Starting a new world cigar business is hard. Having a moderately successful cigar business is an exceptional achievement, but from scratch, with no background in the cigar industry to veteran and titan with a global brand over 25 years old, that is the preserve of very, very few people. Rocky Patel is one of those, a true pioneer and innovator in, and of, the new world cigar business.
Rocky Patel Cigars are this months ‘brand of the month’. Read on to find out more about the man, the brand and his cigars and keep your eyes open for our ‘cigar of the week’ blog each week, which, as always will have some special offers and a giveaway!
The US cigar market is of course very different to the UK cigar market due to the almost complete absence of Cuban cigars from it for over 50 years since the US - Cuban trade embargo began. What we and most of the world refer to as new world cigars are to the US just cigars. Post the embargo and with the outflow of many Cuban families who had been in the cigar trade to the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua a whole new tobacco industry had began. It’s also worth remembering that the US has always grown tobacco for cigars as well, perhaps most famously Connecticut tobacco!
Despite its proximity to tobacco growing and cigar producing nations, ongoing political turmoil in Latin America meant the US cigar industry as we know it now didn’t take off until the 1990’s following decades of stagnation. Then boom. 3 things happened in the 90’s which started to create the new world cigar industry we all know today. 1) Economic boom, just like the UK, the US banking, financial services and industries allied to them exploded and money was looking for the finer things in life. 2) The political situation in Latin America, and America's relationships with it stabilised, tobacco grown in different countries was able to cross borders far more easily. 3) With access to diverse tobaccos and a booming interest in cigars, immigrants from Cuba had the opportunity to establish cigar businesses in a way they previously couldn’t. Big shot executive from New York with an interest in cigars, no problem. Create a brand and find a factory to roll it! The cigar industry that we know today was born. Very few of those brands created in the 1990’s US cigar boom still exist. Rocky Patel is one of them!
Rocky Patel lived and worked in Los Angeles as an entertainment and product liability lawyer. Through a friend, he was introduced to cigars and became instantly fascinated by them. While dabbling in various investment ventures, Rocky was approached with a business plan to manufacture cigars. Despite some misgivings about the venture, the investment was made and the first Indian Tabac cigars were rolled in Honduras.
In 1996 at the RTDA trade show in Cincinnati, Indian Tabac Cigar Co. hit the big time. People flocked to the booth to purchase hundreds of these new, brightly packaged cigars. Rocky had begun to change the cigar market with fresh ideas, bold packaging and fuller cigars. With his eye-popping packaging, Rocky had gone against the grain and it certainly paid off.
In 2003, Rocky changed the company’s marketing direction by emphasizing on branding himself. The first step was changing the company name from Indian Tabac Cigar Co. to Rocky Patel Premium Cigars. Rocky’s first brand featuring his name, the Rocky Patel Vintage cigars, has become his flagship brand comprising five Vintage Series, although only one is now widely available in the UK now, the legendary Rocky Patel Vintage 1990, Since the company’s new direction began, Rocky has launched numerous top-selling brands, including Decade, Fifteenth Anniversary, Twentieth Anniversary, and Sun Grown Maduro – his highest rated cigar from Cigar Aficionado magazine that earned 95 points and the #2 Cigar of 2016. Newer releases like the Rocky Patel Number 6 and the Rocky Patel Aged, Limited & Rare have already become international best sellers.
The more I delve in to the background of some of the most successful new world cigar producers the more I become conscious of 1 thing. Many, if not most of those who produce consistently exceptional cigars are obsessed with quality and the need to control it. The 'vertically integrated' cigar business is the backbone of many of these brands. From seed, to drying, curing to aging and aging to rolling they own or directly manage all these aspects that go in to producing great cigars! Interestingly the boutique cigar brands we work with operate in the same way, albeit on a much smaller scale. Rocky doesn't perhaps fit this mould so much as he was one of the creators of it.
Much of his time is focused on production and blending. He aspires to create more complex cigars while avoiding linear such as puros cigars. Rocky believes that blending tobaccos from various regions takes greater skill and deft knowledge. Developing complex blends, however, is a painstaking feat, yet Rocky also strives for 100 percent consistency, placing heavy emphasis on quality control. Every cigar is thoroughly inspected through various quality control departments before being packaged for export.
Cards on the table, Rocky Patel makes a few of my all time favourite new world cigars. The consistency and variety of blends is astounding and the packaging, true to his first exhibition way back in the 90's remains some of the most beautiful you will find on cigars. Picking the cigars for this month's cigar of the week slot has been hard... well hard if you count smoking a lot of Rocky Patel cigars in the last few weeks to remind myself of some of his greatest hits!
Keep your eyes open each week for the cigar of the week, some special offers and as always a little giveaway at the end of the month!
Stay smokey, stay safe. Pete