What are boutique cigar brands and does it really matter?

Does the "boutique" label tell you anything meaningful about your stogie?

Warped Futuro, Don Barco, Nomad Therapy, Aging Room F59
From left: Warped Futuro, Don Barco, Nomad Therapy, Aging Room F59 Quattro. Nicolás Antonio Jiménez

The word “boutique” is thrown around a lot in the premium cigar world to describe certain cigar brands. In general use, most of us understand the term as referring to small retailers, especially ones that specialize in fashionable clothes. But what does it mean in the context of premium cigars?

Sometimes the word is used to describe the size of a cigar manufacturer. Other times, it’s a matter of the scale of production of any one line regardless of how many other cigars its manufacturer is making.

Others, it refers to small cigar brands, even if their cigars are being made by third parties with factories too large to ever fit the “boutique” bill. And still others, boutique is a reference to a focus on quality and craftsmanship over volume.

Of course, there are lots of stores that make their own small-batch cigars. Tampa's Ybor City district offers lots of great examples of this brand of boutique.

Even some cigar brand owners aren’t quite sure what to say when you try to pin them down on a definition. I posed the question to a few guys who are behind well-known cigar brands. Here’s what they had to say.

“Does anyone really know what’s boutique anymore? The word is so overused. I would use the word ‘small’ to describe our company, but if I look at each one of my brands in Tatuaje or L'Atelier, I would consider certain brands or products boutique; they have limited production, high quality, higher price tags. High quality is always a priority, but certain products we make are in no way limited and the prices are set lower to fulfill the market demand.”

— Pete Johnson, Tatuaje Cigars and L’Atelier Cigars

“I definitely consider Foundation and our first brand — El Güegüense/The Wise Man — to be boutique. ‘Boutique’ can be defined as ‘a small company that offers highly specialized services or products.’ That's what we do at Foundation; we offer the market small-batch, highly specialized brands with heart and soul. Our products are not meant to be in every store in the country, but rather specialized tobacconists that recognize quality products.”

— Nicholas Melillo, Foundation Cigar Company

“It’s a controversial subject. My background is in brand awareness. ‘Boutique,’ to some, means a brand that has no awareness. To others it means a carefully crafted cigar that’s made in small quantities (for different reasons). At the last IPCPR trade show, there was an unprecedented level of cigar proliferation. There were twice as many booths (representing cigar brands), but not twice as many manufacturers. I think people have a hard time being experts on red wine. There are times when people are overwhelmed with a cabernet menu, for example. The same holds true for cigars. It’s difficult for even people who smoke a lot of cigars.”

— Dan Schmitt, Up In Smoke (Dallas)

"If we are speaking about boutique volume, where is the line that determines that the volume is 'boutique?' Does it need to be under 100,000 cigars? 50,000? Under a million? Who knows Manufacturers just need to focus on producing the highest quality and consistency that they are capable of regardless!"

Danny DiFabio, Rodríguez Cigar Factory

What’s boutique might depend on who you’re asking. Even if there were a uniform answer, though, it’s not clear that a cigar’s “boutique” nature would tell you anything about it’s level of quality.

A great steak can come out of a tiny kitchen, but so can a bad one. The same holds true of cigars. Rather than accept the term as being indicative of any level of quality, it’s best to find cigars you like and look into the particulars of how and where they’re made. That’ll help you to find new cigar experiences and get a better understanding for what your palate’s telling you about what you’re smoking.