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CIGAR.com Member's Lounge, Vol. VIII - December 2020

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In the spirit of giving that surrounds us during the holidays, I thought it seemed appropriate to present a twist on the usual Member’s Lounge format: all four of the cigars featured this month will be on sale through December 31st, 2020! Once you learn more about these exceptional premiums, treat yourself by taking advantage of special pricing before the New Year.


NAT SHERMAN TIMELESS LE 2019 TORO

Nat Sherman. Just typing the name brings back a multitude of fond memories, as the Sherman family gave me my start in the premium cigar industry back in the mid-2000s. I grew up knowing the Sherman name as two generations of my family smoked their cigars and pipe tobacco blends – my Great-Grandfather’s insurance brokerage was even in the same building as Nat’s original store in downtown Manhattan – the same Great-Grandfather who immigrated from Eastern Europe as a 12-year-old child, only to wind up on the Lower East Side to learn English selling cigars and cigarettes in a burlesque house. (Hey, it was a very different time then!)


The story of Nat Sherman is the story of an enterprising man. He ran a prominent speakeasy in New York during Prohibition, and via family lore, became part owner of Traub Brothers and Bear, a cigar maker who was then known for its Epoca brand. (The acquisition of this business was the result of the settling of a gambling debt.) Epoca was made in Havana and Tampa, and once Sherman saw the rise in profits by having his own brand of premiums offered in his nightclub, he bought out his partner to become sole owner. 


Although Nat first had a small retail space in the Financial District, the brand’s true major retail location was at 1400 Broadway not far from Bryant Park. Prominent real estate developer Abe Gubertz had cash-flow problems during the construction of his 38-story building at the address, so Nat gave him a loan, accepting a piece of the lobby to sell Nat Sherman cigars and cigarettes as partial repayment. Aside from selling in spades to those who eventually worked in the building, Nat’s personality coupled with the increasing popularity of his products garnered the attention of many a New Yorker, as well as many a celebrity. At this time and until the embargo, Nat Sherman was the exclusive importer and distributor of the Cuban-made Bolivar brand in the US.


The 1950s through the mid-1980s continued to be very successful for Nat and his brand. He was a pioneer in producing and mailing out catalogues to all customers on his expansive mailing list, that way he could ensure orders from those who didn’t live in New York, as well as further cement himself as a national brand. He introduced the plastic-tipped cigar to the industry, and was a pioneer in creating what was branded as a “luxury cigarette,” which for Nat meant they were made of cigar tobacco instead of the often-cheaper and harsher cigarette tobacco varietals. When the company expanded to include pipes and pipe tobacco in the 1960s, Nat Sherman’s pipe department was the biggest in New York and nationwide. 


After overseeing a clientele that consisted of everyday people, the wealthy, mobsters, celebrities, and tourists for decades, Nat passed away in 1989. The company had moved locations again earlier in 1976 to 711 Fifth Avenue – near the famous Plaza Hotel and across from Tiffany & Co.’s former headquarters – but a paradigm shift was about to begin. Cigars in general were on the decline, and a lack of modernization within the branding of the Nat Sherman portfolio began to take its effects on the company’s reputation as other bigger (and former Cuban) brands started to cement themselves in the US market. 


Once the “cigar boom” came to fruition in the US, Nat Sherman was kind of left behind. They had loyal cigar and cigarette customers, but were unmentioned among a sea of new brands, new ideas, and new smokers who often associated Sherman brand products with their Grandfathers. After multiple turnovers in retail management and product development – and a couple of years before the remaining Sherman family members sold the company to tobacco giant Altria – the world was introduced to the Timeless Collection.


What began with the Timeless Dominican release made at MATASA (Quesada Cigars) had spurred the Timeless Nicaraguan made by Plasencia. (Both the Quesadas and the Plasencias are longtime friends of each other and the Sherman family, as well as Michael Herklots.) Anyone familiar with older Sherman branding knows that the look of the Timeless brand is quintessential Nat: the Art Deco marquis font, the ode to the iconic clock, and the acknowledgment of the brand’s beginnings in 1930. (Each cigar box even boasts a facsimile of Sherman’s signature in a muted gold tone against matte black.) There is this classic yet somewhat quiet elegance about it all which I personally find amusing, as Nat often rattled off Borscht Belt one-liners, knew the cost down to the penny of every single supply, and loved a rocks glass filled with Dewar’s each Friday afternoon once the store closed.


The Timeless Collection ushered in a new era for the Sherman brand, both in terms of premium products available to consumers, but also in terms of a swath of new clientele who may have never had a Sherman cigar before. While both the Dominican and Nicaraguan blends have been rated ‘91’-plus by Cigar Aficionado, this special, limited-edition set of Timeless cigars is a must-have for any fan of this now sadly defunct New York institution.


Packaged in stylish, 1930s-inspired boxes of five, this blend is offered in a single Toro (6.0”x50) vitola. The binder and wrapper are respectively comprised of lush leaves grown in the Dominican Republic, and the long-filler blend from Nicaragua and the Dominican. Each premium presents a medium to full-bodied profile, with the Timeless Limited Edition 2019 offering notes of cinnamon, leather, almonds, and white pepper that will most assuredly keep you coming back for more.
I urge you to give this one a try one evening after a good meal. Heck, pour yourself a glass of scotch like Nat would and finish the cigar down to the nub… You don’t want Nat’s ghost chastising you about wasting money, do you?


VILLIGER SAN’DORO COLORADO ROBUSTO 

Unless you are a fan of machine-made cigars or spend a lot of time in Europe, the brand name Villiger might not have been terribly familiar to you until a few years ago. They are a power-player within the industry worldwide, but most know them for their Villiger Exports – these small, trunk-pressed cigars in mid-century style packaging – yet a change in philosophy circa 2013 allowed the Swiss company to make a splash into the premium arena.


Founded in 1888 in Pfeffikon, Switzerland by Jean Villiger, the company’s headquarters still remain there today. Aficionados will know the name Heinrich Villiger – Jean’s grandson – is still sharp, well-dressed, and sharp-minded, and at 90 years of age, continues to steer the proverbial ship. Living in the US it might be hard to fathom, but Villiger Söhne AG produces over a million European-style (dry cured) cigars per year, and is the exclusive importer and distributor of Cuban cigars to five different European countries. This is all in addition to its impressive portfolio of premium cigars in the US, mind you, and a portfolio stateside that continues to grow amid rave reviews.


Jean Villiger was not a tobacco man at first, but he was a finance man, having managed one of the big cheroot companies in the late 19th century. He wanted to open up his own factory, so his then-boss loaned him the money. Unfortunately Jean died in 1902 at 42 years-old, and for 16 years, his wife, Louise, ran the business and helped it to continue on its successful path – something rarely heard of for that time. Their only child was Heinrich’s father, and once he was old enough to take the helm, he did so along with an uncle. Perhaps the most intriguing part of this early story is that his uncle had no children, so when he was ready, that man sold his shares to Heinrich’s father; once Heinrich’s father passed on, through the last will and testament, Heinrich became the sole shareholder of Villiger Cigars.


There was, however, this intermingling into the American market many years ago: shortly after World War II, Villiger began the export of their machine-made cigars to the US, as soldiers who fought in Germany became fond of the products. (Germany is still their biggest market today, with Villiger holding a 70% market share.) After completing formal training in raw tobacco and keenly participating in tobacco auctions, a dashing young Heinrich went off to New York City in 1964, and introduced his company at the prestigious World’s Fair. Heinrich has made over 100 trips to Cuba for tobacco and befriended some of the greatest names in business there, most notably the late Don Alejandro Robaina. Interesting fact: after President Kennedy enacted the embargo, the Cuban government specifically met with Villiger to offer them never-before-seen grades of Cuban leaf, and thus ushering in an important alliance between the fragile Cuba and powerhouse Swiss economy.


While we’re technically here to talk premium cigars in the States, I must preface that Villiger does not sneak any Cuban tobacco into their handmades for the US market, so get that notion out of your head. Instead, they still demand the highest quality leaf available, and given their ratings and accolades from Cigar Aficionado, this small portion of the company business is growing steadily. Villiger only opened up its North American offices in Miami in 2016 – after the San’Doro Colorado began catching the eyes of Cigar Aficionado the year prior.


‘93’ rated, the  San’Doro Colorado  was named the #15 Cigar of 2018 – the second time in its short life it was chosen to part of the illustrious yearly list. Although production moved from the Oliva factory to Joya de Nicaragua, everything about this premium continues to perform at a high level befitting of its accolades. Its Ecuador Habano wrapper is dark and rich, covering a Nicaraguan binder and long-filler blend that presents notes of baking spices, coffee, leather, black pepper, cedar, and a malted-chocolate finish. A true medium-bodied cigar, this is one I highly suggest buying enough to smoke now and leave some for later, as a bit of aging leads to an even more luxurious finish.


HENRY CLAY STALK CUT ROBUSTO 

Born in Virginia but making his career in Kentucky, Henry Clay Sr. was an American attorney and statesman, having represented Kentucky in both the House and the Senate. Clay was the seventh House Speaker, ninth Secretary of State, and received electoral votes in three presidential elections over a span of 20 years. He earned the nickname the “Great Compromiser” for his role in diffusing sectional crises, but long-time cigar enthusiasts may think of Clay with respect to his other role as a “War Hawk,” paying homage to the role he and other young members of Congress played in pushing for a declaration of war against in British in 1812.


A brand since the 1840s, the Henry Clay cigars of yore were actually manufactured in Havana by Julian Alvarez. Despite re-designs over time, the Cuban version of these premiums always featured a portrait of the senator on the cigar band, and the brand was extremely popular through the 19th Century. Author Rudyard Kipling of The Jungle Book fame wrote a poem in 1898 titled The Betrothed, in which he immortalized both the man and the cigar with his line, “There’s calm in a Henry Clay.” 
Despite dying out around the Great Depression, the Henry Clay brand was introduced to a new audience, as Tabacalera de García (owned by Altadis USA), purchased the rights to the brand. Some versions were more successful than others, but once Pete Johnson (Tatuaje Cigars) proclaimed his affinity for this classic brand, the name Henry Clay once again was discussed with prominence in cigar shops across the United States.


After Altadis collaborated with Tatuaje to make a one-off project called Henry Clay Tattoo, the cigar conglomerate took advantage of the newfound attention and created the Henry Clay Stalk Cut. Quite simply, its name refers to the harvesting method for the aged Broadleaf wrapper used for this blend. Stalk cutting is the process in which the entire tobacco plant is chopped at the base, and hung by its stalk to cure in a barn before final fermentation(s) and then rolling.


Garnering a ‘92’ rating and having been named the #22 Cigar of 2016, the entire blend is vintage-dated: the Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper is from a 2012 harvest; the Dominican Piloto binder from 2010; Dominican Piloto and Olor long-fillers are from 2012; and the Nicaraguan Criollo long-fillers from 2013. Each premium is box-pressed, and finished with the rustic charm of an uncut foot. Expect plenty of complexity and nuance, and your palate will be greeted with hearty notes of baking spice, dark chocolate, espresso, hay, almonds, and cedar. The Henry Clay line is sleepy no more, and one you should not pass on if given the chance!


CAMACHO LIBERTY 2017 TORO 

While most seasoned enthusiasts were introduced to Camacho after the late 20th-century “cigar boom,” few know that original brand owner Simon Camacho opened Miami’s first cigar factory in 1961. Simon himself became exiled from his native Cuba that same year, but he still found success in the US and abroad, where even Mr. Winston Churchill was a fan. The hybridization of the illustrious Cuban Corojo seeds in Hondura’s Jamastran Valley took time, but in the end, it was worth all of the blood, sweat, and tears that went into making the cigars we love today.


Five years after Simon Camacho’s death, the Eiroa family purchased the rights to the brand in 1995. The Eiroas had been growing tobacco in Cuba since the 1900s, but in the wake of the 1959 Revolution, the widow of family patriarch Generoso Eiroa fled to Tampa with her three sons. One of Eiroa's sons, Julio, joined the Bay of Pigs invasion attempt as special force of Cuban exiles working with the US Army. His brother, Generoso Jr., worked in Nicaragua, while Julio traveled to Honduras in 1963 on behalf of tobacco dealer Angel Oliva. There, as part of a government-sponsored cultivation project, Julio laid the foundation for Camacho’s tobacco plantations eventually belonging to the Eiroa family by the mid-‘90s.


Global success was earned by the father-son leadership team of Julio and Christian Eiroa, who reintroduced the Camacho name on a grand scale. Numerous Cigar Aficionado ratings and accolades – including bringing to market the world’s first triple maduro cigar – caught the attention of aficionados around the world. Six years prior to selling both the company and their Ranchos Jamastran factory in Honduras to Davidoff, Camacho launched its Liberty Series. 


A yearly, ultra-limited blend offered in the company’s signature 11/18 vitola (a 6.0” x 48 x 54 x 48 figurado), and as its name suggests, this cigar is about freedom. The Liberty Series is a celebration of the pride and emancipation from tyranny felt by immigrants upon arriving in the US, thus getting an opportunity to achieve the storied American dream. And to answer your question about why Camacho named this special size “11/18”? November 18th is the birthday of Christian Eiroa’s mother, so you can put all of the conspiracy theories to rest now.


The 2017 edition of Liberty was limited to just 2,500 boxes for the US market, and commemorated the 15th anniversary of this special selection. While it sought to honor tradition, it also broke a proprietary mold: still individually-coffined, the vitola is a 6.0”x54 Toro Extra. Liberty 2017 features a complex recipe of tobaccos, with an oily Ecuador Habano wrapper, Honduran Corojo binder, and long-filler blend of Dominican Piloto Cubano and Nicaraguan Corojo 99 leaves. Some may argue that not all yearly Liberty releases are homeruns, but industry experts agree that 2017’s use of more Nicaraguan tobacco here in comparison to other multi-country blends is what made this edition a hit. Expect a spicy-sweet, earthy character with notes of coffee, hazelnut, chocolate, cedar, and pepper. The finish is creamy and smooth, which only lends to its overall sophistication. 


Whether you’re an enthusiast who likes to collect each Liberty release, or you’re looking for an excuse to try one worth the price tag, look no further than 2017.


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