Cigar.com (CC): Jonathan, you've been busy lately keeping up with the demand for your brands. How is the factory doing?
Jonathan Drew (JD): Please allow me to begin by thanking each person who has reached out to Drew Estate thru Facebook or to me personally, and for the gracious comments. So many have mentioned they're Cigar.com customers and we have seriously taken note here at Drew Estate Tobacco Company in Esteli, Nicaragua. The factory is going beserk with new blends and new experimental tobaccos that have finally been delivered from Ecuador, Mexico, Brazil, and Nicaragua after the growing period. We are pretty jazzed up about these investments. Also, the factory is doing well because we are providing so many good jobs for so many good people in Esteli, Nicaragua. It's truly a blessing to be part of it.
CC: ACID continues to be one of the country’s best-selling brands. What is it about this cigar that attracts so many cigar enthusiasts?
JD: The 'wow' factor! People from every legal age group experience ACID Cigars for the 1st time or for the 51st time and say, "hot damn, these things are good." It really touches your heart to watch someone enjoy your handmade product, which you have dedicated your entire life to perfecting.
CC: Speaking of great selling ACIDS, Opulence 3 developed quite a following. What can you tell our customers about this innovative blend? What makes it so special?
JD: Well, at Drew Estate we are extremely confidential about how we blend tobaccos, but there are certain facts about "ACID Ops" that are noteworthy, begining with the wrapper. This San Andres is just beyond awesome in flavor and asthetics. That rich, oily capa is just first class. We go thru a lot of stress to secure it each year for the Opulence blend. It's becoming difficult to keep up with your demand quite honestly, but its definitely worth the hard work. When people ask me to try and describe the blend, I always hand them one and wait for their opinion. Most people tend to find the blend medium-bodied, which is a bit more full-bodied than the core ACID line. This is due to the farms in which the filler leaves originate. For Opulence, we harvested the tobacco from three different crop years: 2005, 2006, and 2007. This stuff is getting rarer each day. Opulence is a rich maduro with a Nicaraguan, earthy, creamy dimension that is sweet at the finish. No joke.
CC: A few years back you guys started to work with traditional cigars instead of just infusing blends. Liga Privada has been a real hit to say the least. How did Liga Privada get its start and did you ever expect it would be so successful?
JD: I beleive as long as we can maintain the blends perfectly, one can only imagine what the future may hold. The trouble is the wrapper - we simply cannot purchase enough. The two farms who grow the Connecticut Broadleaf and the Connecticut Stalk Cut Habano are limited to certain areas of the Connecticut River Valley that have the soil and climate capable of growing these heavy leaf wrappers to our specifications. We're not playing around with Liga Privada, it requires tremendous attention to detail.
CC: On the topic of Liga Privada, you guys just launched the “Dirty Rat” size for national distribution. That's an odd name for a cigar. Where did it come from?
JD: Dirty Rat is the corona size Liga Privada that draws like a robusto. It hits you like a dirty rat on the sneak attack because it's so full-bodied and grand for a corona format. The Dirty Rat is the first cigar of the Liga Privada "Unico Serie," a 5"x44 parejo that was the result from a failed attempt of ours to recreate the Liga Privada No. 9 blend in a corona size. Because of the variety of five heavy filler leaves, the Rat is hard to bunch and requires its own "paper dolling" technique where we have to break the leaf in the correct proportions. As a result, production is slower than the normal Liga Privadas and is limited to 175 per pair, per day - costing us nearly the identical amount to craft as double coronas. We will discuss Liga Privada Unico Series in more depth as we move into the Spring of 2011. We are extremely blessed by tobacco.
CC: Since we last spoke, you guys developed a strong relationship with the Joya de Nicaragua brand. How did you get involved?
JD: Joya de Nicaragua is a story that needs to be told. It's a story about life, passion, people, and the long struggle throughout Nicaraguan history. Joya de Nicaragua is Nicaragua and Nicaragua is Joya. So many people who visit us at Cigar Safari in Esteli, Nicaragua are enchanted by the Joya de Nicaragua factory and experience. They tell me that they havent tried Joya de Nicaragua in three or four years and forgot how robust and distinct the flavor is. Make no mistake, for the most part, only people who enjoy extremely full-bodied cigars can handle Joya de Nicaragua "Antano 1970" and Antano Dark Corojo because of the all heavy Nicaraguan fillers. Just recently, the Joya de Nicaragua Cabinetta Series was released nationally after a year of regional distribution. Once you see this cigar, you never forget it because of the double wrapper technique made to attain the Criollo peppary taste without the typical Joya strength. This cigar is no gimmick and is made for the mellow, medium, and full-bodied enthusiast. Sales have been off the meter on the West Coast. We just brought it national. I might have to enjoy one right now.
CC: Going back to infused cigars, there are a lot of customers that really enjoy your Tabak Especial line. Even guys who usually don’t like infused blends cant help but be drawn to the coffee aromas. You just added the Red Eye to this lineup. How is this vitola different from the others in the Tabak portfolio?
JD: As you know, we've been pretty excited about this limited production release for Tabak Especial. We only make Drew Estate specialty Subculture Sizes for a few customers around the world, and this new Red Eye is only our second release under the Tabak Especial brandmark. The first has been a runaway smash hit with the Cafe con Leche. It is certainly different than the others in the Tabak Especial line because it is very robust - I almost dare say strong, but certainly medium to full-bodied. We're talking about a robust ligero used from Jalapa and a stronger infusion level of coffee - thats what makes it different. That's what makes it interesting and a must try for the "coffee & cigar" lover. The sweet tip is minor compared to some ACID's and Tabak Especials, but just enough to bring you into the smoke on a completely unique level. This cigar is bold!
CC: Changing gears, Nicaragua has had quite the rainy season this year. Any concerns about the health of the crop for next year?
JD: I truly believe that God has blessed Nicaraguan soil and we will work through any disaster - so far so good. In the Northern part of Nicaragua, people are resourceful and work hard, so we will have a fighting chance no matter what. I am less concerned about the effect on Drew Estate in particular because we try to keep a three year inventory on hand at all times. It is the farmers and brothers of the leaf that we want to see make it through any disaster. Without good farmers, we all have nothing.
CC: What is next for Drew Estate? Where can we expect to see you guys in five years?
JD: Next stop for Drew Estate is somewhere on a beautiful island, sippin' Pina Coladas and slurpin' a Kahlua on bottled ice, taking a small break from life's everyday punishments and reflecting on run-on sentences. Ha! It's all good brother. Expect Drew Estate to push things to the limit this year. The newest crop of wrappers are just coming out of the pilones at pre-industry and we are still having fun in the blending room. In regard to the next five years, its hard to say where we will or won't be. I know this fact: every day I wake up and have the honor of walking out of my bedroom door and into the main rolling salon of the factory is another day blessed. I have said it since 1998 and stand by it today, even more than before. Esteli is the new Mecca of cigars; not because of the big brands or limited editions that come from this country, but because of the tobacco it produces and the people who live here. Awe-inspiring for sure.
CC: Jonathan, as always it is great seeing you. Do you have anything you want to add before we wrap up?
JD: Yes. Facebook me at "Jonathan Drew" or Facebook all of us at "Drew Estate" and tell us your comments or suggestions, or just share some photos of good times or special occasions. Keep your energy positive and yourself clear away from the haters, liars, and misinformation specialists who try to control us through improper legislation. If you don't Facebook, please swing through www.cigar.com and go to the Drew Estate section at the bottom right corner - you cant miss us. I have to light up my Cabinetta now.