“To me, Miami was supposed to be a stepping stone – a place to gather ourselves before I made it big in New York as a jazz musician. Things happen for a reason, and it’s clear now that Miami was the right place for me, and the place that pushed me to discover – and master – my true calling in life.”
– Ernesto Perez-Carrillo
The Early Years
The roots of the Perez-Carrillo family are in Cuba, where Ernesto Sr. was born in 1904. He began learning about tobacco and cigars early in his childhood from his father who rolled and sold penny cigars in the streets of Havana. After working as a tobacco buyer for many years, Ernesto Sr. launched the family cigar dynasty in 1948 when he purchased El Credito, a small cigar factory in Havana. The Perez-Carrillo family became well-respected in Cuba, and Ernesto Sr. was elected to the Senate in 1954 and 1958.
But, as the Cuban Revolution took hold and Castro gained control of Cuba, the Perez-Carrillo family’s life changed forever. Ernesto Sr. was arrested several times for his political beliefs, and the government confiscated the family’s properties including the beloved El Credito factory. Fearing for their safety, the family fled to Miami, but not before leaving Ernesto with a lasting impression of his homeland. During a Cigar Aficionado interview taken in the early 1990’s, young Ernesto (Jr.) recalled the events around the time of the Cuban Revolution, “I remember when Castro came into Havana. I looked up in the sky and saw warplanes. Tanks were in the streets. It was a wild scene. I was only six at the time. I didn’t think it was the end of the world, but there was a sense of insecurity.”
Ernesto Sr. expected the move to be temporary. The Master Blender and cigar maker envisioned moving his family back to Cuba once the political climate settled. While he waited, he took every odd job he could find to support his family. As it became increasingly clear that returning to Cuba was not to be, Ernesto Sr. focused on making Miami his home, eventually realizing that the talents for which he was known in Cuba were the key to the family’s future in their new home. So he returned to what he did best: making cigars. Nine years passed, but finally Ernesto Sr. was able to purchase a cigar factory in Little Havana, fittingly naming it El Credito.
But his son and namesake, Ernesto, had a passion for jazz; not cigars. He had always dreamed of being a jazz drummer, and when he turned 25 he even moved to New York City to try his luck with some of the great musicians and bands at the time. Hustling from audition to audition, gig after gig, Ernesto was determined to make it as a drummer. But after failing to catch on with the famed Stan Getz and his band, he finally returned to Miami, and began his journey toward cigar immortality.
Working alongside his father, Ernesto made cigars for the locals in Little Havana. It wasn’t until his father contemplated selling El Credito in 1976 that young Ernesto realized that this was his calling in life. He convinced his father not to sell, and for the next four years, he shadowed his father to see how a master created a cigar. When his father passed away in 1980, a 29-year old Ernesto took over the reins of El Credito, but was not prepared for the financial difficulties that ensued. Bills piled up and demand for cigars cratered, but Ernesto’s friends in the Miami cigar trade carried him through these tough times, confident that this promising craftsman would eventually succeed. And succeed he would.
Today, Ernesto gives credit to his father for teaching him most of what he knows about cigars. As young as 4 years old, he would spend countless hours with his father in the tobacco fields in Cuba’s prime growing region, the Vuelta Abajo. It was in Cuba where Ernesto began to appreciate the art of growing tobacco. The most valuable lessons Ernesto learned from his father were from the examples he set in his everyday life – dedication to work, humility, patience and respect. These are the same principles behind each cigar created by Master Blender Ernesto Perez-Carrillo.
The Birth of E.P. Carrillo
After years of stagnant sales and uncertainty, Ernesto took his inspiration from that Cuban Davidoff and set out to create a cigar that would excite the senses. When he finally put the perfect blend together, he had created La Gloria Cubana . This overnight success was years in the making. La Gloria Cubana enjoyed star status among Miami cigar smokers and select others throughout the country, but it remained a “local” cigar.
But all this changed in 1992 when four of the brand’s nine cigars scored 90 or higher in a relatively new publication entitled Cigar Aficionado. This Miami-made cigar outperformed established brands and even its Cuban competitors, stunning cigar connoisseurs. Instantly, the La Gloria Cubana brand was one of the brightest flames in the white-hot cigar craze of the early 1990’s.
Word quickly spread, and La Gloria instantly became one of the most sought-out cigars in the world. Demand far outstripped supply in short order. This boutique brand went from selling a few thousand cigars a year to millions. And in 1999, Swedish Match purchased El Credito from the Perez-Carrillo family.
After working for Swedish Match/General Cigar until March 2009, Ernesto’s children’s beseeched him to return to the tobacco fields one more time to create the next great cigar. With the advent of E.P. Carrillo, Ernesto has once again dedicated himself to perfecting a family-run boutique brand, this time with his son, Ernesto III and daughter, Lissette.
Since creation, the family has released several new blends, beginning with the E.P. Carrillo 2009 Inagural. Each blend, while offering a different array of complexity and strength profiles, has stayed true to the family’s ideals of consistency, tradition, and passion for perfection. Today, E.P. Carrillo provides customers with a diverse portfolio of blends and sizes, which will satisfy the most discerning cigar smoker.
“I smoke because I want to feel not just the senses around the palate, but the whole body. When I tasted a Cuban Davidoff cigar in 1982, that’s what I felt. And that experience is what I try to replicate in my cigars – a total sensuous smoke.”
– Ernesto Perez-Carrillo
E.P. CARRILLO AROUND THE WORLDDominican Republic | Nicaragua | Ecuador | Cuba
The key region for tobacco growing in the Dominican Republic is the lush Cibao Valley, which many experts feel has only one rival: Cuba’s Vuelta Abajo region. Named for a river that flows through its center, the Cibao Valley is bordered by mountain ranges that help to provide an ideal setting for growing premium tobacco.
The soil is rich, deep and bountiful, and the air is cooled by afternoon breezes. Throughout the Dominican Republic, master blenders find a dizzying array of tobacco that ultimately blend together to comprise a premium cigar.
Ernesto Perez-Carrillo has roots that run deep throughout the Dominican Republic. When orders for his former brand, La Gloria Cubana, skyrocketed in the 1990’s, Ernesto could not meet demand with his small factory in Calle Ocho.
At one point, La Gloria Cubana’s Torpedo (rated a 93 by Cigar Aficionado in 1993) was in backorder for 12 months, and the need for a larger factory was obvious. He selected a site in Santiago, Dominican Republic to be his second factory.
When time came to choose a location for the E.P. Carrillo factory, Ernesto knew exactly where it needed to be located. In April 2009, he signed a lease on a 40,000 square foot, stand-alone building in Santiago’s Zona Franca, and immediately began the construction of his dream factory, which he named Tabacalera La Alianza.
Here is where the tobacco is fermented, aged, hand-made, and packaged under the supervision of Ernesto. Spread across 12 rolling tables, experienced cigar-rollers are in essence re-learning their craft as they are trained to roll cigars the “Cuban way” – the cigars are beautifully finished with a triple-cap method.
Ernesto Perez-Carrillo’s achievements have been driven largely by an insatiable desire to understand the intricacies of tobaccos from all over the world. “Each tobacco has its own character. You have to treat each tobacco differently and understand how they work together,” he says.
Nicaragua’s reputation is the result of the remarkable climate and soil of the three main tobacco growing areas in the country – Esteli, Condega, and Jalapa. Each plays an integral role in the formation of Ernesto’s unique blends.
Not far from the Honduran border, the towns of Esteli and Condega are home to the majority of cigar production in the country. Surrounded by some of the most fertile land in Central America, these towns boast lush fields of Cuban-seed tobacco. Esteli’s black soil produces a heavy, full-flavored dark leaf that is rich with full aromas, body and flavor. Condega’s tobacco is typically sun-grown and used primarily for filler and binders.
Northeast of Esteli and Condega lies the Jalapa Valley, whose remoteness is mitigated by the extraordinary tobacco it produces. The naturally-occurring minerals in the soil give the tobacco here an earthy-sweet flavor.
In the wake of the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba in the 1960’s, the cigar industry scrambled to find wrapper alternatives to Cuban tobacco. For the Perez-Carrillo family, that search ended in Ecuador.
Home to more than 30 active volcanoes, Ecuador’s ashy eruptions may not bode well for tourism, but they do benefit the tobacco trade. The volcanic ash helps create an intensely fertile soil, ripe for growing a premium tobacco leaf.
Ecuador’s constant cloud cover has led many to call the country’s tobacco “cloud grown” as opposed to “shade grown.” This natural protection from the sun is what creates a thin but firm tobacco leaf that is flavorful, natural in color and smooth to the eyes and touch.