Last weekend I decided to create a daily discussion on the Stogie Review Fan Forums. The idea was to pose a discussion topic to the members of the forum for a days time. After that day elapsed, I would lock the thread and pose a brand new topic.
Our second topic was one that went over exactly how I planned. The community members stepped up and really expressed their views on the subject. The topic I posed for discussion was “How large does a manufacturer need to become before you no longer consider them boutique and does it change your opinion of their product?”
The responses were very interesting and certainly got me thinking. Jut when I thought I had my head wrapped around my own opinion, I saw it from another angle and raised even more questions for myself.
Before I get into sharing my opinion on this, lets take a look at some of the key posts that got me thinking about boutique cigars even more-so than I was when I posted the discussion topic.
Good question. I think that once a manufacturer starts producing a number of brands / labels that there is a noticeable negative change in quality, they can’t be considered boutique any longer. Two names come to mind for me – Rocky Patel and Don Pepin.
I still like most of what Pepin does, but he has been too busy and put out too many brands. I have had some smokes of his that either had no noticeable difference from other stuff he put out or just didn’t seem to be up to the quality we usually expect from him. He still does a lot of nice stuff, but I think he could trim back a little.
I can’t say much about Patel – he doesn’t really make anything I like too much any way and even if he comes out with something good, after a while it changes. Case in point was the Old World Reserve – that stick was awesome when it first came out, but then changed; lost something. Now it is just a mediocre stick.
I wouldn’t say these guys are necessarily “big” yet, like General / Altadis, but they are leaving that “boutique” territory in my opinion.
Vik had pretty much the same opinion of boutique manufacturers as I did. I thought of this type of manufacturer as being someone who produces a smaller number of cigars in comparison to your average manufacturer. Mike posted an excellent follow-up that made me think a little harder about the subject.
I think it depends on how you define boutique. I tend to define boutique for cigar purposes as an operation that specializes or concentrates on a small number of cigar lines. In addition, while being boutique does not require high priced goods, a high price usually comes along with the “boutique.” A prime example for me is Pete Johnson. When Pete was producing only the Tats and Cabaiguan I considered him boutique, but barely. Now that he has La Riqueza, a bundled cigar coming early next year, El Triunfador, and The Frank (even though the last two are limited releases) I can no longer consider him boutique. He has grown too large in terms of the cigars he produces to be considered boutique. Esencia, Panacea, and Illusione are companies that I still think of as boutique. At some point you become more like General Motors (“GM”) and less like Ferrari.
The question Mike raised in my eyes was, can Pete Johnson be considered a boutique cigar manufacturer? While Pete’s cigars are limited quantity and high quality, he does not make them. This would lead me to think of him along the lines of a brand owner, such as Sam Leccia. Both put their names on an excellent product but neither one of them make their own cigars.
With this in mind, does a boutique manufacturer need to be a manufacturer or can they be a brand owner? As I began to ask myself this question I read another post by MountChuck that kind of muddied the waters in my mind.
I consider Don Pepin to be “half & half.” His Miami operations I would still consider to be a boutique. Only 8 or 12 rollers, putting out a very small number of cigars. His Nicaraguan operations, excluding his Pete Johnson stuff, is no longer boutique. The reason I say Pete is still a boutiquer is just quantity. He doesn’t put out a high number of cigars. He has more lines than ever, but that doesn’t mean he’s a big guy. The cigars all have different flavor profiles. And are made in small numbers. You’re not going to find his stuff in a plastic see through humidor in your local liquor store anytime soon.
This put a new spin on the topic and raised the question, can a manufacturer be half in and half out? I can certainly see how a portion of a manufacturers operation may be considered boutique, but how does that work in the overall scheme of things?
In the case of Don Pepin Garcia, here we have an individual that has a large operation in Nicaragua and also has a factory in Miami. The same goes for La Gloria Cubana and Padilla. Things get even more confusing in regards to Padilla because his Cigars International stuff is made by someone else. Ignoring that, would you consider either of these two companies boutique?
Personally I would never consider La Gloria Cubana boutique even though there is a separate operation for Miami made cigars. If we look at a boutique manufacturer as one that produces a limited quantity of cigars in their own factory, do we factor in anything that they have their names on? Just like mentioned above, we have Ernesto Padila with a Miami factory as well as several other brands that are outsourced with his name on them.
You are probably asking yourself what my point is. I guess I’m trying to say that a boutique manufacturer in my eyes needs to be a manufacturer and not just a brand owner. They need to produce a limited number of cigars, and they need to be limited due to a small number of employees and high quality control standards rather than a manufactured “limited production”. A boutique manufacturer needs to pour their heart and should into their brand and stand behind it.
In my eyes, a manufacturer looses the boutique designation as soon as they loose the above mentioned qualities. While I love cigars produced by individuals such as Don Pepin Garcia, I could never consider him, or any of his brand extensions, boutique simply because of the overall size of his operation.
Now that you have read my thoughts on the definition of a boutique manufacturer, how would you define it and when does a manufacturer loose the boutique status in your eyes?