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EO 601 Cigars Espinosa and Ortega are 1000 Percent Right
Written by Daniel Lopez

Friday, 16 January 2009

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eo 601erik espinosa


Chicharones and Rum at Pepin's Place

Before heading back to the hotel for dinner, we made a stop for a few hours at Pepin's apartment. His small apartment is located not far from the factory. We enjoyed music as Pepin offered us rum and opened up his house to us. As time passed on, I observed that the bond between Pepin, Jaime, Amilcar, Eddie, and Erik was much more than that of average friends. The way they were carrying on reminded me of holiday times around my family. It was clear, they all considered each other family and not just friends. In fact, Pepin treated JC and me in the same manner.

Noticing that my cigar was now burned down to about two inches, I was really enjoying the flavor, it seemed like it would never drop off. As the cooking of chicharones began to fill the little apartment with the aroma of pork and chicken, a big bowl of chicharones was brought to the middle of us as we crowded around to pick these tasty treats. I love cigars but, I really love great food and these chicharones were some of the best I have ever had. They were spiced up with what I believe was garlic and some lemon. As I would finish each one, Pepin would tell me to eat another. I tried to remember that we would be off to dinner soon but, they were just too good. Ok, sorry I got off track but, damn they were good. Ok, back to the story.

Next, we head back to the hotel for dinner and more conversation. My Spanish is still not up to par, my new buddy JC would translate phrases for me that did not make sense to me. In the Spanish language, each country has slang and things often are said in slang when people are comfortable. We gathered around the table and we ordered fruit juices that were delicious. One thing that I like to do when I get the chance to travel is trying new foods. You only LIVE once and I will try anything once. I have also learned to order the same thing others around you order. Leave all your preferences back at home and just try something new. As dinner goes on, I quickly learn that Jaime Garcia is one of the best story tellers out there. His facial expressions and gestures keep you on the edge of your seat as he talks. Often seen in videos as a serious person, he easily makes the transition to another Jaime when the work day is over. I would learn throughout the trip just how serious Jaime is about the cigars he makes. I would also learn that he is just as passionate about the land in which he molds. As the check comes, Pepin fights with Erik for it as spoons and forks rattle the table. Hands were moving so fast that I think Pepin rolled a cigar in the process. After more time of talking, we all decide to call it a night. I log in to the computer in the lobby to check CigarLive website and make a call home before going to sleep.


Day 2

Up early, I make my way down to breakfast and notice a familiar face at the table. A firm handshake from Mr. Kiki Berger of Cuban Crafters cigars and I sit to enjoy a great conversation with all. Simply a treat to be around, Kiki has been in the cigar business for a long time and he is well respected by all. We enjoyed huevos rancheros and lemonada. We spoke about the cigar industry and the great people who make up this very small community. One thing I noted was that everyone had the same common goal and that was to make the next greatest cigar. Plans were made to meet up with Kiki later if we could. I grabbed my gear and loaded it into the back of the van so we could head back to the factory.

Returning to the factory, Pepin asked if we were ready to head to the farm to get a look at one of this year’s crop. As he was saying this, I glanced over to see a leaf of tobacco hanging from a chalkboard, the leaf was as big as my torso and it was real. I was thinking that it might be rare for a plant to have a leaf of that size. So, I did not give it much more thought.

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Reading on CigarLive.com, I was aware that Pepin had started to grow his own tobacco in an effort to vertically integrate and have much more control on the quality of tobacco he is able to get. His son, Jaime would spearhead this effort after many years in the industry and after his agricultural schooling in Cuba. As we arrived at the farm, I could simply not believe the earth that it was located on. The earth beneath the tobacco plants was as black as night and the tobacco touched the clouds at over seven feet tall. Beyond this there was something familiar I had seen before; those giant tobacco leaves shaded everything around us. Were these freakish leaves on steroids or what? How were they so big? One look at the soil and you could only guess that it was the black soil that made these plants so strong and big. I would later document these leaves so I could remember the size for future reference.

As Pepin showed us through the barns and fields of his new farm you could see the pride in his eyes. I quickly flashed back and thought about his apartment, why does he not live in a big house in Nicaragua? Why does he not wear fancy clothes, glasses, or jewelry? It quickly became apparent that those things do not matter to him. What matters to him is right where we were standing. As the trip continued, it was even easier to see that he could care less about being a famous blender, what he DOES care about is living his dream of growing his own tobacco for his own cigars and the fact that he has his son, Jaime and family there with him. At this point, I knew that El Rey De Los Habanos was not at the peak of their success, they are just starting. Looking back at this time, I now know why Erik Espinosa said those words, "It can only get *%&@ing better!" and I know it is true. I can only believe that the cigars that will be made with the tobacco Pepin is growing will be better than ever.

We then shoot video for a few hours in the fields and barns. I have to say thanks to Pepin and family for being so easy to work with. Setting up the shot where they walk out of the fields was done multiple times so that I could pick the best angle to use for the video and they were certainly patient to do it over and over again.

Back into the truck as our next stop was to travel to the new factory being built. As we arrived at the gate, the factory grounds seem to never end. A large rolling room of enormous size was framed up as well as an already working box factory. Things at the box factory ran just like clockwork. Everyone had a task and did not deviate from it. A new area next to the already framed up area was getting ready for a slab. The thing that I can say about how Pepin is setting the factory up is that he is doing everything the exact way he wants it even if it is difficult to do. He is very specific about how he likes things and that is certainly why his cigars are of such high quality. I am already looking forward to the chance to revisit the factory after it is totally complete. I can just imagine how great it will be.

I want to take this time to bring up something that I was thinking about before I made the trip. I was wondering how Pepin could keep the quality up of all the cigars he makes with the recent big production of the Ashton cigars. I found out that only certain things were in production at one time. On the second day at the factory, it was Tatuaje being produced. The day before it was 601 and on day 3 it was Pepin Black label. I would also learn that one of the reasons why Pepin will not be attending many events this year was so he could focus on his production and building of the new factory. It is easy to see first hand that this man is doing what he wants and only what he wants. Of course, everyone would jump at the opportunity to have a cigar made by him. I have a totally new respect for this man and his family that I could not have possibly gained without this trip by 601.

Lunchtime hits, which just so happens to be one of my three favorite meals. On a rooftop in Esteli, Nicaragua I am treated by Pepin to a great recommendation of roasted chicken. The choice was perfect; it was delicious and made me pretty sleepy after eating it. After a short nap back at the hotel, I get a knock at the door for me to go join the guys for cards and snacks.






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