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.


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


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.
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!

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!


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


Sazerac-Comprehensive Website Aims to Help Bourbon Whiskey

Gain Respect Around the World

LOUISVILLE, KY (Feb. 16, 2016) Although bourbon has certainly been become more popular of late, Scotch whisky remains king of worldwide whiskey sales.  Granted, Scotch whisky has enjoyed a few hundred years head start on bourbon whiskey and ranges of fine Scotch are commonplace in bars around the world, while the selection and appreciation for bourbon whiskey is often limited.

As a result, the Sazerac Company founded the American Bourbon Association in 2012 to educate people around the globe about bourbon whiskey. The website, http://americanbourbonassociation.com, was launched in 2015 with a mission to become the best source of bourbon news and information online. Curious consumers are invited to learn about distilleries and bourbon brands, not just made in Kentucky, but from all over the United States.

The website gives the history of bourbon, written by esteemed bourbon historian Mike Veach, and explains what it is, how bourbon is made, bourbon myths, daily news, and lists of great bourbon bars and retail stores. Links to bourbon-related blogs, bourbon societies, brand and distillery websites, publications, trade associations and much more are also included.

“We realized there was a gap in appreciation between bourbon and other types of whiskey,” said Mark Brown, president and chief executive officer, Sazerac Company. “Bourbon whiskey deserves every bit of respect as other whiskeys. Distilleries in Scotland have benefitted from the Scotch Whisky Association promoting, protecting and educating people about Scotch since the turn of the 20th century, but no one has taken up the cause for bourbon. While the majority of bourbon is made in Kentucky, there are distilleries popping up all across America, and the bourbon industry has grown beyond just the state of Kentucky. Someone needs to be looking after bourbon’s best interest on a national and global scale, which is how the American Bourbon Association came about.”

The website is being maintained and updated by the Sazerac Company. Any liquor stores, bars, brands or bourbon distilleries that would like to be added can apply on the website.

Drew Estate Hires Grant Batson To Head Up Pipe Division

Pipe MakerMiami, FL – Drew Estate announced today that they have hired renowned American pipe maker Grant Batson to head up their pipe division, which includes their Drew Estate Classics pipe tobacco line, along with their Drew Estate Pipe Collection by Tsuge. Drew Estate is also the exclusive North American distributor for Tsuge Pipes out of Japan.

Grant Batson has been a pipe enthusiast since 1994 and has been making handcrafted tobacco pipes out of his Nashville workshop since 2012. During this time, Grant has gathered an in-depth knowledge of the American pipe market. He has garnered respect from some of the top pipe makers in the world and will now bring his talents to Drew Estate.

When asked about his new role at Drew Estate, Batson said, “I’m humbled and excited to be a part of the Drew Estate team. I’m a huge fan of Drew Estate’s cigars and have been a Drew Estate smoker for many years, so I was naturally excited to hear they would be getting into pipe tobacco a few years ago. It’s hard to imagine that I’ll be part of the team now. I can’t wait to hit the road and meet some of the good folks out there and talk pipes.”

Drew Estate entered the pipe tobacco market in 2013 with the introduction of their Drew Estate Classics line of pipe tobaccos, featuring eight unique blends consisting of six aromatic blends along with an English blend (“Meat Pie”) and a Virginia pressed flake tobacco blend (“Gatsby Luxury Flake”).

In May of 2014, Drew Estate announced that they would become the exclusive distributor of Tsuge Pipe in the US and Canada. They followed this news up in July 2014 with the announcement of the “Drew Estate Pipe Collection by Tsuge”, a new line of Drew Estate-designed pipes made by Tsuge Pipe in Japan. Drew Estate announced at the same time that they would be distributing eight new Tsuge pipe tobacco blends, which include four aromatic blends named “The Four Seasons” and four traditional blends named “The God Series”. This release marked the first time the Tsuge brand would be featured on a pipe tobacco blend.

Drew Estate President Michael Cellucci, who had an integral role in leading the development of Drew Estate’s pipe division, had this to say about Grant Batson: “Grant is a very talented individual, with a background in marketing and sales. He is an incredibly skilled craftsman who knows the pipe market well, and his talents will be well received at Drew Estate. When I met Grant last year, I knew he’d be a good fit at Drew Estate, and I’m glad we had a chance to bring him on board.”

When asked about Grant, Jonathan Drew stated that, “If you look historically at the talent pool of Drew Estate, both in Central America and the USA, one shouldn’t be surprised to see the addition of Grant Batson to the team. It was time for DE to activate some Southern Blood to the diverse mix of current Dirty Rats.” Grant Batson will appear at Drew Estate and Tsuge pipe events nationwide. Check the Drew Estate events page at http://drewestate.com/events to see when Grant will be visiting a store near you. Also, follow @grantbatson on social media to see his work and learn more about Grant.

Drew Estate Announces Newest Drew Estate Lounge at Famous Smoke Shop Retail Store

1-400 Miami, FL – Drew Estate announced today that their newest  Drew Estate Lounge would open at Famous Smoke Shop’s  Retail Store in Easton, PA immediately prior to Famous’  annual Cigarnival event, taking place on June 26 & 27, 2015.  This new Drew Estate Lounge will become the second Drew  Estate Lounge in the United States, following the opening of  the first Drew Estate Lounge at Corona Cigar Company in  Sand Lake, FL in February 2014.

The new Drew Estate Lounge will be located within Famous Smoke Shop’s Retail Store in Easton, PA, which features a 35,000 sq. ft. humidor offering all of Drew Estate cigar brands, as well as the attached Leaf Cigar Bar which serves craft beer and select spirits. The lounge will include custom-made Drew Estate furniture, ashtrays, and artwork made by Subculture Studios, the art and graffiti department within Drew Estate’s La Gran Fabrica located in Estelí, Nicaragua.

When asked about the new Drew Estate Lounge, Drew Estate president Michael Celluci stated that, “Famous Smoke Shop has been a long-time partner of Drew Estate. When Arthur Zaretsky came to me with the idea of creating a Drew Estate Lounge at their retail store, I was both honored and excited. Our team at Subculture Studios created some really special pieces for the store, and I can’t wait to see the completed lounge at Cigarnival this weekend.”2-400

Drew Estate will also be sponsoring the Cigarnival Golf Tournament at Riverview Country Club on Friday, June 26th, 2015. The tournament includes a custom Drew Estate golf polo shirt, Drew Estate cigars, lunch, and beer during the tournament. To learn more, visit http://cigarexpo.net.

To learn more about the Drew Estate Lounge at Famous Smoke Shop, view the attached photo gallery, which includes photos of the new lounge. Also, if you’re attending Cigarnival this weekend, make sure to stop by the lounge in person.

The Cigar Bomb – an Underground Practice Among Cigar Aficionados

Bomb2Long after the cigar fad of the nineties, Cigar Bombs–a colloquial term for sending a care package of your favorite cigars to a friend–remains a mystery and a happy surprise among cigar lovers.

If you belong to any of the cigar groups on Facebook, such as Cigar Aficionado Trades & Sales (CATS) or  HoOchly Cigar Shack, Cigar Cartel, etc., chances are you’ve seen someone post a picture of a “cigar bomb” which he or she may have received in the mail. The excitement of getting an unexpected package in the mail is certainly nervewrecking for most people, but in the world of cigar aficionados you can be sure that the recipient will feel like a child on Christmas morning. In fact, cigar bombs are considered an art because it involves a protocol established deep in the cigar culture but practiced mostly among members of the aforementioned groups.

The opportunity to surprise someone with a stash of five cigars (or more, if you so desire) is exhilirating and very rewarding when you see it posted on a cigar-related group. But the excitment is even bigger when it is you who can pry open the package waiting for you at your doorstep or mailbox. Receiving a cigar bomb is often anonymous and in case you wonder how they find out about your address, we’ll get to that in a moment…The general protocol is that you will open your cigar bomb package and right after will snap a picture with your phone or tablet, which you will promptly (and proudly) post on the wall of your cigar group’s Facebook page.

The privilege of receiving a cigar bomb is also a closely guarded secret by a select few keepers of the bombing list. The list contains the names and addresses collected privately by the cigar group’s administrator(s) based on members’ activity and quality of posts. Someone who comments and likes posts often are great candidates for a cigar bomb, while those who post senseless comments or try to promote themselves can find themselves getting kicked out for taking advantage of such a captive audience. Administrators often share these with people who contact them asking for a potential target that may be bombed. The list, however, is never made public and often only one contact may be released per week or month, depending on the group’s protocols.

So why send a cigar bomb? Some people bomb because they have extra cigars they would like for others to try, while others do it as a random act of kindness among friends they don’t know yet. The point of bombing is always to share the goodwill of cigar love among fellow Brothers and Sisters of the Leaf. Over the next several weeks we will continue to share articles on how to cigar bomb, when to cigar bomb or even who to cigar bomb. If you are new to the world of cigars, this will serve as a primer–and for seasoned veterans, this will establish the procedure for how to make the most of the bombing experience.

Rest assured, we know that different cigar groups will have different ways to approach the art of the cigar bomb, but the intent is to spread the love rather than divide. And not for nothing, you will quickly learn that cigar bombing will become your next mission as you pursue the perfect smoke among friends.

– Serge Maxwell