Cigar news: I have stated this before many times. The people I have associated with in the cigar world are the best part of this very unique clan.
How many times hanging out in a cigar lounge you meet an individual who is a stranger at first, but then both of you puff away and a true understanding of each other develops. Some of these relationships may be fleeting or become long term but for that moment , you click with each other’s stories.
This is an example of such a meeting of the minds. I have never met Johnny Piette of Isabela Cigars but we touched base at first several years ago talking about his cigar brand. As it came to pass, I did a review of one of his limited release blends in November 2018, the Shape-Shifter and was totally blown away how damm good it was.
As I did more research about Isabela Cigars, I started to read other cigar bloggers reviews of their products and they concurred pretty much what I thought about the products.
Their cigars were total gems but similar to small companies with limited marketing budgets, not many people knew who they were and what they did. Our conversations through emails were fairly constant and my goal primarily was to spread the word about Isabela Cigars. When you find a product that hits all cylinders, it is only fair the rest of the world should know about them.
As I stated in my first review in November 2018:
I was pleasantly surprised to receive a cache of cigars from the Isabela Cigar company for review. This is their newest blend called the 2018 Shape-Shifter. The Isabela Cigar company has been very favorably reviewed by cigar bloggers and the cigar press. Their products are new to me, so this will be my first review of their smokes. As always how and where I receive the cigar does not impact my subjective judgment.
Please smoke the cigar and make your own take.
I presented Johnny a series of questions this past December 2019 about the nature of his business , what it takes to make his cigars and what the craft of of manufacturing cigars is about.
Cigar smokers tend to be very opinionated about what makes an outstanding cigar. In Johnny’s thoughts and words, here is his viewpoint about Isabela Cigars and other aspects of cigar wheeling and dealing.
This might be the most comprehensive interview Johnny has ever done. He was direct, honest with my questions and I think we learn a thing or two about what makes the Isabela Cigar Company, a cigar company that makes an outstanding product.
Question: The cigar business is at best difficult or for some overwhelming. What are the key factors that drove you into this business?
Small boutique cigar companies have a daunting task. The product must be top notch, costs need to be controlled, and you need to get known.
How is your company different from the rest of the pack?
Answer: When we started out, we never thought about difficulty or overwhelming or anything like that…
it wasn’t even on the radar… A true artist, in any medium doesn’t create art with any thoughts of anything past the palette, the ink and the corresponding idea you want to create.
As well as the release of the emotions you are trying to put to the canvas…
Similarly when I decided to work up flavors that I wanted to put into a cigar, those flavors were my ink palette,and I set about “painting different combinations,” many, many different combinations, to try to get the multitude of flavors in my head, blended into different vitolas…
I had as guidance, my friend and mento of the legendary Vincente Ortiz, a Cuban expatriate who took his family blends, which was the Cuban Rosa Y Yo cigars with him, after Castro took everything the family had, on his quick exodus from Cuba…
Vincente then spent the next decade here in America, trying to find his way, as well as recreate the blends with tobaccos available to him… finally setting up a small Fabrica in Chicago, then later in Miami… where I met him, he took me under his wing, and gave me the knowledge, the help, and the fire for my dreams…
When I started, I wanted to create incredible blends that would not be like any cigar on the market, I wanted to create blends that had unique flavor profiles that would define ISABELA as a flavor personality…
I wanted to create blends that when they were smoked, the consumer would know this could only be ISABELA, and even more important, I love my many different brands, I love Padron, I love Fuente, I love Cuban cigars with aging, I really like the Warped Guys stuff, and some Robert Caldwells stuff… but I am HDD…
I am the guy that can have three conversations at the same time….so I get easily bored… so when I say I love those brands mentioned, and many more my problem is I get bored easily…and I found that all those I mentioned and many more cigars have great flavors but ONE FLAVOR…
Everyone creates such linear, I call it one-dimensional cigars… many with one incredible flavor… but again for me, one gets boring… so right when we started, immediately, I set out to find unique flavors, and also just as important, I wanted all my blends to change flavors… ever changing flavor profiles…, multiple transitions, some subtle , some not so subtle,
I wanted to create ISABELA’S identity to be unique flavors, and blended to take you on Journeys… and that is a very difficult task that requires patience, and most importantly TIME>
time to create, time to blend,time to make many mistakes, time to source aged tobaccos, and most importantly TIME to let the final craft age…
we use TIME like no one has ever used time… because we have no timelines, no time restrictions, no loan due to banks, the gift of being small and treating this as art. The ability to treat this as art instead of a business, allows us to create for creations sake.
Question: Are the FDA regulations making it almost impossible to succeed in the cigar industry?
Answer: We created so many crafts in 1997-1999 we would have to be around 100 years to run out of grandfathered Sku’s.
However the FDA thing is taking all the sizzle out of the cigar industry. Any industry has it’s corporate staples, and an ever changing fluidity of smaller companies, just like grocery stores, which gives the customer choices, Let’s get our staple items at the big box stores and hit the smaller guys for meats, boutique chocolates or whatever!
The Big Guys create stability, fair pricing, and staples and the little boutique guys provide artisan speciality an SIZZLE and EXCITEMENT.
If all you have left are the big guys are gone, or can’t make anything new… they did, and the big guys hurt, because the entire business becomes Boring and Stagnant…
We are Americans… like it or not we love everything new, we love trends, we like shark cartilage last year, and this year we are all looking for CBD and Baby Yoda… the spice and sizzle of new and exciting is part of the bloodline of being American…
Question: How big is your company ? how many people do you employ? and how big would you like to get?
Answer: I can’t speak for anyone but ourselves, we are a very, very, small ARTISAN company, whose sole existence is to create art, with no budget for advertising, we strictly survive on social media, people who like what we are doing are special enough to spread, word of mouth, and sometimes our stuff finds its way into a gracious reviewers hands, who not only like our crafts, but “gets’ what we are and what we are doing.
Question: The reviews for your cigars have been very receptive and positive. What is the best way to maintain the high standards for the cigars you produce and would you ever hold off on a product if it is deemed below what your standards are or the margins so tight, that the cigar would be released anyway?
Answer: I don’t know what the best way to get positive reviews, I do know it’s not something you think about, not that it’s important but for me…
NO ONE is harder on what I am doing than me… I continually strive to create and craft the best I can, while always pushing the envelope… and the truth is for every release or vitola we put out to public, we dump as many of not more,
I will be the first to tell you I make a shithouse of mistakes and bad blends… the Time Traveler for instance, took 11 different tries to get it right…
But I am not afraid or embarrassed by mistakes… I relish them… for they are the stairs that I need to climb, to get where no one has ever gone before.
We are not constrained by margins, deadlines etc, for example, our Creative Magic Studio is our “studio”within our studio that specializes in aggressive blending of aged tobaccos etc, and may different seasons of aging – it is where we are super push the edge of what can be done, and where our ltd. releases come from… all our ltd. releases do have some “ballpark” idea of when we think they will be ready,
However, the difference is we don’t decide when the post production aging is ready and schedule a release date…
we let the blend tell us when it’s ready… let’s say we project the upcoming release “Transporter” will be ready in 18 months…
so in 18 months we fire some Transporter up , and if the blend is not revealing what we intended to, we leave them in aging, and keep revisiting them every couple of months, until THEY tell us…they are ready.. and Only Then… do we schedule a release date…
Here is the scoop on the history of Isabela Cigars from the mouth of Johnny.
In case you need to have the background of how Isabela Cigars became a viable entity, here is the scoop in Johnny’s words.
Isabela was created in 1997 when my journey to source a truly unique cigar experience led me to the sun-beaten streets of Old Little Havana, Miami. That’s where I met the legendary Cuban Master Vicente Ortiz.
The rich sweet smells of fresh tobaccos and chatter of ex-pat Cubans in and around his small, gated pink “fabrica” on Flagler street was the perfect setting for Vicente to tell me the history of his cigars. He also mixed in more than a few stories about his life as a young man in Cuba, and our conversations transported me back to a very special time when pride and devotion to craftsmanship truly meant something.
Over several years, Vicente mentored and taught me about the inner workings of cigar making, and the art of combining, priming and aging various tobaccos to create the unique identity and magical profiles of the Isabela cigars that we created together.
Now in 2015, we have carefully and meticulously ramped up production to make Isabela available nationwide. Isabela cigars are rolled by one of six pairs of level 9 + Cuban Master rollers, each with over 30 years of experience. We utilize traditional Cuban methods of artisan custom master rolling, each finished in tres capa and sealed with a sugar-based sealant.
We offer our Isabela cigars in five standard sizes, complimented by limited seasonal releases. We truly hope you enjoy the flavors, personality, history, and the unique identity of the cigars we have created — from the sun-to-seed, stem-to-leaf and to our souls.
— Johnny, Isabela Cigar Comp.
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