Friday, September 18, 2015

Interview w/ Fable Cigars co-Founders

“In 2013, two childhood friends, having grown up around the culture of fine cigars, sparked an idea for an exciting new brand. United through two unlikely stories of immigrant families from opposite corners of the world and a mutual love of art, we created Fable Cigars with the intent of sharing great stories with each series, encouraging you to share yours and offering artfully crafted smokes to bridge them together.

Our journey brought us to the Nica SueƱo, RoMa Craft Tobac facilities in Esteli, Nicaragua, for an unforgettable experience made possible by founders Skip Martin and Mike Rosales. Over the course of one year, we worked closely with master blender Esteban Elias Disla Siri, tested a dozen blends, with forty types of the finest grade tobacco, grown under the best conditions, before finally arriving at two truly premium blends for our first series, Fourth Prime.

Sean Kremenetski and I became friends with Skip Martin 2 years ago. We wanted to make our own cigar line and we were fortunate enough for things to workout with Skip and the Roma family. After 2 long years of conceptualizing and a year of blending, we have come up with a stellar brand for the market. I promise you it won’t be disappointing!”

You might have seen this manifesto posted around social media cigar circles. I know I did. I also knew I was greatly intrigued. Mr. Shah and Mr. Kremenetski were quite cordial in my approaching them, and too quite gracious in answering a few questions I had. I greatly appreciate their time. Thank you, sirs.

It's my sincere hope that this is not the last we check in with Mitul and Sean. I definitely don't wish to be a stranger to their running down of a dream, and too don't want my readers to be. Let's all wish them the very best, and hope to see them around these parts again, as they travel further down their shared road.
Kaplowitz: You chose the name Fable for your cigar brand. More than simply a story, the word "fable" denotes the conveyance of a moral. The Internet tells me that the word moral, in that sense is defined as: “a lesson, especially one concerning what is right or prudent, that can be derived from a story, a piece of information, or an experience.” How does this connect in your mind to the cigar industry, the smoker’s experience of your offerings, and your role in said industry? I believe there is much to learn in the meditation of cigar enjoyment -- do you agree?

Mitul Shah: For me, throughout two decades in the business, the connection has been more about my customers. When I see my customers enjoying a smoke in one of my lounges, exchanging stories and growing friendships and business relationships. That’s what really motivates me to wake up in the morning, go to my shop and see what new story, connection or relationship I’ll see develop today.

Sean Kremenetski: I strongly believe in using the time you spend with people to learn from them and grow. Sitting down and lighting up a smoke in a room filled with people of different backgrounds is a great opportunity to gain perspective. It’s a collective experience, one that everyone in that room has come to enjoy as much as you have, making it easier and more natural to talk about our lives. The hour you spend smoking a cigar and listening to stories from friends and strangers can give you more insight about yourself than a year in a classroom.

Kap: You mentioned in your company’s manifesto above, that your’s is the story of an immigrant. Too, you mentioned it is Fable’s mission to facilitate the sharing of stories. What does your own story entail?

Mitul: My dad moved to America from India in 1990. He was a very successful architect there, but decided to immigrate to America to give his kids the opportunity for a better education. Not having an American degree, he struggled for a long time and finally made a difficult decision to sell off all of his businesses and land in India and buy his own shop so he could be his own boss. His first business in the U.S. was a gas station and I watched both my parents work day and night to make it work and that really rubbed off on me. So, after years of struggle and the challenges of the ups and downs of owning businesses such as gas stations, grocery stores, hallmark card stores, etc., he finally bought a gas station in 1995, right around the time of the cigar boom. It sold cigars out of two cabinets and started doing really well. He realized he was more successful out of those two cabinets than he was the rest of the store, so he learned through Cigar Aficionado what to buy and what to sell and through trial and error he grew the business. I was with him every step of the way, learning from him and being groomed to one day take over.

Sean: I grew up in what was still Soviet Russia at the time. We were in a tiny village a couple hours north of Moscow, with few people and fewer opportunities. As a kid, I didn’t know the difference, but my parents were never content with their situation. One year, my mother took a trip to Tokyo and came back with culture shock. There were possibilities out there that we could never have where we were. It didn’t take much to convince my father to move our family to the U.S. When we got here, we lived in a small studio apartment in Sheepshead Bay with our grandmother for a whole year before my parents were able to find menial work. My mom worked in a hair salon while my dad attended an unaccredited school to learn computer programming. This was in the 90s, when programming demand took off. My father quickly got a job and it was my mother’s turn to go through the same school. They busted their butts and the opportunities quickly followed. Three years later, we moved to the suburbs and soon owned a home. There’s no mystery to where my work ethic came from. They followed their dreams, changed their lives and mine, and it feels great to be doing the same thing.

Kap: You “worked closely with master blender Esteban Elias Disla Siri, tested a dozen blends, with forty types of the finest grade tobacco, grown under the best conditions, before finally arriving at two truly premium blends for our first series, Fourth Prime.” What was on your mind, as you tested those blends? Were you attempting to create a mood, a distinct flavor, or simply attempting to showcase the very best tobacco you could garner? In other words, were you trying to make the best cigar you could, or the best cigar for a certain purpose? If purpose driven, what was that purpose?

Mitul: I wanted to make the best cigars I could for my palate. Being in the business so long, I have seen it all and smoked it all. I have never been stuck on one cigar, always trying different brands and flavor profiles. All of this finally brought me to the CroMagnon Aquitaine Cranium and I have rarely smoked anything since, because it hit my palette perfectly. Notes of wood, with a little bite and a hint of sweetness. So, when I was blending, I wanted to hit my palate just right, with similar notes, spice and sweetness to have that perfect blend that I can smoke every day and put my name on it. I knew if I blended the perfect cigar for my palate I will have made something that all of my customers over the years can enjoy.

Sean: Mitul and have a similar profile, but we differ when it comes to strength. I’ve always preferred cigars on the milder side, with notes of cedar, nuts, more on the sweeter side, with changing flavors in the life of a cigar. I’ve drawn my inspiration from the Avo 88 Limited Edition and the Cuban Cohiba Siglo VI. When blending, my purpose is to end up with a cigar with a rolling flavor profile, almost as if I want to forget I’m smoking a cigar and focus instead on the conversation around me or whatever else I happen to be doing at the time.

Kap: Speaking to boutique blends, in a very general sense -- something i’ve noticed among some brands is an imbalance between timeless tastes and fads. Many a boutique blend jumps on board the current “big thing” and does not pay enough attention, in my opinion, to the timeless tradition of flavor. How do you seek a balance for Fable Cigars, between tradition and progress?

Mitul: I’ve been learning as much as I could from Skip Martin. I’ve seen his determination to work with the best tobaccos that he can get his hands on and, it’s funny, I realized I have a similar mindset. I don’t like to take short cuts, I like to work hard on everything I do and coming up with blends the traditional way is hard because there’s nothing fad about it.

Sean: I have to go with Mitul on this one. While I haven’t been exposed to as much as he has, there were plenty of times he brought my attention to fad cigars that draw you in with marketing but ultimately lack the substance to survive. The quick cash grab may work and if we decided to go that route, we may see success with it, but that’s not why we decided to do this. We want to challenge ourselves and put our combined experience to the test to create the kind of blends that keep refilling humidors.

Kap: You begin shipping your first offering, Fourth Prime, in January 2016. Can you share the blend profile with me? Where did the name come from?
Mitul: The profile takes a combination of Pennsylvania, Pueblo Nuevo and Dominicano viso and ligero, and wraps it up with an amazing Pennsylvania Broadleaf wrapper. It’s a premium wrapper, costly, but worth every penny.

Sean: We arrived at Fourth Prime after tossing around several ideas over the course of a year. Eventually, we decided to pair our love of story with something timeless, which is the number 7. It’s a cross cultural number that you can find in every aspect of that culture, whether it’s faith, human achievement, or sheer coincidence. Behind every occurrence, there is a story more unlikely than the next, taking for the example the Wonders of the World or the Deadly Sins. Each vitola in our series will have ties to that number and its significance to history and culture.

Kap: On Fable’s Facebook Page (link at the end of this post), it is said we should, “Pour yourself the perfect drink, pick up a good book, have a seat, crop the cap of a Fable cigar and enjoy the story.” What is your perfect drink and atmospheric pairing with which to enjoy a good smoke? Set the perfect scenario for me…

Mitul: In my lounge, smoking a good cigar, with a Snapple peach iced tea. I also don't like sitting outdoors to smoke, unless it's at a beach or on a boat.
Sean: The Balvenie 15, single malt, single barrel sherry cask, outside, at a barbecue, with close friends and family. Perfect.

Kap: Now that we’ve covered the external, let’s narrow our gaze to the pinpoint of a cigar itself. What is the single characteristic, inherent in a cigar, which can make or break the experience? What one thing is of the utmost importance?

Mitul: Consistency. If I light up a cigar and it tastes and smokes a certain way, I want that experience every single time. The second it changes, I'm drawn away from it. This is another reason why I smoke the Aquitaine Cranium from RoMa Craft. It is, for me, the most consistent affordable cigar I've ever smoked.

Sean: Complexity. Being a smoker of milder cigars, a complex flavor profile is key. A one note cigar, whether or not that note tastes good, gets boring and is ultimately forgettable. I want my smoking experience to flow with different flavors. I love the surprise of going through the first inch of a cigar and finding depth in the next inch, all the way down to the finish.
Please visit the Fable Cigar site HERE
& like Fable on Facebook HERE
Look for them on all forms of social media.

Make sure to tell 'em Kap sent ya, and as always, thanks ever so kindly for reading.