Justo Eiroa Discusses the Evolution and Future of JRE Tobacco

Justo Eiroa Discusses the Evolution and Future of JRE Tobacco
Date: May 2024
Author: lukasmagdeleyns

In the beginning of April, I was invited to Lounge 33 near Brussels, Belgium. There I had the pleasure of meeting Vivi Eiroa, the daughter of Justo Eiroa, the CEO of JRE Tobacco. Being a fan of the brand, I asked her if it would be possible to sit down with her father to conduct an interview for Cigar Inspector, and she agreed right away. But who is Justo Eiroa?

Justo Eiroa

Justo Eiroa is the CEO of the JRE Tobacco company. He was born into the cigar business. His father had his own company growing and selling tobacco out in Honduras. Back in the day, Honduras basically became the only alternative for the US market to get their raw material for making cigars, this due to the Cuban Embargo. From a young age, Justo was always around tobacco farms, and he was involved in the process of growing tobacco, where he developed his passion for cigars.

Early Beginnings

I wasn’t much involved in the Camacho operations; that was more for my father and brother. I was more in the background overseeing the farm operation. Our company was sold in 2008, and the idea was that my brother would keep working there for Davidoff and that we would supply them with the raw material. Like I said, back then I was more on the backside taking care of the crops and so on. I had no commercial expertise; this was more for my brother and father. The company was sold, and we had a non-compete but after a while, Davidoff decided to no longer purchase any of our tobaccos.

So, in 2016 the non-compete expired, and we came out with Aladino. We brought back many of the old blends because we still had the tobacco to make these, and this became a success.

The Company Today

On average, we have about 350 people working for us, but this depends on the time of the year. When it’s time to start harvesting and sorting out the leaves, the number of seasonal workers can count up to 600. We produce a fair number of cigars each year. Last year we had around 3-4 million cigars made at our factory. This is just a fraction of what we used to make, back in the days when we still had Camacho and so we produced around 15 million annually.

Why Corojo Seed?

One of the things that made us very known in the industry and successful in the past with our other brands like Camacho and La Fontano, was thanks to the Corojo leaf. You see, the Corojo leaf is one of the Cuban seeds that were very popular in the golden era of Cuban Cigars. By using this, you become very successful. The leaves have this unique profile, a mild aroma, a little bit of spice but at the same time, they have this natural sweetness. Corojo booked our success in the past, but it also makes the success of our brands like Aladino today. Other than the Corojo seed we grow Habano, Cameroon, San Andres. We grow a little bit of everything.

What is the Advantage of Growing Tobacco in Honduras?

Honduras has always been a very dominant grower in the industry. During the cigar booms in the eighties and nineties, we were the largest manufacturer of tobacco in the world. Nowadays, Honduras is in third place, there are two countries that produce more than us: Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. Honduras was one of the first countries that started producing tobacco after Cuba in the sixties. So, it has already been proven that Honduran tobacco is a wonderful leaf that blends really well. In today’s market, you will see a lot of Honduran tobacco being used in many different brands.

The Jamastran Valley

Our farm is situated in the Jamastran Valley in Honduras. And those farms have started the pilot programs back in 1961 and they are probably the oldest farm operations of tobacco in all of Central America beside Cuba. What makes this valley special is that it’s situated 500/600 meters in altitude. We’re looking at a very warm, tropical area that has very rich volcanic soil. By having the combination of heat and rich soil, it allows the tobacco to become very aromatic.

The Taste of 1960

The Aladino brand is well known for delivering a flavor palette based on the cigars we found in the sixties. The reason we do this is very simple. If you look at our bands, they have 1961-1974 on them. According to my father who lived during that time period, this was the golden age of Cuban Cigars. Cuban cigars were known worldwide, JFK was smoking them, Churchill was smoking them, and this is where Cuba exploded as a cigar producer. But when Cuba changed government, the entire environment changed. My dad believed that 1961-1974, that Aladino is the brand that brings you back to the golden age. Aladino refers to the genie in the bottle, and we try to bring back the magic of this period by delivering cigars that have a good draw, good flavor, and a medium body. This is the essence of Aladino, to bring you back to the golden era of Cuban Cigars. Back in the sixties, the flavor palette that we were used to have was a mild to medium-bodied cigar that wants to give you a European palette. A European palette consists of smooth cigars that are very Cuban-like. And I think that in today’s market we are one of the few that can really match the Cuban taste.

If you look at our Clásico line for me, it is like smoking a Montecristo Edmundo, and the Cameroon series really matches up with a Hoyo De Monterrey Epicure No.2. That is our strength; we match the Cuban cigars that people are used to but are hard to find these days.

The Three Cigar Lines

For the moment we have 3 cigar lines that we manufacture. The Aladino is our most known brand and is available in US markets and European markets. The other 2 lines are the Tatascan and the Rancho Luna. These last 2 are currently just for the US market, but we hope to introduce them to Europe very soon. For the moment our bestselling cigar line is the Aladino and the Tatascan is number 2. But very fast-growing is our Rancho Luna Line, and we hope that they will catch up with Aladino volumes, and this would put us in a very good position. The Tatascan is like we had in our previous brand like Camacho, it is a sweet tip cigar, and sweet tips are a normal cigar, but you just have a little sweetness on the cap, and this wears off during the smoking. This type of cigars tends to do really good with the younger audience that doesn’t smoke cigars yet and want to start. Also, for younger people that smoke cigarettes or flavored cigars, they will find it easier to switch with a sweet tip cigar.

The Aladino Way to Cure Tobacco

At Aladino, they have a special way to cure the tobacco. After harvesting, the tobacco goes to the curing barns and they remain there for around 60 days. Afterwards, they go into large piles to receive their first fermentation. In here a natural process takes place that decomposes the ammonia that the leaves have, and this is a process of oxidation. Once the tobacco starts to age, more and more ammonia gets out and we try to expel all of the ammonia. Depending on the priming (seco, viso, or ligero) the process will take a longer time. Thicker leaves need a longer time to expel the ammonia but overall, we’re looking at an initial fermentation of 12 to 36 months. Our process is very traditional like all the Cubans do, but we like to work with aged tobacco to ensure the taste of a smooth smoke. The age of our leaves depends on the priming. Our lower leaves get a fermentation of about 8-12 months, the leaves in the middle will get a fermentation of about 12-15 months, and the highest leaves will get 24 or more months to age.

Thoughts About Aging Cigars at Home?

Well, we normally have an inventory of cigars between 6 months to a year. We like to keep our cigars after they are rolled so that we can age them for a little while. The more you age a cigar, the better they come out with a limit of how much you want to age them. But normally, if you have the proper humidity and temperature and so, a cigar will last for a very long time. The more you age, the better the cigar will be for the smoker. And I think that we do this very well. I feel like the minimum age a cigar should get is 6 months. I don’t know if many companies do this because it is very hard to keep up with production. Normally your tobacco already received some aging during the fermentation of the leaves, but I think when you age a rolled cigar it will improve the quality by 30 to 50 percent. In our aging rooms, the humidity will go down to 55 or 60 percent because when you put the cigars in a dryer room you will keep extracting the ammonia, and you will extract the bitterness in your cigar.

The Perfect Pairing

This is a very hard question because it depends on the time of the day and the cigar you’re smoking. My daughters are getting me into tequila, so after the 5 or 6 shot every cigar will taste good. But if it’s up to me, I really like pairing with red wine because the palate taste of a cigar in combination with red wine works really well. I also like to pair with scotch, but it depends also on what you are doing. You see, cigars can be used at every event, so depending on the occasion, I will pair with a certain drink.

Price Increasing, New World, New Price?

Everything in the world has gone up in price the last couple of years. If you look at our boxes, they used to cost us 4 dollars to make 1 box. Nowadays, the same box will cost us around 8 dollars, so they’ve doubled. All the products that we need for growing tobacco have not doubled; they have tripled or quadrupled in price. Fertilizer has tripled, and Honduras is the most expensive country to grow and manufacture cigars in the world. Our costs are probably 30 percent more than in the Dominican Republic and double as much as Nicaragua. So, we have a constant price increase of 10 percent every year on our cigars to manage all the costs. But still, I think that Aladino today is still in everyone’s sweet spot.

Global Warming

Does global warming have an effect on growing tobacco? I got to tell you, I have been speaking to a lot of paleontologists, and absolutely, global warming is something that is going on. They asked me, where are they finding all the dinosaur bones at? All the bones they found are situated in Canada, Utah, Minnesota in which today is winter. This used to be a tropical environment, so it’s a process of the earth. But absolutely, you can see there is a climatic change. Before we had very strict patterns. Rains would start in Honduras around May and then we would start growing tobacco in October/November. Nowadays, we start to push back a little bit because the cycle has moved 30-40 days afterward.

How to Blend a Cigar

My father and I come together every year after the harvest, and we sit and start making blends. For example, our new cigar, the Fuma Noche that is coming out, is part of my blends; the Connecticut and the Clásico are one of my blends but my father and I blend very similarly. When we develop a new blend, it goes as follows. One of the things that we do first is to smoke our current portfolio. And then we see what we want differently, do you want something lighter or stronger? We start in the middle of the road where we are already at and from there, you move up or down. So, based on this, we start blending different tobaccos to go to another taste profile. It is important to start from a baseline, and our baseline is medium cigars with full flavor. The vitola that we produce the most are Robustos because these are the most popular in the market. But personally, I like a lot of the thinner ring sizes like a corona or lancero; I never really liked the bigger sizes, but I have been mistaken. A lot of customers like a bigger ring size because the cigar lasts longer, but at the same time, you get more complexity. Sometimes when you roll a bigger ring size, you need to put in more filler and binder, and these deliver different flavor profiles than thinner cigars. In a thin ring gauge, the wrapper will dominate the taste.

From Cuba to Honduras

You know, everybody wishes that it would not have happened, but it was due to political circumstances that our family left Cuba in the early 1960s. But still, I think that in the future when Cuba opens up to business and the circumstances change, we could probably (in the future) establish operations there. But for now, I would not change anything. The largest market in the world is the United States, and it has been very generous to anyone in the New World, and now the European market is opening up to us as well. The conditions in Cuba now are more difficult to produce, and therefore, I don’t think he regrets coming to Honduras.

Bayer Crop

JRE works together with a company called Bayer Crop, which has eco-friendly pesticides and new technologies that make sure everything is ecological. One of the things that you need to do is to be as ecologically friendly as possible. There are integrated pest management programs that you’re required to. For example, we try not to use pesticides, but we use hormones for the larva that starts eating the leaves. So, we have buckets with pheromones that attract the male moth so that when he goes there, he dies and doesn’t have the opportunity to mate so then we have no impact on the environment. We also have eucalyptus barriers that not only work as a windbreaker but also repel insects. We use the wood of the eucalyptus to build the curing barns and to hang the tobacco. Everything that we do is renewable on the farm.

To Our Readers

I would say that they are very lucky today. To see products that they didn’t have the chance to taste before. There are a lot of wonderful manufacturers out there with great quality. Aladino is going to be a brand that they will appreciate because it will bring them the taste that they have been used to, and this at a very fair price. I would encourage everybody to try and open up to our brand and give us your feedback. We really like when we receive feedback so that we can engage with our consumer.

Final Notes

For me, it was the first time talking to Justo, and I must say what a great guy he is! I really liked talking to him about our beloved industry, and I really look forward to the new lines that are coming out to the European market. The first time I smoked the Aladino Clásico, it really equaled the taste of a Montecristo Edmundo, and even when I did a blind taste with this cigar, 9 out of 10 people believed it was an Edmundo. That’s what I like about the brand; they offer you affordable Cuban-like cigars with a good draw and an excellent flavor. I would like to thank Vivi Eiroa for making this interview happen and providing us with pictures to use in this article.

Special thanks to Justo Eiroa for making the time to talk to us and give this wonderful interview! Article written by: Lukas Magdele

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