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2016 Cigar Federation Cigar Safari Recap!

This year was my second trip to Drew Estate Cigar Safari with Cigar Federation. The trip this year had a lot more meaning since SmokinLogan was able to raise $10,000 to help Techo and build 5 houses for poor families in Nicaragua.
The trip started in Managua where me nakieninja, realmadmonkey, and shadowbates met up and exchanged cigars and started boozing up. When the booze was done we walked over to the casino and shadowbates bought 10 shots of Flor de Cana but two of the guys didn't drink so me Shad and Tripp were left to take down the rest of the shots. I played some Nicaragua slots for 10 Cordoba (28 Cordoba = $1) and was up to 100 Cordoba before the machine won and took my money. The other guys played roulette but I think only one guy won anything.
The next day the bus arrived and took us past downtown Managua and we drove by the unknown soldier and this year I was finally able to grab a picture of him since I knew we'd be passing by. We then went to a great steakhouse for lunch and were well-fed for our three hour trip to Esteli in the mountains. It was the calm before the storm but the next few days were going to be spent on hard labor.
The next day the bus came and took us to the Oscar Gamez neighborhood in Esteli. Oscar Gamez is home to some of the poorest people in Nicaragua some of these people do not even earn a dollar a day. We met up with the TECHO volunteers and I was handed two giant dirt breaker poles and we walked a few blocks to an old lady's home. The shack was made of wooden planks that were dried out and they had a metal sheet roof. In the small house were six beds on a dirt floor and barely any room. twistedcircuits99 and me watched the volunteers as they measured and they gave us those poles to start digging holes through rock. We had to put posts in and eventually had to crawl down to haul dirt out of the holes we dug. This process was tedious but eventually we laid down the posts. The other teams were not so lucky and had way more rocks in their yard or way deeper holes to dig. Lacking proper digging equipment seemed to rile up most everybody but we had no choice but to use the tools they gave us.
Eventually we built these folks a house and while it was a small place by American standards, for these people it gave them a wooden floor new walls. The old lady thanked us for our work and cried when we gave her the new keys. It was a touching moment but went to demonstrate how small things can mean a lot to people. Despite having nothing (not even a bathroom) the family always tried to give us coffee, juice, and snacks. They worked hard to help build the house and it meant a lot to be able to help them even though the work was torture and the primitive tools took a toll on all of our morale.
After two days of labor, we were given a free day and SmokinLogan dialed in favors and got us tours at Black Label Trading Company, RoMa Craft and La Zona where Espinosa Cigars are made.
I know I liked Black Label Trading Company from the start. James Brown the master blender was smoking a lancero and ran a very clean and organized factory. There weren't many rollers but the operation was very mom and pop and they had their son playing in the offices and their dog chillin' with us visitors. The aging room was great and we were able to pick up some things to try. They gave us an NKB and I was impressed. I was sad they did not have any lanceros for sale but then they dug up some Last Rits lanceros for me!!! I smoked one at lunch and had a lot of respect for the company because I had heard of their cigars before and never gave them a shot because I didn't know much about them (they started in 2014), but after smoking their cigars I am a believer.
Next, Skip Martin gave us a personal tour of El Nica Sueno. Having met Skip not long ago I knew he was good at shooting the breeze and talking about all of his food and beer pics. On this trip, he showed his business side which was a detailed rundown of how tobacco goes in and out of his factory and using lean principles to keep the factory well run and efficient which in turns makes for more affordable cigars. I was surprised to learn that they don't have sales reps which definitely keeps prices low! The other thing I learned at Nica Sueno is that there is only one pair who roll lanceros and they only do it once a year. Having never seen a lancero rolled, Skip had one of his rollers roll using a newpaper technique. Skip gave us La Campanas and Wanderlust to try. All in all for a small shop, El Nica Sueno produces over a million cigars a year and I was very impressed with Skip's detailed tour.
At La Zona we found a lot of cigars, they were making cigars for so many different companies and it was overwhelming. Lots of workers and lots of tobacco everywhere. By this point in the day the heat and exhaustion and aching got to us. Three factory tours in one day is a a lot and you see that in the smaller factories the process is somewhat the same. Tobacco comes in, it is sorted, sometimes fermented, then it is sorted then bunched then rolled the pressed, then it goes through QA, if it makes it past QA then it goes to the aging room then the packaging room. The analogy everyone seems to use is that we all make spaghetti but that everyone does it in their own style.
The next day the Drew Estate Cigar Safari was well under way. We made it to the Oliva family tobacco farm (not to be confused with the Miami Olivas) and were shown seeds and a fermenting barn. Later, we got to go to the fields. I really enjoyed the trip this time as last year's trip we didn't get to see any plants because they had all been harvested. The fields were plentiful and it was really cool to see a full blown plant in bloom then see other plants being grown in the shade for wrapper. The shade plants were smooth and silk and it was a sight to see. Next we went to a curing barn and learned how the leaves are stacked up and that charcoal is burned periodically to help dry out the leaves. It is damp and cool in these barns but there is plenty of circulation.
The surprise they added to Cigar Safari was to take us to a very historical rock. For those of you who don't know, each city in Nicaragua was allowed to pick their own symbol. For Esteli, they chose a painting of a shaman which is known as El Brujito. It is the symbol of Esteli and was carved in a rock high in the mountains long ago. If you notice this El Brujito is also on the Nica Rustica cigar art.
In the afternoon, we got to visit Nicaragua's oldest cigar factory, Joya de Nicaragua. This tour is always impressive since there are about 300 rollers in the factory but even here they only roll lanceros periodically throughout the year, much to my chagrin. I do like the Joya tour since they are very well organized and enjoy asking and answering questions to keep you engaged. Here is a picture from their sorting room where cigars are sorted by color. At Joya we also got to blend cigars. I went with an Ecuador Habano wrapper with a Mexican San Andres binder and ASP Ligero, Jalapa Viso and Condega Seco. We'll see how this turns out in a few months.
When we got back for dinner, Robert Caldwell was hanging out at the factory and SmokinLogan and avrus went upstairs to start Cigar Chat. I eventually hopped over to watch and so did Willy Herrera and Robert Caldwell. Since it was nakieninja's birthday, all of a sudden a cake was brought in and a Mariachi band rolled in while the show was live on air. Kind of surreal but they even broke out a pinata to smash that was full of candy. I think if they filled it with cigars it would have been way crazier!!!
The next day we headed to Drew Estate Factory II and started off in the bale warehouse this thing has literally millions of tobacco in it and it goes very high and very long. There are three years of tobacco production housed here and they take care to freeze the tobacco but also fumigate every month to make sure NO BEETLES. In the fermentation room we got to see the same tobacco aged for different periods of time and smell dat ammonia that was very pungent on the nostrils. Workers wore masks and were setting up new pilons for tobacco fermentation. Before lunch we stopped at Subculture Studios which produces all of Drew Estate's art. I always love that they always keep a piece of home in their studio as an homage to their great friends in Chicago. While in the studio I got a glimpse of some goats they were working on! twistedcircuits99 and OhSoHoppy ponied up for a tattoo and at lunch it was my idea for folks to pool up to give nakieninja a tattoo for his birthday! As you can see OhSoHoppy came back with the baddest ass tattoo that took like 4-6 hours.
Later in the afternoon we were off to Drew Estate I. Most employees take the company shuttle bus to work but a good many also bike to work. On the rolling floor it is an incredible blast of noise from rolling, pressing, bunching, and a loud clamor every inch of the floor. Music plays in the background and people are constantly in motion. I found the one girl who rolls lanceros, it was an honor to see her as she is the only one rolling L40's! Drew Estate makes 120,000 cigars a day so there are so many rollers and production is up 20% from last year if I recall correctly. While in the aging room I noticed these TAAs that Willy Herrera was mentioning about dinner but I didn't want to post anything til they made the announcement!
Eventually JD showed up and was very gracious and thankful we were there. He announced the new collaboration with Robert Caldwell and Willy Herrera called All Out Kings. It was kind of nuts being the first of the general public to learn about it on Cigar Safari. Caldwell and Willy both were enthusiastic on the new collaboration but no work had yet been done so we'll have to see what they come up with. Right after the announcement SmokinLogan and avrus were right on it making a new video for the announcement.
As the day wound down and the evening came, the last day of Cigar Safari was upon us. Our Joya de Nicaragua blends came back to us and the Drew Estate blends were fresh and ready to go. Art from Subculture Studios came back to us and it really was the beginning of the end of a great trip. All in all I think Cigar Safari is my favorite time of the year not only because I get to smoke and drink all week with SmokinLogan, avrus, realmadmonkey, OhSoHoppy, twistedcircuits99, shadowbates, and nakieninja but because you get to appreciate all the hard work that goes into growing and fermenting and rolling tobacco. There really are so many steps it takes and so many hands that go into making one cigar and it always puts things into perspective. I am glad I am back and I want to thank SmokinLogan for setting up the trip and tours and Drew Estate for being such phenomenal hosts. If you enjoy Drew Estate Cigars, I highly recommend this trip you will learn a lot about tobacco.
Cigars Smoked
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