This is a question that gets debated frequently in the cigar world and one that isn’t exactly very cut and dry to answer. There are some variations of the term that get used a lot and in my opinion misused in order to describe a “small batch” put out by larger cigar manufactures that we are told are “boutique blends”.
Right now the cigar industry is going through a new and exciting phase with the explosion of new, innovative, creative, masterful, artful, passionate people that are developing and creating some of the best cigars the world has ever seen. Sadly, many of them go undiscovered because these cigars don’t get the publicity of the big brands because the companies simply choose to invest their promotional and advertising dollars into high end, premium tobacco or more experienced torcedors that ensure the highest quality and craftsmanship. This new phase of cigar manufacturing and influx of great new products is being driven by Boutique brands.
So the term boutique, as I understand it in the industry (again much debate goes into this) defines a company that produces less than 1.5 million cigars per year. I have heard that number at 1 million to 1.5 million. The other thing that gets considered is the cultivation of the small batches of tobacco and the high attention to detail that the cigars are made into. So those 2 things alone can describe boutiques and small batch cigars. Confused yet?
Boutique cigars, to me, are a premium handmade cigar, but unlike regular premium cigars, are made in small batches with much greater detail. The tobacco is special and hand selected, grown in smaller batches and used to create a very complex, distinct flavor. They are typically harder to find, and not available in every cigar shop making them a sought after commodity for those of us that love them. The flavor and aroma of these cigars are not to be found in a regular premium cigar. For me, it’s more than just a cigar. It’s knowing the passion and artistry that was put into each cigar, the vibe of the brand, the artwork on the band, knowing how hard they can be to get your hands on, seeing the quality of the construction, knowing that you are not one of the sheepeople mindlessly smoking whatever they have been told is the “next great cigar” only to feel ripped off or trying to convince yourself that you actually liked the taste of shoe leather and ashtray. It’s about the experience and knowing that you have something that is special and most of the world will never experience it. The true hidden gems of the cigar industry.
Many times when I am in a cigar shop and pick up a boutique cigar and people ask me about it, I hear “never heard of it, how much is it?” I know right then that they are not usually someone that I can convince to try it so I don’t bother trying. Other times I get “Never heard of it, how is it?” Those are the ones that have a chance. Sometimes they opt for a more familiar choice, but they are thinking about trying it later on. Sometimes I just feel like being generous and I will just buy them one and watch them as they experience it for the first time. It’s almost magical to see their expressions as their senses come alive and they give you the “Damn, this is a good cigar”. Welcome to the world of true boutique cigars my friend. You are welcome. I certainly remember my first one and I no regular premium cigar had topped it yet. Not to say that there aren’t many great premiums out there because there are, and on occasion I do smoke them. Shhh.
Jonathan Drew posed the question in Cigar Advisor awhile back “At what point does a ‘Boutique Cigar Company’ lose it’s roots and become a ‘Corporate Cigar Company?’ The answer is the same as the question, ‘When does a person become old?’ The answer is defined by the person’s heart, their attitude and, in this case, in the market’s perception, quite honestly.”
I thought that was a brilliant take on the topic. Obviously, JD has become one of the largest cigar manufactures in the world, but the culture and cult like following of their many brands is something you find at a much smaller level with many current boutique brands. You can’t walk into a cigar shop today without finding something that Drew Estate produces or has a distribution deal with. One of my all time favorite cigars is the Balmoral Anejo XO and they have been around forever but are under the distribution of Drew Estate.
As these smaller companies continue to grow and word spreads, a few may strike some big distribution deals and get into heavy rotation with the big box stores. If that happens, it will be interesting to see how many of them keep their same high quality standards. I think for the most part many of them will do just fine. I also think some of them aren’t out there looking for that big deal and just love doing what they do.
How many of you have been to a cigar event that featured a big name cigar maker? They are always nice, willing to take a photo with you, sign an autograph on the box you purchased and all of that fun stuff. Nothing wrong with it at all. Been there, done that. It had that big brand feel to the entire experience. How many of you have had the chance to attend an event with the owner of a boutique brand? Night and day experience. The most down to earth, humble, nice, generous people you could ever hope to meet. It’s not just about the sales for the night, it’s about meeting the people that support their brands and enjoy their creations. They willingly give up their time to have real conversations about things outside of cigars. These are the people that I respect and admire in the business. They are creating such high quality works of art, in my opinion, with such passion and dedication that most of the successful guys seem to have lost. Don’t get me wrong, many of the most successful cigar makers are still very passionate and creative, but the feel is different. It’s almost like Ford Motor Company and Bugatti. Both make products they are passionate about, just at much different levels of quality and quantity.
Which leads me to my last point. Cost of a boutique vs. a regular premium cigar. Why such a big difference? Is there a big difference? Is a micro-brew more expensive than a Miller Lite? Why is that? They are both beer right? A boutique is just a premium cigar right? Wrong. The quality of the tobacco is much higher, the construction of each hand rolled cigar is on a different level, the blends are better, the flavor and aroma are unmatched. They also have higher shipping cost and to fewer stores. So if a boutique comes in at $9.50 per cigar vs. Big Brand Box Store with all of it’s marketing, mass production and lower shipping cost is on the shelf next to it at $7.95 how much cheaper is it vs. what you are actually paying for? Certainly the quality is going to be inferior to the boutique, the flavor won’t come close, the construction won’t be as good and at the end of the day you were left with a subpar smoke that passed the time, but did you honestly walk away from it going “That was a fantastic cigar and I enjoyed the hell out of this”? I know the answer because as someone that smoked many big brand cigars over the past few years I have had exactly 1 cigar that made me purchase more than a 5 pack. (Balmoral) On the flip side of that, I own more boutique cigars than anything else. Why, because they are effing incredible cigars, that’s why. If I had more money, no wife, a large humidor, and a house I could smoke in, I would be on TLC as the cigar hoarder and they would be trying to do an intervention on my a$$. Just kidding babe (I am already in trouble because I said I was doing stuff on boutiques and she got excited thinking it was clothing…my response was not to her approval) anyway…moving on.
Not sure if this cleared anything up but I would love to hear some feedback and suggestions. Please spread the word about us. I have some pretty exciting news coming up in the next day or so. Working out some details for some special guest, finalizing the format for the Boutique Spotlight section of the blog, getting some great support from many in the industry and on social media so stay tuned. Let’s make this thing blow up!
Thanks for stopping by. Light em if you got em. Peace!