2014 Year in Review & Thoughts on 2015
2014 Year in Review & Thoughts on 2015
With the 2014 year over, and my Top 25 list completed, I thought it would be a good time to do an end of the year write up. I have never offered an end of the year write up in the past, but I was feeling compelled to do one. This is my way of summing up this year's releases and thinking about the 2015 year. Next year is shaping up to be an interesting year, and that stems from the companies that had a big year this year. I think the big question the industry faces is that of what the FDA will do next year, and while we do not know what will happen for certain, I believe we all agree there will be something that happens. In terms of Cuba, I believe those that are really writing about it are doing so prematurely. It is always fun to speculate, I get that, but let's be realistic everyone! The only thing that has changed as of right now is that we can bring back $400 worth of goods from the country, and only $100 worth of cigars can be brought back from that $400. But with that allowance, we still can't go to the country. You can see how this can be confusing and why individuals think the country is opening up, but the reality is it is not. The other thing to remember is that everything is government controlled. It is not like there is land for sale and tobacco farms waiting to be privatized. It is all run by the government, so the idea of getting tobacco for a multi-country blend or even growing tobacco for a multi-country blend is far fetched right now. With that being said, let me share my thoughts.
The Big Two of 2014
Looking at 2014, there are two companies that had a huge year. These companies had a huge year for more than just the cigars they put out, but because of all aspects of their business. Casa Fernandez was one of these two companies, and I believe they had a huge year with the production of cigars and growing of tobacco for themselves and others working with them. With companies like Illusione, Viaje and Sindicato teaming up with Casa Fernandez, a lot of great stuff was released this year. There have been more companies that have worked witm them besides those three, but those are the big three in my opinion. Along with that, they were a company that put out some amazing products bearing their own name. I think the secret to their success lies within the tobacco they were using and their blending skills, and overall they kept it simple but truly effective. AGANORSA tobacco has been getting better and better with each vintage, and they are really using some well aged tobacco in blends that have made a difference in the final product. I always look forward to future releases with AGANORSA tobacco, and after the 2014 releases, there is a lot of pressure on the company to create some additional great releases in 2015. The biggest argument that comes out of Nicaraguan puros and factories using similar tobacco is repetitive blends that are not unique. I believe that is the case with some companies already, so it will be interesting to see how Casa Fernandez approached this fear. (Casa Fernandez Aniversario Serie 2014 The Ares Review Here, Casa Fernandez Aniversario Bohème No. 35 Review Here, Casa Fernandez Arsenio Oro Toro Review Here, Casa Fernandez Aganorsa Leaf Maduro Délire Review Here)
The other company that had a huge year this year was Davidoff. Unlike Casa Fernandez, whose success was in their blends and tobacco, Davidoff had a huge year in almost everything they did. While I liked a lot of their releases, their biggest success was not the cigars but the company strategy. They have announced new Davidoff stores and lounges, thus expanding the brand more so than ever, and have put a lot of money into re-branding older brands/subsidiary companies underneath the Davidoff portfolio. They put a lot of money into Camacho this year, "repairing" the brand, and I believe it was money well spent. There is an excitement with Camacho now that has been lost since before 2008. Davidoff also recently re-branded the Winston Churchill brand and I am interested to see how that unfolds. I have always struggled with the Winston Churchill brand for many many reasons, but I am hoping that the time and money they have put into it pans out. They have already begun their work on the AVO arm of the company as well, so next year we will see the results of that labor. AVO is another brand that I have never fully gotten behind, and with them cutting some lines that I did like, I am interested to see what we are in store for. It is a brand that has been overlooked by many over the past years, but I believe after seeing what Davidoff did with Camacho, I think we can see the light at the end of the tunnel for AVO. They have a lot of excitement going on for them with Matt Booth and Room 101, and when you look at all the brands they have, you can see that they have a cigar for every type of smoker out there. Davidoff has always been big, but this past year made them see huger than ever. (Davidoff Art Edition Review Here)
Successful Brands of 2014 & Brands to Watch in 2015
2014 was a unique year in my opinion, and it was not a year filled with a lot of companies putting out a great cigar or two, but more like one or two companies putting out some amazing cigars. This was a year where a couple companies dominated and the others could not catch up in my opinion. It will be interesting to see if that continues into next year for these companies, and I truly hope it does. In terms of new companies, we saw some new companies this year enter the industry super strong, and they came out with a lot of brands, rather than playing it a little conservative as some have and only putting out one. Here are some companies that I thought had a great 2014 year and are companies that I will be watching in 2015.
Caldwell Cigar Co.: Robert Caldwell made an amazing return in 2014 and with Caldwell Cigar Co. he re-entered the industry with six lines! Three of those lines were considered premium, the other more wallet friendly, but all of them were enjoyable and successful in their ways. No line was similar to another, and each of them spoke to a different type of smoker at a different level. I was one of many who was hesitant to see how his cigars would be when they hit the market, but once we started smoking them, we could not get enough. He has some incredible lines out there, and the shops that have them do well with them. Along with his six regular production lines, he had a limited vitola extension to one of the lines that was great as well and successful. It was a company that had a huge year and will be a company to watch in 2015. (Long Live The King Petit Double Wide Short Churchill Review Here, Eastern Standard The Silk Road Review Here)
Crux Cigars: Hailing from The North Star State, Crux Cigars entered the cigar industry incredibly strong! Originally retailers, the company's heads, Jeff Haugen and Joel Rogers had a vision to become brand owners and did so with the creation of Crux Cigars. The company released six lines in 2014, a huge undertaking for any company, and each of them unique from one another. No blend was similar or repetitive, and they were able to create a cigar that could speak to a variety of smokers. Along with that, unlike a lot of other companies in the industry, the company wanted to be a little bit more creative and unique and focused on some unique vitolas. They company had a line dedicated to the purito size, a line dedicated to the ninfa vitola offering, and a lot of vitolas featuring that unique 109 finish. Overall, I was impressed with what they did in 2014 and it makes me wonder what they will do this year. A part of me wants to continue seeing some excitement from the company, maybe a limited edition or something along those lines, but at the same time they could focus on what they have already and keep themselves busy enough. (Crux Reviews Here)
Cubanacan Cigars: Before the HR was even smoked, Cubanacan was grabbing the attention of most cigar smokers in the United States. With the announcement from the company that they would be working with Hirochi Robaina, grandson of Alejandro Robaina and successful farmer in Cuba to create the HR, the company was working its way to center stage. Since the announcement, retailers have been bringing in the company's offerings and smokers have been sampling the portfolio. Yes, a lot of attention is on the HR, but with that attention the company's other offerings have been gaining attention as well. Response has been positive to the HR thus far and with that the success comes the question, what's next for Cubanacan and Hiroshi Robaina? Nothing has been confirmed yet, but I believe we can all guess that there is something in the works. (Cubanacan HR Sublime Review Here)
Illusione Cigars: Illusione Cigars is a company that does not release a lot every year, sometimes nothing at all, and because of that I believe Dion truly knows what he is doing. At no point does he feel pressured to release a cigar to the market, but releases a cigar when he is ready and the cigar is ready. This year was a huge year for him, and it was a year where he released two limited retail exclusives, two national limited releases, and a regular production line as well. While that list may seem long, and it is, the reality is that the production was smaller there than one regular production lines from a couple other companies on the market. Illusione Cigars is a company that is known for their quality control and he is definitely able to control that with what he produces. I was thoroughly impressed with what was released this year, two of the three cigars he released that I smoked made it into my Top 25, and I look forward to next year. I imagine we will have another limited edition, but you never know, we may see a line extension or a new line entirely. (Illusione Fume D'Amour Clementes Review Here, Illusione Singularé 2014 Annunaki Review Here, Illusione Pactum Review Here)
Las Cumbres Tabaco: Jose Blanco made his return to the industry and did it his way. With the establishment of Las Cumbres Tabaco, Blanco returned to the Dominican Republic and made his dream come true with the assistance of his cousin, Jochi Blanco. Working with Tabacalera Palma, Blanco first released Señorial in the early summer. The line received positive reviews from many and with the love people have for Blanco, it quickly became a popular brand and one that people sought out. I myself loved the brand from the first time I smoked it, and I believe it is a terrific line that shows the diverse qualities of Dominican tobacco. While it looked like 2014 would be focused just on that line, he was able to get his first limited release out at the end of the year. The Señorial 65th was/is a Dominican puro and Blanco has claimed this is the best thing he has ever done. It truly is an impressive perfecto and one that any connoisseur would enjoy. This is a cigar that is meant for the true cigar smoker and that is who will enjoy it. I look forward to seeing what he has planned for the market this year, and I know he is working on a Lancero, a Dominican puro that is unique from the 65th and also a box-pressed San Andres maduro smoke. Nothing is set in stone yet, and that is because Blanco will not release something that is not ready and he is not completely satisfied with. (Señorial 65th Anniversary Perfecto Elegance Review Here, Señorial Belicoso No. 2 Review Here)
Matilde: Back in May of 2014, Matilde was on my radar and a brand that I was really digging. While it did not make my Top 25 Cigars of 2014, it was a company that was on the short-list and one I have not forgotten. The return of Jose Seijas with Matilde has been an incredible one, and it is great to see an individual who was at one time very "corporate" now on his own. He is part of the New DR Movement, if you ask me, and he is up there with Blanco, Caldwell and a few others. Like Blanco, it was a fairly "quiet" year for him and Matilde in terms of what they released to the market, but they are a company that I am going to be watching in 2015. They have nothing announced yet, but I know whatever they put out there will be to the highest degree, exactly what they did with Matilde Renacer. (Matilde Renacer Robusto Review Here)
Overall, 2014 was an interesting year and as I said in the beginning, I felt it was a year where a few companies made a difference and others did not. The companies I have talked about are the companies that I believe made a difference and are companies I can get behind. There are some other ones that people will say had a big year, but they were companies in my opinion that did not release a lot of great cigars, but just a lot of them. I know that Crowned Heads had a huge year and released a plethora of limited editions with a some regular production and regional releases in there, but overall I felt the final cigars were a disappointment. Their Headley Grange Laguito No. 6 was the one cigar that pleased me, but I felt that it still needed some aging to improve.
Tatuaje was another company that disappointed me. While the Monster Series was a success, much better than last years, there was nothing else from the company that made me think, Pete had a good year. The packaging changes to La Riqueza and El Triunfador seemed to make no difference, and to this day the lines seem to be in limbo. The excitement around the re-packed Seleccion de Cazador came to a close at the beginning of the year, and it left all the Tatuaje fans screaming "we want something new," with their call not being answered. Satin Glove was a nice release for L'Atelier Imports, but over all the year was a disappointment in my book for them as well after a great 2013 year. Looking at Crowned Heads, Tatuaje and L'Ateler Imports struggles though, you begin to see the connection and that ties in My Father Cigars S.A.
Is there something going on with the factory? Are things plateauing? I believe that for a long time they were the company to use for cigar production and releases, but after the year Casa Fernandez had, I believe that there is a new company to work with. I was not impressed with many of the releases that came out of the factory, and while I really enjoyed a handful, if you look at the total number of cigars coming out of the factory, my percentage is very low. With what I did enjoy, there was nothing that had me jumping for joy and that is a major shame. I know the Garcia Family is respected and loved by many smokers, I mean there is a huge Pepin following, but this year was not a good year for the factory and I believe that all involved with the factory are in a slump. I hope that it turns around this year, but only time will tell.
Reinado was another company that I was hoping would have a great release with the Ecuador Edition Petit Lancero, and follow up a big year they had with me in 2013, but it never seemed to make it to the market and the company remained very quiet in the second half of the year. I don't know what is going on there, but it is a shame as I am a fan of the cigars they currently have. They were a small boutique company that I was hoping to see something great out of, and right now it looks like they are flat lining like a lot of the other boutique companies on the market. I always believed that there would come a point when the boutique companies began to truly struggle, and I think we are seeing that right now.
The Controversial Conclusion
While some may completely disagree with everything I have said, I know there are some who agree and will not publicly admit it. I think 2014 was an interesting year and it was a year where the Golden Age of Cigars plateaued. Call me negative if you like, but I believe I am a realist. I believe the boutique boom is coming to a close and we will soon see the boutique bubble pop. Is Davidoff creating a lot of new brands? No, they are re-branding the old ones! Humidors are being over-saturated with brands and releases, and the blends are tasting more and more alike. Prices are getting out of control for a lot of these companies, and the truth is that there is only so much tobacco available. I ask the question, where does a small boutique company who has never been in the industry before get the idea that they can charge $10.00 plus for a Nicaraguan puro? Limited Editions are becoming everyday releases, and because of that, the Limited Edition title has become devalued. To me, Limited Editions are becoming regular production cigars with out of control prices. I believe in the next couple years we will see a huge change in the industry, and while it will be tough on some, the great ones will continue on and continue to deliver great cigars, maybe even better ones. Government aside, this industry can only grow so much before it has peaked, and I believe we are at that point. I expect to see what we saw this year, and that is that a handful of companies will dominate the market while others slowly fade away.
It is time that as cigar smokers we appreciate the classics, the tried-and-true, and not always seek out the new?