How’d you and Crowned Heads begin?
I began my career in the premium cigar business back on April 15, 1996, starting as the Shipping Manager for CAO International. I worked my way up the ladder going from Shipping Manager to Director of Promotions & PR, then on to Chief Marketing Officer, and ending with the title of Director of Lifestyle Marketing.
CAO went through some acquisitions which ultimately meant the company would be absorbed by General Cigar and moved to Richmond, VA. My last day with CAO was December 17, 2010.
Four days later, I had my first meeting with Mike Conder (my former boss at CAO) to discuss what would ultimately become Crowned Heads, LLC. We announced the new company in February 2011, and we shipped our first cigars (Four Kicks) on November 8, 2011.
How would you characterize your portfolio to someone that’s never smoked Crowned Heads before?
I would say that our portfolio consists of a wide range of flavor profiles—from mild to medium to medium-full to full-bodied—that would appeal to everyone from a novice smoker to a seasoned cigar enthusiast. We’ve become well-known for our Limited Edition releases (Las Calaveras, Four Kicks Mule Kick, Le Carême Belicosos Finos, et al); however, we currently have 9 regular production brands and 3 state exclusive (regular production) brands that I would put up against virtually any premium cigar on the market today.
Look closer...look closer still...that is an original artist's rendering of the actual Headley Grange stone workhouse built in 1795 on the Headley Grange box vista. Located in Headley, Hampshire, England, UK, this is also where Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks" was recorded in December 1970...and if you didn't know already, it was the iconic drums of John Bonham off that track that was the inspiration behind Crowned Heads' sophomore release, "Headley Grange."
Many of your releases have been inspired by music. What albums have you been listening to recently that might inspire the next Crowned Heads cigars?
I listen to a lot of different music—pretty much everything with the exception of country. I just looked at my recent Spotify library of recently played and it’s included The Strokes, The Breeders, Pixies, Jack Johnson, Eagles, Parliament, Funkadelic, and even some Louis Armstrong.
What are the benefits you weigh when selecting one factory over another to produce your cigars?
We’re fortunate to work with some of the best—if not the best—factories in the business today. We currently work primarily with Tabacalera La Alianza, S.A. (Dominican Republic) and My Father Cigars (Nicaragua), and most recently, we’ve been doing some projects with La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate.
We’ve cultivated strong relationships with all our manufacturing partners, and I really start first with the concept of the cigar/brand and go from there as to which house might be the best fit. A lot also depends upon the availability of certain tobaccos as well. Each factory has different access to different tobaccos that would potentially sway a project towards one factory over another. Insofar as working with EPC and My Father is concerned, each has their own particular nuances.
What’s the recipe for success with the Las Calaveras series? The blends change, but the reception consistently remains highly anticipated and well received.
If I knew the ‘recipe’ that is the Las Calaveras marca, I think we would’ve tried to replicate it—but it’s like we captured lightning in a bottle with that brand. It’s probably the one LE we do annually that everyone looks forward to the most. This will be the sixth year of Las Calaveras for us.
If you could blend the perfect cigar for your tastes, which attributes would it have?
Honestly, for me there is no such thing as the “perfect cigar”—for me or anyone, I think. If it were that easy, why would anyone release multiple blends/brands year in and year out? The truth is that everyone’s palate (mine included) calls for different profiles at different times. I’m not sure that I could smoke the same cigar and only that one cigar day in and day out. It’s like wine; sometimes you’re in the mood for a big, bold Bordeaux or Cab while at other times you opt for a nice light, crisp Vouvray or a Sauvignon Blanc. It’s all about variety. To this day, I smoke everything I can get my hands on, not just Crowned Heads cigars.
This morning I started off with a Davidoff Yamasa Robusto Tubo and I’ll probably move onto something else whether that be a TAA 2019 pre-release sample, or a La Imperiosa, or whatever speaks to me when I reach into our cabinet humidor here in the warehouse.
How do you conceptualize your branding? Does the cigar determine the design and packaging, or does the concept influence the cigar?
The short answer is ‘both.’ What starts the process for me, first and foremost, is the cigar. What’s the flavor profile we’re going for? From there, it’s the tobaccos. Once that’s nailed down, then you look at what you’re working with, for example, the wrapper color. What color of band would then compliment the wrapper and really make it ‘pop’ on the shelf? What should the box look like—cabinet? Wrap-set? Ornate? Minimalist?
Then there are other times when the concept drives the project. A good example would be our spin we did on the Montecristo brand for Altadis U.S.A. We had the blend but then I was tasked for creating a ‘reason’ for that cigar to exist. In the end, I created a fictitious story to support ‘Ciudad de Musica,’ which is also the acronym (CDM) for Casa de Montecristo.
Similarly, what’s your approach to Crowned Heads gear like hats, shirts, stickers, etc?
I’ve always maintained that whenever you put your logo or name on anything—whether it be a cigar, a hat, a t-shirt, whatever—it is an extension of your brand and should convey a message of superior quality. We could take the easy way out with our merchandise and just throw a logo on any old stock cap or Hanes beefy-T, but instead we’ve sought out the best manufacturers in their respective areas and work with them to deliver what we feel is among the best merchandise available.
It’s not just ‘swag’ to us. I create our merchandise to stand on it’s own and try to compete with the best out there. Crowned Heads merchandise isn’t just ‘merch’ that a cigar company creates, but rather our merchandise and apparel is really its own division under the Crowned Heads umbrella.
If anyone has purchased our hats, for example, they’ll know the quality and the attention to detail that we put into each release. Furthermore, I never repeat the exact same style and/or color-way twice. Every single Crowned Heads hat or t-shirt is truly a ‘limited edition’ and therefore makes our merchandise very much a collectible.
What can fans of Crowned Heads expect over the next 12 months?
We’re definitely keeping our foot on the gas, so to speak, for 2019. It’s only February, but we’ve already released our Paniolo Especiale 2019, announced Four Kicks Mule Kick LE 2019, currently working on The Angel’s Anvil—TAA Exclusive 2019 and Las Calaveras EL 2019, and we’ve been working on our big IPCPR release since last year.
We’ve also got something ‘small-batch but very special’ that I’m working on for the second half of the year as well.