Alex Svenson: Christian, congratulations on launching your new company, CLE Cigars. Your family has been in this industry for generations. Can you briefly discuss your family’s history in cigars?
Christian Eiroa: Thank you. My grandfather was a Spaniard who went to Cuba in the late 1800s and became a boat captain for the Cuban Land and Leaf Company. After settling in Pinar del Rio, he quickly bought a 33 acre farm named “La Victoria.” At the time, the tobacco trade was controlled by the leaf brokers in Tampa, Florida. Of those leaf brokers, Mr. Angel Oliva was my grandfather’s main customer. Please note I’m referring to the Oliva tobacco family, not the Oliva cigar family responsible for producing Oliva cigars; two different families, same last name.
My father eventually fled Cuba soon after the Bay of Pigs invasion and when he finished serving in Korea, he was invited by Mr. Oliva to help process tobacco in Honduras. Soon after that, my father decided to start his own farms in Honduras and the rest is history. There were many partnerships and business relationships that led him to own the cigar company named Fumas Tabaco, which was later renamed Caribe Imported Cigars. In 1995, the same year I started, we purchased Camacho Cigar Co. In 2000, Camacho reintroduced the authentic Corojo seed to the US market and this is the cigar that brought full-bodied blends back to life. In 2008, Davidoff purchased the company, which leads us to where we are today with my brands Asylum, Wynwood, and CLE.
AS: Do you consider this new “project” or “step” in your cigar career different from past projects? And how?
CE: Yes, completely different. The level of maturity is different along with the drive and motivation. This time around, there is no pressure and no need to rush anything. I have all the time in the world to focus exclusively on only making cigars I love, without being so focused on the business side. I am also taking this opportunity to help others with similar dreams; those who never had the right opportunities to execute their ideas.
AS: The cigar industry feels a bit crowded with so many new brands. How will your brand stand out among the sea of new, boutique cigars?
CE: Our blends should immediately stand out because we’re not following any of the new popular trends you’re seeing today. We solely focus on going out of our way to find tobaccos you don’t get to taste daily or regularly. We guarantee our blends will be like no others out there.
AS: In addition to making cigars in Honduras as you always have, you’re now expanding into Nicaragua with new production. What prompted this decision and what types of opportunities do you think you’ll find working in Nicaragua?
CE: Nicaragua is a whole different world of tobacco and customs, which fascinates me. It broadens my opportunities even more than I ever anticipated. I now have the ability to make cigars from not two countries, but three, as we are also opening the Wynwood factory soon.
AS: How many cigars do you enjoy in a week and what kind of cigars do you personally prefer?
CE: I am a huge fan of authentic Corojo seed. It is truly amazing ... I find myself burning through about 15 cigars per week; mostly comparing productions and tasting the blends. Out of the 15 I tend to burn, 13 are considered “homework” and two are over a nice whiskey and some silence!
AS: Who do you most respect and look up to in the cigar industry?
CE: My father above all. But I also have a great admiration for the great men who built this industry such as Mr. Theo Folz and the late Messrs Newman and Cullman. Johny Oliva and David Perez are admirable as well. I cannot leave out Carlos Fuente Sr. and Jr. either, who have been great friends and are a great example of the passionate people who’ve made this industry what it is today.
AS: When you’re not working in the cigar business, how do you spend your free time?
CE: Is this a trick question, Alex? Every day I’m in the factory or working with cigars is free time for me. I truly do enjoy this business to no end. However, I also enjoy fishing, flying, and watching baseball.
AS: Fast forward 10 years, where is CLE and Christian Eiroa?
CE: This is a great question. I would love to be in Cuba growing tobacco and making cigars from yet another area. The CLE line will be interesting to see how it develops. This line will be shaped by our friends and customers. I am curious to see where THEY decide to take me.