This is Day 2 of the Drew Estate Cigar Safari.
Even after being awake for as long as I was, I still ended up being wide awake at 6am. I'm too programmed from corporate life and waking up at 5am to adjust this quickly. It must have been the altitude because I felt completely rested and ready to go.
Breakfast at the Hotel Colonial was a traditional Nicaraguan breakfast that included eggs, fresh fruit and beans and rice. It was very tasty.
From there we loaded back on the bus to head to Esteli and Drew Estate. The drive was interesting, terrifying, and relaxing all at once. Evil Derek learned a valuable lesson about leaning his elbow out of the bus window as we weaved through traffic at high speeds.
We stopped for gas part of the way there and we were treated to a jug of cacao by JD. He suggested we only have a small cup otherwise we would find out the true power of cacao later in the day as we rushed to the bathroom. Cacao is a combination of whole milk, heavy cream, chocolate and various other spices. It's delicious, but I definitely got the sense that you wouldn't want to drink too much of in one session.
After a total driving time of about 3 hours we pulled into the gated Drew Esteli estate. We were first met with a gorgeous mural wall. Jessi's team had been working on this mural and as I understood it this was the first time JD was seeing it.
The combination of artwork and the vantage over the valley was almost too much to take in. A beautiful pool with the Liga art at the bottom sat in the middle of the main courtyard. The outside of the courtyard had a low balcony to allow you to take in the entire view.
I was assigned the ACID room with my roomie from Granada, Reckoner. We stored our luggage and headed upstairs to peruse the table and get another cigar. The upstairs had a large couch, lots of chairs, bar stools and then a separate poker room.
We had a bit of free time to settle in and then we went downstairs for an amazing lunch of chicken and fish and rice. We had a little bit of time to relax, then back on the bus as we headed to the Joya de Nicaragua factory for our first tour. As we approached the factory, the new sign stood out above the walls and really caught our attention.
There we met Mario who spoke about the factory and the new sign that they have just put up. From there he took us into the factory and we started our tour.
The first thing that struck me was the smell. It was the most intense and powerful smell of tobacco I had ever experienced. As we walked up to the rolling floor the smell was almost overpowering. For the first few minutes the intensity of the tobacco was stinging my eyes and nose.
He cut open a cigar to show us the various components from wrapper to binder to the various fillers inside.
Mario took us into one of the side rooms where the tobacco is handed out to the rollers and he showed us the three types of leaves that are blended as filler into a cigar. Seco, Viso and Ligero. Seco, which are the bottom leaves and are generally the lightest and are used to ensure a proper burn. The Viso which rates in the middle of the pack for strength and thickness. Finally the Ligero which is the thickest and strongest of the three types of tobacco. Two leaves are picked at a time, and they're hung together (more on than in Day 3).
He handed around the leaves for us to feel and then lit each so we could get a sense of how they burned and the smells each leaf would produce.
He walked us through various ratios that you would use for the 3 fillers to obtain a quality blend, and I took mental notes because I had been tipped off that there would be a blending session later.
He showed us how rollers work in pairs or teams to make cigars. We watched them for a bit and it was impressive seeing how quickly they could roll robusto or torpedo cigars. Typically 300 cigars a shift. Mario explained that torpedos required a higher level of skill and were usually done by the higher tier of rollers.
Once the cigars are rolled and wrapped, they go into a mould. The moulds are then stacked on top of each other and they are pressed 5 times. After each pressing the cigars are rotated in the mould to ensure they are pressed evenly.
Once the cigars are pressed they're combined into half wheels. Half wheels are 50 cigars (while full wheels are 100 cigars) with 5 cigars on each 'side' of the wheel. Originally cigars were stored as full wheels but it was found that a half wheel is the optimal amount that minimizes accidental damage. The half wheels are then inspected and weighed to ensure consistency. Weight tolerance is +/- 1 ounce.
Cigars are inspected for consistency to ensure they have been evenly filled and that there are no plugs. They can also be tested in a machine that will check the air flow through it.
Expected quality control is less than 1% rolling mistakes. If a mistake is found then the halfwheel is taken apart and inspected to locate the error so that they can track it back up the production steps.
We then proceeded downstairs to the packaging room. Here cigars would be banded and packed into their various boxes or tubes.
The packing room is carefully climate controlled for temperature and humidity so that the cigars don't swell or shrink once they're packed into the boxes.
From there we moved outside into a meeting area where we enjoyed a delicious JdN cigar along with a 12 y/o Flor de Caña rum. Mario had set up a number of various leaves for the Seco, Viso and Ligero along with binders and wrappers. We were given a blending sheet and encouraged to go around and feel and interact with the leaves to come up with our own personal blend. Once the blending sheet was filled out, Mario would take it back to the factory where the rollers would combine them into something that was hopefully delicious.
We had a few group photos before getting back on the bus. We made a stop on the way back to Drew Estate at a leather store that had all manners of leather boots, belts, wallets and various other accessories. Several people picked up some beautiful items to take back with them.
Back at the Estate we relaxed and chatted before dinner. Dinner, like lunch, was an amazing meal of grilled steak and pork. As we were enjoying our dinner, in walked a Mariachi band that JD had arranged as a surprise. Once the Mariachi band finished their set I got up for some tasty desert and then headed upstairs for more cigars and a surprise rum tasting.
JD had set up every year of the Flor de Caña for us to try out. The big winners for me was the 12 year (my favorite) and the 18 year. The 18 year was so smooth that I could see one sitting down and nursing the entire bottle in an evening.
Then they brought out a bundle of the Dirty Rats for us to try. This was a great experience for me, as being in Canada it's very challenging to get any of the Liga lines. I wish I had been taking notes while I smoked it but the overall impression I took away from it was that the wrapper was very similar to the T52 and the filler was a combination of several other Ligas I enjoyed including the FFP.
At that point I was advised that Jessi would be willing to take traveldors and shirts for printing and decorating. I went into his office with a bundle of things that I was hoping to take back with me.
Giovanni then gave us a sneak preview of his film that he had been working on. It was a rough cut, no post production yet, but it was really interesting. He handed around sheets to get our feedback and we stayed and talked with him for a while after the movie.
I took a swim in the Liga pool to cool off, and then we played Cards Against Humanity until the wee hours. All I can say about my first Cards Against Humanity experience is: CTV presents Glory Holes sponsored by Tiny Horses.