These days, just about every top brand is filling their cigars with Nicaraguan tobacco. As cigar smokers, we just can't get enough of the stuff. This is the millennium of the full-bodied cigar and Nicaraguan tobacco
has the earthy spice to satisfy even the most punch-drunk smoker's palate.
But it wasn't always that way. And not just because smooth Dominican cigars ruled the day
. Also because Nicaragua was torn apart by war from 1979 to 1990, making the country unsafe for tobacco farmers and cigar companies.
While some leading lights of Nicaraguan tobacco like My Father and AJ Fernandez started operating in the country well after the revolution was over, many old-school companies suffered under the war only to return in the '90s and reestablish their operations.
These old-guard brands have founded their reputations on tradition, tenacity, and premium, well-aged tobacco. They've been around the block a few times and suffered setbacks that few could recover from, yet they keep producing some of the best cigars around.
Some would say that the cigar makers who fled Cuba and set up operations in the Dominican Republic or Honduras are the ultimate survivors of the cigar world. But we'd argue that these three brands deserve the title any day – after all, no one blew up the Macanudo factory, did they?
Today, the Plasencias run the largest tobacco-growing enterprise in the world. They're the foremost name in Nicaraguan tobacco and about 70% of cigars sold in the US contain Plasencia tobacco. Heck, they even discovered an entirely new tobacco region when they decided it'd be a good idea to plant Cuban-seed tobacco on the slopes of a volcano in Lake Nicaragua. Now Ometepe ranks up there with the likes of Jalapa and Condega.
Their operation is so massive because they've been involved in Nicaragua for over 50 years. Nestor's grandfather Don Sixto fled Cuba in 1963 and set up shop in Nicaragua, kick-starting the country's tobacco industry.
Just to pay him back, the Sandinistas burned Don Sixto's farms to the ground in 1978. The family fled once more, this time to neighboring Honduras, where they started a whole new set of plantations.
Nestor Plasencia became the head of the family's operations in 1986, during this period of exile. But he was determined to reclaim their lands in Nicaragua and forge a brighter future for his family and for the country that they had called home after being exiled from Cuba. So when the war ended in 1990, Nestor made the fateful decision to return to Nicaragua and rebuild his family's empire.
Within just a few years, Nestor expanded the production of cigars at Plasencia factories from just 1 million to 30 million per year. His decision to return to Nicaragua as soon as it was remotely safe enough set his family up to reap the rewards of the cigar boom of the 1990s. Thanks to the family's resilience, they're now the #1 name in tobacco. Shop Plasencia Cigars Online Now and Save!
Unlike the Plasencia's, Jose Orlando Padron wasn't in the cigar industry when he fled Cuba. He was just another refugee who found himself in Miami with no ties and no livelihood. But a friend gave him a hammer and another fronted him the money for a lawnmower and over the next few years Jose saved up enough money working as a carpenter and gardener to open a small cigar factory in Little Havana.
He achieved enough success to move to Nicaragua and start growing his own tobacco in 1970. But although he tried to avoid getting involved in the Revolution, his factory was also burned down in May of 1978. His business partner evaded gunfire to bring the last of Padron's tobacco stores into Honduras.
After a year in Honduras, Padron negotiated with the Sandinistas to return to Nicaragua. He continued to grow tobacco and roll cigars in Nicaragua until President Reagan declared an embargo against the Sandinista government in 1985. Then, like the Plasencia's, he left until the war ended in 1990. But he still only rolled cigars with Nicaraguan tobacco, using his reserves rather than growing tobacco in Honduras.
Padron's stubborn refusal to use non-Nicaraguan tobacco paid off when his son, Jorge, used some of the oldest tobaccos in his father's reserves for an anniversary blend, the 1964 Anniversary Series 30-Year. Suddenly, the Padrons became cigar royalty thanks to their potent but smooth cigars with more age on them than most high schoolers. Shop Padron Cigars Online Now and Save!
Joya de Nicaragua might not have the same reputation as the likes of Plasencia or Padron, but they're the oldest cigar brand in Nicaragua and their history is inextricably tied to the history of their country.
Joya de Nicaragua was founded in 1968, just four years after the first tobacco farms were founded in the country. It achieved moderate success in the years before the Revolution and was even the official White House cigar during the Nixon administration. When then-president Anastasio Somoza discovered that Nixon had stocked the White House with Joyas, he bought the company and planned to expand operations to capitalize on US demand for non-Cuban cigars.
But then, Somoza was overthrown by the Sandinistas. During the initial fighting, the Sandinistas burned down the Joya factory and then pro-Somoza forces bombed the factory, thinking that it was a Sandinista stronghold. Then, to add insult to injury, the company was nationalized. The profits were divided among the factory workers, but the company suffered from a lack of leadership and started to flounder. And when Reagan issued the embargo, the brand moved to Honduras and contracted production out to none other than the Plasencias. But Somoza had taken the trademarks and blend recipes with him when he fled Nicaragua and the brand suffered.
After the Revolution ended and the Plasencias moved back to Nicaragua, Joya was left a shell of its former self. Until that is, it was bought by the former Sandinista Minister of Trade Martinez Cuenca in 1994. Martinez Cuenca revitalized the company and expanded its operations to take advantage of the burgeoning cigar boom. Joya thrived during the boom and Cuenca eventually saved up enough money to buy back the trademarks that Somoza had sold to Altadis.
Now, Joya is unified under one banner and is going stronger than ever. It achieved mainstream success in the US in the 2010s through a distribution partnership with Drew Estate and has become ever more popular in a market that clamors for everything Nicaraguan.
The history of Joya de Nicaragua may be messy and violent, but its future is bright. Shop Joya De Nicaragua Cigars Online Now and Save!