Cigars can be an expensive habit. You can find deals online or less expensive brands, but when I want to really enjoy a good cigar I know it’s going to run me north of $10 a stick. Which isn’t terrible as a sporadic expense, but doing that regularly can add up. Thankfully there’s a way to get your fix, have a decent cigar, and walk away with most of your wallet still in tact: buy the store brand.
A few years ago I was working with a new business in Austin that wanted to include a cigar humidor and smoking area as part of its members area. While I was investigating the market and finding suppliers, I kept hearing the same story again and again from the distributors: that while the big brands can command a pretty penny and have a solid markup associated with them, the “white label” or “store brand” options that they supply are often just as good and can be significantly cheaper.
Most cigar stores these days will offer a “shop cigar” or some custom branded sticks. Sometimes these are actually manufactured by the store, as is the case with Bobalu Cigar Co here in Austin. But usually what you’re buying is a “factory second.” These are cigars that were manufactured by a big name company (one of the ones you’d recognize) but didn’t quite measure up when the quality control inspectors came around. Not because of a materials issue, but more often because there was some visual imperfection that made them less desirable. So while they should taste and smoke just as well as the original item, they wouldn’t be able to command the same price.
When I hear people talking about “factory second” cigars, I start seeing images of floor sweepings being used as filler and other none-too-appetizing situations — things that have absolutely happened with the counterfeit cigars that seem to be in endless supply at tourist traps overseas. But in this case, where the shop is reputable and keen on keeping their repeat local customers, these are usually made with the same care as the real thing.
There’s a couple cigar lounges in Austin where I know (from dealing with them as a distributor) that this is the case– their “house blend” is a factory second off some other company’s line. And honestly, I can’t really taste the difference from my usual cigar. I looked up the filler and leaf style from my usual stick and picked a “house blend” that matched, and it tastes remarkably similar. Sure there are some minor differences, and they aren’t always the most beautiful things in the world, but I’m saving 50% of the sticker rice of the name brand and getting something I enjoy almost nearly as much.
My advice: try the house cigar, if it’s offered. Worst case scenario you don’t like it and you’ve only wasted a couple bucks. But in my experience you can find some remarkable deals on things you might enjoy nearly as much as the name brand ones. Don’t pay for the branding – pay for the cigar.