“And a woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke.” -Rudyard Kipling, The Betrothed
Historically, Christopher Columbus is credited with introducing tobacco smoking to Europe. It is recorded in the annals of history that two of his crewmen, Rodrigo de Jerez and Luis de Torres, encountered tobacco for the first time on the island of Hispaniola.
As for the word cigar itself, it comes from the Yucatec Mayan word for smoking, sikar, which became the word cigarro in Spanish. It wasn’t long before many conquistadors, noblemen and royalty made cigars a part of their daily life.
Back then, the making of cigars was considered an artform. They were rolled by hand via the early masters. Unfortunately, as with many other handmade things that are of high quality, cigar production has become generally automated. With the advent of technology, financially greedy cigar companies tend to look more at the bottom line than the craft. It would seem that the almighty dollar is far too great a temptation and the artform of cigar rolling is slowly becoming a thing of the past.
These days, the ability to find a “good” cigar, as Kipling called it, has become more difficult, and finding a quality hand-rolled cigar even more so.
But not here in Austin.
The Reason Bobalu Cigar Co. Is the Top Choice for Cigars in Town
“Every cigar in our shop is hand-rolled. We do our own thing, and unlike other shops we never sell any other brands – just our stuff. Think about it for a moment: we get one shot with new customers. Our cigars have to be great, so we work harder than the other guys,” Jeff Lipton, managing partner of Bobalu Cigar Co. shared with me as I sat down to interview him.
Jeff is an interesting guy. Think cigar godfather of Austin, combine that with a soft heart for rescue Boxer dogs and a fervent appreciation of the military, and you get a brief glimpse of who the man is. He opened Bobalu Cigar Co. on Valentine’s Day 1997 on 6th Street in Austin. His brother had opened a cigar shop in Houston a year and a half before that and suggested that Jeff open one in Austin.
Jeff continued, “Back in 1995, cigars were in really high demand. The supply was so limited that even distributors wouldn’t take on new customers. High demand and low supply is a great business to be in. So, we took a shot and we’re still here. We really didn’t have a clue about what we were doing when we started, but everything sort of fell into place.”
And fall into place it did. Caritas of Austin, a well known and respected homeless shelter, called up Jeff just after Bobalu Cigar Co. opened. They said they had a highly experienced Cuban cigar roller who needed employment. Jeff didn’t hesitate in hiring him on the spot, and the rest is history.
Jeff and company initially learned the art of cigar rolling from this master cigar roller. Because the arrangement had worked out so well, more and more experienced cigar rollers were referred to Jeff via Caritas, and the depth of experience at Bobalu Cigar Co. became unmatched in the city.
Bobalu Rolls the Finest Cigars in Town
Check out this short video and you’ll understand why this shop is an Austin gem. After the video, find out how you can enter to win our Bobalu Cigar Co. giveaway that we are doing exclusively for our newsletter subscribers. They’ll have a chance to win a free cigar sampler pack from Bobalu’s.
[Editor's Note: giveaway closed 1/31/13]
We’ll be giving away four sampler packs from Bobalu Cigar Co. in our upcoming issue of Best Of the Austinot. Sign up here – it’s free to enter.
($24.95 retail value each. Must be 18 years of age or older to win. ID will be checked for age verification by Bobalu Cigar Co. upon claiming of each prize.)
The FTC requires this disclosure: SURGEON GENERAL WARNING: Cigar Smoking Can Cause Lung Cancer And Heart Disease.
Bobalu Cigar Co. still rolls every cigar in their shop by hand and they only sell their unique brand, but they have embraced technology as part of their marketing strategy. They have a website where you can order cigars, as well as a live video feed where you can watch the cigar rollers do their magic. You can also find Bobalu Cigar Co. on Facebook and Twitter.
What Kind of Bobalu Cigar is Right for Me?
Bobalu now has 8-10 cigar rollers on staff. Almost any time you stop by the shop at 509 E. 6th Street, you are bound to see one in action. Today, the company has 26 different lines of cigars and over 300 unique cigars to choose from. (Protip: Buy a box of your favorite cigars and save 40% off the single price.)
When I asked Jeff what he recommends for those visiting the shop for the first time, he shared the following tips:
- For new cigar smokers: White label. Very mild Dominican middle of the road cigar from $3.50-7.95/single.
- For the ladies: Smaller flavored cigars. Vanilla, cinnamon and hazelnut are the most popular. $4.95 full sized, $3.50 petite, $4.95 for a pack of 5 mini cigars.
- Bobalu Cigar most popular: Brown label. A maduro with a sweet tip that was rolled on accident years ago. There are two different types of plant extract glue that they use to hold cigars together. One has sugar, the other doesn’t. Maduros are usually not sweet, but this one was rolled using the wrong glue years ago and it gave the Brown Label Maduro a sweet tip that customers love. $6.50-7.95/single.
- Top of the line: Vintage 91. A 10 year old aged tobacco rolled by Jeff’s Cuban employees. $8-$12/single.
- For those not sure: Sampler pack. Bobalu has a tremendous amount of sampler packs in either Corona or Robusto. Sampler packs contain 6 cigars, including one $10 Vintage 91. It’s the best bang for your buck and you get a cutter and a box of matches to boot. $24.95 (Protip: When you smoke a sampler, take the label off and stick it in your pocket before smoking it. Then pull it out and rate it after you are done. That way you’ll know which one you liked best when you are ready to place your order.)
- Jeff’s favorite: Black Label or Red Label. The Black is a Cameroon maduro, and the Red is a Nicaraguan sun grown habano wrapper. Prices vary.
Beyond the Cigar
Bobalu Cigar Co. does much more than roll cigars.
- Custom cigars: How about the name of your company, event, family announcement, etc. on the box and on each cigar label? Buy any $75.00+ box and Bobalu Cigar Co. will do the custom work for free.
- Hire Bobalu Cigar for an event: Currently attending over 200 events per year, Bobalu Cigar makes an excellent addition to any party – big or small. They are hired to hand roll cigars for private parties, weddings, events and more all over the world. Want an experienced cigar roller at your next party? Cost in Austin is $450 for 3 hours, which includes 30 cigars. Outside Austin, the cost is $600 + travel, which includes 4 hours of rolling and 50 cigars.
- Charity events: Bobalu Cigar Co. founder Jeff Lipton is a huge supporter of Austin Boxer Rescue. But he’ll consider other events for charitable causes. He has done various promotions where he’ll donate 1/2 the box price to the charity involved. Call for details: (512) 469-5877.
- Military discount: Bobalu Cigar Co. offers a 15% Military discount to active duty military and disabled veterans.
Bottom Line on Bobalu Cigar Austin
Personally, I really like this place. It has a very unique Austin feel to it. If you love cigars or have been thinking about trying one, this place is a gem. They’ve got the best hand-rolled cigars in Austin, and I’ve heard they serve a mean coffee too.
Surprisingly, you can actually light up a cigar right in their shop and sit down for a bit. It’s one of the only places we know of where you can smoke inside.
Give Bobalu Cigar Co. a shot and let them know you heard about it on the Austinot.
What is your favorite spot in Austin to enjoy a cigar?
We always have unique content on the Austinot, and we love to give things away. You know, like CDs, event tickets and other cool stuff. We only send out our Best of the Austinot newsletter 2 times a month. It’s where we give you a recap of our best articles and where we give stuff away. Interested? Subscribe to Best of the Austinot here!