What are boutique cigars? According to the dictionary boutique is ‘a business or establishment that is small and sophisticated or fashionable’. And that is a wide description. The words boutique and craft are rampant nowadays, brands are using it left and right. And just like in the craft beer industry, it devalues the word. Large companies creating new brands and blends, calling them ‘craft’ or ‘boutique’ while they are not.
Boutique Cigar Association
Recently, a few smaller factories and brands combined forces and formed the Boutique Cigar Association. This is strictly for family-owned factories and brands, producing less than a million cigars a year. But is just naming a number of a million cigars fair? Some so-called boutique brands are made in factories that produce several million cigars per year. Ministry of Cigars reached out to Boutique Cigar Association. Their answer was that if the brand is family-owned, and less than a million cigars are year are made, the brand fits the profile. Even if the cigars are made by big factories that produce millions of cigars. And it makes us wonder, what if the brand grows to 1.1 million cigars, does it stop being boutique?
As cigar media outlet and as cigar geeks, we support the small brands and seeing them work together in the BCA is only positive. Their combined powers can only benefit the cigar industry as a whole. Especially in the first against regulations. And smaller companies are often the more innovative ones. We only have issues with their interpretation of the definition.
Are private labels boutique?
A few weeks ago, we wrote a special about private labels. And there’s another point. A lot of the brands that sell themselves as boutique or craft are made in huge factories, producing multiple millions of cigars per year. Now the production of that specific private label might be below one million, but can it still be considered boutique if it comes from a large factory? A ‘craft’ beer from the Heineken or InBev breweries isn’t really craft beer either right? And most of the private label owners aren’t hands-on in the factory. They just pick a blend, sometimes even help to create the blend, and put in an order. Nothing craft or boutique about that.
Of course, there still are true boutique brands that fit the description. The first company to use the term Craft is RoMa Craft. And to them, it’s more than a term. It’s a motto. The quality control in their own Nica Sueno factory is high. They pay meticulous attention to detail. And they produce little over a million cigars a year. Or Jas Sum Kral. Owner Riste Riatevski blends his own cigars while his business partner Roniel Aragon takes care of production. That’s the true definition of a boutique cigar in our eyes.
But even private labels coming from bigger factories can be boutique. Take the Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust cigars. Owner Steve Saka might not have his own factory, he uses NASCA and Joya de Nicaragua for his production. But he’s incredibly involved in the production. He blends his own cigars, he buys his own tobacco, he does his own quality control, designs his own boxes. He’s hands-on. To us, that’s also real boutique.
Big yet boutique
Is it fair to judge just by sheer numbers? We don’t think so. Poor cigars with low sales from a small factory could fall into the boutique category when you only look at the numbers. For us, boutique is a combination of factors, of which size of production is one. But it’s not the main factor. Superb quality is more important, combined with eye for detail. Pride. You need to feel the love of the manufacturer in the product. And yes, if the cigars are coming from a large corporation that’s close to impossible. But a family-owned business can produce millions of cigars, yet still have passion, pride, eye for detail, and love for the product.
To us, manufacturers such as Arturo Fuente in the Dominican Republic and Padron in Nicaragua fit that bill. They might be big, but the pride shines through in their cigars. The quality is fantastic and they have an eye for detail, from seed to cigar. And is it really an issue that they produce more than a million cigars a year? Not to us. In essence, brands like these are still boutique as can be.
But the damage has been done. Just as in the beer industry, the words Boutique and Craft have been overused and are quickly becoming words of little value. Which is too bad for the real boutique brands. But do they need to be labeled anyway or will quality speak for itself? We hope and think it’s the latter. Good cigars are good, bad cigars are bad. Whatever label you put on them, the quality doesn’t change.