The Nicaraguan Chamber of Tobacco (formerly known as the Nicaraguan Tobacco Association) put on its fifth cigar festival last week in the capital city of Managua and in the cigar city of Estelí. Dubbed Puro Sabor Festival del Tabaco, the event was a celebration of Nicaragua's rapidly growing cigar industry and tobacco culture. Puro Sabor's main objective is to raise international awareness about Nicaragua and its commitment to growing high-quality tobacco and producing world-class cigars. It's also a rare opportunity to meet the people behind the brands, as most, if not all the members of Puro Sabor open up their fields and factories, making themselves available for casual, personable interaction.
The first leg of the festival started in the capital city of Managua, but the festival did not become completely immersive until the second leg, which took place in Estelí, the heart of Nicaragua's cigar country and the central area for tobacco growing and cigar manufacturing.
"Our organization is growing and so is the festival," said Juan Ignacio Martinez, president of the Nicaraguan Chamber of Tobacco. "We cannot grow too quickly or let the festival get too large because we only have so much capacity in Estelí, but we have added eight new members to Puro Sabor this year."
The number of cigar companies participating in the festival is now up from 16 members last year to 24 members for 2016. The new participants are Casa Fernandez, whose TABSA factory produces brands such as Casa Fernandez, Illusione, and El Güegüense; Mombacho, makers of Tierra Volcán; Nica Sueño, which produces RoMa Craft cigars; and Victor Calvo, makers of Victor Calvo cigars. The four other new members are not cigarmakers, but support the industry on the agricultural or packaging supply end. Cigar Rings, for example, has a facility in Estelí as well as the Dominican Republic and is one of the industry's premier printers of decorative cigar bands and box art. It's now part of the Puro Sabor family, as is Cigar Box Factory Estelí, growing firm Tabacalera El Dorado and Empaques 3A, which provides packaging materials.
The festival started on January 12, where visitors were shuttled from Managua airport to the hotel for registration. Each festival goer received an expedition-style gift bag full of cigars and apparel. The showpiece of the bag was a brightly enameled orange box of 32 cigars containing two smokes each from every sponsoring cigar company: Enclave, Padrón Family Reserve 45 Years Maduro, Oliva Serie V Melanio, Rocky Patel Royale, Omar Ortez Maduro, Powstanie, Joya de Nicaragua Cuatro Cinco, Liga Privada T52, My Father, Victor Calvo, Brick House, CAO Gold, Mombacho, Plasencia Organica, Frank Llaneza 1961, Illusione Fume d'Amour. Though the box contained many cigars, an attendee could have easily gone through the entire festival without touching a single cigar in the box—cigars were in ample supply at every event, including the cocktail cigar cruise on the first night on Lake Managua.
The next day entailed a tour of the Flor de Caña Rum factory followed by an equestrian show and a cigar-and-rum tasting. That night in Managua, the festival put on a showroom event called Puro Humo, an interactive cocktail party where each participating manufacturer had a display booth. Guests got the opportunity to visit each booth, collect two cigars and talk to the people behind the brands.
After a two-hour bus ride on the Pan American Highway the next day, the festival moved to Estelí, the center of Nicaragua's cigar industry. The first stop was lunch at the Tavicusa tobacco farm, a plot of land owned by Rocky Patel and his partner in Nicaragua, Amilcar Perez-Castro. Factory tours for that day included A. J. Fernandez, Drew Estate, My Father Cigars, Padrón, NACSA or Plasencia Cigars. The night ended with a gala dinner called the White Party, where the industry and the festival's registered guests all converged in the center of Estelí.
"Tobacco is the product of which this country has been fighting poverty since 1933," said Dr. Alejandro Martinez-Cuenca, owner of the Joya de Nicaragua factory, at the official press conference. "We are creating jobs and better living conditions, not just for Nicaraguans, but for all tobacco producing countries. Nicaragua's tobacco industry has experienced 10 percent growth per year for the past 10 years. There's no reason why this can't continue."
When addressing the possibility of the Cuban embargo falling and Cuban cigars in the U.S. market, Martinez-Cuenca said: "The embargo should have been lifted years ago. Of course, there will be a transition if that happens, and it might be painful in the beginning, but people will notice the difference between Cuban and Nicaraguan tobacco the way the people notice the difference between wine from France and wine from Napa Valley."
The Nicaraguan Chamber of Tobacco also created a trust fund for the Estelí River Basin Project.
"The trust fund will be responsible of implementing articulated efforts for the conservation and preservation of the Estelí River Basin, the most important water source for Estelí and the surrounding regions," Martinez said. "The Nicaraguan Chamber of Tobacco invested the seed capital for the fund—a sum of $30,000."
The last day of the festival gave attendees more farm and factory tours. Farms open for morning tours were A.J. Fernandez, Padrón, My Father Cigars, Plasencia, ProceNicsa (Oliva Tobacco Co.) or Nicaraguan American Cigars S.A. (NACSA). Afterward, six factories were open for tours: Joya de Nicaragua, PENSA, Oliva Cigars, ProceNicsa, Scandinavian Tobacco Group and Tavicusa.
Puro Sabor ended with a gala dinner held across the street from the Drew Estate factory. A charity auction at the end of the night included a special bottle of 25 year old Flor de Caña rum (only 1,000 bottles were made) and sampler boxes of regular-production and limited-edition cigars from past Puro Sabor festivals. It raised $10,700 for education in Nicaragua.
This article first appeared in the January 19, 2016 issue of Cigar Insider.