That list was culled down to 45 cigars. The magazine’s tasting coordinator then repurchased each of those cigars at retail, removing all their identifying bands and replacing them with numbered labels to conceal their identity. The tasting panel then started to smoke. At the conclusion of that taste test, 13 cigars were rated high enough to be considered candidates for Cigar of the Year. The tasting coordinator once again stripped those cigars of their identifying bands, created a new code and redistributed them for a final blind taste test by editor and publisher Marvin R. Shanken, executive editor Gordon Mott and senior editor David Savona.
The Montecristo No 2 emerged the clear winner.
New York – November 25
Cigar of the Year TBA Wednesday December 18
Cigar Aficionado will announce their choice for the 2013 Cigar of the Year on Wednesday December 18.
As has been their past practice, their Top 25 cigars will be announced in 4 waves starting the prior Monday when cigars rated 6-10 will be announced. Tuesday will see cigars 2-5. Following the Wednesday announcement of #1, the magazine will release the names of the cigars that ranked 11 through 25.
Last year the Flor de Las Antilass Toro was named the 2012 Cigar of the Year.
CA editors acknowledge deciding which cigar is the definitive best of the year isn’t easy, especially in lieu of all the great cigars in the market. They start by looking back at all the cigars tested throughout the year in both Cigar Aficionado and Cigar Insider—more than 700. They then focus on the top-scoring smokes, and from there begin the blind-tasting process all over again. The tasting coordinators head out to the retail shops, re-purchase the cigars, removes the bands and conduct an entirely new tasting. After multiple rounds, they arrive at a list of 25.
The process does not stop there. They select the top three scores of this new test and do one final round of tasting. Editors describe the final taste session as not being a simple year-end awards ceremony but a tournament of performance and elimination and completely process driven. The best cigars of the year are able to consistently reproduce high scores throughout each round. Quality and consistency are crucial. Those that do not perform consistently are eliminated. Not everyone’s perennial favorites appear on the list, but each cigar in each year’s Top 25 proves to be satisfying and excellent.
Smokers can hardly wait.
Havana – November 20
Partagas Festival Runs To Pinar del Rio
After 2 days there has been nothing but great feedback by guests attending the 2013 Partagas Cigar Festival.
Today 60 cigar enthusiasts returned from a 2 day trip to the Pinar del Rio region, home of the best tobacco fields in the world. Following an overnight stay last night, it was day at the beach where fire grilled pull pork and sunshine was the order of the day.
Monday’s opening night event was held in Cathedral Square, once again under the stars and featuring live music, world class cigars and rum and more rum. Tomorrow guest will tour the Cohiba cigar factory in Havana. The festival wraps up Friday night with the Gala Dinner and cigar auction at the legendary Tropicana Night Club. 250 tickets have been sold for the Gala.
Toronto – June 1
Cuban Cigar Prices Set to Increase In Canada
The President of Havana House, today announced that the wholesale price of Cuban cigars in Canada will increase by 4%. “The price increase is necessary to pass on the cost increases we have had from our supplier Habanos SA” said Arturo Mejuto.
The increase is effective July 2.
Havana – May 9
Cuba Announces New Golf Course Developments
Cuba Tourism Minister Manual Marrero announced the approval of a new golf luxury resort in Varadero this week. The $350 million Carbonera Club will complement the only existing golf course in that resort town. The development will include construction of 650 apartments and villas. It is expected Carbonera will spearhead the new policy of increasing the presence of golf resorts on the Island, given their proven ability to drive tourism.
The announcement marks another example of the softening of old traditional Cuban rules governing pastimes previously condemned as too elitist. Other golf resorts are expected to be announced later this year.
Ottawa – March 22
Federal Government Raises Pipe Tobacco Taxes
Yesterday, the Minister of Finance tabled a Notice of Ways and Means Motion, which proposed amendments to the Excise Act to increase the rates of duty on pipe tobacco. These rates took effect immediately.
Canadian wholesalers and retailers were taken by total surprise by the increases which amount to an excise tax increase of 84%. Burdened by some of the highest pipe tobacco taxes in North American, Canadian retailers are struggling to see the effects at store level. Preliminary calculations by CDN suppliers GVA and Brigham Enterprises show price increases of $8-$12 a 50grm pouch, which would put most soft pack tobacco’s over $30 and most tins over $35. The increase effects new tobacco imports not existing stock.
“This will destroy the pipe tobacco business in Canada” said Les Albert of House of Horvath, the MacBaren distributer in Canada. “No one will buy at retail shops, they will just get it mailed in from the US.”
New York – January 6
Cigar of the Year – Closest Competition Ever?
This week Cigar Aficionado announced their Top 25 cigars for 2012. A quick look at the scores confirms how close the competition was and the very difficult time editors had in naming the #1 cigar.
The eventual #1 cigar, the Flor des las Antillas Toro earned a score of 96. The cigar is made by My Father Cigars in Nicaragua under the expertise of the Garcia Family. The #2 cigar was the Cohiba 1966 Edicion Limitada 2011 with a score of 95. Then followed 5 cigars with scores of 94, then 9 cigars with scores of 93. Only 5 points separated #1 with #25 – the San Lotano Oval Corona which scored 91, but 5 other cigars earned that same score of 91.
The tasting editors acknowledge that all the cigars which make it to the finals, due so because of their quality consistency. It takes several rounds to determine their final ranking, and to be sure readers may not agree on the Top 25. Our guessing is that even the editors had a hard time agreeing.
But one thing that everyone seems to agree upon, what great job the tasters have !
Toronto – October 4
New Cuba Cigars Arrive In Canada
Toronto cigar smokers will really be able to enjoy their post dinner cigars this Thanksgiving. But with so many new Cuban cigars to choose from, it might be difficult to decide what to light up first.
5 brand new Habanos cigars arrived into Toronto area stores today. Cigar Studio was one of the first tobacconists to receive their goods. “I know its Thanksgiving Weekend” said Colin Brisbois of Cigar Studio, “but it feels like Christmas.”
Amongst the new cigars was the new Cohiba Piramide Extra, the H Upman 2012 EL Robusto, the Partagas 2012 EL Serie C No 3, Romeo Y Julieta Petit Churchill, and the Montecristo 2012 EL ‘520”. The Montecristo 520 is a sublime size and was created to celebrate the 520th anniversary of Cuban tobacco makings its way to Europe.
“I have never seen such beautiful wrapper on the Edicion Limitada product” said Colin. “And since the box size of most of these cigars is 10, they won’t last long.”
There was already action on the new Cuban on Thursday night action as customers started coming in to buy their long weekend cigars. “I’m taking one of each” chimed in customer John Freda. “One for right now, another for tomorrow nights MLB Wild Card games, not sure what I’ll smoke after golf on Saturday, then the RYJ while I watch my Giants kick Cleveland butt on Sunday, but I’m saving the Cohiba for after grandma’s pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving Monday.”
Good call John. Those Cohiba’s won’t last the weekend.
Ottawa – June 20
Crackdown Continues on Tobacco Marketing To Youth
As of yesterday, only packages of little cigars that display new health warnings can be legally sold at retail. The new and larger health warning messages now cover 75% of the front and back of little cigar packages – cigars that weigh less than 1.4 grams. The Act, Tobacco Products Labelling Regulations, follows another amendment to the Federal Tobacco Act in July of 2010. The earlier amendment banned the use of certain additives and flavours in cigarettes, little cigars and blunt wraps. Those changes required that little cigars and blunts be packaged in minimum quantities of 20 units.
Havana – March 3
Humidor Auctioned for $475,000 USD
Economic hardship was no-where in sight at last night’s final dinner to close out the 2012 Habanos Festival. Amongst frantic bidding, 6 custom made humidors were auctioned off with the highest bid of $475,000 going for a humidor designed as a replica of the famous El Laguito cigar factory in Havana. The humidor held 520 Cohiba cigars, many of which were sizes never before rolled for this famous brand.
This was the 14th year of the Habanos Festival.
Columbus – February 16
Millions Celebrate International Pipe Smoking Day
Millions of pipe smokers around the world will be celebrating the fifth annual International Pipe Smoking Day on Monday February 20. Pipe smokers everywhere will “raise their pipes together to foster friendship, benevolence, and tranquility across all borders,” according to the United Pipe Clubs of America.
The UPCA website explains that, “On this day we will … celebrate the noble art of pipe-smoking and the … spirit which pervades the brotherhood and sisterhood of the briar. We will put into practice the time-honored and ancestral traditions of raising our pipes in unison to toast each other and share a bowl together.”
“Contrary to popular belief, pipe smoking, has become more popular in recent years,” said Bill Spann, Chief Executive Office for the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association. “2.2 million people smoked tobacco in pipes in 2010, which is a 38 percent increase over the past seven years,” Spann added. “In 2003, there were 1.6 million pipe smokers, so the pastime is definitely seeing resurgence,” he added.
To celebrate the occasion, many pipe clubs and tobacconists across Canada, the United States and Europe are staging pipe smoking events throughout the day and evening to bring together their members and others interested in pipe smoking.
In addition, these and other events are being supported by the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association. The IPCPR represents more than 2,000 retail tobacconists – mostly independent small business owners – as well as manufacturers and distributors of premium cigars, pipes, accessories and gifts.
New York – December 19
Canadian Team to Host Longest Ash Contest
While not quite the Canada/ USA Olympic hockey rivalry, bragging rights may be at stake in a cigar smoking contest recently announced by Cigar Aficionado magazine. The Canadian team will be Toronto’s Cigar Studio who will compete in the H Upmann/Cigar Aficionado Longest Ash Contest.
Shiren Felicien, CA’s Retail Account Manager said she was looking forward to the competition. “Our magazine has lots of great customers up in Canada, and Cigar Studio is one of them. So lets see how Jerry and his customers do against some of the other USA stores.” Cigar Studio’s contest runs Januray 14.
So far 15 stores have been selected by CA magazine to participate. Stores pick a time and location, invite 20 customers who all smoke the same cigar – the H Upmann 1844 Reserve Toro – and as the name suggests, see which smokers can produce the Longest Ash. Details can be found on the CA magazine web site.
All participating stores must submit their “best ashes” by January 25. Winners will be announced shortly afterwards.
Longueuil, Quebec – November 15
Major Brands Find New Canadian Distributor
Some of Canada’s best selling cigars will find them selves with a new distributor in 2012.
Cameron Shaw, Director Sales, General Cigar International, announced that effective January 1, 2012, Macanudo, Don Thomas, Don Sebastion and W & D, will be distributed by Scandinavian Tobacco Group. For the past 14 years, these brands were sold in Canada by House of Horvath, who with their retail partners built these into major best sellers in many Canadian markets.
Currently STG distributes a number of premium brands in Canada including CAO, Villiger, Erinmore, along with Colts on the mass market side. STG is located in Longueuil, Quebec.
Toronto – October 21
Canada Receives New Cuban Cigars
Give them A for effort!
Luis Gutierrez, Commercial and Marketing Manager Havana House, Toronto, announced today the release of 5 new Cuban cigars into Canada. The new arrivals come on the heels of two sizes that were launched into the Canadian market over the past month.
Included in the commercial release today was the anxiously awaited Cohiba 2011 Edicion Limitada 1996, a 6 5/8 by 52 size. Packaged in boxes of 10, the cigar will retail for $90 – $100. Other 2011 Edicion Limitada product released today were the Ramon Allones, Allones Extra (5 5/8 x 44) and the Hoyo de Monterrey Short Piramides (5 3/8 x 46). A limited production H Upmann Royal Robusto (5 3/8 x 52) was also included in the release.
Notwithstanding Canada’s high tobacco taxes, the cigars are expected to sell well during the upcoming holiday season. Canada’s economy is strong compared to other Habanos markets, and other high priced Cuban cigars – the Cohiba Behike for example – sold well even with prices $70 – $110 a cigar.
“But it is important to put ‘good sales’ in perspective when talking about cigars in that price range” said Jerry Hartman, Owner/Operator of Cigar Studio in Toronto. “Naturally sales of these cigars will never match the huge volume of a Montecristo # 4’s or a Bolivar Royal Corona. But these are very special new releases, coming out at a time when our customers are looking for something new to present as gifts or enjoy themselves over the holidays. I thought the prices of the Behike’s were absolutely nuts but we could not keep them in stock, especially once CA Magazine named it the 2011 Cigar of the Year.”
Two weeks ago, Canadians started to smoke the Ramon Allones Super Ramone, a regional market size made for the country. A 7 1/8 x 54 torpedo, and packaged in boxes of 25, it is both a big time and financial commitment with boxes selling over $1,000. But during holidays, nothing surprises the staff at Cigar Studio. “There are a lot of new non- Cuban cigars in the $10 – $15 range that have come into Canada this year and these cigars continue to sell very well. But at Thanksgiving (Canada and the US) and at Christmas, there is a natural desire to trade up for and try something new and special”.
These new cigars just might be that something.
Toronto – September 16
Pura Sangre – Canada’s Best New Cigar Yet?
Pura Sangre cigars were launched in Canadian tobacco shops this week. And the immediate response from cigar smokers was “Wow! Where did this cigar come from?”
Introduced at the IPCPR show in Las Vegas this summer, many retailers smoked the first Pura Sangre samples offered out by Ventura Cigar Company, a new cigar division of Kretek International. The cigars are entirely hand made from selected Nicaraguan tobaccos and for years the blend was the private smoke of legendary cigar maker Nestor Plasencia.
“These cigars will be a huge hit with our customers” said Colin Brisbois of Cigar Studio. “Look at this wrapper, it looks and smells like nothing we have seen in a long time. (5 year old Habana Colorado). And the cigars have been priced to sell!”
Customers seem to agree. The cigars are priced at the new sell point of premium non-Cuban cigars with robusto’s at $12.90, torpedo’s $13.90 and the larger sizes slightly more. Pura Sangre joins a growing list of highly rated brands in Canada – CAO, Brickhouse, Casa Magna, Curvari and Aurora 107 – that have been launched in the past year all in the $10 – $15 range, putting tremendous pressure on Cuban cigars.
“Hey I love a Partagas Serie D #4” said Brisbois, “But customers can now buy 2 of any of these robusto’s for the price of a D-4. They (Cubans) make awesome cigars but I wonder if they now priced out of the reach of many customers relative to what these other brand cost?”
Time will tell.
Toronto – July 18
Cuban Wholesale Prices To Increase in Canada
Effective today, the wholesale prices of Cuban cigars from Havana House are increasing 4%. The increase was announced by Luis Gutierrez, Commercial Manger for Havana House, distributors of Cuban cigars and accessories in Canada.
The reasons given for the increase were increased costs and the fact prices had not changed in 5 years
Both the nature and timing of the increase was met with sharp criticism from tobacco retailers. Already facing strong competition from native and wholesale re-sellers of Cuban product owing to their tax status, this increase will contribute to further market share losses within stores. Parallel market goods, along with cigars brought into Canada under travelers’ personal exception allowances, have resulted in many stores seeing drops in their Cuban cigar business. Combined with the consumer acceptance of the many highly rated non-Cuban cigars, the question store owners have is ‘why this, why now?”
June 3 – Toronto
Cigar Studio’s 15th Anniversary Party – One for the Ages
Jerry Hartman, Owner/Operator of Cigar Studio has done more cigar events as anyone in Canada. But even he was surprised at the turnout and buzz at their 15th year party last night, held on the lawn at Cool Brewery in Toronto.
“We have 120 ticket buyers and suppliers, mingling together and sharing the ultimate in cigar fellowship; 4-5 hours of world class cigars, food and beverage and award winning music, under the best night and weather in Toronto so far this year. We could not have scripted it better”.
Guests received 8 cigars including Montecristo No 2’s, Bolivar Royal Corona’s, Punch Upper Cuts, and Rockey Patel 1992 Vintage Robusto’s. Ripasso, Valpolicella and Cool Beer flowed all night long as did the non-stop grilling of pork, flatbreads and the best grilled peppers this side of Athens by Just Greek. And to top it off, every hour or so Juno Nominated and Maple Leaf Blues winner the Johnny Max band belted out another set of soul, stax, and rhythm and blues.
House of Horvath’s Cathy Horvath said it best when she took the microphone to greet the guests and thank Jerry and his staff. “For 15 years, no-one in Canada has done what these guys do. Thank you Jerry for being such a strong advocate of the wonderful camaraderie enjoying premium cigars with friends instills in each of us.”
May 25 – Toronto
New Brands for Toronto Cigar Smokers
Cigar lovers in Toronto have never had it so good. In the past month, shops have been receiving a number of new brands at eye opening low prices.
Scandinavian Tobacco has ownership of the CAO brands and have re-launched much of the line at prices 25% -40% less than when it was first introduced into Canada. The MX2, LX2, Maduro, and La Traviata are retailing at prices $11-14 for large and wide format sizes. Bondele Cigar recently introduced the famed Curvari line from Nicarugua. Using Cuban criollo and corojo seed, these cigars pack Cuban like fullness at half what similar sized cigars are from Habanos.
Toronto based House of Horvath has been the most aggressive distributor of new lines. Securing Casa Magna at the end of last year, then supporting that brand with the launch of Casa Magna Oscuro, has provided smokers with No 1 rated cigars at prices $12-$15. This was virtually unheard of several years ago. Not stopping there, Horvath announced the availability of 3 new lines from La Aurora and Leon Jimenes including the 107, the Imperiales and the nflagship and personal cigar of La Aurora owner Guillermo Leon, aptly named, Corona Gorda.
The stronger Canadian dollar is one reason for the low prices. Also cited is the amalgamation of many companies (STG for example) , making the strong even stronger and allowing for huge cost saving due to total integration of production and distribution facilities.
February 26 – Havana
The 13th Habanos Festival – A Marketing Success or Cash Grab?
The annual cigar festival held each year in Havana is the perfect opportunity for Cuba to showcase new cigars.
2011 was no different as 4 new vitolas were launched; the Partagas Serie E No 2, the Partagas Serie D No 5, the H Upmann Half Corona and the Montecristo Gran Reserva No 2, the latter being the showcase cigar for last nights Closing Gala Dinner and Auction. In addition on Wednesday guests were treated to the Cohiba 2011 Edicion Limitada. Whether that cigar matches the impact that the Cohiba Behike had in 2010 (CA’s 2010 Cigar of the Year) will have to be seen, but it is truly a remarkable smoke.
Yet around the pools on Saturday, it was clear is that cost and value for money received is becoming an issue for guests who buy tickets to the events. With Opening Night tickets priced at $225 CDN, and Gala Night Tickets at $650 CDN, it was not surprising that many were wondering what they were getting for their money. A simple calculation of the retail value of the cigars received at these events – based on their prices in the high tax environment of Canada – might suggest a fair value/offer was delivered. Yet some said no given the cigars they received last night as the overall quality of all the festival events has become stagnant and weak. There was much complaining about the Food and Beverage offered at these two events- warm drinks and a buffet that had been ravished by comped local Cubans at the Opening, and almost un-edible dinner at last nights Gala. This years trip to the tobacco fields – 3.5 hours on a bus each way from Havana – saw guests pay $100 to walk around dusty fields without proper guides or instruction. The Thursday factory tours were an organizational disaster as transportation and guide logistics for guests arriving at the Partagas and Romeo/Upmann factories failed miserably.
By contrast, everyone attending the 2011 Pro Cigar Festival in the DR raved – once again – about its strong value for money, and high quality food, beverage and cigar offers. Pro Cigar factory and field tours feature university lecture standards by the cigar principals themselves. Every night during the DR Festival there is a gala Dinner. And with the Honduran cigar industry hosting their inaugural cigar event this year, the question is whether Habanos executives will take note with the goal of addressing some of their short comings.
Guests hope so.
February 22 – Havana
Partagas Launches New Cigars at Festival
Last nights opening celebration at the 2011 Habanos Festival gave guests an extra reason to “celebrate” as organizers presented two new Partagas cigars.
The Partagas Serie E No 2 is the first of this brand to feature a 54 ring size. Along with its 5.75 length, this cigar’s size reinforces the powerful branding of the Partagas line. Each guest received a specially designed box of three of these new cigars. In addition Habanos released the Partagas Serie D No 5, whose unique size (4.5 x 50) was first introduced to smokers as part of the 2008 Edicion Limitada cigars. Both cigars were well received. They are expected in Canada in May.
This is the 13th Year of the Festival. Last nights opening was held at the Havana Grand Theatre. Following welcome remarks from Habanos Executives, guest were treated to cocktails and a concert by composer Leo Brouwer.
New York – January 3
Cohiba Behike 52 Named Top Cigar for 2010
It may have been big news to smokers south of the border, but was no surprise to us in Canada eh? Cigar Aficionado’s top cigar for 2010 was the Cohiba Behike 52.
“It is the finest cigar to come out of Cuba in a long time” reports the magazine. “It is a phenomenally rich, delicious smoke that more than lives up to the Cohiba reputation”. The Behike 52 is the smallest of a trio in this brand launched at the 2010 Festival in Havana.
For the past 5 years, the magazine has been consistently giving Cuban cigars their highest scores, as Cuban quality and taste outshines products from other countries.
Toronto area smokers were the first Canadian smokers to be treated to the Behike as it was the feature cigar at the 2010 Smokes and Strokes Golf Tournament in July. Throughout the summer, all shipments to specialty cigar shops sold out immediately even at retail prices of $75 dollars and up a cigar. Cuba continues to produce these cigars in limited quantities, but they did not last long on retail shelves. Christmas 2010 saw boxes of 10 come and go in minutes.
Currently only the Behike 54 is available in Canada. Cigar Studio, a specialty tobacco shop in Toronto, has limited stock of the 54’s. Calls to the store indicate that the 52 and 56’s will be available shortly.