George “Rodrigo” Rodriguez, founder of Rodrigo Cigars, found himself alone on foreign soil with time running out and no one to turn to until destiny intervened. By sheer coincidence, Rodriguez stumbled upon an elderly native smoking a churchill outside of a popular cigar factory on the Dominican Republic. This ‘astute viejo’ sensed Rodriguez’ frustration and directed him down a desolate path that would eventually lead to the birth of Rodrigo Cigars.
Rodrigo Cigars was established in 2010 by this passionate cigar enthusiast who wanted to learn more about the industry that he fell in love with over 20 years ago. So Rodriguez decided to take a trip to the Dominican Republic where serendipity took over and placed him in the right place at the right time.
“There is so much satisfaction out of the journey of making cigars. All the value of taking an idea and taking it to fruition is such a satisfaction to me,” said Rodriguez.
‘Form follows passion’ is the company’s mantra. And, after spending nearly three hours smoking the Boutique Blend G5 with the man himself at Ruben’s Smoke Stack in Hackensack, NJ, Ultimatecigarparty.com quickly learned just how passionate Rodriguez is about his company and the industry to which he pledges allegiance.
“You have to be passionate about it and love it enough to be out there in the flesh meeting people. It’s enjoyable,” said Rodriguez. “When I walk into a humidor it is like walking into an art gallery for me.”
Rodriguez adds a bit of artistic flair to his passion, and he regularly refers to the cigar making process as a work of art. His ideal cigar has to ‘speak’ to him through all the senses from presentation to construction to great aroma and palatable smoke.
“I love the creative aspect of blending. I love to see people exercising their creativity,” said Rodriguez.
Rodrigo Cigars is a true boutique brand of small batch cigars hand rolled at the Tabacalera William Ventura on the Dominican Republic. It currently has three core blends in its arsenal with other ‘limited edition’ blends on the way. The Habano Clasico, Boutique Blend and La Fortaleza are the brand’s mainstays with the La Fortaleza Forte (5.5 x 50) being the best seller. The La Fortaleza is an all ligero full-bodied, full-flavored smoke that is made up of six high quality tobaccos intended to deliver a memorable smoking experience. This blend is stronger than the other two in the Rodrigo family but fits perfectly into the American market that demands strong cigars. Originally, the La Fortaleza was going to be a Dominican puro but finding consistent Dominican wrapper leaves was, and still is, near impossible.
“In order for you to buy a cigar a second time it has to leave a lasting impression on your palate and your brain,” said Rodriguez. “The entire La Fortaleza line does that. And, six quality tobaccos in the blend help bring that memorable experience to life.”
Rodriguez is ‘very involved’ with the blending process behind Rodrigo Cigars. He comes up with a profile and works side-by-side with Henderson Ventura, William’s son, to create the perfect blend.
“I come up with the profile. For example, I knew I wanted an all ligero cigar in the La Fortaleza so I worked with Henderson Ventura to create the blend. William comes in to refine the blend to make sure we are using the right tobaccos that we can get on a consistent basis,” said Rodriguez.
Rodriguez doesn’t believe in releasing new blends under his brand ‘just because’. For him, it’s an artistic process. The timing must be right, the cigar must be perfect and the presentation must be inspirational. He wants smokers to appreciate his core blends first before introducing new ones. With that said, this coming June Rodrigo Cigars will be releasing the Corona Project – a unique concept reserved for the corona vitola.
“I wanted to do this for a long time,” said Rodriguez. “When blending a new cigar we usually start with a corona or robusto size to work with the blend to really get the characteristics of the tobacco. For me, that vitola is where the tobacco shines.”
The Corona Project will be a limited edition release of several hundred boxes per blend. The Project will feature cigars of different wrappers but constructed of the same filler blend, all released in the corona size. The first release will be of a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper. Then they will release the same exact blend with a different wrapper so smokers can truly taste the characteristics of the variety of tobacco. Once that blend is exhausted Rodrigo Cigars will create a totally different blend with the same concept.
The cigar industry is an ‘old school’ business founded on consumer loyalty and budding relationships. The process of growing tobacco, rolling cigars and schmoozing with tobacconists hasn’t changed in 100 years. Building consumer trust has been, and always will be vital to building a successful brand and George Rodriguez stands out as a world-class gentleman who is an embodiment of that theory. He believes his company is a ‘relationship company’ built on personal relationships between smokers, shop owners and him – each sharing a common passion for the leaf.
“I would rather have 100 people who really love my cigar than a million people who are not passionate about it or are behind it,” said Rodriguez.