Industry legend Ernesto Perez Carrillo. Every industry has legends. Some unsung heroes, some famous names. A few names that will remain in everybody’s memories forever, most will fade away over time. Some that have left us, some still alive. These legends all played their part to make the cigar industry what it is today. And they deserve to be remembered, to be recognized for their achievements.
Starting From Scratch
When you can turn a small, local, brand into one of America’s best-known cigars and sell your company to the largest manufacturer of handmade cigars you did well. When that manufacturer is only interested in the deal if you sign a 10-year contract to be part of their team, you’re a master. But if you, after those 10 years, start again from scratch and turn your new company into a huge success? Then you are an industry legend. And Ernesto Perez Carrillo did all of this.
Ernesto Perez-Carrillo sees his first piece of daylight in 1952. And he also had to leave Cuba after the Castro revolution. Perez-Carrillo left Cuba at age 7 and never returned. His father was a politician under the reign of Batista, Cuba wasn’t safe for the Perez-Carrillo family.
Born Into Tobacco
Besides being a politician, his father was also a tobacco broker, tobacco grower, and cigar manufacturer in Cuba. He owned the El Credito factory in Havana. He was the senator for Pinar del Rio. And in between Havana and Pinar del Rio was his tobacco farm in San Cristobal.
In the late 1960s, the old man saved enough money to start a small factory in the Cuban district of Miami. And the factory got its name from the factory in Havana: El Credito. In 1970, Ernesto joined his father although it was part-time. The company was small but grew when the La Gloria Cubana brand was added. The rights to produce the brands had been in the family from before they left Cuba. Two years later, Ernesto made a commitment to his father and the cigar industry. His father received an offer to sell the company, but young Ernesto didn’t want to sell. He became fully involved.
One of the first things he changed was the packaging of La Gloria Cubana. The original artwork from Cuba became the artwork for the Miami-made La Gloria Cubana as well. But he didn’t change the blend until ten years after his father passed away in 1980. But the blend change of 1990 did change his world. Cigar Aficionado rated the cigar in 1992 and La Gloria Cubana suddenly was one of the hottest brands in the industry at the start of the emerging cigar boom. The demand exploded. Perez-Carrillo had to open a factory in the Dominican Republic as well. In the mid-1990s, he would produce more than 7 million cigars a year.
At the end of the boom, cigar giant General Cigars came with an offer. Don Corleone would say that it was an offer that Perez-Carrillo could not refuse. They wanted the Dominican factory, the Miami factory, the El Credito brand, and the La Gloria Cubana brand. But most of all, they wanted Ernesto Perez-Carrillo as a paid employee running the show. And Perez-Carrillo agreed to the deal.
The El Credito cigar bands still bear the EPC initials. That didn’t change even though he’s no longer the owner of the brand. And the freedom that General Cigars provided fueled Perez-Carrillo’s urge to experiment. The 58 and 60 ring gauges on the La Gloria Cubana Serie R for example gave him room to add extra tobacco. The Godfather of large ring gauge cigars is the name he earns. And it started all under the umbrella of General Cigars.
Little over 10 years ago, Perez-Carrillo was ready to say goodbye to the brand he loves so dear. It was time to kiss La Gloria Cubana goodbye. And to start all over again, as an independent cigar manufacturer. But with his family by his side. The third generation, his son Ernesto Jr and his daughter Lissette. Together they founded a new factory, Tabacalera La Alianza in the Dominican Republic. And the EPC Cigars brand, with much success. The E.P. Carrillo Encore Majestic was Cigar Aficionados’ #1 cigar of the year. And The Godfather of large ring gauge cigars reputation is confirmed with the Inch line.
But besides making brands for himself, Perez-Carrillo is also making private labels. Some lesser-known brands such as Viking for the Norwegian cigar enthusiast Hakon Aanonsen. But also for Crowned Heads with the Four Kicks for example. Alec & Bradley Rubin work with Perez-Carrillo for the Alec Bradley Gatekeeper. The limited-edition Balmoral Signature Series Dueto is a collaboration with EPC and made at La Alianza. Boutique Blends works with Perez-Carrillo for the Oliveros All-Stars. And there are more, too many to mention, with even more to come.
With a history like this, it’s undeniable. A series about Cigar Industry legends isn’t complete without including Ernesto Perez Carrillo.