Try Something Different: In Defense of Boutique Cigars and Spirits

Retailers often rely on well-known brands that will sell, but taking a chance on something new or boutique can pay off, reports Tobacco Business’s spirits writer.

Ron Barcelo
Leaf by Oscar Maduro
Leaf by Oscar Maduro

People should be a bit more adventurous and get out and try different brands. It’s great to have a go-to smoke, whether it’s a Partagás, a Macanudo or another brand. If it’s a good cigar, it’s a good cigar. But be willing to try something new and unfamiliar to you. You don’t want to invest all your money in one product and then have it not sell well. It’s almost always worth giving someone a chance to see how a product does. If a product has a good enough name behind it, people may buy it once, but will they come back and buy it a second time?

There are certain heritage brands we’ll bring into The Party Source because we know they will sell. For example, I think A.J. Fernandez’s popularity is getting to the point where a lot of people are willing to take the risk on anything he does. With his cigars, I don’t need to try them; I just have his new products sent to us. However, for brands without that following or for those that are less well-known, you need to try it first and ask yourself if it’s established enough and if it is worth taking a big risk on or if doing a smaller buy-in and letting it grow organically makes more sense.

Ron BarceloThe same applies to spirits. In talking with both of our liquor buyers here at the store the other day, I asked them what they know about Ron Barceló, a Dominican rum made from sugar cane juice. Neither of them knew much about it, having never tried it before. I immediately went to the shelf, cracked open a bottle, and we all sampled it. It was actually surprising how good it was for the price. I honestly think that it deserves a bit more credit than some of the ratings I’ve seen it given, because it’s got a bit of complexity to it. It has a really nice nose on it—you get a lot of the barrel in the nose on it. It’s sweet and spicy and has more than a touch of coffee to it. It reminded me of a Kahlúa: It wasn’t a coffee additive flavor but had that sweetness and just a hint of that flavor. It isn’t expensive at all—usually right around the $20 mark.

Ron Barceló rum is very drinkable. It’s good by itself, but it would be great in a cocktail as well. If you’re looking for a substitute for Myers’s dark rum, it would be a good choice. People usually use that as a float on top of their daiquiris or Bahama Mama-type drinks. I also thought a Painkiller cocktail would be the best way to use it—mix Ron Barceló, pineapple and orange juice, and a little bit of coconut cream.

It has a nice spice profile to it but with the sweetness, a nice maduro cigar with a little depth would go well with it. Try the new Oscar Maduro from Oscar Vallardares with it. The Oscar Maduro has a candela leaf wrapped around the bottom half of the cigar. It’s one of the best maduros I’ve had in a long time. It’s rich, and it’s got a lot of coffee and chocolatey notes to it. It’s just an absolutely fantastic cigar. Warped’s El Oso, a maduro line they have made in El Titan Bronze down in Miami or the new Mr. Brownstone from Esteban Carreras would also be good choices.

At its price point, a product like Ron Barceló is not a high risk, so it should be easy to get a customer back in the store to buy it a second time. Plus, you will have sold your customer a quality product at a great price, so now you’ve also gained their trust. If a cigar or spirit is good enough in quality, it will do well as long as you have floor presence and somebody who cares enough to get out into the aisles and help the customers. When the customer sees the excitement you have for a product, it’s easy to make that sale.

With a smaller brand, if you let it grow organically, it will usually pay off. A lot of smaller companies are willing to offer you a deal or a better buy-in because they want to see their products on your shelves. They may even be willing to give you a free facing in order to get you to buy more so they can win more shelf space in your store. When brand owners are willing to work with you to get a better floor presence, you may end up with some free product, giving you a better profit margin out of those cigars. At The Party Source, we allow a lot of our facings to grow organically before we bring in a new size or product from a company.

One of the best things about being in this industry is being able to try everyone’s products. There’s so much variety, whether it be with spirits or with cigars. There are so many different options out there, yet people tend to get stuck in a rut and always smoke and drink the same thing. Be adventurous. See what else is available and learn what else might be interesting.

– Story by Nick Douglas, the assistant humidor
manager/buyer for The Party Source in Bellevue, Kentucky.

This story first appeared in the September/October 2017 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.