Today I'm continuing the running series of 1 interview a week with a handful of people in the cigar industry who have been very supportive of me and my blog. These are in no particular order. Today brings us Oliver Hyams of Gurkha and I'll be featuring their new release the Royal Challenge.
DCB Question 1:
What was it that you made you decide you wanted to be a part of the cigar industry and how did you start?
OH: Well, I have been fortunate to be around cigars my whole life as my father Gary has been in the cigar industry for 35 years. He had his own company in the United Kingdom and then worked for many years with Henri Winterman's cigars, which later went on to become part of the Scandinavian Tobacco Group (STG). I used to help out in the warehouse in my school holidays and just enjoyed learning about the different products and how they were manufactured, marketed and sold. Then in 2007 my father was appointed Chairman of CAO cigars in Nashville, TN which is when I really got the bug on the premium side of the cigar business. They had a really cool image and marketing strategy and was always intrigued by the cigar blending process and how each brand was unique. By this time, I was just finishing college and got to go to my first IPCPR show in 2008 to help out on the CAO booth and quickly realized that I wanted to do this as a career. In 2010, I had the opportunity and pleasure of working with the Torano Family Cigar company where I gained a wealth of experience. My father then started working with Gurkha and our Chairman, Kaizad Hansotia in June 2011 and I was approached later that summer to join the Gurkha team to assist with their marketing, PR and communication efforts. I have always wanted the opportunity to work with my father and I am learning a lot from him and Kaizad. For me, one of the biggest draws to the cigar business is the fact that this industry is very people orientated and relationship driven and cigars are associated with the good times in life.
DCB Question 2:
Gurkha is well known for having a large variety of blends but not many boutique exclusive ones. What made you decide it was time to start making some B&M exclusive cigars in the Royal Challenge, Seduction and Cellar Reserve?
OH: It's true, we have a large variety of blends but this decision was made to show that we are making an even stronger effort to support the retail stores. Gurkha is a family owned business and we believe that it's important to support retailers and provide them with products just for them. Obviously, the internet is a strong and important part of our business and indeed the industry as a whole, but there is something unique and special about smoking a cigar at your local cigar store and chatting with the owners, managers and customers. The Cellar Reserve, Royal Challenge and Seduction are all very different blends that can appeal to a wide variety of cigar smokers. The Cellar Reserve is a medium to full bodied blend which uses rare 15- year aged Dominican tobacco and is very complex and has a price point ranging from $7.99-$12.95. The Royal Challenge is a mild-medium cigar that is creamy and smooth with an abundance of flavor, which has a price point ranging from $5.98-$8.50, and is actually my personal favorite. The Seduction is a medium bodied cigar that has nice combination of Domincian, Nicaraguan and Colombian Corojo tobaccos and ranges from $6.80-$9.50.
DCB Question 3:
I've seen your tweets about the new blends that you guys are testing. What if any info about them can you give me?
OH: Yes, we have been testing quite a number of different blends as part of our new product development for 2012 and beyond. I can't give too much away at this point, but one of the projects we are working on is the blend for our 125th Anniversary cigar which we plan to launch later this year. The Gurkha brand actually dates back to the British rule in 1887, where Colonial soldiers began to make their own cigars from local tobacco and imports from the Caribbean. The respect of the British for these courageous and legendary Nepales fighters inspired them in 1887 to name their cigars 'Gurkhas'. We are therefore taking our time to create the best cigar we can for this special launch and are sampling blends from different factories to come up with a worthy and dignified anniversary cigar.
DCB Question 4:
What is your favorite part of creating a cigar from scratch?
OH: I think the best part of creating a cigar from scratch is the many different blend combinations that can be created using a variety of tobaccos. On top of that, there are the unique processes that have to take place that can change the characteristics of the cigar such as the fermentation and aging of the tobacco, as well as the natural environmental factors. There is something special about manufacturing a hand-made product and I am always intrigued by other industries that have certain similarities with the manufacturing process of cigars such as wine, whiskey and coffee. Since joining Gurkha, I have also got to learn a lot from Kaizad the importance of matching the cigar blends with innovative and unique packaging, which the company is renowned for.
DCB Question 5:
What are you most excited about for Gurkha in 2012?
OH: As mentioned, probably the most exciting part of 2012 is the 125th Anniversary of the Gurkha brand. Another exciting milestone this year will be the relocation to our new headquarters, which we will probably move to in the spring. I had the pleasure of seeing the new offices and warehouse a few weeks ago and it is going to look amazing once finished. We also look forward to the new product launches as well as pursuing a new advertising campaign that showcases our new contract brands, Cellar Reserve and Royal Challenge. We have also formulated a strong events program for 2012, where our regional sales managers and other members of the Gurkha team look forward to visiting many stores across the country, where we will be featuring and sampling our different brands, with the chance for consumers to get their hands on some cool Gurkha merch and raffle prizes. This year will also be the commencement of our International launch that will see Gurkha products in europe and the far east, with the goal of expanding into other markets to ultimately make Gurkha a truly global brand.
DCB: Thanks for your time and support of the blog Oliver! It's been an honor to have this interview with you.
OH: I appreciate the opportunity of speaking with you Elijah. It's been fun to communicate with the online cigar community and want to thankyou for your service to the industry.I look forward to grabbing a smoke with you soon.
Today’s brings us the Gurkha Royal Challenge in a 5x55 Robusto vitola. The Royal Challenge was a 2011 new release from Gurkha. The Royal Challenge has fillers from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic with a Honduran Habano binder and a Connecticut shade wrapper. I can honestly say this has to be one of the most beautiful bands I’ve ever seen on a cigar. With flavors of pepper and cedar wood that help enhance the creamy buttery tones that are the core of this cigar.