Briar to Binder: Warped La Colmena #44 (Interview with Kyle Gellis)

On this episode of Briar to Binder, I'm joined by a very special guest: Kyle Gellis, President and Founder of Warped Cigars. Tune in as Kyle and I sit down to discuss one of my all-time favorite smokes, Warped's La Colmena #44. In addition to a full cigar review, we also compare La Colmena to a handful of popular pipe tobaccos and offer suggestions for pairings. Enjoy!

Note: The following transcription has been edited for clarity and brevity.

[Shane]: On this episode of Briar to Binder, my guest Kyle Gellis is here to talk about one of my top smokes, the La Colmena, specifically the La Colmena #44, and it's a really really nice cigar. It's one of those cigars that I think deserves your undivided attention, ideally with a fresh palate, and you'll be rewarded with really more complexity than you would have guessed upfront. It's an easy cigar to smoke all day. In fact, I have that problem where I go through them a little too quickly. So I wanted to talk to Kyle about how this kind of came about, and the story behind it.

[Kyle]: So, La Colmena is one of the first cigars that I made at El Titan de Bronze in Miami. In Miami, on Calle Ocho, in Little Havana, there's pretty much only one factory, one cigar factory left, and that's El Titan de Bronze. I've been working there for 13 years, producing Warped. I was smoking a Cuban custom roll from a famed roller named Ronaldo out of Cuba, and I was so inspired by the cigar, I went to Titan to try to blend my version of it. And that came out to be La Colmena. So, La Colmena has become known as the most Cuban-esque cigar, without being Cuban. And we're very proud of it.

A lot of people love it, but as you said, there's a lot of delicacy, there's a lot of nuance to it and that's not a, you know, a clean palate but the unique aromas to it, the texture, the smoke, the velvetyness, the vanilla, the spice, you know, the fruit. It's an ode to the old Cuban ways, which is kind of slowly dying in the cigar industry these days.

[Shane]: And I will say, too, that yes, I immediately, the first time I smoked it, I thought, "This is the most Cuban-esque non Cuban cigar that I've smoked personally," and I'll go a step further. At the risk of offending anybody out there, I'll say that it actually interests me more than most Cubans do because it's not a one-trick pony, basically.

[Kyle]: Yeah, the complexity that's there, it's evolving. More recent, fresh Cuban cigars are a little bit one-sided, whereas, comparatively, back a decade ago, they were very much better, and going back to the mid 90s, nothing was better than an old HDM Epicure #1.

With La Colmena you get the complexity, you get the depth, you get the texture and you get the experience and this way of seeing how your palate is just picking up every little speck of nuance, which you don't see these days in a lot of cigars.

[Shane]: Well, a lot of cigars out there these days are spice bombs, you know, or really on the heavy side, and that has it's time and place. I've smoked plenty of those cigars and enjoyed them a lot. I like to think that I'm still a cigar novice, technically, in my own opinion, and as my tastes have evolved and progressed, I've learned to appreciate a cigar like this much more, whereas before, I could have thought, "Yeah, that's really nice, but maybe I want a little more flavor, a little more spice, a little more something," because you're not used to the nuance, you're not used to looking for what's really underneath the flavors that you get initially, and I find myself craving this cigar, specifically, but stuff along those lines more often than I used to. It's like the transition from Latakia to Virginia pipe tobacco.

[Kyle]: And then, the difference with La Colmena, though, is that I think what is being overlooked but shouldn't be is where it's made and how it's made. The skill behind it. So down at Titan, there's only about eight rollers. They roll 100 cigars a day, they're all Cuban master rollers, level nine. They all came from Cuba. Comparatively, to give you an example, in the Dominican Republic, they can roll 500-600 cigars a day, per person.

[Shane]: So the decision to roll only a hundred is to preserve the quality?

[Kyle]: Yeah, but they won't. the Cubans won't roll more than a hundred, because in an eight hour period they roll 100 cigars. And they will not roll any more than that, because the quality can get affected.

So the time that it takes, you know, when you can make 600 cigars in the DR versus 100 cigars in Miami, the Cubans take great pride in their cigars. And so, it shows in that. That's why we only produce these in Miami directly.

You know, so some of the rollers have been with us for ten years, and some of them, they come in all the time from Cuba when they get here and they're looking for work and they've worked in Partagas or Cohiba or Corona or wherever they were previously. They come in, and they're all level nines, you know, and we house them. The best rollers in Cuba come to Titan, and they, you know, they still work there.

[Shane]: That's amazing. So tell me a little bit about the components specifically. I'm curious about the wrapper varietal.

[Kyle]: So it's Ecuadorian Habano Deflorada, so it's a very unique Connecticut shade, which, as you can see in the colors, is this beautiful yellow honey color.

And so, it's a very light body, but it's about maybe a little bit less than medium. It's Dominican Nicaraguan filler and Ecuadorian binder. So, in Cuba, when we produce cigars, it's dual binders. So there's two binders rather than one in other parts of the world. So we use two different binders in La Colmena to give the complexity. One is spicy and one is sweet.

So that's where the evolvement comes in, 'cause in a 44 size, you're able to experience every component of the cigar, whereas in larger formats, in like 54s, 56, 58, 60s, you're really only tasting one component and that's the filler. And you're lacking, you know, the complexity, and the depth and the flavor that the wrappers may give you, and a lot of that, that honeyness, that vanilla, those floral notes are coming from that wrapper and the aroma for it is so unique that you'll be able to pick it out in a room. Even looking at it right now, you can see the blue smoke that's coming off it. If you look at mine, it's more gray, you know, 'cause it's a Corojo wrapper versus, you know, Deflorada. So, I mean it's just quintessential old, old, old world.

[Shane]: I think a lot of you who are familiar with my tastes know that I've moved much more towards straight Virginias and mild Virginia Perique blends over the years, and this kind of rings some of those same bells. It's not a cloying sweetness, it's just enough sweetness to keep your palate from being too dry, but also there's a gentle spice there and a complexity that you have to really dig into and search for, which is nice because I can smoke this outside, relaxing with a drink, not really paying much attention and thoroughly enjoy it, or I can sit down and devote all of my attention to it and kind of be surprised every time.

I've smoked a lot of these. I've actually gone through boxes of these myself at this point, and I can say that, it's one of those things, just like certain pipe tobacco blends, where depending on my mood, the time of day, the setting, all that kind of stuff, what I'm pairing with it, I found something new almost every smoke. So I think if you're a fan of medium to full straight Virginias, something like Fribourg & Treyer's Cut Virginia Plug, maybe even Orlik Golden Sliced, that this is a cigar that should be on your radar.

Now even if you're into something a little heavier than that, maybe you're smoking Haddo's Delight during the day, or even like a Mild English, you're gonna switch over to this and the contrast is gonna sort of refresh your palate a little bit, reset it and again, sort of give you a little bit of insight into why pipe tobacco smokers who only smoke straight Virginias, why they're so adamant about that, and why the Cuban cigar craze kind of happened in the first place.

It's easy to smoke, it's an all day smoke, if you can get your hands on enough, but again, there's just such a unique flavor profile as well.

[Kyle]: It is, considering like you said earlier, the spice bomb thing. You know, because people are associating the size of cigars with a value, they want more tobacco for the money, that's not the way you should be looking at it. You're looking at a pure experience of it. You want to be able to taste every component, 'cause you want everything to come together into one to affect your palate.

For us, when we blended La Colmena and when we blend any of the cigars that come from Warped's portfolio, we use Cuba as the roadmap to where we want to go. But we really look at it from the evolvement of the palate and what experience is it going to bring to the consumer? So we approach it, imagine your palate is like a football shape, okay? So you're starting off in the narrow, you go up, you come down, and then you end. So it's all important to have that entire rollercoaster ride all the way down to the closing, to the finish. We look at cigars as a place of pure enjoyment, of sitting here and, much like you and I are now, talking and having a good time — talking about how much joy these things bring to our lives and all the work and effort that have gone into it behind the scenes to get to this focal point. With you traveling the world to look for the best of the best, and us in the factory and in the fields, working with the farmers and blending and consistency...

[Shane]: It's a handcraft, you know.

[Kyle]: Handcraft, these are all, you know, totally handmade. So, every single cigar has a person behind it, and that person has a story.

[Shane]: And that person will only roll a hundred of these a day and no more.

[Kyle]: Yeah, and he does not like that. He wants more.

[Shane]: Yeah, I want more, but that's okay. As long as they taste the same every time I get 'em, I don't care how difficult it is to find 'em.

[Kyle]: They do, they do.

[Shane]: Yeah, it's an amazing smoke, and like I said there are some of those vanilla notes, the honey notes, a little bit of spice, so if that's the kind of stuff that you're normally looking for in a pipe tobacco, I highly recommend you try these out. Just don't buy too many of them, and one other question I had about this is I discovered this relatively recently. I'm sort of curious, how do you feel that they age?

[Kyle]: Funnily enough, like we were talking about before we got on camera, I had a box of them that I made six years ago that we just opened for the first time. And they have aged magnificently. So when a cigar ages, it releases the humidity through the foot of the cigar, which is normally open. So La Colmena is closed, 'cause traditionally speaking, Cuban custom rolls always have closed foot. So it ages slowly and it ages inside itself, so the nuances that you're picking up now are basically going to be more pronounced down the road. To get there, it takes a long time because of the closed foot, but the reward is so so worth it.

It's a really weird thing. Six years, you think on such a lower spectrum medium cigar, that it would start to die down in terms of the flavor, but really it doesn't, because the nuance and the complexity get ramped up.

[Shane]: Oh, interesting, I'm looking forward to that. I'll say too that even at this point, this cigar that I'm smoking right now, I got this a while ago so it's not exactly fresh, but there are some of those notes that remind me a little bit of a Virginia pipe tobacco that's approaching mid age, so I really am interested to see the parallels between some of the straight Virginias that I've been aging for ten years and this cigar after I've had it in the humidor for a little while longer.

[Kyle]: If they get there, you're gonna smoke them all.

[Shane]: Yeah, I know, I gotta pace myself a little bit.

[Kyle]: I don't know if that's going to work for you.

[Kyle]: Yeah, probably not.

[Shane]: So with all this talk about experience and enjoyment and relaxation, we realized that it's almost 5 o'clock and we didn't have a drink in our hands, so we took a break. Oh, I thought of one more thing while I was getting about to the midway point here. For guys who are Luxury Twist Flake devotees, trust me, this is gonna ring those same bells for you.

Kyle, thanks again, appreciate it.

[Kyle]: Hey, my pleasure.

[Shane]: Thanks for tuning in, guys, see you next time.

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