José Blanco: I want them to have an impression that the amount of money they paid for the cigar was worth it; because to be honest, I often smoke $3.00 cigars that are worth $50.00, and I have smoked $50.00 cigars that are not worth $0.50. You know, at the end of the day the rating is important, the buzz is important, Facebook is important, Twitter is important, and the great job the bloggers do is important. But the guy who comes in, buys the cigar, clips it, smokes it, at the end of the day he is the guy who determines if he likes the cigar or not. Store owners push cigars and put them in the peoples mouth, the ratings put them in their mouth as well, but if the guy doesn’t like the cigar, if it’s not his flavor, or if it’s not what he wants, then he wont smoke it again.
Somebody once told me that a magazine could give X, Y, Z brands a 100 every time on a score and in one year they will disappear, because they just are not good cigars. And don’t get wrong, I firmly believe in the last 3 or 4 years, and this is coming from a guy that has been smoking for 46 years, that we have been smoking the best cigars ever made. Cigars today are better made, we’re using more tobacco, the techniques of blending, ageing, and fermenting are much better now than let’s say the boom days or the late 90s or even the beginning of 2002. I think that after 2003, 2004 we, as manufacturers, took a different look, a different approach to what we had to do to create this really good buzz that we’re obtaining now in cigars.
CB: Do you think competition amongst the companies is a driving factor in creating his golden age?
José Blanco: Oh yeah, definitely and you just have to look in their last 3 or 4 years, all the small companies that have come out have started making 50, 60,000, 70,000 cigars and are now doing a million cigars, they have their following, you have Pete Johnon, you have Dion Giolito, and Pepin’s stuff, I mean these people have been created the guy from Viaje too, I mean they’re making really good cigars. You also have the traditional makers like Davidoff and General and certainly a lot of people forget sometimes, but really the first really full body cigar that came out in 2001, that started this full body rich cigar trend was probably Joya de Nicaragua’s Antano.
For the last 10 years it has been consistent and there has been a large fan base for it. So for a brand to be out there selling millions of cigars every year, it’s a pretty great thing. There may not be a whole lot of buzz about it, but it’s there. The sales are there and I mean you go and do an event, you’re going to sell 25, 30, 35 boxes. Every time I go out with the sales people there are always reorders, and so we know it has a following. So what we’ll try to do is just to give it a little more awareness, so that people really realize that Joya de Nicaragua is not only the oldest cigar factory in all central America, but that it produces very unique cigars. One of Alejandro’s philosophies has always been, first quality before quantity, all of our tobacco undergoes a 3 to 4 year fermenting process and that fermentation and curing process they do is very unique. Also unique is the way they do their sorting to make Antano and the dark corojo. To be honest I don’t think anybody else does it like that. I mean it’s a cost to us, but it has proven to be very, very consistent.
CB: What’s so different about it? Is there anything you can share with us about it, or is it considered proprietary knowledge?
José Blanco: Yeah, I can tell you it’s different. It has a lot to do with the selection of tobacco. For instance when you go and take a bale of all ligero leaves, some companies just look at it as all ligero, but to us there is a process that we use to classify it. For us we classify them and then after that initial classification you reclassify them and then decide which of those leaves will be used for Antano, which ones are going to be used for Dark Corojo, and even which leaves will be used on some other projects that we are developing.
CB: Final question, if you were placed in front of a firing squad and you had one cigar left to smoke, what would it be and why?
José Blanco: To be honest, I would rather tell them to shoot me and I’m telling the truth about that. I’ve been asked this question before in the context of, “if I was stranded on a deserted island and had to have one cigar for the rest of my life what would it be?” In that case I probably wouldn’t smoke, or I probably would go out into the ocean and drown myself. Because I smoke 5 cigars a day and unless I’m working on a blend it’ll only be 2 from the same company. I try to smoke 5 different cigars a day from five different manufacturers, whether it’s Cubans, from Honduras, DR, Mexico, I like to mix it up. I don’t like anybody telling me it’s a good cigar, I want to know by myself, and when the cigar gets a rating, there is a buzz I just want to smoke it.
CB: Has there ever been one that you’ve gravitated towards or that just really stood out to you as being perfection or as near to it as one can possibly obtain?
José Blanco: I would say there are maybe 6 or 7 cigars from different makers that stand out. A few are from La Aurora, one or two are from Fuente, one is from Davidoff, and two are from Hoyo. I also really enjoy some of Pete’s and Pepin’s stuff. I mean there are a lot of great cigars out there and if I leave anybody out it’s not that I don’t like them, it just means I have a lot of respect for cigars and for the cigar makers. I think that’s one reason why I get along with everybody, because that’s one thing you’ll ever hear from me, even if somebody has a cigar that’s not good. If I don’t have anything good to say about a cigar, I just won’t say it.