Cigar Press Magazine visited Kendall Culbertson this last Fall and put out a great 7 page article on Kendall and the making of Gunslinger Cigar! CP Volume VII Issue 1 not only covers this, but reviews two Gunslinger Cigars and includes an exclusive article on Gunslinger Cigars artist, Boris Vallejo. If you are a fan of The Outlaw, Gunslinger Cigars or the fantasy art of Boris Vallejo, this is a must read! Below are a couple of excerpts to wet your appetite. For the full read, grab a copy of Cigar Press Magazine or view it digitally at Cigar Press Back Issues.
CP – How do you go about learning the blending process?
KC – I studied what they did. Once I thought I knew what I was talking about I would still study with blenders at the different factories. I would take one of their pre-existing blends and say to them, let’s make this creamier, or let’s make this spicier, dirtier, drier. I’d micro watch all the decisions and adjustments they would make with different kinds of tobacco to make the blend go different directions. Once I felt like I was at the point where I couldn’t get much more out of the blender, I would ask to blend by myself without any other blender present. I didn’t want to be influenced by their style. I recognize their style is Cubanesque, not gringo. I wanted to use what I learned, and what I know about the market. It was a good decision. If I am in the middle of blending, someone may come in and want to see where I’m at and try my progress. Then they’ll say I need to do this or that to the blend. They’d tell me about some other tobacco that they thought would be good to use. When you’re blending your palate is greatly compromised after about three cigars, but you’re going to blend about twenty. The nose will stick around for all twenty but your tongue is gone after three. There comes a point in blending where you second-guess yourself, you start wondering if it’s improving or if you’re going down the right track. Then an expert comes in the room and says, you have to put this tobacco in there, this will make it do one thing or another and pretty soon you’re back in his world and he’s guiding you. I only wanted a roller and I’d come up with the blend without the influence of others. Then I’d smoke them and make adjustments from there. What I found is, because of The Outlaw stores, they let me do that. Some of the factories I blend in, no outsiders blend in. Like the Oliva factory I was lucky enough that Gilberto let me blend in the factory with complete control over the blending process and tobacco selection. The relationship has risen to the point where we’re talking about fermenting pilones and stopping at different points based on what I am looking for in the flavor of the tobacco for my cigars. For me the learning process was getting exponential because people are starting to believe in me. A lot of people will tell you they make cigars at AJ’s (Fernandez) place, for example. And they do, but AJ blends all the cigars. I have a unique relationship with AJ that allows me to control the blending process. I don’t have total control or freedom that I do in other factories. It’s a short leash. But AJ wasn’t present for the blending of the Gunslinger Perdition. He didn’t smoke that until production had been started. I believe I achieved a truly unique profile that tastes very different from other cigars coming out of AJ’s factory. I think it is a kick ass cigar.
CP – A lot of times I’ll hear people say that since a cigar comes out of one factory, it’s their cigar, and they give them all the credit. It’s just not the case. A lot of people go in and are very hands on, like you for example. You blend the cigars. Do you pick factories based on what they have?
KC – I like to look at every factory and analyze what they can do for me. I jump around to different factories based on what I want, and then I move on to the next when I want a different profile. It’s sort of rare in this case. The industry can have this “once you’re doing business with me, you only do business with me” attitude and they don’t want you to do business with anyone else. But I sell a lot of product so they really can’t get too mad at me. I was upfront from the get go with everyone. I wanted to see and learn everything. It’s been an eye opener. The guys, who do a lot of the blending out there, really don’t smoke too much of what else is out there. I come from the place that it’s good to know what else is out there. It seems crazy to me to make a product without knowing where the market is, what the hot flavors are, etc. It’s happening at sales levels here in the states, but not so much in the factories.
CP – So how do you plan to integrate the art with your cigars?
KC – I have commissioned Boris Vallejo to create the image of my Gunslinger brand through a series of paintings. I then print a high resolution replica of the painting on the cigar box. I have invested a small fortune on cutting edge technology that I use to print on every box with incredible image resolution and vibrancy. The box is designed to remove the lid and hang it on the wall.
CP – So what’s next?
KC – Well I’m launching Gunslinger, but I’m doing it slow. I want slow growth. What I like to say is grow like an oak not a weed. Oaks are forever, weeds come and go seasonally. I don’t want to be the flavor of the month. I want to make sure that I stay true to everything I’m doing and don’t put myself in a position that I feel like I’m working everyday. As long as I’m doing that I’ll be good. When it becomes work, I need partners. A lot like I do with the cruise we offer. We have done it with Rocky Patel as the title sponsor for the last 4 years. It is an amazingly kick ass time that anyone can go on. I do the fun stuff and develop ideas with activities and plan it. When it comes to execution I hand that off to someone else. The same goes for cigars. If I become super successful and more stores want them, there will come a point where I don’t want to do all the shipping, and the day to day stuff. That way I can focus on the blends and cigars themselves. That’s what I want to do; I want to be the artist, not the worker.
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