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Shop Talk with Melanie Cantelmo of FTB Cigars
For those that follow the cigar world on any social media format you should definitely recognize Melanie Cantelmo, or FTBMelanie, as she is know online. She provides honest reviews and recommendations and is definitely one of the nicest Sisters of the Leaf around. We had a chance to do a little Q&A with Melanie and wanted to share some of her insights into the brands she represents.
OTL: Can you tell us about which brands you represent and how long you have been a rep?
MC: My husband, Anthony, and I started our brokerage in July of 2014 and we currently represent the following brands: House of Emilio, Crowned Heads, Maya Selva, Jet Line, Brizard, Crux, Santiago Cigars, Kristoff, Cuban Stock and Dissident. Most of the brands we have carried have been with us for almost a year. We have gained some brands and parted ways with brands. It is all part of the growing pains that comes along with starting your own brokerage.
OTL: When did you first start smoking cigars and can you give us some background or insight into your love of the leaf?
MC: My husband Anthony started smoking when he was 18 years old, he has worked for cigar shops, represented various brands and ran his own cigar blog. I always supported Anthony's love of cigars and would often host his weekly cigar nights at our house. I understood his love for cigars but did not have much of a desire to smoke the cigars myself. I would sit outside on the patio with him and his friends while they smoked, but I never even tried a cigar! When my husband took a position working for a reputable cigar company, he started to travel 80% of the time and I noticed that our relationship began to change. I sought wisdom from a good friend and she suggested that I take interest in what interests him so we could grow closer. So 18 months ago I lit my first cigar and haven't turned back since. I was always "in the industry" in a sense before I smoked cigars because we constantly communicated about cigars and various industry changes but I didn't start smoking until recently. So I am practically a baby smoker, still learning about cigars, figuring out what I enjoy and developing my palate.
OTL: How did you become involved with cigars industry on a professional side and can you give our readers some background information on the brand(s) you represent?
MC: Like I shared before, I always supported Anthony in the industry through his blogging, working at the shops and being a cigar rep. However, I didn't truly get involved in the industry until Anthony and I started our own brokerage. When Anthony started the brokerage I decided to start taking pictures of what I was smoking and then post the pictures to social media. I also started helping Anthony with events, going to the IPCPR with him, meeting with clients and interacting with the consumers. We started the brokerage in June 2014 and it has been a crazy ride since then!
Crowned Heads is a well-established company that makes great cigars out of the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. They are known most recently for their Jericho Hill and their limited release Las Calaveras (both cigars made out of The My Father Factory in Nicaragua).
House of Emilio is distributor of boutique cigar lines such as Ezra Zion, 1502, Nomad, Guayacan and Emilio. The majority of the brands have well established relationships with factories in Nicaragua.
Maya Selva is a well-known cigar company in Europe that has been around for 20 years. Two years ago, Maya Selva turned their attention to the US market. Maya Selva is known for high quality smooth Honduran and Nicaraguan cigars.
Crux is an exciting new boutique brand with innovative packaging and design. Their blends are all produced out of the Placencia factory in Nicaragua. Crux makes great cigars at a great price point.
Kristoff is a brand made out of the Dominican Republic. They make consistent cigars and a reasonable price.
Dissident is a fun energetic group of guys based out of Kansas. They make their cigars in Nicaragua and Honduras.
Santiago Cigars are a brand new company out of Nicaragua. They create exceptional cigars at a valued price point. Definitely do not miss out on this up and coming brand!
Cuban Stock is a brand that has been around for many years and has a great line-up of flavored and non-flavored cigars.
Brizard is a high end luxury accessory line for the fine cigar aficionados. Their products use premium leathers and exotic woods.
Jet Line makes a full assortment of valued price accessories with a lifetime warranty. They are most well known for their fantastic lighters.
As broker in the southwest territory, our goal is to represent a variety of brands that work for a variety of people!
OTL: What are your favorite types of cigars and why?
MC: I enjoy smoking lancero's because of the intense flavor that comes from the wrapper. I also enjoy smoking Toros because they are a tad bigger than a Robusto and smaller than the Churchill - they burn cooler with great flavor and allows to try different brands. The San Andreas wrapper is one of my favorites on a cigar because of the sweetness and I tend to prefer more medium body cigars. I also enjoy corojo tobacco in my cigars.
OTL: What is currently in your humidor?
MC: Besides the brands we carry, we have a lot of tasty cigars in our humidor that we often hunt down (ok, my hubby hunts them down). Tatuaje, L'Atelier, La Flor Dominicana, EPC, Illusione, and Drew Estate to name a few. My husband is a true cigar geek and goes crazy over limited edition/ limited production items. Some of my favorite cigars from our lines are Headley Grange from Crowned Heads, 1502 Emerald, All My Ex's by Ezra Zion, Habano by Santiago Cigars, Therapy by Nomad, Cumpay by Maya Selva and the Skeeterz by Crux. Outside of our lines we represent one of my current favorite cigars in the Cote d'Or by L'Atelier.
OTL: When enjoying your favorite cigar what do you prefer to pair it with?
MC: I usually always drink a diet coke when I smoke a cigar. At night time I enjoy a cigar with a glass of Moscato or Riesling.
OTL: What was the biggest chance you ever took within the industry?
MC: The biggest chance we have taken in the industry was leaving a stable company to start a brokerage with boutique cigar companies that we believed it. It was a scary move but it's paying off!
OTL: Since wrapping up IPCPR in New Orleans, do you have any major announcements or new releases?
MC: The new La Imperiosa by Crowned Heads is one of our big releases this year! Remember how amazing the Las Calaveras 2014 was? Crowned Heads is using the same blend as the LC2014 and renaming it La Imperiosa. The blend is the same but the sizes will be different: Corona Gorda, Magicos, Double Robusto and Dukes. You will definitely want to get your hands on these!
Ezra Zion released a cigar this year at the Trade Show called All My Ex's. This blend is a limited production, so once they are gone they are gone. I have to say all the sizes are extremely tasty but the lancero is by far my favorite. Try to get your hands on one of these before they are gone!
Our goal is to continue to grow the brands we represent in the southwest territory and bring attention to them worldwide via social media.
OTL: If you could only smoke one cigar what would it be?
MC: Ezra Zion All My Ex's Lancero
OTL: As a cigar lover are there any tips or must have accessories you care to share?
MC: I would recommend a great cutter and lighter on you. Jet Line offers great lighters at great prices. Xikar offers a nice cutter as well. I also like the lighter tool made by Jet Line that has a punch for your cigar and tools for your lighter.
If you would like to know more about Melanie you can find her on Instagram @FTB.Melanie.