Written by Puff Staff

Tuesday, 09 August 2005

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Rob and Paul share their Day 3 findings from the 2005 RTDA show in New Orleans.  RTDA 2005 - DAY THREE and SUMMARY - August 9, 2005
Our final day reporting from the 2005 RTDA.  This is about all we could handle.  Our palate's are as sensitive as the bottom of a bull elephants foot.  Out mouths feel like asphalt paved roads.  Safe to surmise that we won't be able to give you any good ideas about cigar tastes today...but we'll tough it out. 

Puros Indios and Cuba Aliados Double Fuerte.

As the last two days of the show, we plan on seeing as many of the manufacturers as we can.  We won't be able to get to them all, although we would like to.  In our article summary we'll list the folks we tried to talk to, and couldn't for various reasons.  Those reasons varied from them not wanting to talk to us, to just not having the time.

Puros Indios

Puros Indios is a company going through change.  And change can be a good thing.  Cuba Aliados distribution rights is finally back under Puros Indios control and the family has re-grouped after the departure, return and departure of Rolando Reyes Jr. 
The Cuba Aliados line has been reblended to reflect the flavor of the original product.  We hope they have succeeded.  The company has added a "double fuerte" wrapper to two of the Cuba Aliados shapes and two of the Puros Indios shapes.  Double fuerte cigars feature a very dark, almost black, corojo wrapper that was carefully fermented under the watchful eye of Rolando Reyes Sr.  We look forward to reviewing this cigar.
We talked to third generation family member Carlos Diez, VP of Marketing.  Diez downplayed the short tenure of Rolando Jr. and instead focused on the future.  "Our commitment is to continue the quality and consistency associated with the Puros Indios brand".  He emphasized that the next generation will have to work hard to keep up with the expectations of Rolando Sr.  "But we're up to the task" he said with a smile. 
We were happy the see another generation carry on the work of Rolondo Reyes Sr. and expect to interview the "Don" himself later in the year.


At Padron booth was, as usual, busy.  So busy that we usually start trying to visit with the Padrons on the first day of the show and are lucky if we can catch up with them by the third day.  Today George and Orlando talked to us for a few minutes between customers.  New for the show is a smaller size of the 1926 Anniversario line, the No. 35.  The cigar is 4 X 47, short enough to smoke in 35 minutes, hence the name No. 35.  George told us came up with the idea only weeks ago when he had to discard a partially smoked Anniversario when he arrived at a restaurant with his wife.  "I bet there are guys out there who feel the same way I do about throwing away a perfectly good cigar because of time constraints", explained Padron.  "So when I went to Nicaragua, I told the factory to make a 4 x 47 cigar for me.  On the way from the farm to Esteli, the cigar took 35 minutes to smoke.  So we decided to call it the No. 35", grinned George.

New also is the 10 pack of the "A" sized 1964 Anniversario.  The Corticos get out of the tins and into a box.  No news yet of other new products, but "You never know." Said George with a wink and a smile.

"Java" from Drew Estates

Drew Estates

Arguably the hoppin'est place at the show.  The Drew Estate booth is always crowded, and they always seem to be having a good time.  Last night they sponsored a great party at the House of Blues in New Orleans, and we still are having trouble hearing.  Drew Estates seems to making a flavored cigar for just about everybody at the show.  The "Java" line they are making in conjunction with Rocky Patel was prominently displayed.  We had planned on sitting down to understand more about Drew estates direction with the newly hired Steve Saka.  Unfortunately Steve is a man in demand, and we were unable to coordinate schedules.

Habana Cuba Cigar Co.
Practically a new company since 2003. the Habana Cuba Cigar Co. President Rafael Nodal saw that we needed some updating on a company that we associated mostly with the Oliveros flavored cigar line. Nodal, along with his wife Alina and friend Hank Bischoff left the security of their medical industry careers to start the Habana Cuba Cigar Co. in 2002.  In the beginning, the primary purpose was to distribute the Oliveros brand worldwide, but that quickly changed.
In 2003 the new company took a new direction as they started to release new brands and products at a breakneck pace.  The company began developing non-flavored premium cigar lines along with the infrastructure to manufacture and distribute their products.
The Oliveros Classic Collection was released at the 2003 RTDA.  Next was the box pressed Oliveros Gran Reserva available as a Nicaraguan puro or with a Cameroon wrapper.  At the 2004 RTDA, the Oliveros Platinum flavored line was expanded and the full bodied, Nicaraguan puro, Premier Selection was released in three shapes.  Also released was the metallic boxed, large ring gauge line, Oliveros XL for Men.
New for this year is the addition of a double corojo wrapper on the XL For Men line.  That should add some kick to an already robust cigar.  A new line called Vista de Cuba is a medium bodied smoke with an innovative box made for retail displays.  Finally, the flavored Platinum line has added the mocha mint to it's lineup.
Most companies would only tackle one project at a time.  Create new cigar brands or build a new offshore cigar factory, or build a Miami distribution center.  Apparently, the trio of entrepreneurs have the skill and financial where-with-all to handle all three major projects simultaneously.  Nodal proudly showed us pictures of the newly completed factory in the Dominican Republic and the distribution center in Miami.  Nodal at once projects an air of confidence about his company that only an experienced businessman can have. Although low key and soft spoken, he is serious about being in the cigar business.

The new Gurkha Titan and its all metal box.

The Beach Cigar Group / K. Hansotia  & Co.

Roy MacLaren, V.P. of Marketing at Beach Cigar Group talked to us about 2 of their latest super premium cigar lines, The first is the Gurkha Beast (6.5 X 58), a limited production (1000 boxes) cigar that features 10 year old Costa Rican wrapper.  The second new release is the Gurkha Titan (6.6 X 50), which will also have production limited to 1000 boxes.  We haven't had an opportunity to smoke them, but they are probably pretty stout considering the ring gauge, dark wrapper, and the names chosen.

The Miami based Beach Cigar Group / K. Hansotia & Co. is best known for the Gurkha lines of cigars.  The two latest entries bring the total number of cigar lines to 15 ranging from the Louis XIII infused Royal Salute to the Ultra exclusive His Majesty Reserve which retails for a mere $6,000 per box.

Perhaps one of the most important additions to the company has been not a cigar, but Roy MacLaren as the V.P. of Marketing.  MacLaren is a 20 year veteran of the tobacco industry, spending the last 8 years at Davidoff.  At the top of MacLaren's 5 year plan is consistency.  "We smoke everything that comes in the door to make sure it is right.  We will not hesitate to reject cigars that are not up to our standards.  That is how you destroy a brand."  MacLaren gave us several examples to make his point.  We were impressed and look forward to trying out the two latest releases.

If you ever talk to Bucanero owner Robert "Bob" Spoden at a cigar show, the first thing he'll do is offer you a cigar.  Then he says "Now light it up and tell me what you think".  And every year, we light 'em up and tell Bob our honest opinion of his cigars.  He doesn't try to convince you how great his

3 Tierras from Felipe Gregorio

cigar is.  He wants you to tell him if you like his cigars or not and why.

New for the company is the Canon Cubano, a full bodied giant ring gauge cigar in a metallic looking box.  You might need an oxygen tank to finish this cigar.
The hallmark of Bucanero is that they know they are the underdogs and that their success depends purely on having a good product at reasonable prices.  We think they have been successful reaching that goal, the Full Sail line being one example.  We have no reason to believe the latest release, The Canon Cubano, will be any different.  Boss Robert Spoden doesn't take himself too seriously but stays focused on creating interesting blends and consistent quality. 

Felipe Gregorio

New for Felipe Gregorio in 2005 is the "3 Tierras", a new shape that looks like a double barreled shotgun.  As you can see in the picture, the cigar looks like two shotgun barrels with a Brazilian Arapica wrapper around them.  "Barrel One" is pure Piloto Cubano from the Dominican Republic, while "Barrel Two" is pure Habano 92 from Nicaragua.

For those of you that remember the "My Way" brand named after Frank Sinatra, this has been re-branded the "Frank's Way" and will continue to be available.  The Dos Capas and Tres Capas continue to do well for Felipe Gregorio while the Mystic Knight is the sales leader of the bunch.

Joya de Nicaragua Antano 1970 Gran Reserva

SAG Imports Inc.

Better known by their many brands, SAG Imports, Inc may have been the most continually busy booth at the site.  Situated right across from the Padrons, this was a busy aisle.  SAG brands include Joya de Nicaragua, Fonseca, Antano 1970, Cubita and others.

New for 2005 is the MATASA 30th Anniversary by Fonseca, and the Joya de Nicaragua Antano 1970 Gran Reserva.  Unable to try either cigar since our palates had long ago dried up and blew away, we were especially anxious for a shot at these cigars.  The Antano 1970 line gets great reviews as a very strong cigar.  The Gran Reserva line looked darker and stronger than any of the original Antano's.  The Gran Reserva will come in three sizes, the Belicoso, Gran Consul, and Robusto Grande.

The MATASA factory opened in the Dominican Republic in 1974.  To commemorate this event, Manuel Quesda created the MATASA 30th Anniversary cigar.  Coming in only two sizes, this cigar is available in boxes of 10 for the Perfecto (5 3/4 x 54) and boxes of 20 for the Toro Anniversario (6 1/2 x 52)  Carrying a Dominican Olor wrapper grown on a micro farm in the Cibao Valley, this line also includes 1995 Dominican and Nicaraguan Cuban Seed Ligero filler, and Central American binder.

General Cigar

We are happy to report our best reception ever at General Cigar.  Victoria McKee, Director of Marketing walked the entire booth with us, brand by brand.  Victoria has been with General for 3 years, and is a great addition to the company.
News from the General starts with the Diablo line released last year.  Diablo has been re-blended to bring out the devil a little more in the smoke.  Cohiba is using cross merchandising to help sell products: 3 Cohiba churchills with a Xikar cutter for $49 retail.  Last years hit, the Gran Puro is now available tubed and for the holidays, pre-wrapped cigar packages.
The big news, though, is in the General's fastest growing brand: La Gloria Cubana.  The Reserva Figurado line has added 2 cigars, the Felicias and Regales Perfecto.  Both are available in natural and, for the first time, maduro wrappers.  There is a new Serie R Limitada 2005 humidor that is already sold out.  Serie R's are now available in 6 packs. 
Adding a bit of cigar history, Ernesto Perez-Carillo Jr. was at the El Credito factory in Miami's Little Havana and found what appeared to be one of the original El Rico Habano bands.  El Rico Habano is the first cigar brand Ernesto's father made after setting up the Miami factory.  After some thought, Ernesto decided to update the El Rico Habano band to look like the vintage band.
Don Tomas is getting a makeover with 6 of the 14 frontmarks being re-blended and released this fall.  Infusion is the name of Helix's new flavored cigar line available in 4 shapes.  A new Partagas Limited Reserve Decadas has been released with a 10 year old Cameroon wrapper set aside by master blender Daniel Nunez himself.  The line will be available in 4 shapes.
We asked Victoria McKee if we are in another cigar boom.  "No one wants to say boom" states McKee flatly.  "But we do see younger buyers entering the market when we do our Macanudo Bus tours."
We also had the opportunity to meet Sherwin Seltzer V.P. of Special Sales & Trade Development.  Sherwin started in the tobacco business in the 50?s and has worked at virtually every level of the industry from manufacturer to retailer.  In 1978 he became a senior manager at Villazon which produces Hoyo de Monterey, Punch, Belinda, and El Rey del Mundo.  He stayed with them until Villazons was purchased by General Cigar in the late 90's and has been with the "General" ever since.  Clearly, in his 50 year career Sherwin has forgotten more than most of us will ever know about the tobacco industry.  Below are some of his comments.

Rocky Patel "Old World Reserve"

"The company has about 30 sales people and sales seem to be up for the retail tobacconists this year.  Macanudo is their best selling brand with Punch, Partagas, and Hoyo de Monterey (Excalibur) following.  However the fastest growing brand is La Gloria Cubana."  It makes sense.  Take a great brand with a loyal following and add a national sales force backed up by a nearly unlimited production capacity.  Seltzer said that the industry may be enjoying a "mini-boom" since tobacco inventories have caught up with demand.   
As he chatted with us, we could see why Sherwin has been successful.  He knows how to talk to people in a down to earth way.  No hype.  No marketing BS.  He knows cigars and he speaks in a common sense way from his wealth of experience.  We appreciated the fact that he took the time to talk to a couple of nobodies in the industry.  Thanks Sherwin and Victoria!!!

Rocky Patel

We visited Rocky Patel at Indian Tabac for the first time in several years and are glad we did.  The change is dramatic.  Patel's booth is now 6 or 7 times larger than before and bustling with activity.  Patel's hugely successful Vintage 1992 line surely had something to do with the increased square footage.  Following up on the 1992's success, line extensions were added and then came Patel's Edge. 
Today Patel is clearly on a roll.
New for this show are the Old World Reserve which comes in 2 shapes with either maduro or natural wrappers is made from super vintage tobaccos. 

The now familiar Edge comes in 2 shapes both with natural and maduro wrappers.  Edge sales, reportedly, are very strong.

Rob Shibata, Rocky Patel, and Paul Shoberg
"Our cigars speak for themselves" stated Patel. "I have been spending time on improving the tobacco and quality control."  We believe it based on the renewed consumer demand for Indian Tabac's products the last couple of years.  We will have full reviews of Indian Tabac's new flagship products later this year.

Best Smokes and Closing Comments

We try and remember as we walk the show that the purpose of the RTDA is for the manufacturers to take orders from the retailers.  For this reason we are always sensitive to getting in the way of revenue generating activities.  That being said, we don't want to consciously leave anyone out either. 

We tried to see La Flor Dominicana, but the folks in their booth would seem to dive for cover anytime we walked by.  Altadis has a HUGE presence at the show, but unless your carrying a HUGE wallet, they don't have time to chat.  Oliva Cigar Company is one of our favorites, but every time we went by their booth it was extremely busy.  Our friends at Puros de Brasil were not at the show this year.  We hope they are still holding on, as their cigars were very good in 2004.  Caribe Imported Cigars, makers of the extremely likeable Camacho line also seemed to only have time for those with the pocketbook open.  The one person we spoke with from Caribe opened the conversation by emphasizing that they were on backorder on many items, and the waiting list depended on how much you were ordering.  We took the hint.

We may petition the RTDA to rename the show the "Jose Blanco Show", as the gregarious Director of Sales for La Aurora seemed to be around every corner we turned.  The ultimate salesman, Jose worked the show harder than a one legged man in a butt kicking contest.

We smoked a few cigars today, but frankly can not give any valuable insight on them.  For that matter, with the burst of strong cigars on the market and the quantity sampled over the last few days, we may not be able to taste anything for weeks!  We do plan on posting an update page so we can at a minimum share some of our thoughts as we smoke the new cigars we were given to sample.  Until 2006.

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