This is for related relevant interviews.

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!

Exclusive Interview with Danny Vazquez of Baracoa Cigar Co.

HoOchly talks with September Sponsor of the Month Danny Vazquez about his new cigar The Voyage and his future plans for Baracoa Cigar Company. 

unnamed-5
Hoochly: 
Tell us about Danny V. What’s going on in your life right now.

Danny: Tons of stuff…  I’ve got a beautiful wife and 4, just as beautiful, daughters. Got a little one that just started kindergarten which is exciting. Also, building the brand and building awareness, hitting up shops and really learning this side of the industry. Network, network, network!


unnamed-4Hoochly: How did you first get involved with cigars? When/How did you start smoking?

Danny: The first time I smoked a cigar I was 21 years old and I only did it because it was all the upper management in the company going out to drink and smoke cigars and I wanted to join in, needless to say I didn’t even smoke half of it and I was sick to my stomach. I don’t even remember what kind of cigar it was but for me it was pretty strong. Years later I attempted it again with something not as strong (some Rocky Patel) and this time it was enjoyable. And then the rest is history, I got hooked. Bought my first humidor and started filling it, and then really started getting in to the whole culture and lifestyle side of the cigar industry, and became a cigar nerd.

unnamed-2
Hoochly: What did you use to do before getting into the cigar business and what are your side hobbies or other passions?

Danny: So as I’m still not a cigar millionaire yet, I am still employed full time as an IT Director for a company based out of Bethesda Maryland. I oversee all 6 locations across 3 different campuses. It pays the bills. I have a couple other passions, cooking is probably top of the list, a lot of my family members are surprised that I didn’t open up a restaurant (maybe in the future) I love to cook for the family and just see them enjoy it, love trying new things with traditional foods. I’ve really started getting in to wines lately as well, I don’t know if it’s because I’ve gotten older or because I’ve really been working on developing my palette this this is just the next progression of that, but finding some really interesting flavors with all kinds of wines and I think I’m a great part of the country to really build that passion. And my kids also, love seeing them learn new things and hack different obstacles in life, love seeing my 5 year old playing soccer for the first time and being able to give her that experience.


unnamed-9Hoochly: Tell us the story of The Voyage. When did you decide you were going to make a cigar and brand? Tell us the process you went through (choosing name, factory, blend, etc.)

Danny: So it was around March of 2014 sitting in a lounge (as usual) with a buddy and we started talking about opening a lounge, started looking in to it and it was honestly not what I was really interested in. I quickly realized I wanted to have my own product in these stores. So I started digging and talking to people that I knew and had met in the industry and got to work on the concept and wanted to nail down exactly what I was looking to do, so that when I started working with a factory, I would be able to come in start working on exactly what I wanted, funny thing about that is I originally wanted to work with a Habano wrapper, but fell in love with this Corojo leaf that I’m using now.

I chose La Aurora factory out of the DR because of a great conversation I had with their master blender Manuel Inoa. He made me understand that I’d be able to work on whatever I was looking to do and he really understood my vision and wanted me to work with them. I couldn’t pass that up. Not to mention that they have a great history and a great factory that I know would be able to deliver the consistency that I was going after.

12993528_1036962423044637_9124942497907043353_n

The name “The Voyage” came to me when thinking about the name of the company Baracoa. Baracoa is a city on the east coast of Cuba and was the first spot that Christopher Columbus landed when he arrived at the island. For me, it wasn’t so much that he discovered the new world (since there were already people there) but more about the courage it took to take that “Voyage” and discover something new to his world. And that really sums up my story in to the cigar industry. I don’t come from a long line of tobacco growing, cigar rolling family. I’m just someone that had a true passion for what I was getting in to and decided to follow my dream.

As far as the blend goes, I really wanted hints of cocoa, leather and a touch of pepper. And I think that switching from Habano wrapper to this beautiful Corojo wrapper really capture what was looking for.

13559003_1093805667360312_6995567853341767410_oHoochly: On The Voyage artwork we see the mantra “Never Settle”, what does it refer to?

Danny: So in sticking with the entire Columbus/Nautical/Discovery theme that is part of Baracoa, the same way that Christopher Columbus didn’t “settle” for what was conventional thinking at the time that the earth was flat, and also didn’t “settle” for just the first spot he landed. I also didn’t settle for just being a cigar smoker or enthusiast, I pushed because I wanted more. And like I said before, I could’ve settled for a “house blend” and just slap a pretty label on the cigar and call it mine. But that wasn’t good enough. So that’s how I’m approaching everything when it comes to the industry, I’d rather not do it at all than do it half-assed. And I’d rather push forward and not settle for what I’ve been told I can’t do, and make it happen. Never Settle… it’s our core belief.


Hoochly: What’s the hardest thing you encountered on your journey to making your own cigar?

Danny: Getting a factory to really work with you and not just offer something that is already on their shelf and you slap your band on. Getting something of quality to be proud of starts with the factory you choose. If they don’t have good tobacco to choose from, it’s going to be difficult to achieve something great.


14117814_1144510888956456_5828895361679791730_nHoochly: Where can people buy The Voyage?

Danny: Right now they are available in a few stores, 2 of which have online stores; heightscigar.com (owned by Hoochly Shack member, Benny Blanchard) and tntcigars.com


13263676_1065120993562113_7464312196408100387_nHoochly: What are your plans for the future as it relates to cigars (or anything)?

Danny: Right now,  I am really watching the FDA regulations and learning about what is it going to cost for a company like mine. Also, I am watching the lawsuit that is in place to see if that offers any type of relief. So for now, my plan is to grow the following for The Voyage and really get it out there in the next 12 months and see where it goes. I have my next 3 cigars blends and names already set and ready to go if I get the chance. I also really want to be more active in the fight against the FDA regulations and push the Save the Leaf movement.


unnamed-3Hoochly: What else do we need to know about Danny V.?

Danny: I’m a huge fan boy of the industry, you’ll still see me at other people’s events, I’ll still be bidding on auctions and wearing other company shirts. I love my product and I love my brand, but I love the industry and the people that I’ve met along the way and I’ll always just be me.

Exclusive Interview with Jose Blanco and Emma Viktorsson with Las Cumbres Tabaco

Jose and EmmaHoochly is very proud to present this exclusive interview with Cigar legends Jose Blanco and Emma Viktorsson of Las Cumbres Tabaco. We want to give a big shout out to Jose and Emma for taking some time out of their busy schedule to spend a moment with the Hoochly team to tell us about their experiences, current and future projects as well as a little bit about their exciting life in the world of cigars.

 

– Jose Blanco  –

Hoochly: You started in the cigar industry at a very young age, pretty much grew up in the middle of it. Did you ever thought about doing anything else for a living or were cigars always your number one passion and career?

Jose: I started smoking cigars at a very young age, officially at 16 – when you grow up seeing your father smoking 4 or 5 cigars a day, plus seeing most of your family growing tobacco and making cigars, the industry crosses your mind – So by the time I was out of school this was on my mind.

Also, growing up in the industry back then was not really what it is today, remember we didn’t have Twitter, Facebook and Instagram lol… So it was definitely on a personal level.

But finally I w­­ould say that 1994 was the year that I said this is what I really want to do on a fully serious level – W­­hen you are young you want to be many things, and I worked in Rum and beer, but in the same time I was part of La Aurora’s Tasting Panel until I finally became fully part of their team – working with premium cigars is something I wouldn’t change for anything in the world.

Blanco at workHoochly: How did you get into blending cigars?

Jose: At a very young age I would go to Jochy’s father’s (my uncle’s) factory Tabacalera Palma and play around with tobaccos, then of course when I arrived at La Aurora I really got deeper into learning more about blending, and of course had more origins to work with at that time.

blending seminarHoochly: You’ve been doing blending seminars for many years, tell us about these seminars and how you came up with this idea?

Jose: The idea of the blending seminar came up after seeing the ones that were done by La Aurora and Davidoff, then I said we can make this more interactive – the way was making everybody part of the seminar.

But also part of the ideas came from retailers and consumers when they asked questions at La Aurora.

That was when I started with the multiple filler seminars (pure grades), and then started with what I continue with: the four wrapper seminar.

Hoochly: What was the best part of working at La Aurora and La Joya factories and what was your best experience from those years?

Jose: Being able to work with the oldest factory of DR and the oldest of Nicaragua – this gave me the opportunity to really experience deeply the tobacco-culture and traditions from my own country the DR and this other giant in cigars, Nica.

Hoochly: What led you to come up with your own cigar?

Jose: When you work hard and make a name for yourself, but also while being humble you have a dream – I decided this with Emma who definitely agreed it was time to make our own brand. I felt it was the right time.

IPCPRHoochly: Tell us about the Señorial and the blend and what can we expect to see at this year’s IPCPR show?

Jose: Señorial was 7 months and over 30 blends of hard work to achieve what we were looking for; this is a brand that I’m very proud of.

We will have at the show our new Señorial Maduro Box Press.

Hoochly: What is your favorite food and drink?

My favorite is between Latin/Caribbean traditional food and Italian fresh pasta and Swedish “sill” (Scandinavian prepared herring)

Drink: A Single Malt or a quality Rum (I mean the good stuff).

Hoochly: Taylor Ham or Pork Roll?

Jose: Bacon lol

Hoochly: Aurora 100 or Cuenca y Blanco?

Jose: Aurora 100 Años probably one of the top 3 cigars ever made in Dominican Republic!!!

Of course Cuenca Y Blanco was made in Nicaragua, so I am not comparing origins. I love the CyB of course, I am very happy and proud of it.

But my answer was to show how much it’s hard to been La Aurora 100 Años for me, it is on top for me.

no assholesHoochly: You quoted the saying “Never Smoke Next to an Asshole”, have you ever smoked next to one? Any funny anecdotes?

Jose: I wish I had a dollar for every time I’m asked this, LOL!

The best one was in Arizona: This guy comes into the shop after one of my seminars, we were about 10 people in the lounge. He looked like a linebacker, was big, pulls out a LFD 700 which is a 2-hour smoke – in 20 minutes the cigar disappears, Houdini couldn’t make it disappear that fast! After a couple of minutes trying to be polite, I asked him “how was the smoke?”, he said “awesome I smoke 7 to 8 of them a day.” Then I tell him “I think if you would have smoked slower you would enjoy it more” – then he gets up and starts to give me a lecture on cigars, ranted for about 10 minutes… Meanwhile people were laughing. He goes “wtf is funny?” – the owner of the shop brings out a Cigar Aficionado magazine, she says “look” – there was a nice article of roughly 5 pages about me and photos. When he finished reading a little and looking at the photos of me, very graciously he said “For years’ people have told me I’m an asshole, today it’s confirmed I am!” – this was very funny.

 

– Emma Viktorson –

Hoochly: How did you meet Jose? Tell us the story…

Emma: I met Jose through work in Santiago, DR. I was then working for Swedish Match Premium (which basically is General Cigar cigars). During those years 2005-2010, Swedish Match was distributing for La Aurora in my markets which were Eastern and Central Europe. I was growing to become Marketing Manager Premium Cigars CEE Countries for Swedish Match.

In Summer 2008 I spent all Summer in Santiago, DR, with General Cigar in order to train in their factory every day – It was magical! Hard work and many hours but a true passion! And an honor to have this opportunity.

Well, since I also represented La Aurora in my countries, I met with them too. I had actually visited La Aurora a couple of times before then when I traveled to Santiago with some clients from Europe, but during both those trips Jose was traveling.

So Jose and met at a private dinner that summer of 2008, with people from La Aurora and myself – but those times have nothing to do with where we are today! (Ha-ha!).

Jose and I only started our private friendship in 2010, and that was the year, later in the year, that I decided to resign from my position at Swedish Match in order to join Jose in Santiago from where we soon thereafter moved to Nicaragua.

La-Cumbres-Tabaco-Senorial-BandHoochly: We know that you are the marketing genius of Las Cumbres, tell us about the Señorial concept and design?

Emma: As you see in my previous answer I am in marketing in premium cigars ever since I was out of university, but while working for a large multinational corporation my hands were tied – crazy marketing ideas versus the finance-department haha 😛

So when I started Las Cumbres Tabaco I was 100% free and I just went with it! I loved it! I was so excited, I love preparing Marketing-plans – our son Jasper was then only between 12 and 15 months, a dear friend of mine from Macedonia, Biljana, was spending some months with us in Casa de Campo (La Romana), DR – I was so much in my zone that I literally forgot to eat, and once in while Jasper ran to me for breast-feeding and Biljana came running behind with a large water-bottle – I was fully focused.

This story reflects the personal feelings toward this company: Las Cumbres Tabaco means “The Summits Tobacco” and although we aim for the summits, the real meaning of this name is Jasper’s very first home! When Jasper was born we lived in Nicaragua and our address was “Las Cumbres de las Colinas” in Managua.

Señorial is a name that for me represents Jose Blanco. I did not even know the word in Spanish yet. The meaning is “Lordly” but I was not searching for “lordly” either (both Jose and I are much too humble for that haha!). I was going through words that for me represent “Jose in premium cigars” – in a few stronger languages for me which I would google translate my way forward – this took days and weeks… I don’t remember how long.

Basically I wanted a name/word that embodies: maturity, wisdom, passion, culture, tradition, history, family… and somewhere down the line “Señorial” popped up and before actually translating it for myself it was like a light shone on the word – Just the start of “Señor” in it felt relatable for many people… And then I was happy with the meaning of the actual word too.

The logo is a painting – I love art and from Go I was set on using art for our brands. I took a photo of this street in the Colonial Zone in Santo Domingo, which represents Jose’s Dominican roots and tradition, and I sent it to my step-mom, Deyana Mincheva Viktorsson who is a painter – we discussed the coloring and there it is!

10424664_1510965825866140_141566860_n
Hoochly: Let’s talk about Freyja, how did you come up with the blend and how was that experience of creating your own cigar?

Emma: This was never a plan of mine. But I was asked quite often “why not be face of something…” So one day I thought to myself, the marketing-geek that I am “OK I will try, but it will be a “Fully-made” product – meaning I would not be happy with myself if I did not actually blend the cigar as well as create the full product so speak.

This is also why I did not tell Jose nor his cousin Jochy Blanco, about this, because if I did they would automatically influence me which would mean that: 1. I would not know if I actually blended or not; and 2. IF I would manage a blend I would not find my own style.

I know Señorial’s blend, and I knew that Jose was working on Señorial Maduro in the same time with a Mexican San Andres wrapper, so I knew which wrappers not to work with, and I secretly made a few blends.

I love Mexican San Andres tremendously, so I decided to try it as a Binder – very untraditional way of blending is to start with the binder and on top of that stick to it through the end! So it was that binder from day one, in a low seco-priming in order to keep a good draw. I knew I wanted to try with a Dominican wrapper as I knew that Jochy has fantastic ones! I tried with a couple of different seeds (it became a Criollo ’98) … And the filler was tweaked a lot before finding the final blend – I have seen Jose blend a lot, even since the CyB I was with him blending and tasting…

I took my ideas to Gerladito Perez, the production manager at Tabacalera Palma, asked him to keep this secret until we have a few good blends. He was very excited about this! Jose was in the office with Jochy while I was on the factory-floor with Geraldito every day… It never occurred to Jose to ask me what I was doing, I guess he was focused on Senorial Maduro and in his own zone.

Finally, Geraldito went into the office and had Jose and Jochy try a few blends of which one was to become “Freyja” – they loved it and mentioned something about “what to do with this!” And Geraldito said “Nothing, this is Emma’s blend” and I sheepishly smiled and nodded in the background.

How it all felt… Exciting! Passionate! Every single draw on every tobacco (even the ones I didn’t particularly care for) and every single blend, and every touch and scent of every tobacco was each and every one a deep moment of pleasure!!!

Hoochly, Freyja's actual 80x60 cm oil painting made for my cigarHoochly: What came first for Freyja, the cigar or the name?

Emma: Hard to say… Like I answered above, I never planned this, but in the same moment as I decided in my own secret mind that I will try to blend, the name would be Freyja – A beautiful name of this Goddess of ours just clicked somehow as I wanted my cigar to represent me and my culture (The same way that the name Señorial represents Jose and his culture).

However, I would never have created anything past the name Freyja, nor any cigar “Freyja” at all if I would not have pulled off blending… Like I mentioned above, I am very demanding of myself and simply would not gone beyond Jose’s brands and leave my job at that and that point.

But I managed!

So truly I would say that the Blend came first.

smelling tobacco

Hoochly: What is your favorite part of cigar making?

Emma: Ouff all of it!!!

I cannot decide… I love marketing and brand-development as much (or sometimes more) as tobacco-work. So just as how I described creating Las Cumbres and Señorial, for Freyja I was in an even deeper zone!!! I was studying Norse Mythology further with my history and Viking-geek friend Danilo Popovski (who was then interning with us), I was in contact with my Macedonian friend Jana Jovanova, the painter of my verison of Freyja… The work on names… The sizes and vitolas to both fit the market(s) and to represent me as an SOTL and creator… etc…

Tobacco: Choosing tobaccos, in the very early stages, of choosing seeds and earth, touching, feeling the scents of tobacco-leaves… I Love that so much! Smoking pure-grades… Philosophizing about what will match and/or enhance the next tobacco…

Then final smoking of the finally chosen few blends all put together is exciting and also moments I love but frankly I prefer both steps above: the more primitive dirty hands-on tobacco-work and the marketing/designing/creating.

Freyja promoHoochly: What is your message for the women in the industry that are trying to make an impact? Do you think women have to work harder than men to gain respect and credibility in the cigar industry?

Emma: I often get this type of question and I always stay as “political” as possible but as more and more women express their feelings towards cigars, I will be more open in this answer this time and I answer this with full respect to every woman’s wish and communication with cigars:

I have to say that it is today blurry as to which women want to “make an impact” as you say and which ones just want to be seen/discovered as women on some level/or who just want to have fun with cigars on a serious level or on a light-felt level.

As a continuation to that, I feel that it is this “blurriness” that actually makes it harder for women to sometimes be taken seriously. This leads me to answer you: “do I think women have to work harder than men to gain respect?” YES, we do! But not necessarily because of men:

During my job for Swedish Match in the early-mid 2000’s to 2010, I was faced with challenges due to men, yes: I was in my 20’s in Eastern Europe before Social Media was into “business” as we see it today. Men challenged me a lot, often on purpose, with more and more questions during seminars… I made sure to learn as much as possible before doing Seminars and made sure I could always stay confident – this pushed me to work harder on learning more.

I did not complain, I Loved those challenges and used them in the right way: learn more, gain more confidence and Achieve.

Now, today, I am sorry to say that women are making women have to work harder – and this is not a “fun” type of challenge… I am saying this with full respect as many women really don’t mean anything negative and just want to have fun, but this has become a blurry line and I can feel it.

So to answer your question: for those women who truly want to make an impact:

  1. First of all, learn as much as you can! If one cannot afford a trip and long stay enough in a place with factories, then read: read read read! Read and take a trip, and even from home ask, ask ask ask!
  2. Find out why you as a woman (not “you Carolina” lol J), why “you” as a woman really want to make an impact? For what reason? This is where the line gets blurry.
  3. Then Honestly communicate why you are passionate in this area of products – and if the impact is truly passion for premium cigars, the tobacco itself, all the Work behind production, fascination of this work, the business-work following that, the challenges faced, may it be marketing or the FDA threatening us or any other business-related aspect… any of these serious reasons – After actually learning about tobacco – Then communicate the impact of your choice.
  4. What kind of impact does the woman want to make? Is it “as a ‘woman’?” or just “as a ‘person’ infatuated by this product/business?”

To continue from my experience: I personally never thought about this since I went straight from college to this line business, and my passion came from the product itself and for my clients…

So when I finally had to start making an impact from “myself” I was 10 years into the business which was when I created Freyja (I had between 2005 and Freyja’s debut which was in 2015) – so in my case the Product comes first and my credentials following my product.

So finally, what’s the desired impact? Oneself as a woman? Or as a person? Or is it your product and achievements? (The “product” can be a fun personal service such as a blog or anything at all…!)

And finally to be true to oneself and to everyone – that impact should be made on the desired level and reason.

Emma Hobbies
Hoochly: What are some of your hobbies other than cigars?

Emma: I used to have time for so many hobbies before! This means before creating Las Cumbres Tabaco and before having my little Jasper.

–         Alpine-skiiing

–         Horse-back riding

–         In Skopje (Macedonia) I took on a full personal project of a failed attempt to close down the zoo but a full success to make that zoo much better and safer for the animals

–         Visited orphanages

–         Brief time of musical theatre studies

–         Fashion

–         And last but definitely not the least, Dancing!

Today, the ones I have time for is dancing and fashion 🙂

 

JasperHoocly: You and Jose have a beautiful son, only 3 years old. From his personality and character what do you see him doing when he grows up?

Emma: Jasper is a very confident child, he is very fashionable, always wants to dress as a man (proper shirts, a tie, sunglasses, long pants…), he walks and moves like a little man, he behaves like a Rock Star…. Lol…

But in the same time he has his little feet on the ground – this is hard to explain as he is only three and a half years old, but he is also quite mature for his age and likes to “discuss.”

Jasper as JuventusJasper is obviously also brought up very Internationally with many cultures from my side from Scandinavia to Balkan, and with my father and family living in Thailand, his dad from the Dominican Republic and himself growing in the US (Hoboken, NJ).

So all in all, I picture Jasper becoming a charismatic and charming International business-man.

But my dream is that he will become a professional Football-player for Juventus (sorry… “Soccer”, LOL :P)

 

Hoochly: What cigars do you smoke when you are not smoking a cigar from Las Cumbres?

Emma: I honestly don’t smoke very often and I smoke a bit of everything – when I smoke a cigar I like to enjoy the philosophy of it – I love to think about the flavors and body from inch to inch, to feel the difference between the retrohaled experience versus the puff experience; to think deeply about the origins and even seeds; the aging… For me it is not “smoking” it is a philosophy…

Unless I’m letting go at some event and just have fun and simply “smoke” but that won’t extend a very slowly well enjoyed single cigar.

So I smoke as much diversity as possible!!! Diversity in brands and origins make my “philosophical experience” so much richer, more interesting and fun.

I don’t want to mention brands as I will surely forget some and then feel bad for those blenders that I might forget in this moment…

But I love spice (so I can openly mention Pepin in this case… He, his son Jaime and their team have a lot of good spice in their blends, but from far are they alone with spice!), I love sweetness, and complexity. I am however not very fond of too much earthy notes if they are not accompanied by spice or sweetness or nutty or any other complexity… If we talk about Cubans (well made, well-constructed and “real” ones) then I can mention a couple of brands, such as H. Upman and Partagas for example: I love their sweetness, creaminess and complexity. Finally, in body I prefer a medium to full body or a full body too if the strength does not take over the complexity in flavors.

Hoochly: What exciting projects you have on the works that you can share with us?

Emma: Our latest is the Señorial Maduro 5 ¾ X 46 box-press called El Cuadro (meaning the frame which represents both the shape and “art” which means a lot at Las Cumbres), and the Freyja 6 ½ X 55 box called Mjölnir (which is the name of Norse God Thor’s Hammer which clearly shows the meaning haha).

I cannot disclose any future projects, I’m sorry.

jose n EmmaHoochly: Emma and Jose, thank you once again for this great interview, and to close this up what would be your message for our Hoochly followers?

Emma and Jose: In addition to all the passion and education we both like to communicate, and know what is true and what is misconception, we please ask everyone, Now more than ever to Support the CRA in every way possible!!!

 

jose n Emma 2

Interview with Nicholas Syris of LH Premium Cigars

LH-BandSmallThe Hoochly team was fortunate to spend some time with Nicholas Syris of LH Premium Cigars, Nick shared with us his story from the beginning, what brought him into the cigar industry, his current projects and his Cuban trip experiences.

Nicholas_Syris_GreceHoochly: Tell us a little bit about yourself, who is Nicholas Syris?
Nick: I’m a Greek born American Citizen.  It is apropos that my family lineage comes from tobacco farming families in northern Greece. My parents came to the United States when I was just a toddler seeking the American Dream they heard about in the “old country.”  I’m a husband and a father that believes you should always follow your dreams, do what you love, work hard and strive for success! Success for me is the continuous journey toward the achievement of my goals!

Hoochly: What did you do for work before you got into the cigar business and how did you transitioned to cigars?
Nick: I’ve been an entrepreneur my entire life.  I started my first business (a computer consulting firm) when I was still in high school. I cultivated it through my college years and I never looked back!  Eventually I sold the computer consulting firm to pursue my first real passion – electronics.  I’ve always been a gadget and technology junkie so my evolution into the electronics industry was seamless. I always loved music and movies so my passion turned into a successful retail and custom installation audio/video business. With an anchor retail store based in New Jersey my company designed and installed personal home theaters. We started out in the northeast part of the state but worked with clients nationally and internationally.  It was a fun and dynamic business that allowed me to meet and befriend many interesting people.  Ironically, it was sharing a cigar that lead to a unique friendship with a Saudi Royal Prince. He also became a client and I traveled to the middle east where I designed theaters for his palaces and other Royals. It was the bond of the cigar that we shared that was the genesis of our friendship.
Lavida_Habana_Lounge_ExteriorHoochly: Tell us the story of how cigars became your business and how did LH Cigars and Lavida Habana Cigar Lounges started?
After almost 20 years in the technology business, I found myself being more consumed by my interest for premium cigars.  It seemed like everything kept leading me back to my family’s roots in tobacco.  I remember as a child spending summers in northern Greece helping my grandparents and extended family sort tobacco. I either caught the tobacco “bug” as a child that lay dormant in me or perhaps it was simply always a part of my DNA.  Now, the aroma of dried tobacco leaves is nostalgic for me.Throughout my adult years, cigars were always instrumental in forming great bonds with clients and colleagues in business.  Nicholas_Syris_and_PartnerEventually, it became my business.  My long time friend and now business colleague Omar Nasr, was tasked with putting together what became the first private cigar lounge in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He was the personal business manager for that first Prince I met.  Our business relationship grew through the years, but again it was the mutual love and passion for cigars that was the foundation of our friendship. Lavida_Habana_Lounge_Inside I was asked to be a part of that project, and that project turned into the Lavida Habana Cigar Lounges.  Part of my responsibilities were to assist procuring hard to find, limited edition and “special” cigars for the private clientele of the lounges.  A number of our members are Royals and they were accustomed to the finer things and that didn’t stop at cigars. They expected excellence when it came to their own enjoyment of premium cigars.  Through a series of events the LH Premium Custom Rolled Cigar was created. It was originally crafted by master rollers in Cuba made specifically for their pallets and particular tastes.
LH__Premium_Cigars_Factory
Hoochly: The LH Cigar sold internationally started with a Cuban blend, tell us about it and how did they transitioned to be non-Cuban?
Nick: The first LH Custom rolled cigars were made entirely from Cuban tobacco. Initially it was difficult for our clients to appreciate the evolution of the cigars and how by blending tobaccos you can achieve more complex flavor profiles.  The entire world (outside of the U.S.) has a very skewed view on premium cigars.  The prevailing view is that only Cuban cigars are really worth enjoying and the rest are inferior.  It’s thought that Americans have to smoke non-Cubans because they cant’s smoke the “real” thing.  They even go so far as to call all non-Cuban cigars, “fakes!”  I wasn’t subscribing to any of that and it became my mission to introduce non-Cuban cigars to my clients.  Lavida_Habana_Lounge_ClienteleThe task proved more difficult than I initially expected. Just getting them to try non-Cuban cigars proved a struggle.  You have to understand their view point.  If you are used to a regular diet of a particular taste and flavor profile, as soon as something different was sampled, it was dismissed. They would immediately put it down and it was the end of discussion.  It was a process that took years of putting together an initial blend that was similar enough to what their palates expected but just different enough to peak their curiosities. This process culminated in the first non-Cuban blend of LH Cigars.
LH_Premium_Cigars_ Blends
Hoochly: The LH Cigar sold today you are using tobacco from many countries and regions tell us what the blend is, where are they made at and what can people expect in terms of strength, body and flavor profile.
Nick: LH Cigars today use wrappers from Ecuador, all from the same farm! Our current mild, medium and full bodied blends are all wrapped with Connecticut shade, Habano and Criollo seeded wrappers. The binders and fillers are primarily from Peru, and Nicaragua. We also use Dominican and Honduran as well as tobaccos from Brazil.  For me this is the most rewarding part of the business. We are constantly experimenting with tobaccos from regions from all over the world.  I love coming up with interesting and unique blends. It is especially rewarding when my fellow aficionados enjoy them.
LH__Premium_Cigars_Retail_Stores
Hoochly: LH Cigars were a global success and now they are available to us in the States, tell us where can we purchase LH Cigars?
Nick: I always considered LH Cigars an international cigar because they were first available outside the United States. But for me as an American it was always my dream to offer LH Cigars to the U.S. market.  Having been in retail all my life, I understand the plethora of choices already available to the American cigar smoker.  With literally over five thousand options available, did I really want to become the five thousand and first choice in an already crowded market?  The LH cigar grew organically overseas as our initial private clientele took and shared their LH cigars with their friends and fellow cigar lovers in other parts of the middle east and world.  I thought I should do the same and started getting people to smoke them here in the U.S.  I am slowly and methodically introducing it to new markets, one at a time.  Currently we have retailers in pockets throughout the U.S. We are looking for the right partners and brokers to help us continue to spread the LH word.  If you contact us at our website www.lhcigars.com, we would be happy to direct you to a retailer near you.  If there are no local tobacconists near you that carry LH we have a couple of our retailers that will ship to you!
Smooth_Draws_Radio_Show
Hoochly: Tell us about your collaboration with Smooth Draws Radio Show, what is your segment and what topics do you cover?
Nick: I was initially interviewed by the show as the brand owner of LH Premium Cigars.  Gary Laden, the driving force and host of the Smooth Draws Radio Show, based out of ESPN Radio 1230, The Fan, in Atlanta was very interested in my Cuba travels and experiences. He asked me if I was interested in being a contributor to the show.  What started out as a weekly segment, “Nick’s Notebook: A Cigar Enthusiast’s Guide to Cuba,” has now turned into me being a regular in a co-hosting capacity. For those of you outside of Atlanta, you can also hear us streaming live at SmoothDraws.com.  All of the episodes are available on demand via our website as well.
Cigar Guys Radio ShowWe offer a two-hour cigar lifestyle show every Saturday morning from 10 AM – Noon eastern standard time. It’s packed full of different segments ranging from cigar and spirits reviews, contests, Smooth Draws University (where we cover the basics), news and lots more. We encourage our listeners to call in. We engage with our audience and keep the show informative, entertaining and upbeat.
cuba1Hoochly: Tell us about your trips to Cuba, how long you’ve been going there and how often do you go?
Nick: I’ve been legally traveling to Cuba now since 2009.  As of late, my travels take me there on a very regular basis.  In fact now, because of my radio segments on Cuba travel and cigars I’ve begun to host some guided trips to Cuba. Our listeners, and those that follow us on social media can legally travel with me on one of my trips.  If anyone is interested in joining me in Cuba, please visit: http://www.smoothdraws.com/#!hosted-trips-to-cuba/u1oao
Nicholas_Syris_CubaHoochly: What do you do when you go to Cuba and what is the experience all about?
Nick: It’s all about the interaction with the Cuban people! People to People and cultural exchange. Oh, and did I mention I smoke a couple of cigars when I am there?  Seriously, for me it’s all about the cigar culture and experiences and enjoying them in the birthplace of the premium cigar!  You can listen to my cataloged segments about my travels and experiences to Cuba here: http://www.smoothdraws.com/#!hosted-trips-to-cuba/u1oao
Hoochly: What are your favorite Cuban cigars?
Nick: My personal favorite is the Cohiba Siglo VI.  The Cañonazo vitola also being a favorite cigar size.  That is my commercial favorite anyway.  The best part of visiting Havana is being able to experience some of the top master rollers private personal blends that they only share with visitors to their particular Casa del Habano.
Nicholas_Syris_National_Hotel_CubaHoochly: What is your favorite place or places in Cuba to smoke a cigar?
Nick: The first place that comes to mind for me, as well as for many cigar aficionados, is at the Hotel National. The back terrace or patio to be more precise is ideal. It’s a very popular meeting area for cigar lovers that have traveled from around the world to come, meet fellow cigar enthusiasts and have a fantastic smoking experience.
Nicholas_Syris_Cuba_Hoochly: What can you tell our readers about your personal views on cigar smoking and what does it mean to you?
Nick: Smoking a cigar for me has always about the experience.  It revolves around a premium cigar, but that’s just the beginning. The ambience of your venue always affects that cigar’s personal enjoyment. The social aspect of the cigar experience is really a critical component.  I’ve always said that the cigar is the great equalizer where people from all walks of lives, different cultures and various socioeconomic backgrounds can all bond over the experience of enjoying a cigar.  It’s where a Greek-American can connect and become friends with Royals from Saudi Arabia. It’s all about the cigar. I’m sure that is what the Taino Indians first discovered when they smoked tobacco. Then you had the peace pipe…. Okay, I’m really getting off topic here.  My point being simply, cigar smoking is all about the experience. Sure, the flavors and aromas enhance the ambiance and the social aspect complete it and make it an event! That’s what drew me to first becoming a lover of the leaf and then to wanting to be a part of this industry!

Interview with Cigar Manufacturer and Master Blender Noel Rojas Sabatier at Factory NOA

Tabacalera-Noa

The Hoochly team is proud to present this exclusive interview with master blender, roller and cigar manufacturer, Noel Rojas Sabatier. During his recent trip to his hometown in Cuba, Noel took some time out of his day to talk to us and shared his story, his current projects and his future plans.

Noel-CubaHoochly:  Noel, you are probably one of the youngest cigar makers that have gone from farmer to roller to blender to having your own factory. Tell us your story and how did you get to where you are now?

Noel: I grew up in Cuba around tobacco, I have been playing with it since I was a young child. When I was in school we spent half the time in the classroom and the other half in the tobacco fields. I started making cigars to sell to tourist as a teenager to provide for my family. When I was a young adult I knew I wanted to pursue cigars full time, however the opportunity to make a living was going to be outside of Cuba. After I finished my obligation with the Military, I fled Cuba and made my way to the US and eventually Nicaragua. When I arrived in Esteli, I surrounded myself with the local Cubans and began making cigars out of my house. I would make cigars there and travel back to the US and try to sell them. It was a small operation, but I finally saw an opportunity, something I never really felt like I had in Cuba. From there, I just kept building. I am not currently where I plan on ending up, but it is nice to be making cigars out of a factory, with quality equipment, employees and good tobacco.

robaina_down

Hoochly: Who in the industry do you consider your mentor or godfather and why?

Noel: In Cuba, I have always respected what the Robaina Family was doing. In Nicaragua, I was very fortunate that the fellow Cuban cigar makers really showed me the ropes.

Noel Rojas - Brandon Hayes - AJ Fernandez

Hoochly: Last year you announced the opening of your factory NOA in partnership with Brandon Hayes. Tell us how you met Brandon and how did you both decide to start this factory?

Noel: I met Brandon a couple of years back on one of my trips to the US. I really respected his business acumen from the beginning. At the time he was really getting serious about cigars and he took a few trips to Nicaragua with me to learn more. He and I really clicked and over the next year he would call me with cigar related questions and I would call him to get his opinion on contracts and such. Last year he was back down and we were talking about the future of my brand and the possibility of me leaving my current factory and distribution point. By this time he was really starting to learn a lot about the process and we joked about doing this together. Just a couple of months later, that became a reality. Hopefully we continue to compliment one another and can collectively make NOA a huge success.

Tobacco fields

Hoochly: One of the most difficult things for a cigar maker is to keep a consistent blend and in order to keep a blend you need a large amount of tobacco. Where do you get your tobacco from in order to maintain the quality and consistency of your cigars?

Noel: I have developed great relations with most of the big tobacco farmers in Nicaragua and around the world. I spend a lot of time with them talking about their fermentation  process, sometimes hopefully being a resource to them. They really look out for me and I always make sure I treat them right. I assure you, nobody is buying better product than me. I see most of the tobacco that come out of their facilities.

Ezra_Zion_All_My_EXs

Hoochly: Who are some of your clients at the NOA factory and which brand owner has been the most interesting to work with?

Noel: We have produced limited releases and secret projects for some brands that we can not disclose. However, we are currently working with Que Vida, Jas Sum Kral, Xipos Cigars, Falsto, Prendelo, Ohana and a few more. Hopefully as people recognize our quality, more people trust us with their brands.

I would have to say Kris and Kyle from Ezra Zion, they really know what they are looking for. I had a lot of fun with the All My Ex’s we did for them.
IMG_7546
Hoochly: Last year you released El Sabor de Esteli, tell us what this line represents to you as a cigar maker and for the people who have not tried them yet, what should they expect?
Noel: I am really proud of that line. It is a hybrid of a Cuban and Nicaraguan profile. Very smooth cigars, both of them. The Mexican San Andreas is very chocolatey and the Habano is very nutty. Both cigars are medium in strength, but full of flavor.
Hoochly: What plans do you and Brandon have for the future and can you also tell us what you guys have prepared for this year’s IPCPR? 
Noel: The plans are simple, continue making good cigars. We truly believe the world will notice our passion and quality. We will be at IPCPR alongside some of the other brands that we make.
Hoochly: One of your passions is wood carving and sculpting, how did you pick up that hobby and do you still do it?
Noel: In Cuba things were hard, very hard. My Father would carve sculptures to sell to local tourist for extra money. He taught me me how to carve at a very young age. The area I come from is known for carving, so I sold sculptures and cigars on the side to help my family, I am an artist at heart – I love it.
Hoochly: What are some of your favorite rums and whiskeys and what do you think it pairs best with your cigars?
Noel: I don’t drink a lot, but when I am pairing something with a cigar, dark rum is my go-to.
Hoochly: What do you smoke other than your own brands?
Noel: I smoke everyone’s cigar, I feel like you have to. I like to know what the competition looks like.

 

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.

IMG_7224

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!

Interview with Dave Cribbin of Rolling Thunder Cigars

IMG_2359

We recently spent some time with Hoochly friend and supporter, Dave Cribbin of Rolling Thunder Cigars, to learn more about the man and what he’s up to in the cigar world.

 

Hoochly: Tell us about yourself, who is Dave?

Dave: I am a serial entrepreneur and a big family guy, I love spending time with my wife and my three girls. I love riding my Harley Deuce, building furniture, going to the beach, drinking an occasional adult beverage or three and of course smoking cigars.
DAVE'S HOBBIES
Hoochly: When did you start smoking cigars and what was your first one?

Dave: My first “cigar” was in sixth grade in the woods, it was one of those plastic tipped beauties! But my real first good smoke was an AVO a number of years later.

Hoochly: How did Rolling Thunder Cigars get started?

Dave: I was thinking about new business opportunities and what it would take to launch a new business. I started to see a number of cigar groups on Facebook and it struck me that here was an unlimited advertising medium every bit as powerful as TV and infinitely more targeted that was free and you could advertise cigars! So it was on!

DAVE11
Hoochly: How did you come up with the name .50CAL and what is behind the military theme?

Dave: The name Rolling Thunder Cigars is actually little pieces of my life rolled into a bundle. My love of Riding, Smoking Cigars and the very deep respect I have for the men and women of our Military forces. In College I had the chance to spend a summer in Quantico at Camp Upshur, part of India company 3rd platoon as a PLC Candidate for the Marine Corps. I didn’t ultimately join the Marines but the training and the time I spent there made a lasting impression on me. Naming our cigar the .50CAL was easy. There just ain’t a Bigger more Bad Ass round you can put through a rifle, so it had to be a .50CAL!!

Hoochly: For those who have not smoked a .50CAL, what should they expect in terms of strength and flavor?

Dave: We have a little sumthin sumthin for everyone; our Connecticut is a very flavorful mild smoke, our Habano is the next step up on the strength scale , our Maduro is a bit stronger (my favorite), and for those who want a stronger smoke our Box pressed Double Ligero should fit the bill nicely.

50-CALHoochly: Are there any new blends or sizes on the works?

Dave: This year is going to be a great year for us. When I started Rolling Thunder we were having our cigars manufactured in a small shop in Ybor City. Although the flavor was good the construction wasn’t as consistent as I wanted. So we have gone to manufacturers in Nicaragua to have our cigars made. The new product has just started to come in and the quality and consistency is head and shoulders above last year’s product. Our New Box Pressed Double Ligero is a really nice smoke as is our new Habano which I’m smoking as I’m doing this interview. Next up will be a couple smaller ring gauge cigars that I’ll be working on this week while I’m in Nicaragua, I’m very excited about that!

IMG_4543Hoochly: Where can people buy your cigars?

Dave: We started selling our cigars as an online retailer www.rtcigars.com and have now begun to distribute our cigars through the brick-and-mortar stores. We currently have about 35 shops that carry our brand and that number is growing every day as we add additional sales reps to expand our distribution.

Hoochly: What is your favorite beer and/or adult beverage and what do you recommend as far as pairing with the 50CAL?

Dave: I’ve been a Bud Light guy for a long time but I do like my Guinness Stout. I’ve recently started to drink some of the craft beers and I got to tell you that Poolside is one of my favorites! As of my favorite adult beverage it would be a Bombay Saphire Martini up with an olive shaken until it’s ice cold! As far as pairing goes I like .50CALS with coffee in the morning, I like them with a little ice tea in the afternoon and something with Gin in it after work.

dave-cribbin-50-calHoochly: When you are not smoking 50 CAL what other cigars do you smoke?

Dave: When I’m not smoking .50CALS? I don’t understand this question! (Laugh out Loud)… Before .50CALS I used to smoke Ashton’s Paul Gamarian, Nat Sherman, La Gloria Cubana, and a few others…

Hoochly: Tell us about the custom furniture business, how did you get in to it and do you still make furniture?

Dave: I’ve been building furniture since I was about seven years old when I helped my dad build the kitchen table that my brother and sisters and I grew up eating dinner at, that table still looks good 50 years later. So when I had a chance to open my own shop I went for it, it was a huge challenge but a lot of fun. I got the chance to create some really cool pieces and I still do but only for myself.

10478125_10205401168605147_3765662344620500105_nHoochly: What is your connection with Cigar for Warriors?

Dave: Cigars for warriors is a great organization who helps making the lives of our troops just a little more comfortable while they are out serving our country. When I found out about CFW, and saw what they were doing for our guys and girls in the military I really felt obligated to help out and jumped right in and till this day we try to do what we can to help support this great organization.

 

Thanks for Inviting me to the HoOchly Circle, Is good to be a part of it!

Dave. 

Read Buckroe’s review of the .50Cal Double Ligero!

ONE on ONE with Patrick LeFils of Common Roots Cigars


FullSizeRender

Hoochly: Who is Patrick LeFils? Tell us about yourself and how you got started in the cigar industry?

Patrick:
“I come from a ranching family, I am from Osteen, Florida where we still own a working cattle ranch. I grew up in a farming environment and always had a passion for food. When I graduated high school I had the opportunity to go to culinary school to become a chef. While in culinary school I was introduced to cigars by John Peters who is the owner of the Tinder Box, a cigar shop in Daytona Beach, at that time he was doing a program with the chefs association and brought some cigars with him and I had my very first cigar there.

Later on while I was working in different restaurants and catering companies I was introduced to Oscar Soto with Cigar Shop in Deland, at that time he owned a company called Action Label who made cigar bands for lots of big companies, we became very good friends and that’s when I really got into cigars. I did a lot of traveling with Oscar selling cigar bands all over and during the process I got to meet interesting people, I started by helping a few cigar companies get into stores and that was kind of my jump into the cigar industry.”

 

Hoochly: How did Common Roots get started?

Patrick:
 “About a year ago I got teamed up with Carlos Sanchez who is the owner of TACASA our current factory in Estelí, at that time I was already involved in the industry doing different things and just like anybody else I thought that it would be great to have my own cigar, it was a dream of mine to own a cigar line so I teamed up with TACASA and we started by making cigars for other companies and eventually and during the process we came up with our blend and this project called Common Roots Cigars.”

logo
Is Common Roots only a cigar line or is there more to this project?

Patrick: “There is a lot more to it. Common Roots is essentially made up of three different companies; there is Oscar Soto with Graffity, he does cigar bands for our project as well as bands for other companies, then there is Common Roots which is our cigar line and then there is Carlos Sanchez with TACASA which is our factory in Estelí, Nicaragua.

The three of us decided to merge our companies and bring forces together to build this project. Aside from cigars, we also do private projects – small and large – for people in the industry and outside of the industry, we do promotional projects for lawyers, car dealerships, etc.

Also, as part of the common roots project we are thinking of working on community gardens where kids can learn about agriculture. Coming from an agricultural background myself I think is important for kids and students to learn about it, whether is tobacco, tomatoes or onions I believe kids need to know that these things don’t come from the grocery store and most importantly they need to connect with their roots.”

 

Hoochly: On your social media posts there are many mentions and pictures about food and recipes. Tell us about it and what is the relationship between food and Common Roots Cigars?

Patrick:  “Who doesn’t like food? I think we all love it in all shapes and forms, as I mentioned before is always been my passion and I believe a lot of people is also passionate about it and can relate to it. The relationship between food and common roots it’s something that we incorporate as part of the Common Roots family, not only because of my passion for it but also because food is something that brings people together just like cigars.”

Capture
Hoochly: Have you ever done any food and cigar pairings? Is that something you recommend?

Patrick: “I haven’t really thought too much about food and cigar pairings, I think there is a way to do that but I don’t think a full meal and a cigar is the way to do it. I think that if someone is interested in doing this type of pairing maybe they should try incorporating some flavorful tapas or a one bite appetizer or a 3 bite desert, that’s probably a good way to do a pairing.”

Hoochly: What is your favorite cigar?

Patrick: “I have a lot of favorites, it is hard to name a few without leaving so many good ones out. I am a big Perdomo fan, I like everything that they do. I got to take my hat off to JC Newman and the Fuente family, I really enjoy their cigars. Jonathan Drew makes a great product as well.  There are so many good cigars out there now a days and  more coming out, I think that’s why is a great time to get involved  in the cigar industry right now because of the many products coming out and the demand for it.”

farm-common-roots
Hoochly: Tell us about the blend on the Common Roots Cigar and what other blends and products are coming in the future

Patrick: “With this particular line which is our core line, we used Ecuadorian Habano Café wrapper over Nicaraguan binder and fillers. The complexity of the wrapper gives flavors of orange peel, charred oak, leather and hints of vanilla and pepper, it is a medium to full body cigar and comes in five sizes: Robusto, Toro, Belicoso, Churchill and Gordo. It is a cigar that can appeal to various cigar smokers.

We are in the process of developing more products for 2016 at our factory in Estelí including a Maduro blend for our core line, also a Super Premium Oscuro and a small 4×48 box press which will come in a 4 pack.”

 

Hoochly: What is it behind the slogan “These Roots Run Deep”?

Patrick: “I like to think of our company as a family dream where retailers and consumers are a big family and share the same passion and why not, same roots. We are also want to reach to all kinds of cigar smokers so aside from our current factory we will also be teaming up with other few factories in Nicaragua and we will be coming up with even more products to appeal to more people.”

12042744_1495098974124269_1153167397235589514_n

Hoochly: Where can people buy common roots cigars?

Patrick: “We are currently only in select retailers here in Florida and there is a list of our current retailers in our website www.commonrootscigars.com. For 2016 we are branching out and fixing to be nationwide as well as international.

Right now there is a store in Germany who got very interested in the name and our logo and they will start selling our cigars there very soon. We are very excited for what is coming in the future.”

11215786_1495454980755335_1024093097229208682_n

“  Thank you to each and every one of you for your part in our family. We are about cigars, but more importantly we our about the people we share them with. I hope this family and it’s common values grows and become an example of what the cigar industry and it’s family is all about. Again, thank you for your support.”  Patrick LeFils.

Exclusive Interview with Felix A. Mesa with El Galan Cigars

We are excited to share with you an amazing interview with Felix A. Mesa of El Galan Cigars, who is not only passionate about cigars, but also a great guy with an awesome story about how he got inspired to start this up-and-coming cigar brand.

felix-a-mesa

HoOchly: Who is Felix A Mesa? Tell us a little bit about yourself

Felix: “Felix A. Mesa is a great lover of the taste of a good Cigar. I am Cuban, 41 years old, son and grandson of the third generation of a humble peasant family from the former province of Las Villas, today called Spiritus Santis in the Cabaiguan town where I was born and grew up in a field called the Purial which is a tobacco region in Cuba. I left Cuba with a dream which could not realize there for the reasons that many know; there you can’t do registration marks, much less sell tobacco and to be able to pay tribute to a family who deserved it as many others to achieve experiences and wisdom in this beautiful tobacco industry.”

el-galan-reserva-especial

HoOchly: How did  El Galan Cigars get started?

Felix: “El Galan begins in 2010, I created this first brand name as a dream to achieve but I knew very well that it was very hard because USA is such a tough and competitive market, I even received criticism from people in the industry and in general for not being a recognized brand name. However, my desire to follow a dream, my dedication, my love and passion and great debt to my family to bear not only their name but also their legacy, were all stronger than what I had to face, what I still face and will continue to face. It never gets out of my head all the things I owe to my family and to keep that legacy alive is my responsibility. These are the reasons why I want to continue to move forward and grow each day.”

HoOchly: Where does the name El Galan come from?

Felix: “The name El Galan—Spanish for “gentleman”— comes from a saying my grandfather always shared when he noticed well-dressed men, often wearing a dress jacket or a nice shirt but with poorly constructed and bad quality cigars sticking out of their pockets, this was something that would ruin that “gentleman” look and my grandfather used to make fun of those men. My grandfather always thought that a good cigar with good construction and looks made all the difference in making a man look good and portray elegance. El Galan pretty much is someone who personifies all things that make someone attractive, inside and outside. I give thanks to God and my family, to whom I dedicate every experience I’ve lived through and learned from, and so, I am creating all these cigar names based on their names and stories.”

dona-nieves-cigarHoOchly: How about the Doña Nieves line, where does the name and the vitola names come from?

Felix: “The Doña Nieves name comes from my grandmother, whose name was Nieves Manso. Therefore, that cigar pays homage to her, whom I admire dearly for being such a great human being and having a “manly heart” since she worked in tobacco farms until she was 86 years of age.

Because of the time she spent under the sun, Doña Nieves’ skin was dark and leathery so my grandfather Jorge began calling her “Negra Macha”, a nickname that referred to her dark complexion and tough countenance. And so, all the vitolas were named after Doña Nieves’ many nicknames; the “NEGRA MACHA” size was born as a 5½ x 54, then we have the 5 ½ x 50 which is the “NIEVITA” this is what I used to call my grandmother and lastly the 5 ½ x 50 is the “MINGA” which is what my mother used to call her.

Doña Nieves set a great example for me to follow in life, since she was never afraid to do hard work and whatever she worked on she did it with love—including growing corn, rice and beans. I truly learned a lot from my grandmother, not only because of her good advice but also because of all the good things she did, I call her a “lion heart” woman.”

HoOchly: So are the characters illustrated in the labels your family members?

Felix: “Yes they are. In the Doña Nieves band I have the picture of my grandmother Dona Nieves working on her farm in Cuba. In the label of EL GALAN SPECIAL RESERVE I have a picture of my mother Ana Nancy in the farm removing tobacco buds and my grandfather Francisco, her father, working on his farm “El Guagen”. It really is a great honor for me to have them in my bands.”

HoOchly: Other than El Galan and Doña Nieves, What other cigar brands you smoke?

Felix: “My favorite brands besides my cigars are Fuente and Oliva, without leaving behind all other existing brands out there. Fuente makes a great cigar, they have many years in the business and they have the process down; Their discipline is out of this world and it transpires to their product; the aging on their tobacco, the good taste, the aroma and draw makes them unmistakable. The Fuentes are a great family, I take my hat off to them, they set an example to many of us and it is a pleasure and an honor for me to be able to call them friends. Another favorite brand is OLIVA, they are also a family who knows what they are doing and the quality and great construction of their cigars is admirable.  I am also honored to meet this great family, I respect them tremendously and admire their passion and love they put into their craft. I take my hat off to them as well!”

HoOchly: What can you tell us about the blend of  El Galan cigars and what makes them so unique and flavorful?

Felix: “El Galan Reserva Especial uses all Nicaraguan Tobacco and El Galan first release uses all Nicaraguan and Dominican fillers with Ecuadorian wrapper. The trick to a good cigar is in the blend, for example you can use a “criollo” but based on the year the taste will be different and wrappers like the “corojo” and “habano 2000″ have so many secrets and different flavors and functions, I can’t really disclose all of our secrets but what is not a secret and I say it loudly is that if you are not disciplined, passionate and do things from the heart, the blend will just not work.”

HoOchly: What can we expect from El Galan in the future? Any new blends in the horizon?

Felix: “At this moment and in the future, El Galan, is always thinking about working hard to bring out the best. We will expand to stores all throughout the country. The US has a clientele that has great taste and knowledge in cigars, thanks to those cigars aficionados is that we can grow, however the product must be consistent and high quality and that is our main focus. This year, we will be releasing a new cigar under the Doña Nieves line, I can’t reveal the name or the blend yet but it is a name I’ve been thinking of for quite awhile and I’m excited about it because it represents what’s on my heart when I think of my grandmother Doña Nieves. It will be a great smoke with a very unique blend and you should keep your eye out for it!”

HoOchly: What is your favorite cocktail or spirit and which one would you recommend to be paired up with your cigars?

Felix: “My personal favorite and the one that compliments my cigars perfectly is a Spanish wine called Crianza Ribera del Duero, it is a great balance of dry fruit with a long leathery finish.”

el-galan-raitingHoOchly: El Galan is a relatively new product in the market and it already has recognitions from CigarSnob and a full article about it. To what do you attribute this successful reception in such short time?

Felix: “The Galan is a reflection of my family, which lives by a philosophy of nurturing strength from within—and that is something we are born with, not something we learn and therefore, I always do my best and motivate my workers at the El Galan Cigars S.A. in Esteli, Nicaragua, to better themselves every day. The work we do does not depend on me alone nor on my way of thinking but on my way of communicating all ideas to them, always looking for solutions to whatever comes next without fear. I have a team whom I respect because I know strength is in the numbers and communication is very important in the cigar industry. I’m always emphasizing discipline as it is the only thing that will take you where you want to go and achieve your goals. One should also never forget where we come from, staying humble and doing only what’s right—and I am of the belief that we are capable of transferring all that into a tobacco product.”

HoOchly: Where can we get El Galan and Doña Nieves and what message you have for the aficionados?

Felix: “El Galan and Doña Nieves can be ordered from El Galan Cigars Store in 9523 SW 40 Street, Miami FL 33165 and we ship via UPS. Also, our website at www.elgalancigars.com lists all the retailers that carry El Galan and Doña Nieves around the country. And my wish for all cigar aficionados is that if they haven’t yet tried them, to go ahead and get them, then tell me what they think as I would like to hear their take on them. I also would like to tell them that if you have a dream, make sure to pursue it without losing faith since love and hard work can earn great successes during that journey.”

“Thank you Carolina for the interview and I’m always grateful for the interesting questions. Greetings from Felix A. Mesa.”

(Interview was conducted entirely in Spanish)