Cigar smoke descends over New Orleans

As happens this time each year, the entire cigar community descends upon one city for a week of cigar smoking and deal making at the annual industry trade show. For cigar enthusiasts, it is Christmas in August, as all the leading cigar makers unveil their latest blends for the thousands of cigar shop representatives in attendance.

This week that cloud of cigar smoke will be settling over New Orleans, which is hosting the annual International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers (IPCPR) Trade Show for the second straight year. Known for its good food, lively nightlife, and festive nature — even in the humidity of August — it’s no wonder that New Orleans is a regular destination for the IPCPR, along with Las Vegas (where the show will be returning for the next two years).

Now is a challenging time for the cigar industry which, contrary to the popular misconception that cigar companies are “Big Tobacco,” consists in large part of small businesses and family-owned boutique outfits. New taxes and smoking bans are being enacted in states and localities at a record pace.

New York State recently raised its tax rate on cigars to 75%, which comes on top of the 40-cent-per-cigar tax that President Obama signed into law as as part of the SCHIP program early in his administration. Meanwhile, cigar makers are bracing for new FDA regulations on cigars that are expected from the agency any day.

Despite new challenges from the government, premium handmade cigars are experiencing a renaissance when it comes to overall quality and variety. More than at perhaps any time in history, both large and small cigar companies are creating top-quality cigars with innovative blends that appeal to the tastes of aficionados and beginners alike.

That innovation will be on full display this week in New Orleans, as dozens of new cigars are made available for the first time. Here are a few highlights of already-announced new cigars due out at the event:

Guillermo León by La Aurora — La Aurora, the oldest Dominican cigar maker, is introducing a cigar honoring longtime company president Guillermo León. The early versions of this cigar I’ve sampled have demonstrated an impressive combination of balance and complexity.

Toraño Family Single Region — Toraño is taking a winemakers approach to cigars with its new Single Region line. Available in three sizes, the blend will consist of tobacco entirely from the Jalapa region of Nicaragua.

E.P. Carrillo “Core” Blend — Ernesto-Perez Carrillo, creator of the famous La Gloria Cubana line, launched his new family-run company last year with the highly-praised Edición Inaugural release. At this year’s show he’ll debut his regular production blend available, which will be available in six sizes.

Rocky Patel 15th Anniversary — Prolific cigar maker Rocky Patel is commemorating 15 years in the cigar industry with a new cigar. Featuring an Ecuadorian wrapper, Rocky compares the new smoke to his well-regarded Decade blend, but with more richness and spice.

Padrón Family Reserve 46 — With 46 years of cigar making experience, Padrón has been winning awards for years. Expect more awards for its Family Reserve No. 46, which features well-aged Nicaraguan tobacco for around $25 per cigar.

CAO La Traviata Maduro — Last year, Nashville-based CAO won over many smokers with its La Traviata blend, selling for a very reasonable $5 per cigar. Now the company is debuting a maduro version of the La Traviata that uses a Connecticut-grown broadleaf wrapper.

And those are just a few of the expected new cigars. Larger cigar makers like Altadis (Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta, H. Upmann, Trinidad) and General Cigars (Cohiba, Partagas, La Gloria Cubana, Punch) won’t announce their new cigar lines until the show officially opens.

It’s an exciting time for those who enjoy premium cigars. New releases will start arriving in cigar stores just days after the show ends on Friday, when the cloud of smoke finally begins to clear over New Orleans.

Patrick Semmens is publisher of StogieGuys.com and will be reporting live from the IPCPR Cigar Trade Show this week in New Orleans.

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Jeff Winkler (admin)