Global Brand Ambassador for Diesel: Justin Andrews
You started your cigar industry career at a small, family owned, boutique cigar company called Lou Rodriguez Cigars before joining the large, multi-national General Cigars. How much of a culture shock was that transition?
It was definitely a culture shock, it was an adjustment to say the least because, again, you know how our companies go when we’re small, and it’s like, “Hey, I want to make a broadleaf cigar.” And it’s like, “Hey, well we need to sell more of this Habano that we bought before we can afford to go buy broadleaf!” It’s a huge difference from going to where we basically would sit around and have an innovation meeting and come up with ideas over margaritas or Flor de Caña rum to now there’s brand plans and multiple layers of approval and multiple business units involved. So yeah, it was definitely an adjustment; I realized that this was definitely no longer a hobby. This was something that a lot of people are involved in. And there are a lot of companies across the globe that are impacted by the cigars that we sell.
The brand that you manage for General Cigars today is Diesel, a brand that from day 1 has been made by AJ Fernandez and continues that way to this day. So you inherited a relationship with AJ but that relationship has flourished. He famously speaks little English so how’s your Spanish?
So I was fortunate that when I first started with Lou going down to Estelí, which you know, is a small town, it was even smaller 11 years ago, I got to meet AJ and spent some time with him. I wouldn’t say we were besties or anything but you know, I would see him from time to time and say hello. And so we definitely knew each other. But once I inherited Diesel, then we went from knowing each other to being in bed together! And the last time I saw AJ, which was right before COVID, he let me know that my Spanish has not improved as much as his English has. So thank God for Freddy Molina and a guy who works for us, Jaime Rodriguez, because between my Spanish and AJ’s English it would probably be tough for us to get a lot of things done.
The Esteli Puro is the latest release in the Diesel line. What was the idea behind it? What makes this project special?
Great question. So you know I spent a lot of time down with AJ because of all of the projects we do together. And about five years ago he was explaining how he was installing this drip irrigation system in one of his farms in Estelí. And after going through all the details and the complexity of that he said that the biggest thing is that it would allow him to grow wrapper leaf in Estelí. And you know, all of us love Nicaragua, we all love Nicaraguan tobacco, but very few people understand that the majority of that region produces binder and filler tobacco, but very little wrapper, if any is grown there. And so every time I was down visiting him I would ask, “Is the wrapper ready?” And he’d reply, “No, no, it’s not right.” And the next time I’d ask again and it just kept on and on. And then finally, it must have been the end of 2018 or the beginning of 2019 when he started telling me that it was ready. So we started smoking the samples and it was such a different flavor profile to me, because the wrapper drives so much of the flavor that it was just different. I didn’t quite know what to expect and how to kind of capture that and go, “Here’s a project we can use for this.” So we continued going back and forth smoking, going over ideas. And then it just hit me and I said, “You know this cigar is just pure Estelí. All the tobacco is grown in Estelí, the cigar is rolled in Estelí, THIS is an Estelí puro. So much of what we do with our country-of-origin puros you know, you’ve got a Dominican puro or Nicaragua puros, and things like that. So to have all the tobacco come from this micro region [as opposed to a blend of tobaccos from different regions within the country] was really, really exciting. And through the blending process we basically tried to stay true to Diesel where there is that strength, there’s that familiar AJ imprint on everything and you’re used to that full-bodied experience, but we had to balance it out as well. Which I think we did with the sweetness and some of the chocolate notes you pick up from it. It’s a really well-balanced cigar, but it’s definitely on the stronger end of what we’ve released.