Sitting Down With Tatuaje’s Pete Johnson
Posted: Apr 19, 2007 4:30pm ET
On the way home from work the other night I dropped in on Club Perfecto, my local cigar club. Pete Johnson was in town, and I wanted to talk to him about his Tatuaje cigars.
I walked in the door, said hello to some of the people I know, then shook hands with Pete. He gave me one of his new Tatuaje Havana VI cigars. I lit it up, ordered a bottle of Heineken, and took a seat.
Tatuajes are one of the hottest new brands on the market, and I’ve enjoyed just about every one I’ve smoked. They’re bold, leathery, Cuban-esque cigars made in El Rey de Los Habanos, a tiny factory in Little Havana. How tiny? It has a dozen cigar rollers. For perspective, big cigar factories have hundreds of rollers. A midsize operation such as Padrón has nearly 100. Small factories have 50 rollers, so having only a dozen is extremely small.
The factory is run by Pepin Garcia, and it makes stunning smokes with Cuban-style craftsmanship. But there’s only so much room at that shop, and labor is expensive in Miami. So Pepin opened a new factory in Nicaragua last year, which lets him make more cigars for people like Pete. The result is the Havana VI.
Pete told me he was worried about this cigar when it was first released. The factory in Estelí, Nicaragua, which I visited in January, was just getting started, and he was uncertain if the first cigars would be as good as he’s come to expect. He told me he was sweating his first ratings in Cigar Aficionado and Cigar Insider. (We buy cigars at retail for those ratings.)
I had my doubts as well: I thought the quality of the brand would suffer as production soared. But so far, so good: the first ratings for the Havana VI are excellent. One rated 93 points, and the brand averaged 89.2 in a vertical brand tasting in the March 13 Cigar Insider. Not bad.
The one I smoked at Club Perfecto was good as well, rich, leathery, maybe not as peppery and strong as the Miami Tatuajes, but that was Pete’s intention. It’s a nice smoke, and it’s much more affordable than a regular Tatuaje due to the cheaper cost of labor in Nicaragua. These are $5.50 to $8 per cigar, not cheap by any stretch but cheaper than the Miami smokes.
Pete’s a young guy with a talented mind, and he has a knack for what makes a great cigar. He’s working with a master in Pepin, who keeps on blending rich, inspired smokes. Having them in the cigar market is a plus.
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