Inside Casdagli Cigars: Part I
The story of Casdagli Cigars cannot be appreciated within the confines of a few paragraphs, anecdotes or series of old photos. In order to dive a little deeper into Casdagli Cigars and to give them their proper due, we decided to create this feature and spread it over 3 parts highlighting elements of the family’s history, their cigar journey and even get some face time with Casdagli Cigars’ founder, Jeremy Casdagli. In this first installment, we explore the Casdagli’s rich history and success in business and its influence on the growth of their cigar brand.
In Part II, we’ll examine the evolution of the brand’s cigars – past and present – as well as get some appropriate pairing tips for some of their more popular blends. We’ll conclude our coverage with a look at Casdagli’s luxurious accessories and Jeremy Casdagli himself taking us on an exclusive “virtual” tour of the Casdagli HQ in Tallinn, Estonia. Finally, we’ll also sit down with Jeremy for a virtual lounge interview where we touch on such topics as his personal life, influences and inspirations, his work with Cuban cigars, the brand’s current partnerships, and even the effects of COVID-19 on cigar demand.
CASDAGLI FAMILY HISTORY
The Casdagli family grew from Hellenic (Greek) roots and their 300-year ancestral lineage can be traced to inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire, what is now modern Turkey. The surname, “Casdagli” is actually Turkish and is derived from the name of a mountain, Kazdaği, near which the family’s early ancestors settled. Kazdaği (Kahz-dah´-ee) translates to “Goose Mountain” and lies some 20 miles southeast of the ruins of Troy. The image of the noble waterfowl would eventually come to be a symbol of the Casdagli family.
Up until the Crimean war, the early Casdaglis were grain and shipping merchants in the opening years of the 19th century. Post-war efforts undertaken by third generation patriarch, Emmanuel Casdagli, would redefine and grow the family business by taking advantage of the emerging mill technologies in England to refine and produce textiles during the early days when the global demand for cotton was exploding. The epic success from this and other aspects of the Casdagli stable of interests which would also later include breeding champion Arabian horses, led to Emmanuel purchasing Villa Casdagli (also known as Kasr-el-Dubara). This second family home was erected in an established, wealthy quarter of Cairo known for it’s royal inhabitants. Sold in 1944, the residence, changing hands many times, still stands.
As a symbol of the family’s Greek roots, business interests and métier, Emmanuel Casdagli selected the statue of the Colossus of Rhodes, a 2nd-century BC homage to the Greek God Helios, erected in celebration of repelling the advances of Demetrius I of Macedon who besieged the island for almost a year. Rhodes (whose capitol city is also Rhodes) is the largest island in the Greek chain and is also the birthplace of Emmanuel Casdagli. Casdagli captured the essence of the statue’s symbolism by also adding the motto, “ΞΑΛΕΡΑ ΤΑ ΚΑΛΑ” or “Naught without Labor”, a nod to his family’s intense work ethic and resulting success.
After being ousted from Egypt in 1956 during the Second Arab–Israeli war, the business nucleus of Emmanuel Casdagli and Sons was moved to the UK, but within 10 years, the doors of the long-time merchants would be forever shuttered. While the Casdagli family had previously traded in tobacco, the company had not jumped into the growing cigar market at the time. However, there was a tangential effort, and perhaps a bit of foreshadowing, that would lay the groundwork for the future.
In 1951, E. Theodore Casdagli, then Asst. Secretary of the UK Board of Trade, secretly negotiated the reduction of tariffs on Cuban imports (e.g. cigars, sugar) and UK exports (e.g. cars) with Havana Envoys. The political and financial risks of essentially encouraging trade with Cuba were huge, particularly as it related to cigars, since Britain at the time was committed to keeping tobacco/cigar exports within the Commonwealth, i.e. Jamaica. It was thought the move would effectively destroy the Jamaican cigar trade. The resulting influx of Cuban cigars to the island nation remains to this day.
The inspirational expression, “carve your own path”, is a notable theme in many circles of successful individuals and none more so than in the cigar industry. Be they opportunities afforded by global demand for cotton in the 1800s or the immense vacuum in the commercial cigar business created by the effects of a post-revolutionary Cuba. While Castro’s Rebels helped shutter many a cigar maker’s doors, it also opened other opportunities through which the cigar world would evolve. Other Latin American and Caribbean countries like the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Costa Rica welcomed Cuban ex-pats and exiles that would lay down roots for what some consider solid efforts to level the playing field with the King of Cigars itself.
Taking a cue from his great-great-grandfather, Londoner and bon vivant, Jeremy Casdagli, seized on such an opportunity. While the cigar boom of the 90s raged in the US and elsewhere throughout the world and with options for cigars dwindling in his own home country and beyond, Jeremy Casdagli was also eyeing demand from cigar smokers in regions like the Middle East and the Caribbean. Casdagli set out to supercharge cigars by focusing on high quality and a unique complexity that would deliver “luxury, elegance and tradition”, all trappings of the Casdagli legacy.
Utilizing existing connections, Jeremy paired up with Jose Suarez Castro, known as “Pepe” to his friends, who introduced him to one of the preeminent master Cuban torcedores from Habanos S.A., Carlos Valdez Mosquera. Around 1998, using sourced Cuban tobacco to closely replicate the 1950s Hoyo de Monterrey blend, Mosquera and Casdagli set-out to create the first cigars for Jeremy’s new brand, Bespoke. The brand name “Bespoke”, as Jeremy would say in our interview, “adopted me”, and represented the custom nature of the cigars along with luxury, quality and exclusivity evocative of the name.
Employing avant-garde vitolas at the behest of some of his customers, like the “Cotton Tail” and “Super Belicoso” pictured above (Note: these represent non-Cuban versions) Casdagli happily complied as his business grew. Originally dubbed the “Flying Pig”, the vitola was renamed in 2011 to “Cotton Tail” while making an appearance at London’s Playboy club with inspiration thanks to the sexy Playboy Bunny girls’ costumes, but also to pay homage to the company’s foundation in cotton.
In order to grow his business from the custom 1000-1500 cigars a month, the Cuban lines eventually were discontinued in favor of a more domestic partnership with the potential for greater production and distribution with one target audience being the US market among others. Jeremy’s good friend, Mike Murphy of Bellaterra, helped broker a meeting with Dominican icons, the Kelner family, and after testing a well-blended Lancero (more on this later), a partnership was formed with Heinke Kelner’s son, Hendrik Jr. In 2013, the switch was made and 4 new lines – the Traditional Line (2013), Club Mareva (2014), the Basilica Line (2015), and Cabinet Selection (2016) – began rolling out of Hendrik’s new Dominican Republic factory, Kelner Boutique Factory or just KBF.
Casdagli also formed a second production partnership with IGM (Inversiones González Martínez) Cigars in 2013, a boutique maker based in San Jose, Costa Rica. IGM is run by the González family, who came to the region from Cuba, bringing their skills and knowledge to an otherwise overlooked tobacco-producing terroir. IGM originally made vitolas and blends for some of Bespoke’s Saudi clients, but in 2018 the collaboration led to the release of Bespoke’s Daughters of the Wind line of cigars, which are made with unique Dominican, Peruvian and Costa Rican tobaccos.
In 2018, the unofficial launch of Bespoke into the US market commenced although the company had done business in the US off and on for the past 15 years. Many of Bespoke’s production lines drew immediate praise and were the darlings of the year’s IPCPR show. Halfwheel’s Charlie Minato foretold Bespoke’s prominence by saying the company was one of the 5 up and comers to watch. Unfortunately, the year 2018 concluded with a trademark dispute with Alec Bradley Cigars over the use of the name “Bespoke”, but instead of a protracted legal battle, Alan Rubin and Jeremy Casdagli hashed out the differences and agreed that Bespoke would no longer be used but that exiting stock could remain on the shelves.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Perhaps seen as almost a mixed blessing, Jeremy Casdagli had to come up with a new brand name for his cigars. Casdagli realized, along with some goading by family and friends, the most obvious choice was to use the family name, Casdagli. It was felt the natural move would honor his family’s legacy and to solidify the tribute, Casdagli also opted to reinstate the family’s business crest, the Colossus of Rhodes, into the brand adding a shield reflecting the image of a goose, a symbol of the family’s early origins. All cigars distributed and marketed worldwide now carry the Cadagli name and new brand dressing.
As Casdagli Cigars expands, now a near-global operation, the company most recently endeavored to partner with California’s own Maxamar lounge/Smallbatch Cigar on a limited-run of special cigars based on the Daughters of the Wind blend called Pony Express. The limited line extension is in part a celebration of the notable fast shipping and high quality provided by Smallbatch Cigars while also honoring the legacy of the Casdagli family’s famed horse breeding. The box-pressed corona gorda, whose blend was altered to include extra oscuro ligero filler to accompany the Peruvian and Dominican filler along with a double Nicaraguan-Costa Rican binder, launched in late 2019 and as you can imagine, quickly sold out. While he is mum on the subject, Jeremy Casdagli recently intimated that he may consider another go at a retailer collaboration.
For 2020, the company is teasing with an enticing addition to their portfolio called Cypher, a tribute to Jeremy’s grandfather, Major Alexis Casdagli, who while interred for 4 years in a German WWII POW camp, created, um…a very interesting piece of needlepoint. As an act of defiance, Maj. Casdagli deftly embroidered on a piece of square cloth, what looked to be a harmless representation of abject boredom even using Nazi symbolism, but literally in between the lines were a series of dashes and dots that when deciphered from Morse code stated “God save the King” and “F*** Hitler.” Talk about a cigar story. Unfortunately, the effects of continued COVID-19 ravages have naturally slowed the project. You can read more about Cypher, here.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge that Casdagli Cigars and their patrons benefit from the efforts of a small, but crack team which includes his wife Triine, who does all the marketing for the brand and Casdagli’s US distributor and Brand Ambassador, Vlad Stojanov, who by the way is also an international Sommelier, so stay tuned for some pairing notes.
Upon meeting and speaking with Jeremy, working with his wife, Triine and researching material for this feature, one overarching aspect is clear: what has come to literally symbolize the Casdagli’s roughly 300-year family history is that their success can be attributed to an almost sacred conviction of hard work, a demand for high quality and a relentless pursuit of elegance passed down through the centuries and generations. Lucky for us, these attributes spawned the family’s growth into the cigar business during the cigar boom of the 1990s cultivated from humble, hands-on beginnings. Twenty-three years later, the global cigar brand is just finding its stride as they continue to build their portfolio of high-demand super premium cigars. – In Fumo Pax!