Gary Griffith, founder of Emilio Cigars and House of Emilio, is a long-time cigar smoker who has spent a lifetime submerged in all things cigars – smoking, studying and admiring. But, it wasn’t until twelve years ago when Griffith retired from the construction industry and took a part-time job at a local brick-and-mortar cigar shop that roused his desire to start blending his own brand.
“After thousands of hours spent in cigar factories just absorbing all the wonderful knowledge I could gain, I decided to try my hand at blending,” said Griffith. “I’m very passionate about the industry, the people within it and the tobacco.”
Emilio Cigars, founded in 2010, blends some of the industry’s most flavorful boutique cigars primarily using specially selected tobaccos from Nicaragua and Honduras to create a unique smoking experience. In 2010 Griffith was invited to Central America for a blending trip where he met master blender AJ Fernandez, creator of the acclaimed San Lotano cigar, who enlightened him on the process and art of blending. Out of respect for the master blender, Griffith produced the AF1 and AF2 and sold them to a number of tobacco shops. To his amazement, the cigars took off and the rest is history.
The process of choosing perfect tobacco to create the ideal blend can be painstaking and stressful at times, but the close attention to small details and top-notch quality control are what make Griffith’s cigars so enjoyable.
“It’s a matter of building a base blend knowing what each tobacco can contribute and refining the blend from there,” said Griffith. “It’s the tobacco that drives the process.”
When working with smaller factories Griffith hand selects the tobaccos himself but when working alongside someone like AJ Fernandez, Griffith relies on Fernandez’ vast knowledge and experience to come up with a blend close to what he is looking for, then asks for changes to enhance or de-emphasize certain flavors, if necessary.
The AF1 is the best-selling line of Emilio Cigars. It is cloaked in a succulent San Andres Maduro wrapper that envelopes a Nicaraguan binder and fillers. It is available in four vitolas and produces a complex smoke that combines caramel sweetness with coffee, black pepper and wood notes.
“Our AF1 has consistently been our best seller and I assume that’s because it appeals to a broad range of smokers,” said Griffith.
House of Emilio is a distribution company that supports, promotes and distributes independently owned boutique cigars like Nomad, Rodrigo, Epicurean, Guayacan, 1502, Herederos de Robaina, and Bodega Premium Blends. Many smaller boutiques look to Griffith for additional visibility and retail presence.
Despite his booming presence in the cigar industry, those close to Griffith know that he is a regular, small-town guy who enjoys spending quality time with family and friends while puffing on a premium stogie.
“I have no personal favorite cigar. There are so many on the market that I truly enjoy trying as many as I can,” he said. “As to a personal ‘style’ of cigar, I do favor cigars with a certain herbal undertone and that’s just a personal preference.”
This lover of the leaf has always been a bit of a ‘workaholic’ involved in several successful businesses. He considers himself a ‘hardcore birder’ who enjoys genealogical research and data collection. He also believes firmly in public service and dedicates much of his valuable free time on his local planning commission, local historical society and state forestry board.
For all those cigar enthusiasts out there looking for advice from a budding blender, Griffith recommends, “Find your niche and smoke within it. It’s not all uncommon for me to recommend a cigar to a consumer that isn’t even part of the House of Emilio when I don’t feel we have a good match,” he said. “My thinking has always been that you recommend what best fits the individual, and avoid being self-serving.”