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Burn, Baby, Burn
Matt Lee | Photo: Rocky Patel Premium Cigar Company | November 19, 2013
Rocky Patel continues to wow aficionados with cigar after award-winning cigar.
Few names in the cigar world are as recognizable as Rocky Patel. But that has little to do with hype and everything to do with quality. The Rocky Patel Premium Cigar Company, which the former entertainment lawyer launched in 1995, has consistently released blends that receive superlative ratings from the world’s most qualified authorities. We spoke with the Naples, Fla. resident to learn about the secret to his cigars’ success, what’s new on the horizon for 2014, and a few of his favorite things to do when he’s in Chicago (Bears fans, take heed).
You were a lawyer when you launched your company; what made you think you could have an impact in cigars?
When I started out in ’95, ’96, a lot of the cigars were boring. Most were mild, medium-bodied at best, and they didn’t have a lot of character. They didn’t have unique taste profiles; there weren’t many rich, complex cigars that had spice, chocolate, caramel, pepper. I also saw that, in terms of marketing, nobody had taken it to the next level. I started going out, meeting consumers and retailers, and educating them about the detailed processes involved in tobacco—in the growing, curing, fermentation, blending. What I did was implement the strictest quality-control standards anybody had ever seen in the cigar market, from draw testing every single cigar to the timing, aging and curing.
You have dozens of lines of cigars, but what are a few key traits they share?
You’re going to taste a lot of nuttiness, caramel, cocoa, perhaps a little white pepper and a kind of lingering sweetness. You’re going to find that every cigar draws and burns perfectly, and that you can smoke it down to the very end, and it’s consistent, and never gets harsh or bitter.
Your manufacturing facilities have evolved over the years; can you tell us where they stand at the moment?
We have our own factory and farms in Nicaragua, completely vertically integrated, and in Honduras we have a joint-venture partnership with the Plasencia family.
What new cigars are you most excited about?
The Royale, which is a medium to full-body cigar; it’s one of the best blends I’ve ever made. And we’re excited about the Platinum, which is a rich, fuller cigar with a lot of character. Then there’s a cigar my brother Nish made, Bold, which is a pretty full-bodied cigar. And all three of those are made in Nicaragua.
So you and your family are still making all of the blends yourselves?
We are; sometimes I’ll smoke about 150 cigars until I come up with the right blend. My brother, my cousin; we’re all competing against each other.
I read that the Decade, which received near-perfect ratings when it was released, was your favorite cigar you’ve made. Is that still the case?
Now it’s a tie between the Decade, the 15th Anniversary and the Royale.
Do you think that you have a natural-born talent for blending, or is it a matter of accumulating knowledge and learning on the job?
From childhood I loved cooking and I thought I had a discerning palate, so my experience and knowledge with food, and later with wine, helped cultivate my taste buds when it comes to cigars. Then it was just a matter of practice and experience, and spending a lot of time working with different tobaccos.
What’s your favorite place to enjoy a cigar?
I always enjoy a cigar after a great meal, particularly in remote places where I can be alone, such as in certain parts of Europe or Asia… preferably when you’re sitting outside and there’s not a lot of wind, and you’re overlooking the ocean or a mountainside. And especially with a great wine or single-malt scotch.
You’re known for traveling constantly, visiting factories, retailers and consumers. What are a few of your favorite things to do when you’re in Chicago?
I grew up in Green Bay, Wis., and I went to school in Madison at the University of Wisconsin, and my brother used to live in Chicago, so I’m quite familiar with the city. I love Chicago. I remember when we could smoke at Gibsons and Jilly’s and Tavern on Rush; the whole Viagra Triangle there. It’s a great food-and -music city, a clean city. And all of my college friends now live in and work in Chicago. So you know, I love to come there and kick a little ass with the Packers, who’ve been kicking the Bears’ asses for 20 some years.
Uh-oh. Moving on, where would you like to see the company 10 years from now?
We’re working on growing it into a lifestyle brand. We’re working on a great wine, some good scotch and vodka, a good Bloody Mary mix, a cologne, great coffee and tea houses; more Burns, which is our lounge. We opened a Burn in Naples and we’re hoping to open a few more around the country. I’m also dabbling into my first restaurant venture. So all of the fun things in life that people enjoy.
Where to Buy
An extensive selection of Rocky Patel cigars is available at Iwan Ries & Co., 19 S. Wabash Ave., 312.372.1306, iwanries.com