Ferio Tego Interview with Michael Herklots
interview by Thor Nielsen, photos by Justin Hunter
Cigar Press – It’s amazing what doors can open when others close. How is everything going with Ferio Tego?
Michael Herklots – The short answer is great. It is hard to believe it has been almost two years since we announced the company in January 2021, and just over one year that we have been in market, with our fist shipments landing October of 2021. We’re so fortunate to have such incredible support from our manufacturing partners (Quesada Cigars, Plasencia Cigars, AgroIndustrias, Cigar Rings, Action Label, HumidifGroup), our distribution partner, Davidoff USA, and the nearly 1,000 retail stores selling Ferio Tego so far. We have a great deal of work left to do, but for our first year in market, the short answer is great.
CP – In 2021 you launched your flagship line Ferio Tego with two cigars: Ferio Tego Elegancia that has a lighter shade-grown Ecuadoran wrapper and the Ferio Tego Generoso with a darker, Honduran wrapper. What made you go with two different full-bodied cigars?
MH – I appreciate you pointing out their shared full body. I love body and mouthfeel and structure. Body, not to be confused with strength, suggests something thicker, denser, more dimensional – which provides an opportunity to compose deeper more sensorial style flavors in a blend. And in the case of Ferio Tego, both blends have a creaminess to their body, meaning they’re not just heavier in weight of smoke but their rounder with softer texture at the same time. This type of body and mouthfeel is also something I love in wines and certain spirits but is underrepresented in the premium cigar category. As an artist, I want to find those opportunities to make our work stand out and be memorable and recognizable not just by the brand or blend’s packaging and labeling but the technique, and the signature style. The Ferio Tego Elegancia and Generoso are certainly in keeping with that goal.
CP – Does a full-bodied cigar always equal full strength?
MH – Body is part of the overall mouth feel that is specific to the perception of weight and volume of the smoke on the palate. It is possible to have cigars with intense flavor and/or perceived strength but with very thin body. And also possible to have a very light, mellow cigar with a full, voluminous body. Additionally, you can add words like silky, creamy and velvety preceding mild, medium or full to give a greater sense of the texture of the body.
CP – Was it difficult coming up with a full-bodied blend for the Elegancia that wouldn’t overshadow the wrapper’s characteristics?
MH – Blending cigars is like casting a movie or a play. Not every character is a lead. I tend to look at most shade-grown wrappers (especially Connecticut seed) as playing supporting roles, not lead roles. What they may lack in obvious flavor, they exceed in behavior.
Shade grown wrappers are aesthetically beautiful, they burn great, and they often counter the overproduction of saliva caused by certain tobaccos in the filler by offering a more dry, tannic or acidic mouth feel that can be a useful tool in blending.
CP – What would you say is the biggest attribute that the wrapper adds to the Elegancia’s blend?
MH – More feel than flavor to be sure. The wrapper helps cream out the blend and balances out the stimulation of the ligeros. But it also adds bias, which can be challenging. There is still often a rush to judgement that a shade-wrapped cigar is going to be “milder” than a cigar with a darker wrapper. That’s clearly not always the case, especially not in this case.
CP – Often you hear the term “well balanced cigar.” What does that mean to you?
MH – Well-balanced does not necessarily have to mean “even” or “neutral,” although it can. But it means that the totality of the experience, based on individual factors, makes sense. No different than music or culinary arts… audio engineers find the right balance, the right “mix” of all the instruments for a recording. Chefs find the right balance of salt and acid and fat for a great dish. Blending a premium cigar is the same. The factors I consider are: First and foremost palate condition, that my palate is not left dry nor overly producing saliva. Second is flavors… are they harmonious or are they fighting. Third is palate stimulation, to ensure that all areas of the palate are being stimulated in some meaningful way. But balance can have a lead or a star. Again, balance is not a goal of neutrality and anonymity… its finding the right mix for the intended experience.
CP – Ferio Tego is your family motto, found on the Herklots’ family coat of arms that dates back to 1641. That’s incredible family history and it’s really cool that you can add your family’s legacy to the cigar industry. It’s well deserved.
MH – Thank you. We certainly don’t have a history of tobacco farmers or cigar makers that dates back that long, but I do come from a family of hard-working, honest passionate people, who believe in doing things the right way. The same can be said for Brendon Scott, the other half of Ferio Tego. We have a page on feriotego.com called Ferio Tego is, where we tried to answer the question “What is Ferio Tego” beyond a translation. But, summed up, Ferio Tego is committed to excellence and honesty in everything we do.
CP – Now, you are responsible for continuing the legacy of the Timeless Collection and Metropolitan Selection cigar brands. How does that make you feel?
MH – It’s awesome. I’m proud of the work. That’s why we were passionate about trying to acquire the brands… we were proud of our work, and wanted to continue it. For nine years I had the awesome responsibility of helping to preserve and maintain the legacy Metropolitan blends which date back to 1994, and also add blends to that
brand-family that made sense (Host Maduro in 2014 and Habano in 2016). I also had the opportunity to create a new brand, the Timeless Collection, in 2012, and develop blends that we preserved and maintained its portfolio. So, in one sense the feeling is quite familiar, as I’m continuing to do much of the work I was doing, and we’re continuing to do it with the same trusted partners I mentioned earlier, who have been making and maintaining these blends since their inception. However, now to do that as an owner rather than an employee is pretty amazing and rewarding. Brendon Scott, my partner in Ferio Tego, and I felt strongly that work needed to live on, and we went all in together to preserve and restore these blends to market under the Ferio Tego brand.
CP – In another interview you mentioned that you had trademarked the Ferio Tego name prior to starting the company. Was having your own cigar company/brand something that was always in the back of your mind?
MH – I knew it was a name I loved and a name I wanted to protect. For what? I wasn’t sure exactly. I have been extremely fortunate to have worked in this industry since 1999. And the opportunities I had, particularly towards the end of my tenure with Davidoff of Geneva in New York City running retail operations, and certainly my time with Nat Sherman International, provided me a great deal of fulfillment and reward. I was grateful to work for such great companies, and to contribute to their success. But I suppose there was always an underlying dream of one day having something that was “mine,” that I had a real stake in and could build a true legacy with. As the Nat Sherman International business was winding down in the summer of 2021, I spoke with many friends and peers about different opportunities, and all of them encouraged me to do my own thing within the premium cigar industry, and so it made sense to bring Ferio Tego to life. However, I never imagined Ferio Tego would become what it has become. But as you said, when one door closes another opens, and when it became apparent that the brands we had worked so hard to build might be available for acquisition, Brendon and I got together and formed Ferio Tego as a company, acquired the brands and other related assets, and got to work! We have very understanding and supportive wives, obviously.
CP – You’ve been incredibly hands on over the years for the cigar making and blending process as well as doing many events and giving tasting seminars. When it comes to tasting cigars, what are some things that people should pay attention to?
MH – Well, let me speak for tasting Ferio Tego cigars. First, I would say pay close attention to the first few puffs and your initial reaction to them. Not just the “first third,” but the first five minutes. One wouldn’t skip the first five minutes of a movie, or the first chapter of a book. The first puffs of our blends are deliberate. The first few minutes are a significant part of the story that each specific blend tells. Every one of our blends has a story line, with a beginning, middle and end. Next pay attention to temperature. Too often consumers chase “burn line.” I would much rather have a wavy burn line, but lower temperature of combustion as a result of drawing slower and less frequently. Chasing burn lines by constantly touching up the end only keeps the smoke hot, which can significantly alter the flavors creating sour, acrid notes. If combustion truly becomes so uneven that an area is extinguished, then of course even it out… but flavor and temperature are more important than razor sharp burn lines. And then look to body, complexity, palate condition and stimulation, flavors and the development of flavors.
CP – A lot of consumers out there talk about the tasting notes in reviews or cigar descriptions and say that they can’t find the specific flavors that are mentioned. They either think they don’t have a sophisticated enough palate or that the review is off. What would you say to them?
MH – Those consumers need a hard reset to delete all their mental cookies and clear their mental cache, and then remind themselves why they enjoy cigars in the first place. Close your browser, social media and magazines (no offense, Thor), put on some music or get together with a few pals, and enjoy a cigar. PERIOD. When it’s over, ask yourself or discuss with your pals whether you liked it or not, and decide if you would like to enjoy that cigar again some time. And once you’ve reached a conclusion, support it with “why.” That’s it. The end. Keep your hobby your hobby. Take notes and reviews for your own reference, to remember why you liked or disliked a particular cigar. The reality is, if you enjoy cigars, you have a sophisticated palate. Don’t chase adjectives and descriptions that aren’t authentic to you… and don’t believe everything you read. Just cut, light, enjoy and repeat. If you want to share your experiences by publicizing your review do it… but don’t editorialize your own review based on other people’s review styles. I can tell you this… I know A LOT of cigar makers… and NONE of the cigar makers, the blenders, the owners… and very few of them describe their cigars the way they are ultimately reviewed.
CP – You’re exactly right. Cigars will inevitably taste different or remind people of different flavors. You just have to light it up and enjoy it. Don’t overthink it, don’t look for anything, just let it develop and see what you get out of it. I think when people are just getting into cigars they lean heavier on ratings and reviews and get frustrated when it doesn’t taste like they think it should. It’s good not to have too many pre-conceived ideas of what it should be like. Walking into a humidor can be a bit overwhelming for people new to cigars, too. What are some questions that you would ask in order to help guide them in the right direction and what advice would you give?
MH – My favorite questions for newer consumers are the following. First, do you drink coffee? How do you take it? Do you drink Tea? How do you take it? Do you drink high-alcohol spirits? Which spirits and how do you drink them? Do you drink wine? Any favorites? And any other flavor-based question you can think of. Cigars are SO intimidating because they are a medium that is so unique (smoke) and a category that is so misunderstood (tobacco). And so there is an assumption that somehow handmade premium cigars have an intro course, and then 101, and then 201 and some pre-established hierarchy of achievement like earning belts in martial arts…. But by the time most adults discover the hobby of premium cigars, they’re far more developed and sophisticated in tasting other things. If you enjoy your coffee black and bourbon neat, I’m going to recommend a cigar that will offer familiar flavors and experience to you. If you drink your coffee light and sweet, I’d recommend something familiar to that experience. If you don’t drink coffee and prefer tea, and don’t drink alcohol, great… complex flavors no ferocity. Beer? IPA? Pilsner? Stout? If you could drink any beer right now, what would you be in the mood for? This goes back to your review and tasting notes question. Most adult palates are sophisticated, because we have the ability to see something, and conclude without tasting it, whether we want it… or whether we “feel like” it.
CP – Why did you go with the Toro shape (vitola) for the Ferio Tego brand and do you plan to add more sizes?
MH – To eliminate the need for decision making save for which blend experience you are in the mood for. To embrace my wine enthusiasm, when I’m buying wines… most of the major decisions are baked into the product. Bottle? 750 ml. Case? 12 bottles. All I have to decide on is which wines do I want to buy. 6 x 50 has become the most popular format sold in the US, akin to a 750ml. It is also the vitola I blend in. [Side bar: When I first started learning about blending, most blend samples I would experience were 5.5–6 x 46… that gave a nice idea of a base blend, and was the center of the spectrum for what a portfolio of sizes could be (from 38 ring gauge to maybe a 54). Today, that spectrum is probably closer to 44-60. So a 6 x 50 is a nice base line to develop a blend, and then a helpful tool to interpret the blend across other sizes]. We are not considering new sizes to Elegancia and Generoso.
We plan to commit our time to continuing to preserve these blends in their annual releases. But we are always exploring and creating.
CP – Not every cigar size smokes the same. People tend to either love smaller ring gauge cigars or larger ring gauge cigars. What are some advantages to both sides that might get someone to try a size that they normally wouldn’t gravitate towards?
MH – Format plays an integral part of the experience of a blend. Besides time factor, let’s do basics. First – the longer a cigar is, the further away the hottest part is, keeping the smoke cooler longer, and, the more potential for development of flavor start to finish. The shorter a cigar is, the closer that hottest part is, which can cause flavors to become harsher quicker if puffed too aggressively, and the less opportunity shorter formats offer for flavor development start to finish.
Fatter cigars require more filler tobaccos, which increases cost to manufacture, but also increases the opportunity to use more different tobaccos in a cigar. Also, in addition to the commonly known components of wrapper, binder, filler, the fourth component we often neglect to highlight is air. The thicker a cigar is, the more air becomes a meaningful component. Increased air can (depending on blend) be like adding some drops of water to a whisky, rounding out the concentration of flavor in the smoke. Thinner cigars, by contrast, permit less air. They also use less tobacco, which requires a great deal more skill when composing the bunch (filler tobaccos in the binder), as it may require partial leaves, and is more difficult to “feel” the format and the blend in the hand. Underfilling thin cigars, though easier and cheaper, will result in fast burning, hot, harsh cigars. Overfilling thin cigars restricts draw which in turn prevents appropriate combustion, and well… that’s that. In addition, because of the reduction in filler tobaccos, the wrapper’s influence becomes much more dominant, especially in sun-grown (or non-shade grown) wrapper varietals that tend to be thicker with greater preservation of oil. The thicker leaf has more capacity to retain oil and is a denser cell structure so it delivers greater flavor, but consequently that denser structure and increased oil can also suppress combustion… so there is a lot to consider.
CP – How important of a role does the size and shape play in how a cigar will taste?
MH – Size and shape are as important as the components themselves. I think I just beat that horse dead in my last answer, but, equally if not more important to how a cigar tastes, is how the cigar makes you feel. One must be comfortable with the cigar and confident with it. So notwithstanding the aforementioned explorations of size and shape across differ
ent blends from a flavor and performance perspective, one needs a cigar that suits them. I’m not a big guy…I wouldn’t buy a size 46L suit and size 12 shoes. They don’t fit me. I tend not to gravitate towards cigars longer 6 inches or fatter than a 54 ring gauge. Not because they don’t taste good… but because I just don’t feel comfortable with cigars larger than that. Your cigar has to taste good, but it definitely has to make you feel good.
CP – Is there a specific size cigar that you would suggest to someone trying a brand for the first time?
MH – I would taste any new blend in the mid-ring gauge it’s offered in. It is likely the blender’s purest intention of that blend.
CP – What do we have to look forward to from Ferio Tego?
MH – You can look forward to consistency. There is a great deal of hype around meme culture today. Stocks and tokens that are created and then vaporized in a moment. They “lose liquidity” or go bankrupt, and it’s on to the “next project”. We see the same culture in brands. There’s been this de-evolution of brands from mainstream to core to craft to boutique to limited edition to one off to pop up to meme. And that’s awesome. It is no doubt contemporary and in keeping with the times and all that. But in the spirit of providing a balanced portfolio approach to consumers… Ferio Tego is offering a sure thing. We’re like a mutual fund. We’re fully diversified. Our Timeless Collection’s four blends are each outstanding and unique. Our Metropolitan Selection is made up of five blends and delivers quality and complexity that punches far over its weight. We’ve released a few limited editions as appropriate. And our Flagship Ferio Tego annual release offerings embody everything that is important to us as a company and brand… excellence, transparency, quality, value… and that’s the plan and we’re committed to it. So… that’s what I’m looking forward to… and a long, bright future for all of us, together… the good Lord willing.