Tobacco, bourbon mix creates cigars fit for Kentuckian
Internationally known cigar connoisseur "Cigar Dave" Zeplowitz recently predicted in an interview for satellite radio that the new hand-rolled Kentucky Gentlemen Cigars made in Lawrenceburg would put the Anderson County town on the cigar map.
Kentucky Gentlemen co-founder and chief cigar roller Allen Mobley doesn't think Cigar Dave was blowing smoke.
Mobley ages his premium cigar tobaccos in bourbon barrels from three to six months and finishes his tips with bourbon barrel-aged Western Kentucky dark leaf.
His cigar boxes are made from native red cedar, personalized with laser etchings often using customers' photographs or drawings. Retail prices for the cigars range from about $7.95 to $12 each.
"Down the road, we're going to be buying a lot of tobacco," said Mobley. "In the next three to five years I really believe that we're going to sell a million to 2 million cigars a year, and maybe more."
Kentucky Gentlemen Cigars, founded in 2004 and headquartered on the former Ripplewood thoroughbred farm, now imports most of its leaf from the Dominican Republic, but it has been experimenting with growing Cuban seed tobacco and Connecticut broadleaf in Anderson County.
Like his cigars, Allen Mobley is a Kentucky original.
His ancestors were burley tobacco growers and warehousemen in Central Kentucky. But while Mobley spent some time in tobacco fields as a youngster, he ultimately wound up as a builder in Southern California before he and his wife, Carol, decided they wanted their twin daughters to grow up in Kentucky.
Part of Mobley's idea for a cigar-making enterprise stemmed from saltwater fishing trips with friends who sometimes smoked $2,500 worth of expensive cigars during their outings at sea.
He had initially planned to start a winery in Kentucky, but decided to go into the cigar business because of market potential.
He learned to roll cigars and handle wrapper, binder and filler leaves during months of study with Cuban and Dominican masters. His company, located in a converted barn of the former thoroughbred farm, employs only a handful of full- and part-time personnel.
But a recent agreement with Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort and Blanton's Single-Barrel Bourbon to produce a line of fine cigars with tobacco aged in barrels from Blanton's select reserves and bearing the Blanton's signature and racing thoroughbred crest, may soon boost production.
"What we want to do is establish an American company making an American cigar, using as much American product as we can," said marketing director Allen Mills. "Everybody we talk to loves the cigars, but we have to get our name out there, and we are actively looking for distributors."
Mobley has hand-rolled cigars for numerous celebrities and for wedding parties in the Bluegrass, but he hopes the demand for Kentucky Gentlemen Cigars will soon make it necessary to add new rollers to his operation near Lawrenceburg.
"Some of these factories in Dominica have 150 to 200 graders and 500 rollers," said Mobley. "I believe it can happen right here."