Head of Product Capability for Tabacalera USA: Rafael Nodal
Aging Room is a brand that you, Hank Bischoff, and Jochy Blanco started back in your Boutique Blends days. From day one we have been fans of the brand. It has one of those names that make you wonder, how did this brand not exist before. It’s such a perfect name for a cigar brand. What was your inspiration for this?
It all started with a blend that we had worked on for Swag Puro Dominicano at Tabacalera Palma. Now every time we were at the factory working on blends, one of our friends or customers would come to visit and invariably ask to try whatever we were smoking. I would call out to someone from the factory and say, “Guys can you get me one of these from the aging room?” When the blend that we had been working on for Swag was ready to be released, we didn’t have a name for it. So I remembered how much I would ask for “one of these from the aging room,” and wondered if that could be the name. We were so surprised to find that it was still available because it is a perfect name for anything from wine to cigars to anything. So we called the cigars Aging Room Cigars, that’s how it started.
The packaging for Aging Room has always featured the image of a brass knuckle, which we have always found odd, but almost ten years later it has endured. What is the story with the brass knuckles?
The brass knuckles are also tied to that first blend. At Tabacalera Palma, everyone that works there has always had the ability to get any cigar they want and as many as they want throughout the day, but when it came to this new blend we just didn’t have enough. So we told the guys, please don’t smoke this one. In spite of this, the inventory kept dropping and dropping and we really did not have enough of that tobacco to make more. So there was this one guy who was a table supervisor at the factory and he always carried around one of these brass knuckles and he’d always go from table to table wearing the brass knuckles. Well one day we go into the aging room to check the inventory of the new blend and right next to them we find the brass knuckles! Now we knew who was smokin’ these limited cigars! So we decided to leave the brass knuckles next to the cigars as a symbol to stay away from these. Then later when it was time to come up with the packaging for the Aging Room, we incorporated the brass knuckles making it a very unique design. Some people have thought that it means that the cigars are strong or something like that but it isn’t about that, it’s really just based on that.
An uncommonly high percentage of Aging Room products are box-pressed. What goes into the decision of box-pressed vs round? Do you typically start with the concept from a packaging standpoint or does it start from the blend?
It’s always been about the blend. Back then I did not know much about box-pressed cigars. We had tried it with some lines like the M356 but not much. And then we started working on the Quattro line, which was originally the F55 blend, and the wrapper was genuine Sumatra wrapper. We found that when we pressed it, it looked beautiful but the decision was really made when we compared how it smoked pressed versus not pressed. It intensified the dynamic of the smoking experience. The same exact blend when pressed took it up a notch on complexity and flavor. I fell in love with it.