Go Out of Your Way to Meet These 12 Cigar Makers
By Tommy Zman
If you’ve ever been to a herf or a cigar event, you know all too well that cigar industry people – more specifically, the cigar makers – are seriously some of the best guys (and gals) in the world. For some reason, this industry attracts and breeds those who are approachable, down-to-earth, friendly, good hearted, and just genuinely enjoy hanging with us, the cigar smokers.
I’m a guy who has the brutal task of smoking cigars for a living, writing about them, filming videos about them and talking about them on the radio. I know, you feel for me, right? Somebody’s gotta put their nose to the chaveta and I do it all for you. And another part of my stressful vocation is to hang out, interview and smoke cigars with many of the best cigar makers our industry has to offer. So, I made a list of 12 guys who I can call friends, that I feel you need to put on the tobacco bucket list for meeting in person. If you see an event is coming and one of these dozen is there, make it a point to talk with them.
Nick Perdomo, Perdomo Cigars – Nick is just flat out wickedly passionate with just about everything, from the cigars he makes to the drums he plays (and what a set of skins the man has). And, the guy genuinely loves hanging out with cigar fans. Go to any event at even the smallest shop and he’ll be standing there yakking away for hours on end until the lights go out. He genuinely cares so much about delivering great cigars (like his 20th Anniversary) to his customers and fans, and it goes without saying that his sticks speak for themselves.
Jonathan Drew, Drew Estate – Jon is all about fun and enjoying life and his cigars have always reflected that. While he is a superstar in the cigar world with a monster following, he never forgets his humble beginnings hawking ACID cigars. I have personally seen him stand for hours and hours on end (in the searing heat of San Antonio, wool cap, goggles and all) and he will not leave until he’s greeted every single fan. The guy has done things his own crazy way from the beginning and it has worked pretty damned well. Jon is just a very good-hearted dude.
Jose Blanco, Las Cumbres Tabaco – Jose is a friendly, soft-spoken gentleman who has a kind word for every cigar lover he greets. The man behind the Senorial brand is an absolute genius when it comes to blending premium cigars; and like many cigar makers, he loves sharing his knowledge with the fans. Just take one of his famed seminars and you will be blown away by what you learn (and what you didn’t know) when class is done. He’s like a professor of tobaccology (yeah, I made up a word) and enjoys nothing more than letting you pick his smoky brain!
Tom Lazuka, Asylum Cigars – Lazuka is basically a big-bearded teddy bear of a guy who loves what he does and loves the cigar smoking fans even more. Since he joined forces with Christian Eiroa, they have done an incredible job of putting Asylum and CLE cigars on the map in a very short amount of time. Every time he visits us at Famous Smoke Shop, the guy will seek me out for some food, drinks, and cigars and we will talk sports (hockey for sure) for hours on end. Look up “good guy” in the dictionary and Tom’s photo is right there.
Steve Saka, Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust – There’s no other way of saying it, but Saka is an out and out tobacco nerd. Now, I only say that with the utmost respect because he can go into the esoteric finer points of growing and blending cigar leaf like no one in the industry. If you want to understand what you’re smoking and why you’re tasting certain notes and flavors, Steve will break it down for you and I assure you that it will be fascinating. If you spend time talking with the old boy, you’ll not only learn what Sobremesa actually means, but you’ll find out what a great guy he really is.
Pete Johnson, Tatuaje Cigars – With his tattoo sleeved arms and authentic rock and roll vibe, Pete is seriously every bit as cool to talk to as he looks. He’s actually a pretty soft-spoken dude who left the east coast for LA to become a musician, but the cigar business ended up touching his soul. Spend time with him and you’ll learn about Tatuaje and what it’s like to work with the great Don Pepin, the wines he’s making, and you’ll be wowed by a guy who came from humble beginnings and is now living and doing the things he loves in life.
George Rico, Gran Habano – George is originally a New Yorker and is a man who sure as hell knows the meaning of hard work and building a consistent brand. I once asked him how he gets his delicious Corojo cigars to taste, burn and smell exactly the same, year after year (The Gran Habano Corojo #5 is a top go-to smoke for me). He credits it all to his father, a man who taught him that growing and blending tobacco is a slow and painstaking process that can’t be rushed if you want to do it right, and Mr. Rico has always done it SO right.
Sam Leccia, Leccia Tobacco – The only problem I have with Sam is that he’s a Penguins fan, and I’m a diehard NY Rangers fan – and the Facebook ball-busting never stops. He loves his Pittsburgh teams and will talk sports over cigars for hours if you let him! He’s the creator of several outstanding blends (the Leccia White and Black, and the Luchador) and a guy who has worked to overcome some great adversity to become a serious player in the industry. Fans love him because he’s not only a down-to-earth dude, but he’s a real lover of leaf, too.
Rafael Nodal, Boutique Blends – You know how you’ll meet a guy and say he’s one of the nicest guys you’ve ever met? Well, I can say with total honesty – THAT is Rafael Nodal (NOT the tennis player). He and his family came from Cuba in the Mariel Boatlifts to escape oppression and live the American dream. The man is humble, intelligent and a classically trained violinist and pianist. His Aging Room and Swag lines are flavor bombs with the Aging Room Quattro F55 putting him on the map as the #2 cigar of 2013. Watch my favorite interview with Rafael here.
Erik Espinosa, Espinosa Cigars – Espinosa is brutally passionate about cigar making and his heritage would attest to that. Born in Havana, Cuba he literally came to the US as a baby and has grown to become a fixture in Miami, Florida’s cigar culture. Erik is flat out funny as hell, always up for jokes, laughs, and some seriously fun ball-breaking. But once you start talking about cigars he gets serious about the craft he loves. Another name in the industry who has worked his tail off to make a name for himself and the Laranja Reserva line made at his La Zona Factory in Nicaragua is a testament to his love of the leaf.
Michael Giannini, La Gloria Cubana – Michael G is one hell of a character to say the least. Hard to miss at all, he dresses flamboyantly at every event and the man is one humorous, world-class story teller. When he stops by the office for business, we’ll actually talk about music for hours before he even mentions cigars. He’s launched some fantastic sticks for La Gloria like the Gilded Age and the Serie RF, and his Foundry project is just fascinating when you hear him explain how he gets his ideas. Again, one of the great cigar makers – and a really good dude you need to meet.
Rick Rodriguez, CAO – In 2010, General Cigar needed a new man to be the ambassador to the lauded CAO brand. Rick Rodriguez was hand-picked and groomed to be that face, and they could not have made a better choice. He’s so friendly and approachable and another one of those uber-passionate cigar peeps that gets excited while he’s spouting his knowledge about cigar making. With hot new brands like Flathead, Colombia and Pilon, (the Flathead V660 Carb being named the #3 cigar of 2015) CAO Cigars is experiencing an amazing resurgence with the fans and Rick is having a ball.
So there ya go, my smoky compadres… 12 great cigar guys who make the cigar industry the absolute best. So… how about sharing in the comment section below, your favorites and who you have met. Come on, we wanna hear!