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Issue 137 - Hand Rolled in Nicaragua

Whisky Magazine Issue 137
July 2016


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Hand Rolled in Nicaragua

Pappy Van Winkle Barrel Fermented Cigars

When native New Yorker Jonathan Drew moved to Nicaragua in 1998 with $1,200 to his name to start a premium cigar company, he didn't speak Spanish and he was the only self proclaimed 'gringo' living in cigar making capitol Esteli. He had five employees and often slept on the floor of the little greenhouse that served as his factory. Over the next few years the staff grew from five people to 225 by 2002. Then he fired all his employees. Drew had noticed a serious production problem: cigars were being rolled too tightly to get a good draw. The problem was systemic, and the only solution was to start again by rehiring the employees in small groups and teaching them the right way to do things. Drew enlisted his friend and mentor Ernesto Carillo from La Gloria Cubana, who came to the factory for five days to help train the new staff, sleeping in the factory until the job was done. To this day according to Drew, “We are forever committed to having the best drawing cigars in the industry.”

That obsession with doing things the right way is what has earned the Drew Estate brand a cult-like following. Now Drew Estate is the largest factory in Nicaragua and the second largest premium cigar factory in the world. As the brand grew, Nick Perdomo, Sr. from Tabacalera Perdomo allowed Drew to rent a room from him for $25 a month on two conditions: he wasn't allowed to touch the television or the refrigerator. Not only were his days of sleeping on the floor of the factory behind him, ...

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