Over the course of the last few days I have been chatting with Jonathan Drew about Drew Estate and Rocky Patel’s new line extension JAVA Mint. Its an interesting line with a more storied past than many realize, and we are excited that Jonathan Drew, or JDrew, as he now goes by, took some time to talk with us about the JAVA and JAVA Mint.
Cigar Brief (CB): How did your relationship with Rocky Patel begin?
Jonathan Drew (JDrew): To understand the boutique COFFEE INFUSED cigar line, “JAVA by Drew Estate,” it’s important to reflect upon the two companies that are behind it, and how the relationship began. Back in the early days, like 2002 and 2003, my business partner, Marvin Samel and I used to bump into Rocky at different trade shows and major events. Back then, Rocky Patel, well Indian Tabac, was a major brand, while Drew Estate was still “somewhere hidden beneath the surface.” We both admired Rocky because of his solid work ethic, plus, anybody who remembers the original Indian Tabac “SUPER FUERTE” knew that Rocky had not only hit a homerun, but changed the industry. The first Indian Tabac SUPER Fuerte, not the maduro which followed, but the Natural, was truly an unbelievable Honduran made cigar, which had an impact on me personally, as well as other guys looking for a fuller bodied smoke.
In any event, I had been living in Esteli since 1998, and would often bump into Rocky and his cohorts in Nicaragua or Danli, Honduras and he would always treat me nicely, invite me to dinner, offer advice, etc. He remembered Marvin and I as retailers, back when we had our cigar shop at the World Trade Center, which we opened after the first WTC bombing and closed before the second. Whenever he saw me and Marvin, a big smile would pop up on his face. We had always assumed that he thought of us as freaky weirdos …
CB: How did the plans for your collaboration come about?
JDrew: Back to 2003 or 2004, can’t quite remember exactly, Rock asked us if we would be interested in working on a brand with him and together we came up with the JAVA platform as a jumping point. (We had also agreed on a second brand called “Royale”, which sadly never became a reality.) At this point, we already had the “Kahlua by Drew Estate” brand, and we knew that there was room to expand further into that area with something super unique for Rocky, something that matched his personality – classy and sophisticated. He is an exacting fellow. He wanted JAVA to be really rich, creamy, with a great color – and DE delivered it in spades. Rocky made a great suggestion in recommending that we switch the wrapper from Mexican San Andreas Negro to Brazilian Mata Fina after I let him smoke both samples. I was pretty set on the San Andreas, but he really wanted the Brazilian, so I went with his judgment. He’s a confident guy and has a great gut check..
CB: So with JAVA being a hit, how did its counterpart the JAVA CLARO come to be?
JDrew: While Java (Original Maduro) had been killin’ it on the market, Marvin and I ran into production shortages because we couldn’t secure enough Brazilian Mata Fina wrapper. We knew we didn’t want to compromise the brand’s success by playing any games, so we had to set a really hard meeting up with Rocky, to tell him that there would essentially be no JAVA for a good six months or so, maybe even more. I knew he was going to loose his mind, so I made sure to concentrate on JAVA real hard for 6 months and create a blend with a Connecticut wrapper that would be even smoother, sweeter, and creamier. Something that would tide us over until the Brazil was fully cured and ready to go. Thank goodness he and his team really loved the Claro, cause we were really going through a tough time securing that genuine Mata Fina from Brazil. Drew Estate has always appreciated authentic Mata Fina, even though it’s very expensive. Replacing that maduro with any other, would not have been honest or fair to our final consumers.
CB: What made you guys finally decide to do a JAVA MINT?
JDrew: A few years later, after the CLARO, Rocky asked Marvin and I for a JAVA MINT line extension because he was getting overwhelmed with requests for it, but we were already pressed to the max with production in Nicaragua, so we had to wait a few years until we had more people trained and had a large enough facility. But every time that we seriously entertained the idea of Mint, the regular JAVA brand would grow and grow, so the regular JAVA kept eating into the production that we kept allotting for the MINT. We were essentially going in circles. Long story short, last year, Marvin convinced us to move the huge cafeteria at the factory across the street in order to expand production for JAVA MINT. I’m not quite sure how he got all the DE cohorts to sign on to the idea, but he pulled it off, and JAVA MINT was born.
CB: How do you feel about the JAVA MINT extension?
JDrew: It’s crazy how awesome the JAVA MINT line extension tastes. The taste profile is an all day winner, even more than that dude on television who is always “winning.” JAVA MINT captures the taste and aroma of Coffee, Chocolate, Vanilla, and Mint – in a way that only Drew Estate can deliver. Its not just premium, it’s super-premium!
We here at Cigar Brief really appreciate the open candor and the time Jonathan Drew took to speak with us. He is a busy guy, especially during this IPCPR season, and he could easily have declined to talk with us about the JAVA, but it is clear that he has a real passion for the industry and product. So on behalf of our staff and the community at large, we thank you JDrew for the great work you are doing and the time you take to talk with the media and consumers about your product!