Cigar Aficionado

Nicaragua's Cigar Boom

Call this the golden age of Nicaraguan cigars. Twenty years ago, Nicaraguan smokes were virtually absent from the cigar industry. Ten years ago, they lagged far behind Honduras and market leader Dominican Republic. But if current trends hold, Nicaragua will end the year as the No. 1 producer of premium cigars by volume for the U.S. market, shipping more than double the cigars it did only six years ago.

Several prominent names in cigars have looked to Nicaragua for expansion in recent years. Rocky Patel Premium Cigars Inc., which for many years made all of its cigars under contract in Honduras, now owns its own factory in Estelí, Nicaragua. The location, known as Tavicusa, is making some of the company's top-rated cigars, such as the Rocky Patel Fifteenth Anniversary Torpedo (93 points), Cigar Aficionado's No. 6 cigar of the year.

J.C. Newman Cigar Co., which had all of its premium cigars rolled in the Dominican Republic from the 1980s through 2008, opened Puros de Estelí Nicaragua S.A., a 55,000-square-foot Nicaraguan cigar factory, in 2011. The location is dedicated to making the value-priced Quorum brand. The Newman family, owners of J.C. Newman, also make premium handmade brands elsewhere in Nicaragua under the names Brick House and El Baton, which have scored well in Cigar Aficionado and Cigar Insider blind taste tests.

Nicaragua's rise has been stunning. Imports have more than doubled over the past five years (see graph) rising from 48.5 million premium cigars in 2006 to 102.2 million in 2011, according to the Cigar Association of America. In 2006, Nicaraguan cigar exports ranked third among producers, trailing Honduras by nearly 30 million units and the Dominican Republic by 90 million cigars. In 2009, Nicaragua pulled into the No. 2 position as its imports grew 12.2 percent, to 78.7 million units, compared to the 70.1 million shipped that year by Honduras.

The country continued moving forward, and last year it posted a tremendous 18.7 percent export growth rate, far outpacing the industry, which grew by 7.7 percent. Nicaragua shipped 102.2 million cigars to the United States last year, putting it within reach of the Dominican Republic, which shipped 114.7 million cigars in 2011, virtually flat compared to the 113.2 million cigars it shipped in 2010.

For 2012 to date, the outlook for Nicaragua continues to show promise. For the first seven months of the year (the latest figures available as this issue was shipped), Nicaraguan cigar shipments rose by 3.4 percent over 2011 numbers. The Dominican Republic posted a 12 percent decline during the same time period, and if those numbers hold for the year, Nicaragua will pull ahead of the Dominican Republic and take the No. 1 spot, with approximately 105.7 million cigars shipped to the Dominican's estimated 101 million.

For much more on this story, see the current issue of Cigar Insider.

"I've been a cigar lover for many years and it's great to see the Nica leaves are reaching the states at a remarkable rate, I have grown to love them and can't stop filling my humi with these sticks!" —January 14, 2013 16:54 PM
"Count me in as a Nica lover. Padron 80th begin for me the ultimate Nicaraguan cigar experience. I have recently found another small boutique cigar company just branching out from Orlando called Cordoba y Morales that produces exceptional cigars -- especially their flagship brand, the Grand Salomon. They were recently chosen as the exclusive Cigar for the 2013 WGC Cadillac Championship. Nicaraguan cigars are indeed some of the best around." —December 5, 2012 15:51 PM
"As Far as I am concerned Nicaragua has the best cigars in the planet! Pepin Garcia got me into Nicaraguan Cigars,and I think Drew Estate is doing a fantastic job with Undercrown and other premium Cigar lines. Perhaps my favorite Cigar maker right now is A.J. Fernandez, I have not had a bad cigar from any of his lines!! Viva Nicaragua!!" —December 5, 2012 12:44 PM
"Is BOTL invading this site again? Give me a break." —December 3, 2012 15:35 PM
"As I continue to become a more seasoned cigar smoker, I have found that I gravitated to the great cigars being produced in Nicaragua. With that being said, I have found that the Liga Privada lines IMHO are some of the best cigars that are made. Drew Estates continues to produce high quality, fabulous tasting cigars. With due respect to all other makers, the Nicaragua cigar boom would not be where it is without Drew Estates." —November 30, 2012 17:11 PM
"Cigar Aficionado is certainly aware of the great cigars being made by Drew Estate, which is why we dedicated a very large feature story on the company in our December 2010 issue. Here is the link: The article was about the boom in Nicaragua's exports, not a list of people who make cigars in Nicaragua. Others who weren't included in the piece include the Garcia family of My Father Cigars S.A., makers of Tatuaje, My Father, etc.; Oliva Cigar Co., makers of Oliva Serie V, Tropical Tobacco, Perdomo, NACSA, AJ Fernandez, Toraño, ST Cigar Group Estelí and others. The Plasencias weren't mentioned by name, but their Casa Magna brand was. There are many, many companies that are making fine cigars in Nicaragua today who share in the credit for making Nicaragua's cigar exports so vibrant and important. " —November 30, 2012 12:54 PM
"As a lover of cigars who smokes mostly Nicaraguan cigars. I am constantly disapointed at the lack of respect given to Drew Estates, even if you refuse to aknowledge thier infused cigars, the Liga Privada lines are some of best of the best cigars in the world." —November 30, 2012 12:36 PM
"Very well said Jonathan!!" —November 30, 2012 12:07 PM
"As a LOLA and interacting with many Aficionados on a daily basis,I will include that Drew Estate has made a completely spell bounding impact on the Cigar Industry hailing from Nicaragua. With great respect for the other blenders and Tobacco families, simply would have been outstanding to see Drew Estate included in this grand article. Bravo Drew Estate!" —November 30, 2012 11:39 AM
"As a LOLA and interacting with many Aficionados on a daily basis,I will include that Drew Estate has made a completely spell bounding impact on the Cigar Industry hailing from Nicaragua. With great respect for the other blenders and Tobacco families, simply would have been outstanding to see Drew Estate included in this grand article. Bravo Drew Estate xo " —November 30, 2012 11:38 AM
""NICARAGUA'S CIGAR BOOM" - I just read the full article on Cigar Insider. While I was sincerely pleased to read the report on our imports, I was personally saddened to see DREW ESTATE TOBACCO COMPANY excluded from that wonderful article. Drew Estate is extremely proud of its commitment and promotion of NICARAGUA over the past 15 Years. It hurt deeply to see that we were not mentioned as part of Nicaragua's "Cigar Boom". We believed in Nicaragua when we started in 1998 with 5 employees and continue to believe in Nica today, with 1,400 employees. During the past 15 years of me living here, I have witnessed this country evolve, not just in the North, but across most of the districts, from Managua to Masaya to Jinotega to Somoto, to Grenada to Rivas to San Juan del Sur to Matagalpa to Condega to Jalapa to Ometepe to Tipi Topa to Crucero to all the galpas and to Leon and back ... indeed we are very proud to be associated with the successes she has brought all of our companies here, our clients, and premium cigar smokers worldwide. Jonathan Drew" —November 30, 2012 04:41 AM
"I'm impressed. When you look at the geography of Nicaragua and the quality of the cigars coming from there it's not surprising. Most of the cigars I'm smoking now are Nicaraguan in origin. Oliva, Perdomo, Joya De Nicaragua, Garcia, et. al. have been making excellent cigars for decades. Add to that the Liga Privada line, which is so hot, you can't keep them in stock. Excellent report." —November 29, 2012 10:28 AM
"Thanks, P Mai. JD" —November 29, 2012 03:02 AM
"I've come to love Nicaraguan cigars in part by the Pepins, Pete Johnson, and later Drew Estate. Shout out to those guys as well." —November 28, 2012 16:20 PM