Written by Kevin Godbee

Monday, 10 March 2008

User Rating: / 1


Gurkha Cigars are well-known for being of the highest quality and having unique packaging including leather-bound and hand-engraved boxes as well as frosted glass tubes. They are not an every-day cigar. Many Gurkha cigars represent the high-end of the pricing scale, but that has not affected their popularity.

I sat down with Kaizad Hansotia on February 19th, the same day that news broke about Fidel Castro stepping down as the leader of Cuba. As you all know by now, that seemed to be a non-event. It was definitely not needed to make for an interesting discussion with the owner of Gurkha Cigars. Mr. Hansotia is a dynamic, intelligent, successful and quite friendly individual. You will have to take my word for it that his office looks nicer than the living rooms you will see in Architectural Digest magazine. There are beautiful carved wood furniture pieces, leather couches, big-screen TV and many unique items. It was the original museum-quality paintings that prevented pictures from being taken in his office. So take my word for it. He has a really nice office.

Upon meeting Kaizad, you might think it was by design that the name Gurkha was chosen. Like the name Gurkha, Kaizad is of Indian descent (raised in Hong Kong and Britain), but it turns out that he actually got into the cigar business, and the name Gurkha, by chance. He was originally in the corporate gift business, which may explain his savvy for creating such unique packaging or “cigar boxes”, if you can call them that. They are nothing like the traditional cigar boxes you normally see.

I started out by asking about the name Gurkha.

Kevin: Your website explains the origin of the name “Gurkha” coming from colonial soldiers in India. What made you decide to choose this name for your cigar brand?

Kaizad: Actually, I didn’t choose the name. During my travels in the corporate gift business in 1989, I came upon a small company, two Portuguese guys selling cigars and bought their name and inventory. I got into cigars by mistake. I gave away the original inventory of cigars as gifts and then all of a sudden, I started getting orders!Gurkha Black Dragon

As to the origin of the name, Gurkha’s were originally some of the most feared soldiers in the world.

In the 1700’s and 1800’s the British controlled a great part of the world. Gurkha soldiers became legendary for their fierceness as part of the British Army's Brigade of Gurkhas and the Indian Army's Gorkha regiments. “It is better to die brave than to live as a coward” is an ancient Gurkha motto.

In those days, soldiers were always supplied with tobacco and alcohol as it was the only entertainment available to them. Gurkha soldiers were the most feared in the world with a reputation for taking no prisoners, having no fear of death and being extremely loyal.

At the height of the British rule in India, colonial soldiers began to make their own cigars from the local tobacco. The fondness of the British for these legendary Nepalese fighters inspired them to name their cigars “Gurkhas.”

We are carrying on that tradition and making the Gurkhas of today.

You started in the cigar business in 1989. How would you describe Gurkha today, 19 years later?

We are a nice size corporation, not very big. We like to stay small and remain a boutique cigar brand. We don’t want to be a national mass-market brand. We like being a boutique brand.

We could become a national brand in one month by assigning our name to a major corporation. To best describe how I see us in the cigar industry, I like to make a comparison to the car industry.

You have the very big mass market corporations, the medium size players and the very unique limited production, high-end.

For example, General Motors is a large company with huge production for the masses. General Cigar and Altadis are the GM’s of the cigar industry. Then you have Mercedes Benz – that would be Ashton, Davidoff, Padron, and Fuente among others. They are premium cigars, but also made in substantial production runs. Fuente makes 30 million cigars a year. They’re huge.

Then you have a company like mine, which is the Ferrari or Rolls Royce of the industry. They only make so many cars a year, and we only make so many cigars a year. We make high-end super premium cigars that are unique in many ways.

We are small, but super-premium. Gurkha is not an every day cigar. It is more of a luxury item. They are for people who have wealth and money. That’s who we cater to.

Gurkha Grand ReserveGurkha Cigars are in fact known for being unique and of high quality. Even though they tend to represent the higher-end price-wise, they still seem to be quite popular. What is your “secret to success”?

I have always been in the high-end of every business I’ve been in. Most manufacturers decide on a price point. Then they work backwards into developing a product to fit the price.

Gurkha envisions the product, develops a unique item and then figures out the price.

The Gran Reserve (cognac infused cigar) was one of your first entries into the market. Can you tell us about the background on that?

How we came up with the idea for that cigar was very simple. In the old days (1800’s) most cigars were flavored. How that came about was like this.

Jamaica, which is now mostly producing Blue Mountain coffee in their fertile soil, used to produce a lot of tobacco. They had some of the best soil and climate in the world for producing tobacco.

In the old days, the British would take the tobacco from one country to another, and would transport it in empty rum barrels. The inside of the barrels were still wet and would keep the tobacco moist. They couldn’t use water. Water was a commodity in short supply. That’s why most people drank alcohol on the ships. By the time the tobacco spent 5 months on a ship, the rum would permeate the tobacco. They would use sherry too, and we use cognac, of course.

Is that how Gurkha cigars are infused?

The idea came from that, but what we do is to dehydrate the cigars, then cognac is sprayed into the aging room. The cigars pick that up. A cigar is like a sponge. It will pick up any moisture right away. Then we spray some cognac directly into the glass tubes.

How is business right now and what is your outlook for the coming year with continued smoking bans and a likely recession and possible inflation?

For us, we do not have a problem. We are always on backorder. We limit our production. We are not that big and we have a selective market. All of our lines are already sold out for the rest of the year.

Just this morning (February 19, 2008) the news was buzzing with the resignation of Fidel Castro in Cuba. The general public and cigar smokers typically think of the cigar market as being synonymous with Cuba. Do you see any short term or long term effects on the cigar industry in general and on your business specifically?

No. I don’t think so. Production is limited. Only so many cigars are made in Cuba. What I think will happen is that cigars will become more popular in general. Even if Cuban cigars become legal here, people will still have a hard time getting them. They will just buy more cigars overall. I think it will eventually happen, but not right away. Perhaps in about 4 years we will see Cuban cigars become legal, and that will create more buzz for cigars overall.

What most people don’t realize is that the quality control at most Honduran, Nicaraguan and Dominican factories is far better than most Cuban cigar factories. We are always fighting the Cuban cigar mystique, so we have to work harder for better quality.

It depends on individual palates as well. There are all different tastes out there. Different people like different cigars.

Cigar smokers are not like cigarette smokers. Cigarette smokers are very loyal to one brand of cigarettes. Cigar smokers are like wine drinkers. They always have their favorites, but they always want to try different cigars. If you are a real cigar smoker that is what you do. Almost all of the cigar companies all share the same customers.

Some people say, “I only smoke this or I only smoke that”. They are not real cigar smokers. Real cigar smokers always try different things.

Also, different times of the day, you might like different types of cigars. Sometimes, I would prefer to have a nice mild cigar in the daytime. I don’t want to smoke a very heavy cigar in the daytime just because it’s my favorite cigar.

Most of us don’t drink cognac in the morning, but in the middle of the day, you might like a nice cold beer. It’s the same thing.

It’s ironic that although we seem to hear of a new smoking ban every day, sales of cigars continue to rise.Gurkha Ancient Warrior

You always have the “pleasure police” trying to destroy everything. But if a person likes to smoke a cigar, he is going to smoke a cigar. You are not going to stop another human being from enjoying certain pleasures of life. Tobacco and alcohol is in every part of the world. It is one of the few epicurean delights that a man or a woman enjoys.

You cannot tell someone not to smoke or not to drink. Try telling a Scotsman or an Irishman that he cannot drink. It is a part of life. The whole society revolves around drinking. There are pubs in Ireland and the whole social structure revolves around the pub.

You had the American Indians who had their social life revolving around smoking tobacco. People enjoy smoking tobacco. It relaxes them. It is an escape. How can you tell someone not to do that? How can you tell someone not to workout? Some people do that for an escape, or because they enjoy it. You can’t do this, you can’t do that. Where does it end? Where do we draw the line?

How about politics in Latin America? There was a little buzz a while back, last year, when Daniel Ortega took over Nicaragua. Do you see that having any negative effects?

We produce our cigars in Honduran, Nicaraguan and Dominican factories and everything is fine in all those locations.

Getting back to Gurkha Cigars, do different cigars in your line target different types of smoker’s or smoker tastes?

Absolutely. We have the widest variety of tastes. We have very strong cigars, we have extremely strong cigars, but we also have extremely mild cigars. About 50% of them are medium, to heavy though.

The ratio of 50% of your cigars being in the medium-to-heavy range, does that match up with what the market is?

I think 75% of the market is for medium-to-heavy cigars.

Do you have a favorite cigar?

Which ever one I am smoking at the time. (Laughter.)

What are your recommendations for the mild, medium and full-bodied tastes out there for our readers? Where would you direct them within your line?

I would definitely recommend the Status for the mild-to-medium tastes. It comes in a beautiful frosted glass tube. That’s how you can recognize it when you go into the stores. (Click Here to see)

For a little bit more money for a nice cigar you might want to smoke on the weekend, the Beauty is a great cigar. The Beauty is mild-to-medium also.

For the person who is a very experienced cigar smoker, an aficionado that likes very strong cigars, I would recommend the Avenger G5 which is a Nicaraguan Puro (all Nicaraguan tobacco). The G3, The Beast and also the Master Select XO are great for the full-bodied tastes.

Gurkha BeastFor the cigar smoker who likes a nice full-bodied taste, but without the strength to knock you down, a good after-dinner smoke or night-time smoke is the Shaggy and the 1887 and also the Ancient Warriors.

Are there some new products on the horizon?

Yes. The Crest will be coming in the next week or so. It is very limited production of 400 boxes for the whole year.

The two latest cigars that just came out are the 1887s, the black and the red label.
(Editors note: Both of these cigars are excellent. The red label is mild-medium and the black label is medium-full with lots of flavor, but not too strong.)

Everybody is looking for the Black Dragons too. I would definitely recommend the Black Dragon if you have never tried a Gurkha Cigar. It was one of our biggest releases and we are backordered for the rest of the year. It has a medium-to-heavy full bodied taste with a chocolaty flavor.

Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?

Thank you for being such a great supporter of Gurkha and we have some beautiful new products coming out in the future, so keep your eyes open.

Check out Gurkha Cigars Website.

Here are links to buy some of the cigars mentioned here:

Gurkha Black Beauty
Gurkha G3
Gurkha Beast
Gurkha Gran Reserve
Gurkha Black Dragon

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