While countries like Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic may be getting the lion's share of attention, third-place Honduras is the fast-growing sleeper of the cigar world as its production jumped 6 percent in 2015 to almost 68 million units. The sometimes-underestimated cigar nation was the subject of a seminar at the Big Smoke Las Vegas Saturday session.
A panel of cigar and tobacco experts who do business there delved into the region, discussing what makes it different and why they prize it. Panelists were Joel Alvarenga of Altadis U.S.A, Christian Eiroa, of CLE Cigars, and Rocky Patel, of Rocky Patel Premium Cigars. Leading the discussion was Cigar Aficionado senior editor Gregory Mottola.
Alvarenga, who is the operations manager of the Flor de Copan Premium Cigar Factory praised the high quality of Honduras tobacco as well as the loyalty of its workers. Those attending the evening sessions later that night were presented with one of his company's cigars, the Yargüera H. Upmann, a cigar made from a new Honduran tobacco variety of the same name. A hybrid, Yargüera incorporates qualities of Criollo '98. Alvarenga attributed part of its distinction to the high altitudes at which it is grown.
Patel, who blends cigars with tobacco from different regions and countries (he often uses an analogy of picking spices from a kitchen pantry), said he could not imagine a world that didn't include the library of tobacco from Honduras. He called it the workhorse of the cigar world and added that it blends particularly well with tobacco from its neighbor Nicaragua.
Eiroa, whose family has a history of farm ownership in Honduras that helped form its prominence as a region, makes a Honduran puro—Eiroa by Christian Eiroa—that is emblematic of country's tobacco output. Such a cigar is made using components—wrapper, binder and filler—that are all sourced from one country. Eiroa said that the aim is for everything to be high quality enough to be used as wrapper tobacco, but only a small percentage makes the cut.
The panel discussed the country's differences with nearby Nicaragua, noting that labor in Honduras is more expensive (one of the reasons, Eiroa explained, that Honduran tobacco is not used more extensively). The Honduran workers, however, were described as more loyal than Nicaraguans, who currently are enjoying a boom culture, which allows them to move easily from one job to the next.
One of the concerns with Honduras is that it might be playing out its growth potential, but Patel said that there was still plenty of room for expansion between the three major growing regions of Danlí, Talanga and Jamastran.
Eiroa described an innovative and ecofriendly drip-irrigation system that is now being used to save water. Rather than employing sprinklers that tend to haphazardly waste water, hoses with drip holes are utilized to bring water directly to the root-zone of the plants one drop at a time in precise and controlled increments.
Even as Honduras is now realizing its reputation through innovation and fine cigars, its standing in the industry should come as no surprise. After all, as Alvarenga pointed out, its tobacco culture dates as far back as the Mayan civilization.
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