Cigar Makers

5 Things That Made My Career: Steve Saka of Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust (Podcast)

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Steve Saka of Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust Cigars Talks About His Most Memorable Cigar Industry Milestones

“I don’t know if it’s a good career–is it? Well, obviously you have to go back to the beginning, right?” – Steve Saka

This podcast takes a slightly different route than some of our previous “5 Things” features. Rather than the five cigars that made his career, Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust Cigars founder, Steve Saka talks candidly about five career milestones that marked the road to his success. If you know nothing about Steve or his rise to becoming one of the most distinguished cigar makers in the industry, this podcast will quickly get you caught up. If you’re already a disciple, you’ll enjoy hearing it straight from the “Sakasquatch’s” mouth.

Certainly, there has to be at least one cigar that links to each chapter of Steve’s career. So, based on what the subject of each milestone, I took the liberty of choosing a cigar that I felt would be the most appropriate.

Listen to the Cigar Advisor Podcast with Steve Saka of Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust:

 

Milestone No.1: In the Navy

Steve’s story begins in the Navy, where he first discovered cigars. For his first milestone, he speaks fondly of an officer who turned him on to some higher quality primos:

“I went to his state room and he bequeathed upon me like three, four cigars. I don’t remember what they were, but they were like real legacy mainstream brands, which were top of the market at the time…”

I think I have an idea of what those first premiums were. So, I chose the Sobremesa Brûlée because in the brand’s press release Steve is quoted as saying: “Sobremesa Brûlée is a re-creation of the milder, shade wrapped ligas of my early years… I wanted to share with others the way I remember those blonde cigars being.”

Sobremesa Brulee:

cigar advisor 5 things about steve saka sobremesa brulee at famous smoke shop

 

Milestone No. 2: Finding Other Crazed Cigar Geeks on the World Wide Web

As a cigar geek himself, in the early 90s Steve discovered that there were others just like him on what we used to call the “world wide web.”

“It’s where people had niche hobbies… in our case cigar smokers… We would get together and have that back and forth. It was asc.alt.smokers.cigars, and I became really active in the group around ‘92, ’93…”

Steve later went on to build www.cigarnexus.com. (click on it now and it takes you to the Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust website.) Now, one would assume that the chat room was made up of the most ardent cigar smokers, many of whom must have been everyday cigar smokers. That reminded me of his Umbagog line. Named for the New Hampshire lake he fishes in, Steve says, “This is a cigar that doesn’t pretend to be special or seek to elicit the ‘oohs or aahs’ of the cigar snobs. It is an honest, hardworking cigar that is meant to be smoked, chewed upon, and lit however many times you wish. For me, it is the perfect cigar for mowing the yard, hiking, four wheelin’, and of course, fishing!”

Umbagog:

cigar advisor 5 things about steve saka umbagog cigars at famous smoke shop

 

 

Milestone No.3: A Discussion About Hot Dogs

Steve’s activity on Cigar Nexus got him the attention of J-R Cigars owner, Lew Rothman. It all started with a debate between the two men over who makes the best hot dogs…

“Two hours later, Lou goes, ‘Why don’t you come work for me? You go to all these factories, you’re really into it. You love it’… It was the first time that I actually got paid to do what I had been basically doing for free.”

I don’t know if Steve ever made a special cigar for J-R, but he did for Famous Smoke Shop to celebrate the company’s 80th Anniversary. (You’ll find two Dunbarton Famous 80th Anniversary cigars in the Saka Sampler below.) Here’s what Steve had to say about the Dunbarton Famous 80th cigar to me after this taping:

“When I make an exclusive for someone it has to be a unique and deliver a different experience. I don’t like to take something that already exists and make it a half an inch shorter, or a ring gauge larger, or just change the shape, because I feel like you’re just taking advantage of your consumer. So, when I take these projects, even though the quantities are relatively small, I take them very seriously, and the Famous 80th is definitely a unique blend.”

Dunbarton Famous 80th Anniversary:

cigar advisor 5 things about steve saka dunbarton famous 80th anniversary cigar being smoked on its box
The Dunbarton Famous 80th blend is no longer available, but you can still try them in the sampler featured at the end of the article!

Milestone No.4: The Drew Estate Era, or How to Help a Young Fledgling Startup

Many cigar smokers today know Steve from his tenure at Drew Estate Cigars. And if you follow Drew Estate, you know about the Liga Privada No.9 and all of the subsequent “Liga” cigars that followed.

“Drew Estate brought me in as a partner and president and that really spring boarded everything from that point forward. We created the hottest brand in the marketplace. It seemed like at that point, everything we touched was just coming up gold.”

Originally created as Steve’s personal blend, word of the Liga No.9 and samples eventually found their way to outsiders, and the craze started with 52 stores. Next thing you know, cigar smokers were clamoring for what would eventually become a classic and what Jonathan Drew called Drew Estate’s answer to the Fuente Fuente Opus X.

Drew Estate Liga Privada No. 9:cigar advisor 5 things about steve saka liga privada no. 9 at famous smoke shop

 

Milestone No. 5: Enter Dunbarton, and Why It’s Better to Be the Head of a Rat

To fully understand what that subhead means, you have to listen to the podcast. But in 2012 that line came from a local Nicaraguan tobacco farmer in Jalapa. Taken as impromptu advice, it eventually paid-off.

 “While I was at the farm, I asked the guy, you know, why do you do this? I mean, you have eight acres. It’s so much work and so little money. And he said to me, ‘It’s better to be the head of a rat than the tail of a lion.’”

In 2015 Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust was founded by Steve and his wife Cindy. The company’s first release was Sobremesa, and by the time they released Mi Querida and Todos Las Dias, the company had established itself as a leading contender in the so-called, “boutique” domain.

Additionally, Steve’s reputation as one of the industry’s top master blenders boomed. One of the finest examples of his work is the Muestra de Saka line. As Steve describes it on his website: “A muestra is the promise of a new experience. Muestras are horded and coveted by not only their makers, but by the cigar smokers who seek to catch a glimpse into the cigarmaker’s soul within their smoke. Muestra de Saka is just that.”

Muestra de Saka:cigar advisor 5 things about steve saka muestra de saka at famous smoke shop

Finally, if you’re looking for one of the best ways to familiarize yourself with Steve’s artisanal blending talents, try a variety of his DT&T ligas in this sampler made exclusively for Famous Smoke Shop.

Saka Promo Sampler:

cigar advisor 5 things about steve saka saka promo sampler at famous smoke shop

83 Comments
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Steve Saka
1 year ago

Thank You CA and Gary!

Chris Creswell
1 year ago

Nice!

David Hagan
1 year ago

Always enjoy hearing from Steve Saka. He speaks his mind and is an industry talent who is passionate about cigars.

Michael Basham
1 year ago

Nice Article

Aaron Floyd
1 year ago

It’s always great to hear how the experiences of an artist shape the art.

Greg Dietrich
1 year ago

Fantastic post! 85% of the cigars I smoke are from Dunbarton and Saka is the very reason why. Can he be a bit prickly at times? Sure, but you won’t find anyone else out that shoots as straight as him and educates as well as him. My cigar knowledge is what it is because of #sakasquatch.

Steve Saka
1 year ago
Reply to  Greg Dietrich

Prickly?!?! Screw U! <snicker> <lol>

Frank Minutillo
1 year ago

Steve’s mastery of the leaf is evident in his entire product line! He has raised the bar for the entire industry. Saka is the next Padron or Fuente.

Bryant Nicholas
1 year ago

I spent a lot of time reading Cigarnexus and ASC back in the 90s.
I’m smoking one of Saka’s right now!

Jordan E
1 year ago

I have enjoyed every cigar Steve has put out to date. Great short read!

Geraldine Bradford
1 year ago

As always, interesting to learn a bit more of the back story from the man himself. Steve is a stand out in the cigar industry.

Michael Cruz
1 year ago

Although used loosely in the industry, I believe due to the his knowledge and experience, Saka is a True Master Blender!!

Mark Duncan
1 year ago

Love all DTT products.

Matt and Lydia Hartzell SIS
1 year ago

This man is amazing. It doesn’t matter where or what he’s featured in….I’m tuning in.

David Hamm
1 year ago

Great man and great cigars.. love all DT&T cigars

Vincent M Bonetti
1 year ago

Great content as always the Sakasquatch drops knowledge

Noel K Araki
1 year ago

Great info on Steve’s past. I think this is the first I heard of the “Head of the Rat” story. But many other historic tales of Saka have been spoken of on many a podcast/Zoom these past few years. Looking forward to 2022 and a few new sticks. I hope the Krakatoa makes the cut.

VITO FAIELLO
1 year ago

Man Saka has been busy as hell putting out some 🔥 as of late and we thank you for your hardwork…

Paul Gerads
1 year ago

This is great! Go Sakasquatch

Last edited 1 year ago by Paul Gerads
Lanny Huff
1 year ago

When the Sakasquatch makes a stick, it’s always worth it. Can’t wait to try the new MDS Paladin de Saka.

Kevin Austin
1 year ago

Nice interview

Nicolas Walsh
1 year ago

Steve is definitely one of the most interesting guys in the industry, pulls no punches. He also makes great cigars, not a bad one in his lineup.

Gordon Cavender
1 year ago

Steve Saka is the best in the biz. Dunbarton is my favorite brand!

Glenn Sinish
1 year ago

I’ll have to catch up in the podcast but I hope you were on Team Chicago for hotdogs.

Joseph Larsen
1 year ago

Just give all of it to Crabtree.

Steven
1 year ago

Great Article

DJ Laznovsky
1 year ago

I love Steve’s honest, some may think brutal, thoughts and feedback. I’ll admit, a lot of times I laugh but you have to respect him knowledge and experience.

Steve Tinson
1 year ago

DTT and Saka are awesome!

Nathanael
1 year ago

The Sobremesa Brulee was the first cigar I ever loved, and Steve can do no wrong!!

Sean Grieb
1 year ago

Excellent interview. I have great experiences with all Dunbarton products. Looking forward to continue growing my collection.

Kevin OConnor
1 year ago

I don’t know if they’re still available, but the Famous 80th blend is a fantastic smoke. They’re a little different from his other blends. They’re full of flavor, but not that heavy. Definitely try some if you get the chance.

Darryl Martin
1 year ago

Great read and audio. Always interesting when Steve does an interview.

Quinton Nation
1 year ago

Steve is the best in the business! I always enjoy his talks and his friendliness. He even answers my stupid questions, lol.

Alan
1 year ago

Interesting read, well done.

Spencer Lachapelle
1 year ago

Steve “the legend” saka…. always knocking it out of the park

Greg Lewis
1 year ago

“I don’t always smoke boutique cigars, but when I do, I prefer DTT (or any stick from Steve Saka”
Saka the man, the myth, the legend. Thanks brother for what you do.

Brandt Warstler
1 year ago

Dtt makes consistently the best in the business!

Rich Newill
1 year ago

Nice article. I had the pleasure of attending a cigar safari with Steve back in 2013. His knowledge and expertise was and is really impressive. Made for an awesome learning experience. I enjoy everything in his catalog.

Johnathon Myers
1 year ago

CA thank you for sharing this interview! I love the Saka saga of the 5 milestones … so many cigar board memories were triggered, as well as the launch of the Liga P. I just appreciate the artisanship and master craftsmanship that Steve puts into every liga–looking forward to smoking more of DT&T’s core lines!!!

David McMurtrey
1 year ago

Great read.
THe variety and different characteristics are what keep me going back to Dunbarton sticks. I smoke about biweekly and figure if I’m gonna do it I’m goin to smoke good stuff.

Joe Olesinski
1 year ago

The education from Steve never gets old. I will always have DTT in my humidor. Great article!

David Sidlauscus
1 year ago

Big fan of DTT! Obviously love a ton of their sticks, it also impressed with the innovation (Stilwell) and creativity with marketing.

Ian D
1 year ago

When I was a cigar newbie, Cigar Nexus and the JRBB helped craft my enjoyment of this hobby/lifestyle. Every time Steve drops a tidbit of knowledge, its gold. And yes, he can be salty but theres never any BS.

Corey Sutherland
1 year ago

Excellent Interview!

Tim Wallis
1 year ago

Amazing to hear and see what happens when hard work and determination collide. Cheers!!!

Nick B
1 year ago

Great article! Been smoking DTT for awhile and have introduced it to others. Steve Saka makes a top tier product that is truly on a level of its own.

Larry Conn
1 year ago

Cigar talents aside, he is a culinary master, a veritable mean machine in the kitchen. The Meatball Maestro.

Bob Greeneb
1 year ago

As one who meet Steve via asc, I realized that his vision and expertise would lead him to whatever Steve desired. Many will enjoy the fruits of his labor. As always, I’ll be a supporter!

Kevin Grier
1 year ago

Súper-papa-Saka-Shaka-laka

John Crabtree
1 year ago

Dunbarton cigars are some of the finest cigar blends on the market today.

Jordan Raiff
1 year ago

This is one hell of an interview. The comment from the farmer really resonated with me. It’s always better to be the one in charge than at the back. That vision is rough for some to handle.

Gary Korb

Gary Korb

Executive Editor

Gary Korb has been writing and editing content for CigarAdvisor.com since its debut in 2008. An avid cigar smoker for over 30 years, he has worked on the marketing side of the premium cigar business as a Sr. Copywriter, blogger, and Executive Editor of Cigar Advisor. A graduate of the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, prior to his career in the cigar business, Gary worked in the music and video industry as a marketer and a publicist.

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