A New Kingdom is born: How two young Cubans plan to disrupt the cigar industry
Un Nuevo Reino, known colloquially as the “AG” cigar, is the latest addition to the impressive line of cigars at Mi Havana in Los Angeles, CA. The name is perhaps a bit audacious, translating to “A New Kingdom”, but it is also an appropriate name that captures the ambition of its creators, Raul Reyner of Mi Havana Cigars and Alex Gonzalez, the renowned Cuban roller from Hotel Comodoro Cigar Shop in Miramar, Havana. Though these two men are still relatively young, they have both established themselves as masters in the art of cigar making. Now they aim to disrupt the cigar industry.
Raul, 31, was born in Cuba and is a third generation Cuban roller. He founded Mi Havana Cigars in 2014, which has developed an avid following in the Southern California cigar scene. Raul gained notoriety in 2017 by rolling the longest cigar in history, certified by the Guinness Book of World Records at a record length of 332 feet. He worked tenaciously to accomplish this feat in just under a week with the sole help of family and friends, consisting mostly of volunteer work from die-hard regulars from his shop in Pomona, CA. When they cut the record-breaking cigar and sold it, Raul donated all of the proceeds to a local charity.
Alex, 33, is one of the most highly-regarded young rollers in Cuba, gaining distinction as the house roller at Hotel Comodoro after taking the reins from the legendary Crisantos Miranda following his retirement in 2014. Alex started his education in cigar rolling at one of the premier factories in Havana, the Laguito Factory, starting at the age of 19. His custom blends are highly sought after by high-end clients from all around the world.
How Un Nuevo Reino came to be
The story of Un Nuevo Reino in many ways actually starts with Roy Kwon, a restaurant owner from Los Angeles who Raul describes as one of his best friends. As the international ambassador for Mi Havana Cigars, Roy visits Havana on the regular and has developed a friendship with Alex over the last few years. As Raul and Alex describe it, Roy was the “mastermind” who brought them together around this ambitious project in the first place.
When they finally came together to develop the custom blend for Un Neuvo Reino, the three of them met at Raul’s factory in Nicaragua. They huddled together for four restless days, sampling at least 20-30 different blends per day. Raul says that he had a rough sketch in his mind about where they should start with the cigar, in part, because they only had four days to work with.
But as it turned out, Alex had something quite different in mind. They made a quick decision to scrap those plans and basically start from scratch, agreeing that the purpose of the trip was not just to create a great tasting cigar – that would be easy. Alex’s vision was much grander than that. Their collective mission became the creation of a cigar that tastes like Cuba, but that is made entirely from Nicaraguan leaf. A tall order, indeed.
They approached this challenge with an open mind and tested several different ideas. They eventually settled on an unconventional blend that lacks the overpowering strength typically associated with Nicaraguan leaf. As Alex explained, the tobacco is fermented for 1.5 years to achieve a smooth, yet complex and well-balanced profile. Amazingly, by the fourth day there was a collective moment where Alex, Raul and Roy all looked at each other and said, “This is it.” And with that, “A New Kingdom” was born.
About the cigar
Un Nuevo Reino is a part of the Mi Havana family of cigars, blended exclusively by Alex Gonzalez for Mi Havana and produced at Raul’s factory in Nicaragua. Alex explains that he had the “full freedom to select the blends and the raw materials” for his namesake cigar. It is worth noting that up to this point in his career, Alex has been known exclusively for his creative Habanos blends.
“My idea was to create something special and something premium, with nice quality and a nice price “
He says, “Sometimes for people it is impossible to believe they’re smoking a cigar from Alex and the cigar is not Cuban. It’s like a shock for everyone in the cigar business. But when they smoke the new blend, the new line (Un Nuevo Reino), they feel the cigar has something from here (Cuba). And I am proud of that.” He adds, “My idea was to create something special and something premium, with nice quality and a nice price.”
The band on the cigar is a great symbol of their collaboration, showing a shield with characteristic elements of both the Nicaraguan and Cuban flags. The shield is topped with a Spanish crown that Raul said half-jokingly represents the shared imperial past of these two countries under Spain, but also perhaps reflects the royal ambition of Un Nuevo Reino itself. In the center are the initials “AG”.
It is available in 3 vitolas: the Prince (50×5), the King (54×6), and the mighty “Emperor” (58×7). The Prince and King are both constructed with Habano Claro wrappers, whereas the Emperor is wrapped in a slightly darker Habano Oscuro. All three vitolas have Criollo 98 seed binders from the Condega region of Nicaragua, and long fillers from the Jalapa and Esteli regions.
The smaller vitolas, The Prince and The King, were crafted to be most similar to a Cuban cigar. As Alex and Raul explained, the Emperor with its size and darker wrapper was created with the American consumer in mind, as Americans tend to prefer larger and stronger tasting cigars. They feel that this cigar will do especially well in the American market because of the lack of access that Americans have to cigars produced in Cuba. Since this cigar is made in Nicaragua, there are no barriers to access for American premium cigar smokers.
How they aim to disrupt the cigar industry
As a distinguished Cuban roller, Alex is one of the foremost experts in the world in understanding how to blend Cuban tobacco leaves. He does this day-in and day-out for clients from all around the world that visit his shop in Havana. That is what makes this project so unique and special. It is rare for someone in Alex’s shoes to work on a project like this, lending his expertise to blend non-Cuban (Nicaraguan) tobacco into a flavor profile that mimics (as much as possible) the experience of a real Cuban cigar.
Speaking of his new blend, Un Nuevo Reino, Alex says he is “proud how the cigar changes, similar to Cuban cigars. Not exactly the same because in Cuba we have the top, the best in the world.” But he is happy, “because we’ve created something near it.” They expect U.S. consumers will be delighted with this new opportunity to access and smoke premium cigars that are expected to be as close to the experience of a Cuban cigar as can be obtained (legally) in America.
Asked about their ambition, Alex muses “We are a simple team and we want to make something limited. We have ambition in this business, but we don’t want to lose our quality. Some people prefer sales rather than taking care of the customer. We don’t care about selling a half million sticks if we will lose the consistency of the blend and flavor.” He adds, “If we have to sell just 100 cigars, it will be a good 100 cigars.”
Knowing the excellent work these two men are known for, and having tasted and reviewed this excellent cigar, I have a feeling they will be selling more than 100 cigars.
Many, many more.
Stay tuned for updates on distribution of the AG cigar. Right now you can find them in stock at Mi Havana Cigar Shop in Pomona, CA (as of Oct 2019).
Steven is a father of 3, a scientist by profession, and a cigar enthusiast by hobby. His first cigar was (regrettably) from a gas station at age 18, but his palate has grown over the years to appreciate the sophistication and crafted experience of premium cigars.