For whatever reason, I’ve had real trouble falling asleep here in Germany, and Thursday night—or Friday morning—was horrid. I ended up arriving at the trade show once again at noon, two hours after it started.
Much of my night was spent dealing with the ACE Prime/Crowned Heads distribution breakdown, something that I think you’ll be reading more about in the future. Once inside, I tried to be as productive during the next six hours as I could, but there just wasn’t enough time to catch up with various people as well as try to find information about some new products.
I walked by the Habanos S.A.—err, 5ta Avenida—booth and saw some of the newer Cuban cigars, most of which have been announced but few of which I’ve seen in person. If you want more information about the latest from Cuba, Brooks Whittington was there last week and saw a lot more new items than I did.
One thing that stood out was the H.Upmann Magnum 52 box, the third Habanos S.A. release to celebrate the Chinese New Year and the zodiac calendar. I think the box is the most interesting of the trio, and I’d certainly like to try to the cigar, though I have no idea how long it will take before that happens. I’ve heard a number of rumors about the current supply issues in Cuba, some of which I find more believable than others. Whatever the case actually is, the issues are real and the supply issues aren’t going to be solved in the immediate future. The talk of the trade show—at least amongst the premium cigar people—is undoubtedly the issue with Cuban supplies.
For most of the people I’ve spoken with, that’s great news as it’s boosted international sales of non-Cuban cigars. One interesting thing here in Germany is that 5ta Avenida, the German distributor of Cuban cigars that is jointly owned by Villiger and Habanos S.A., is now distributing VegaFina in Germany. Previously, VegaFina—a cousin of the Altadis U.S.A. portfolio—was sold directly by Villiger. I wonder whether this will be something that happens in other countries as I’m sure many of the Cuban cigar distributors would like to be able to sell some cigars, even if they aren’t from Havana.
The other thing that became apparent to me is that the cigar accessory market is healthy. Daniel Marshall, the Los Angeles-based humidor maker, said his sales were very strong. Alex Goldman of Quality Importers Trading Co. told me that from some of the least expensive items in the portfolio (Palió lighters) to the most expensive (tower humidors) are doing great, as is plenty in between. Scott Vines of Tor Imports, the new distributor of Lotus accessories in Europe, told me the initial sales have been fantastic. These were all unprompted remarks within a period of about six hours. That said, if you are going to buy a lighter from Tor Imports, it should be the Torjet, which sadly is still not offered in the U.S.
As far as the most interesting new cigar release I saw on Friday, it was pretty easy to determine. Cigar Specialist International, a Singapore-based distributor, launched the Aura by E.P. Carrillo. It’s a 12-count box of 12 different 6 1/8 x 52 torpedoes, each a different blend. Ernesto Perez-Carrillo Jr. blended each cigar to represent one of the 12 symbols of the Chinese zodiac calendar. Inside each box—which also includes a humidifier—is a group of cards detailing each blend and why it was chosen for each symbol.
It’s primarily for the Asian market and will have an MSRP of $1,000 per box in China.
I ended my trade show day at J.C. Newman’s happy hour event, which was held at the company’s booth and featured a bar and some great cheese along with other food. There were also cigars and live music, though given it was 6 p.m. and I hadn’t had food all day, I was much more interested in the cheese.
Shortly after venturing back to my hotel, I headed to the Vandermarliere Cigar Family party, which is traditionally held at the end of Day 2. This year, it moved to a larger venue, which I liked more than the previous greenhouse venue. I’ve been coming to this party for most of my trips to Dortmund and it’s incredible to see how large it’s grown. It ends up being the unofficial party of the second day of the trade show with dozens of other cigar companies represented.
As has traditionally been the case since back when this was the J. Cortès party—Vandermarliere is the parent company—this included a dance routine; this year’s dance was set to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Can’t Hold Us” and was done on a proper stage, though the same dance is done each day in the company’s booth. As always, Fred Vandermarliere participated in the dance—something I imagine few cigar company owners would ever dare do, particularly in front of their employees and peers.
One notable addition to this year’s party was an introduction of the new Cuba Aliados lines that Oliva Cigar Co.—also owned by Vandermarliere—introduced earlier this year. For this, Vandermarliere brought Perez-Carrillo Jr. and Vivi Eiroa of JRE Tobacco Co. on stage to talk about Cuba Aliados and the brand’s late founder, Rolando Reyes. Both E.P. Carrillo and JRE Tobacco Co. are producing Cuba Aliados brands for Oliva. It was great to hear both of them talk about Reyes, a man I never met but someone who is often mentioned by the older generation of cigarmakers. One interesting note, because of European laws, the brand is simply known as “Aliados” because the company cannot use the word “Cuba” in a tradename.
The Vandermarliere party is a good reminder of one of the things absent at the PCA Convention & Trade Show. If a similar thing happened in Las Vegas, it would be an extremely popular event, just as it rightfully is here in Dortmund.