By Nick Hendy
The annals of Cuban cigar history – and of all cigar history, for that matter – contain a great many tales of illustrious family dynasties. Many of the most famous family names have trodden a similar path over the last 180-odd years: depart Spain to find fortune in the Caribbean, fall foul of Fidel’s revolution, then rebuild the family enterprise elsewhere in Central America. Some of the greatest cigars it is possible to smoke today are brought to us by families who have followed this route to the ‘New World of Cigars’ – the Eiroa family, makers of Aladino Cigars, are one of them.
Aladino cigars are crafted in Honduras, where the Eiroa family have most of their farms and factories. All of the sticks in their 7 collections are Honduran puros, with some sporting Cameroon and Connecticut wrappers. All use wonderful Corojo tobacco for filler and binder, grown in Honduras and blended to give today’s cigar lovers the tastes enjoyed by Cuban smokers way back in the 1960s. Keeping those flavours alive in the world of cigars is the dream and mission of family patriarch Julio R. Eiroa.
Julio R. Eiroa was himself one of the farmers forced to leave Cuba after the revolution. Born in Pinar del Rio in 1938, the political turmoil in his native land saw him forced to flee twice in total – once from Batista, and a second time from Castro – before finding himself with many other tobacco industry refugees in the city of Tampa, Florida. Work for the Oliva family led him to Honduras, and within a year of arrival he had established himself as an independent tobacco farmer. With each passing year Julio bought more and more farmland from the Honduran government, laying the foundation for today’s Eiroa family empire.
In July 1977 an event occurred which changed Julio Eiroa’s life, and the wider cigar industry, forever. A plane crash left Julio reliant on a wheelchair, unable to visit the farms which were his passion. Without his expertise on-site the farms struggled; corporate partners lost faith and sold up; all of a sudden Eiroa owned even more production, but lost a main customer for the sale of the tobacco he grew. His only solution was for the family to make the cigars themselves.
The same success which was found in the fields transferred to the factories, and by the mid-90s the Eiroa family controlled the Camacho brand, transforming it from a Nicaraguan to a Honduran cigar and making it one of the most popular names in the cigar world. In 2008 Camacho was sold to Davidoff, with the intention of allowing Julio to concentrate on his passion for cultivating tobacco. By 2016 his ambition to make his own cigars from what he grew had returned, and Aladino was born.
The Aladino collection has grown, in the short time since its inception, to become one of the most popular Honduran cigars on the market. The experience of its founder in growing the best tobacco and marrying the most flavoursome blends is undoubtedly key to its success. It was this knowledge which led to the decision to use Corojo tobacco to replicate pre-embargo flavour profiles, transporting today’s cigar aficionado back to the “Golden Age” of cigar smoking. Classic Cuban flavours, and a generous amount of strength, are found in each stick, and construction is of the high quality always to be expected of the finest New World cigars. The Cameroon and Connecticut wrappers used for some expressions offer a little extra variety to the range, meaning there is something in the Aladino range to delight every smoker and to fit every cigar moment.
Today, Julio R. Eiroa is 85 years old. His sons, Justo and Christian, have followed him into the tobacco and cigar industries, with Justo joining him at the helm of Aladino. As well as his reputation for hard work – even into his 80s he could be found on the farm at 5am – and dedication to excellence in both tobacco farming and cigar manufacture, Julio is known as an innovator. His farms were the first to adopt Bayer standards and apply them to tobacco farming, ensuring every leaf to be harvested is of the highest quality and free from harmful pesticides. His tobacco wheel, invented to speed up the process of drying tobacco while reducing the risk of breaking the leaves, was quickly adopted by farms around the central America and Caribbean growing regions. Even today, at his impressive old age, he continues to put the hours into the craft he loves. “My father does not believe in retirement,” says Justo, his eldest son.
The work ethic of the Eiroa family is of particular benefit to us cigar lovers, as it provides us with so many wonderful things to smoke. Honduras is perhaps a lesser-known cigar nation, lagging slightly behind its neighbours in Dominican Republic and Nicaragua as an alternative producer to Cuba, but it is still capable of producing some wonderful cigars. That is exactly what we find with Aladino: cigars which are expertly constructed from tobacco grown with expertise and love, which give the smoker a new perspective on classic Cuban flavours, all at an extremely accessible price point. Offered in a wide range of vitolas, and therefore smoking times, Aladino cigars are a testament to the skill of their creators and the brilliance it is possible to find in Honduras.