Jason Robnett, the Southeast regional sales manager for CLE and Asylum Cigars, joins Cigar Café. Jason talks about how he got into the cigar world and recounts the story of smoking his first premium cigar at the Colosseum in Rome which changed it for him forever. There are so many great cigars out there, including the Montecristo No.2 which gave him his great first cigar experience. Jason touches on what he likes about the cigar industry and what things seems to be a problem. He also shares what’s cooking at CLE and Asylum Cigars.
Listen to the podcast here:
The Cigar Cafe Radio with Jason Robnett | CLE | Asylum | Straight Jacket
We’ve got a guest from Eiroa Cigars, Jason Robnett. Jason, welcome to our show.
How’s it going?
We’re glad to have you here.
It’s a pleasure to be here. I’m enjoying my first glass of bourbon in ten days. I’ve been cleansing, so I’m feeling good. I’m back on solid food. No more Gerber baby food and all that liquid crap. I feel much better.
You lost ten pounds in the first four days too.
Basically, I was sweating all the bourbon from my birthday out of my body is what happened. I still reeked of it. I was still accused of drinking three days prior because as I would sweat, it was constantly pouring from my body. It was a rough 36 hours for a birthday.
Did you have night sweats at all?
I’m glad you admitted that. I haven’t picked up a drink in six years. The cigar life is starting to grow on me, big time.
To me, it’s more about the pairing with the cigar. It’s rare that I have a glass of bourbon by myself. Cigars to me have a lot to do with people. When I first started smoking cigars, we were celebrating ten years. On my birthday, it was the ten years to the day that I smoked my first premium handmade cigar. It’s always been about the people. The cigars are great, and the blends are fascinating. It’s great to find pairings with drinks, but the people you enjoy it with can make or break the cigar that you’re having.
Jason, am I like a drinker that drinks alone? I’ll smoke a cigar by myself.
You need friends that much because you like friends. I know what that feels like. I get annoyed simply by the text messages continually, it was a constant flood of messages all day, “Will you please smoke with us?” Sometimes I’m begging for solace. That would be great for me to have that time where I could be alone. There are times where you want your solace and you want to be left alone and it’s not to get caught up in the moment.
You’ve got something on your mind, it’s great. That’s the predominant reason why I love what I do, working in the manufacturing side of the industry. I get a chance to meet a lot of people because I travel. I’ve got some friendships with some great retailers, the customers and their stores. What’s funny is some of the closest friendships I have in my life stemmed from the cigar industry. The friendship transcends cigars and things to do with that. It’s developed beyond that. It’s been a fun ride for the last ten years.
You mentioned that it was ten years ago that you had your first premium hand-rolled cigar. What did you do before working in the cigar industry? How did that turn into you working in the cigar industry?
I was a Baptist minister. I quit that and I had no direction in my life whatsoever after that was over. I was working a couple of odd jobs for a couple of years. I was practically engaged to be married to this girl I was in love with. We had set a date later on in the year to be married and she broke things off. That’s what ended up us taking our overseas trip to Europe and me having my first cigar on my 25th birthday as I was staring at the Roman Colosseum. In many ways, you can say my first premium cigar gave me a new direction in my life. It directed me down a path of a new passion that I discovered.
At the time, tobacco wasn’t my thing. I didn’t smoke cigarettes, which is surprising coming from Walker County. In Walker County, 99% of people including every female in my family over the age of 60 had snuff in their mouth. Spittoon was a common thing for us. If you’re familiar with where that’s at and maybe people will be. Not only is it the hitman capital per capita in the world. For a case of beer, you could have somebody knocked off but also everybody has spittoons in their houses with cans of snuff, Skoal, Red Man, it’s all over. It never was appealing to me. I didn’t even nearly chew it. The first cigar I had, it came naturally. I knew not to inhale. Immediately I enjoyed the flavors. It was something that I was in from day one, we hit it off.
That’s a pretty fantastic first cigar story. I smoked a cigar in Rome before. It wasn’t outside the Colosseum, it was in Piazza Navona. It was a Cohiba.
I had a Montecristo No. 2. There are many great premium cigars out there. I happen to work for a great company that I believe in our vision. CLE, they’re amazing but there are many great premium cigars on the market.
That is a great first place to have a cigar.
It makes me wonder, had I been smoking alone. That’s why I always go back to people. It’s about the people. Had I been smoking by myself in that first cigar and had someone that listened to what I wanted to taste and not picked out the correct selection for me, would I have enjoyed it as much? Had I hated the first one I ever had, would I have ever gone back to it? Perhaps not, so I’m thankful for the influences that I had. I’m thankful that I was with two of my best friends and I had a tobacconist who listened to me.
I hear that you’re an Alabama fan?
I’m distraught that we don’t have the camera on because I went on my ragged Auburn hat put on for you. I said, “I’m about to take a conference call with a guy that is a pretty serious Bammer.” I put this hat on for you guys to make it clear where my loyalties lie. This is a 365-day a year thing for us. The college football is not four or five months out of the year. This is year-round.
I’m going to let you see Sean’s hat, Notre Dame hat on full screen.
I’ve got no problem with Notre Dame. I vividly remember watching the national championship game in Cigars & More, Patton Creek in Hoover when they played Notre Dame. Not being Catholic, I have no ties to Notre Dame other than the fact that I hate Alabama. I was cheering for Notre Dame. That game quickly got out of hand. I vividly remember a group that had paid to have a private party. Notre Dame scored. I started clapping and screaming. This idiot Bammer stand up and he goes screaming, “Shut your mouth.” I looked down, “Really? Come on, it’s a 58-point spread right now. You got this game in hand.” It’s a little tough living in the middle of Birmingham when you pull for the other team.
Sean, it says something about my status as a gentleman that we’ve had eight or ten shows. Jason is the first person to talk trash about the Alabama-Notre Dame national championship.
That’s not talking trash. Sean and I would have been BFFs on that day. Any golden dome looking hat he wanted me to put on, any cloverleaves, I’ve got it covered that day. Anything you wanted me to wear, I had it that day.
Lane, I haven’t talked smack at all about the ass-whooping that Alabama took against Ohio State. I haven’t even mentioned it, but I did now.
You say you’re only a passive Ohio State fan.
No. Remember what I said, I’m a Big Ten fan.
Here’s what they do. I will join with my Alabama brother. Tom Lazuka, the creator of Asylum Cigars, one of our brands in the CLE portfolio. The big Michigan, obviously we all know they hate Ohio State. The Big Ten has sucked so badly for many years now. In the Midwest states, they think they created football. Perhaps they did create college football. The South simply perfected it. It’s funny to see how even Lazuka, as much as he hates Ohio State, will revel in the glory of them winning the national championship. When Alabama wins a national championship, I go into hiding for two weeks.
I can’t stand. It makes me sick. I do not share your rival’s championship. That’s the most detestable thing to me. I’m in Knoxville. You’ll never see Tennessee fans excited that Alabama won a national championship because they’re in the SCC. They hate Alabama. That’s what rivalries about. I have more respect.
Speaking of Tennessee, God bless whoever played Sweet Home Alabama inside of Maitland Stadium.
Correct me if I’m wrong, it was an honest mistake. They had an iPod playing on shuffle for an event they had over at the baseball stadium. Lo and behold, the great Lynyrd Skynyrd happened to be a part of the song selection on the iPod and that happened to be the song.
Jason, what’s new in the CLE catalog? Any new cigars that you want to talk about that we can look up and wrap our taste buds around in the next couple months?
The number one question that’s asked in humidors is what’s new? People always want to know what’s new. Let me tell you what we’ve been doing for years. A lot of what we do, even the newer blinds that we present is going to be predicated around what we’ve been doing for years. Christian and his father Julio, when Julio left Cuba, he is one of the only people in the world to use real Corojo seed. The Corojo seed that we use in many of our cigars and the tobacco that we have was from a field in Cuba called Santa Ines del Corojo. People would refer to this field as Del Corojo, simply.
Here’s the thing about Corojo. Julio, Christian, and I believe that it’s the most flavorful wrapper leaf in the entire world. However, there are two things. One, it’s susceptible to blue mold fungus. Blue mold fungus can decimate an entire crop of tobacco. Number two, it only yields about half the poundage per acre of other tobaccos. Other people don’t want to use the real Corojo seed from El Corojo, which is the most flavorful Corojo for two different reasons. However, when we were in Honduras, if you haven’t seen it, you need to come sometime. We have the most impressive agricultural technology in our operation down there. We’re the only tobacco company in the world that is a Bayer agriculturally crop certified tobacco company.
We have Corojo and we know how to do Corojo. If people are fans of that flavor, we know how to do that right. That being said, we have the Eiroa, which is what I’m smoking now. It’s the first cigar to score their family’s last name. It’s such a beautiful cigar. It’s all Corojo, aged five or six years. We have also the CBT Maduro, which is the Eiroa CBT Maduro. It’s an old Maduro cigar. Christian had Camacho Cigars several years of ago. He and his father, they had bought Camacho Cigars. He made the first cigar that was all Maduro. This is something that he carried over, that’s a passion of his. This is much different than the original release. It’s full of flavor. It’s rich.
What you see with Christian, I believe personally, and he’s alluded to this. I personally believe you see a lot of Christian’s dad’s influence on the blends that he’s doing now. You see things with more balance, more complexity. It’s not about being super strong. This is the 20th year that Christian’s been doing work with his father. In this 20th year, we are going to be having the Eiroa 20 Years cigar. I don’t know the blend yet. I know I’m going to be able to taste it. It should be something that’s going to be released before the show. I can only imagine having tasted the Eiroa and the Eiroa CBT Maduro, how incredible the cigar’s going to be. It celebrates his 20th year working with his father. That is something that we have new and to look forward to. Have you guys ever tried the Eiroa or the Eiroa CBT?
I’ve tried both of them.
Sean or Lane?
It’s not Sean because Harris doesn’t send him my cigars in the sampler packs. That’s your fault, Sean. We’re going to put that on Harris.
You and I were at an undisclosed location when I smoked both of those. It was a bourbon tasting event.
How did you feel about them?
The cigars were great. I like the Maduro wrapper. I like that it provides a little bit of sweetness that lets you mask some more robust flavors and that balances them out. I went into it expecting to like the Maduro more but ended up appreciating the Corojo more. It was pretty medium bodied. Maybe a little creamy, but it wasn’t mild. I thought it tasted great.
I appreciate that feedback. It’s funny because the at this point, the Maduro sells a little bit hotter than the Corojo. I prefer the Corojo, but that’s my preference. I tell a lot of guys, I listen to them in the humidor. You got to listen to what people say, you got to start listening. You ask questions. You don’t want to give them just something that you enjoy because they might hate it. They might not want to smoke any more of your cigars. I listen to some guys. They even said they want mild cigars. I keep asking them more questions. What I determined what they really mean is they don’t want something that’s harsh. I let them try an Eiroa. When they get through, they always say, “That was a great mild cigar,” and I revealed to them, “It’s not a mild cigar. It’s a full-bodied cigar. That’s what you get when you get five or six years of age on this cigar, on this tobacco. It smooths it out so much and opens so much flavor.”
The big flavor, like you said Lane, it’s probably medium strength cigar but it’s full body and full flavor. It’s hard sometimes because those are misunderstood in our talk. Even I’ll do it sometimes. I say something, “It’s full-bodied,” where what I really mean is full strength. We got to always be careful when I’m talking to somebody about our cigars. I always make sure they understand the difference between strength, flavor, and body. There’s a distinct difference because there’s a lot of nicotine content in some cigars that I don’t think are incredibly full flavored. They’re strong, but there’s not a ton of flavor there. That’s a common misconception.
I want to tell you, Jason, that in defense of Harris, he’s my cigar/crack dealer. He’s trying to get me hooked and he’s done a nice job.
He’s trying to give you the expensive stuff. We’ll go ahead and let you in. That’s what he’s trying to do. He’s a good dealer. I get his ploy. He’s giving you expensive cigars to try. I give him kudos for that.
I tell him I’m the Pookie Bear of cigar smoking. The first one’s free and then he lays the hammer down.
I threw you samples in there this time.
There’s no doubt about it. These guys were shocked. I’m going to admit it, I’m a big fan of Rocky Patel, the Java line. I started smoking cigars with those. I thought they would be too harsh for me. I smoked them. I loved them. I got a sampler pack from Ashton. Lo and behold, one of them was a VSG. These guys nearly fell off their chair when they heard that I liked and loved the VSG. Isn’t it funny that that’s a full flavored, full-bodied cigar, and I thought it wasn’t?
You’re smoking premium tobacco. You’re smoking a full-bodied cigar but it’s smooth, it’s easy to smoke. Sometimes you get these guys that buy cigars off the internet. There are some people where I’m from, Walker County. There are no premium tobaccos in Jasper, Cordova, Alabama. However, there are some guys that buy their cigars off the internet. They don’t have a tobacconist nearby that they can trust and that can guide them. Perhaps they get ahold of a harsh cigar. We’re not sure how those cigars were stored or however. We don’t know where they came from. They don’t know where they came from. They just ordered something. They clicked on a link. They show up at the house and they smoke something and think, “That is strong.” You don’t mean strong, it was harsh.
Like when you did, Sean, you get a taste of a real premium cigar that’s smooth. Even though it’s full body and you taste something that smooth and that rich in flavor, all of a sudden you’re thinking, “I can handle this. I can handle harsh tobacco myself and smoke seven or eight cigars a day.” Nobody wants to smoke harsh tobacco. I’m glad you had that experience.
That’s how I’m starting in them. I’m getting better at it. I’m enjoying it because it is that little break that I take. My wife will do her painting in the garage and I’ll sit out on a chair and smoke a cigar. I feel bad if I smoked two a day. It’s been a cool little pastime for me. I appreciate all of you guys for letting me join the club.
You’re more than welcome. Everybody’s welcome. It’s not what it used to be. I don’t want to say it was more of an elitist thing, but it was more of a country club, boys only type thing. What’s beautiful about the industry is at any given time, in a cigar lounge you can have doctors, lawyers, plumbers, college students, guys who are currently out of work. When you light a cigar together, nothing else matters. Your socioeconomic status and your ego get checked out the door. When you’re having a premium cigar, for some reason it’s the great equalizer. To go back to it, that’s why this is more about the people that you enjoy it with. I’ve never seen anything in my life that could bring such a diverse group of people together.
We get a lot of the ladies who are smoking cigars too. I know some women who smoke cigars twice as strong as I do and they don’t bad knock. I love watching the lady walk in the cigar store. The guys immediately want to redirect them to something flavored, and they backhand them with something with triple Eiroa in it. I get a kick out of it because this isn’t the old boys’ country club anymore with cigars. This is open for everyone. It’s such a phenomenal thing that’s happening with cigars, it’s such a diverse group of clienteles now.
Harris, are you seeing a shift in your patronage? Are you seeing more women smoke premium cigars?
We had a tequila rep doing an event in our store. She was talking about how she likes to smoke cigars in-house. She wanted to plan a ladies-only cigar and wine tasting night in the store and invite just the ladies to come smoke and hang out together. You see a lot of stores around the country. They have a weekly ladies cigar night. I agree with Jason. It’s the modern-day barber shop where everybody hangs out, talks about everything. Lane and I are smoking the Straight Jacket. Jason, can you tell us a little bit about the Straight Jacket?
The Straight Jacket is an Asylum product. It’s an all-Nicaraguan cigar. It’s got a Habano wrapper. You’re looking at wrapper leaf. What makes it different from the regular core line Asylums is that its wrapper leaf is from the higher priming plant. For those who aren’t sure what that means, sometimes you’re higher priming from the plant. They’re fuller flavored tobaccos because they have more weather exposure or exposure to the sun. It’s thicker leaves, leaves with more character. Those leaves generally have more flavor in them. We use a higher priming leaf on the Straight Jacket. You look at the Asylum 13 blend, which is what kicked our company off full throttle and shot us up in the forefront of people’s thinking.
You take the Straight Jacket and it’s a fuller body blend than the Asylum 13, but it’s smooth because we age it longer. It’s smooth that you’re blown away when I tell you it’s supposed to be fuller bodied than Asylum 13, which can tend to be a spicy medium to fuller bodied cigar. When you smoke it, you don’t think it’s that full-bodied until you’re done with it and you feel it. “That’s satisfying. I smoked something full,” but it’s smooth because we do age that tobacco longer. It is from higher priming leaves. It’s a special cigar to us in the Asylum portfolio. Tom Lazuka, that was his brainchild, Asylum cigars. It has a double meaning. Although we obviously use the Straight Jacket in that one because you coincide straitjackets with the old school thinking asylums and such.
Asylum has a double meaning. It’s basically the mantra that everybody seeks asylum. We all want refuge. That’s a better word to use it for refuge. It was a dual meaning. We have these crazy personalities that tend to work for us. Tom’s a wild guy. He’s a relevant guy to work for. I love Tom Lazuka, I love working side by side with this guy. This guy’s a champ. I believe in the vision that he has, but that dual meaning of it being something because it’s what all of us do with cigars. We’re looking for asylum. We’re seeking something to get away from it all. That was the core belief behind what he was doing. That’s what Straight Jacket is. It’s more of the higher end offering from Asylum. It’s a higher priming leaf used in the other line. It’s a little bit fuller body blend, but it’s smooth because we did age it a touch longer.
That’s on my list.
It’s worth it.
What exactly do you mean when you refer to yourself as a Cigar Vixen?
It’s a tongue in cheek thing that I said. There are a lot of people in this industry who seem to want to market themselves. You get a lot of cigar reps who are bad about that. It’s like The Cigar Rep Show, or you got this “Cigar Rockstar” showing up to an event. I get annoyed by it. Everybody wants to title themselves. They want to have these silly titles behind their names. They get caught up in these egos in the grand scheme of things. Cigar smokers make up 1% to 2% of the US population. Let’s say you perhaps are some cigar personality, which means about 20% to 30% of 1% is going to recognize who you are. You get these big egos sometimes. I mentioned Tom Lazuka before. I joke with Tom, when I’m with him I’m like, “Tom, you’re a real cigar rockstar. I want you to know it’s an honor being in your presence,” and it sets him off. He goes, “Shut up, Robnett. Screw you. I’m not,” because he’s a regular guy.
He’s a guy who loves cigars. He loves people. He’s passionate about this industry. It was more of a tongue in cheek, a jab at the people who like to call themselves these catchy little names to market themselves. The real rockstars in this industry are the people who are putting their blood, sweat, and tears into these factories to make the product. One guy, and I’ll brag on this, I look at Christian’s father, Julio. Julio doesn’t need the recognition. He doesn’t want the recognition. When you’re in this guy’s presence and he’s talking tobacco, you shut up and listen. The snarky comments, everything else goes away. You recognize immediately this guy has been there, done that and then some. It’s time for you to go to school and listen to a man who knows what he’s talking about talk tobacco.
I love how Julio, he doesn’t want to be at the forefront of marketing, nothing like that. This guy is a genius. One thing that stuck out in my mind, we were in Honduras. There was a young lady named Emily on the trip with us. Emily is a great cigar enthusiast. She lives in Huntsville, Alabama. She loves cigars. She smokes a ton of cigars a day, full-bodied cigars. She’s a defense contractor for the military. She gets in front of Julio. Julio’s working on this blend. He asks her what she thinks about it. She starts waxing poetic about how much she loves the cigar. “You did such a good job with this.” He stops her in her tracks and says, “No. I don’t want to know that it’s good. I don’t want to know what’s good about it. You tell me what’s wrong with it.”
Here’s a guy that’s been doing this for years. His father before him, Generoso Eiroa started all this business. Julio has been doing this basically his entire life. Here’s Emily, an early 30 something-year-old white girl from Huntsville, Alabama. He’s asking her, “What in your opinion do I need to be doing better?” Those guys there, even as they’re getting closer towards their later years in their career with tobacco, they still want to know how they can get better. They still want opinions on what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong. I admire that so much.
I worked for Altadis USA for four years prior. There was a man by the name of Jose Seijas. A lot of people don’t recognize him, which is unfortunate. Jose is one of the all-time greats. He managed the largest cigar factory in the world for over 30 years. Whenever you give Jose praise, he’s one of the humblest men I’ve ever met in my entire life in this industry. If there was ever a rock star, it’s these guys. It’s these guys who aren’t in the ads, who don’t market themselves, and who are simply the backbone of everything it is that we enjoy. Plus the people who were at the factory, the people who are supporting our hobby, support their local economy, and these little bitty small towns. These people to me are the heroes behind our passion. It’s not the people marketing themselves with the super cool social media hype. It’s the people you don’t see.
I hope that makes sense. I’m not knocking all that. I like to make fun of it tongue in cheek because I have a bit of an outrageous personality too. We all tend to in this industry. The people who are behind the scenes you never see, who were the ones putting their blood, sweat, and tears into it, they are the true heroes of our passion. I truly hope people understand that.
We appreciate you reminding us about that. Is there anything you want to add?
Smoke more CLE and Asylum products and War Eagle.
Follow Jason on Twitter, @CLE_Unicorn.
Thanks for asking that Lane. Thanks for having me on. I’ve enjoyed it a lot.
We were glad to have you, Jason.
You guys have a good one.