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An Interview with Pete Johnson

​​By: David Fisher

Handcrafted in limited quantities at the esteemed My Father Cigar Factory, Tatuaje is one of the most sought after boutique brands in the industry. From full-bodied Nicaraguan puros like Havana VI to many highly-anticipated limited edition blends, everything bearing the Tatuaje name seems to skyrocket to the top of the ratings. Recently, we sat down with Pete Johnson, owner of Tatuaje Cigars, to discuss his brand and the success of the Tatuaje Monster Series.

David Fisher: You have been working with the García Family for a long time now. Can you tell us the story behind how you teamed up with Don Pepín?

Pete Johnson: I was the Director of Retail for Grand Havana Enterprises, and an old friend and sales representative called me asking if I still wanted to make my own brand. I told him yes, but had not found anyone that could make me a cigar that I wanted to put my name on. He told me about Pepín and they came to Los Angeles to roll me some samples. Within a few hours I knew Pepín would be making my brand.

DF: While I am sure much of your attention is placed on the Tatuaje portfolio, what is your favorite Don Pepín García cigar?

PJ: I believe my favorite Don Pepín cigar—if you are only talking about Don Pepín—would be the Original Blue Label. Across the whole My Father portfolio, I smoke a lot of My Father originals and La Dueñas of course.

DF: Could you explain, if any, the difference in blending techniques and strategies between some of your brands, say Tatuaje Brown Label and Surrogates, or the Monster Series and Havana VI?

PJ: I want someone to have a different smoking experience every time they pick up another brand in the portfolio. Many use similar tobaccos but the results are always very different. A lot of the differences have to do with primings of the tobaccos, seed varietals, farms and regions, and country of origin. When it comes to Monsters, those most usually are based on something else in the portfolio with a couple minor changes.

DF: What inspired you to create the Monster Series?

PJ: A friend in Boston was a big sneaker collector and he told me I should pick a theme to base a cigar release around. He showed me a pair of Frankenstein Nikes and as soon as I saw them, my mind started to work overtime. We sat for hours after that talking about Monsters.

DF: With the addition of Pudgy and Skinny Monster, which do you believe has brought the most success?

PJ: I must say that the reception of the Skinny Monster has been great. To see so many people enjoying smaller ring gauges is amazing.

DF: What are some of the unique traits of this year’s Monster release, The Krueger?

PJ: This year’s Monster is a long, boxed-pressed belicoso with a Mexican maduro wrapper. That’s all I’ll say.

DF: Out of all the Monsters created, which is your personal favorite?

PJ: I always say that the newest one is my favorite, and I must admit I’m really excited about The Krueger release. I’m still very partial to The Frank because it was my first, but I really enjoyed Jekyll and Hyde as well.

DF: The Unlucky 13, where did that come from? And what’s the story behind it?

PJ: We always called it The Unlucky 13 because of the theme, but the word unlucky started becoming reality. We have had retailers from the list close down after being on it. It might be cursed. I always ask retailers if they are sure they want it.

DF: Many of the cigars you release are considered to be full-bodied in terms of strength. Were you always a fan of stronger cigars or was it a taste that you acquired gradually? If you had to choose a mellower cigar, what would be your go-to?

PJ: I’m a fan of cigars in general no matter the strength. I’m looking for flavor. Many people are fans of the stronger products we make, but we have many mellow to medium cigars in our portfolio. El Triunfador, Cabaiguan Original, Trocadero, and L’Atelier Original, just to name a few. Mellow to medium in strength and full-flavored. I smoke a lot of the La Riqueza line which is more medium-bodied.