Exclusive Interview with Pedro Gomez, Drew Estate factory Spokesperson!

The Hoochly team spent some time with Pedro Gomez, also known as Drew Estate Pedro, and he told us about his childhood, his beginnings, some of his most memorable experiences and also some interesting stuff about what’s to come for Drew Estate!

 

Hoochly: Who is Pedro Gomez? Tell us about you and a little background

Pedro: Hello everybody my name is Pedro Gomez.

First of all, I would like to thank Hoochly.com for giving me the opportunity to share with the cigar world my story in the cigar industry.

I am from Esteli, Nicaragua AKA “The Tobacco Capital Of The World”. I was born and raised in Esteli. I came from humble beginnings with a lot of desires to succeed in Life. I am the middle one of two brothers and one sister.

When  I was 12 years old, I started to work in a saddle shop and it was the hardest days from my childhood and adolescence because I was working as a man in order to put food on the table and help my family. Back in those days it was a lot of struggle because it was only my mom and four little ones. That’s why I decided to drop out of school after I graduated from Elementary School because my mother could not afford my school expenses and my future started to look hopeless.

I did not attend to school for 2 years but when I was 14 years old I realized that I did not want to spend my whole life making saddles for horses. So I decided to go back to Junior High School and keep my saddle job as a part time job. So I was going to school from 7 a.m to 12 pm and going to the saddle shop from 1 pm to 6 pm. And at night was studying for my test and doing my homework. At that time my goal in school was to be the best student in my classroom. Thank God I achieved that goal 5 years in a row. My ultimate goal was to graduate with honors from a public high school and get a scholarship in a public university due to the fact that my family and I did not have money to afford my university expenses.

When it comes to faith, I am a huge believer. So when I graduated from high school in 2003 I found out about a full scholarship for Business Administration in the United States paid by The US government. So I did not think twice and I applied knowing that 300 great students around the country were applying for the some education opportunity.

Long story, short: after 1 year of intensive selection only 2 students from Nicaragua got the scholarship and I was one of them. “God is good and He always has been.”  The scholarship program sent me to Davenport, Iowa in 2004 so I started to attend to Scott Community College. When I got to the United States I did not know English so I was taking ESL classes (English class) in the morning and I was taking my career class with a translator in the afternoon. After 6 months, your English must be at college level because there was no more translator help. By August 2006 I graduated with honors and I was very happy to accomplish that goal. Now the next thing was facing reality because I had to come back to Nicaragua due to the fact that was part of the rules of the scholarship program. So I did that knowing that God will not let me down.

As soon as I arrived in Nicaragua I was very happy to see my family again after 2 long years. That day we went straight to Esteli and the next day I woke up and I went to every single cigar factory in Nicaragua looking for any job because I did not want to go back to the saddle shop.


Hoochly: How did you end up working at Drew Estate?

Pedro: When I went to Drew Estate factory, it was a little cigar factory in downtown Esteli. I went and asked for a job interview and Thank God I got it.  They told me that the factory did not have any specific function for me but if I want to work, Drew Estate factory will give me a chance. So I started from the very very bottom at the factory.

My first year at the factory I was doing whatever they asked me to do, so I was “Pedro Coffee”, “Pedro Ice Cream”, “Pedro Driver” but while I was preforming all those duties I was learning everything from every department in the cigar factory.

On my second year, they gave me the opportunity to be the Operation Manager Assistant so I had the opportunity to learn more about how the factory operated back on those days. By the time Drew Estate factory went from a little house that Jonathan Drew was renting to 11 different houses all over Esteli.


Hoochly: What was your favorite part of working as JD’s assistant? Any cool story that you remember and can tell us?

Pedro: Everything that I have accomplished today I owe it to God and secondly to Jonathan Drew. Jonathan is a man with a huge heart. I was Jonathan’s assistant in Nicaragua before the company moved to the United States. Being Jonathan’s assistant is very challenge and interesting. You have to be at your fullest 24/7 because Jonathan is very creative and visionary. So you have to keep up with his rhythm but at the same time you are learning everything from his brilliant mind.

A crazy story from those days was when we were hosting the Second Nicaragua Cigar festival. The schedule from the festival was a visit to Jalapa which it is 4 hours away from Esteli. The point was to show the people the beautiful tobacco that is grown in Jalapa. So Jonathan, myself and some of our guests that were staying at Cigar Safari we all went to Jalapa. So I was helping coordinate the big group. However on the way to Esteli these crazy gringos were drinking  Tona Beers and Ron Flor De Cana (Nicaragua rum) like fishes. So when we were getting close to Esteli it was a huge accident that stopped the whole traffic so we were stuck in the middle of the night when 3 buses full of gringos and they were drunk as F$#@. I was concerned because some of them were running in the highway and jumping on the top of the bus. At one point I had to run like Super Man and follow this people and asked them to calm the F$#@ down Lol!!! Thank God everything went good and we did not have any major inconveniences.


Hoochly: How was your experience with the Cigar Safari and is there a fun anecdote you will always remember?

Pedro: Cigar Safari is by far the best cigar experience in the industry. This tourism project brings people from all over the world to Nicaragua. They experience the best 4 days of their lives at La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate. We started this project back in October 2008 and since then we have hosted thousands of people that love cigars. It was Jonathan Drew’s idea to bring people to see Drew Estate factory because our factory is not just the biggest factory in Nicaragua but it is the most beautiful premium cigar factory in the world. We have 13 singles rooms with A/C, there is an amazing view, a nice Liga privada pool, we have a cozy lounge in the second floor, opened bar, all Drew Estate cigars you want to smoke, unforgettable Nicaraguan food and the best cigar tour from Seed to Smoke.

A crazy anecdote was when Marvin Samel (Co-Founder of Drew Estate) and I were hosting a group full of people from the Marine Corps. You know those people are very tough and unbreakable, oo I told them that they can smoke as many cigars they want and they said no worries we will smoke the $hit out of these Liga Privada. So I ask them if they are regular cigar smokers and they said, “No we love Acid cigars but this time we want Liga.” So I told them If I was you I will smoke just one Liga and they said, “Come on Pedro, you think we are wimps!?” and I said, “Alright; well, you are on your own.”

These guys were smoking and drinking like it was no tomorrow. Next day in the morning I got a call from Marvin Samel and he said, “Hey!! Pedro I think we have a huge problem,” and I said, “Oh shit!!” So Marvin goes like “the Marines are  not feeling OK some of them can not even get up from bed because they have being throwing up and shitting the whole night. So you have to call the doctor. So I call the doctor and the doctor said that they were smoking too many cigars and their immune system got weak and his prescription was to ask them to drink a lot of bottle of water and rest. So the anecdote of this story, is that sometimes is better to be a wimp and not spend the whole night throwing up and shitting your brain off. Lol!!!!


Hoochly: Tell us about your role as DE factory spokesman and what can people expect when they go to one of your events?

Pedro: For me it is a honor being The Factory Spokesperson for Drew Estate because I am the Nicaragua ambassador in the cigar industry. I have been with Drew Estate for 11 years and I have come straight from factory and straight from Esteli to teach our end consumer and retailer about our beautiful culture in Nicaragua and the craftsmanship of our premium cigars.  I travel all over the United States visiting cigar stores and doing Drew Estate events.

So let me tell you what people are going to expect at my events. What you guys are going to get is a full experience at the event, learning about tobacco and the factory. I would like to thank all the hard work from our retailers that give us the chance to be at their stores.

What I do on some of my events is tobacco presentation and everything relate to the factory. We bring all the goodies to the stores so people can buy their favorite smoke from us. We have a lot of swag, cool raffles and the opportunity to meet people from all over and of course the cool atmosphere at the event.

Hoochly: What can you tell us about the future of DE and is there any “secrets” you can share with us?

Pedro: Drew Estate has a great future ahead because Jonathan Drew is back as The President of the company. He was the man that built the entire company with his vision and philosophy. He created a cigar empire and he paved the road for many to follow his footsteps in this industry. Drew Estate has a strong presence in the market and our cigar brands are going to be stronger than ever because Jonathan Drew “The Man With The Master Plan” is back.

We continue to work on the innovative at Drew Estate factory to bring new cigars to the people who smoke them, and this year we are working hard.  You’re gonna see the Florida Sungrown, Pappy Van Winkle Tradition, Undercrown Sungrown, and 4×32 little cigars.  Whether you have smoked Drew Estate all your life or if you are new, there will be no question we will bring the best from Nicaragua.


Hoochly: What do you do on your free time? Do you have any hobbies?

Pedro: In life the key is to balance work and free time. Otherwise, you won’t enjoy what you have worked hard for. What I do on my free time, I like to cook, I like to watch documentaries, I love to watch sports such as NBA, soccer and boxing. I like to have a cigar at my balcony with a little bit of rum, I like to meet people, I like to keep in contact with my family and friends, I love going to the beach. I don’t say Travel because that’s what I do for a living, LOL!!!


Hoochly: Are you enjoying your new life in Miami? What is your favorite part of living in the US?

Pedro: Miami is a nice place to live for its multicultural nationalities and its great weather. There is always something going on so there are plenty of places to go and a lot of people to meet.


Hoochly: What do you miss the most from Nicaragua?

Pedro: I miss everything most importantly my family, the food, my friends and a lot people that I know in Esteli. I miss the people from factory. I miss hanging out at Cigar Safari.


Hoochly: T52>9 or T52<9 ?

Pedro: This is a tough question both of them are great and it will depend on the mood that I am in but I like to go for N9 most of the time.

Hoochly: And to close this great interview, here goes the million dollar question. How do you Hoochly?

Pedro: My way to Hoochly is to relax by smoking the cigar that I have been saving for many weeks.

 

Exclusive Interview with James Brown, owner at Black Label Trading Company and Black Works Studio


James and Angela Brown spent some time with our team and shared their creative inspiration behind their brand and the upcoming projects for Black Label Trading Company

Hoochly: Tell us about your background. What did you use to do before cigars and how did you fall into the industry?

James: I think I’m one of the few people that didn’t have any experience in the cigar industry before starting my own company. I was in the wine industry for a few years working as a Sommelier and started smoking cigars many years ago. My wife and I went on to own several different businesses around the world, Mexico, Africa, Guatemala & finally Nicaragua. In Guatemala we had an adventure travel company that offered trips throughout Central America and in particular; Nicaragua. As an avid cigar smoker I started spending a lot of time in Esteli learning everything I could about tobacco and cigar making. Over a couple of years this grew into me blending cigars for our travel company clients. Everyone loved the cigars and that planted the seed that this could turn into a business. A couple of years later we launched BLTC.

Hoochly: Tell us about the creation of Oveja Negra and where the name comes from? Are you guys the black sheep of the family by any chance?

James: In my experience no body cares about what you do more than yourself. I didn’t feel like we could grow and develop our brand in the direction we wanted in someone else’s factory.  I felt like, if my name is on it, it has to be 100% my cigar. I needed to own the process, from start to finish. This is what makes us so unique. With those goals in mind we started Oveja Negra two years ago.

I definitely feel like the Black Sheep in most things I do, especially cigars. We try to go against the grain with our cigars, keep things new, interesting and out of the norm. Being the only Gringo family living in Esteli doing what we do, the name just seems to make sense.

Hoochly: BLTC launched in 2013 with six blends and since then you guys seem to never stop, where do you get so much creative juice from?

James: I see cigars as an art form. I’m inspired by many different things that somehow find their way into a new cigar. Movies, music, art, I just never know where the next idea will come from and when it does come, we go for it!  Being able to create all our artwork to reflect the personality of the cigar keeps me inspired.

Hoochly: Speaking of creativity, let’s talk about the marketing of your brand. What was the inspiration?

James: As a cigar consumer I felt like there just wasn’t a brand out there that spoke to me. There were some brands with semi-edgy packaging but the cigar was never edgy enough for me. I basically wanted to create a brand that reflected the things I wanted out of a cigar.  The branding is a reflection of the many sides of my personality. BLTC is dark & gothic and BLK WKS is urban & raw. I think both brands do a great job reflecting the style of the cigars they represent. That is the most important thing with branding.

Hoochly: Tell us about your “Less is More” philosophy

James: Use the best materials, take your time, don’t complicate things that are not complicated. Let the tobacco tell you what works, don’t force anything and be patient. The cigars will speak for themselves.

Hoochly: Sindustry, Green Hornet, Boondock Saint, S&R, Morphine, Killer Bee, Deliverance, Lawless, Last Rites, Benediction, Bishops Blend, Catacomb, Rorschach… I’m sure we are missing a bunch others here. These names are so out of the box; How do you come up with them and which one has a cool backstory you can tell us?

James: You’re missing a few but that’s ok. Once again the inspiration comes from all over. Killer Bee grew out of my love for the Wu Tang Clan, NBK (Natural Born Killer) and Boondock from the movies.  Rorschach is a mix of our off cut tobacco so each one is a touch different, and open for interpretation, like a Rorschach test.

For the BLTC lines, I just love the dark religious inspired art. Seeing it all over Central America for years gave me the inspiration.

Hoochly: Tell us about the Black Works Studio Project

James: When we started the factory I developed several blends that didn’t fit into the BLTC profile. I wanted to get these cigars to market and show the interesting things Oveja Negra was capable of, so we developed Black Works Studios. The name came about because we treat our factory as a studio. It’s my creative playground and nothing is too out of the box. Black Works is all about being creative and focuses on very unique cigars that are made in ultra small batches of 100 boxes. It has been described as the boutique inside the boutique.

Hoochly: Talk to us about the latest Governor and First Lady cigars. They seem to be a hit!

James: It’s a shop exclusive we did for Governors Cigars in Monroe, La.  They were one of our first retailers so we were very excited to make there first shop exclusive.  The Governor has a Pennsylvania Broadleaf wrapper and the First Lady has a Connecticut.  Given that a Conn. is it not typically our style we amped up the filler making it a very interesting blend.  The first batch sold out in 24 hours but another batch is in the works.  Having our own factory has allowed us the opportunity to work on some interesting projects with different people.

James: Well, with current FDA rules that makes it tough! We do have a couple of BLK WKS cigars and some private label projects that will be hitting the market later this year. 2017 Bishops Blend & Morphine from BLTC will be coming soon also.

Hoochly: What do you guys do on your off time? Any hobbies?

James: My wife and I are big Land Rover fans and spend our free time looking all over Central America for restoration projects. We rescue old Land Rovers, restore them and send them to new owners in the US.

Hoochly: And finally, the million dollar question; how do you Hoochly?

James: Anyway we can!

BUFFALO TRACE DISTILLERY RELEASES 2016 ANTIQUE COLLECTION WHISKEYS

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RANKFORT, FRANKLIN COUNTY, KY (Sept. 7, 2016) It’s the best time of the year for whiskey fans, as Buffalo Trace Distillery releases its 2016 Antique Collection. The highly anticipated collection will once again feature five limited-release whiskeys of various ages, recipes and proofs. Here’s what ardent fans can expect:

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George T. Stagg

The powerhouse favorite of the Antique Collection, George T. Stagg weighs in at a hefty 144.1 proof this year.  Past releases of this uncut and unfiltered bourbon won many top awards, including twice named the number one spirit in the world by F. Paul Pacult’s The Spirit Journal. This year’s release contains bourbon from barrels filled in the spring of 2001. This batch contained 142 barrels, but not as many bottles as expected, due to some very greedy angels!  Storage location of these barrels varied across warehouses M, N, H, L and K.  Finding a bottle this fall will be difficult due to the low yield.  This whiskey tastes of dark chocolate, coffee and vanilla.

William Larue Weller

The Antique Collection’s uncut, unfiltered, wheated recipe bourbon is William Larue Weller. Previous editions of this wheater have won many accolades, including the “Bourbon of the Year” by Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2016 edition. The 2016 offering was distilled in the spring of 2003 and aged on the third and sixth floors of Warehouses D, K, and L.  This bourbon registers in at 135.4 proof – one of the stronger Weller releases.  The bold flavors include plum, figs and vanilla.

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye

Thomas H. Handy is the uncut and unfiltered straight rye whiskey. The 2015 edition was named “Best American Rye Whiskey” at the 2016 World Whiskies Awards.  This year’s Handy was distilled in the spring of 2010; aged on the fourth, fifth and seventh floors of Warehouses I, K, and M, and weighs in at 126.2 proof.  The flavor has been described as toffee and cinnamon.

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old

The previous edition of this bourbon was honored with a Silver Outstanding Medal at the 2015 International Wine and Spirits Competition. The 2016 edition has been aging on the first, second and third floors of Warehouses H and K.  This 90 proof bourbon was aged for seventeen years and tastes of leather, vanilla, tobacco and toffee.

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old

Last year Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old was named the Best Rye Whiskey 11 Years and Older by Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2016 edition.  This 2016 straight rye whiskey release has notable flavors of smoke, clove and all-spice with a dry finish.  The barrels for this whiskey were filled in April of 1998, making them the first “new” batch in years not drawn from the stainless steel tank as the previous past few editions have been.  From this year onward, this whiskey will be drawn directly from barrels put away for 18 years, versus using any tanked whiskey.

The Antique Collection was introduced more than a decade ago and has become a cult favorite among whiskey connoisseurs. Since 2000 these whiskeys have garnered numerous awards from such notable publications as Whisky Advocate Magazine, Spirit Journal, and Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible.

The 2016 Antique Collection whiskeys will be available in limited quantities starting in late September or early October.  Suggested retail price is $90 each.

Drew Estate announces the release of Herrera Estelí Miami

Miami-Box (1) Friday, July 22, 2016 — Miami, FL – Drew Estate announced today the release of Herrera Estelí Miami as a line extension to the Herrera Estelí Brand. The new cigar will be displayed in Drew Estate’s booth (Booth #2403) at the IPCPR Convention and Tradeshow held July 24 – 28, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Willy Herrera known for his signature Cubanesque blending style was recruited to join Drew Estate in 2011, after running the El Titan de Bronze factory since the late 90s. The factory is known for being one of the few remaining hand made cigar factories in the United States and employs only Level 9 rollers from Cuba who continue to manufacture cigars in traditional Cuban style, including tubing the filler and finishing with a triple cap.

Willy spent the first 3 years at Drew Estate, predominantly in Estelí, Nicaragua adapting to working at La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate, a factory with access to some of the most innovative and diverse black tobaccos in the world. In 2013, Drew Estate released the Herrera Estelí Brand, a medium bodied, spicy, cubanesque cigar, and followed up in 2014 the release of Herrera Estelí Norteño, a full-bodied maduro, as his sophomore release.

Miami-SingleThe new Herrera Estelí Miami debuts in a 5 ¾ x 48 corona vitola packaged in 10 count boxes with an MSRP of $130.00 per box. The blend features an Ecuadorian Habano Oscuro Wrapper, Ecuadorian Sumatra Binder, and Dominican and Nicaraguan Fillers. The unique attribute of the new release is that it is produced at El Titan de Bronze Factory on Calle Ocho in Little Havana, Miami, Florida.

When asked about the new cigar, Drew Estate Master Blender Willy Herrera stated, “The journey at Drew Estate has taken me to new countries, and almost every state in the union. After 5 years, it was time to come home and work on a project where it all began for me. Going back to my roots and in my home where I was brought up has been such a blessing.”

HE-Tray-_-BundlesIn addition to the new Herrera Estelí Miami, the Herrera Estelí line will offer new packaging configurations including a Display Tray and refill bundles in the core Herrera Esteli Vitolas including the Herrera Esteli Toro, Piramide Fino, Lonsdale, Robusto, and Short Corona.

La Barba Cigar Co. announces “One & Only”

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In April of this year La Barba announced that they entered into an agreement with “Down and Back LLC” which is synonymous with The Caldwell Cigar Company. Down and Back will now handle all of La Barba’s Distribution and importing leaving time for its founder, Tony Bellatto to focus on the highly anticipated “blue project” which is being named “One and Only.”

barba2The “One and Only” is an undisclosed blend that was created at the Tabacalera William Ventura factory in the Dominican Republic, and boasts artwork from Jade Rivera, a prominent artist located in Miami. When asked about the artist Tony said, “Jade is from Lima, Peru and Robert Introduced me to his artwork about 3 years ago and I’ve always loved his style, especially his portraits. So it seemed like a natural fit for us to use him for the artwork.”

Barba1500 boxes of the “One and Only” will be released at the 2016 IPCPR trade show, and will be available to select retailers nationwide along with a re-branding of the La Barba “Red” which will now be produced at the Ventura factory using a blend that will stay true to the original intended palate, and will be comprised of primarily Dominican tobacco.

When Hoochly asked Tony about the details on the One and Only  he said “We cannot disclose the blend at the moment but  what I can tell you is that The One and Only will be a full bodied, spicy and creamy cigar. It’s a 6×52 Toro extra and will come in 10 count boxes. The retails price will be $12.50”

The La Barba “purple” will also undergo some minor design and packaging changes but the blend itself will remain the same. Down and Back will also be distributing Bellatto’s other brand “Siempre” a brand that Tony and his father developed along side Robert Caldwell and Henderson Ventura.

Caldwell Cigar Co. announces distribution of La Barba Cigars

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Thursday, April 20, 2016 – Miami, Florida – Robert Caldwell has entered into an agreement with his good friend Tony Bellatto of La Barba Cigars to take over manufacturing and distribution of the La Barba brands, something that Bellatto had worked on his own since the launch of his brand in 2013.

“Tony Bellatto (owner of La Barba) has been a great friend of mine since I first started with the Wynwood Cigars project. He came down to Miami and worked on La Barba right in front of me. He is a visionary and has a great palate. I am looking forward to working with him in this new relationship. It is something that works well for both of us”, Caldwell says.

Caldwell-Cigar-Company3-810x506Bellatto will continue blending cigars and will be on the road with the Caldwell team hosting events and promoting his brand. La Barba will announce a new blend at IPCPR this year, which will be made together with Caldwell.

“Robert and I will start blending soon to have something to release at IPCPR this year, nothing will change with he current blend on la Barba purple, however we are working on making the boxes and bands a lot more elegant” Said Tony Bellatto to Hoochly.com when asked about the upcoming release.
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La Barba cigars will start being distributed and sold at the same retailers as Caldwell Cigars and it is just a matter of time before aficionados can find these sought after cigars at their local B&M’s.

“We are really excited about this arrangement with Caldwell. We have had great success with La Barba over the last couple of years. Our only limitation has been being able to make and distribute enough cigars. We are confident that this arrangement with Caldwell will help to solve our supply and distribution needs and free up time to promote and build the brand”, Bellatto commented on the recent press release.

La Barba Purple is currently produced at Tabacalera William Ventura, the same factory as Caldwell.

Exclusive Interview with Juan Cancel from Protocol Cigars

Hoochly spent some time with one of the men behind Cubariqueño Cigar Company and he tells us the story behind Protocol, how he got started in the industry, the plans for the brand and a very special message for all the cigar geeks out there!

CubariquenoHoochly: Tell us about how you first got into cigars?

Juan: I first got into cigars at a very early age. It’s not the traditional way everyone would think. I wasn’t born into it or came from a tobacco family, however oddly enough, my grandfather used to work in tobacco fields in Puerto Rico, when tobacco was being mass produced there. From 1900 until 1927, Puerto Rico produced around 35 million tons of tobacco a year. Record exports were made as late as 1957 to North America, England, Spain, France, Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica and other main cigar making areas of the world. Until that time, Puerto Rico was the fifth largest exporter of tobacco in the world after the U.S., Mexico, Venezuela and Africa. Enough with the history lesson.

My family practiced a religion called Santeria. Cigars were involved with many of the rituals of Santeria. I always loved the aroma of the cigars during the “limpieza”. My grandfather would put down a lit cigar as an offering to the Saints. When he wasn’t looking, I would pick up the cigars and smoke it. We would always come back, see the cigar was smoked and exclaimed that the “Santos” were happy with him. As I got into adulthood my passion for tobacco grew stronger with each passing year.

Hoochly: What motivated you to create your own cigar company and brand?

Juan:  I am a cigar nut by trade. It is a passionate lifestyle I truly enjoy. My dream has always been to one day own my own cigar line, as probably the same with many other cigar nuts! The motivation was an opportunity that presented itself to fulfill a dream.

Hoochly: What did you do professionally before getting involved in the cigar industry?

Juan: I am still a full time Law Enforcement Official with under 3 years to retire.

2Hoochly: Pick the 2 people who have influenced you the most in the cigar industry and tell us why.

Juan: Erik Espinosa is my Idol in this industry. He has grown from a sales rep to Cigar Factory Owner, but he’s too easy, after all he produces my cigars. I want to go a little deeper. The 2 people that has influenced me the most in this industry is Rocky Patel and Jonathan Drew. Both are close friends, both have been to my house and have broken bread with my family. We have had great laughs together and I consider each one to be a dear friends. They both have influenced me greatly and for the same reason. Look at these 2 guys. Both super successful in an industry dominated by Hispanics. An industry where only families that were doing this for generations would to prosper and thrive.

Both Jon and Rocky were not born into this Industry, same can be said about me. They are both from different cultures, and different carrier paths. Rocky was an Indian lawyer and Jonathan was a Jewish Kid studying law at Brooklyn Law. Both left their career paths and took a big chance to follow their dreams. They both put a lot of their blood, sweat, tear, time and money into something that they weren’t sure they would be successful. At first they were laughed at by their predecessors. Everyone gave them 2 year to be out of business. They did not let that stop them or cause them to give up! By following their passion and chasing their dream, today they are each one of the largest in the Cigar Industry and still growing. Each of their stories can be an inspiration for anything not just the cigar industry. They are both remarkable men.

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Hoochly: Let’s talk about Mr. Bill Ives. How did you meet him and how did you two decide to start this business venture together?

Juan: Bill Ives is the other half of the company. He is the “Cuba” part of Cubariqueño Cigar Company. I am the “Riqueño” part. We created that name to honor our Cuban and Puerto Rican Heritage. I met Bill Ives through cigar circles. Bill Ives would go to the Leaf Cigar Bar & Restaurant which was my main cigar hang out. He later became a member of Cigar Club, that I along with a few others founded. So we started to hang out and get to know each other through those two channels. Our friendship grew as did our passion for cigars. After knowing each other for a few years, a third friend by the name of Bill Agathis, who later also became our business partner, suggested that we should come out with our own cigars. Bill Agathis planted the seed for all of this. The next step consisted of sitting down with Erik Espinosa and asking him if he would be willing to produce our Cigar. He said yes and here we are today.

La ZonaCubarriqueño’s first cigar, Protocol was made at La Zona factory owned by Eric Espinoza. Why? Tell us about the process.

Juan: After deciding that we wanted to become cigar brand owners, the next question was who will produce our cigars? Like I mentioned  before, I am an Extreme Cigar Nut. Throughout my years I’ve been to many Cigar events, excursions, safaris, and trips to the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Florida, all following the passion of cigars. In those travels I have become friends with many cigar celebrities. It is actually surreal to me that these guys call me up, sometimes out of the blue, just to see how I’m doing. It’s an amazing thing. So at the time I was really digging La Zona Cigar Factory. I was basically an Espinosa fanboy. Everything out of that factory, to me tasted amazing. So when the question of who was going to produce our Cigar, the first person that came to mind was Erik Espinosa.

We asked Eric to sit down and have a meeting with us. We presented the idea to Erik, thinking he was going to laugh at us and walk out of the room. To our surprise he actually said he would love to do a cigar for us and then we started talking about production and  numbers, etc. Once it was agreed that Eric was going to produce our cigar, the next step was actually the cigar itself and coming up with the right blend for the cigar. This is where I met my now mentor, Hector Alfonso Sr. Héctor is the master blender at La Zona. The amount of talent that man commands in tobacco is extraordinary. He has blended some of the biggest hits coming out of La Zona. That guy is a monster and is a huge inspiration to where I would love to one day be with my Tobacco knowledge. So we sat down with Hector over the course of three weeks and he picked our brains as far as what kind of blend we wanted.

Hector created 9 different blends with our palates in mind. Bill and I smoked all of them over a course of a week. The final blend that we used for the Protocol was a blend we both picked as our #1. He blended the Protocol specific to our palates. Many people told us that we should try to blend the cigar that everybody would like, basically try to make it appeal to a broad range of people. We did not listen and blended a cigar that we(Bill and I) loved. We figured, if we never sell the cigars and would be stuck with them for the rest of our lives, then let it be something we loved and enjoy smoking. That was the birth of Protocol

IMG_2557Hoochly: Why the name “Protocol”?

Juan: Erik Espinosa told us in the beginning that the easiest part of this whole process was actually going to be the cigar. What he did say was that the hardest part of it was going to be finding a name. I looked at him like he was crazy. But eventually I got to know exactly what he was saying. Bill and I spent that entire weekend trying to figure out the name of the cigar. We started early Friday afternoon and went all the way through late Sunday night. Every time we thought we had a great name we would look it up and find out that it had been taken. Bill was at my house and we were drinking Ron Zacapa XO, which happens to be my favorite thing to pair when smoking cigars. We drank an entire bottle of the Ron Zacapa XO. Then we wanted more. I told Bill that there was no more and he said in a drunken state “what do you mean there’s no more? It’s standard Protocol to have Ron Zacapa XO in the house.” We looked at each other and Protocol was born.

FullSizeRender_1Hoochly: What is next for Cubarriqueño?

Juan: We are going to continue to grow our company until the FDA forces us to close our doors. Until the FDA drops it’s decision, we are in full steam ahead mode. We will continue to produce our inaugural sizes of a 6 X 52 Toro and a 5&5/8 X 46 Corona Gordo. Next we have the Protocol coming out in a Lancero. It’s a traditional Cuban Lancero size of a 7.5 X 38. We are doing a new cigar called the Protocol Billyclub in 2 Vitolas. One is a 5×52 Robusto and the other is a 7.5 X 48 Short Churchill Semi Box Pressed, both with a closed foot.

CharityHoochly: Tell us about your charity, the Port Authority Police Hispanic Society.

Juan: I organize a yearly charity event called the Port Authority Police Hispanic Society Cigar Night. This year on October 13 marks our 10th year doing the event. Attendees pay $150 and get between 20 and 30 Cigars. They also have a five hour open bar, a four course gourmet meal, mingle with over 25 different cigar celebrities and Brand owners, and a chance to win thousands of dollars worth of raffle prizes. There is also a live Latin Band that plays most of the night. 100% of the money raised go to bettering the life of inner-city children locally and abroad. We sponsor inner city sports, we sponsor educational programs such as SAT prep programs, and even do a large turkey drive on Thanksgiving to give out turkeys  to needy families. We have build homes and paid for educational programs in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. I believe a big part of moving forward is always giving back.

1Hoochly: What are your Top 5 Cigars right now?

Juan:  #5. Flor De Gonzalez 20th Anniversary Maduro Toro
#4. Sobremesa Cervantes Fino
#3. Epic Maduro Lancero
#2. Espinosa Especial No.1
#1. Laranja Reserva Caixa

Hoochly: What message you have for our readers?

Juan: I have been on many many Facebook Cigar Groups and have seen first hand people get upset at the oddest things. I think people should be able to laugh at things, others, and themselves. Everyone should lighten up and chill. Don’t take everything as a personal attack. Have fun. Don’t be so serious. You know what they say “the only thing that can ruin a great cigar is smoking it next to an asshole!” Don’t be an asshole and don’t let no asshole ruin your cigar!

There are way too many assholes out there. If you pay attention you will never enjoy a cigar again. So just chill and fully enjoy every cigar you smoke!

Drew Estate Releases New Herrera Estelí TAA Exclusive Vitola

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Miami, FL – Today, Drew Estate announced a new line extension within their Herrera Estelí line. This new cigar, called the Herrera Estelí TAA Exclusive, will be launched at the TAA Convention and Tradeshow, held March 6 – 10, 2016 in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and will begin shipping to TAA members in April 2016.

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“This is my first blend since joining Drew Estate that utilizes Connecticut Broadleaf tobacco. Drew Estate fans know that we’re famous for our use of Connecticut Broadleaf tobaccos, especially in our Liga Privada No. 9 and Nica Rustica lines. I’ve been experimenting with blends that incorporate this incredible wrapper since coming on board and finally have a blend I’m really excited about. I think anyone who’s a fan of my blends will definitely appreciate this cigar. Spicy, meaty, and rich – get ready!” – Said Willy Herrera when asked about this new blend.

The new Herrera Estelí TAA Exclusive is a 6×52 vitola, packaged in 12-ct boxes, and will retail for $144.00 per box or $12.00 per cigar. The blend features a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper, Brazilian Mata Fina binder, and Nicaraguan fillers and is blended by Drew Estate Master Blender Willy Herrera.

For a chance to try a box of the new Herrera Estelí TAA Exclusive before they hit store shelves, enter the sweepstakes at http://drewestate.com/herrerataa.

BUFFALO TRACE RELEASES COLONEL E. H. TAYLOR, JR. SEASONED WOOD BOURBON WHISKEY

Buffalo_Trace_DistilleryFRANKFORT, FRANKLIN COUNTY, KY (Feb. 29, 2016) – Buffalo Trace Distillery continues its tribute to former Distillery owner Colonel E. H. Taylor, Jr. with a special release bourbon whiskey aged in seasoned wood oak barrels.  This 100 proof, Bottled-In-Bond, small batch wheat recipe bourbon was aged well over a decade and is a special one-time-only release.

The barrels in this release underwent a variety of special seasoning processes,   including barrels made from staves that were immersed in an enzyme rich bath with water heated to 100 degrees.  After spending time in this proprietary solution, these staves were then placed into kilns and dried until they reached an ideal humidity level for crafting into barrels.  Other staves were seasoned outdoors for six months, and still others were left outdoors for a full 12 months before being made into barrels and sent to Buffalo Trace Distillery to be filled and aged.  All barrel staves were seasoned, dried, and crafted at Independent Stave Company, who consulted on this project with the premiere expert on oak maturation, Dr. James Swan.

EH Taylor Seasoned Wood Bottle & CanisterThe result of aging in these distinct barrels has delivered a wheat bourbon that is quite different from the other wheated bourbons made by Buffalo Trace. Descriptions include, “a delicate aroma of caramel and dried fruit, followed by a bright and pleasant first sip.  Oak tannins are balanced by a touch of butterscotch, almond, citrus notes, and hint of spicy clove. The body is soft and balanced with an aftertaste that lingers perfectly.”

This Seasoned Wood Bourbon is the eighth and latest release in the collection of  E. H. Taylor, Jr. whiskeys, rounding out the collection of Old Fashioned Sour Mash Bourbon, Single Barrel Bourbon, Warehouse C Tornado Surviving Bourbon, Barrel Proof Bourbon, Straight Rye Whiskey, Small Batch Bourbon and Cured Oak Bourbon. The Sour Mash, Warehouse C Tornado Surviving Bourbon and Cured Oak were one time only releases and are no longer available.

The Colonel E. H. Taylor, Jr. collection was first released in early 2011 and several subsequent releases have followed.  Like some of the previous releases, this one-time-only bottling is very limited.   Also consistent with past releases, the Seasoned Wood Bourbon displays a vintage label and is offered inside a distinct canister reminiscent of Taylor’s whiskey package from over one hundred years ago. These six bottle cases will again be shipped in an impressive wooden box first used for the Cured Oak release.  The boxes are modeled after the wooden crates used by Taylor to transport goods during the days before Prohibition.

Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr.  is widely considered one of the founding fathers of the bourbon industry, fighting for the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, nearly three decades after he purchased the distillery that is known today as the Buffalo Trace Distillery. During his time, Taylor implemented several innovative methods still used today by Buffalo Trace, such as climate controlled aging warehouses. In addition to his bourbon interests, Taylor had political ties. He was the great-nephew of President Zachary Taylor and elected the mayor of Frankfort, state representative to the Kentucky General Assembly and a member of the State Senate.

This special bottling of Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Seasoned Wood Bourbon Whiskey will be available starting in late March in limited supply.  The suggested retail price is $69.99 per 750ml bottle.

The HoOchly team will be on the look out for a few bottles, if you find one and get to try it before we do please let us know what you think!

Sazerac Introduces Peychaud’s Aperitivo

NEW ORLEANS, LA.  (Feb. 17, 2016) – Antoine Amedie Peychaud began producing his bitters in a New Orleans apothecary more than 150 years ago, eventually becoming the lead bartender of the Sazerac Coffeehouse, where he mixed simple cocktails with his bitters to much acclaim. Today, the Sazerac Company, still faithfully producing Peychaud’s Bitters according to the original recipe, is announcing a new spirit with Peychaud’s belief in quality, simplicity and mixability in mind; Introducing Peychaud’s Aperitivo.

PeychaudsAperitivoAn extremely versatile spirit, Peychaud’s Aperitivo mixes well with a wide variety of spirits and mixers, and can easily be used as a bar staple, or at home.

“Peychaud’s Aperitivo is a refreshing spirit that’s easy to drink, and the perfect addition for fun and fresh cocktails,” Associate Brand Manager Jana Ritter, said. “We are very excited to introduce Peychaud’s Aperitivo to the cocktail world and to Peychaud’s fans everywhere.”

Peychaud’s Aperitivo has launched in New Orleans and will be spreading to other markets in spring 2016.

“Peychaud’s is an important brand not only in our company’s history, but in American cocktail history and we are excited to continue Antoine Peychaud’s legacy,” Ritter said.

Peychaud’s Aperitivo is 22 proof, and suggested retail pricing for a 750ml is $19.99.

You can enjoy Peychaud’s Aperitivo over ice or in a Royal Street Fizz:

 

Royal Street FizzRoyal Street Fizz 

3 parts Champagne

2 parts Peychaud’s Aperitivo

1 splash club soda

Garnish with a lime twist, serve in a champagne flute and pair it up with a medium to full bodied cigar!