The Man Behind Today’s Brigade of Gurkhas
The World’s Finest Cigars
By Robin Jay
A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a Smoke” were the words of Nobel Prize winner and bachelor Rudyard Kipling in 1886 in his poem ‘The Betrothed,’ which answered his fiancée Maggie’s ultimatum: “You must choose between me and your cigar.” The Bombay-born English poet, known for writing tales of British soldiers in India, responded in the famous poem, “For Maggie has written a letter to give me my choice between the wee little whimpering Love and the great god Nick o’ Teen.” Need I say which prevailed?
In that same era, Rudyard Kipling wasn’t alone is his passion for tightly rolled bundles of fermented dried tobacco. Kaizad Hansotia – perhaps today’s modern-day Kipling – explains why, “Some 300 years ago, in God-forsaken mosquito hell-holes like Madras, India, brave Nepalese soldiers known as Gurkhas fought feverishly for their British Queen. In those days, long before television or the Internet, to keep these fearless soldiers happy and entertained and to prevent them from rioting in between military conflicts, they were supplied with plenty of tobacco and rum. Colonial soldiers began to make their own cigars from the local tobacco. Because of the British fondness for the legendary Nepalese fighters, soldiers named these cigars ‘Gurkhas.”
The Gurkha Renaissance
Fast-forward to 1989. While vacationing in Goa, India, Kaizad Hansotia happened on to a man rolling cigars – Gurkha cigars. He purchased one and lit it up. “It was a fantastically rich blend of tobacco – one I had never tasted before,” said Hansotia, who at the time was in his family’s horology business and knew little about cigars. “When I expressed to the owner how much I enjoyed smoking the cigar, he explained that his brand was virtually dead. He agreed to sell me his entire lot, about 600 boxes, and the rights to the company for – are you ready for this? – $149.”
At the time, the little-bit-tipsy Hansotia had no idea what a treasure-trove he had just landed. He gave the cigars as gifts to his duty-free watch vendors, clients, friends and family. “Then one day, an affluent client called me and asked if he could get some more of those Gurkha cigars – he didn’t care about price.
Whatever it took, he wanted more.”
Hansotia realized he was on to something special. “I got in touch with a friend who was a tobacco grower and I started researching cigars and tobacco and visiting factories,” he told South Florida Opulence. “I quickly noticed that there was no such thing as a super premium upscale cigar on the market. An $8 Davidoff was about as pricey as they got. I found that cigar companies might have different labels, but they all pretty much tasted the same – and they all came packaged in cheap paper or cardboard boxes. The market needed a finer alternative – it needed an investment quality, collectible cigar brand.” And so began the rebirth of Gurkha Cigars.
The Rise of Small-Batch Collectible Cigars
Since then, Hansotia has grown his small-batch, rare tobacco Gurkha Cigar Company into a conglomerate that produces the world’s finest and most expensive cigars in the industry. He achieved his dream by packaging the cigars in beautifully designed handcrafted cases made of fine materials – such as mahogany and teak woods – which some consider as collectible as the fine tobacco inside. The savvy cigar maker also added another intrinsically valuable component he gleaned from history books.
“Back in the old days when warriors traveled on long ship voyages, they brought their tobacco leaves on board with them,” Hansotia explained. “They couldn’t store water in barrels (it would become musty tasting), so they drank alcohol. When their rum and sherry barrels became empty, they stored their tobacco in them because the moist wood kept the leaves hydrated. So essentially, 99 percent of cigars back then were made of alcohol-infused tobacco. I decided to follow these historic roots by infusing tobacco in a very limited edition Gurkha line called HMR (His Majesty’s Reserve), with the world’s finest cognac – Louis XIII.”
Each box of 20 HMR cigars is infused with a full $2,400 bottle of Louis XIII Cognac. Each cigar is hand rolled with a 15-year-aged Connecticut maduro wrapper and a 12-year-aged Dominican Republic binder and filler. Only 100 boxes per year were produced, for three years. Production of the HMR has since ceased, making collectibility skyrocket. Each HMR cigar is wax-sealed in a glass tube and sells for up to $1,200 per stick ($25,000 per box). In 2012, a single box sold for as much as $85,000. That’s quite an accomplishment considering that a mere 15 years ago, the most expensive Davidoff cigar was just pocket change.
Another Gurkha success story is the Black Dragon. Cloaked in a dark and hearty 5-year-aged Connecticut Broadleaf maduro wrapper, the Black Dragon reigns from Honduras and is a combination of a longleaf tobacco from the Dominican Republic bound with a binder from Cameroon. When released in its stunning humidor-quality box, it brought at launch as much as $125,000. In 2012, that same box sold for $685,000.
Connoisseurs who prefer a rum-infused leaf may opt for the Gurkha Private Select. The medium-bodied Nicaraguan-leaf cigar burns with notes of nuts, toffee and cocoa, and is further enhanced by the infusion of Ron Abuelo Rum.
In 2015, Gurkha offers 35 distinct cigar labels. Hansotia and his team travel the world to hand select the finest tobaccos with the best flavor profiles. “People often ask why we don’t grow our own tobacco. The answer, to me, is obvious,” he said. “If a certain region has a year with a bad tobacco crop, the cigar brand that owns it is stuck with it. At Gurkha, we have the liberty to scout the best of the best tobacco each and every year. The world is our oyster. Less than 1 percent of the top 1 percent of tobacco meets the rigorously impeccable standards of a Gurkha.”
For Those Who Seek the Best of the Best
Cigar collectors and connoisseurs can certainly tell the difference. It’s a luxury they’re willing to pay for handsomely. Gurkhas are the cigar of choice for royalty, presidents, heads of state, sheiks, celebrities – and America’s finest elite special forces, including the Navy’s SEAL Team Six. Hansotia equips SEALs with a specially designed Gurkha Special Ops case that securely holds their Gurkha cigars and a special issue K. Hansotia SEAL Team knife. After each successful SEAL Team mission – including the historic assassination of Osama bin Laden, the heroic warriors light up their celebratory Gurkha cigars and snap a photo with a
Gurkha-logo banner to commemorate the victory.
As Hansotia envisioned, Gurkha Cigars has become the world’s No. 1 collectible, investment quality cigar. It’s been said in cigar circles that millionaires may smoke Davidoff…but billionaires – and those who seek to be – smoke Gurkhas.
Well done, Mr. Hansotia. Rudyard Kipling would approve.
To find a cigar room that carries Gurkha Cigars or for more information about the elite brand, go to www. gurkhacigars.com.