Date: January 19, 2010
Publisher: Nice Tight Ash
Author: Charlie Cathcart
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Publisher: Smoke Magazine
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New York, NY
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Publisher: Stogie Review
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Publisher: Cigar Aficionado
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Date: November 2, 2009
Publisher: Stogie Guys
Author: Patrick Ashby
Falls Church, VA
Ernesto Perez-Carrillo is most associated with his original cigar creation, the La Gloria Cubana. After rave reviews in the first issues of Cigar Aficionado, the brand help lead the industry into it’s first big boom in the mid-1990s. In 1999, Swedish Match/General Cigar purchased the company from Ernesto, and he stayed there for 10 more years, until the spring of 2009. Wanting to return to his roots as a family-run boutique cigar manufacturer, he started a new company, EPC Cigar Co., along with his two children, Ernesto III and Lissette. Limited to 150,000 cigars, the Edición Inaugural 2009 is the first release from this new venture, with their first full release due in April 2010. Billed as medium bodied, the mix of Nicaraguan and Dominican filler are bound by two 5 year old Piloto Cubano binders, one from Nicaragua and one from the Dominican Republic, and is encased in an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper that has been aged for 3 years.
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When you've risen to the top of the cigar world, what do you do next? If there's tobacco in you blood, you start all over again, Cuban-style, with your family by your side. Cuban-born Ernesto Perez-Carrillo became one of Miami's biggest cigar sensations in the early 1990s when his reblended La Gloria Cubana brand captured rave reviews and inspired a cult-like following.
Hardly an overnight sensation, Perez-Carrillo's father owned the El Credito Cigar Company in Cuba and re-established it in Miami as a small store-front operation many years later. Tremendous growth and a new Dominican Republic factory followed, but Perez-Carrillo ultimately sold El Credito to Swedish Match S.A./General Cigar Company in 1999. He continued at the helm as master blender until early 2009 when he left to start a new, family-owned cigar company, despite numerous challenges facing tobacco manufacturers.
Joined by his son, Ernesto "Ernie" Perez-Carrillo III and daughter Lissette McPhillips Perez-Carrillo, he's going back to basics confident that passionate cigar enthusiasts will find a place in their humidors for his newest blends which, for the first time in his family's history, even bear the Carrillo name on the band.
SMOKE: You're the third generation in your family's cigar making tradition. How did it all begin?
PEREZ-CARRILLO: My grandfather started back in 1907, and what they used to do is make cigars in the streets of Cuba. My father came into the business in about 1928, he was 24 years old, and basically he continued it. He was mostly into the growing and brokering of tobacco. His first factory he bought in 1948, which was El Credito, and that's when he got involved in cigar making himself. That lasted until he came to the United States in 1959. He reopened the factory in 1968 - it was a small chinchale - and basically ran it until he got sick. My wife and myself, we were involved in the beginning there, helping him out. In 1980 when he passed away, that's when I started running the company myself.
I've been waiting nearly half a year to do this review. Part of that wait was self-inflicted. I could have thrown together something based on the EP Carrillo Edicion Inaugural samples I picked up at the IPCPR trade show, but that just didn’t seem right. What I really wanted to do was smoke them as Mr. Perez-Carrillo intends them to be enjoyed, directly out of a local cigar shop. And also partly because I wanted to be sure I was smoking the final product. Due to tight production timelines, I wasn’t 100% sure that what they brought to the trade show was exactly what was going to be finally released to the public, and I wanted to be certain to give this cigar a fair shake.
The EP Carrillo Edicion Inaugural marks the next part of a journey for it’s maker, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, who recently broke away from the La Gloria Cubana, the brand he help make a household name, to start a new, family run cigar company. How it’s received by cigar enthusiasts will undoubtedly have a big impact on this new venture. Waiting until I could buy some from their ideal humidor environment before lighting them up for a review just seemed like the right thing to do. (And in case you’re curious, or wearing FCC-issued jackboots, I did buy the cigars I’m about to review.)
But before we get into the review, a little more about the brand. (To get the full scoop straight from the source, be sure to check out our Interview with Ernesto Perez-Carrillo at IPCPR.) The Edicion Inaugural uses what Mr. Perez-Carrillo describes as an experimental strain of Ecuadoran Habano tobacco that he was first introduced to a few years ago. At the time, he had no plans use that leaf, which was only available in very limited quantities. But reconsidered it for this special limited cigar line (and potentially in future ones). Also noteworthy is the unusual dual binder leaves, one from Nicaragua, and another from the Dominican Republic, both reportedly aged for at least five years. Around 150,000 of these cigars are being made in the Dominican Republic, and are available in 10 count boxes in what is being called the “Encore” vitola.
And now the time for waiting and fanfare is over. A trial by fire is in order.
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The Perez-Carrillos — Life After La Gloria
It's not easy to walk away from one of the best-known cigar brands in the world. Moving into the arms of your children makes it easier. In March, 57-year-old Ernesto Perez-Carrillo left the La Gloria Cubana brand, the cigar that was the hottest cigar brand in America in the early 1990s. Perez-Carrillo left to work with his children, daughter Lissette, 35, and son Ernesto Perez-Carrillo III, 27.
"One of the main reasons I decided to leave is that my children want to get involved with the new company," Perez-Carrillo said at the time. "The opportunity to work with my kids is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity." His daughter worked as a lawyer, his son was a private equity executive with Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., the famous leveraged buyout firm. They are "two of the people that I trust most in my life," said the elder Perez-Carrillo during a family lunch in late June. Though eight years separate his children, they could almost pass as twins with their jet-black hair and lean frames. Lissette has her father's intense, piercing dark eyes and both have inherited his distinctive jawline
In the late 1970s, when La Gloria was largely unknown outside of the Little Havana neighborhood in Miami where it was rolled, young Lissette would watch her father work and sometimes lend a hand. "As a child I would go to the factory very often," she says. When she was five, six and seven, she would band cigars, and put them in cellophane. As a tween, she would work on customer lists, then later she went to trade shows. All that time spent in a cigar factory had an impact, imparting upon her a knowledge of Cuban slang that perplexed her friends. "These colloquial Spanish terms—my friends would say, 'How do you know that?'" she laughs.
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In March, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo ended his nine year tenure with General Cigar. The move effectively made the Artesanos de Miami his last blend with La Gloria Cubana, the brand he built from relative obscurity to industry prominence.
Perez-Carrillo parted ways with General to establish his own family-owned boutique. He wasted no time in that endeavor. With a factory in Santiago and a work-in-progress website, the EPC Cigar Co. was up and running in time to debut their first blend at the IPCPR Trade Show in August.
But the core lineup under the new E.P. Carrillo brand name still won’t be available until the spring. Meanwhile, Perez-Carrillo chose to craft and debut a single-vitola limited edition line made from aged tobaccos that are too rare to serve as ingredients for regular production.
The Edición Inaugural 2009, as it is called, uniquely features two binders: one Nicaraguan and one Dominican. They are wrapped in a three-year-old Ecuadorian habano leaf that won’t be available again for a few years (at which point Perez-Carrillo may include it in a future project). Only 150,000 sticks will be made, which are sold in boxes of 10 for $130.
This super-premium, measuring five and three-eighths inches with a 52 ring gauge, looks like it’s worthy of its $13 price tag. The wrapper is clean and flawless, the double bands are interesting and impressive, the cap is nearly perfect, and the pungent pre-light aroma smells of peat.