Jeremy Casdagli Interview: The Legacy and Future of Casdagli Cigars

Jeremy Casdagli Interview: The Legacy and Future of Casdagli Cigars
Date: April 2024
Author: lukasmagdeleyns

One of the first cigars I ever smoked was a Casdagli Traditional Cottontail. Since then I have been a huge fan Casdagli. Recently, I had the honor to interview the company’s CEO, Jeremy Casdagli.

Who is Jeremy Casdagli?

Jeremy, born in 1962, comes from a privileged background. His mother was Australian, and his father British-Greek Egyptian. If you read the article I wrote about the history of Casdagli, you will see that on his father’s side, the family had built up a huge enterprise with their cotton operations. At the age of 8, Jeremy was sent to a boarding school to receive the best possible education.
At just 13, he smoked his first cigar. This was common in the boarding school around the Christmas periods. Jeremy enjoyed the finest education he got in what was back then one of the most expensive private schools in the world (back in the early 1970s), based in Somerset.
After graduating from university, Jeremy didn’t want to join the army, so instead, he chose the path of an entrepreneur. He briefly worked in the airline business from 1985 to 1986, where he worked as a ground security coordinator for American Airlines in Belgium. After that, he moved to the city of London and worked in finance as a financial consultant. This job took him to Africa from 1989-1990. He worked in Zambia doing finance consulting. After that, Jeremy did some charity work and visited the Baltics for the first time, eventually ending up scuba diving in Cuba in 1996. This event led to the beginning of a beautiful collaboration with Carlos Valdez-Mosquera. Jeremy’s passion for cigars came to life when he visited Cuba for the first time.

Quote: “Out of all the things I have done in my life, airlines, financial work, I didn’t like anything. That’s why I kept changing. And I guess cigars were the first thing that I really enjoyed. I just found myself naturally doing this.”

The Cuban Legacy

As you may or may not know, Casdagli (better known as Bespoke Cigars before 2018) started in Cuba producing very small amounts of cigars that Jeremy would sell in the London cigar market. He made these beloved Cuban cigars with a true master roller named Carlos Valdez-Mosquera. He met Carlos Valdez-Mosquera in Casa di Amistad in Vedado, Havana, Cuba.

Quote: “When it comes to Cuban cigars, it’s not that I needed to look for business; it was looking for me. I tried to manage expectations and deliver quite quickly.”

Jeremy chose to reintroduce some old vitolas into the London market like the Ramón Allones Gigantes; at that stage, they were almost impossible to find, but Jeremy still found them in Cuba. This raised a lot of commotion between Habanos and the distributors. Another vitola Jeremy brought back was the Flying Pig. He brought back this vitola to satisfy a big client of his. This happened in 2001 when the client came across Sir Hamlet (Hamlet ended up working for Rocky Patel).
The client and Jeremy used to go to Cuba together, and then the client would disappear and return with these interesting cigars called Flying Pigs. Hamlet made these cigars himself in the La Corona Factory. The Flying Pig is a vitola 54-58 cone-shaped cigar which is densely packed.

Quote: “When a long filler is well-packed and draws, pigs will fly. With a vitola such as this that is well-packed, it can draw. Therefore, the name came forward: Flying Pig.”

From Cuba to New World

In 2012, Jeremy left Cuba and went exploring. He first started out in Costa Rica. One of his first productions was with Tabacos de Costa Rica, with them he created his Cuban vitolas like the Super Belicoso, Flying Pig, and Lanceros.

Quote: “Back then we called the Lanceros ‘Trinidad’ cause I still had my Cuban hat on.”

Jeremy imported these cigars into Europe. Since 2004, Jeremy is based in Estonia, and the cigars were going into Belarus because they had a company over there. Then Mike Murphy approached Jeremy in 2012 with the idea of coming to the Dominican Republic to make cigars. So, Jeremy took his chance and went to the Dominican Republic. He gave the Kelner Boutique a chance because, what did he have to lose, right?

The Start of a Partnership with the Kelner Boutique

The start of a wonderful relationship all started thanks to a little mistake made in another country. Jeremy gave Henk Kelner Junior some original cigars made by Carlos Valdez, and Junior just blew me away. He just said, “Well, let’s make this even better.” One of the first vitolas Kelner Junior made for Jeremy was the Flying Pig (better known as the Traditional Cottontail). The problem of making this very wanted vitola was that there were no molds to press the cigar in. The original molds were a 54-58 cone shape, so when Jeremy took this to Kelner Junior, he needed to provide him with the molds.

Quote: “Anything the Cubans can do, we will do better, right? So, Kelner went bonkers at it and created a 52-64 gauge.”

As mentioned, the problem was that Kelner didn’t have the molds needed to make the Flying Pig, so Hendrik Kelner Junior created the molds for Jeremy. Jeremy needed to change the name from Flying Pig to Cottontail due to a trademark by Drew Estate.

Trademark of 2017

As you may or may not know, in 2017 Bespoke Cigars had a trademark issue with Alec Bradley Cigars and therefore needed to change its name. Originally, when Jeremy started with importing cigars from Cuba to the U.K., they didn’t use their own cigar bands. They would make cigar bands for them, so, if it was the Red Room or Capitol Hotel, they would put their own band on, and it would be Cuban tobacco. Thanks to this handling of operations, they got the name Bespoke Cigars because bespoke means tailor-made.
Quote: “So that name adopted us.”
Bradley wanted a Bespoke cigar line in America, so there was a trademark issue. So, Jeremy decided to change the name globally. When this happened, Robert Caldwell (Caldwell Cigars) said to me, “Well, Jeremy, just call it Casdagli Cigars, that’s your whole story,” so I was like, sure that makes sense. Jeremy’s father was really proud because, thanks to Jeremy, now the family name was reunited with the family symbol, and this hadn’t happened since 1958.
But in the end, Jeremy believes the name change benefited the brand a lot for obvious reasons because it has a nice rich history to it.

Blended Cigars over Puros?

Basically, you get cigars made by your taste. When a blend is being put together, it works like this; I describe the vitola I want, the characteristics, then we do some blind tastings.
Quote: “He is like a painter, and I tell him what to paint.”
Kelner makes a few blind taste cigars that I described, and then we start tasting them. We always have great communication. It usually takes around four blends till we have the perfect cigar to start producing. And I don’t know what’s in the cigar till we decide to start making them. Nowadays, I am in the position of saying, “Let’s try some Peruvian or whatever.” Casdagli uses Peruvian tobacco in 80 percent of their cigars. Peruvian tobacco is a great blender; it takes the edge off tobaccos around it.
The other big advantage of Peruvian tobacco is that the leaves don’t give a lot of nicotine; most of our cigars are mild to medium in nicotine but full-bodied in flavor, and this, after all, is what a Cuban cigar is. This is what dominates all our cigars because this is what I did in Cuba, and this is also what the Kelners work with.
Quote: “Once you find out you can use Peruvian tobacco, and it will take off the edge of Nicaraguan and Condega Viso which lies next to it, creating a milder cigar with a full-body flavor palate.”

Expanding, From Cigar to Accessory

Casdagli started out making accessories for cigar smokers a few years ago. The first big collaboration was with “Les Fines Flames,” creating stylish punch bracelets. Jeremy is planning to scale up his accessories and will give it the name Villa Casdagli. Currently, they are developing the website for his new accessory line. Jeremy always liked cigar accessories and the beauty of them.
Quote: “We already worked with the French and the Italians; certainly unique, and we are reaching back to the Belle Époque.”
Jeremy’s idea to make accessories comes from his great-grandfather. He wanted to create something that his great-grandfather had made in Aleppo. His inspiration came from tobacco fields he saw in Macedonia, and he had these nice silver cigar holders made. The original cigar holders are incredibly expensive because they are made out of unique silver, all by hand (If you want, you can see pictures on the official Casdagli website). Jeremy thinks making accessories is strategically very important because with plain packaging coming in, you can still lead people into the brand thanks to beautiful accessories.

The American Dream?

Casdagli USA currently has four boutique cigar brands in its portfolio. I asked if they were planning on expanding the portfolio, and Jeremy replied, “Right now, we’ve got our hands full with the four boutique brands. It was a very exciting project because, as I said, everyone distributes some of the European brands and that led to our disadvantage.”
We have a warehouse in Naples, Florida, and my partner there is somebody that I worked with in the airline business 40 years ago, and he loved the whole idea of it as Vlada Stonjanov just went south on us. After a collaboration of 4 to 5 years with Vlada, it just went wrong.
You can say we needed to start from scratch again. Nowadays, Casdagli USA has got over 40 active clients, which is still quite small there, but hopefully, we are going to make our move at the upcoming PCA event in Vegas to get more clients. A lot of people want Casdagli cigars but still don’t know how to get a hold of them, so we are trying to get the message out.
If you could choose any brand you want to distribute, which brand would you choose and why?

There is one brand that still isn’t available in the US market, and that we are working very closely with, and that is Cigar Kings from Philip Kugler.
Quote: “He is a wonderful guy, he is incredibly well-organized (he, by the way, is going to do our track and trace), we share some of the same clients in the Middle East, and Philip has always said, ‘Jeremy, if you want to get into America, we can’t accommodate you, so I am not ready for it yet.’ He is the guy that I would have a huge pleasure representing, so we hope in the future we can start distributing them in the US market.”

PCA, TPE or Intertabac?

Definitely Intertabac! Why? Because Intertabac is so much more international. This year we will pair up our booth with the people of Club Mareva, who we got a very good relationship with. Aside from that, we got Marco and his wonderful Croatian wines. The idea is to create one big booth where you can sit and smoke a good cigar and have a nice wine, and all this stuff. Philip is going to be next to us as well.
Quote: “We’re going to have Philip, myself, and Club Mareva altogether; it’s going to be a bloody fun corner.”
Philip will provide us with his coffee and his cigars, and we will be present with our cigars. Club Mareva itself is expanding rapidly with a new club Mareva in Cristina which opened up last week, and they are planning to open up a few other locations as well. They’re doing an amazing job with their lounges!
What’s your favorite cigar lounge?
That’s a very difficult answer because there are so many lounges I have been to. But I have two that I really like the most. This one where I am sitting in right now called Du Bois which is phenomenal. It’s situated in Tallinn and is very unique. The lounge is beautiful, and everyone that comes here is blown away. But the only lounge that is possibly more beautiful is Marco Bilic’s Club Mareva in Split. If you’re smoking in the Club in Split, you are sitting in a 1550’s Venetian palace, and when you put your head out the window, then you got the opposite view of Venice. On the left starts the Ancient Roman part of the city where people are living in. On the right, you got the Habsburg; it’s in a square.
Quote: “I like the Historic city of Tallinn; we’ve got the Daughters of the Wind lounge in 1601, and I’m sitting in the 1800s here, and then you got Marco Bilic’s 1550’s Venetian Palace. They are unique places, and they are UNESCO protected buildings.”

The Perfect Pairing

Other than coffees, I like Bourbon old fashions. An old-fashioned to me gives you everything to pair with a cigar.
Quote: “More than whiskeys, more than cognac, Bourbon is my spirit of choice. Because a cigar has a natural spice to it, and if you are pairing, you want something of the opposite.”
By the way, Marco Bilic has created a cocktail which really blew me away. What he does, and this is his own invention, he has Bourbon which he puts together with tea, freezes it in the fridge, and then he infuses it with a burning cedar stick. The aromas that come from this drink when you are drinking it is possibly the best thing I had ever had.
Quote: “Amazing, absolutely bloody amazing!!”

Being a Cigar Titan Yourself, Do You Still Have a Cigar Icon That You Look Up to?

My all-time favorite cigar icon is Hendrick Kelner Junior! There are two persons that gave me a Eureka moment. The first was with Carlos Valdez in Cuba, but he is retired and no longer works for us. The second was Kelner Junior; I suppose seeing him as a master blender and what he does is absolutely incredible. He is perfection, his cigars give consistency; he is just phenomenal! I personally think that for me he is the best blender in the world.
Quote: “What Perdomo has done, what Carlito Fuente has done, that is phenomenal, these people are amazing, but icons for me is Kelner Junior. That’s why I make with him! Without any doubt, Kelner Junior!”

Aging Cigars: Cuba Vs. New World

I would recommend aging cigars for yourself at home to everyone. Two years is what you should be doing with a cigar, no difference made between New World and Cuban. When I first went to Cuba, they still had box stamps on the bottom which show the age of a cigar, and this would sit for two years back in the old days (1990s). When I first started creating cigars with Kelner, I wanted to start aging them, but you’ve got two problems with that; one is in transportation, it’s like with the Cubans, you get a lot of damages and the second is all the paperwork in the warehouses because the tickets of origin expire after 2 years. So, this is very difficult for us. But what I would suggest to everybody out there that reads this is that you buy a box, smoke some and set them in your humidor. For instance, the Dominique Lonsdale that we produced is now at the age of 2 years, and you have got a different cigar in your hands. Aging overall, I think it plateaus after 3 or 4 years where they get better and better and then it plateaus for another 4 years or so. But when you hit the 8-year mark, the cigar is going to start losing oils depending on the blend.

Cuban Tobacco Vs. New World Tobacco

As you should know by now, Jeremy started out making Cuban cigars. So, I really wanted to know which kind of tobacco he prefers, being a New World brand now. “No, with New World cigars you got more depth to what you can create. Cuban tobacco comes from a very small region, so real aficionados can taste the difference in the blend. I find a lot of Cuban cigars wonderful, especially the smaller sizes. I personally find the bigger ones a bit linear, but I make an exception for the Hoyo de Monterrey Double Corona; that can be wonderful.
But imagine New World cigars; sometimes you have up to 4 different countries which can provide a wider range of taste in your blend. My favorite tobacco is Peruvian tobacco because Peruvian tobacco delivers full-bodied flavor, has less nicotine in the leaf, and it takes the edge off the other leaves used inside the blend. The most important part of delivering flavors comes from the aging part of the leaf. For instance, with the Villa Casdagli Robusto, all of the tobaccos we used are aged. The leaves received an extra fermentation; basically, what we do is we take two tobaccos out of the 4 fillers, and they will have an extra pylon for 2 and a half months. When you put them in there for 2 and a half months, the leaves become very rich and very beautiful. After 4 fermentations, we find our tobacco perfect, the leaves are then about 2 years old and they have reached their full potential.
We have Don Almond that provides us with special tobacco for our lines; he does this process too. We have Dominican Oscuro that aged for 2 and a half years just with a bit of water and turning and turning it until we got this very black leaf.
So, to do this, it’s very expensive. Why is Daughters Of The Wind so expensive? Well, part of the reason is that aging the leaves inside a pylon and managing that just requires a lot of physical labor.

Cuban tobacco is delicious, and I think, if possible, it would blend perfectly with Peruvian and Dominican tobacco, and I would love if ever possible to bring out a cigar with Cuban tobacco inside the blend.
So, what is the best tobacco? You see Cuban, Nicaraguan, Dominican, all have different properties; what’s better is purely subjective. If you have the chance of blending, you can create something really special.

What Defines Casdagli from the Rest of the Brands?

Jeremy: “I personally think this comes due to a few reasons.
First up, we have provenance in our Tobacco. Don Almond Guzman in Tabacos de Costa Rica and we have IGM; what makes them unique? They have their own Costa Rican tobacco we can use as well as some of their processes. They used to make cigars for El Septimo, a very expensive cigar.
Second, we have the Kelners in the Dominican Republic.
Quote: “That is pretty f**cking unique.”*
But what really lets us stand out is our story, our family history. Think of it, what makes Cartier special? They have got a Tank watch; they got a huge history of making watches. When you put on a Cartier or a Rolex, you are wearing history. It’s the same with us; we have the backstory, the provenance, and the KBF factory. That combination is what I think defines us. Don’t get me wrong, I love other brands too, and each brand has a story of their own. What defines our brand in terms of cigars?
You have got this medium to mild strength as in nicotine hit, but then you got a full-bodied smoke in flavor, and that is so good! To find something that is medium to mild in strength and delivers a full-bodied experience, I think only Casdagli has that. Arturo Fuente does a very good job doing this as well.

The Casdagli Company Today

Well, we are now available in 42/44 countries right now. We are looking at a production of 350 to 400 thousand cigars. The hardest thing is growing true operations, so we have our net profits getting funneled back in, and it’s actually quite very difficult, but we have done it. I think especially with the new factory relationship in Costa Rica we have for the Smoking Jacket and stuff, it’s huge growth and a huge pressure. So, we really are possibly looking out for putting our shares out for investors so that we could grow.
The biggest market that we are selling to right now is the Middle East. In Saudi Arabia, you have 4 brands there: Habanos, A.J. Fernandez, Plasencia, and Casdagli. Actually, we were the first brand to ever give a cigar presentation in Saudi Arabia. I just love this part of the world! I currently have two markets that are really important to us in terms of sales, that is the Middle East and the Balkans. But I love all the countries that we go to!

A Message to You, Our Readers

If there is anything that I want to say to the people reading this article, no matter what they do with cigar legislation, closing down lounges, we have seen that whatever they throw at us, it is a booming business.
Quote: “What I always say, cigar smoking gives you the world. Imagine you’re going on a business trip, and you arrive a night early and you don’t know anybody in the city. As a cigar smoker, you go to a cigar lounge. And there you sit down with some people, and you might say, ‘What are you smoking?’ And, before you know it, in an hour and a half, you will find out where the best places are, the best restaurants are, and all this because you share an experience together. This is what a cigar will do. It will give you the world! Wherever you go, you will find brothers and sisters of the leaf.”

To end this wonderful interview, I want to give a big thanks to Jeremy for finding the time in his busy schedule. As always, it was a pleasure working with you on this article!

Article by: Lukas Magdeleyns

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