Five years ago, almost to the month, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo left the La Gloria Cubana brand and his longtime associate Michael Giannini. Perez-Carrillo went on to start a new cigar company, EPC Cigar Co., while Giannini stayed at La Gloria's parent company General Cigar. Both have thrived in their current ventures, and both remained friendly over the years.
This week, the two men sat down in New York City with Cigar Aficionado to share surprising news. The two friends have come together again to collaborate on a new cigar. Both Giannini and Perez-Carrillo are staying in their current positions at their respective companies, but they have joined forces to create a limited-edition smoke called Re+United. The cigar is made with tobaccos from both men, and is the result of their working and blending together, just like the old days.
"This is all about friends getting together and having fun," said Giannini.
The idea for the Re+United project began about one year ago, when the two bumped into one another at the Gran Almirante Hotel in Santiago, Dominican Republic, a common gathering spot for cigarmakers. "We started chatting," said Giannini, who considers Perez-Carrillo one of his mentors.
Each man has a wealth of experience in the business. Giannini has been working in the industry for 33 years, while Perez-Carrillo has been making cigars for 43 years. The two worked together for 10 years at La Gloria Cubana.
Soon after their hotel chat, the two were working together in each other's factories, which are located right around the corner from one another in one of the Santiago Free Trade Zones, home to several cigar factories. This is a highly unusual move in the cigar business: While cigarmakers help one another in times of need, it's exceptionally rare to see competitors working together in this fashion on a joint project.
The smoke they decided on comes in one size, 6 1/2 inches long with a 54 ring gauge. The wrapper leaf is one from General's vast inventory, an eighth-priming Ecuador Havana leaf grown by Oliva Tobacco Co., which is a leaf Perez-Carrillo doesn't use.
"I love that dark color," Perez-Carrillo said of the wrapper leaf, culled from high atop the plant. "And for me, personally, it's hard to get. It's limited."
The binder is Connecticut broadleaf, from Perez-Carrillo's inventory, while the filler is a mix of Dominican Piloto Cubano from General and Nicaraguan from Perez-Carrillo. The Dominican Piloto was grown from seeds from the 1990s, a form of the plant that's more of an heirloom, and not crossed with other tobaccos as with many later varieties of the seed. The Nicaraguan filler is from Jalapa, in the north of the country, which is better known for wrapper than for filler.
"We tapped into some really old tobaccos," said Giannini. Half the tobaccos are from General, half from EPC Cigar Co.
The cigars are cleverly packaged, with a band bearing a cross made from the initials of the men, which are joined by the common middle initial of "P." MPG, for Michael Patrick Giannini, runs from top to bottom, while EPC, for Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, runs from left to right.
Production of this smoke will be limited to 1,500 boxes of 10, and the cigar is expected to be on sale in March. The final price has yet to be determined.
"We went through like six, seven blends," said Perez-Carrillo, puffing away on one of the smokes early yesterday morning. "I can see his palate has stayed as it was before."
"I had a great teacher," said Giannini.
"That's what I hoped you would say," Perez-Carrillo answered, as both men laughed together.
Watching the two men together is intriguing, and they are quite unlike one another. Giannini is a dapper and flashy dresser, with jeweled cufflinks, three-piece suits complete with elaborate pocket squares and scarves, juxtaposed to Perez-Carrillo's dark, simple style, perhaps a sweater and some jeans. Perez-Carrillo has a shaved head, and Giannini has long hair. The box was made to showcase their opposing styles: half is wooden, reflecting Perez-Carrillo's traditional style, the other half made to look like shiny metal, a nod to Giannini's modern flair. At the center is a metal plate.
Technically, the smoke is a joint project between Foundry Cigar Co., a subsidiary of General Cigar charged with developing creative new projects and run by Giannini, and EPC Cigar Co., owned and operated by Perez-Carrillo. The cigars are being distributed by EPC Cigar Co. and rolled at its factory, Tabacalera La Alianza S.A.
Giannini and Perez-Carrillo hinted that the project could someday result in new sizes, should it find a suitable audience. For now, each man is happy to have worked with an old friend on this special smoke.