Cigar Celebrity Interview – Cigar Nexus
Sharon Moore Bode
Moore & Bode Cigars
Welcome to the first half of this insightful and intriguing “cigar insider” interview. As you are about to learn Sharon Moore Bode is a unique individual within the cigar trade. She is very self-assured and not shy about sharing her passion. We sat in the back room of her factory smoking Miami Coronas and talking as the business of the day went on all about us.
SS: How do you pronounce the name of your company, I hear it so many different ways.
SM: Well, this is true. The name of the factory is “Moore and Bode.” And the name Bode, although Robert is coming from Cuba, the name actually is a Dutch name in background, so it has a traditional Dutch pronunciation which is “Bo-day.”
SS: Tell me a little about the history of the brand: when did it originate, what year did you become involved, and also, it’s a husband and wife business – was the business formed with your marriage or before that?
SM: Well the forming of the factory for Moore and Bode Cigars, the idea for it actually goes back to 1982. At that time, I used to observe Robert and his family very concerned because the older of seven children was not allowed to come out of Cuba. He was in the military age when they came in ’69. This was very frustrating to Robert, because he was a little younger then and wanted to do something to try to help the situation out. So I suggested to him that the best thing to do was to try to fight back, but fight back economically. By say, for instance, offering a product in Europe against a Cuban product and try to take some of the hard currency away. I said, “Like cigars.” And Robert said, “I don’t know, I don’t know anything about cigars,” and I said, “Well we can learn. Let’s investigate who is manufacturing cigars in Miami and find out what is the best offering there and try to take it to Europe.” We located a cigar that we thought was the best example at that time, which was approximately ’82, ’83, and …
SS: Can you tell us what that cigar was by chance? Do you remember?
SM: No. They didn’t want to work with any type of contract to protect our work, and because we felt that if we were going to introduce a product we should at least feel confident that someone wouldn’t come behind us making our labor worth nothing so we passed. And also, after our investigation, they didn’t have clear title to their name. So we would have lost everything if we had done that. We decided that we knew what we wanted in a cigar and we felt pretty confident that we should go it ourselves. At the time, Robert thought it was crazy, and that since my field was accounting in background, he thought it was better for me to focus in business – be a stockbroker, get into finance or something, and it just wasn’t what I wanted to do. So I kept pushing at the idea of putting together the cigar factory.
SS: Now, were you a smoker at that time? Did you smoke cigars?
SM: I had smoked cigars, when I was at the University of Miami, my field was not only business administration, but also, I was a voice major in classical music. I found that a little bit of cigar was useful to help, amazingly some people would say, with the voice. Actually, the reality is that when you start to smoke a cigar, originally when you first light up, there is a certain period when everything is clear. In time there may be more effect on the voice itself, so I used to use a cigar that way. I was familiar with cigars even at that time.
SS: So going back to ’82, you’re trying to convince Robert that this is a good idea, that you should do this, and Robert being the more reasonable one…
SM: Well, he’s very practical, saying that it’s something that he’s not exactly an expert in the field and perhaps it would be better to work in the particular field that you’re more skilled at. The only thing is I see tobaccos and cigars falling completely within my realm. The reason is their manufacture – not only do you need the business side, but for the work that we do in this factory, you need an art side. I’ve spent my entire life involved in music and also in art. Both of those come together in the manufacturing of an “art-level” cigar. It’s pretty natural. Now the motivation, we would have to say in all honesty, that the original motivation for the factory was basically political. We wanted to do something constructive to try to help the situation of the Cuban population living in Miami, living in exile, to do something that was tangible. That’s why the top of our box, which is on the Miami blend, shows two Royal Palm trees and a hedge. When you look at the box, to the casual viewer, it looks very, very mild, but there’s a political meaning in it. The species are listed on either side of the palms as well as the species for the hedge. The meaning of the box is that you have the Florida Royal on the left side and the Cuban Royal on the right, and Miami lies in the middle and there’s nothing but this hedge of Oleander between the two, which is an extremely toxic bush. The meaning is between Florida and Cuba lies Miami and there’s nothing but a toxic sea between the two. It’s really the essence of how it came to be… it was not, “Oh, I need a business,” or anything like this, it’s really politics. Also on our box it lists, “The Sweet Taste of Freedom,” in Spanish, “El Dulce Sabor de la Libertad”, which we debated the article on “de la Libertad” meaning the entire concept of freedom. That in essence is the formation.
SS: So was it in 1982 that this idea finally became a reality and you began to make cigars?
SM: Well I went through the process of trying to put this box together because I was not going to be allowed to market cigars without the control of ATF and excise tax.
SS: When did you start making the cigars to try to achieve this goal of helping the Cuban patriots?
SM: The factory was actually founded in 1990. At that time it was structured as Moore and Bode Cigars and in ’91 we started producing our first cigars. At the time we were only in this facility which was very small, and there was one long table with five positions and one cigar maker, which was our first and certainly a true professor at his work. I made the bundles that you see today on a little card table. I was absolutely thrilled when someone would come to the door and we could introduce them to our work. At the time we offered the coronas, just to give people a chance to try them, three coronas for four dollars, and the large number 10 size at three for five dollars. And at the time, which I think back, I reflect on it, all of the tobacco was ranging from four to six years in age. It was mostly using an extremely clean, sweet Connecticut shade wrapper. People were looking at the cigars saying, “I don’t know, I’ll give it a try.” (laugh)
Which today we’re delighted to be able to come by two year-old Connecticut shade wrapper and are absolutely thrilled to have developed friends in the industry that have really been a salvation concerning, especially, the Connecticut shade wrapper.
SS: You certainly do have one of the most beautiful Connecticut Shade wrappers, ever.
SM: Thank you.
SS: It’s absolutely top notch… it’s silky, it’s vein free, it’s blemish free, the roll is seamless…it’s a gorgeous cigar. Oddly enough, though, I can understand why you might have a hard time selling these to the locals. This would not be the type of cigar they would normally reach for, would it?
SM: Our following locally is mainly in the business community. One week after the factory opened, there was an article in the local paper’s “Neighbors” section and as a result had a visit from the local Canadian Consul. That gentleman introduced our cigar to many of his friends because his wife had read the article and said, “Dear why don’t you go and check out these cigars?” Another one that read the article after the first week, was a gentleman who was one of the editors with the Los Angeles Times. And again, as I remember, he told me his wife had suggested while he was in Miami that he go by and check it out. Now, what happens is that from such a tiny little start, these people who try the cigar initially, they tell someone else. Then we were invited to celebrate Canada’s Independence Day at the home of the Canadian Consul. There we met other people who really enjoyed cigars and they became our customers and mentioned them to someone else. And it’s absolutely word of mouth, one by one, person by person.
SS: You’re really working the same way now…
SS: You don’t do any advertising that I’m aware of.
SS: And it’s basically word of mouth.
SM: Yes. We believe that our strongest ambassador is our cigar. It’s the one that we feel if people just try the cigar – it speaks for itself.
SS: You have how many blends currently?
SM: Two blends.
SS: What are their names and how do they differ?
SM: We currently manufacture “Miami” and “Flamboyan.”
SS: Which was the original blend?
SM: The original was “Miami.” We introduced the factory and our work with “Miami.” We produced only “Miami” from ’91 to the latter part of ’95. At that point, although we had attempted to secure all of the tobacco that we needed for the “Miami” blend, in spite of paying in advance, working very diligently to keep the supply, we lost the supply. We were out producing no cigars for eight weeks. During that time everybody destemmed leaf. We paid them anyway normally, between paying the labor and not receiving anything, we lost about one hundred thousand dollars… and the reason why we did that is because we don’t substitute tobacco leaves and that is crucial. Substitution is something that in today’s market and in today’s manufacturing is very, very common. Factories, if they’re missing a particular leaf will substitute another leaf that is similar…
SS: As close as they can match…
SM: Correct. As close as they can match. And then they continue to work.
SS: So you’re saying because you couldn’t get the proper tobacco, you just shut completely down, you just didn’t make any cigars?
SM: That’s right. That’s right.
SS: You couldn’t go on long like that though, could you?
SM: No. Not at all, what we were doing while we were waiting was destemming leaf… I believe I read once that Mark Twain had said… hmm maybe it was Thomas Edison who changed the phraseology of Mark Twain, and said, “Good things come to he who works while he waits.” And that’s what we had to do. We were trying to put together the final leaf, it wound up being one leaf, the final leaf for the “Flamboyán” blend. Which we had started working on that blend in ’92. In ’92 we received our first indication that we could be held captive on tobacco. Our leaf supplier could interrupt our production. In ’92 our production was affected by a leaf supplier intentionally because the cigar was introduced in Boston at David P. Ehrlich Co. Paul and Claire MacDonald, who own the shop, are to us like a second set of parents. They have been with us, supporting us as our first retailer, and through their introduction let some people in the industry know that our cigar was actually a contender. After the scare with the tobacco in ’92 we decided that we needed to make sure that we had another blend to work with. And that blend was “Flamboyán.” We started working on it in ’92, and completed it in ’95, in absolutely the last hour, to finish it.
SS: But you’re now, once again making the “Miami” blend…
SS: So you’re now producing both blends, in the near future, do you feel secure in the amount of leaf you have?
SM: Pretty much. We keep working on it.
SS: You have a wonderful description, of the way you describe the taste differences between the “Miami” and the “Flamboyán.” Would you please elaborate?
SM: Well, “Miami,” which was the original, is very floral in its aroma, the flavor is a little dry, more like say a French champagne, more floral, a little more dry, very, very smooth. In contrast, “Flamboyán” is sweeter in taste, more like a coffee in aroma. It was designed that way. “Flamboyán” was designed to give that choice in flavor.
SS: Which do you find to be your most popular? I know when you stopped making the “Miami” I was somewhat disappointed; I waited a long time for them to come back. Where does it stand now, after they’ve had the “Flamboyán” for essentially a year and a half in the absence of the “Miami,” was it about that long?
SM: From ’95 to about spring of ’97, so yes it was about that time. It’s amazing, but I would say they’re just about split down the middle. “Miami” has an extremely loyal following. I do not believe that it is currently the norm for manufacturers to produce wholly different blends as premiums, in other words, we do not produce a first and a second, we just produce firsts. Those firsts are just a difference in tobacco, the composition is different. Leaf-wise “Flamboyán” is extremely sophisticated. “Flamboyán” has an incredible passport, it’s a very exotic blend, and we’re extremely proud of “Flamboyán.” “Miami” is just a jewel. “Miami” is a beautiful tasting cigar and it’s everything that we wanted to bring to it. It’s just that as you learn more and more about tobacco, your blending becomes a little keener, which is how “Flamboyán” becomes so sophisticated. And it truly is.
Welcome to the second half of our conversation with Sharon Moore. Both of us finished about midway through this segment, and I couldn’t resist lighting a second Corona to leisurely smoke as we finished our discussion.
SS: In addition to the blending, you also use a rather unique process in the rolling of the cigars, or actually in the bunching of the filler; I can tell when I look at the foot, I can almost see like tubes of tobacco going through the cigar.
SM: Exactly. Our cigars are not bunched, nor do we use a book method or book form. What we basically do is tube-roll each one of our leaves. As a result, it slows the manufacturing down.
SS: Explain the “tube-roll”, because a lot of people might not be familiar with that.
SM: Essentially, we take each filler tobacco leaf and form it into a tube shape.
SS: Isn’t it a traditional Cuban-style of making the bunch?
SM: Well, there is a difference. In Cuba they do a form of tubing, but it’s been our observation, based on the cigar-makers who have come from Cuba and that we’ve had knowledge of, when asked to demonstrate their method they tend to do flat tubing. Flat tubing puts the tobacco leaf into somewhat of a circle, but when incorporated into the filler, it tends to flatten. It’s analogous to the difference between a plastic straw that is round and maintains its shape and a paper straw that tends to collapse when it gets wet. We are trying to be more circular.
SS: Sharon, you have some of the most unique packaging. Most manufacturers put their cigars in either traditional boxes or they put them in very simple paper bundles, but yours are like a foil wrap… why don’t you describe it?
SM: The description goes to its roots and why it became the way it is. When we introduced the cigars and had the thought in the early part of ’92 that we were going to introduce the cigars to a retailer – our first being David P. Ehrlich in Boston. We had these beautiful pyramids that just didn’t fit in a box, and we wanted the pyramids to go with us to introduce the cigars. I knew that a box was out of the question; at the time, we were introducing the cigars with the only boxes that had been sent by the box manufacturer as samples. I thought that if we put the pyramids together with a band of cloth material, maybe a “felt” would be best. Since then we’ve elevated the felt to the highest wool content, which is softest on the wrapper, etc. In other words, time has a way of redefining things. Then we took the bundle of ten pyramids in felt material and closed it with a seal. We put the bundle in foil because we wanted it to stay fresh. The foil, of course, needed some covering, so we used white paper, but laminate would look so much nicer, wouldn’t it? We used white paper because to me the cleanliness and smoothness of the plain white is extremely elegant. We sealed the bundle with the same medallion. I didn’t want the paper to be wrinkled by the time we got there, so we wrapped it up in bubble wrap, assuming once there we would take the bubble wrap off and then the bundle would be presented. We get to Boston, and meet Paul and Claire MacDonald. They receive this bundle of pyramids, and start to open up the cigars. We wait. After seeing the cigars in the elegantly embossed wooden box and the absolutely gorgeous, extremely old, beautiful No. 10′s that were in the box, Mr. MacDonald decides he wants to place an order. He requests four bundles of all the sizes we were offering, but only bundles, no boxes. I was a little perplexed. He said, “This is beautiful. Most of my clientele are avid cigar smokers and they have their own humidors. They really don’t have that much use for the boxes after they’ve taken the cigars out.”
SS: Is there any advantage to using the slower tubing method rather than using the more common Spanish book style of bunching?
SM: We feel it helps the cigar, especially with the draw. Let’s just say that in the industry, the manufacturers are aware that there are different methods of manufacturing and putting cigars together, but they don’t all choose to use those particular methods. Here we’re extremely eccentric, our goals are for art form, ours are not for how many billions of cigars we can produce. This is the difference. When someone says, “Slow,” we say, “Okay, so it takes longer.” That’s not really the norm right now.
SS: Plus, also they’re unique. It gives the cigars shelf presence, which I’m sure you didn’t even think about…
SM: We come back and next thing I know we’re in Miami in the “packaging in a bundle fashion” business and I had no idea it would turn out that way. Mr. MacDonald said, “Oh no, boxes are simple, everybody has a box. You just open it up and there are the cigars. But this is like opening up a little treasure…because you go through these layers and finally, you get to this secure product.”
SS: One of the things maybe for someone that isn’t familiar with your cigars is to understand that even though these are packaged into bundles, they’re not…
SM: They are not traditional bundled cigars, they are not seconds. These are absolute firsts and we do have boxes. We have a corona-sized box, which is fully wrapped, and also number ten boxes. One of the things on our packaging, it’s important to note is that we do not put rings on our cigars. We have trademarked our own seals; we now put end seals on the cigars. Those seals are on there because we experienced people taking our cigars, which did not formerly have any identification on them, and ringing them with their own brands. The seal that we put on the end of the cigar is designed to tear the wrapper when it is removed. It’s designed to take a little piece of the wrapper. On the cylindrical cigars it’s on the top of the cap, which would have to be cut anyway to smoke it. On the “Thirty Four”, which is a very slender cigar with a butterfly twist-top, those seals are on the side; the best that we can do currently is please advise people that they’re high enough up that you do not have to remove the seal. Also, on the pyramids, we put the seal on the side of the cigar. Again, try to maintain the seal on there unless you’re smoking it past that point. Some people say, “Gosh, I took it off, but it tore the wrapper, ” well yes, it’s designed to do that. Bravo!” (Laugh) That’s what it was supposed to do to keep unscrupulous types of people from taking our work and putting their own names on them.
SS: It’s a very common practice in the industry to fumigate tobacco, but to my knowledge you’re the only one that does not. What are your opinions regarding fumigation?
SM: I think that most people who would read this would say, “Fumigation? What are you talking about, oh, the tobacco leaf in the field?” No. No, I’m talking about after cigars and cigarettes are manufactured. It is customary to fumigate with certain chemicals that are of a gas/tablet form, to ensure that there are no live tobacco beetles, eggs, or larvae in the tobacco product. It’s absolutely normal that tobacco, since it grows in a field, would have some type of little beetle, possibly. Personally I don’t want to smoke a cigar or ask a customer to smoke a cigar that I know has been fumigated. That’s not the goal, here. The goal is to try to make and produce as clean and as natural a product as we can. So our method is to deep freeze our cigars. When we deep-freeze them, we literally freeze whatever bugs or eggs there are without harming the tobacco. It does not harm the cigars. Essentially, as long as the cigars are well sealed in a container while being frozen and then allowed to come to room temperature before the container is opened, whatever moisture has been extracted from the tobacco goes back in the tobacco, and the cigars are beautiful. Currently, you’re smoking a cigar that has been deep-frozen. I have noted that some people in the industry think that deep freezing works fine for a small limited production. But the reality is that even if you were the largest manufacturer, you could still use the freezing method. It merely requires a greater commitment, necessitating careful attention in handling the cigars and the cost of maintaining freezers.
SS: Freezing is very common for people that find bugs in their cigars and they don’t wish to discard the entire box. It’s a very common practice to put them in the freezer and allow them to stay for three four days; then to move them to the refrigerator to let them come a little more, then to let them go to room temperature and then open the package. It definitely works, there’s no doubt about that.
SM: The important thing is that from this manufacturer’s point of view, and I truly feel very strongly about this; it should be the obligation of a manufacturer of basically any product, to do their best at trying to ensure as good and as natural a product as they can get. I believe that the right thing with cigars is to make sure that the methodology is not one that adds more chemical and pesticide to the product. It should be the support of all cigar smokers to say, “Yes, please, deep-freeze, because it’s natural and it doesn’t add more pesticide and more toxins to my cigar.” I just wish that the entire industry would pay more attention to what they’re doing with cigars and tobacco in general.
SS: As an avid smoker of your cigar, I must admit I’ve been waiting to see where CA was going to put your cigar in the pack. I open every issue and even though you have cigars that fit almost every single size, I never see any of your cigars. Why is that?
SM: We were asked, requested, by the publication you’re speaking of, to please submit a sampling of our cigars. I believe that in light of the fact that we had the seals on the cigars and it’s difficult to blind test it if it’s going to have a piece of wrapper torn off of it, which might be an indication that it’s one of ours. We did submit the cigars, along with an information sheet that’s asked of the manufacturer to please list what their origin on wrapper, binder, and filler is. To the question as to wrapper, we stated that it was Connecticut shade grown in Connecticut; but concerning the binder and the filler, we merely wrote “private blend.” The reason why we do that is because we believe the essence of a cigar and what makes it unique is its tobacco selection. If you list where you get your leaf from, then you’re basically being a chef who reveals what he put in his recipe and you have nothing else unique about it. I think additionally, it’s important to note we had an opportunity to write in anything we wanted to. We could have picked any country in the world and stuck in a name, because they didn’t ask us to provide verification that in fact the tobacco matches what is being said. We choose not to lie about it. We’d rather be straight with our customers and know and trust that they will appreciate the fact that it’s something special and unique. The reason that we do not reveal these origins is because it’s what makes us what we are. I think that the smoking community is certainly mature enough to not be too concerned about it. We were informed that because we would not state where our binder and filler were from, that we could not be a part of the taste testing. As a policy of the factory, which it has always been, we do not discuss the origin of our tobaccos, therefore we have to be content with the fact that we will not be a part of that publication’s taste testing.
SS: One final question: what do you see in the future, for you, your husband, your cigars? Let’s say twenty years down the road, I know that’s a long time away, but what do you think? What are you dreaming?
SM: I have always felt my own personal responsibility is to provide a solid foundation. There are still so many things that we need to do to provide this solid structure of policy, improve the work itself, and build a stronger reputation. We, Robert and myself, feel that our children will continue by constructing the building on the foundation that we have made for our family if we do it properly. Hopefully they will share our vision and help to give structure to our family’s work.