CHANGING THE GAME:
BOUTIQUE CIGARS IN THE 21ST CENTURY
It's no secret that like other once underrated craft professions, cigar makers were not always considered "cool." In the past decade there's emerged a class of brand owners who are hip, fashion-forward, and unapologetically make cigars not marketed toward your Grandfather. With no familial or cultural ties to tobacco, these boutique brands have followed unique trajectories to feature prominently in humidors worldwide. Leading the way in this revolution are none other than Matt Booth and Robert Caldwell.
The Evolution of Room101
Deployed in Asia as a U.S. Marine, Booth became enamored with the culture he encountered. After returning to civilian life, he got involved in the booming silver scene, setting out to marry the grit of L.A. with the history and finesse of Japanese art to hone his brand. With a portfolio that today encompasses jewelry, clothing, bespoke leather goods, and craft gin, it's Matt Booth's approach to cigars that caught the eyes of us here at CIGAR.com over a decade ago.
Having been introduced to Dylan Austin (then Camacho Brand Manager) in Las Vegas in 2008, the two planned a party where Booth realized the missing link in his luxury lifestyle brand: cigars. Within a few weeks, Matt was on a plane to Honduras to tour the Camacho factory and realized there were many similarities between jewelry and cigars, and the Room101 cigar brand was born. Sticking to mostly small-batch projects in his early years, every blend was a learning experience. Booth was gaining respect not just with his clean yet complex Japanese aesthetic, but also his desire to learn the trade after his first '93' rating in Cigar Advisor with the Conjura Ltd.
Multiple successes followed such as the '92' rated Namakubi and the '90' rated Daruma, but his contract came to an end in January 2017, and Matt chose instead to preserve his vision by moving in his own direction. Barely six months later he couldn't stay away, and Booth came back alongside friend Robert Caldwell for Hit & Run, and together with A.J. Fernandez, the trio released "The T." In speaking with Cigar Aficionado about these collaborations, Matt acknowledged the boutique cigar market was changing, and that, "Caldwell is the next step in alternatively stylized product, as well as market disruption."
From Hotel Humidor To Everyone's Humidor
There's no mistaking Robert Caldwell: he's very tall, loves fashion, and has a knack for seizing opportunities. A birthday dinner at Smith & Wollensky in Miami Beach gave him the idea for his first successful cigar-related venture, Hotel Humidor, where cigars were sold to high-end restaurants and hotels complete with menus and staff training. A close friendship with Christian Eiroa (Camacho, CLE) led to the Wynwood Cigar Factory, but both parties had different ideas for the future, so Caldwell thought it best to separate himself to preserve his concepts after a short time. A trip to the Dominican Republic to meet William Ventura and Hernan Caicedo meant Caldwell's private label dreams were still possible.
Launched in 2014, Caldwell Cigar Co. was the new beauty at IPCPR, selling four times their goal at the company's inaugural trade show. It was obvious he and his team had fun with their work, and their more artistic approach to packaging caught many an eye. Davidoff worked with Caldwell to create Blind Man's Bluff, Master Blender Ernesto Pérez-Carrillo assisted on Anastasia H, and Jonathan Drew worked on All Out Kings. Robert Caldwell sees himself as a brand builder and not a one-man show; if his success has anything to do with it, the combination of whimsical names, unique blends, and avant garde packaging just goes to prove that collaborations aren't a cheap trick.