In late 2011 a cigar entered the marketplace from a brand new company led by veterans in the industry. That cigar made as profound an impact on the cigar world as the inspiration of the name made on the company’s founders.
“You with your switchblade posse /
I’ll get my guns from the South /
We’ll take to the yard like a cockfight /
Four kicks who’s strutting now?”
– Four Kicks (Kings of Leon)
These were the words that inspired the name of Crowned Heads’s groundbreaking inaugural cigar that bears the same name as the song that influenced it - Four Kicks. To understand this, you must understand the genesis of Crowned Heads.
In late 2010 a corporate merger between two companies, one of which was the parent company of CAO International, Inc., brought about a period of uncertainty and change. The structure and foundation that CAO was built upon would be permanently altered and the business’s operations would be moving from Nashville, TN to Richmond, VA. All of this prompted Jon Huber, the Director of Lifestyle Marketing, to leave the company. It wasn’t long before an announcement saw that John, along with two other former CAO employees, have started a new cigar company with plans to release their first cigar, Four Kicks, towards the end of 2011.
As mentioned above, the name Four Kicks came from the song by Kings of Leon. According to Jon:
“When you see some 15 years of your life’s work-your heart, passion, and joy-coming to an end, you’re filled with many emotions. The song, “Four Kicks,” really spoke to me. It was filled with anger, rebellion, confidence, and determination. These were the feelings that inspired us to forge together and create what would later become “Crowned Heads, LLC.”
Fast forward 11 years and Crowned Heads continues to display the same drive, confidence, and determination that they did back then. In fact, when it comes to innovators or disruptors in the cigar industry, Crowned Heads has to be one of the first names in the discussion. What I personally find incredible with Crowned Heads is that they manage to develop creative and unique brand concepts while always paying respect to the cigar industry and the legacy of those that came before. For this, I think Crowned Heads does, and always will, appeal to smokers new and old and they will continue to be a household name to the cigar smoking community.
Now, before I get into some questions Jon Huber was kind enough to answer, I am going to touch on the sampler I put together to spotlight Crowned Heads. This sampler includes five cigars, some newer, some older, that I feel runs the gamut of what you can expect from cigars in the Crowned Heads portfolio. You can find the sampler and some more information on each cigar here.
Now for the Q&A portion! Jon is a super guy and I truly appreciate the time he put into answering these questions. I can tell the responses are genuine and written with intent, just the way the cigars Crowned Heads manufactures are. I also want to give a quick shoutout to my friend Ryan for some of these questions. Check him out on IG (@poppunknsushi).
What is your cigar story?
“My “cigar story” starts in the mid-90’s. I’d recently moved to Nashville from L.A. and was heading back to visit my parents in Northern Cal for the holidays, and I was looking for a gift for my father. I happened upon a retail tobacconist called “Uptown's Smoke Shop” here in Nashville, and thought that cigars would be a cool ‘guys gift’ so I dropped in. When I walked into the humidor, the aroma of tobaccos marrying with cedar immediately hit me; it was like an epiphany moment. From that day on I was sucked into the world of premium cigars. When I returned home, I got my hands on a copy of Cigar Aficionado magazine and read it front to back. I began to save some money and purchase cigars at Uptown’s each week. I’d go home, smoke them, make tasting notes, and began my ‘cigar tasting journal,’ working towards educating my palate and my knowledge of cigars. At that point, I knew that I’d found my calling.”
When you are working on a new cigar, do you start with the branding, the blend, or a general concept?
“The process varies for me from project to project. Most often, it begins with an idea for a blend or a specific flavor profile, which of course, is predicated upon the availability of specific tobaccos that would need to be in adequate inventory in order to produce the blend. A lot of times, while I’m going down the blend rabbit hole, the cigar will almost name itself. An idea or inspiration will typically come to me after spending time with the blend. Other times, the inspiration will come to me for the blend from something entirely outside the world of cigars. For example, Headley Grange was sonically inspired by the drums on Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks.” The only way I could translate what was in my mind for the blend was to say, “I want to create a blend that tastes the way the drums sound on….” I was going after a thick, dense, heavy mouthfeel for the blend.”
Something I find interesting and enjoy about your cigars is that you have teamed up with a few factories to produce them as opposed to working with one sole factory. Personally I think that it has aided in creating diversity in your portfolio. What led you to these partnerships?
“We’ve been fortunate to work with some of the best cigar factories in the world, in my opinion, including Tabacalera La Alianza, My Father Cigars, Drew Estate, and D’Hatuey (Eradio Pichardo). When we began Crowned Heads 11 years ago, it was vital to me that I could retain the creative latitude to continuously be free to create new blends and brands without being restricted or placed in a box and have the lid shut on me, so to speak. Having the luxury of working with several sources have been key to me sustaining that creative vision I had from the start. Furthermore, I think it takes more talent and skill to produce ‘hits’ with several different producers as opposed to repeating over and over with the same factory.”
Crowned Heads Cigars is strongly influenced by music. If you had to pick a song or band that you think represents your brand, what would it be and why?
“It would literally be impossible for me to cite one song or even one band that represents Crowned Heads. Crowned Heads is the result of so many different inspirations and is a constantly evolving work in progress.”
I asked a friend of mine who is the biggest Crown Heads fan I know if he had anything he wanted me to ask you. One of those questions was: Is there a cigar in your portfolio that you believe is underrated?
“I think there are more than one (cigars) in our portfolio that tends to get overlooked (won’t say ‘underrated’). People tend to focus on the ‘new-new,’ and as a result often times forget about some of the regular production brands that have been out for awhile. Examples would include Headley Grange, Las Mareas, and even Jericho Hill to an extent.”
The other question was: Are there any trends you have observed in consumers preferences or tastes in recent years? Is there anywhere you see the marketplace going, or maybe a direction you are interested in taking them?
“I actually don’t pay much attention to ‘market trends.’ I’ve always felt that if I were to develop brands/blends as a response to any trends, that I’d simply be following everyone else as opposed to possibly leading the way. If I were to follow trends, I’d probably be doing something like all-Maduro-big-ring-gauge 6 x 60s or 7 x 70s. I prefer to create cigars that I personally find appealing to my personal taste; if anyone in the market place then enjoys what we create, then that is the icing on the cake.”