I was a little wary at first of a cigar called “Blue Label.” Not Gran Habano Blue Label, or STC Blue Label…just Blue Label. This generic sounding name has been used before – in fact, one large online retailer sells both this Blue Label and their own house brand Blue Label, not to mention the Legends Series Blue Label, and the Don Pepin Garcia cigar popularly known as the “Blue Label.” Aside from the confusion this might engender, it just seems like bad advertising — it doesn’t distinguish the product, and it doesn’t entice the consumer. What would you prefer — a luscious looking double-banded Alec Bradley Tempus, or a homely Blue Label?
Curiously, the Blue Label has a history in cigar lore, which may or may not have anything to do with the naming of this particular cigar. The original Blue Label wasn’t a blend or a brand; it was the mark of labor union approval.
The Cigar Maker’s International Union was formed in 1864 in New York City. A fourteen year old cigar maker named Samuel Gompers joined the Cigar Maker’s Union that same year and within ten years became the president of Local 144. In 1881 he helped form the American Federation of Labor (AFL.) Gompers was eventually elected president of the AFL and is recognized today as a key figure in American labor history.
The Cigar Makers’ Union was one of the first to use labels to distinguish its products — this allowed union members and supporters to buy “union made” whenever possible, and to boycott non-union products. Label committees were formed to determine the conditions under which companies would be allowed use of the label, label custodians and secretaries within the organizations were appointed to administer the union policies, and label “agitators” promoted the use of the label and agitated against non-union made products.
In the official publication of the Cigars Makers’ International Union, members were encouraged to enter poems and songs rejoicing in the glory of union-made cigars:
The Blue Label
Now, friends, if you will listen to what I’ve got to say,
I promise not to keep you long, or ask you any pay,
I want to ask a favor, you’ll agree it is no joke;
please ask for “union” made cigars whene’er you want a smoke
They’re made by good mechanics, they’re made for all mankind;
And if you roam the wide world o’er, no better will you find,
So, boys, be up and doing, be as sly as an old fox,
And see that the “Blue Label” is pasted on each box.
– Fred M. Williams of Union 427, Rahway N.J.
Within other cigar unions the label had more insidious uses: when Chinese immigrants flooded the country in the late 1860′s, many of them found employment in cigar factories. Displaced or disgruntled white workers formed the Cigar Makers’ Association of the Pacific which subsequently issued cigar box labels reading, “The cigars contained in this box are made by WHITE MEN.”
For good or ill, the label was a big deal. The Cigar Makers’ International Union developed several different labels over the years, finally settling on a standardized blue label in 1880. Details of the labels continued to change, frequently enough that these changes are often used today by collectors to date cigar boxes.
So what does that have to do with the Blue Label Robusto? Maybe nothing. But the Blue Label itself is nothing new to the cigar world.
The Blue Label robustos I’ve been smoking lately (while reading hundred-year old cigar trade papers) are made by Guillermo and George Rico of Gran Habano fame. They are produced in the STC factory in Danli, Honduras, and are available in the four standard sizes:
- Churchill – 7 x 50
- Corona - 6 x 44
- Torpedo – 6.5 52
- Robusto – 5 x 52
Only partial information is available about the blend:
- Wrapper: Habano (country of origin unstated)
- Binder: Corojo (country of origin unstated)
- Filler: Honduran, Nicaraguan, and Dominican
The robustos are finely crafted cigars — the wrappers are a semi-glossy colorado claro, consistent in color and smooth in texture. The heads are soundly triple capped and are very attractive. They are rolled rock solid and feel heavy in the hand. All samples drew very well with either a punch or a guillotine cut.
The burn was a little lopsided at times, but always self-correcting. The yellowish-gray ash was a little crumbly, but held on long enough not to create a mess in my lap.
The Blue Label starts off with an intensely earthy flavor, very similar to the Gran Habano No. 5 Corojo. A mouthful of dirt is admittedly an acquired taste, but I’m afraid I have acquired it. This flavor does slowly dissipate, turning to oaky wood and vanilla in the middle section, and finally gets a little nutty toward the end. On the other hand, if earthy is not your thing you probably won’t get past the first inch.
The spicy cedary aroma is a really nice touch — ginger and cinnamon or nutmeg, that sort of thing. It’s light enough that it doesn’t overwhelm the medium-strength flavors on the palate, but it’s assertive enough to make a noticeable and pleasant contribution.
The finale is mildly peppery and more powerful than expected. It’s certainly not a heavy hitting smoke, but they may sneak up on you if you’re smoking quickly and not paying attention.
Retail price for a box of Blue Label robustos is around 60 USD (even less at auction) making this a great blue collar cigar… assuming you can make it past that peaty first inch.
Final Score: 88
Once a Cigar Maker: Men, Women and Work Culture in American Cigar Factories, 1900-1919 by Patricia A. Cooper, 1987
Encyclopedia of U.S. Labor and Working-Class History, edited by Eric Arnesen, 2006
Cigar Makers’ Official Journal, Feb 15, 1903, Chicago.