Editor's Note: I've been meaning to port my old blogs over to Cigar Federation for awhile now, but have just been too lazy to do it. This is a blog I posted on another forum in late May 2012 after my Cigar Safari trip - I have not made any updates to this.
After returning home after midnight Saturday night, immediately heading to MDW activities all day Sunday, and coming down with a horrible head cold on Sunday, I'm finally getting the opportunity to finalize my report of Cigar Safari. I'm sure I'll have forgotten pieces at this point, but I'll do the best I can.
Friday morning we woke up to another fantastic of eggs, rice and beans, tortillas, etc. After that, it was an early departure to the Padron Fields to look at some plants. Unfortunately, seeing as though it is the rainy season in Esteli currently, once we arrived, the group agreed to fore-go a walk through the fields and the risk of getting our bus stuck, and, instead, we headed to one of Drew Estate's Pre-Industry "barns".
This "barn" wasn't large, and is apparently only 1 of 4 that Drew Estate has, but the vast amounts of tobacco leaves within its walls was amazing. I'd venture to guess that millions of dollars worth of tobacco was within those walls. Steve and JD went into great detail here about the various pilons and the variable nature of the aging process. Later in the day, Steve would give each of us a T52 from a random pilon and allow us to see the process he goes through to find out when a pilon is ready to be used in rolling final products.
Steve and JD went so in-depth at this point in the tour that Pedro, our wonderful tour guide, actually had to demand that we keep moving to keep on schedule. After a few laughs, we moved on to Oliva Tobacco Co (different from Oliva Cigars for those unaware). The Oliva Tobacco Co building is massive and Oliva is really innovative in the way they prepare tobacco from the fields for sale to cigar companies. (Make sure you watch some of the videos I will post later from here.) The operation at Oliva was really stunning - from sorting to packaging to pulling the stems from the leaves - Oliva was the sole place we went that used a machine to remove the stem (again, look in my videos later for how stems were moved at JdN as opposed to Oliva - including special footage of JD trying his hand at the machine!). Its interesting to note that the Oliva Tobacco Co factory is the basis for the new DE Factory that is in the process of being built - it is that state-of-the-art!
After Oliva, we headed back to DE for another fantastic lunch - steak with an epic chimichurri sauce. Then, the Main Event - the Drew Estate factory. Before we walked in, we were each given a sampler of cigars to bring home - a Big Black Rat, a L40, a Test Blend #47 (the blend that almost became the Undercrown), an UC Corona Viva, a UF-13, and a No 9 Pig. Then we entered the factory.
Beyond the fact that Drew Estate is newer than most factories in Esteli, there was something more that I noticed as we walked in. Yes, it is cleaner and brighter and fresher looking, but the personality that JD shows is not limited to just himself and is not limited to his cigars like the Dirty Rat or Feral Pig or MUWAT. No, the personality he exhibits extends to his employees as well. Without a doubt, no factory we were in was as loud as Drew Estate - in a positive way. People were talking and there was a hustle-bustle that was obvious in the way people moved. I noticed several rolleros and buncheros listening to their own music on headphones - something I didn't see elsewhere. Steve would go into detail with regards to some of the Nicaraguan workforce laws and "customs" and how DE handles things in a slightly different, "American" way. For example, it is customary for the entire factory workforce to be laid off yearly and then resigned to contracts to avoid paying excess fees and wages, but DE avoids this practice. Not to sound "American egotistical", but its not hard to assume that these practices are one of the keys to DE's success.
After a tour of the factory, we headed to a conference room for our DE blending session. JD went into great detail about each of the wrappers, binders and fillers that were available to us in blending our own cigar to the point that Steve had to tell him to push the pace a little so we could finish the tour before the factory closed. In the end, I ended up creating a Corona Viva cigar with a Mata Fina Oscuro wrapper, an Ecuador Habano binder, and a filler comprised of ASP Esteli Ligero, Jalapa C-98 Viso, and a Brazil Mata Fina Viso. I'm hoping that its a sweet blend with a spicy kick that comes through, but we'll see - could be awesome and it could suck. My favorite comment was when Stephen Boyajian from The Cigar Network asked Steve Saka if the best blend might be put into production by DE. Steve's response was something to the effect of "Not a chance in hell!"
After completion of the DE Factory tour, Jessi Flores took us on a tour of Subculture Studios - yet another differentiator between DE and "traditional" cigar companies! The artistry and innovation that Jessi and his team put forth - while I'm no artist nor aficionado - is amazing. I can't properly put this into words so I highly suggest to look for the photos I will post later tonight. Best thing I picked up from this was that I got to see a lot of work Jessi and his team are doing for Barrister Cigars which is a B&M about 10 minutes from my house. I'm relatively new to the area and was unaware of Barrister, but now I have a new B&M to check out!
After the tour was complete, we headed back to the clubhouse for some relaxation until dinner. Gary Griffith from Emilio Cigars had arrived back at Drew Estate by this time. I had met Gary for the first time at the airport in Miami, but this was the first opportunity I got to really get to talk to him. I won't get into the details of our conversations - though we discussed his new lines coming out including the AF Suave (which he would give us each 2 samples of to test), the La Musa and the Carpe Noctem - but I will say that I am a new fan of the man and his cigars. Really a good guy and worth tracking down for a conversation if you get the opportunity.
Then it was time for dinner. JD, Steve Saka, Gary Griffith, Jose Blanco and his fiance, Mario Perez, and Gilberto Oliva from Oliva Cigar Co all joined us this time. This was a fantastic meal with an amazing Sweet Corn soup that I wish I had the recipe for, barbecued chicken, steak and pork and all the fixings. Was a great meal! Gary brought an AF1, AF2, and two of his brand new AF Suaves for us all, and Gilberto brought some cigars for us to take home including Oliva Serie V Lanceros, Oliva Serie Gs, Cain F Tubos and something that made me incredibly excited (and you might have seen me tweet) - the Oliva Serie V Culebra. Really amazing, amazing gifts from these guys displaying their generosity!
After dinner, the partying continued - more for some than others, and then we called it a night.
Cigars Smoked on Friday: UC Corona Viva (I continue to enjoy this the most of any UC I've smoked - definitely more kick), Feral Pig, T52, No9, JdN Cabinetta, Oliva Serie V Lancero, MUWAT Bait Fish (This was my second, and while I'm not a reviewer, I can tell you I like this cigar and you should go out of your way to track one down), and the T52 Pilon Sample from Steve Saka.