The Southern Cigargonaut
Tobacco aged in bourbon barrels and cigars blended with American grown tobacco
By Lanee Lee
Some of life’s best inventions were accidents. Penicillin, the formula for Coca-Cola, potato chips, x-rays and even silly putty, among countless others, happened by chance. And so it was for Kentucky Gentlemen Cigars’ specialty: bourbon barrel-aged cigars.
The boutique premium cigar company, located in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky was the world’s first producer of bourbon barrel-aged cigars – from Blanton’s to Buffalo Trace.
Before launching Kentucky Gentlemen Cigars in 2003, Allen Mobley found himself in a small shack in the Dominican Republic. Despite growing up on a cigarette tobacco farm and knowing how to roll cigars, he says, “They all tasted the same, because I had no idea how to blend.” For nine months, he apprenticed with a master roller from General Cigar Company, learning the craft of cigar making.
“We’d be rolling on the sidewalk in this tiny town, selling them for ten cents each, and the locals wondered if I was some crazy hippie on drugs,” says Mobley with a throaty laugh.
A Miraculous Mistake Returning from the international sojourn, he converted the red barn behind his house into a factory for Kentucky Gentlemen Cigars. With his mission to make premium cigars, he ordered the best tobacco on the market. But one of his first batches was, in his words, “horrible,” and Mobley tossed the leaves in his backyard.
Carol Mobley, his wife and partner in the business, from roller to raconteur, did not like the dark patches of tobacco leaves strewn out in her snow-covered yard one bit and asked him to get rid of them. Mobley had a few used Wild Turkey barrels he used to water the horses with and quickly stashed the leaves there, planning to plow the tobacco leaves into the ground when the snow melted.
A few months later, Mobley discovered a miracle. “I couldn’t believe the difference in the tobacco. It wasn’t rocket science, just a pure and simple accident,” Mobley explains. The barrel had leeched out the impurities, including some of the nicotine, and added a hint of bourbon flavor – making what was once trash, into a treasure.
The Big Bourbon Bang Word spread quickly about the wacky invention, and bespoke orders flooded in from many of the nearby bourbon whiskey distillers. Currently, his whiskey cigar line includes Blanton’s Original, Blanton’s Special Reserve, Blanton’s Black & Gold (the whiskey is only available in Japan), Blanton’s Straight from the Barrel and Buffalo Trace.
“Now everything we do is in bourbon barrels. It’s like our right arm,” says Mobley.
Indeed, every step of the process is bourbon blessed. Filler and binder are aged together and the wrapper is aged separately. The tobacco whether filler, binder or wrapper is aged from six months to two years and finished outside the barrel.
With hand-rolling production at 3,000-5,000 cigars a month, a shipment of bad tobacco is not an option. Thus, Kentucky Gentlemen Cigars has developed their own unique blends, by growing 50% of their own tobacco from Cuban and Kentucky seed in Alabama and Kentucky; the rest is imported from Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.
Because Mobley believes in supporting the local economy, he plans to make a cigar from filler to binder to wrapper, sourced completely in the U.S. “We try to do everything local, even if we have to pay more money,” says Mobley. But because the curing times in Kentucky take three years longer than in the Dominican Republic, this may take some time to realize.
From Moonshine to Mint Julep
Like a mad scientist, Mobley can’t stop tinkering. Known for his unorthodox ways, he created a Moonshine Cigar with a kiss of white lightning wrapped in a newspaper. Why newspaper? Because that’s what he gets his moonshine delivered in.
If you like barbecue, Kentucky Gentlemen Cigars are the only producers of flu-cured (smoked) tobacco, or Fire-Tipped cigars, as Mobley calls them. Smoke so nice, you’ll like it twice. It smells like barbecue and provides a hickory taste.
Another successful out-of-the-cigar-box creation is the mint leaf-tipped Mint Julep cigar. Naturally, it’s the official stogie of the Kentucky Derby, only available during the Derby season. Last year they sold 5,000.
There are 27 blends available with more in the works, including a Martini cigar, aged in vodka barrels and complete with an olive, a tequila cigar and a Redneck cigar. Mobley doesn’t want to ruin the surprise of what this redneck smoke will be, but let’s just say it won’t be anything the world has seen before. Redneck humidors, basically a Mason canning jar, are already sold at his store.
At the Kentucky Gentlemen Cigar retail shop, which looks like a typical man cave with a smattering of jokes, girly posters, newspaper clippings, photos and awards covering every inch of the walls, has as much character as Mobley. It’s a popular and entertaining stop for Mint Julep (mintjuleptours.com), a Louisville-based tour company who specializes in the Bourbon Trail, especially since the Wild Turkey distillery is only a few minutes away.
The secret to Mobley’s nonconformist blending? A squirt bottle. He sprays a bit of the spirit into his mouth and then takes a draw on a cigar. If you visit the shop, this is just one of the many surprises he’s more than happy to demonstrate.
Technically a retiree at 68-years old, he has no plans of slowing down – just the opposite. Mobley has big dreams of opening a bourbon and cigar bar. But not just any bar, his bar will feature all 160 Kentucky whiskey bourbons and their corresponding bourbon cigar – now that is crazy. Crazy good.
Shop Talk with Allen Mobley
Lanee Lee: Which cigar is your favorite?
Allen Mobley: They are all my babies, but I’d say my favorite is the 60-ring gauge, with a dark wrapper. 6-inches long, it’s a 2-hour smoke. I enjoy it with a glass of Bronze Label Blanton’s bourbon on my porch, it don’t get any better than that.
Lanee Lee: Which one is your wife’s favorite?
Allen Mobley: The Kentucky Gentlemen Twist with a Connecticut Shade wrapper, Dominican filler and Nicaraguan binder.
Lanee Lee: Tell us about your worst cigar disaster.
Allen Mobley: I’ve done plenty of those. For example, Hemp cigars. It didn’t taste bad, but the law enforcement didn’t like that at all.
Lanee Lee: What’s your latest invention?
Allen Mobley: We can’t resell our barrels because of the nicotine, so we’ve chopped them up and are selling them as ‘bourbon sticks,’ which are match sticks made of bourbon barrels. Everybody is going nuts over these because there’s no lighter fluid or sulfur interfering with your smoke.
Lanee Lee: Where can you buy a Kentucky Gentlemen Cigar?
Allen Mobley: We used to sell in retail shops, but we couldn’t control how they were being stored and the quality was compromised. Now, we only sell online at www. kentuckygentlemancigars.com, at cigar shows or at our shop.
Lanee Lee: Do you consider yourself a Kentucky gentleman?
Allen Mobley: Hell no, I’m the hippie of the bunch (laughs), but I’d consider my grandfather the Kentucky gentleman of the family.
To find out more about Kentucky Gentlemen Cigars, or to try the cigars, visit http://kentuckygentlemencigars.com/