Date: September 2019
Author: Inspector Z

Certified Cigar Sommelier Scam. The other day, we read about a Cigar Sommelier Certificate and people proudly claim that they are now an official Cigar Sommelier. It’s by a company called The International Association of Cigar Sommeliers, founded by the Cuban Yamir Pelegrino who calls himself ‘sommelier of the stars’.

Habanos sommelier

The cigar sommelier term became popular due to Habanos. Habanos introduced a sommelier competition as part of the Habanos festival. The competition was born out of the need to tell the true story of the cigar. And the competition made sure only the best of the best would compete and earn the prestigious title of Habanos sommelier. A deep knowledge of the Cuban cigars, each vitola, blend profile, history and perfect pairings is needed to participate and stand a chance at the stage. It takes years of smoking and pairing, years of listening to and learning from masters in their craft. And then you can compete for that tile. Even Habanos doesn’t offer courses to become a sommelier. They do offer courses to learn about Cuban cigars through the Habanos Academy.

But not anymore. For a few hundred American dollars and a few hours of your time you can call yourself a certified international cigar sommelier. And it’s appalling. An insult to every single expert in the world. A degradation of the world sommelier and a slap in the face to everyone in the cigar industry. A few hours of your time and a few hundred dollars doesn’t make you an expert, a sommelier. It makes you a gullible victim of a scammer. Nothing more and nothing less. A naive victim of a scam.

Years of knowledge

Tobacco and cigars are a complicated matter. Thousands of components need to come together. From the soil, the seed, the conditions to the blend, the vitola and the pairings. You can spend your whole life in the cigar industry and only have scratched the surface. Ask people who aren’t born in the industry but are now renowned brand owners like Pete Johnson and Litto Gomez. In the Handrolled documentary, both are modest. Johnson says that he’s in no way a master. And Gomez recalls his first steps in the industry, he compared learning about tobacco by drinking water from a fireman’s hose. There’s so much information yet you can only drink so little at a time. Another example is Rocky Patel, who worked the fields and factories for years, making thousands of blends before he dared to put his name on a cigar. It simply takes that long to learn the complicated matters of tobacco. It is simply impossible to learn in a few hours, for a few hundred dollars.

Of course, people learning more about tobacco and what it takes to make a great cigar is fantastic. But don’t line the pockets of a scammer. Buy a ticket to Cuba, Nicaragua, Honduras or the Dominican Republic. Join the group tours that many factories are having every year. You will learn much more, you’ll have more fun and a first hand experience on tobacco plantations and in cigar factories. You can touch the tobacco, smell the fermentation rooms, and if you’re lucky even try to roll your cigar. Instead of a useless, meaningless certificate that isn’t accepted anywhere, you’ll have a stamp in your passport and priceless memories. Don’t fall for this Certified Cigar Sommelier scam.

Ministry of Cigars - Certified Cigar Sommelier Scam
Photo credit: Casey Aldulaimi/XS Cigars

16 thoughts on “Certified Cigar Sommelier Scam

  1. Thank you for the information provided. People need to start checking the individuals creditability. People are now being scammed by an individual named T.K. from BSM for the exact same thing, a 2 hr course with a fake certificate. These types of people need to be exposed for who and what they are.

    1. I believe that some everyday cigar smokers believe that if they suddenly become a certificated sommelier they will be on the way to gaining ( celebrity status ) in the cigar world, which won’t happen as to be any type of influential person in the cigar world you actually need to work inside the industry.
      Like ( cigar company owners , manufacturers , growers , or successful in the retail industry , be an owner of a well established well known lounge , or indeed a respected sommelier that has actually undergone the years of learning, unfortunately social media and the kindness and love of leading names inside the industry has led to these people being easily accessible due to them wanting the best for their consumers.
      The cigar industry is probably one of the only industry’s where you will find owners , presidents CEO,s ,Rollers etc joining meetings with consumers who have a passion or liking for their products and unfortunately with some people once one of these people from the industry has called them friend they believe they are suddenly really their new best friend,
      I have spoken online with many people involved in someway with the industry including yourself “ Ferdinand “ but we aren’t suddenly best buddies and I haven’t suddenly become an overnight sensation or afficianado plainly and simply because I am neither ,
      My only involvement in the industry is the fact that I like to smoke and enjoy cigars with my good friends and others that yes I may have met online in a zoom room or at a cigar Herf and as always it’s a pleasure to smoke with like minded people, because at the end of the day that is all we all are, PEOPLE which ever walk of life we come from we all have the one thing in common CIGARS and if over time we become best friends then we will have done it by earning the respect , admiration , trust and love of these people we can then call true friends.
      God bless social media like f,book , tw#tter, ins#agram , zoom etc for the work it has done in successfully bringing people together and keeping them interactive with others during this harrowing pandemic but also it has been very effective in altering some people’s egos into thinking they are more than they really are

  2. I have been smoking for more than 15 years, I have visited farms and factories in Cuba and Nicaragua and I used to work in the cigar industry. When I signed up for my Cigar Sommelier Diploma at the IACS I was a little bit concern about the possibility of being a scam but after taking the training I can say that I learned more in those 20 hours than in all my trips and tastings, this guys have invested years in research and education that the quality is amazing.

    One thing that I like about the cigar business is that it is a “Gentleman Business” and the way the IACS answered yesterday was as expected from a respected institution (Different than this site). When I join the Cigar Sommelier Diploma there where companies like Davidoff, Habanos and Rocky Pattel supporting the training, you can also see that the chambers of producers of Dominican Republic and Nicaragua as well as sites like cigar journal and cigar sense support them, from my perspective they have all the credentials to certify a Cigar Sommelier and way more credibility than this blog, the author of this text is only supporting his credentials of Sommelier on a tournament he has participated (Tournament that by the way was invented by Mr. Pellegrino).

    1. Read their reply, they acknowledge it takes years to gain the knowledge. So they actually prove my point.

      1. Minitry of Cigars, you should apologize to the IACS for your rudeness and unpoliteness….your point was not that cigar knowledge takes years….profficiency in most endeavors takes time…your point was that they can not certify a Cigar Sommelier Program, and they certainly can and have the reputation and support to do so. Period. All the best.

        1. IACS should apologize to all those people that paid big bucks for a worthless certificate. Period. All the best.

  3. What I dislike about your article is that you are too focused on shattering the reputation of a particular organization, when there are dozens offering similar courses, which you might also target. For instance, Tobacconist University, that you must surely know (not to mention the wine industry, that is filled with such courses, that allow many people to enter the industry, like the WSET).

    Besides, you especifically point to someone, mentioning his name (Yamir Pellegrino), but you never tell us YOUR name and I could not find it in your blog…speaking ill of someone and not letting us know your name is not very trustworthy.

    You might have pointed to the fact that the Habanos Somellier by Habanos Academy is longer, better, more profound and the differences between the certificates they offer…but no, you preferred the road to strictly destroy the IACS reputation…I have the feeling your article is more about something personal with Mr. Pellegrino, than a generous warning to cigar enthusiasts about a potential scam…by the way, I feel more comfortable with the IACS response to your attack today than with your article.

    I am entitled to write this because I was thinking to enroll in the IACS course that happens in Dominicana just before the PROCIGAR Festival in February 2020. I thought they were serious because they offer a full 4-day course with a field visit in Punta Cana and they are related to PROCIGAR organization.

    IACS won my vote of confidence before reading your article, and I have reconfirmed my decision after reading their reply to your article.

    1. Excellent Response!

      1. absolutely not. By certifying it, IACS turned it into a big scam

    2. Great comments! I agree, shameful blog posting!

      1. We are sorry you lost money on a worthless certificate

    3. Excellent response!

    4. The issue here is not selling the knowledge. The issue here is certifying it, it’s a bullshit certificate without any value. That’s the scam. If they wouldn’t have the pretentious and worthless certificate added to it, I wouldn’t have written about it.

      There is nothing wrong with selling knowledge, it is wrong however to create a worthless, useless certificate. And my name is easy to find, its all over social media. There is nothing personal about the article, as I never met mr. Pellegrino. But if I see a scam, I’ll warn people about it.

      As for the quality of the course, if I see a picture on instagram of one of the ‘certified cigar sommeliers’ that just completed the course with an obvious fake Cuban cigar I wonder how good the quality is.

      1. How do you know that it has no value? As for the certification, it is as good as the Institution that promotes it. Once again, all areas pf knowledge are filled with different types of certifications that are not covered by any regulations…it all depends on the quality of the program. The IACS offers a 70-hour program in two phases, that is as much as the WSET Level 2 in wines that gives you a certification…what is the problem with that? How do you know it is not good if you dis not even know how much it costa or how mant hours it takes or that ir actually covered field trips in Dominican Republic?

        I don’t know your name and it is nowhere to be found in your blog. You ask me to give you mine to post this, you should at least answer with yours.

        As for the photo of someone with a faje cigar, where did you find it? How do you know it was a Sommelier from IACS? If you see an instagram post by IACS with a fake Cohiba, fine, that is a good point…anyone with a fake cigar…it is up to them what they smoke.

        I think this kind of Institutions like IACS should be encouraged to make more people aware of the value of tobacco in the middle of so much noise and attacks over oir hobby….instead, you chose to attack this initiative…this way the FDA will have what they want, kill tobacco.

        I thank you for keeping an eye on potential scams and not censoring my opinion, but I think you picked a bad example of a scam and the words you used are offensive, instead of insightful, about this program.

        I wish we had something like the WSET in wines to turn to for learning.

        1. It has no value as nobody accepts it. You can’t be an expert, a sommelier, in a day. Period.

          Selling knowledge is great, the issue here is that they certify it with a pretentious name and certificate.

  4. Hunters & Frankau offer a Master of Habanos course in the UK. It’s very comprehensive and the exam is very tough, so much so that a plenty of people taking it fail. As you say, it takes a lot more than a few hrs to become a sommelier and it’s a bit of a slap in the face for people who are truly dedicated.

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