SMOKING FROM SCRATCH
Cigar Memoir will be presenting a series of interviews with figures we feel are making important contributions to cigar culture. Initially these features will focus on upstarts making their own way in our sometimes scattered industry. Our aim is to bring to light the motivations and desires of the people enriching our cultural experience. It is our pleasure to present Scott De La Peña, founder of Hermosa cigars.
CM: We’ll get right to the heart of it. When did it start for you with cigars?
Scott de la Peña: As a kid being around family (namely my uncle), and friends father’s who smoked. I was drawn to the aroma, and the lifestyle which surrounded them. Watching blending, rolling, etc. The craftsmanship.
CM: Tell us about the initial spark that went from “I love smoking cigars” to “I am going to create my own cigar”.
Scott de la Peña: I was sitting with my girlfriend, debating whether or not to accept another position in the film industry. She encouraged me to start a business around my passion. Which is cigars. We put it into action. I thought I needed to go all in. No safety net so to speak. I needed the struggle in order to stay creative and hungry.
CM: So why make your own cigar as opposed to opening a store or being involved in the cigar industry in another capacity?
Scott de la Peña: I thought about, researched and had investors at one point to go the retailer route, but being in California, the stigmatization around tobacco in general is prevalent. Landlords were reticent to put a lounge in their properties. So after losing investors due to time constraints, I began to reconsider. I enjoy the creative process and wanted instead to create a blend and shift my focus to creating.
CM: You’ve decided you want to create a cigar. You did some research, but where did you go from there? What steps did you take to make it a reality?
Scott de la Peña: I really had no idea. It literally unfolded before me. I had no cigar contacts other than B&M’s, social media groups and twitter users who I was following. I had already begun by creating a Hermosa Cigars fan page and Twitter account, so people literally began asking. I knew I wanted a traditional Cuban cigar, and set out to find a manufacturer. There were so many, and it was impossible to narrow it down. But I took a chance on a small cigar maker who, at the time was literally only making his blend, Noel Rojas of Guayacan cigars. I reached out to Noel via Twitter direct message and he got back to me almost immediately. We immediately hit it off and I knew I wanted to work with him. I wanted someone who I could grow with and who I trusted. We literally consider each other family. He, like my father’s side of the family is a Cuban refugee. I wanted his story and I knew with his story and my marketing and background in the film industry we could do big things.
He sent me five different blends. From the first cold draw on the very first cigar I lit, LIGA #8, I knew I found someone special. The next day I poured a cup of Cuban cafecito and drew on LIGA #7, a torpedo. It was surreal. It cold drew like a Behike. I lit the cigar and the aroma took me back to my uncles cigars. Like baking bread. Just so good. I drew on it, set it down and called Noel. I said, “I have the blend. How do we start?” He suggested coming down and starting. I made all the arrangements and took off down to Esteli Nicaragua. I’m glad it isn’t coming easy because I want to savor every moment. Our story in the end will be even better.
CM: So you smoked the Liga #7 and you knew it was special. Going from there, what was the process like in Nicaragua. Were there any tweaks to the blend? If so, what were you trying to capture that it may have been missing?
Scott de la Peña: Perfect question. We did tweak it slightly, if only to add a touch more strength. We spent seven days rolling and duplicating the blend over and over. I smoked probably ten cigars a day. The flavor I wanted was Cuban with the first third carrying an uncharacteristic spice. Then opening up into a bouquet of complexity. We did our best to accomplish this and hope that we did. The cigar is designed to never burn hot. It’s designed to burn evenly across the blend so that each pull has all of the blend with each mouthful of smoke. Sorry if this is incoherent, I’m drinking whisky.
CM: You had the name from the get go, but did you already have an image in mind when formulating the Hermosa’s identity? The band being a prime example.
Scott de la Peña: Yes. The morning my girlfriend and I conceptualized the brand it included a woman’s silhouette. The silhouette on the band is my girlfriend’s. I wanted vintage and elegance.
CM: How has the reception been to the Hermosa from smokers? What sort of flavors or sensations, if any, did smokers notice that even you might not have considered at first?
Scott de la Peña: The reception so far has been overwhelmingly positive. There have been maybe a handful of people who have not been thoroughly impressed with the cigar. They cannot dispute the overall construction of the cigar. There was simply something they did not find in the flavor profile. Comments such as: “it’s really good…but it’s missing something.” As the cigar maker whose palate is on trial, so to speak, it’s tough not to zero in on those comments in spite of every single review I’ve had so far where the reviewer ultimately wanted to purchase a box. As to flavors being noted: I’ve heard the usual: “coco, spice, earth, coffee, nutty.” To the more apt descriptions: bread, espresso, coffee bean, cubanesque, white pepper, caramel, and hazelnut.”
The one I know I wanted in the beginning, yet hadn’t been able to describe, would have to be bread. I made descriptions such as, “the aroma is like something baking in the oven.” That something clearly was pan (Spanish for bread). So the tradition of a postre (pastry) and cafecito (Cuban espresso) I hope is embodied in the nuances of this complex blend.
CM: What adult beverage do you like to pair with the Hermosa and how do they compliment one another?
Scott de la Peña: Tequila Añejo, whisky, a big California Cabernet, and coffee. Each of the above share characteristics found in the Hermosa.
Whisky – Peat moss
Tequila – The cedar notes after one year aged in barrel.
Cabernet – Currant, slight spice
Coffee – It strips the palate clean, allowing the blend to pop in the retro-hale, jumping off of the back of the tongue. Especially with each pull on the cigar when the mouth coats with almost chew-able smoke.
CM: Where do you plan to take the label going forward?
Scott de la Peña: I will be adding two new vitolas to this blend. And then the same 5 vitolas in a Maduro. I am also working on apparel and a private label rum.
CM: Looking ahead to the future, what type of cigar would you like to create? You’ve already created a Cubanesque blend, but what would you like to capture with future releases?
Scott de la Peña: Very simply: I want to affect every palate. The palate registers your experience. I want occasional smokers and aficionados alike, to be affected by my cigars. It’s chemistry. I want to leave an impression on you. I want you to finish my cigar, look for the band, place it carefully in your pocket and try to figure out what just happened to you, while ensuring you never forget the place and time that it did.
CM: Where do you envision yourself and Hermosa five years out?
Scott de la Peña: I’m looking to grow the brand itself. I want to do apparel, and private label liqueur. I want Hermosa to be a household name while maintaining a boutique attitude and flavor. But more importantly, making quality products that people value. I look to Padrón’s example for cigars: one line of one of the best damned cigars. Consistency being the objective.The boutique Hermosa is currently quite exclusive, so if you would like to get a hold of some please contact Scott by E-mail, Facebook or Twitter so he can point you in the right direction.