I created the cigar brand Inka Secret Blend last November to fill a gap in our UK range of cigars. I wanted them to appeal across the spectrum of our cigar smoking clients and not clash with existing ranges of excellent New World cigars. New World cigars are gaining in popularity all the time as the cigar smoker market expands and new smokers are willing to try new brands from new regions.
Secret Blend are different as they are a Puros made in Peru i.e. filler, binder and wrapper – 100% all from Peru. I played around with the blend for many months till I was happy with a range of sizes in natural and maduro wrappers that would deliver a sweet and spicy full flavour but medium strength cigar. My aim was to have a blend that would not display any bitterness or aggression and the blend integrity from one box to the next had to be consistent. Construction and draw was of paramount importance to me as well of course but knowing that every cigar is draw tested made me very confident.
We managed to achieve what we set out to do and released the Inka – Secret Blend range to our clients as soon as we had successfully registered the trade mark. To say that we were happy with the initial sell out is an understatement but after all we do have a huge database of clients stretching back to the mid 1990’s and many of our clients will try anything we recommend. The acid test was our clients reactions and whether they would reorder. We were not disappointed! Repeat orders and regular orders rolled in at an alarming rate and we have been struggling to import Inka – Secret Blend fast enough to keep up with the demand. In fact it’s fast becoming our best selling non-Cuban cigar.
I kept the packaging simple to keep the prices down on the range but don’t think this isn’t a premium cigar because it most certainly is. The Rojo (Red band) range are 100% handmade long filler and the Azul (Blue band) range are handmade medium filler.
The test market was the UK as we are of course the largest specialist cigar merchant in the UK with many cigar stores and a huge mail order and internet business but our plans are to further develop the brand Internationally. With that in mind I decided that it was high time that I headed over to Peru to check out the Tabacalera del Oriente tobacco fields and cigar factory thoroughly and that’s what I did last week!
My Partner Ron Morrison from Robert Graham Ltd who is developing the branding Internationally met up with me in his beautiful Florida home – A perfect way to spend the first nights herfing, overlooking the beach. We smoked Inka Bombaso cigars accompanied by our award winning Highland malt whisky, Ailein Mor until… Very late 🙂
The next day we headed from Miami to Lima and spent a day touring round the Inka pyramid archaeological sites which was very interesting. Lunch smokes and drinks at a delightful restaurant overlooking the water. El Salto del Fraile is highly recommended (And cigar friendly!) and afternoon drinks at the Gran Hotel Bolivar in Plaza San Martin.
We then took the flight over to Tarapoto which is where our partner Gennaro Lettieri of Tabacalera del Oriente collected us from the airport with a big baggie of new sizes of Secret Blend for us to try. After a long evening sampling session we agreed that the blend on the new sizes was better than ever.
The two seeds (Some call them the Mother and father) of Nicotiana species originally came from the Peruvian and Bolivian Andes and thereafter were, I understand grown in other regions.
The next few days were spent in the fields and the factory where we observed and learnt about every step in the production process from seed to cigar. The operation was impressively HUGE to say the least, I was amazed at the many hectares of tobacco plants growing as well as the amount of prime Peruvian tobacco being aged and matured to perfection. I was also impressed that Gennaro had already rolled enough Secret Blend cigars to speed up our imports and avoid us running out of stock as has happened all too frequently due to the popularity of the brand.
We have now developed 3 additional sizes of Secret Blend for the UK and they will be rolling out in the next 2 months if all goes to plan. The packaging is a step up but the prices will be keener than ever as we are purchasing such huge volume now. To say this is an exciting project is an understatement.
We will also be launching a range of Secret Blend Internationally with a different set of vitolas as well as super premium packaging, all at a value for money prices. More details to follow.
Many people have asked me what can you compare these cigars with – Cubans, Dominicans? Hondurans? Nicaraguans? The answer is that I can’t compare them. The reason is that the other regions mentioned all make superb cigars and our Peruvian Puros are quite simply different. They may not suit all, but they will suit most cigar smokers, novice and experienced alike.
The people we met in Lima and Tarapoto were super friendly and Tarapoto is a great city. The fauna and flora are breath-taking.
My thanks to Gennaro and his team for giving us such a warm welcome. We are looking forward to our next visit later this year.
Back to Miami to relax for a day before flying home and I enjoyed herfing at Deco Drive cigars on Lincoln. South Beach is buzzier than ever and I love Deco Drive cigars – Always great service.
Back to London and back in the thick of the action! the June 10th cigar auction Lots are now live and bids are already rolling in. It’s a huge 340 + Lot auction and our events are always great fun.
Auction catalogue is on this link, Bids can of course be placed online or by email always happy to advise regarding any specific Lots and a reminder to be careful to bid on Lots that can be shipped to where you are located (See notes on each Lot)
You can also join us and bid at the auction at Boisdale as well enjoy a whisky and cigar tasting.
Next week we have a Cuban cigar roller at our offices rolling ‘ freshies!’ Juramys Valdés Alguezabal began her career at the Romeo y Julieta factory in Havana and quickly demonstrated the skill and understanding required to achieve the highest ranking within the categories defined by the Cuban Cigar industry before transferring across to the Partagás factory where she has been for the last 9 years. We are looking forward to welcoming her.
May 23rd cigar and whisky tasting at Cambridge Robert Graham is now fully booked but we still have a few places available at the June 13th tasting event and I look forward to seeing friends for an evening of fine single malt and cigars at both.
That’s all the news for now,