CCP Kristoff | Kristoff Cigar

 

Anthony Luizza, sales representative for Kristoff Cigar Co., talks a little bit about the Kristoff family of cigars. He says some blends were quick to come up with while others took years. The Sumatra was very quick to blend made by the owner, Glenn Case. The Cameroon took seven years to get the blend just right. The tobacco is seven years old with an African Cameroon wrapper. All in all, there are ten core blends in the Kristoff portfolio. Anthony shares that they are producing about 1.2 million cigars annually, making them a larger boutique cigar company.

Listen to the podcast here:

Cigar Cafe Radio Kristoff | Anthony Liuzza | Pissed off Kristoff

I’m Lane. I’m here in the shop with Harris. We’re hanging out with Sean. I’ve got a special guest on my show. We’ve got Anthony Liuzza from Kristoff. I’m smoking the Cameroon. Anthony is with us from Kristoff and we’re just hanging out and talking trash for a little while. What’s up, guys?

It’s good to be back. I know we haven’t done one in a couple of weeks but it is good to be back. I smoked some good ones over the break and I can’t wait to talk about them.

It feels like a long time since we’ve done a show. It’s nice to be back. Thanks for having me back guys.

I’m having trouble with lift off the day and I had to restart the show about three times and we think it’s going to stick this time. Anthony, you’re with Kristoff and you’re our southeastern rep?

Yes. I’m the southeast rep. I cover both the Carolinas, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia.

Based out of Atlanta?

Yes.

We know these answers already because we’ve already asked them the questions. I see that once again everyone is smoking, which is great for you, but bad for me because I never get the goods but I’ve got a new cigar there. How long has it been out? Give us this story on it. I’m a big Kristoff fan. These guys know that. I’m looking forward to picking one up.

We launched the Cameroon at the IPCPR this year. It was one of truly two new blends. We launched the Cameroon and the San Andres. Paris has actually carried another one called the Classic Reserve of but that was pre-launched at the TAA in 2015. The story behind the Kristoff Cameroon, sometimes it only takes two days to blend us. For instance, the Kristoff Sumatra. Glenn went down to the factory, blended it, it worked and it’s honestly one of his favorites. The Cameroon took a little longer. He’s been working on this one for about three to four years now. The nice thing about that though is this Cameroon wrapper has some extra age to it. It’s actually seven years old. What you’re going to find with this blend is that it’s definitely a medium plus Cameroon. It’s a stronger Cameroon and falling in line with the Kristoff profile, we do like to use our Dominican, Ligero and our Jalapa Valley Nicaraguan fillers, Dominican binder of course. Just this beautiful authentic African Cameroon wrapper on it.

This is actually a cigar I’ve been trying to get my hands on since the trade show. I have not lucked out until today. I’m really pleased with it. It’s a medium plus body. I’m getting some leather and I know we talked about cinnamon or nutmeg. It’s an easy sweet, little bit of pepper spice on it. It’s really pleasant. It’s really well-balanced. The construction is really good. I am glad that I waited for this to go and I’m glad that it’s here.

I’m certainly glad that you guys get a chance to smoke it. I’m being slightly facetious and sarcastic, but I’m still waiting to get my hands back on the Corojo Limitada, which I can’t find out here right now. That is one of my top ten smokes. I love that cigar. Anything that comes up by you, I like to give it a shot.

Sean, are you local in Birmingham? Where are you from or where are you located?

I’m outside of Chicago. I’ll go south side.

That’s a little bit embarrassing for us though, because you’re in Kristoff headquarters back yard. The corporate office is in Warrenville.

You’re kidding me.

No, Glenn’s from Chicago, born and raised.

I have to meet them. I’m not that far. I’m probably 35 minutes away from him. I’m going to that. That’s really funny. I didn’t know that. That’s one of my all-time favorites. When I get a hold of one, that orange wrapper, I’m thrilled to have it. I smoke just about everything and that continues to be my favorite. I know Lane, you like the Sumatra. That’s one of your favorites.

That’s really one of my favorite Kristoffs. This one’s right up there. I know I’ve talked a lot about when I go for a little bit of a change of pace, a milder cigar. I like the Cameroon. Even though this was a little bit stronger. It’s still allowing for some of the extra complexity, but you sometimes have trouble finding in somewhat lighter bodied cigars.

The nice thing, Kristoff has been around for thirteen years now. We are still, I would say, a medium sized boutique in the realm of true boutiques at this point. We produce around 1.1, 1.2 million cigars annually and one of the big changes that our company is made in the last year and a half is we’re finally at a point where we’re going direct with our sales force. Getting away from brokers and bringing in direct representation so that could be also part of the issue with the region you live in. It wasn’t until maybe two months ago that we finally brought in three more reps. Jared was the in the northeast. He was our first direct rep, and then Glenn brought me in for the southeast, but now we’ve pretty much the entire mid-west covered and a little bit of the southwest covered as well, so you should see some.

CCP Kristoff | Kristoff Cigar

Kristoff Cigar: If you don’t know what that cigar is, then it’s pretty sad. There are no dedicated tobacco shops around here. They’re all basically hookah places with a cigar.

Let’s rewind a bit before you try to back pedal and I say that with all sincerity, the cigar shops around here, if you’ve listened to our show, you’ll know they’re really bad around here. We’re talking south suburbs of Chicago. You walk into a store and you’ve got to beg him to sell you something. They don’t know what they have in their humidor. It’s really bad. Don’t take offense to it. It’s poor anyway. For instance, I’ve gone to four or five different places to find Camacho Barrel Age, which is one of the most popular cigars in the country and you can’t find them, and they don’t know what they are.

They don’t even know. They look at you like you’ve got three heads and I’m like, “If you don’t know what that cigar is, then it’s pretty sad.” I go in there hoping that someone bought a box from wherever they buy their cigars from. Hopefully the representation will get them into a store, but there are no dedicated tobacco shops around here. They’re all basically hookah places with a cigar. They’re selling bonds and lighters. It’s hillbilly. How many cigars now are in the Kristoff line? Five?

It is actually in our core concept. At this point we have ten blends and core concepts are defined as any of our traditional packaging, like the rough-cut cedar box. Going through that lineup, it’s Original Maduro, Original Criollo, a Ligero version of each of those, the Sumatra, the Corojo, the Cameroon, the GC, the Britannia, which is a Honduran Connecticut, and the brand new San Andres as well.

That’s good to know and I’ve only seen a few of them. Don’t kill the Messenger. I don’t know about you guys but I did have some good ones. I finally had an Opus X. I did. I smoked that on Christmas Eve. I thought, special occasion, kids were around. I was at my brother-in-law’s house, my dad and I, he bought one of those patio heaters that we talked about and we sat under it and had a smoke. I found that magical price point of diminishing returns that we talked about. I am a fan of it but it did not rock my fucking socks off. It wasn’t up to what I thought it was going to be. It didn’t blow me away, but maybe it was because I had too high of expectations.

That was the last show that we were talking about where, I said something along the lines of I didn’t think I’d ever had $30 cigar. It was really worth $30. The Padrone 50th Anniversary was worth more than $30 bucks. That was a good cigar.

That was a $100 cigar, right?

It is. It was on sale and I had $10 in rewards here at the shop. I got it at enough of a deal that I felt like it was probably worth it. I won’t be smoking a lot of them, but it was good.

I’ll ask you this. Was it better than a $15 cigar that you love? Let’s break it down that way. Was it?

The only cigar at that price point that I’ve ever smoked before was the Perdomo Edicion Silvio. I like Perdomo but this was better than that. That’s a $50 cigar here, something like that. I thought it was more than that. I smoked one of those down at the beach it down there. That may be why it was more expensive. I may have been paying a tourist tax.

Was that your first Opus?

Yes.

Did it have any additional age on it or did you find one, buy it, and then smoke it within that same period of time?

I’ve got it from Harris and I probably smoked it a week after I got it.

When I travel around during the launch times of Opus or Anejo by Fuente, one thing I’ve found is they’re definitely good when you first get them. I would agree with you, they don’t blow your socks off right away when you first smoke them. I’ve started collecting them a little bit. I can’t think of a better cigar that ages as well as the Anejos and the Opus X. A year age or six months even got in and they really do just open up. Pretty amazing.

The other one that I smoked, I smoked the Cuban Cohiba Classica Robusto. That one knocked my socks. That was wonderful.

I had a friend that went to Cuba and brought them back legally and handed it to yet. He bought it from the Cohiba store at the resort that he was there in Havana. He had Siglo VI’s, Maduro 5’s, Montecristo No. 2’s, and the Classicas. I have to tell you that I was blown away by that, but I have a Montecristo No.2 that I’m going to let sit in the humidor for however long it takes. I know that those age really well. I know that there are pre-embargo Montecristo No.2 that still people buy them for hundreds of dollars and they loved them. Maybe I should let that sit in there a little longer.

I don’t think you need to wait 50 years though. I know.

There’s no way I won’t let that thing stare at me for 50 years.

I’ve got a $100 gift card for Christmas for here to shop from somebody on the side of the family. I came and I was like, “I can get another one of those Padrons or I can put together a pretty good lineup and I was pretty happy with what I’ve got. I’ve got two or three cigars that had never smelled before and got a pair of each of them and then I’ve got the AVO Syncro and the Nat Sherman Timeless. I had a couple of the My Father Le Bijous now. That’s a pretty good cigar. It’s normally $10, $11, something like that.

The number one cigar according to the Cigar Aficionado.

I don’t know that I’d say that’s number one. It was a good cigar.

It’s been around for a long time. I forgot about it, and so it really put a lot of focus on it. We’re completely sold out of those in about a day. I haven’t gotten any more in.

Full disclosure, I’ve got one of the round ones, I didn’t get the box-pressed one that actually got number one, but pretty close.

Going back to Cuban cigars. I had a couple that were fake when I was growing up on that absolutely sucked, but the construction is nowhere near as good as the Dominican. There is the stuff that we see every day. The one that I had burned beautifully, well-packed, great draw, but it was a little out around and, and it’s different than what we’re used to seeing, a perfect stick from a Kristoff or from a Fuente. It’s weird. The Maduro 5 was the same way it was box press, but it was a little odd.

An interesting question for Anthony. Is that something that you guys at Kristoff ever talk about that know whenever Cuba does open up, what’d you guys start blending with Cuban tobacco in the long list now? Do you think you’d stick with the blends you guys already are doing? What would happen?

I’ll answer a little bit like a politician. I’ve been asked this question from just general customers and shops. “What do you think about the embargo? What do you think about this? When will we see Cubans?” To your point, Sean, they already have a hard-enough time keeping up with world demand. With the US market being pretty much the largest consumer market for cigars of course, because we have more favorable taxes, our government, not yet at least, isn’t as restrictive, let’s say like Australia or the EU. There’s really only one company that’s positioned even have access to it and that’s all to this when it comes to the retailer carrying Cubans. I tell everyone, you can get excited about finally having a Montecristo No. 2, but the real excitement and possibly the catalyst for the second cigar boom. We’re getting to that point with the expansion of the boutique market in the last eight years.

CCP Kristoff | Kristoff Cigar

Kristoff Cigar: What happens when something as simple as one leaf can change the entire profile in a cigar?

What’s exciting is what happens if the Kristoff Sumatra adds a leaf of Cuban to the filler? What happens when something as simple as one leaf can change the entire profile in a cigar? All of us on the boutique side probably do have our eyes and ears open for that day. Whether or not we’re going to have to change our little tagline elite Cuban taste, that could be something that we might run into down the road once Cubans are actually legal just from marketing licensing point of views. Glen’s really happy with these blends. If we ever did create a blend with Cuban tobacco, we honestly probably wouldn’t make that big of a deal about it. We wouldn’t market it as like the Kristoff Cuban Light or something like that. We talk about, “We’re using Cuban tobacco in this blend. Check it out.”

Just like someone would talk about having Brazilian or whatever, an AVO limited edition having four different types of tobacco from four different countries and something like that. It wouldn’t be that obvious. Is that what you’re saying?

We’re not going to produce a Cuban Puro and I would argue that I don’t even think Cuba’s producing Cuban Puros anymore. It was importing Nicaraguan and Dominican tobacco and using it in blending.

I did manage to have the CLE Signature as well. We’ve talked about profiles and what we like. Little bit woodsy for me, it was one of those cigars that stayed with me. I would consider it a long finish, if you know what I’m saying. Although it went down okay, it stayed with me for a long time. Probably not something I would jump into again but I’m certainly glad I tried it. Anthony, how about you? Other than Kristoff, what do you smoke? What turns the crank for you? What do you love? I know that cigar people all have different tastes and what’s good on your list?

Yes, absolutely. I actually worked retail for four and a half years in Carolina and that’s where I developed my relationship with Glenn. As any retailer would tell you in order to best service your customers, you really need to know everything about all the cigars you carry or at least try to. That is a benefit for taking someone from retail and making them a rep is you have such a vast knowledge going into it that when someone says, “I like brand X. What do you have that might be similar?” In my time in retail, I really did enjoy some of the Matt Booth blends, like the Namakubi specifically. It’s one of my top ten. Of course, I was on the My Father bandwagon as My Father has grown in popularity.

Believe it or not though, it was the JJ Maduro, which was one of my favorites that we show on our retail shop for maybe one year, but then I believe it became an online only through Atlantic Cigar. Of course, we dropped it at that point. Nicaragua Dominican combinations were ultimately my favorite pretty much across the lines. I had to smoke everything but Room 101, My Father stands out. I liked the Nat Sherman Timeless Dominican version. We started carrying that. I’ve always been a fan of LFD, not because of their strength profile. In fact, if it wasn’t the Double Ligeros that do it for me, it was actually the Airbender Series that I particularly care for, Oliva.

Lane is in a Nicaraguan kick. You find yourself gravitating towards maybe a flavor profile from a country rather than a brand.

Yes, absolutely. Thank you for pointing that out. That’s exactly what I was alluding to, is that there was definitely a Nicaraguan kick for probably two or three years when My Father got The Cigar of the Year when Melanio won the Cigar of the Year that same year in 2012. It really wasn’t until the Matt Booth releases with Room 101 went away from just the standard Room 101 to launching stuff like Namakubi, that’s what got me into Honduran tobacco, but before that it was straight Nicaragua and the occasional Dominican. If it was from either Kristoff or like Fuente for instance. All of our palates change and the human taste buds cycle out every two weeks. Our taste buds cycle out every two weeks. I picked up that tidbit from Cranium.

That speaks to why you don’t use smoke one and then smoke another and you’re like, “It wasn’t quite as good as I remember. I had that happen with The Leaf, which I do love, but I smoked two of them and this second one just quite isn’t quite as good as the first one that I had. That’s happened many times. Not to single them out, but it’s happened. That’s a good reason why, right?

It’s the same reason why a lot of kids hate vegetables and Brussels sprouts when they are children, next thing you’re 28 and you just wake up one day, “I just really want Brussels sprouts.” I don’t know why.

Any word on what’s going to happen with the cigar laws? Has there been any movement at all?

On the FDA front, everything’s been quiet as far as I know.

The last I heard they were there was finally starting to be talk of actually excluding the premium cigars.

That came and went unfortunately at the last second, they stripped it out of one of the appropriations bills that went through Congress. The language was actually in there until right at the last minute. They stripped it out so it’s still hanging out there, just waiting for the FDA to release to release their final rules. What we’ve heard is they have decided on the rules, they sent it to the OMB, Office of Management and Budget, so then they will either approve it or send it back to Congress to tweak it.

No one knows what that is yet though. No. Have you heard anything, Anthony?

The news I heard was what everyone else heard, if you received the emails from the CRA and the IPCPR was essentially we have one more window of opportunity to send in our grievances or our concerns in an open forum session, but as of that last CRA email, they said it was going to be 90 days before the official decision was released and I don’t know how close to that 90 days we actually are now. It’s probably maybe 30 days out at this point.

Around February, sometime in February was 90.

At this point, we’re past the contact Paul Ryan to voice your grievances. We’re on to waiting.

Very possibly.

What’s so scary about this for the industry, I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but I do often wonder whose side some of the larger conglomerates really are on. Even if you look at option two with that exclusion for any blends that have existed prior to 2007. I mentioned from my perception, having worked retail for the last five years, even though that only came on in 2010, 2007 to now, most of the boutiques on the market didn’t exist. That’s where a lot of the growth in the industry and that’s where a lot of the market share has been taken away from General and Altadis. What happens to Kristoff? We only had four blends produced between ’04 and ’07. When we launched, all of our growth has happened between ‘07 and now and some of the language in the law as far as getting our blends approved, it’s somewhere to the tune of $150,000 to $200,000 per blend per size to get these cigars approved by the FDA.

CCP Kristoff | Kristoff Cigar

Kristoff Cigar: All of our palates change and the human taste buds cycle out every two weeks.

You might as well eliminate most boutique, not just boutique line. You’ve got to start looking at limited edition releases at that point too, because either they’re going to go drastically up in price because they have to compensate for that or they’re going to go away.

Think about this. Let me think about a company like yourself. I don’t know if Allen Bradley would fall into that category, but seriously, if you’ve got four or five sizes and two new blends, we’re talking about a $1.5 million. Who the hell has got $1.5 million in cash laying around and make sure that their blends get approved?

The problem is that it kills the innovation in the industry. Even the big guys, just playing devil’s advocate. The big players realize that you do need that innovation and pushing the industry forward because that makes them better too. They see certain trends and they hop on board that too. There’s benefit from the little guys too.

Really our biggest enemy would, would actually be more along the lines of big tobacco in the traditional sense, Philip Morris, RJ Reynolds. It’s no secret that the last 30 years of public service announcements and brainwashing with my generation, Harris’s generation, we all grew up, “Cigarettes are bad, cigarettes are bad, smoking’s bad, smoking is bad.” It worked on a lot of us. I’ve got my parents to quit smoking cigarettes when I was in high school and that message worked. Then we all became adults and we said, “This is different. This is not the same thing. It’s a different lifestyle. It’s a hobby and not a habit.” At least in the US, while cigarette consumption is down, cigar consumption amongst that college age eighteen and up is actually up a bit. Big tobacco finds that very threatening.

The other thing is once you get past the college age too, because it’s a narrow window. Even for us, somebody was on the show one time and talked about how, “I’m a cigar celebrity.” A tenth of 1% of people have any idea who I am. That’s the truth. Premium cigars are not something that the average person enjoys. The people that are smoking premiums cigars know what they want, they are learning or know what they like, and they have made some informed decision. Nobody goes out smoking Black & Milds and says, “I’m going to get this Rocky Patel.”

What I’ve heard from some companies too is a lot of the big guys that produced the machine-made cigars, they’re lobbying for everyone to be regulated equally. Essentially, they would love to kill the premium industry to where your Black & Milds and variations of that are the only option out there.

It really comes down to the definition of premium cigar. It’s unfair that the federal government won’t allow us as an industry to define our own industry, what qualifies as premium cigar. We all know it’s defined by the type of construction. It has to be long filler, 100% tobacco leaf, and rolled by hand. That is the textbook definition of a premium cigar. If you can reduce the premium cigar for $2, great. If you can produce it for $10, fantastic but it’s not a price point. It’s not a volume by weight. It’s the heritage and the construction of it. Really, it’s the artisanship.

Unfortunately, a lot of it comes down to lobbying dollars. The premium cigar industry is a small boutique industry even with a few big players but compared to the other cigarette lobby or the machine-made cigar lobby, we’re just a drop in the bucket. There needs to be some acknowledgement that a large portion of the people who are in Congress and policymaking are probably pro cigar and the regulation is happening outside of their scope of influence.

That’s a good point, but also no matter what happens in the regulation, and this always happens with politicians in Washington or really at any level, the reality is these types of regulations aren’t going to impact their ability to purchase cigars at their levels of income. It’s going to impact the everyday smoker, the guy that wants that $5 Brick House. It’s going to mess with him.

They’re still going to get theirs. It’s just like insurance. They’re still going to get their Cadillac.

We’re actually going to have boxes of Cubans.

You think about the almost urban legend at this point about Kennedy right before he signed the embargo. He supposedly had one of his top aides order a pallet of his favorite Cuban cigar so that he’d have them for the rest of his life basically.

I believe that. I don’t know that that’s a myth. It may have happened.

Lane, Harris, what did you have over the break that you want to talk about? Lane, you smoked your ass off.

I smoked Le Bijou. I finally smoked an Alec Bradley Coyol.

What did you think of that? It’s just one of my favorites.

It was a really good medium bodied. It’s very much a people pleaser cigar. I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t like to smoke that cigar.

I’m glad you liked it.

I smoked something interesting for a short smoke, from RoMa Craft Catador. It was a ten-pack of small ten-count boxes cigars, where they did a few different blends of their regular production blends in small cigars, probably a short, petite corona. Probably twenty, 30-minute smoke, but they did the Neanderthal, the Intemperance, CroMagnon Aquitaine. I spoke to Intemperance one and it was very strong to me, but it was good. It was very, very full body being in that small ring gauge, but I liked it for shorter smoke.

Sean had a pretty full body when you had that Davidoff Nicaragua.

I did. I forgot to tell you, that was a beautiful cigar by the way. I really liked it. One of the best that I’ve smoked in a while.

I have one sitting in my humidor and it’s like this tiny little, just barely bigger than a cigarette, the total lot. The next time I have ten minutes to just go out, smoke a cigar. I’m probably going to light that thing up. Garrett gave it to me the last time he was in.

CCP Kristoff | Kristoff Cigar

Kristoff Cigar: The people that are smoking premiums cigars know what they want, they are learning or know what they like, and they have made some informed decision.

I did have it and I loved it. It was great. I’m very satisfied with it. Certainly, I will order more, that was about it for me. I didn’t go too crazy. It’s been cold here and it’s really crimping my style. My wife’s been pissing and moaning about me not opening up the garage door. Here’s the thing, what’s the use if I’m going to open up the garage door? I might as well just sit outside and smoke the damn thing. When it gets to 30, 28, it’s a little cold for me. The old bones are starting to creak a little bit.

I’ll take the old cast iron, painted white scrape the Alabama glider off of my patio because I didn’t have room for it and a hot tub. My back porch is less roll tide than it was.

I’ll say to you, good luck. It’s going to be an ass-whipping. They’re going to kick Clemson’s ass. I thought OU was going to kick Clemson’s ass. They really surprised me. What a bunch of duds and they were stinkers and the Big Bowls sucked. The TCU Oregon game was the best game of a bunch. That was a good. It was great to talk to you, Anthony. I don’t know if you guys got anything else to add but I’m good.

I’ll have this teaser for you. It will show up in any of your shops anyway, so I might as well tease you with it. In lieu of everything happening with the FDA, Kristoff is launching something a little special. Hopefully it’s going to be out by the TAA, but it’s called the Pissed Off Kristoff.

What is that? Tell me. Give us something. What is it?

I had a chance to smoke it when Glenn took us down to the factory. I’m not going to say anything about the blend itself, but I will say Glenn has managed to produce a cigar that has that everything you know and love about Kristoff when it comes to a smooth, rich flavor but the nicotine profile on this. I went toe to toe with the cigar within the first inch. I felt the capillaries behind my eyes seizing, gargling. As Glenn described it, it’s the type of nicotine that just gets into your blood and builds over time. It put me back harder than the darker rolled Nicaragua. It put me back harder than an LFD Double Ligaro. It’s a sleeper for sure.

Was it like the first time he took a dip of coke?

Yes.

The only cigar that has ever done that to me was that Gurkha 12 Cellar Reserve. That thing knocked me on my ass. I got up from that and went, “Holy shit, what is going on? “

I can think of two cigars that did that to me. One of them was a La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero Maduro. That one was rough and Rocky Patel Super Ligero. I smoked it and it was like, “I have to go back to work and have a meeting?”

I’m looking forward to it and I’m going to get Glenn’s cell phone from you, Harris, and I’m going to text him.

You really should. Glenn loves hanging out talking.

That is so cool. I want to go there and talk to him. That’d be a lot of fun.

You should go there one day and a broadcast from there with him.

Why not? That would be fun too. I’ll see if I can drop him a line. Maybe give him a heads up that I’ll call him and I’ll go there and we’ll broadcast from there. That would be fun.

I bet you could smoke where you recorded with him.

That’s what I’m talking about. Are you kidding me? I’ve already thought of it. Have a great week and smoke them if you’ve got them.

Thanks, guys.

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