Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Esteli Trip 2012 and Surrogates Visit Home

Last week I was fortunate enough to travel to Esteli again with Pete Johnson, Dan Reeve (www.cigarexplorer.com) and others.

First stop - Miami - where Janny Garcia met us for dinner and a tour of the new My Father Cigars offices in Miami. Moving from Calle Ocho last year, this new office facility is amazing. Much more storage, a rolling room like the one on 8th St., great office spaces and a visitor's lounge where Janny treated us to her new project, La Duena, which will be released officially at the trade show in August. Distributed by My Father Cigars, La Duena is a blend that Pete submitted for the project and it is absolutely on mark! Can't wait for this one. We were able to smoke a few other sizes in Esteli with the group. Everyone agreed. Winner.

On to Esteli the following day with the group. The Pan American Highway was closed for part of the trip from Managua to Esteli, so we had to take a fairly long detour around it. But we landed at the factory just before closing time and had a chance to relax a bit and Pete grabbed some smokes including a La Duena robusto and others.

During the trip we visited another new farm that Pepin is planting on as well as La Finca Estrella, which was just starting to harvest.

Over the course of the next 2 days, we were treated to some of the new sticks coming this year: Cojonu 2012 Sumatra and Reserva, La Duena, Avion 12 and the Little Monsters.

The Cojonu 2012 Sumatra and Reserva will first be seen in early April via a special "book" release, featuring 12 Sumatras and 12 Reservas in a beautiful "book box" that we saw being made in the box factory and packaged in the packaging room. 2012 book boxes are being released. Sumatra, Reserva and Natural will all be released in normal 25 count boxes at the trade show as well.

The Little Monsters are slated for a June release in 10 count boxes containing 2 of each of the 5 smaller versions of the Monster series, including this year's release, The Mummy. We were able to smoke 4 of them during the trip (all but the lil' drac) and across the board, everyone will be more than happy with this project! With a retail of $75 and many boxes being produced, this will be a release that everyone will be smoking and not just saving!

The Baby Face (below) was one of the standouts, although the Wolfie that we smoked during the full moon on the rooftop of Los Arcos was quite a memory as well. Frank Jr. was outstanding as well as Mini Mum, which after I found out the blend I stated "You should keep that under wraps" and much to everyone's dismay, repeated over and over for the next day. ;-)

Dan Reeve, Pete, his brother K.C. and I sat in the bar at Los Arcos and got to sample prototypes of the 2010 La Verite that Pete brought with him. This is going to be another exciting year for La Verite, but we probably won't see them until next January. Trust me, it will be worth the wait!

Maybe it was the full moon, or possibly the Surrogates Bone Crushers that I brought with me that I kept rotating through my smoking lineup while we were there, that started the discussions - but the overall consensus was that it was time to lift the veil about Surrogates.

Spoiler Alert: Read on unless you love simply smoking them and 'not' knowing where they came from!

Surrogate Bone Crusher on the rooftop of Los Arcos. Great start to a morning in Esteli!

For the last 6 months or so, Surrogates has been a bit of an enigma. Stated as a stick rivaling a special release yet lacking much information about where they came from, NHC customers took a chance on my smoking preferences and embraced the unknown. Reviews came in, feedback to us and on the boards was filled with speculation yet the overall conclusion seemed to be 'just smoke them - you will love them'. It was quite humbling to have customers take a chance like that. Staying quiet was harder than I thought it would be.

Why the secrecy? Well, as a retailer in a special position to observe and analyze buying habits, I wanted to do a bit of a social experiment and test the waters of my palate. The first blend of the Surrogates branding was something that I absolutely loved, but to test it without a name attached to it would prove to me that consumers loved it as well. So we decided to release it without the names attached and let everyone decide for themselves.

I originally went to Pete with the idea for Surrogates as a line for NHC and explained what I wanted to try with the 'experiment'. Pete and I talked at length about it last summer and he was behind my idea as well. I knew that if I said that Pete Johnson blended the cigar for me and produced it at the My Father Cigars factory it might persuade people to buy it simply based on the history of those names and all that they produce. But I wanted people to like it for what I thought it was - a fantastic cigar.

There are plans for new Surrogate blends and I could let the experiment continue as a blind tasting, but there are many people who want to know more about them and there is the 'give credit where credit is due' sentiment. Pete nailed it with this as did the factory, producing a perfect blend and construction.

Yep - maybe it was the full moon!

Stay tuned for more plans with the Surrogates line and keep smoking Bone Crushers and Skull Breakers! Mostly, though, thank you for taking a chance on them and spreading the word. The success of the project has been a testament to the quality of the NHC customers and their smoking experiences.

This Surrogate came home for a visit!