Nish Patel, brother of Rocky Patel, highlights a few cigars. The first one is Bold by Nish Patel which is a double Maduro wrapper and binder. The next is the Rocky Patel 20th, followed by the Rocky Patel Sun Grown Maduro, and then the new Hamlet by Rocky Patel. Nish shares that when they’re blending, they can smoke up to 32 cigars in a day but they don’t smoke the whole thing. They cleanse out their palate with water during the tasting, but once they picked out a blend, they usually smoke it with some scotch or bourbon. For some, they have some cocktail. It’s all about how it matches up when your tongue is a little bit numb from the alcohol.
Listen to the podcast here:
Cigar Cafe Radio Nish Patel | Rocky Patel 20th | RP Sun Grown Maduro
We’ve got a special guest. We’ve got Nish Patel on with us. We’d like to welcome him into the show.
Thanks, it’s great to be here.
We appreciate you joining us, Nish. Nish is a good friend of our stores in Birmingham and personally. It’s exciting to have you on the show.
Thanks. Good to be here.
Nish, you’re smoking a cigar. What do you have going up?
I’m smoking one of my bowls. It’s a Connecticut Broadleaf. It’s double Maduro, double Ligero. I thought it’d be a nice morning breakfast cigar for me.
I’m telling you, I’m going to have Harris shoot me up with some air scrubbers in my office here so I can light up with you.
I’m at our place called BURN outside.
That’s your place, right?
I didn’t realize there was an outdoor area there. I didn’t know that’s where you were now.
We can seat about 80 people outside.
If that’s your breakfast cigar, do you get a mid-afternoon nap? What do you finish it with?
My next one’s going to be a twentieth. Then I’ll probably go to Sun Grown Maduro. I may go back to a bowl or Hamlet.
What do you have between four and six a day?
It depends. I only had a couple, but I was driving. I’ll probably have four or maybe five. Some days it’s one. If we’re blending, it can go all the way up to 32. When we’re blending, we’re not smoking the whole thing. We won’t smoke for a couple of weeks just to clear our palate completely out.
What do you do during the day? Do you have distilled water? Do you do anything to cleanse the palate during the tastings?
Water, but once we picked out a blend, we’ll usually smoke it with some scotch or bourbon. Most people after having a cigar, they’re having some cocktail too. You’ve got to see how it matches up when your tongue is a little bit numb from the alcohol.
That brings up an interesting question. When you are blending, what’s your process? Is it you, Rocky, Nimish and some other guys around or do you have a little panel? How do you do that?
Rocky does most of the blending. We’ll help tweak it. As far as tasting it is usually four of us. We’ll have everybody in the office try it and they’ll give their opinions. There are four guys that we know. It’s Rocky, me and a guy named Adam that has a good palate. Then we have one or two other people that have great palates that we can count on. Of course, we give it to everybody else in the office because we want to know what regular smokers also think of it.
You bring your blends back to the office and have them all try it?
Yeah. What happens is the cigars taste different down in Nicaragua and Honduras. Once we’re blending and it’s done, it ages. Then they ship them up to us. We’ll smoke them again. After they’re aged for a little bit, we might want to tweak it a little bit.
Is that because they need time to release ammonia and other things?
The ammonia and all was gone in the fermentation process. It’s just the blending of the different tobaccos. If we have a Maduro, it’s going to have a lot more moisture content on the wrapper. We’re extracting it all out of the wrapper. A Maduro will keep it above. By the time it’s delivered to us, we wanted at about 10-12% moisture in the cigar. Compared to something like a Connecticut, we can get away with nine. We’ve got to extract all that humidity out in the airconditioned rooms down there.
I have a couple of questions for if you don’t mind. I know that you started in the business with Rocky. When did you decide you wanted to get into the cigar business full-time? Did you do something in a former life? I know that you’re Rocky’s younger brother. Was it something you did right in your twenties?
I was there in LA when Rocky started out of a small room inside of a garage. At that time, I needed to survive so I was working for a different company. I started out being national sales manager. They were in the capital equipment company. Later on, I became Vice President of Sales for a pollution control company for the printing industry. I was based out of Chicago. Rocky was trying to get me on board. In 2004, he came down and met with me. He had a cigar. He said he was going to come out with and he wanted my opinion on it. I smoked it and I go, “It’s just way too strong.” My palate hadn’t fully developed yet. He goes, “I’m coming out with this cigar and it’s going to be called The Edge.” I go, “How are you packaging it? Let me look at the band.” He goes, “There’s not going to be any band. It’s going to be in 100 comp tray and that’s it.” I go, “You are nuts. Unbandaged cigar but what do I know?”
That year he goes, “We’re going to have a trade show in Las Vegas. It’s called RTDA. Why don’t you come down there and see if you like it? We’ll work something out.” I was still working for my other company. I flew out there last minute. We were staying at Fremont or something like that. It’s one of those hotels that aren’t there anymore. I got there and saw the booth. I met the people. I didn’t know any of the blends. I decided to follow my brother around while he was showing all the reps all the different blends. I just copied it and I loved it. That’s the year we released Sun Grown too. About a month later, I moved down to Naples. There were about five of us in the office at that time. I started in 2004 when Sun Grown and The Edge were released. I got into it at the right time.
I’m a big fan of the Rocky Patel story. I know there was some resistance to having an Indian-American in the cigar business at the time that he got in. How were the early years for him and for you? What kept you fighting and swinging?
It was tough. We started with Indian tobacco. At that time, we had other manufacturers making us the cigar. You don’t get the best tobaccos. You’re in other people’s hands making that cigar. You’d get a cigar and the first one will be dynamite. Burn would be perfect. Smoking, great. The next one you’d hand out, it starts tunneling on you. You’d need an air blower just to suck on it because it would be plugged. Tobaccos wouldn’t be fermented right and things like that. There was a lot of fighting that went on with the factories.
Then Rocky got in touch with Nestor Plasencia. He said, “We’re changing over to Rocky Patel. I want full control of the factory. When you grow some of the best tobaccos, I want to put it in my quality control over your factory. I want to take it over. We’ll have our own people there. I want to drop test everything.” Still, it was going back and forth. For the first seven, eight years, it was tough to survive. Then Vintage came on and then The Edge. We took everything under quality control. We had a 35% rejection rate on Vintage at one time. We were very anal when it comes to quality control. We drop test 100% of our cigars. Rocky built relationships. All these brick and mortars like Harris and everybody else through the years liked him. If he had a decent cigar, they’d support him. They stood by us and the rest is history.
Obviously, you keep making new cigars, new blends. It doesn’t look like you’re sitting on your laurels anytime soon, correct?
When was that moment where you look back with your brother and said, “We’re here. We made it.” When did that happen?
When the bills are being able to be paid. I still don’t think we’ve made it. We want to keep continuing to grow and get better at it. We learn every day. We’re really passionate about it. We love what we do. It’s a great industry to be in. Let’s see where the next step goes.
Thank you. Lane, I know you also like to put it on.
I’m a little bit of a Rocky Patel fan.
I smoked a lot to Rocky over the years. I got started out with what you’re talking about the Vintage 1990. I smoked a lot of the Vintage 2003 Cameroon and a lot of the whole world reserves. I didn’t know what you were talking about the quality control that you have pushed on the Vintage lines. It does show in that line because I don’t think I’ve ever had it bad. They had consistent burn. They taste great. They smell great. The aging on them is almost perfect every time.
It’s a handmade product but we try. There was a time we sent back close to 400,000 Vintages.
What happens at that point? Do they become seconds for somebody? What happens then?
Depending on how bad the cigars are. If the wrappers are okay, we can save it, maybe they’ll get another wrapper to put on it, send us a second or the band will be taken off and the factory will send it to sell it to one of the catalog houses or something else.
Harris and I are both smoking the Sun Grown Maduro. I’ve got a Petite Belicoso, Petite Robusto. It’s another great stick in your portfolio. It’s not quite as much of a heavy hitter as the Super Ligero. It’s definitely full-bodied, the Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper but it’s Maduro-aged.
The Sun Grown Maduro is a Connecticut Broadleaf and then we have a double-binder on it because that’s made in a boutique factory in Nicaragua, a lot less production, different flavor profile than anything out of Honduras. It’s got an Ecuadorian Connecticut binder in it too with another Nicaraguan binder. It’s a double Ligero and it’s smoking dynamite right now. You get a lot of chocolate and spice through it.
The burn’s good. It is a beautiful stick. It’s a super dark wrapper. It’s got one heavy vein. It’s not oily at all. It is just a pretty cigar to look at. It tastes good too.
Connecticut Broadleafs are tough because that Broadleaf wrapper does have a lot of veins on it. You’ve got to pick and choose.
When did you come up that you wanted to have your own couple of cigars? Was that always the plan or has that been a recent thing?
That’s been a recent thing and it wasn’t me. It was Rocky. I’ve always helped blend. Of course, Rocky, it’s like a dictatorship. We can blend but he has the final say. Even on our blends, he’ll smoke it and then he’ll go, “We need to tweak it a little bit,” and we’ve got to tell him why we don’t want to tweak it. At the end, he’s going to win out. We do everything as a committee as long as he has a final say.
Even with your own?
Even with my own. It’s the same. Fifteenth anniversary, he’s got a blend. He blends it. We think it needs to be tweaked. He’ll listen and we’ll change it.
You’ve got to go with the guy that had the vision, right?
Yeah. There are a lot of cigars under his name that we’ve helped with. You’ve got to do whatever it takes to make sure it’s a good cigar.
Are there any new ones that you want to talk about that you’ve come out that really excite you?
All our releases from I’m really excited about because they smoke differently than what we’ve come out with. As my palates changed, I am looking for more flavor. I do smoke full of body stuff but I do enjoy medium bodied also. This is our twentieth year in business. Who knew that time would fly that quickly? We came out with a twentieth anniversary cigar, which I think is Dynamite. It’s beautiful. Fuller side to medium but the flavor profile’s good. The packaging’s great.
My next cigar is probably going to be a Lancero in that. We came out with a third cigar at the show called Hamlet, really excited about the cigar. It doesn’t have Rocky Patel anywhere on the name of the box. It’s made in a Nicaraguan factory. If you don’t know who Hamlet is, Hamlet Paredes is a famous Cuban roller. He started out in the Partagás Factory. He worked himself through the ranks and he was the master roller for Partagás in Cuba.
Then Habanos made him the brand ambassador for their brands worldwide. He used to go around doing these beautiful rolling events in Far East, Middle East, Canada, Europe, Australia and he had a huge following. When he wanted to move on to his next venture, he called up. He was friends with Rob Fox from jjFOX, who’s the oldest retailer in the world out of London and a couple other retailers in Canada and said, “If you have anything for me, I’d love to do something, get out. I’m just tired.” They said, “We’ll bring you out and you can do rolling events for us and be in our stores.” When he used to come, everybody wanted his cigar. People used to fly to Havana just to get his own hand rolls. He goes, “No, I want to do something more.” Rob Fox approached my brother and said, “I’m giving you the first shot. This guy’s dynamite.” Rocky went and met with him and they hit it off. He came to the US. Then he didn’t know much about other tobaccos other than Cuban because that’s all he dealt with.
Isn’t that crazy? With all the different tobaccos out there because he’d been in Cuba for so long, he didn’t know about others. That’s neat.
That’s all they worked with. When he came here, while he was waiting for all his papers, we put him to work at BURN here in Naples at our Humidor so he could smoke all the different cigars, learn about the different tobaccos. When he found the Nicaraguan tobacco, he goes, “I can work with this.” We still couldn’t get him down to our factory because he needed to get his travel papers and things like that. We have to bring up all our tobacco up to Naples for him to start blending. He came out with a cigar that he thought was fantastic. His flavor profile, what he wanted and we gave him free. This is 100% hip. He did 65 different blends and then we all smoked. He’s part of the tasting panel.
We all picked the very first blend that he blended and that became Hamlet. It’s got a San Andres wrapper on it. It’s also got double binders, got a half Brazilian Mata Fina. I believe it’s another San Andres in there with Ligero from Nicaragua and it’s a dynamite. This cigar when you age it longer and longer because it’s got such heavy tobaccos, it’s beautiful. This is the only guy that does not need a press to make a cigar. I’ve seen him make a baseball bat for Gary Sheffield, that’s smokable. We’re doing some great things. We just released it, on the back of his bands, there are going to be three little codes on there. Every person picks up a cigar and looks at the back of his band that’s season aged, they get a four pack of a special sized cigar in his line. If they find an HP, they get a free box. If they find an HPT, he comes to your house and does a rolling event for 25 of your friends. We’re trying to change it up and make things fun.
How long did you get blending that stick?
That stick was probably six to eight months.
There seemed to be trends in the cigar world. We know that Brazilian tobacco is very popular. It’s in the CAO Amazon Basin. La Flor Dominicana does a lot with the Ligero and stuff. It’s cool how different companies come up with similar components and that shapes trends even though each company is doing something different.
We don’t really communicate about what’s coming out because when it does, we’re very secretive. I don’t know what other companies do but even when we pick a name out, we’re in a conference room. We’re all there and we’ve opened up a bottle of scotch or something. We’re smoking and we go, “We’ve got the blend. We’ve got to come up with what the name is.” It’s tough to find a name of a cigar because everything’s trademarked. Going back to your Brazilian Mata Fina story, we used Mata Fina and Sun Grown, which we don’t tell people but since 2004. It is a very tough cigar and you’re right, it’s trends. It’s amazing. You go to the show and you think you’ve come out with something and everybody else has too. They’re all looking for some great tobacco and there are so many great cigars out there.
Going back to Hamlet, was he impressed with the other countries’ tobacco? How did he feel about that? I know that there are plenty of people from Cuba that think their tobaccos are the greatest in the world. I don’t know if anyone could disagree, but was he surprised at how good other tobaccos were or was he not impressed?
He was very impressed and all the different flavor profiles. It’s like giving a chef and saying, “Just cook with salt and pepper or maybe some lime or lemon and maybe garlic.” You give another chef and you tell him, “You’ve got peppers, you’ve got to turmeric, you’ve got ginger, you’ve got everything and go ahead. You can make a great dish.”
You’re giving him other pieces of the recipe, other ingredients.
We always ask this of our guests, what other cigars other than your own excite you? What turns the crank for you?
I just had my first Norteño and I really enjoyed it. I smoked Espinosa stuff a little bit. I’ll smoke Fuente especially the Shark, Padron once in awhile. I liked the 85th a lot. I have a Pepin, I haven’t smoked one of his in a while but I’ll probably smoke one. I do like the Oliva Melanio. That’s a great smoke. I also like Illusione Epernay.
I started my cigar adventure and I started with the Java line because I was not a regular cigar smoker, so I thought I’d smoked something that “tasted good.” They all taste good to me. What is the relationship between Rocky Patel and Drew Estate when it comes to the Java line? I’ve never quite understood how it all happened and how it works but explain that a little bit of that.
When we decided to come out with an infused cigar and that was before my time. This all happened in Long Island in 2003. They were all hanging out. It was Marvin and Jonathan, Rocky. They were always talking about coming out with the infused cigar. We said, “We want something that’s more chocolate, coffee flavored.” That cigar got blended in the beginning with an Indonesian Maduro on it. I was on board and we all smoked it. They didn’t really care for it so Rocky goes to Jonathan, “I want that changed to a Brazilian Maduro.” We changed it and that was the original job aligned and that came up. Then we decided on packaging. If you look, we decided to put Drew Estate on the name because we weren’t in the infused cigar market.
With ACID and everything at that back then, that’s all they did was infuse. If you look at the label on the box, it matches our Vintage label exactly. We wanted it still to have people look at it next to the Vintage boxes and at that time we didn’t have that many other brands. It looked just like the Vintage label. When you flip the box over, there is a story that tells about them making the cigar for us, so we decided to partner up. Then they wanted to get in the natural side of things. They asked us to help them up that way and that cigar was going to be called Royale. We showed that in New Orleans. The packaging was good. We didn’t the cigar, so we shelved it and then we helped them out on the natural side of things. That’s all I’m going to say about that.
That’s a cool insight into how the two companies worked together to make some of the best cigars in the business. It’s funny how they got you to infuse and you took them towards the natural.
I was about to ask. I had a coworker who showed up at my desk and said, “You’re going to the shop for the podcast, aren’t you?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “I think I want to try a cigar for Halloween,” and I grabbed a Java latte for him.
It’s funny you say that because I’m sitting out here at BURN and we’re a cigar bar, a cigar lounge. We also get a lot of people that have never tried cigars before. We usually start them off on Java’s then we switch them into Connecticuts. The next thing you know, they’re smoking something more medium, then medium full. We’re getting a lot more smokers but they all have a starting point. It’s usually the Java or the Connecticut.
That’s where I started. I started with the Java latte. It smelled great. Lane and I were talking about this. I didn’t even know you were going to be on the show before we talked about this and I said, if they want a good-smelling cigar that’s completely non-offensive, the latte is perfect to start with. I didn’t smoke them for maybe a month before I dove in head first. It’s not that I wouldn’t still enjoy it, it’s just that I know what I am getting from a Java. I love the adventure of trying other things and developing my palate. It’s like why waste the time on the latte. It just that’s just my thought on it.
The Java sells without any marketing. Ask Harris, it just goes.
It is a huge seller for us, very popular.
My wife only likes cigars which have a strong coco presence and she’s a big fan of the Java mint.
That’s like eating a thin mint.
I tell them it’s like a Peppermint Patty.
Before anyone else says anything, I did want to mention to you that I went to the Rocky Patel story on your website. That is one of the coolest presentations of a story that I’ve ever seen using that scrolling technique with the movie clip of Rocky. That is bad ass. Coming from a web development background, it’s a very cool stuff. I’ve never seen a story told quite like that. It’s very nice, by the way.
We’ve got these two young kids in our marketing department. One of them we met at a store in Atlanta and his father was a big Rocky fan. He showed us these great pictures right out of school, so we brought them on and these kids have done a great job with the innovating, some new stuff.
I’m not exactly on the design side, I am on the content side, but I do appreciate good work and it’s good.
I definitely will. Thanks, guys.
It definitely helps that Sean’s pallet has developed in my direction. We talk about cigars a lot. Anyway, cigars that we like, cigars that we aren’t necessarily a big fan of. Sean, I think you’d like the Cameroon as far as the change of pace goes. The Vintage 2003 Cameroon is a great, complex, more medium-bodied than what we usually smoke but a very pleasant cigar.
I have to agree with that.
It’s complex. It hits a lot more flavor notes than a typical Connecticut cigar.
It’s too medium-bodied but great flavor.
I have a question for you, Nish, that’s non-cigar related. We’ve known each other for a while. Are you still a connoisseur of Tequila? I know you in the past are into rare hard to find tequilas and all that. Are you still interested in that?
Yeah, I am. If I’m partying, I’m drinking Tequila but simple I’m drinking Don Julio Blanco on the rocks with three oranges and a brandy snifter. I0f I’m sitting down, I’m drinking some nice O’Neil’s and it goes great with the cigar. Then I also drink some scotch too in between and gin martinis.
Nish, I quit drinking years ago. When I smoke cigars it is completely stone sober, nothing. The things I miss the most, I hardly ever drank. I missed Tequila so much and I hardly ever drank it. I would buy a good bottle for myself and it would last me two months and I go right back to the vodka. It’s just funny that the stuff that I missed the most, I hardly drank.
It’s unusual. I got into Tequila probably at the trade shows with Harris, making sure force feeding everybody Don Julio and it just happened.
You’re totally right. I went home for my dad’s birthday and whenever I go home I try to make sure that I hang out with old friends. I went up to a bartender, buddy of mine whom I’ve known since I was eighteen or nineteen. We always drink tequila when we go out, before we go out. We drink a lot of Cuervo Gold with him. There are so many tequilas that are better. If you want a chocolatey tequila, you go with Dueno or my go-to ends up being Sauza Tres Generaciones. That’s a smooth, easy drinking tequila.
Try some of the Don Julio line. Try the Añejos. It’s really good. While the Jose Cuervo, they make a lot familiar. That’s like a great high-end scotch, but the regular one that we all had experiences in college and everywhere else and you tasted it for a month or two after that is 55% grain alcohol.
I don’t even want to think about it because it took me years after college to appreciate tequila again. I probably was ten years out of college before I could even drink it again because of all the nonsense with the rock gut that we drank.
When I got to the point where I had had too much tequila to drink and I couldn’t drink it anymore, this buddy of mine, Lionel, he was good enough to get me back up on the horse and I’m now a tequila invincible. He helped me back me up, he’s like, “Come on, get back on that horse.”
The next time I come down to Alabama, we’ll have some tequila together.
It was certainly a pleasure talking to you, Nish. Thank you for taking the time to be with us. I don’t know if anyone’s got any more questions for him but it was cool to talk to you.
It’s great. Thank you for having me.
Thanks, Nish. I really appreciate you joining us.
Take care, Nish.
Thank you very much.
- Nish Patel
- Sun Grown Maduro
- The Edge
- Nestor Plasencia
- Vintage 1990
- Vintage 2003 Cameroon
About Nish Patel
Nish Patel was born in 1964 in Nairobi, Kenya, yet relocated with his family to Green Bay, Wisconsin, when he was still quite young. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh, Nish earned his MBA from UCLA and advanced to business school. After graduation, Nish spent several years as a commodities broker, followed by a stint as the Vice President of Sales for ASI Advance Systems, Inc., in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
It wasn’t until 2004 that Nish finally acquiesced to Rocky’s persistent demands and moved to Florida. Nish immediately added stability to the organization as the company’s Executive Vice President. He released his first Patel Family brand in 2011 called Xen by Nish Patel, a box-pressed “Connecticut shade cigar with an attitude.” In 2013, he followed up that release with Bold by Nish Patel, a robust, Maduro-wrapped blend that packs a flavor wallop.