Two weeks later, it’s time for Ask halfwheel again. This week’s question comes from reader Garron.
It’s actually a pretty timely question given a recent review by Brooks Whittington of the Prototype Unknown, an upcoming cigar from a new manufacturer who didn’t disclose anything about the cigar, other than it was made in the Dominican Republic. Garron wants to know why some manufacturers don’t talk about their blends.
The email is a bit lengthy and goes in a few different places, so I’ve split it up to try to better respond.
Why do so many manufacturers think it’s cool, funny, cute, or the right thing to do to keep a blend secret? I think so many could learn from looking at their industry mates such as (Steve) Saka’s Sobremesa, (Pete Johnson’s) La Verite, and so many others that do give you detailed blend information. At the very least divulge country of origin and types of tobaccos.
There certainly are some that withhold that information just to do it, but there are also those that are generally concerned about people “stealing their recipe.” I don’t exactly agree with the extreme paranoia, but I’ve had conversations with people that have been very concerned about another manufacturer being able to recreate a blend from a press release.
Which brings up another interesting point. We receive a lot of press releases and more often than not we need to ask follow-up questions. Not because of clarifications but because usually one of the following elements is missing: size, blend, pricing, factory, release date.
One would think this would be fundamental information for promoting a new cigar, but more often than not, even when a manufacturer takes the time to create a formal press release, they either forget or choose not to include that basic information.
With the exception of a few releases such as Quesada’s Heisenberg, which has a philosophy to it, of the unknown. I don’t believe in anyway it’s to keep others from copying the blend, as they would have to have access to every single tobacco with the same vintage and same farm and even more information to replicate it.
I think the Heisenberg is a great example. Quesada created the cigar so that people would smoke it with no preconceived notions about what it is or what it should taste like.
To this day, Quesada’s sales brokers claim to have never been told the blend.
It just seems to petty, so silly. If I went to a burger joint that had multiple meat selections (beef, bison, sheep, goat, venison, or tuna) and they told me just pick a number and you’ll get what you get because we don’t want to tell you what’s in it, they could forget about it. So what is the difference?
Garron has unfortunately hit the nail on the head.
The reason why people put out press releases with no blend info is because they don’t feel like they have to. Oftentimes, the belief seems to be that I (a manufacturer) know everything and you (the consumer) know (almost) nothing.
While I certainly don’t agree with that sentiment, there is some evidence that consumers don’t care too much about a blend unless they are told to care about it.[ref]Medio tiempo versus ligero; the longstanding belief Mexican tobacco was inferior; pelo de oro; etc.[/ref]
Almost every blend is changed multiple times per year. You never have an endless supply of this seed, from this lot, from this vintage, in this priming. Blends change for all sorts of reasons: to preserve consistency, because tobaccos aren’t available, to make the cigars perform better and in some cases to cut cost.
In the world where so many brands don’t operate their own factories, there are dozens of cigar brand owners selling products they believe are made with x when in fact the cigars contain y.
For these people, ignorance is their only crime.
But there are others that deliberately lie about ingredients they use. For years virtually no manufacturer admitted to using tobacco from Colombia, instead, it was called Peruvian tobacco. There is tobacco grown in Peru that is used for cigars, but the amount of manufacturers who claim to use Peruvian tobacco is certainly inflated.
Cigars were made with only ligero, or pre-embargo tobacco, or 25-year-old tobacco. And that was only the first three pieces of blatant lies that came to mind in about seven seconds.
Without going too much further off track, the reason why cigar companies don’t disclose the information is because it’s been proven time and time again that it doesn’t matter.
As far as I’m concerned, no information is better than made up information.
Today’s cigar world is a recipe for misinformation. The increase in multinational blends, a food chain that sees identical leaves from a single grower processed radically different from factory to factory, the plethora of contract brands, the explosion of new cigars and years worth of lying about components make it extremely challenging for a retailer, let alone a consumer, to be able to honestly tell what a cigar made with Jalapa-grown criollo 98 seco should taste like.
Because even if they are 100 percent certain, their beliefs might be based on a false foundation of knowledge. As a parallel, the most educated people in North Korea probably know less about the current geopolitical climate than your typical middle schooler. If you’re well educated from a bad textbook, you still don’t know much, if anything.
Unlike in wine, where rules are strictly enforced, the cigar industry has no rules about disclosure, and everyone in the ecosystem is affected by this—including me.
My understanding of Mexican tobacco five years ago was extremely flawed due to an imperfect sample size. Someone that works with primarily Nicaraguan tobacco probably thinks that much of the more powerful tobaccos Leo Reyes is growing in the Dominican Republic are not Dominican. Brand owners are touting around blends made entirely of viso as containing ligero and consumers are hanging on to every word.
I hate to say it but just maybe something good can come about from the FDA regulation.
It probably won’t. Substantial equivalence reports are inherently matter of public record and precedent suggests that things like blend components won’t be. It also remains unclear how detailed cigar manufacturers will get when describing their blends to FDA, but my guess is most will disclose as little as possible.
Garron, hopefully that answered your question. Or maybe you found it entertaining.
Brands do it because they can. The only way this changes if you demand—with your wallet—they change. I’ve tried and while they might be listening some certainly don’t seem to care.
If you would like to have your question responded to with a relatively unrelated paragraph about how corrupt the cigar industry might be—click here.