Kaizad Hansotia, founder of Gurkha, and a man who I have a lot of respect for when it comes to reinventing cigar packaging, gave an interview with Rich Perelman.
In it he said a few interesting things… first:
The national manufacturers used to have 70-80% of the shelf space in most smokeshops because the boutique companies didn’t have the distribution that the major corporations had… But now the boutique companies have really taken over – look at us, at Padron, at Tatuaje – all of the smaller companies are doing really well.
I presume “national” refers to the brands of giants Altadis & General (Cohiba, H. Upmann, Macanudo, Montecristo, Partagás, Romeo y Julieta, etc.)… Everyone gets their own opinion when it comes to what “boutique” is; personally, I draw the arbitrary line at one million cigars. But that’s not even the whole story, “boutique” has much to do with the nature of how companies operate.
Boutique in my mind? 262, 13th Floor, El Primer Mundo, El Titan de Bronze, La Caridad del Cobre… tiny brands, not known nationally with owners that are easily accessible.
The next level: Illusione, Tatuaje and Viaje – brands available in most major shops, but still relatively new, still run in a boutique manner, etc. While many consider them boutique, there are some, such as yours truly, that don’t give them that arbitrary sticker.
Perhaps the appropriate name for the next group is the “once boutiques.” It’s not a “has beens” type label, but more brands that were started in that nature, as I presume all are, and have transcended into major players in the world of cigars. Oliva and Rocky Patel come to mind. Sure, the latter likes to call himself “boutique” to this day, but those days are long gone.
Now let’s all remember, there’s no award for being “boutique.” The name is arbitrary. There’s no special tax discount, CA advertising rate or contest. It’s a name that in a few industries, cigars included, holds this presumed value. Still, Rocky Patel sells tons more cigars because of his large name than the aforementioned “boutiques” do because they are boutiques.
But back to the story…. Padrón? Padrón is in the same category as Arturo Fuente. A staple in the industry, widely available, tons of line and perhaps the most storage of raw tobacco of anyone in the industry. Hansotia, you my friend are out of your mind…
He might be onto something, I do think the major Altadis and General brands (outside of CAO) have lost their sharpness. In some regards, they haven’t needed to be as dynamic as others. Because there are a dedicated group of people that buy a box of Don Diegos from JR every two weeks, just like they have for the past sixteen years. In addition, when the guy that smokes eight cigars a year (which when multiplied translates into a fairly large customer base) walks into buy a cigar, he’s looking for the old Cuban brands, even if the logo doesn’t look the same and the cigar couldn’t be further from the original.
Still, as was alluded to in my Ten Questions for 2011 article, the times are changing. Altadis made a huge (but perhaps failed) effort at the show to introduce “boutique” brands for the new smoker: Warlock being the largest. Even the things like Don Diego, a brand known for mildness, saw the Don Diego Fuerte, an unnecessarily strong cigar. The recent STG merger means that General now has CAO to work with, a brand that has one of the largest fan bases in the industry. Whether they can retain that popularity remains to be seen. Still, what I dubbed, “the reinvention of La Gloria” was a sight to see. Three interesting concepts came from the La Gloria Cubana brand: the Artesanos de Tabaqueros brought two different wrappers to a cigar in non-barber pole fashion, the Serie N was a dark cigar with a “N” embedded in the wrapper and Artesanos de Obleisco saw some of the most interesting packaging of the year. This comes from the brand that has perhaps the second most loyal following for a cigar (the Serie R, only behind the Macanudo Hyde Park) in the General Portfolio. Oh yeah… and then there was the Macanudo Cru Royale, a stronger (and quite frankly better) cigar, aimed at this new generation of smokers.
Problem is, unless Kaizad has been living under a rock, this changing of the guard already took place, and quite frankly might even (as evidenced above) be shifting the opposite notion than what Hansotia predicted.
And then there is the Gurkha Raja…
After indicating that the cheaper Gurkhas have been selling well enough to become his company’s most popular line… Hansotia announced his newest line, the Gurkha Raja.
- Brand: Gurkha
- Name: Raja
- Vitola: Unknown
- Wrapper: Unknown
- Binder: Unknown
- Filler: Unknown
- Country: Dominican Republic
- Production Run: Unknown
- Release Date: August 2011
- Box Count: 50
- MSRP: $250,000
Yes, that’s right, $250,000. Not a typo, that’s the price. I’m not sure if this cigar will be infused, but if I was forced to guess, I’d say that’s happening. There’s one detail left out of that… The cigars will come in solid silver boxes. Now, before anyone says anything nice about this idea… it’s not a first. Daniel Marshall made a solid silver humidor for Arnold Schwarzenegger.
There are however some questions I have, some with a bit of seriousness, if that’s actually applicable to the situation:
- Is it really only silver? (If it’s only silver, TheCigarFeed’s resident jeweler says that the inside will tarnish pretty quickly because of the humidity. The outside likely will be fine as long as it’s not stored in high humidity. Still, this would mean keeping it in a shop or cabinet humidor is out of the question absent some coating.
- How are the cigars packaged? There’s no way these are coming just plain…
- Engraving included? If it’s solid silver, I think we could get the TCF logo on one.
- How many being made? I’m pretty sure the answer is going to be either one or three.
- Does it come with bodyguards?
The previous most expensive cigar was also a Gurkha,
the His Majesty Reserve. Infused with Louis XIII cognac, the cigar was listed at $700 a piece. (Update) Brian McGhee, of Toraño Family Cigars, is apparently a Gurkha expert. In 2007, Gurkha made the original Black Dragon, a Honduran cigar with a twelve year-old wrapper and fifteen year-old fillers. Six carved camel boxes of one hundred cigars were sold for around $100,000. Thanks Brian.
Still, the Raja is seven times more expensive than the HMR and eleven times more expensive than what many consider the holy grail of cigars, the original Behike.
It’s clear. Gurkha wants to make a name for themselves and get free publicity like this piece. The reality is, when the show comes and this cigar is revealed, CNN and other major news networks will mention some blurb about the Raja, because let’s face it… the world is obsessed with obnoxious items that are, “the most expensive ever made.”
The His Majesty Reserve, even at a fraction of the price, didn’t sell all too well. Plenty of people picked up the items at just over half of MSRP from retailers just trying to get rid of the stock. There are a few retailers I know of that have a full box of the cognac infused sticks still there, waiting for someone to come in and ask for the cigar they read about on Luxist.
If anyone feels the need to have me review one, I’ll gladly smoke one and take pictures. But I have to imagine most cigar shops do less than $250,000 in sales annually, so finding a group of consumers willing to spend a quarter million on a marketing gimmick is going to be fairly difficult, I sure won’t be one of them.
-el niño diablo
(In case you missed the link above, the piece from Perelman is available here.)