- La Vieja Habana
- Herrera Estelí
- Kentucky Fire Cured
- Factory Smokes
There's something special—something timeless—about smoking a premium cigar, hand-rolled by experts and blended with fine tobaccos to impart rich, dynamic profiles. It isn't hard to imagine that those who are taken with the ritual may have a soft spot for tradition. There is a romanticism around this pastime.
But it often takes a newcomer with a vision and a proclivity for shaking things up to remind us that tradition isn't inherently stagnant. Bold innovations and rebukes of our inhibitions are easily looked upon as adulterations. But many of us see new ways of engaging with a pastime as something enriching.
For more than two decades, Drew Estate Cigars have been a force against stagnation in the world of premium cigars. They have been a well of fresh perspective for an industry that, coming out of the cigar boom of the 1990s, was in need of a little shaking up.
Drew Estate didn't "change" the image of cigars so much as they dismantled and democratized it—challenged the association of who the "cigar smoker" is. The image wasn't seceded, it was reborn.
Let's explore the history of Drew Estate through the brands that have garnered them a reputation as a protean source of excellent cigars.
In 1995, a young Jonathan Drew opened a small cigar kiosk in the World Trade Center as a means of paying for law school.
Business was good, but Drew was soon looking to take the business beyond selling established brands. One gets the sense from the eccentric and artistically driven Brooklynite that creating is a matter of instinct. Selling world-class, premium cigars in the midst of the 90s cigar boom isn’t a bad gig, but what if he could make a mark with cigars of his own?
La Vieja Habana
Drew Estate released La Vieja Habana in 1998. They solicited the expertise of La Rosa, a Manhattan chinchalle, to blend and produce the cigars. They were already garnering a respectable reputation for such a fresh brand, so much so that, eventually, La Rosa could no longer fulfill the production needs.
Partnering with Nick Perdomo of Perdomo Cigars, they tweaked La Vieja Habana’s recipe and Perdomo took up production. After scoring an 89 in a Cigar Insider Newsletter that was published by Cigar Aficionado in May of 1998, momentum really seemed to be picking up. However, production was unfortunately put on hold when Hurricane Mitch hit Nicaragua. The brand wouldn’t see the shelves until its reintroduction in 2001.
But since its return, La Vieja Habana has continued to be a mainstay of the Drew Estate range.
Each La Vieja Habana is filled with fine Nicaraguan leaf from Estelí and the Jalapa Valley. The leaf is left over from Drew Estate's more high-end brands, assuring a great value with quality ingredients. Over the filler is one of three wrappers, Cuban Corojo, Brazilian Maduro, or Connecticut Shade.
This first foray was a step in the right direction, but even with the relative success of La Vieja Habana, it wasn’t the product to push the envelope. This set back was met with a stoked ambition to think bigger.
Released in 1999, the ACID brand changed everything for Drew Estate, and frankly, it changed the industry.
From the look alone, ACID made its impudence known. A colorfully bright, holographic label and a logo featuring the silhouette of Scott "Acid" Chester—the NYC street artist for whom the brand is named—on his motorcycle, cigar in mouth. ACID cigars eschewed the classic, refined standard expected of premium cigar branding in favor of unapologetic, bold expression.
But most of all, ACID challenged preconceived notions of what a “flavored” cigar could be. Imparting flavor outside that of the tobaccos in the blend had long been considered incompatible with the appellation “Premium Cigar.” The immediate association was to the flavored cigarillos found behind corner store counters. But ACID and other Drew Estate brands that are similarly flavor infused subvert the expectation of a cigar dipped in some cherry, vanilla, or grape approximation. They are handmade and artfully blended with long filler leaf. They take on their flavor through a proprietary infusing process which works to the nuance and dynamic complexities of the flavor profile. This distinction is why Drew Estate opts for the label “Infused Cigar.”
“We don’t use the ‘F’ word,” Jonathan Drew says in an interview with Cigar Aficionado. “We’ve never once met with a professional flavoring company.”
The flavor of these infused cigars comes from spices, herbs, and botanical oils, though how exactly they are imparted is a well kept secret. The same 2010 Cigar Aficionado piece states only four people were privy to the infusion process. Even over a decade later, I can’t imagine that circle has grown much.
It’s these bouquets of flavors that makes ACID cigars so wonderful, yet difficult to describe. It’s not like putting some cherry flavor in Coke and, voila, Cherry Coke. The profiles rely on both the tobacco and the infused flavors for their emergent personality. The flavor is not a visitor, nor a usurper—the profiles are cooperative households of complementing notes.
ACID's playfulness with infusion disrupted the idea of what a premium cigar could be. But through the approach to design and branding, through the energy fomented around this eccentric company, a lifestyle brand started to develop.
Blondie (Red & Gold)
ACID Cigars are the quintessential infused cigar brand, and of the lines under the brand, Blondie is the quintessential ACID cigar. Introduced with the launch of ACID, for many folks, these were an introduction into what a cigar with imbued flavors could be. All notions of poor quality leaf, machine rolled and dipped were subverted with the handcrafted, expertly blended cigar.
Even with the one-of-a-kind infused flavor of the ACID Blondie, cigar lovers have the option to find a blend that works to their preferences regarding strength and body, as the original line offers three varieties: Blondie Petite Corona and Belicoso are wrapped in Connecticut Shade while Blondie Maduro offers an earthier experience with its Mexican San Andrés wrapper.
In 2017, we were treated to a fantastic expansion to the ACID Blondie line when Drew Estate rolled into the IPCPR Convention & Trade Show with Blondie Red and Blondie Gold. Here we have the tried and true recipe wrapped in Cameroon (Red) and Sumatra (Gold).
Kuba Kuba is another ACID blend from their Blue Line—the classic ACID blends which contributed to the brand's initial success. This line which initially featured a medium bodied blend in a Sumatra wrapper has expanded significantly in the years since its release to include an array of vitolas, as well as a Maduro option, wrapped in Connecticut Broadleaf.
The Kuba Kuba line is especially beloved for its ambrosial aroma.
2007 saw the release of the uniquely sweet ACID Deep Dish—a flavorful blend wrapped in Sumatra Leaf and box-pressed. The Deep Dish offers a wonderfully toasty smoke with a rich flavor profile.
The ACID Gold Line was released to offer mellow, earthier profiles. The Atom Maduro is one line that stands out for its significant tobacco flavor. This cigar is more modestly infused than others in the ACID catalog, making it the perfect smoke for those cigar smokers who are a bit apprehensive but want to see what infused cigars are all about, or that simply want a minor departure from a more traditional cigar experience.
ACID Krush features many of the popular ACID lines as convenient 4 x 32 cigarillos, such as: Red Cameroon, Gold Sumatra, Morado Maduro, Blue Connecticut, and Green Candela.
Blondie Red and Gold weren't the only exciting new expansions to the ACID portfolio debuted at the 2017 IPCPR Tradeshow. Drew Estate also presented the ACID Blondie Green and ACID Kuba Kuba Green—alternatives to the two classic lines which swapped the Sumatra for fine Candela wrappers.
Drew stated in a press release, "the progression of ACID to include the Candela wrapper expressions began years ago during trips to the tobacco plantations throughout the world. Candela is one of the friendliest leaves to farmers and they love to grow it."
ACID Toast comes from the brand's recent Subculture Series. The series features limited and small batch blends of rich, dynamic infused flavors. The ACID Toast is wrapped in Maduro leaf and offers a mild and sweet profile.
A shocking acknowledgment of Drew Estate’s unique image and shake up of the cigar world came in 2001 when they were featured in a Forbes article of cult brands. ACID had certainly been a hit, but to be featured among a list of such iconic companies as Krispy Kreme, Apple, and Harley Davidson was a staunch validation.
One line sticks out in particular—
A cult brand is not to be confused with a fad. Like Hula Hoops and Razor scooters, fads take off like a rocket, peak and fizzle quickly as they pass through relatively large populations.
This is potent given the time since it was written. After all, Drew Estate was pretty new on the scene, ACID launched 2 years prior. They were looking at an industry where most big players descended from operations reestablished in post-nationalized Cuba and infusing it with a subcultural, artistic spirit. Such spirit can often be a wayfarer of haunts, often to ushers of fad and the first to jump ship when the energy is tapped. This very well could have been a phase in the cigar industry.
Twenty years later, Drew Estate has grown exponentially, as has the share of infused cigars in the premium market. Maybe it would have been a fad if ACID was the one-hit-wonder. But it would prove to be just the first glimpse of Drew Estate’s boldness.
In 2002, Drew Estate took another flavorful cigar to market—Ambrosia, a spiced cigar that now hosts numerous lines of unique and interesting profiles. These use fine Nicaragua filler and binder and come in a variety of wrappers.
The mid-aughts brought more strides forward for Drew Estate. In 2004, the company moved to Miami and brought on Steve Saka as president. The following year, Drew found himself partnering with Rakesh “Rocky” Patel to bring Java Cigars to the world.
This union makes sense when you think about the two up-and-coming cigar savants' backgrounds. Patel had also left the legal profession, selling his practice in 1995 to start Rocky Patel Cigars—at the time, Indian Tabac Cigar Co.
This collaboration resulted in a magnificent infused cigar brand that embraces flavors of chocolate, cocoa, and coffee. Variations on this foundational profile would be developed over the years, such as the Java Mint line, bringing a brilliant peppermint patty-like profile to the portfolio.
Java’s success showed that ACID cigars weren’t the exception to this genre of blending, but the breakthrough in a method fertile for blending to a diversity of palates.
Now more than fifteen years after the launch of this brand, Java continues to go strong and has built up an array of different lines, offering fantastic interpretations of the original. Variations accented with notes of mint, cherry, and latte can be found in a diversity of vitolas.
La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate
The role that environment plays in productivity and quality as well as in nurturing creativity and innovation was and has always been a central tenet to Drew Estate. Drew had long had ambitions to build a facility that spoke to those values.
Drew Estate created such a facility where productivity and creativity thrive, and community is embraced—La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate.
Upon opening, La Gran Fabrica was a 96,000 sq ft factory in Estelí—the largest in Nicaragua. The cutting of the ribbon was an event as grand as the factory, nationally televised with the mayor in attendance. With the additions that have been made over the years, the factory is now 174,000 sq ft, producing 1740,000 cigars daily. Eighteen brands are produced here, including the partnership brands Java and Pappy Van Winkle.
La Gran Fabrica is central to the performance of this vast operation as it is a temple to the aesthetic core of cigar subculture that Drew Estate encompasses.
By the time La Vieja Habana came back to market in 2001, ACID was already on the scene, and with Ambrosia and Java following, Drew Estate was well established as the eclectic father of infused cigars. Liga Privada's popularity made the case that Drew Estate did not simply occupy a niche—they had range and dedication to the art of blending. That versatility was again backed up with the 2011 launch of Undercrown.
Undercrown is a reimagining of the Liga Privada recipe, most notably substituting the Liga Privada wrapper for Mexican San Andres. What’s truly interesting about this line is how it came to be.
The Undercrown recipe was conceived of right on the factory floor, created by the rollers for their own enjoyment. The rollers would frequently smoke Liga Privadas, but this started cutting into the supply of Connecticut wrapper. So, they began wrapping assortments of different vintages and primings of the same ingredients in Mexican San Andres Negro leaf for a dark, rich smoke. It soon became clear that they had stumbled upon something worth sharing beyond La Gran Fabrica.
Since its innovation Undercrown has expanded with Undercrown Shade featuring an Ecuador Connecticut wrapper and Undercrown Sun Grown with an Ecuador Sumatra.
Willy Herrera joins the team
The trajectory of Drew Estate once again found new life in the addition of cigar blender Willy Herrera.
When approached by Drew in 2010, Herrera had spent most of the last decade creating blends for the Miami rolling gallery El Titan de Bronze’s house brand. Herrera would spend a few days at La Gran Fabric to demonstrate his expertise. In that short time, three blends were created, one of those being the Herrera Estelí Habano.
Herrera would go on to become Drew Estate’s master blender, with Herrera Estelí as his first great success. This first iteration of the brand sees Nicaragua, Honduran, and Nicaraguan tobaccos blended in perfect harmony.
“I wanted it well rounded and flavorful, but not too powerful,” Herrera tells Cigar Aficionado. “This is difficult to do when you’re using Nicaraguan tobacco. It’s very strong, and a lot of the prototypes would be too spicy, or too peppery.”
The launch of Herrera Estelí in 2013 was met with praise for the brand’s flexibility in crafting a fantastic, traditional, Cuban-style cigar blend. One such accolade came from the authority of Cigar Aficionado, as the Herrera Estelí Piramide Fino placed eighth in the publication's Top 25 Cigars of 2013. This was a great milestone for Drew Estate.
In the Spring of 2014, the Herrera line expanded with the Herrera Estelí Norteño. The Norteño offers a darker blend from the original with Honduran binder and Nicaraguan filler complete with a Mexican San Andrés wrapper.
Then in 2018, Herrera expanded the brand once more, calling upon a long established penchant for experimenting with Brazilian tobaccos. For the Brazilian Maduro, Connecticut binder and Nicaraguan filler are wrapped in Brazilian Mata Fina, a floral and sweet dark leaf.
2013 and ‘14 also saw the introduction of two great blends, Sweet Jane and Fat Bottom Betty. Originally crafted for Deadwood Tobacco Company in South Dakota, these brands and others from the Deadwood line are now widely available. Each line features a great blend of fine tobaccos expertly rolled in a maduro wrapper.
Another big leap for Drew Estate came with the 2013 collaboration with Joya de Nicaragua—Kentucky Fire Cured Cigars. Produced at the Joya de Nicaragua factory, Kentucky Fire-Cured saw a return to the unorthodox, not through infused cigars, but through the imparting for smoky, woodsy flavor through fire-cured Burley, resulting in the Kentucky varietal most commonly used as a condiment in pipe blends.
This is another blend whose inception was a quirky matter of experimenting on a whim. While Drew and Saka were visiting Universal Leaf in the Dominican Republic, they were enjoying a few Liga Privada T52s with Universal Leaf President Fritz Bossert. Spying a load of Kentucky Fire-Cured leaf, they impulsively switched the wrappers, and were amazed by the result. However, there was a glaring issue in the burn rate. It would take two and a half years to get the construction and ratios just right, but it was well worth it to see this unique line come to life.
In 2018, Drew Estate launched the affordable Factory Smokes brand. There are four Factory Smokes lines—Sun Grown, Maduro, Connecticut Shade, and Sweet. Each line features its own wrapper rolled around Indonesian binder and filler. Each line also comes in four vitolas: Churchill, Gordito, Robusto, and Toro (except Sweet offers a Belicoso in place of a Gordito).
With the move into bundle packaging, Drew Estate has expanded their accessibility while still offering a great stick no one should stick their nose up at. With the option to purchase as single sticks or in bundles of five, it’s easy to put together a sampling and get exploring.
Drew Estate remains an innovative force in the industry. Whether through their continued development of exciting blends, or their embrace of community through hosting such events as the Cigar Safari or the Barn Smoker Program, they continue to push the boundaries of cigar blending and culture. With a portfolio so vast and diverse, anyone can appreciate a Drew Estate Cigar. Whether looking for another fantastic cigar blended to your taste, or looking to explore those tastes, Drew Estate is the perfect place to start.