This question is one of a handful that regularly come up in cigar lounges across the world. What makes a cigar ‘boutique,’ and is it better or worse than the alternative?
To make matters more confusing, the definition of a boutique cigar will vary depending on who’s giving you the answer. Just like asking different accountants during tax season, chances are that if you ask 10 different people what makes a boutique cigar, they’d give you at least 9 different answers.
Table of Contents
Here are some of the myths out there on the internet:
-A boutique cigar is a cigar that is made at a factory that you don’t own
-A boutique cigar is a cigar that is made in small or limited quantities
-A boutique cigar is a cigar that is only made at a small factory
-A boutique cigar is a cigar that is only made for store exclusives
-A boutique cigar is one that is made entirely at one factory from seed to shelf
-A boutique cigar is a cigar that consists of tobacco from multiple countries
-A boutique cigar will always be better than the alternative
-Boutique cigars are purely a marketing tactic
What makes a cigar boutique?
In reading the list above, you may be thinking: “wait a second, a boutique cigar is certainly one, two, or three of those bullet points!” The truth is, boutique cigars could be any or most of those things. But a cigar doesn’t have to have those attributes to be considered boutique.
We believe that you could sum up the definition of a boutique cigar in just 11 words: a boutique cigar is one that is made with meticulous care. This means that you could be smoking a boutique cigar regardless of the factory it’s from, where the tobacco is sourced, the size of the factory, or even the amount of cigars produced. The sheer amount of attention in the form of blood, sweat, and tears given to a boutique cigar from start to finish is what separates it from the masses.
What about the big mega-factories of the world? Surely if a boutique cigar is usually produced on a smaller scale, these mega-factories would be the opposite of boutique, right? Yes, that’s usually the case. But this doesn’t mean that a mega-factory cannot produce a boutique cigar!
Let’s look at Joya de Nicaragua, a factory in Nicaragua that is about to celebrate it’s 50th anniversary. They’re well known for producing very consistent cigars and are probably not on anyone’s “boutique” factory list. Every day they create roughly 20,000 cigars and produce over four million each year. In the 70’s, they were producing more than twice that amount.
"A boutique cigar is one that is made with meticulous care."
Yet Steve Saka of Dunbarton Tobacco and Trust, one of the most methodical and scrupulous personalities in the business, produces his Sobremesa line at Joya de Nicaragua. The DT&T website says it best: “Steve Saka, demands the most exact standards be honored at all times.” We believe that the Sakasquatch could produce cigars at any factory on the planet and it would still be a boutique cigar. But he wouldn’t be quick to say so, preferring the word premium to boutique.
That seems to be the exception to the rule, however, as most boutique cigars are produced on a smaller scale. That’s because the level of attention required to craft a truly boutique cigar is easier to give in smaller amounts. Imagine the brand owner that has four cigar lines compared to the owner that has 100+. Again, we don’t want to say that it’s impossible, but usually that’s how the cookie crumbles.
Aren’t Boutique Cigars just a marketing tactic to charge more for cigars?
It’s true that boutique cigars often carry a higher price tag. The reason, though, is because of the higher costs of doing business as a smaller entity. Consider the cost differential between purchasing tobacco and growing it, producing boxes versus outsourcing them, and all the other steps in between. Smaller brands also require fewer bands, cellophane, boxes, boveda packs, etc. The cost per cigar goes up tremendously when you’re not buying in bulk.
And then there’s the uniqueness factor. Larger brands have earned loyal customers over decades and are requested in the humidor instead of having to battle 200 other brands for the ten minutes you spend inside a retailer’s walk-in. The Padron Classic 3000, for example, is an iconic cigar with a very simple band that is a staple in most stores around the country. That same label on a new brand, though, wouldn’t catch your attention! No attention equals no sales, and that’s a non-starter for a new business.
What’s the downside to Boutique Cigars?
As with anything, there are pros and cons to boutique cigars. While the ultimate pro is that these cigars are made under extreme scrutiny, there are downsides as well.
Since boutique cigars are traditionally made on a much smaller scale, this means that these brands have to fill many roles with fewer people or do without. Marketing, social media, compliance, and other departments may fall to the owner whereas a larger brand would have one or more people filling those roles and more.
It’s not uncommon to find a very well crafted, flavorful cigar that you’ve only now heard of despite being on the market for several years. Local events, advertising, and a social media presence require time or money that isn’t always high on the priority list.
Quality can also be an issue over time. Just because someone is excellent at producing a cigar in small quantities doesn’t mean that they’ll make the right decisions in the future or even recognize their shortcomings as demand grows for their cigars.
Boutique Cigar Recommendations
Building off of what we discussed, we’ve put together a Boutique Sampler that showcases the meticulous care that we’re looking for!
Dapper Cigar Co – Cubo Claro
For a primer, check out our interview with Dapper Cigar Co. This cigar was crafted at Tabacalera Carreras in Nicaragua and was one of Dapper’s first creations a few years ago.
Blended to be a gentle cigar without compromising on flavor, the Cubo Claro is one fine smoke!
Collaboration – All Out Kings
This cigar comes to us from the collaborative efforts of Robert Caldwell, Willie Herrera, and Jonathan Drew. Three kings of the industry, these Gentlemen have shown remarkable skill at growing their brand over the years. And Caldwell, from the Dominican Republic, had never produced a Nicaraguan cigar before. All Out Kings is another great example of a larger brand and factory producing a very boutique project with painstaking care.
Using the Liga Privada T-52 wrapper, All Out Kings showcases a flavor profile as great as the heritage behind it!
Black Works Studio – NBK
Standing for Natural Born Killer, the NBK hails from James Brown’s Oveja Negra (Black Sheep) factory in Nicaragua. Several years ago, James moved to Nicaragua to start his own factory in order to have more control over the production of his cigars. Boutique? Absolutely!
The cocoa and pepper combo from beginning to end of the NBK is something you’re not soon to forget.
Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust - Sobremesa
Mentioned earlier in this article, Steve Saka is well known throughout the industry for being as knowledgeable as he is meticulous.
While each of the Sobremesa sizes is blended differently, the Short Churchill is a special treat that delivers the perfect balance of body and flavor.
Collaboration – Futuro
Another collaborative cigar, Futuro was blended by Warped and Casa Fernandez using special aganorsa tobaccos and produced at TABSA in Nicaragua. To date, only two sizes are available – one picked by Kyle of Warped Cigars and one picked by Max of Casa Fernandez.
If you’ve never sampled Aganorsa tobacco, the Futuro is an excellent introduction! Warped and Casa Fernandez produce great examples of boutique cigars in general, but the Futuro became an instant classic with a peppery beginning that slowly yields in a very complex smoking experience.