Balmoral Serie Signaturas DUETO, blended by Ernesto Pérez-Carrillo, to ship in September

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Balmoral is getting into the collaboration game with Balmoral Serie Signaturas. The first release under this new collaboration brand umbrella will be DUETO, blended by Ernesto Pérez-Carrillo of EPC. The cigar will make its official debut at the 2018 IPCPR trade show in Las Vegas this July.

“I am honored to have had the opportunity to work alongside Ernesto on this very special collaboration project for Balmoral,” said Royal Agio CEO Boris Wintermans in a press release. “I want to push the boundaries of what can be discovered in premium cigar blending, and it is this desire that inspired the creation of the Balmoral Serie Signaturas (Signature Series) and initial conversations with Ernesto. This collaboration platform offers another avenue for us to explore, discover and release completely new and exciting cigar blends. The resulting blend for DUETO, behind Ernesto’s blending genius, makes this first release nothing short of exceptional.”

“It has been a pleasure to work with Boris and his team at Royal Agio on this special project,” said Ernesto in a statement in the same press release, “especially because we share a fundamental, common exploratory philosophy as cigar makers.”

The DUETO blend features a Nicaraguan wrapper from Jalapa, a Nicaraguan binder from Estelí and fillers from Nicaragua and Brazil. The cigar will be made available in five vitolas: Robusto (5 x 50), Ovación (5 ½ x 50), Gran Toro (6 x 52), Gordo (6 x 60) and Churchill (7 x 49). They’ll range in price from $9.75 to $12.50 per cigar and shipments will begin in September 2018.

Nat Sherman’s brand overhaul

Net Sherman has unveiled the results of its branding overhaul. The company has consolidated its product portfolio, bringing everything under three core brands: Metropolitan, Timeless and Epoca. Blends will remain the same, but packaging has been updated to reflect the new strategy.

The Metropolitan brand will be home to Nat Sherman’s most traditional premium cigars. It will feature three primary blends — Metropolitan Connecticut, Maduro and Habano — along with the Host and Host Maduro blends. Nat Sherman’s tinned pipe tobaccos will also be part of the Metropolitan brand.


“Timeless is a diverse collection of the company’s most inspired and award-winning blends,” according to a Nat Sherman press release. The Timeless brand will feature more unique blends that bring together tobaccos of various origins, varieties and vintages. The Timeless lineup includes Prestige (formerly Timeless Dominican), Supreme (formerly Timeless Nicaraguan), Sterling and Panamericana. The company’s “Nat’s cigarillos” are now branded as Timeless cigarillos.


Finally, there’s the Epoca brand, which made its comeback in the U.S. in 2014. Considered a "Clear Havana", it was originally made in New York City using Cuban tobaccos and a domestic wrapper. Today’s Epoca draws its inspiration from that old brand.


"This realignment of our cigar brands offers a clearer picture of how our collection of products fit together." said Michael Herklots, vice president of retail and brand development.  “Our manufacturing partners and blends all remain unchanged and as great as ever."

Royal Agio introduces San Pedro de Macorís cigars

Royal Agio Cigars USA announced the launch of San Pedro de Macorís, brand meant to add accessibly priced products to the company’s lineup up handmade cigars. The brand, named for the Dominican town that’s home to Agio’s factory, will debut with two blends, one called “Ecuador” and the other “Brazil.

The Ecuador blend features a shade-grown Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper, while the San Pedro de Macorís Brazil has a sun-grown Brazilian Arapiraca wrapper. Both blends incorporate Dominican binders and fillers from the Dominican Republic and Brazil.

Both San Pedro de Macorís blends will be packages in 20-count boxes and will be available in three vitolas: Perla (4 ⅛ x 40), Corona (5 ⅞ x 42) and Robusto (5 ⅛ x 52). They’ll range in price from $4.75 to $5.50 per cigar.

Villiger opens new Brazilian cigar factory

Villiger Cigars announced the opening of its new Brazilian factory, Villiger Do Brasil (Portuguese for “Villiger of Brazil”).

 Villiger chairman Heinrich Villiger

Villiger chairman Heinrich Villiger

Villiger has been importing Brazilian tobacco since 1888. In 1979, the company opened a Brazilian Villiger subsidiary as well as a factory named Charutos Tobajara Limitada. The name Tobajara is a nod to a native tribe known for growing tobacco.

That facility is being replaced by this newer, larger one in Feira de Santana, the second largest city in the State of Bahia. For now, the factory produces only Brazilian puros like Villiger San’Doro Maduro and brands distributed exclusively in Europe, like Villiger Celebration, and Corrida.


“Brazilian tobacco holds a special place in my heart,” said Villiger chairman Heinrich Villiger, who was present for the factory opening. “My grandparents saw the value in Brazilian tobacco when they began Villiger Cigars as very small operation in 1888, and we have continued the tradition of using this very special tobacco in many of our brands. We feel that the hard working and passionate team at Villiger do Brasil will help us increase the awareness of Brazilian tobacco worldwide.”

Better ingredients. Better cigars. A look inside Aganorsa.

Eduardo Fernández took a pizza fortune and built a world-class tobacco business. Now he’s ready to take his cigars to the next level.

Photography by Ricardo Acuña

She looks tired and disinterested, unwilling to come over and pose for a photo. Still, we want the shot, so we have a young employee at the factory drag her over to a wall, where we figure the uniform pattern of the bricks will juxtapose nicely with all the curves and wrinkles of her saggy body. She’s not exactly the most beautiful bitch you’ve ever seen, but she’s Aganorsa’s bitch and they’re proud to show her off.

So much so, in fact, that the Aganorsa bulldog has a cigar named for her: Guardian of the Farm. She’s the first one to greet you when you drive through the gates, even if unenthusiastically.

Then again, maybe she’s just tired from all the guard-dogging. After all, she’s got a lot on her plate keeping watch over Estelí’s sleeping giant.

The secret is still in the dough


“We’ve been labeled the sleeping giant,” said Aganorsa founder Eduardo Fernández after a tour of his factory and some of his farms. “In the sense that we have this great leaf, great capacity to produce it, yet we don’t make that many cigars and we’re not well known. But that’s going to start changing.”

Especially if you’re just a casual smoker, you can be forgiven for not knowing who Eduardo is. For starters, while his cigar business is vertically integrated, its names are a little confusing. You see, Aganorsa is an agriculture conglomerate. Among many other things, it’s one of the largest growers of premium cigar tobacco in Nicaragua. Eduardo sells most of his harvests, then produces cigars at his Estelí factory, Tabacos Valle de Jalapa, S.A., (or TABSA for short) and at his Miami factory, Tabacalera Tropical (which he bought in 2002 from cigar legend Pedro Martín, who continued to work as a blender and tobacco broker for Aganorsa after the sale). Some of those cigars are made for clients who run some very successful boutique brands, while others end up in his own cigar portfolio under the Casa Fernandez and JFR family of brands.

Yes, it’s a little confusing, which is part of why the company is moving to streamline the branding for its farming and manufacturing under the “Aganorsa” banner. Like Eduardo said, things are going to start changing.

Still, even absent changes, this is a celebrated cigar maker. Case in point, this magazine’s list of the Top 25 Cigars of 2017 included three cigars made at the company’s factories: Casa Fernandez Miami Aniversario Serie 2015 (No. 2), Sindicato Miami Edition (No. 14) and San Isidro by HVC (No. 15). The first two are made at Tabacalera Tropical, and the last is made at Tabacos Valle de Jalapa.

The story of Eduardo’s journey into tobacco and cigars is unlike that of just about any other cigar maker. While so many other Cuban-born cigar men cite long family histories on tobacco farms or extensive careers that started in Havana factories, Eduardo, who arrived in the U.S. at 10 years old and eventually settled with his parents in Ft. Lauderdale, attended a boarding school in Connecticut and later graduated from the Wharton School of Business.

“I was right next to the Connecticut valley,” he said of his boarding school days. “So often I would see the buses of tobacco pickers — mostly Puerto Ricans — going to pick tobacco. Little did I know at that time — I was 14 to 17 years old — that that would be my life’s calling down the road.”

After graduation from Wharton, Eduardo ended up in New York to pursue a career in international banking. He lived there 10 years before being transferred to Miami. Throughout, Eduardo knew he had an entrepreneurial itch that needed scratching. He, along with his brother Leopoldo, finally got to scratch when they saw an opportunity in Spain.

“When I lived in New York, I used to eat a lot of pizza because there was almost a pizza on every corner. You would always eat a slice. Spain was and still is a very traditional, excellent food experience, but fast food was just appearing. So we seized the opportunity. I felt like Hernán Cortés. I burned my ships and sold my house. I lived in Pinecrest, which was an up and coming area [in Miami] with a very good school district. I sold my car and went to open a pizzeria in Madrid.”

To say that Eduardo “opened a pizzeria” is an understatement. His and his brother’s company, Telepizza, introduced the concept of the pizza delivery chain to Spain in 1987. Within 10 years, the company had opened 300 stores. They went public in 1996, becoming the first restaurant company on the Madrid Stock Exchange. By 1999, shares of Telepizza were up 990 percent from their initial offering.

“We were a huge success,” he said. “Domino’s Pizza, we beat the hell out of them. They all came thinking big and that they could conquer us, and they were just not able to. Still, the business exists. I learned marketing there. We used to work 17 hours a day because everything happened very quickly.”

Eduardo sold stock in Telepizza and went into an early retirement, settling back into the financial world and later moving to London. When he got tired of reading stock prices, he contemplated whether this was how he wanted to spend the rest of his days.

“I was 48. I had always liked farming. From early on, when I was kid, I always cut grass and planted trees and I had a nursery. I even looked at that business early on in Davie, outside of Ft. Lauderdale.”

As you might have figured, though, his plans for a new career in agriculture became much bigger than South Florida plant nurseries. The idea of a future in farming had been swirling in his head for a while. Ever the long-term planner, he’d visited Central America to scope things out well before Telepizza even went public. Costa Rica wasn’t for him. Most places were too far from the ocean, he says, and the Costa Rican people are, by and large, too “aloof” for his liking.

But Nicaragua… Even in Estelí, you’re never too long of a drive away from the sea, and the people made him feel a bit more at home. What’s more, Nicaraguans needed help in rebuilding their country, so they were receptive to the idea of foreign investors. As he made his way around the country to get the lay of the land and scope out opportunities, he met Nestor Plasencia.

“He said that tobacco was great business. He introduced me [to the idea that] it’s very Cubanesque and that the soils of Nicaragua were first class. That to me was very important.”

When the time finally came for Eduardo to move forward setting up shop in Nicaragua, he knew he would need more expertise behind the new venture than he could bring to the table. Rather than look for talent in Nicaragua, he went to “the source”: Cuba. Eduardo sought talent specifically from Vuelta Abajo, the famed Cuban tobacco growing region. He also found Cubans in Nicaragua who had been working on contracts through the Cuban government. Among them was Jacinto Iglesias, who has now been the general manager for Aganorsa’s farming and production for 10 years.


“I got to Nicaragua in 1997 and I started working with another company on the island of Ometepe,” said Jacinto, who is an engineer specializing in resistance to disease. “And, coincidentally, in 1998, I meet Eduardo. I’ve been working for Eduardo since January 1999. We started in Jalapa planting covered tobacco.”

In 1999, though, the Cuban government forced Jacinto and other tobacco men to return to Cuba rather than stay in Nicaragua. So he and others found ways off the island to return to Nicaragua and Aganorsa. By the end of 2001, Jacinto was back in the saddle in Estelí, this time totally disassociated from the Cuban government.

“Nicaragua has the resources and it has the human capital to deal with [the normal problems of a farming operation]. In Cuba, it’s a problem of allotment and bureaucracy,” said Jacinto. “If I’m a farmer and I need to use a fertilizer or some product like that now, there might not be product available immediately. Maybe they’ll get it to me in two or three days. But by the time it gets to me, the crop is destroyed. The conditions are right for Nicaraguan tobacco to be the best in the world. Tobacco is a short-cycle crop. You plant it and about 45 days later, you’re harvesting. If you don’t give the plant what it needs in those 45 days, it’s not going to come out right.”

After learning the hard way that it’s best to own the farm yourself rather than contracting farmers to grow for you exclusively, Eduardo began to invest heavily in farmland, and his team of Cuban experts went to work ramping up production of the tobacco that would later become the foundation of his company’s identity. Other growers in the region took notice, wondering who was growing all this tobacco on land worked by Cubans. The cigar industry behaves a bit like a high school cafeteria sometimes, and as word spread of these farms and the fact that nobody in Estelí was buying all that tobacco, some even speculated that it was being sold to the Cuban government.

“We used to have a saying,” said Eduardo, recalling his pizza days in Spain. “The secret is in the dough.”

These days, the secret is in Aganorsa’s Criollo 98 and Corojo 99. In particular, Aganorsa’s Corojo 99 is among the most recognizable aromas in the cigar industry. Its signature sweetness is unforgettable and its aroma cuts through a room full of smokers so you always know when someone’s lit up around you.

But when you do smell it, it’s not necessarily burning in a Casa Fernandez cigar.

Tested in the fighting arena

It seems like any time you walk through a really great cigar factory, you notice something different about the way its owners have chosen to do things. Some quirk or nuance that lets you know the people who built the place didn’t just follow a paint-by-numbers guide to making cigars.

In the case of Casa Fernández, it didn’t take me long to find that quirk. As is the case in most every factory in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, cigars are made by pairs of rollers. The first, the buncher, prepares the filler and binder to go into a mold, where it sits a while — usually several hours — before being opened back up by the buncher’s partner, who applies the wrapper.

The bunchers at Casa Fernández, I realized, went through an extra step. It’s quick, but it’s there. Every time binder is applied to the filler, that bunch is placed on a digital scale to ensure it’s the right weight before it goes into the mold. At most other factories, cigars are weighed in bundles of 25 or so. If your bundle weighs what it should, there’s always a chance that one cigar’s a little overfilled, another a little underfilled. Not here. Aganorsa weighs every single cigar. It’s a system that was put in place by Cuban master and Aganorsa master blender Arsenio Ramos, who blended by weight rather than leaves and fractions of leaves. And they weigh each stogie more than once. Cigars are weighed at least twice: once by the buncher and once by quality control.


A select few are weighed three times.

“We pay attention to the weight. We have one customer, Dion Giolito… When that cigar goes to his store, I imagine him always at the counter weighing the cigars,” said Eduardo.

Dion was in the room for the interview. He nodded his head as if to say, “You know me too well.”

“And he gives me a call as well [if a cigar’s weight is off],” Eduardo continued. “Which is good! He’s the final control. To us, weight is extremely important and I’m extremely sensitive to it.”

Dion has a special stake in the weight of the cigars. As the founder of Illusione Cigars, he’s relied on Aganorsa tobacco to help set his product apart from everything else on the market. And it’s worked. Illusione is one of the most highly regarded boutique brands in the business. It’s the name behind Fume D’Amour, Rothchildes, and many more. On this trip to Estelí, Dion was — among other things — checking in on production of OneOff, a revival of a brand that had a cult following in the early 2000s and was recently acquired by Illusione.

“It’s a real special relationship that a brand like mine has with Aganorsa and Eduardo,” Dion said. “Eduardo has really extended the luxury of letting me root through his entire business. He’s really entrusted a person like me to be able to go look at pilones and tobacco. That’s 90 percent of what I do here — just making sure that the tobacco, from the quality standpoint that I look for, makes its way to the galera floor. Having that ability and access to be able to put my hands on any and all of his tobaccos is a rare opportunity for a person like me in this business.”

Dion isn’t alone in having access to that tobacco. Eduardo has managed to put together a group of clients who all — despite not having their own factories — are recognized in the cigar world for having real credibility on cigars and tobacco. Also on the factory floor during my visit was Nick Melillo, who launched Foundation Cigars in 2015.

“Having lived here in Nicaragua since 2003 and not being on the sales and distribution side, it was very important for me to express my love for Nicaragua. So I really wanted to make a blend that was a hundred percent Nicaraguan and a brand that really expressed the heart and soul of what Nicaragua was to me, but also the Nicaraguan people,” said Nick, who had previously worked for Drew Estate as a blender and tobacco purchaser. “I had purchased a lot of tobacco over the years from Aganorsa, and so I was very familiar with the tobacco. I knew in order to make a hundred percent Nicaraguan cigar, the key to that was going to be the wrapper. Having a Nicaraguan wrapper is not an easy thing because of the sun exposure and the land. Wrappers are usually coming from Ecuador, from Mexico, from other parts of the world, and I knew that the team here at TABSA and Aganorsa had been working on growing wrapper for many, many years. For me, it was the best wrapper for El Güegüense, the Wise Man, that I was going to launch. So that was crucial.”

Credible, familiar faces like Dion’s and Nick’s — as well as Eduardo’s son Max, who plays a major role in managing the day to day operations of the factory — give the factory a feeling of familial collaboration. These are all people who not only respect one another, but enjoy each other’s company.


Other Aganorsa clients include Viaje, Warped and HVC, all well respected brands releasing acclaimed cigars. As we sat around a long table to enjoy a roasted whole hog (naturally, an Aganorsa pig; remember that they do more than tobacco) with Eduardo, some of his team and a number of his private label clients (including a small delegation from a factory in Moscow), it was clear that he is looking for partners he can treat like family. He’s observed that these people can not only be trusted with access, but also that they fit in with a seat at the table… whether for a blending session or a Cuban feast.

Side note: This might have been the best Cuban-style lechón I’ve ever had.

“People prove themselves in the fighting arena, which is the marketplace,” said Eduardo. “With their vision, we make the best cigar in their profile. Some take that opportunity and take it to another level with their vision. To me that’s a great sense of pride and accomplishment. Because I’m not the only guy in the world who knows how to do something well. Other people bring a lot to the table.

“I love that people take our leaf and do something with their own vision. I take pleasure in people making our leaf even more beautiful, even more expressive. That, to me, is an accolade.”

The business of tradition


Moving forward, Aganorsa is poised to tell its story and earn even more accolades for cigars that bear its own name. The tobacco, as Eduardo puts it, has its own identity.

“We sell Aganorsa leaf. We don’t sell tobacco leaf,” he said. “It has a personality, it has a name, it has a backing to it, a culture behind it, a vision. To us it’s extremely important.”

Whatever you call it, Aganorsa is churning out a whole lot of it. All together, the company’s 1,000-plus acres of Nicaraguan farm land in Jalapa, Condega and Estelí produce 13,000 bales of tobacco. To give you a sense of scale, that’s enough for them to sell off about 85 percent of their harvest and still have enough for their own factory to make 20,000 cigars every day.

“We’re not one of the huge factories. We’re boutique-ish,” Eduardo said. “We aim to do things right, not just produce massive numbers of cigars. Our trajectory is to keep growing, but always have quality in mind. [José Orlando] Padrón taught me that … It’s not just about producing cigars. It’s producing great cigars year in year out.”

“Eduardo is a good friend of my family’s. He had a good friendship with my father, and many of the people who work with him are also good friends of ours. It’s a good thing he’s here in Nicaragua,” said Jorge Padrón of Padrón Cigars.

As the company works to build its name recognition among smokers, Terence Reilly, who recently joined the Aganorsa team on the sales and marketing side after a long tenure at Quesada Cigars, will play a pivotal role.

“We have a great selection, but there’s that signature flavor that permeates all of them to varying degrees,” Terence said. “So that’s what I think is our focus, is to express that flavor profile in different ways. We’re for a certain smoker that enjoys Nicaraguan tobacco with a clear Cuban influence. If you’re into other profiles, that’s great, but you’re probably not going to be into what we’re doing.”

Pedro Martín died in 2010 and, when I visited Nicaragua for this story, Arsenio Ramos was ill in Cuba. By now, Eduardo has soaked up enough knowledge to walk, talk and act like a genuine tobacco man himself.


“Nobody’s born with knowledge. You have to acquire it, in tobacco especially. Tobacco teaches you because every year is different. Things behave differently, people behave differently, so you have to adjust and that knowledge takes time to acquire. Maybe five or six years ago, things started really coming together.”

As Eduardo moves into a new chapter for Aganorsa tobacco, he can look confidently back on the plunge he took in the late ‘90s and know that it paid off. And that might be the most incredible thing about this company that showed up relatively recently considering it’s so damn big in the premium cigar tobacco space. Eduardo left pizza delivery and international finance for a much quieter life in a much quieter place.

And despite his having caught lightning in a bottle all over again, Eduardo still talks about it as the quiet retreat of a business he was looking for in his early retirement.

“My vision grew to do things the old-fashioned way,” he said. “I don’t experiment with new tobacco or new flavors. [The idea is] to do what was done for hundreds of years in Cuba. If I can do that, I’m the happiest man in the world.”

BURN by Rocky Patel Pittsburgh set to open April 2018

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BURN by Rocky Patel has announced the opening of a new 6,300-square-foot location in Pittsburgh’s North Shore. This is BURN's second location, with the first being a Naples, Florida that opened in 2010. The club includes an 800-square-foot patio.

There will be a VIP grand opening event Friday, April 6, 2018 and the new cigar hangout will open to the public April 7 at 2pm.

“We’re changing how people are looking at cigars bars with live music, DJ sets and a more lively atmosphere,” said Rocky Patel in a press release. “Burn will speak to a different dynamic of people. We are bringing new types of people into the [premium cigar] category, including women, young men and future business leaders.”

The design of BURN by Rocky Patel Pittsburgh pays homage to the city's steel industry heritage. But who are we kidding? The main attraction is the bar's 300-sqaure-foot Spanish cedar-lined humidor.

For more information, visit

Royal Agio Cigars joins ProCigar

Royal Agio Cigars, the company behind the Balmoral brand made in the Dominican Republic, announced that it has joined ProCigar, the trade group of Dominican cigar manufacturers which — among other things — hosts the ProCigar festival each year. The company participated as a “Gold sponsor” in that festival this past February.

Agio is a family owned company that’s been around since 1904. Its golbal headquarters is in Duziel, Holland, but the company has been invested in the Dominican Republic since 1990. Its Dominican factory in San Pedro de Macoris produces machine-made and handmade cigars, including Añejo XO and Royal Selection.

“We work with a very small, dedicated team to create our unique premium cigars. The carefully-selected pairs working for us in San Pedro de Macoris take great pride in handcrafting our cigars and are true artisans in the craft,” said Agio Caribbean Tobacco Company general manager Francisco Batista. “With Agio becoming an official member of ProCigar, I feel an even deeper connection to the local cigar community and I look forward to sharing knowledge and working more closely together with other manufacturers to help elevate what is already world-leading cigar quality.’’

Macanudo’s golden anniversary

General Cigar purchased the Temple Hall Cigar Factory in Kingston, Jamaica in 1968. And with it, the Macanudo brand, which was being made exclusively for the British market. So this year, General Cigar is celebrating its 50th year with the Macanudo brand with a slew of activities. There will be product launches, retail promos and other special happenings under the “The 50 Days of Macanudo” banner.

Visit for more information. Also use that site to upload photos from events you attend and be entered into drawings for Macanudo merch.

General cigar adds new extension: Macanudo Inspirado Red

General Cigar is adding an extension to its popular Macanudo Inspirado line. The Macanudo Inspirado Red features an Ecuadorian Habano ligero wrapper around Nicaraguan tobaccos from Ometepe (aged 12 years) and Estelí (aged five years), as well as Honduran tobacco from Jamastrán (aged 10 years).

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“As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Macanudo, we created Macanudo Inspirado Red to speak to the brand’s unique ability to adapt to the preferences of today’s cigar lovers. Nicaraguan cigars are hot right now,” said José de Castro, vice president of marketing for General Cigar’s Macanudo brand, in a press release. “With ‘Inspirado Red,’ we show how nimble the brand can be by introducing a unique, Nicaraguan-forward blend to the line, while highlighting the expertise of the torcederos from our cigar factory in Esteli.”

Macanudo Inspirado Red, made at STG Esteli in Nicaragua, will be available in late March and come in three formats: a 5 x 50 box pressed Robusto ($6.49), a 6 x 50 Toro ($6.69) and a 6 x 60 Gigante ($7.49).

Second annual Santa Muerte release is out

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Black Label Trading Co. ( announced the second annual release of its Santa Muerte brand. The cigar commemorates the Day of the Dead, although it was released on Friday, Oct. 13, so you’ll have time to get your hands on it ahead of that day (Oct. 31).

Manufactured at Fábrica Oveja Negra in Estelí, Nicaragua, the blend comprises Ecuadorian Habano wrapper and binder, along with fillers from Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Mexico. It’s available in two vitolas: Corona Gorda (5½ x 48) and Short Robusto (4¾ x 52). Both are priced at $10 per cigar and are packaged in 20-count boxes.

“This is our second release of Santa Muerte and people really responded well to the change of pace for us,” said James Brown, creator of Black Label Trading Company and partner at Fabrica Oveja Negra, in a press release. “Our limited releases tend to be full bodied with a Maduro wrapper but this one is a medium bodied cigar with an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper. It features six filler tobaccos which create a very unique and rich flavor profile. You experience layer upon layer of coffee, malt, spice and cocoa.”

Interview: Jesús Fuego on his first year in a new factory and the future of J. Fuego cigars

by Nicolás Antonio Jiménez

Close to a year ago, J. Fuego shifted from having their cigars made by Plasencia to producing them at their very own Nicaraguan factory. More recently, they announced a distribution partnership with Cypress Group Miami. In this interview, Jesús Fuego talks about how things are going, what has changed for the company since they opened their new facility, and what’s next for J. Fuego cigars.

  image: J. Fuego Cigar Co.

image: J. Fuego Cigar Co.


Cigar Snob: Tell me a little about what drove the decision to open your own factory and how that has changed how you approach your business and the brand.

Jesús Fuego: Well, basically, opening the new factory was a natural progression. We believe we belong here and we just haven’t had a chance to do it before. We started the J. Fuego brand in the U.S. in late 2006 and we’ve been working on getting it out there and all that. What we’ve been doing between my dad and I is taking some tobacco and putting some stuff aside and slowly starting to build an inventory so we’re ready to start our own production. We [wanted to] have something to work with and try to make the change as seamless as possible, you know? We found this building in Nicaragua that we’d been negotiating for. We finally got it early last year and basically redid it. The whole concept of this is control of our own production. That doesn’t mean we were unhappy [at Plasencia] or anything, but it’s a lot better when you make your own product and you can defend it with more enthusiasm, you know?

CS: Is there a difference that a smoker might be able to discern between the older product and what is coming out of the new factory?

JF: Interesting question. You know, there’s always something personal when someone makes a cigar, even if someone else blended the cigar. You know, there’s always a subtle… call it the factory flavor or the factory smell or something like that.

  image: J. Fuego Cigar Co.

image: J. Fuego Cigar Co.

Obviously, when you change production from one place to another, even if it’s just the physical building where you make the cigar, they end up tasting slightly better. At the same time, we took the critiques we had and tried to tweak it a bit in order to keep the things people liked and change the things they didn’t like about what we were selling before. [It's only now that] we’re beginning to actively and aggressively talk about the factory because we wanted to give ourselves time to get rid of all the inventory that was out there. We have improved our packaging; everything now has a warranty seal that clearly identifies that the product was made in the new factory so there’s no confusion. And like I said, basically there is a bunch of product that we got rid of that was made at the other place.

The first cigar we put out from the new factory is a new blend. It’s the 777 Maduro Silver. My originals are selling well and are very popular, but they are unbanded. Because the cigar looks so rough, there are some people who didn’t know which end to light. We thought we were doing a good thing by having them pre-cut, but then you have little mistakes — like they’re packed upside down or people light the wrong end and the wrapper unravels — so we went around and made all the originals with the regular cap. It’s minor details mostly. We started production of our original blend of J. Fuego Gran Reserva, which is one of our grandfathered [under FDA regulations] blends, that I had stopped making because I had run out of the aged tobacco, so we started on that and now we’re ready to go.

On the 777 Zero, we heard people say they liked the cigar, but most agreed they would like some details to change. We tried to make it a bit cleaner. That’s when it comes to quality in the product itself. But the main thing is peace of mind. There’s no denying that you have more peace of mind and there’s no denying you feel more enthusiastic when you’re presented those problems. If it’s good it’s your fault, if it’s bad it’s your fault.

Then there are the little details. For example, what we’re doing in our aging room is like the old school. I don’t know any other factory that does it the way we control the humidity by keeping shavings of Spanish cedar on the floor of the aging room. We control the humidity in the old style, which is to spray water on that cedar and let it evaporate. There are always little things you can do in the factory that you know you like and that make an improvement in the quality , but you can’t be that demanding when you have someone else rolling for you. Sometimes the difference between a professional and an amateur in golf is one yard on the drive. And, for that yard, you have train 20 years.

CS: What do the production numbers look like now and do you have goals for where you want that production to go in the next year or two?

  image: J. Fuego Cigar Co.

image: J. Fuego Cigar Co.

No. We don’t have goals when it comes to numbers. I have goals when it comes to quality. Basically, J. Fuego is going to be keeping its warehouse in Miami, and it’s doing the same aging and the same storing, fulfilling orders, shipping to customers, so we’re going to keep the information close and be able to answer if there is any problem. We don’t have a goal when it comes to making cigars because, thank God, we have a comfortable position. We’re well funded and we want to have fun in the process. We just want to make sure that whatever the Cypress Group can sell we can provide.

CS: Let me frame it a different way. Is there something you would like to have accomplished after a couple of years of having your own factory? What do you see in the more immediate future for the factory and the brand?

[I foresee] a lot of focus on J. Fuego products and what I mean by a lot of focus is mainly [putting] our brands first. We want to make sure we don’t have to make anything in a rush. When you don’t have your factory, it’s inevitable that when cigars go slow, you might have some infestation or the cigars go bad. If the cigars are going to fast, you’re going to at some point have cigars that are fresh because you have to rush them out of the factory. That’s one of the goals we have. I think we’re already accomplishing that. The factory is right now rolling cigars we’re going to sell around November or December. That’s one thing. The other thing is — and this is nothing against the providers, because we have the best ones out there — but because every chef has his own recipe book, it doesn’t matter how well sorted the tobacco that you are sold is. You always have to do a little  bit of resorting in the factory. So in the same compound, right next to the rollers, we’re going to have our factory pre-industry. So that means that we’re sorting tobacco while we’re seeing the cigars where that tobacco is going to be used. That’s a goal for us that is practically already in place.

CS: You brought up a bit about the new distribution arrangement. What do you anticipate in the immediate future as far as whether different consumers will have access to the product than before. Are there specific areas into which you’re looking to expand first?

We don’t think of that as a geographic territory thing. Our reasoning is that, for many years, we’re not the company that makes a lot of noise out there and puts a lot of pictures next to a private plane or a good looking guy in a magazine. I’m a Cuban hillbilly and I’m too old to change. I’ve heard the criticism a lot that J. Fuego has a really good story, you know, has a lot of skins on the wall, but I haven’t done a good job when it comes to communicating that.

I like the factory and maybe I have neglected the part of telling people the cool things we’re doing.

So the joint venture with Cypress Group … I’m [not tech savvy]. I don’t even know how to explain this, but you have [James Thomas], a person who comes to this with a really good background on [technology] and organizational skills. You have Joey Bravo, who studied agricultural engineering and knows cigar shops from the bottom up and has traveled all the stores. He has a good palate and understands the cigars. You have The Guayabera Lady, who is in the cigar industry but with a very clean perspective — not only the feminine side, but also the side that understands fashion and what women like to hear. So they’re bringing all the ingredients that we were lacking.

We have a cool story and we believe that while Cypress Group can provide customer service and make the story known by the consumer. We’re betting here, we’re aiming to expand our consumer base just by letting people know what we’re doing more effectively.

General Cigar launches Partagas Heritage

General Cigar announced a new blend called Partagas Heritage, which the company says “honors the heritage of Partagas in blend, box and band.”

Partagas Heritage featured a Honduran wrapper that General says it developed for this launch. The remainder of the blend comprises a Connecticut Broadleaf binder and fillers from from Honduras, the Dominican Republic and Mexico.

“We set out to create a retrospective blend that celebrated the very best of Partagas to date, and took great pride in putting together the ingredients, just like coming up with a very special recipe. This was a group effort, with our blenders in the Dominican Republic and Central America working with the marketing team to achieve the final taste,” said Jhonys Diaz, who led blend development, in a General Cigar press release.

The cigars are packaged in 20-count boxes and are available in four vitolas: Rothschild (4 ½ x 50; $8.49 per cigar), Churchill (7 x 49; $9.99 per cigar), Gigante (6 x 60; $9.59 per cigar) and Robusto (5 ½ x 52; $9.59 per cigar).

Alec Bradley announces its new TAA-exclusive release

If you shop at a TAA member store, you’ll soon have access to a TAA-exclusive smoke called Alec Bradley Black Market will eagerly anticipate Black Market Illicit. This “illicit” extension is a new iteration of the already popular Black Market line.

Black Market Illicit is a 6 x 50 Toro featuring Nicaraguan wrapper. Two binders (one Honduran, the other Nicaraguan) and Nicaraguan fillers.

“This is the first exclusive series cigar Alec Bradley has developed for TAA retailers since we introduced the Prensado Figurado in 2013,” said Alec Bradley owner Alan Rubin in a press release. “We like to describe this iteration of our number one-selling cigar as Black Market ‘on steroids.’ True to its name, Black Market Illicit embodies the characteristics that have earned its namesake consistent ratings of 90 among cigar enthusiasts around the world. This iteration was specially designed to cater to TAA’s exclusive network of retailers.”

Black Market Illicit starts shipping to TAA retailers in July, packaged in 22-count boxes and with an MSRP of $8.75 per cigar.

Rocky Patel Royale gets a 6 x 60

Rocky Patel Premium Cigars issued a press release announcing the expansion of its Rocky Patel Royale brand. The company is adding a vitola called 60 (a 6 x 60) to the lineup.

According to the release, “The new size was added due to consumer demand for a standard gordo size. Rocky Patel Royale Sixty will be packaged in 20-count boxes and has a suggested retail price of $12 per cigar.”

The brand made its debut at the 2013 IPCPR trade show, and the cigar landed a spot on Cigar Snob’s Top 25 Cigars 2013. The 60 joins several other vitolas of Rocky Patel Royale: Corona, Robusto, Toro, Torpedo, Colossal, and Toro Tubo. The 60 will be a round parejo like the Colossal and Toro Tubo, while all the other vitolas are box-pressed.


Davidoff announces AVO Improvisation LE17

AVO Cigars announced the the fifth installment in its AVO Limited Edition Improvisations Series: AVO Improvisation LE17.

The cigar packaging — in keeping with the brand’s musical themes — features a full black leather exterior with orange leather interior lid and dual silver clasps. It’s meant to be evocative of a vintage guitar case.

As for the cigar itself, the AVO Improvisation LE17 draws inspiration from three other AVO products. According to a press release, “The new blend utilizes the same variety of Dominican binder and filler tobaccos that were featured in the AVO LE05, blended with the same Estelí, Nicaragua filler tobacco used in the AVO Syncro Nicaragua Fogata and presented in the 6 x 60 boxed pressed format of the AVO Syncro Nicaragua Special Toro.”

“When developing the fifth AVO Improvisation blend, I wanted to use the foundation of my fifth AVO Limited Edition ever released, the celebrated AVO LE05, to see if we could craft something extra special,” said Avo Uvezian in that same release. “When we blended in filler tobacco from Estelí, my palate immediately began to dance with the many flavor notes. The combination worked so well together that a 60-ring gauge format was the proper way to fully showcase this wonderful arrangement, finished in a flawless box pressed shape.”

The cigar is wrapped in Ecuadorian Habano and is priced at $18 per cigar, or $288 for a box of 16.

Rocky Patel releases Vintage 1999 Minis

  image: Rockt Patel Premium Cigars

image: Rockt Patel Premium Cigars


Rocky Patel Premium Cigars announced that, starting in April 2017, its popular Vintage 1999 series will be made available in a small new vitolas called Minis.

The cigars are manufactured at Honduran American Tobacco S.A. in Danlí, Honduras. The Minis measure 4 ¼ x 32 and feature the same aged Connecticut shade wrapper that smokers recognize from other Vintage 1999 formats.

Rocky Patel, President and CEO of RPPC, describes the Minis as “the perfect mild smoke in under ten minutes.”

In a press release issued by Rocky Patel Premium Cigars, Executive Vice President Nish Patel described the Minis as maintaining “that creamy, buttery, ‘nuttery’ taste, just like the other 1999 shapes.”

The Vintage 1999 Minis are packaged in 10-count tins that retail for $17.

La Palina Classic expanded with new blends

La Palina announced an expansion of its Classic line. The brand will be adding new wrappers, blends, and sizes.

“I am very proud to be expanding La Palina Classic with new wrappers and blends,” said La Palina’s owner, Bill Paley. “We have been working on these for over a year and now have the best cigars you can find at prices everyone can enjoy.”

La Palina Classic is now available in three blends: Connecticut, Rosado, and Maduro. These blends had been made available in limited quantities in 2016, but are not being made widely available; The Connecticut and Rosade are already shipping, while the Maduro will be available to retailers at the end of March.

“The Classic line has always been close to the hearts of La Palina supporters,” said Sam Phillips, president of La Palina Cigars. “It is a great cigar for a reasonable price. Whether it is our Classics or our limited editions, we strive to deliver the highest quality cigar with the most refined taste. We feel that we have achieved this with our new generation of Classic cigars.”

Here’s the blend information we got from La Palina.

Wrapper: Ecuador
Binder: Dominican Republic
Fillers: Dominican Republic, Nicaragua

Wrapper: Honduras
Binder: Dominican Republic
Fillers: Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras

Wrapper: Honduras
Binder: Honduras
Fillers: Honduras, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua

Jonathan Drew returns to an executive role at Drew Estate

 Jonathan Drew at his Miami home

Jonathan Drew at his Miami home

Drew Estate announced that Jonathan Drew will return to an executive role with the company as president and founder, with oversight for the entire portfolio of brands. Jonathan will also continue to serve as CEO of his spirits venture, John Drew Brands, which is initially focused on bourbon, rye, and rum.

“Jonathan Drew is a dynamic entrepreneur, respected tobacco man, and a tenacious brand evangelist. He is the original Disruptor, and I am excited to help build a team around JD that is raw, provocative, and unafraid to challenge the mainstream and take risks,” said Drew Estate’s CEO Glenn Wolfson in a statement included in the press release.

I'm a student of graffiti ... and philosophically I look at tobacco the same way,” said Jonathan in that same release. ”There is an evolution to the painted walls in the streets, just like there was on the subways back in the day. Change is natural and accepted. You just have to bomb harder and stay true to your technique and style - and always keep loyal to your crew. There's a lot to learn from areas outside of our main canvas at DE. We will return to high-level curation, mixed media platforms, and true collaboration. We have lost our way a bit, but DE will bubble back 1,000 times stronger. Believe me.”

Learn more about the history and trajectory of Drew Estate — including the hip hop and graffiti elements that inspired the brand’s identity — in this piece we published in the November/December 2016 issue of Cigar Snob.

Toraño launches two new blends


General Cigar issued a press release announcing the launch of two new Toraño blends.

One of those blends is called E-021. It features an Ecuadorian Sumatra, Connecticut Broadleaf binder, and fillers from Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic. The cigar is available in two sizes: 4½ x 50 and 5 x 52 (priced at $5.49 and $5.99, respectively).

A second blend, W-009, features Nicaraguan wrapper, Honduran binder, and fillers from Honduras. This second blend is also available in two sizes: 5½ x 54 and 6 x 50 ($6.49 and $6.49, respectively).

“Our blending team in Nicaragua re-envisioned a couple of dynamic blends from my family’s original recipes. Both new lines round out the sizes available in the Vault line while continuing the tradition of exceptional blends in stand-out packaging and affordable prices. I look forward to sharing the new Vault lines with Toraño fans at cigar shops and special events across the country,” said Jack Toraño, who was recently hired as a full-time brand ambassador for Toraño, in a press release.

Punch Gran Puro Nicaragua launches

General Cigar announced the launch of Punch Gran Puro Nicaragua, an extension of the brand’s Gran Puro line which comprises four formats ranging in price from $5.29 to $6.99: 4.875 x 48, 5.5 x 54, 6 x 54, and 7 ½ x 54.


“For the extension of the Gran Puro line, our artisans built a blend that balances Nicaraguan tobaccos with a Maduro wrapper to deliver a layered, dimensional flavor not traditionally found in Nicaraguan-based cigars. We are confident that Punch Gran Puro Nicaragua will be a fast favorite among tenured smokers,” said Ed McKenna, director of marketing strategy for General Cigar, in a press release.

Produced at General Cigar’s HATSA factory in Danlí, Honduras, the blend features a Connecticut broadleaf wrapper along with Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos.