Every year since 1934, with the exception of the 2020 cancellation due to COVID, the Premium Cigar Association has put on the largest premium cigar trade show in the United States. The Show, as it has always been called by those in the industry, has been an integral part of the business. Unlike most trade shows and conventions where companies only exhibit their latest products, cigar companies and distributors actively sell to retailers on the show floor. But that’s not the only reason the show has been so critical to the cigar business for all these years. In addition to the sales, companies host dinners and parties for their best retailers. Then after that many gather in bars and lounges in Vegas, and there’s a healthy mix of camaraderie and networking that goes on after hours, but that’s still not why it is so critical. The show acts as the Premium Cigar Association’s annual fundraiser, funds that are essential to continue the fight against anti-tobacco legislation at the federal and state levels.
In recent years declining attendance and major sponsors opting out have rocked the show. After the 2020 cancellation, the 2021 show was held but most of us who attended felt like we were part of a large-scale science experiment. It was among the first trade shows to take place in Las Vegas “post-COVID” and the attendance reflected it. The show floor was smaller, the booths were scaled back, and the foot traffic on the show floor was light. But it was unquestionably hailed as a success. The PCA leadership deserves a tremendous amount of credit for having the courage to green light that 2021 show in spite of the widespread COVID fears and cancellations leading up to it.
That small but hard-fought victory in 2021 was followed by more wins for the association. In March of this year, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released the results of a study on premium cigars focusing on the patterns of use, marketing, and health effects. Although the committee assembled was decidedly anti-tobacco, the 521-page report produced a fair assessment of premium cigars rather than a death knell. Then on July 5th, days before the trade show, U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta ruled that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s decision to regulate premium cigars was arbitrary and capricious. It was a monumental win for the Premium Cigar Association and co-plaintiffs Cigar Rights of America and the Cigar Association of America.
The good vibes could be felt on the flights to McCarran International leading up to the show, at the check-in lines for the hotels, and at the bars and casinos the night before. As the doors to the show opened and hundreds of retailers rushed in, it was obvious this show was going to be different.
WHAT CAUGHT OUR ATTENTION
This is by no means an exhaustive list of everything released at the show; rather it is a collection of releases and events that truly jumped out at us in the short period of time allotted.
The Fuente y Padrón Legends project was, without question, the talk of the show. The unveiling ceremony, which took place on July 10 at 3:30 p.m., concentrated all of the energy from the show floor in a way that we’ve never witnessed in 16 years of attending the annual convention. The ceremony was marred by some audio difficulties but the massive crowd, which gathered in the area between the Fuente and Padrón booths, got the gist of what it was about. The emotion, honor, and love for the family patriarchs being honored came through in waves. What did not come through were the specifics about price, production quantity, and distribution logistics. We do know that the project will be presented in a 40-count box of Churchill sized cigars, 20 made by Fuente and 20 by Padrón, and the proceeds will be split between the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation and the Padrón Family Foundation.
The Espinosa Knuckle Sandwich, a collaboration between Espinosa Cigars and celebrity chef and restaurateur Guy Fieri, generated a great deal of buzz thanks in large part to Guy Fieri’s presence at the booth – the line for Fieri’s autograph wrapped around several booths. The frenzy over the autographs reached a point where Espinosa had to shut it down prematurely. We couldn’t tell if it was Guy who got tired of signing or Espinosa who ran out of swag but it was a madhouse in the best kind of way for Espinosa. In the midst of it, however, they were able to launch a new expression for the Knuckle Sandwich, a limited edition figurado. Additionally, Espinosa released three more limited editions with the Warhead 2022, Las 6 Provincias – CMW, and the Espinosa 10 Year Anniversary.
Rocky Patel’s booth was another one with buzz to spare thanks to several newsworthy releases. As we walked into the booth to meet with Rocky, we were greeted by the guys from the Juneteenth Foundation, whom we’d had the pleasure of meeting in Ohio back in May. It turns out they’ve partnered with Rocky Patel to release a Juneteenth cigar, which raises funds for the foundation, which in turn awards scholarships to young black students attending historically black colleges and universities.
Rocky Patel Premium Cigars has had a number of exciting releases over the years but the one constant for the company has been The Edge, and after 20 years the brand is finally getting the star treatment. Unlike every RP Edge that you’ve smoked before, this one will come in a box of 20 with all of the Rocky Patel bells and whistles. Lastly, the Rocky Patel DBS caught our eye as well. The DBS in the name stands for double broadleaf selection, no relation to the famed Aston Martin DB lines.
Oliva had one of the larger booths at the show and used it to show off their latest release, the Cuba Aliados. Oliva purchased the defunct brand in 2021 and worked with E.P. Carrillo and JRE (Justo Eiroa) to develop 2 new releases. The E.P. Carrillo version is a limited edition called simply Cuba Aliados by Ernesto Perez-Carrillo while the JRE blend is a regular production that goes by Cuba Aliados Original Blend. We were fortunate enough to smoke both with the team at Oliva and were thoroughly impressed by the blends. The other exciting item on display at Oliva was the 2022 version of their Advent Calendar. Produced for the first time in 2021, the Advent Calendar was a hit, prompting the company to improve on it with a new box design and the addition of a bonus gift.
La Flor Dominicana was hopping throughout the show and it was great to see considering this was the company’s return to PCA after a 3-year hiatus. Tony Gomez was peppered with endless questions about the Golden Bull NFT and just as many unfulfilled requests for samples of the Golden Bull. The La Flor Dominicana Solis, the brother to the La Nox, is a blend developed by Tony’s younger brother, Litto Gomez Jr. The Soli’s Ecuador Habano wrapper is a stark contrast to La Nox’s dark Brazilian maduro wrapper.
S.T. Dupont celebrated its 150th anniversary with an exclusive party at the Davidoff of Geneva since 1911 cigar bar in Las Vegas. There was an open bar as well as complimentary hors d’oeuvres and a beautiful cake decorated in the style of a classic S.T. Dupont Ligne 2 lighter. Les Mann, who is tasked with leading the charge for S.T. Dupont in the U.S., gave an emotional speech followed by remarks from Mark Cole and S.T. Dupont CEO Alain Crevet. Back on the show floor, the company unveiled a collection of experimental releases and amazing one-off designs but we’re always most interested in what you, the consumer, can get your hands on. With that in mind, there were two releases to note: the Le Grand Perfect Ping and the Ligne 2 Matte Black & Carbon. If you read this publication you know how much we love the Le Grand, with its dual personality soft flame and torch lighter, but this new Le Grand makes the classic S.T. Dupont ping sound when opened, unlike the original version, which opens with a dull click. The Ligne 2 Matte Black & Carbon, with its PVD matte black body with a choice of three abstract art designs, is a modern take on this iconic lighter.
The show was replete with anniversary releases, and Oscar Valladares 10th Anniversary is one that we’re particularly excited to see in the market. Oscar Valladares Tobacco & Co. has been one of the more electric cigar companies to burst onto the scene in the last 10 years. They’ve consistently innovated in very unique ways, from the Leaf by Oscar, to the Super Fly, and everything in between. In true Oscar Valladares fashion, they couldn’t just release the 10th anniversary cigar – where’s the fun in that? They also released the Raw Dog, a hilariously named new brand that does without a wrapper. That means that the outermost leaf on the cigar is the binder, which is considerably rougher than a wrapper, but because it doesn’t have a wrapper, it doesn’t have a cap. This means you need not cut the cigar; simply pull it from the box and set fire to it. The cigar is available in one size, 5 x 60, and will have an MSRP of $6.
The Manny Iriarte Enterprises booth was bumping from the opening bell. The new OpusX Society 1776 Humidor was as hot as any humidor at the show. The classy, white porcelain ashtray (also from OpusX Society) was a showstopper, as were the leather goods and the killer new J-30 matte finish lighters. In its second year at the convention, Manny Iriarte Enterprises seemed to really hit its stride with these exciting new releases.
Gurkha had what looked like the largest booth on the floor located near the front at the entrance. We walked in after breakfast to sit with Gurkha president Jim Colucci, national sales manager Juan López, and marketing director Bianca Melone. Together we smoked the Gurkha Colección Especial in a classic Lonsdale shape. They also provided us with the new Gurkha Pure Evil, which we decided to have after a heavier meal.
We spent a good amount of time catching up with the García family at the My Father booth. They were all wearing My Father Cigar baseball jerseys. This made for a stark departure from the usually dressed-up vibe. We were able to enjoy samples of the My Father Le Bijou 1922 – 100 Años celebrating what would have been the 100th year of Don Pepín García’s father. It’s his birth year that you see on the Le Bijou 1922, hence the 100 years. The cigar is a limited edition, with 1,922 boxes of each size, each box containing 22 cigars, all in homage to José García Alayón’s birth in 1922. The second major release was the Flor de Las Antillas 10th Anniversary Limited Edition. This blend commemorates the 10th year of the Flor de Las Antillas brand. There are only going to be 5,000 numbered boxes with 12 cigars in each. The box itself is a work of art and is expected to be available in November.
The Crowned Heads booth, which houses Crowned Heads, Ace Prime, and Ozgener Family Cigars, was quite busy from the beginning to the end of the convention. We sat down with Wes Thornton, Luciano Meirelles, and Tim Ozgener to check out the new products. At last year’s PCA, Crowned Heads offered the Le Pâtissier as a show exclusive. This year the line has been opened up to all and the Sfumato in C Major now takes its place as the show exclusive. Sfumato is the painting method developed by Leonardo da Vinci to blur or soften the transitions from one color to another; think of the Mona Lisa. It’s not a stretch to imagine how the term can be applied to a cigar.
Ace Prime brought tons of juice to the show. The Maria Lucia release, a PCA exclusive, has a beautiful backstory involving brand owner Luciano’s mother, the namesake of the brand who passed away when Luciano was just a boy, and his daughter Deborah, who is an artist and drew the image of Maria Lucia after a dream. It’s impossible to capture the story in just a few words but look for Luciano to tell us the story on an upcoming Cigar Snob podcast. The company’s second release, Mas Igneus, was blended specifically to be paired with red wine; Luciano is a partner in the Mas Igneus winery in Priorat, Spain. The team blended the cigar using leaves with a lower pH to achieve a pH balanced cigar to pair with the higher acidity found in red wine. We didn’t have it with wine but on its own the cigar was excellent.
It was great to see the return of Tim Ozgener to the cigar industry. Tim, his sister Aylin, and his late father Cano Ozgener founded CAO in 1992 and later sold it to Scandinavian Tobacco Group in 2007. Tim stayed on as president of CAO till 2010, and since then his only involvement in the cigar business has been as an investor in Crowned Heads, the company that now distributes his cigars. Ozgener Family Cigars released the Bosphorus, a referenced to the Bosphorus Strait that divides Turkey and Armenia. The cigar itself is box-pressed and comes in four sizes; an Ecuadorean Sumatra sits on top of a double binder from Ecuador and Jalapa, it makes for an interesting smoke. The second is a limited edition called Pi Synesthesia, it gets its name from an art series that Cano painted that used mathematical pi as inspiration for the works.
The excitement, attendance, and sales volume generated by this PCA Convention and Trade Show were a pleasant surprise to many in the industry. The trade show industry at large has been in decline since before the pandemic and it remains to be seen whether it will ever fully rebound but we continue to maintain that premium cigars and the people and companies that make and sell them are different. These men and women aren’t selling consumer electronics or pacemakers; they are selling a product that has been bringing people together since about the 10th century. It should surprise no one that this magical bundle of dried leaves did it again in 2022.