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Lovely Cigars is revitalizing a classic brand with modern elegance

Ain't They Lovely - Lovely Cigars lined up with core labels.
Lovely Cigars

Mike Gehm is a cool guy. That’s probably not the best descriptor or opener for an expose on a brand, but hey, that’s what I’m going with. He’s down to Earth. We had a great conversation and smoked some great cigars — virtually, of course — and he was very candid about his venture, something that’s always a net positive for inquisitive minds like mine. As for what we discussed, it was all about Lovely Cigars, a humble cigar maker with not-so-humble origins from the early days of the cigar trade in Green Bay. What’s remarkable about Lovely Cigars, at least the modern brand, is that it’s going up against veritable giants in the industry — brands that have been around for centuries or even longer in some cases. That is also what intrigues me the most about Mike and the Lovely Cigars team, including co-owners Keith Archiquette and Dylan Masse.

Around the 1990s, boutique cigar brands started popping up all over. But it wasn’t until the early 2000s, maybe even a little later, that some of the small-batch brands we know and love today really hit it big. Plasencia, Aganorsa, Warped, Caldwell, AJ Fernandez, even the Garcia family and My Father were less popular back then if they were even around. For example, Plasencia was founded in 1993, and the first My Father cigar debuted in 2008. But the point is that boutique brands are a fairly recent addition to the world of cigars. Sure, there have always been what you might call “craft” or independent rollers, but never like this. Well, Lovely Cigars is a boutique brand, like many others, except it’s a welcome juxtaposition of old and new. Allow me to explain.

Venturing back hundreds of years

Ain't They Lovely cigar box with original artwork from Green Bay's Ain't They Lovely cigar company.
Lovely Cigars

Ain’t They Lovely is the original brand, which the current label takes direct inspiration from, as you likely noticed from the name. As one of the oldest Green Bay-based cigar brands, it was popular across the local region. Green Bay was actually a major producer of cigars at the time because of its ideal location — goods could be quickly shipped by way of the Fox River and then the Great Lakes. That’s a pretty interesting detail that I didn’t even know.

Many small cigar makers closed their shops when tobacco rolling machines were introduced because genuine hand rollers couldn’t keep up. Yet most of the Green Bay area held out, producing tobacco right up until the 1960s and the Cuban trade embargo. The embargo made it difficult to acquire good tobacco, so many of the businesses that were left had to close, including Ain’t They Lovely.

It wasn’t until almost 60 years later that Mike Gehm encountered the original Ain’t They Lovely cigar boxes and fell in love with the design. After a few challenges, he succeeded in chasing down some boxes for himself for nostalgia. That also sparked the idea to reinvigorate the brand for new, modern audiences. Spurred by that idea and the inspiration of yore, a new underdog was born. Lovely Cigars has since released three cigar labels, technically four: its core line, the Number 162, the original release, the Ain’t They Lovely Elegante X2, and the new Bay City cigars — with Connecticut and Maduro blends.

But I’d argue that Lovely Cigars’ prevailing mission, the principle it was founded on, is more interesting.

Creating experiences, not just cigars

Lovely Cigars four main labels in black and white
Briley Kenney / The Manual

It’s often said that life is too short to smoke bad cigars, which is very true. But Lovely Cigars takes that to a new level. Your time is precious, and they know that. They want you to enjoy the time you’re spending with their cigars, so the focus is more on creating memorable experiences rather than just rolling some tobacco together to smoke. “We aren’t only making cigars – we’re creating experiences, bringing relaxation and joy while creating a new cultural experience through tobacco.”

“We are looking to create well balanced cigars that give the consumer a fantastic smoking experience. Blending new cigars takes time and can’t be rushed.”

Mike’s personal philosophy on this concept really hit home for me. Tobacco is a great equalizer, or as Mike put it, “cigars level the playing field.” You could be sitting next to Doctors, Lawyers, astronauts, politicians, or celebrities; it doesn’t matter. When everyone in the immediate company is enjoying a cigar, it sparks camaraderie, joy and an escape from the troubles of the average day. Better yet, everyone is relaxed, and no one cares who or what you are.

Cigars bring people together.

And the cigars you choose to smoke in those moments really do matter. A bad cigar is just going to muddy the experience. A pleasant cigar makes you feel better, but the aromas will also make those in your company feel better. And let me tell you, Lovely Cigars smell phenomenal. Lighting one up is a real treat, and you better be ready to have a good time when you do.

A candid discussion with the owner

Ain't They Lovely original cigar box art
Lovely Cigars

During our discussion, I posed some questions about the brand and its lineup. Here’s what Mike had to say:

Q. I love your philosophy that time is precious and that you should enjoy what you do with it. How do you know when a new blend or product is truly special? Is there something specific you’re looking for?

A. We are looking to create well balanced cigars that give the consumer a fantastic smoking experience. Blending new cigars takes time and can’t be rushed.

Q. Your cigars are rolled in Nicaragua. What encouraged you to select that region? Some of my favorites are Nicaraguan, so no shade there.

A. We think Nicaraguan tobacco is the best available to the US market, it provides the most flavorful tobaccos.

Q. Do you have any recommended pairings for your cigars?

A. Everyone has their favorite drinks to pair with a cigar, some love bourbon or wine, some love coffee. Personally, I enjoy a full bodied cup of coffee with a cigar.
Q. You’re getting ready to create a new blend. Where do you start, and where do you go from there? Do you have a master blender that you trust?
A. We work with Carlos Sanchez, he has been manufacturing cigars in Nicaragua for over 30 years. We start with an idea of what we want to develop into a cigar and we sample different tobaccos until we find our next cigar.
Q. Cigars offer the connoisseur all kinds of flavors — that’s why we love them. Do you have a favorite, and is there a reason why (other than simply liking it)?
I look for a complex smoking experience that has many flavor notes that are well-balanced. My current favorite is our Bay City Connecticut, it has a creamy Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper with a Sumatran binder and all Nicaraguan fillers.

It’s like taking a journey through time

Lovely Cigars four core lines in vintage
Briley Kenney / The Manual

Lovely’s flagship, the Ain’t They Lovely Elegante X2, features a beautiful Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, a Mexican-grown binder, and Nicaraguan fillers. Produced in batches and released four times yearly, it’s a delightful mild to medium smoke overflowing with notes of peppercorn, spice, coffee, and classic tobacco.

“Cigars level the playing field.”

Their core line, the Number 162, features an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, Sumatra binder, and Nicaraguan fillers. It’s named after the Green Bay Cigar Roller Union, The Local 162. At the time, the union helped secure better wages and benefits for the cigar workers in the area. So, to pay homage, Lovely blended a damn good stick. It’s dense and flavorful with lots of creaminess, pepper and spice, coffee, chocolate, and some sweetness and fruitiness. Connoisseurs might pick up a hint of raspberry.

Just released are the Bay City cigars, available in Connecticut and Maduro. The Bay City Maduro features lots of chocolate, both dark and milk chocolate, leather, pepper, and dark coffee, with some nuttiness and a hint of hay and earth. The Bay City Connecticut is delectably creamy, with hints of graham cracker, brown sugar, earth, fresh grass and hay, coffee and subtle vanilla.

All blends draw inspiration from the original brand and use elegant box art from the early 1900s. They’re rolled by hand in Esteli, Nicaragua, at Tacasa S.A.

From the gorgeous original box art to the unique blends, it’s like taking a journey through time, which is precisely what Mike and company aimed for. These really are some lovely cigars.

What’s next?

Lovely Cigars four main cigars in golden hue
Briley Kenney / The Manual

Mike made it clear during our talk that he’s pushing for the brand’s expansion into new markets, especially after I shared that it’s difficult to find either line where I live in Tampa, Florida. Lovely Cigars is very much in the growth stage, looking to get the word out and share in its rich, storied history. You can see the list of retailers that carry the brand here. If you see anything available nearby, I recommend stopping in and grabbing a couple of Lovely’s smokes.

As I said in the opening, I’m intrigued by the idea of a boutique brand like Lovely Cigars and how it will grow in the current market, especially since so many companies out there are long-established. We’ve never had the opportunity to see what it takes for some of these boutique owners to break out. Yes, they’ve taken inspiration from the original brand in the 1900s, but this is still a new, scrappy business underdog.

The goal, then, is to check in regularly with Mike and the company to see how the business progresses and also maybe, just maybe, get an ear to the ground for new blends coming out of Green Bay. So, we’ll likely have a few more discussions and smoke a few more cigars together. After all, that’s what it’s all about — lovely experiences.

Briley Kenney
Briley has been writing about consumer electronics and technology for over a decade. When he's not writing about deals for…
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