When Julio Eiroa and his son christian reach for a smoke, rest assured that they will select a strong cigar. Both seasoned aficionados—the forces behind Caribe Imported Cigars, a vertical operation based in Miami that grows its own tobacco and produces and distributes 13 million cigars a year—crave the powerful taste reminiscent of the Cuban examples of a half-century ago. “We like our cigars very strong,” says 31-year-old Christian, who joined the family business full-time in 1993.
A few years later, father and son rolled a small quantity—just enough for the two of them—of what they considered perfect cigars. The result was the Camacho Diplomat, which they shared with friends. The Camacho brand, which was created by Simon Camacho in the 1940s, had last been produced in the 1970s. The Eiroas bought the company in the early 1990s, Christian says, because they liked the brand’s reputation for intensity of flavor. When they realized that others appreciated the full taste, the Eiroas began developing the line, which now includes seven frontmarks, or distinct cigars: the Diplomat, Corojo, Havana, SLR, Liberty, 11/18 (the birth date of Christian’s mother), and 07/05 (Christian’s birthday). Only 16 rollers are skilled enough to produce the company’s newest and most complex shapes: the 11/18, a 52 x 56 x 6 perfecto, and the 07/05, a 46 x 50 x 38 x 6 figurado.
The common denominator among Camacho cigars (except the SLR) is Corojo seed, which the elder Eiroa brought to the Jamastrán Valley in Honduras when he left Cuba in the early 1960s. “The flavor profile is very strong,” explains Christian, who is responsible for marketing and the development of new brands. “It’s the seed that made Cuban cigars really popular in the early- to mid-1900s, but it’s a very hard seed to grow.” Corojo is susceptible to disease and produces a smaller yield than other seeds.
Asserting that a cigar contains Corojo has become a popular marketing hook. But while a number of manufacturers may claim that their cigars are made with Corojo, Christian says, the tobacco they use is derived from a mutation of the original plant, not from the seed developed in Cuba more than 75 years ago. In fact, many Cubans have abandoned Corojo and are planting a hybrid called Corojo 99.
Tobacco grown from original Corojo seed has an intense flavor because the nutrients are concentrated in fewer leaves. “The plant itself, she doesn’t grow very big,” Christian explains. “She’s a short, stubby plant that was never reengineered to grow any bigger.” Despite the potential pitfalls of growing Corojo, the Eiroas believe the results outweigh the risks. “We can design a cigar and know exactly what it is going to taste like when we put the seed down,” says Christian. “Remember, we were growers before we were manufacturers. We’re tobacco people, period.”
In addition to augmenting the Camacho line, Christian is spearheading a unique project called the Face-Off. In a joint venture with Litto Gomez of La Flor Dominicana, Caribe created a new cigar, the 11/07, by blending leaf grown at Rancho Jamastrán with tobacco grown by Gomez in the Dominican Republic. Gomez blended an 11/01 by adding Caribe’s Honduran leaf to La Flor Dominicana tobacco. “The Face-Off is the successful cooperation between two competing companies and two competing countries,” says Christian. In keeping with current Camacho fashion, the names of the cigars reflect significant birth dates: the 11/01 for Litto Jr.’s and the 11/07 for Christian Jr.’s. Both measure 53/4 x 50.
Some could construe that the Eiroas’ decision to work with Gomez was motivated by self-interest, namely their preference for potent smokes. Christian’s take on the collaboration does little to refute that assumption. “We took someone else’s good product and made what we think is a better product,” he says. “We took his cigar and made it strong.”
Caribe Imported Cigars, 800.367.0782, www.caribeimportedcigar.com