The sun barely starts to sink into the horizon as the silver Bentley Mulsanne soars down the Las Vegas Strip. The air is unusually crisp for this time of year in Las Vegas, but the man drives with his windows down regardless. The driver’s hand gently drapes over the steering wheel as his Omega Seamaster watch hugs his wrist. His Tom Ford gray pinstriped suit is freshly pressed and as sharp as a knife. The Bentley turns off the Strip and into the driveway of Caesars Palace. The valet opens the driver side door, and the tall, suave man exits. He generously tips the valet and, after adjusting his cuff links, walks confidently into the casino. A waitress gives him an intrigued look as he paces through the front of the casino and finds a secluded table in the back where a group is playing baccarat.
The man pulls out a chair next to a young woman in a red evening gown and enters the game. He waves down a waitress and orders a Blanton’s, then reaches for a crystal ashtray sitting to the left of the young woman. He looks into her eyes and asks, “May I?” She smiles and nods as she begins to twirl a lock of her auburn hair. The man reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out an S.T. Dupont lighter and a Colibri cutter. The woman leans forward and asks, “What do you prefer to smoke?”
The man carefully removes a red tube from his other pocket and empties out a long cigar. “Cohiba Spectre, my dear,” he replies. The woman’s eyes focus on the cigar as the man carefully cuts and lights the Cohiba. She looks back into his eyes as the first cloud of smoke clears from his face. “I don’t believe I caught your name,” she says. “Williams. Sean Williams,” the man replies as the dealer plays the first hand of cards.
OK, so the life of a cigar brand ambassador may not be as exciting as this story, but one can’t help but be consumed by the glamour, style, and lavishness of the concept of representing one of the world’s most prestigious and sought-after cigar brands.
I met Sean Williams in 2012 while working an El Primer Mundo Event at the Cigar Room in Madison, Alabama. Sean was the owner of El Primer Mundo, and it was a successful line at the shop. The one thing that Sean told me then that has stuck with me today is, “Saying a cigar is great because it simply lights well or draws well is like saying a car is great because it starts when you turn the ignition.” This passion and attention to detail has helped Sean Williams become a well-known name in the inner circles of the cigar world.
At the 2018 International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR) trade show in Las Vegas, Cohiba announced the release of the Cohiba Spectre, a very rare offering in the Cohiba portfolio. I was one of very few that was able to smoke a Spectre with Sean at the show. I could tell immediately that this Cohiba was something extremely special, so I sat down with Sean for a quick Q&A to discuss how things are going for him and the Cohiba brand.
Donny Muse: How was your life before becoming the Cohiba brand ambassador?
Sean Williams: My life was great. As I’m sure you know, I started my brand, El Primer Mundo, back in 2006, and I’ve had the good fortune of being a cigar maker for almost 13 years now. Not very long after releasing my 10 Year Anniversary cigar, I was presented with the incredible opportunity to be at the forefront of Cohiba, and I jumped at the chance to be part of the team that works on this iconic brand. This new role set me on an incredibly exciting path, and the rest, they say, is history.
How does someone become a brand ambassador for Cohiba?
Cohiba is one of the most recognizable cigar brands there is. It’s a brand that speaks of luxury and indulgence. I understand that the brand team spent a lot of time searching for a brand ambassador. They were looking for someone who had passion for the business and a true knowledge of tobacco. They also sought someone who had solid experience in blending and someone who was also able to connect with cigar lovers. I fit the bill, and here I am, two years into this outrageous ride.
What fears or concerns did you have about the job?
As with most new roles, I started out with a little trepidation. I wondered how I would be able to connect with tenured Cohiba lovers while also engaging with people interested in learning more about the brand and the Cohiba lifestyle. Given my experience in the category, I began to focus on developing personal connections with people I met, and that has been a successful strategy, one I continue to this day. In the end, it’s not the size of the brand that matters. Instead, it’s about listening to and learning from cigar lovers, developing connections with the people who support the brand and taking what I’ve learned and sharing it with my colleagues.
What do you love most about this job?
I still love the things I’ve always loved the most: being part of creating blends and interacting with cigar lovers. I mean, that’s really what it’s about.
What was the inspiration for Spectre?
When I came on board, I remember on my first trip to visit General Cigar Dominicana, seeing this bale of tobacco at our warehouse in Licey [Dominican Republic]. It caught my eye. It was a lone bale and pretty old, from its appearance. It was wrapped in palm bark, which had really darkened up with age. When I asked about it, our tobacco director pointed to the numbering on the bale and told me it was piloto Cubano from 1995! I went bananas and became insistent that we use it for a special release. I wasn’t certain it would work for what would become Spectre because it was only one bale, but once I got back to the factory, the team was all in agreement that we were on to something special. Cohiba Spectre ended up being a much smaller run than we initially anticipated, which worked out in the end. To think, Cohiba Spectre, a cigar that made headlines at [the] IPCPR [show], last year began to take shape when an interesting-looking bale caught my eye.
How is the Spectre blend different from other Cohiba cigars?
Cohiba Spectre is vastly different and yet vastly similar to other lines in the Cohiba portfolio. First off, we used six filler leaves, which had never been accomplished in another Cohiba blend. We have 23-year-old tobacco and three different varieties of Nicaraguan tobaccos in the blend, another first for Cohiba. Two of the tobaccos are sherry barrel-aged, and we also used a five-year-aged Sumatra wrapper to deliver an outstanding blend. The similarity to the Cohiba portfolio comes in the finesse of the blend and in the meticulous construction, which is a badge of the Cohiba brand.
Who else was involved in blending the Spectre?
The Spectre blend was a team effort. Jhonys Diaz and Yuri Guillen worked tirelessly to bring the blend to fruition, working with me, the U.S. marketing team, and a number of our in-house tobacco experts. We’re all incredibly proud of Spectre.
Did creating the Spectre blend create any challenges?
Cohiba Spectre is made with several proprietary processes, but with the talented team we have, that aspect of making the cigar was seamless. The only true challenge we had was the limited quantity of tobacco.
What can we expect from Cohiba in the future?
2019 is going to be another exciting year for Cohiba. We are set to deliver innovations around our core lines and are planning to launch another version of Spectre. I can’t reveal any more details at this point in time.
Meet one of the newest releases: the Cohiba Connecticut. This super premium cigar is the first Cohiba to be wrapped in Ecuadorean-grown Connecticut Shade tobacco. It also features Brazilian Mata Fina, Dominican piloto Cubano, Nicaraguan Jalapa, and Dominican Olor bound together with a Mexican San Andrean binder. It’s a mild to medium smoke and will be available in early March in four sizes: Robusto, Crystal Robusto, Toro, and Gigante.
Check out our review here.