THE BEST $10 CIGAR IN AMERICA
By Eddie Rivkin
BEING THE BEST at anything is more often than not, arbitrary and an opinion. Even elections for leader of the free world are really nothing more than linguistic mating dances intended to win the opinion of the masses. Without a competition between individuals or teams, where they themselves conclusively determine the victor, “THE BEST” is at-best: an opinion by people that are hopefully educated in the field, in which they decry what’s “best.” I have been a happily degenerate cigar smoker since the late 1980’s. I have owned my own cigar company and operated stores both in the Las Vegas and abroad. I have also traveled to all major tobacco growing regions in Central and South America indulging in my passion, including multiple trips, as a guest, to ISOM. (If you are truly a cigar aficionado, a trip to ISOM is a trip to the Mecca and Paradise that you MUST experience!) Recently, I was asked to guess how many sticks (good, bad and indifferent) that I have smoked over the years. I fear (not really) the number could be in excess 15,000! Are those credentials enough to qualify me as an expert? That’s up to you, the readers, to decide. But when a good friend of mine, who wanted to start smoking, asked me what I thought was the best $10 cigar available in Las Vegas, I decided to find out. I took 6 solid months of smoking anything and everything I could get my hands on, foregoing my own personal favorites, to try to give my dear friend an absolutely perfect introduction into my favorite hobby.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE WINNER IS:
THE GRAN HABANO COROJO #5 TRIUMPH!
I had the opportunity to sit down with George Rico, a fourth generation cigar maker from Gran Habano Cigars now living in South Florida, to learn about the cigar, his company, and the great things they are bringing to market in the near future for cigar lovers.
ER: How long have you and your family been making cigars?
RICO: I’m fourth generation, as both a tobacco grower and a cigar maker. My family started growing cigars in Columbia, basically for domestic distribution and for sale here in the States.
ER: Tell me about the three core lines that started Gran Habano: The Connecticut (green packaging), Habano #3 (black), and the Corojo #5 (red).
RICO: The Connecticut is a very mild cigar and still very complex. It doesn’t have any spice or pepper bite at all. It has a very rich taste, yet is still truly a mild cigar. The Habano #3 is a medium-bodied cigar, maybe medium to full-bodied cigar, with a very complex taste, with just a hint of pepper. It has tobacco from Mexico, Columbia and Nicaragua, and the Habano wrapper is unique and grown at our farm in Jalapa Nicaragua. And the Corojo #5 is a pretty full-bodied cigar, with tobacco from Nicaragua, Panama, and a sun-grown wrapper also from our farm in Jalapa.
ER: How many cigars a year do you produce?
RICO: I expect this year the final number will be a little more than 5 million, maybe as much as 5.5 million.
ER: What kind of growth do you anticipate in the next couple years?
RICO: We are hoping to continue the steady growth we have had since we started Gran Habano in late 2002. It’s really hard to predict or forecast actual numbers. We hope that the success of our core lines will allow us to continue to expand our boutique lines, such as the American Puro and Barracuda that I debuted this year.
ER: Tell me about the Personalized Line you offer.
RICO: The program is through our factory in Miami. A person can either come down to Miami or attend one of the seminars I have all around the country. The event is usually 20 people maximum and you get to smoke some of all of the available tobacco we have at the time. We go over all the different qualities, as well as teach the people about the binder wrapper and the filler qualities, how tobacco is blended, and how a great cigar is constructed. The customer decides exactly how they want their own personal cigar to taste. The boxes are about $250 for $25 cigars.
ER: You have even gone as far as personalizing the bands and boxes?
RICO: Right now the boxes will have the customer’s name or whatever they want on them. At some point, hopefully soon, we will have a program where we offer custom bands and boxes in addition to the cigars. Right now the cigars are limited to three sizes, of which I highly recommend the 6 ½ x 54. That way the customer can get the best mix of the most tobacco, potentially up to eight different leaves, and get the most unique personal blend. At the end of the day, the seminar is all about knowledge. Whatever a customer takes (learns) from our seminar, they can use in all of the cigar experiences. They will have a lot better understanding of what goes into making cigars – I guarantee you that!
ER: What makes a boutique brand and the cigars they produce better than the stereotypical established brands being produced by the big boys, like Altadis and General Cigar?
RICO: I think mostly it is the attention to quality and craftsmanship. The other big difference is the ability to create the different products outside of what is the industry norm. A company like mine can produce a cigar like American Puro, made with entirely American grown tobacco. I don’t think the big companies could ever do something that kind of unique. Flexibility and ingenuity are the things that really set my company and other boutique cigar companies apart from the long established brands.
ER: In your opinion, what’s the best $10 cigar in America and why?
RICO: I believe my Corojo #5 Imperial is considered by far, one of, if not the best $10 cigars, based on the quality, craftsmanship and the attention to detail we put into making it. It’s been on the market for 10 years and just keeps getting better. When you add in a retail price point in the $7-$10 range, I think it’s the cigar with the best overall smoking experience and bang for the buck.
ER: For the readers who may be just getting started, or have been smoking a short time and whose palate isn’t yet ready for full-bodied cigars, like the Corojo #5, which Gran Habano cigars would you suggest?
RICO: For a new smoker, I would recommend the Gran Robusto Connecticut. Basically, it’s a milder cigar, still very flavorful, but also mild – and the size is perfect. You get a good amount of the flavor, a good amount of smoke, with a very smooth draw and burn.
Gran Habano is available at fine cigar stores throughout Las Vegas and around the country. You can also find more information at: www.ghcigars.com