Rocky Patel, owner of Rocky Patel Premium Cigars
What was it like when you started in cigars?
It’s been a learning experience. It started out as a hobby and then I was a sideline investor back in ‘95, ‘96. I was approached by someone about investing in making cigars. I kept pouring money into the business and not seeing any returns. I realized I had invested way more money into this hobby than I ever wanted, so I had a cigar company strapped to my back and I didn’t know what to do. I thought it would be something fun, but I didn’t realize how much work was involved in making a great cigar. I knew I had a great palate, but we were having someone else make the cigars and they were quite inconsistent. The only way to succeed was to have control of our own manufacturing and have good ingredients, which means having relationships with the best growers in the world. It took a long time, coming from the outside, to build those relationships.
Olde World Reserve is a revived brand and a big part of the story with this brand is making use of those relationships you have built over all these years. What can you tell us about the cigar and what led to its being brought back?
The Olde World Corojo, which is made in Honduras, is a brand that’s been around for a long time and it was introduced a good 12 years ago. We had certain special tobaccos in there that we ran out of and we couldn’t get them —both in the Olde World Corojo and the Maduro. It was a pretty solid brand for us and there were so many requests for that cigar. So we started sourcing these tobaccos. They’re from a different Nicaraguan farm and valley that we typically don’t source tobacco from, and there’s also tobacco from Honduras. And then we have the Honduran Corojo wrapper, which is a hard wrapper to get.I would describe it as a medium-bodied cigar with a lot of balance and sweet flavor.
Do you have any pairing recommendations for the Olde World Reserve Corojo?
With the Corojo, I would say that would go well with a good Pinot Noir, a Highland Scotch or an aged rum.
You mentioned Corojo tobacco being harder to come by. Tells us more about why that is.
Well, Corojo is a unique seed. That’s the seed that was originally brought over [to Central America] from Cuba. The Eiroa family were some of the first to have it here and since then other people have been starting to grow Corojo. They don’t grow that much of it; there’s a lot of Criollo, a lot of Habano 2000, so Corojo is a harder wrapper to find and any Corojo we get ends up in the Olde World Reserve Corojo.
Going back to the story of the early days, that problem of sourcing tobacco also played a role in one of the turning points for the company, didn’t it?
There’s a difference between acquiring tobacco and working with people to take the time to cure, ferment and age tobacco properly. There’s a lot of inventory cost. When you’re tying up tobacco for sixto eight years that people are used to just turning around and selling after a year or two, they’re not so keen on it. We didn’t have the money when we first started to have 15 or 16 million dollars of inventory sitting around. I had to convince the Plasencias to allow me to have the tobacco and hold onto it while we fermented and aged it. When we had the capability to do that, that’s when we felt good about attaching the Rocky Patel name to the products.