Padrón Dámaso: Q&A With Jorge Padrón

Padrón Dámaso: Q&A With Jorge Padrón

Last month, Padrón Cigars Inc. released Padrón Dámaso, a brand with a very different look and taste than the full-bodied cigars Padrón has made for 50 years. Dámaso cigars are mild- to medium-bodied, covered with Connecticut-seed wrappers, and sold in the round, rather than the traditional Padrón box-press.

Recently, executive editor David Savona spoke with Padrón president Jorge Padrón to get insights on the creation of the brand, and to reveal new details of what goes into this new cigar line.

Savona: Why would you, the maker of such full-flavored cigars, and the president of a company that's extremely successful, make the somewhat dramatic move of making a cigar that's so different from what you're used to making?
Padrón: The answer is a simple one—we want to give more people the chance to try Padrón cigars. For years, we focused on producing a certain type of product that appeals to a certain type of consumer who prefers cigars that are full bodied, in the stronger taste profile. And that will not change. We will continue to do that as long as we can. That will always stay the same. But here's a large part of the market that we are not reaching with these cigars, and we thought it was important to appeal to a different type of customer who may not necessarily be one who will smoke a Padrón right now. Hopefully we can get more people to try a Padrón product—some that may not otherwise have tried one; people that prefer milder cigars. And, we can bring them into the Padrón family little by little.

Q: So you think there's a large group of cigar smokers out there who have either never tried or don't regularly smoke Padróns because they either are, or they think they are, too strong for them?
A: The appearance of a cigar has a lot to do with that. We have a lot of loyal customers who have supported our brand over the years, and I'm very thankful for that, and I always appreciate their loyalty. I would never mess with that, and it's something that we hold very dear to our heart.

But I believe there are different types of consumers: There are some who only smoke stronger, more full-bodied cigars, there may be others who only smoke milder cigars and then there are some who smoke both. Right now we are only appealing to those who smoke the stronger profiles. In this day and age, with the amount of tobacco we have, and the resources we have, strategically for our company I think it's an important thing to do; to have products that appeal to every type of customer, at every price point as well as every taste profile.

Q: So the idea is to become more of a cigar company who can serve every type of smoker in the premium segment?
A: Absolutely. Our thing is still quality and not quantity. This is by no means a volume proposition. This is something small production, focusing on the quality, focusing on the taste that we are looking for and letting the chips fall where they may, to ensure that we can develop that customer slowly, like we did with Padrón. This is a marathon, it's not a sprint. Whatever time it takes, it will take.

Q: Let's talk about that production because there are some differences here—the Padrón Dámasos are rolled in a separate area from your other Padrón cigars, right?
A: We have set up a new factory within the main complex where we have our factory now. We have set up a new area for the manufacturing of Dámaso, so it's a separate area from the traditional Padrón products we had out. Nothing has changed on that side: the 1926s, the anniversaries, the Family Reserves, the traditional Padrón line—nothing has changed. This is a new operation, but right next to it. Walk out one door and into another door and that's where we have the Dámaso.

Q: Is there an importance to that separation?
A: Not really. Part of the reason is we just don't have the space in the main factory, but there are some differences, which I won't get into very much, in how the cigars are made.

Q: Did you have to hire new workers to produce this?
A: We moved some people around. A lot of the people are people we had in house. So not really. It seems to me when I look at Dámaso, I picture how my dad started 50 years ago. We're basically starting from scratch.

Q: Are you going to sell these outside the U.S.?
A: If we have it, we want to supply every customer.

Q: Will this be shown off at the Dortmund trade show?
A: We're still making the final decisions on that. But we'll probably have boxes on display.

Q: Can we talk about how you chose the wrapper? You wanted Connecticut seed, which gives you either Connecticut from Connecticut or Connecticut Ecuador. Did you try both?
A: Yeah, we tried both. At the end of the day, while they're both very good wrappers, we felt more comfortable with the Connecticut from Ecuador. It's really not much more to it than that. It's just the bottom line taste; what went best with the taste profile we were trying to accomplish. And that's why we went with the Ecuador.

Q: Ecuador Connecticut is probably the most expensive wrapper on the market.
A: Without a doubt, I would say it has to be one of the most expensive, if not the most expensive.

Q: Is there any ligero in the Dámaso?
A: I could tell you that, but I would have to kill you. (laughs)

Q: (laughs) OK, does the wrapper you are using have to be handled differently from your traditional Cuban-seed Nicaraguan tobaccos? Are there a lot of differences in the handling and fermentation?
A: Yes, it's a much more delicate wrapper. It's a thinner wrapper. It's very delicate to handle. But that doesn't change a lot of the things that we do.

Q: Are you having a lot more breakage?
A: No, we're not reinventing the wheel here, and at the end of the day we know what we are doing in tobacco. It requires a little more attention in how you handle it, and how you ferment it. It's the same process, just handled a little differently.

Q: When you roll these particular cigars, is the wrapper drier than it is with your Cuban-seed wrappers?
A: Yeah, this wrapper is worked with dry, rather than wet. And you also have to be careful because it stains very easily.

Q: So it's less forgiving?
A: Yes. Absolutely.

Q: The cigar is round, which is also different for you. Did you consider box pressing it like your other cigars?
A: This cigar, from the get-go, we decided we were going to do it round. We wanted to make something, again, that was different from what was done in the past, and we felt making it round would even make it more different. It's also in cellophane to protect the wrapper and protect the tobacco even more.

Q: What else should we know?
A: I don't want anyone to feel that we've changed our philosophy on making the types of products that we make. They can all rest assured that Padrón will always be Padrón.

The idea is just to enhance the base of consumers who will smoke a Padrón. There may be some new smokers coming in, and we want to be able to give them a product that they can smoke from the beginning, so they can start off on the right foot with a Padrón cigar.

Q: I'm going to ask you a tough question—you've always said your philosophy is you make cigars you like, and you smoke a whole bunch of them and you sell the ones you don't smoke yourselves. Where does this fall in? This is not your personal style of cigar, at least not your regular style of cigar. Am I right?
A: This product certainly does not fall into what we've made in the past. I'm very proud of the product we put out. It's not a mild, mild cigar. It's got some flavor to it. It's not a one-dimensional product. It does taste like tobacco. It has characteristics that you would expect from a Padrón. There's nothing wrong with that. You can't be afraid of doing these types of things. I feel that there are consumers for every type of product.

Obviously, if I'm putting this product out there it's because I'm comfortable smoking it. Me, particularly because I'm someone who has been smoking cigars for a long time, I would smoke it any time of the day. Maybe after dinner I would prefer something more full bodied.

The important thing is, I want to be able to have something for everyone, something that everyone can smoke. Whether you smoke strong-, mild- or medium-bodied cigars, I want to have something for everyone.