Interview with Jack Torano of Espinosa Cigars

Espinosa Premium Cigars was founded in 2012, by Erik Espinosa, a cigar impresario with more than twenty years in the cigar industry. Espinosa also owns La Zona cigar factory in Esteli, Nicaragua. The brand is known for crafting memorable cigars such as the 601, @ZUCAR, Crema, Laranja, Las 6 Provinicas, Wasabi and Warzone. In 2019, the company hired Jack Torano as its Director of Sales. Torano is related to the Torano family and at one time worked for the Torano Family Cigar Company. Prior to joining Espinosa Cigars, Jack work for General Cigar Co. as a brand ambassador. Neptune had the opportunity to speak with Jack about Espinosa Premium Cigars and its highly rated cigars.  

Neptune: What made you decide to work for Espinosa Cigars?

Jack Torano: I’ve always stayed in close contact with Erik. He is one of my confidants. Every time something would happen to me in this industry, he was one of the guys I would always talk to. I came close to working with Erik in 2016 when I was leaving Roberto P. Duran Premium Cigars. We were ready to pull the trigger but General came calling and the opportunity to get back together with the Torano brand was very exciting to me. So, I gave that a shot for two and a half years. When I saw it was coming to an end, I went back to Erik. He said, “I’m ready to hire you. You should leave General right now.” And I’m like I can’t do that because I get a nice bonus at the end of the year. So, we had everything negotiated, and he waited for me. Finally, when General let me go, I called Erik and said, “I’m on board.” I guess it was something like five years coming. 

Neptune: What do you like about working for Erik?

Jack: Espinosa cigars have always been some of my favorite cigars. I can’t work for a company if I really don’t love their cigars. I’ve always wanted to be a part of Erik’s world. And it truly is Erik’s world. I’ve never worked for a company that has the following that this company has. Not even in the heyday of Torano cigars did they have the kind of following that Erik has. And it’s pretty cool to see that attention. I know there are a lot of cigar companies out there that has the social media presence like Tatuaje or Drew Estate. But Erik is up there. And it’s pretty cool to have that cult-like following.  

Neptune: How long have you been working with Erik?

Jack: I’m coming up to the end of my second year. We had a great first year. We could not anticipate 2020 [the COVID19 pandemic], but as soon as all this craziness ends, I think we are going to have a really good future.  

Neptune: Two of the cigars that contributed to Espinosa’s cult-like following were the Psychedelic Turtle and the Comfortably Numb. Are those two related? Did they have a theme behind them?

Jack: They weren’t related. Comfortably Numb is a private label cigar. The Psychedelic Turtle was a Cigar Dojo creation. They wanted the Psychedelic Turtle. It was a shame we didn’t make more of them. It was a great cigar. We only made about 300 10-packs and they sold in about three hours. I did get to smoke it and it was phenomenal. There will probably be a Psychedelic Turtle II sometime next year. Comfortably Numb since we don’t really get to see it here, I really don’t get to smoke a lot of it. But both are very clever ideas, and that’s Erik working with Dojo and the other company putting those ideas together. Hopefully, we will get to do a pretty cool idea with Neptune pretty soon.  

Neptune: What can you tell us about the re-release of the Azucar?

Jack: Azucar was a predicate blend. It came out a long, long time ago. We didn’t have anything to offer in the flavor category. No one knows how long it’s going to last with the FDA rulings. Flavored cigars might be going away but who can guess when. So, why not bring back a cigar everyone is asking for. It’s doing great for us. It is a vanilla sugar tipped cigar. It has a little bit of flavor. It is a great gateway cigar. It is a great way to introduce people to cigars and then slowly work them into cigars that don’t have flavors.  

Neptune: On the Azucar band, the name starts with the “@” symbol. Why is that?

Jack: I think it was a copyright or trademark issue. We had to call it the @ZUCAR. The original name was AZUCAR, but once it went away somebody else picked it up. We just brought it back with the “@” symbol.  

Neptune: Where does Erik find the inspiration to make such unique cigars like @ZUCAR, Wasabi?

Jack: The funny thing is that Wasabi was an experiment. For Wasabi, we made a hundred 10-count boxes. We wanted a candela wrapped cigar, but none of us are really big fans of pure candela. Erik and the team decided to add a Habano tip to it. What you’re really feeling in your mouth is Habano not candela. This softens that grassy or raw candela taste. It really balanced it out. We really expected it be a one-time, 100 10-count box cute kind of thing. But it really took off. It sells like crazy. It sells great at events. People love it. Right around St. Patrick’s Day they go crazy for it.  

Neptune: Tell me about the Las 6 Provincias. The boxes are gorgeous.

Jack: The Las 6 Provincias is a tribute to the original six provinces in Cuba. Each release is named after one of the provinces. The LHB, which stands for La Havana and has an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, was the first release. The second release was the Matanza. Las 6 Provincias was Erik Junior’s brainchild. It is made up of 500 unique individual boxes that are handmade, and hand painted. It needs a trade show type of display. People need to see that cigar. Pictures don’t really do it justice. We were about to release Las Villas, the third installment, but then they cancelled the PCA convention and we were hoping to release it for TPE in January but that got pushed back to May. This has given Junior more time to tweak it and really work on it.  

Neptune: What can you tell us about the Espinosa Elite Club?

Jack: The Espinosa Elite Club has about 150 members. They get to test certain blends. To join, the members pay a fee. The majority of the time they get a bunch of swag: t-shirts, cutters, and medals. They also get cigars in unique sizes that we don’t always offer to the public. And in this last batch, they were sent this special Elite box full of all of these cigars and includes the next Las 6 Provincias with the factory band. They get it three times a year.  

Neptune: What are the new Espinosa cigars?

Jack: We just did the new Warhead 6. The cool thing about the Warhead is that it was developed to show people how the different sizes affect the blend. A new brand comes out with three or four different vitolas and each one has its own nuance. It smokes differently. You’ll always get some people that favor the robusto or the toro or the Churchill, but there is always one size that hits the sweet spot. It hits right where the blender intended it to be. The Warhead uses the same blend every year but in a different size. This year we came out with a 5 by 58 figurado. We’ve had lanceros, coronas. We just change the size, and it changes the taste of the blend completely.

Neptune: Where are Espinosa cigars made?

Jack: Half of our portfolio is made at Erik’s La Zona factory in Esteli, Nicaragua. The other half is made at AJ Fernandez’s factory in Ocotal, Nicaragua [it was formerly the San Rafael factory, which was purchased by Fernandez from Fidel Olives in 2016 and renamed San Lotano, according to “A.J. Fernandez Opens New Factory, Producing 601 Brand” an article which appeared in Cigar Aficionado, December 28, 2016]. Nobody in the business has access to the type of tobacco that AJ has. We wanted to do business with AJ because we wanted that tobacco. We gave him the 601 line. He actually did the Warhead and the La Bomba. He also did the Las 6 Provincias. Our core lines … the Crema, the Habano, the Laranja, those are still made at La Zona.  

Neptune: For someone who has never tried an Espinosa cigar, which one do you recommend they try first?

Jack: Laranja is everybody’s favorite cigar. It was my favorite cigar in 2015 when it first came out. It ended up being cigar #13 on Cigar Aficionado’s Top 25 Cigars of the Year by the end of the year.  

Neptune: Has any other Espinosa cigar been listed in Cigar Aficionado’s Top 25 Cigars of the Year?

Jack: In 2017, the 601 Red was #15. The Habano was #11 in 2019. And in 2009, the 601 Blue was #6. For a company that doesn’t advertise on Cigar Aficionado, they show us a lot of love and they truly love our cigars, which is very impressive.  

Neptune: Has Espinosa done any collaborations recently?

Jack: This year [2020] we collaborated with General Cigar. We came up with the Warzone. It is a limited release of 3,000 boxes. It did so well that we will be re-introducing it soon as a short Churchill. The Warzone robusto received a 93 rating on Cigar Aficionado in 2020.  This makes it eligible for their Cigar of the Year. The blend was developed by our own Hector Alfonso who runs operations, and he is our master factory blender along with Justin Andrews from General.  

Neptune: Tell us about Crema de Laranja.

Jack: It is a special event only cigar. It is the result of virtual blending. It features the best of our Crema and our highly rated Laranja. It’s a barber pole that features the Crema’s Connecticut Shade wrapper and the Laranja’s Brazilian wrapper.  

Neptune: Which is your favorite Espinosa cigar?

Jack: One of my favorite Espinosa cigars is the 601 Green Label Oscuro La Punta which is a figurado. It’s incredible.  

Published January 10, 2021

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