Drew Estate Factory Tour
June 2, 2010
Since the inception of Drew Estate in 1995 there has been no doubt that it is a cigar company with an entirely new perspective. It all started with a couple of young New Yorkers, Jonathan Drew and Marvin Samel, with no heritage in cigars or tobacco – only fresh ideas and a love for cigars, culture, and art. They are most famous for their ACID, Chateau Real, Liga Privada No. 9, Ambrosia, Natural, and La Vieja Habana lines. Cigar Press paid a visit to Drew Estate’s new factory in Esteli, Nicaragua, to spend some time with Jonathan Drew himself and explore the mad genius behind one of the industry’s most unique and diverse cigar companies.
The Drew Estate journey began after an exhausting day of travel after which Jonathan and I finally landed in Managua’s airport and met up with Jessi Flores, Drew Estate Nicaragua’s Master Artist/Art Department Manager/Marketing Director. Jessi would be our guide as Jonathan wanted to expose me to as much Nicaraguan culture and history as he could so that I would get a feeling of the country and experience some of the culture through the streets, monuments, cities, and even food in preparation to fully appreciate what we would encounter in the new Drew Estate factory – which is without question unmatched by any other cigar factory in the world.
Nicaragua has a violent and turbulent past tainted by revolutions and war. This history is made evident by the bullet holes still echoing through many of the country’s walls and buildings. The beautiful tropical landscape and active volcanic mountain ranges are as enchanting as the modest towns and villages from Managua to Esteli. Jessi showed us old cities that lay in ruins with new ones being constructed around them. Monuments have been erected to honor and remember the Nicaraguans who fought and died for their country, as well to serve as a reminder of the plight of its people throughout the years. Graffiti murals telling tales of Nicaraguan tobacco culture and war are proudly displayed on walls that can be seen on a journey through the countryside.
After exploring cities such as Managua, Granada, and Masaya, we eventually make it to our hotel in Esteli, the location of Drew Estate’s new factory. We arrived at the factory after a bumpy early morning ride on cobblestone roads of Esteli. Storefront windowpanes rattled as we rode slowly through the broken streets of Esteli baking out the Subculture Studio truck with Tabak smoke and Wu-Tang as our soundtrack. Dawn had settled into morning and we arrived at Drew Estate’s new Nicaraguan factory – an uncompromising world of creativity and tradition that encompasses Nicaraguan culture with innovative ideas that are backed by the unhindered courage to see them through.
What makes the factory one of the most unique in the world is not the fact that it is new or that it produces cigars. It is unique because of its fusion of traditional values with new ideas. The factory’s cigar making process is one of the very essences that help define Drew Estate’s foundation. Time-honored cigar making techniques are highly respected and valued here – which is why you won’t find machinery of any kind on the rolling room floor. The philosophy here is, the more artisans who touch the cigar combined with more time and care that go into each cigar, the better. Artisans’ hands emit a certain essence that is impossible to recreate with a machine. These traditional values in conjunction with a forward-thinking vision are part of the reason that the Drew Estate seed has been able to grow into an almost unexplainable phenomenon.
The factory itself is one of a kind thanks to the artwork created by Subculture Studio’s Art Factory. Headed by Jessi Flores, the Art Factory is comprised of 36 Nicaraguan artists who are being pinned as revolutionary muralists and artists. They have the ability to express many different ideas through countless mediums. Throughout every room, hallway, and crevice, the factory is filled with hand painted borders, hand crafted furniture, and one of a kind pieces of art created on an unlimited array of mediums that range from airbrushing to furniture to paintings to sculpture to murals, and they are all done in-house by Subculture Studios’ artists. Everywhere you turn the factory calls out to you through one form of art or another. These artists are more or less limitless in terms of what they can create or express. The factory is in itself a monument to Nicaraguan culture, the tradition of old-world cigar making, fused with the innovation for which Drew Estate is famous. Simply put – there is no other factory like it in the world.
When asked about relocating to Nicaragua and the inspiration behind Subculture Studio, this is what Jonathan Drew had to say:
“Upon moving to Nicaragua in 1999, I became inspired by the graffiti throughout Managua. While I found it different from the graffiti I grew up with in New York City, the connectivity was apparent, and brought me solace during my most transitional time. Over the years I recruited Nicaraguan graffiti artists to assist me in “Design Defusion” which has become Drew Estate’s signature trade dress. Beginning with Jessi, Dog, Thief, and Chuck, we spent months studying and restudying traditional formats including Art Deco, Art Nuevo, Americana, Primitive, Victoriana, and Spanish Colonial. The fusion of these classic art formats into our branding was inspirational for each of us, and led to a unique style that cannot be copied anywhere in the world. Instead of hiring these graffiti artists by the project, Jessi, Master Artist, and I began to recruit the very best talent in Esteli, to work at the “Subculture Studio Art Factory,” a studio attached to the chalet section of the Drew Estate factory. The studio, with 36 artists representing Nicaragua and Central America is just another aspect that distinguishes Drew Estate from all other cigar factories in the world.”
Subculture Studio’s Art Factory is yet another example of how Drew Estate thinks and creates outside of the box. Their innovations have not only opened the doors for new opportunities for Nicaraguans, but given its people an outlet to share their unique and expressive culture with the world. Artists from Subculture Studio have also been commissioned by other historical Nicaraguan cigar factories to capture the essence and history of their particular companies, and to portray that on the very walls that were part of their respective stories.
Drew Estate is an expression and it’s voice is being heard all over the world. They are undoubtedly one of the most distinguishable cigar brands in the marketplace and their continued success and growth has most skeptics reeling back. They are a non-traditional company based on traditional roots that redefines the nature of what is acceptable by breaking boundaries and exploring unlimited possibilities. The rebirth of cigars isn’t just a phrase they own because of the unique cigars they create. The rebirth of cigars is an idea and a philosophy that reinvents the standards of what is acceptable while at the same time preserving and promoting the traditional values. This has given way to a rebirth of ideas.
Drew Estate has recently introduced an exciting new opportunity for people to experience the Drew Estate culture. Cigar Safari, another element that is redefining and reshaping Drew Estate, is a trip that allows people to experience the culture of Nicaragua and the Drew Estate Tobacco Company. The trip begins in Managua and ends in Esteli where guests stay in the hotel’s cabanas, which are located in the chalet section in the back of the factory. Upon arrival at the factory, visitors enter through the back where they are introduced to the first industrial tobacco mural hand painted by revolutionary muralists and Drew Estate’s own Subculture Studio Artists, “Dos Formas,” which means two forms that signify the revolutionary artists and graffiti. Visitors spend a full day there to relax and enjoy the beautiful surroundings before going inside the Gran Fabrica to learn more about the mystique of the Drew Estate Tobacco Company. The chalet section is perched over the Esteli Valley in Northern Nicaragua, which overlooks pure Nicaraguan beauty, countryside, mountains, and prized Nicaraguan tobacco plantations. The view is an experience you must see to appreciate. Cigar Safari members will get to personally know the artists and explore the diversity that is Drew Estate – one wall, one artist, and one cigar at a time.
Drew Estate wants to share the Nicaraguan culture with people to communicate its rich culture, history, and people, along with its tobacco industry. They continue to explore new ideas and offer much more than just cigars. They are consistently developing new ideas and concepts. Drew Estate isn’t a company that is easy to fully explain or truly understand. We can however, sit back and watch as they push the envelope. They have the highest respect for Nicaragua, the tobacco industry, the people involved in it, and they are doing a bang-up job of expressing the Drew Estate subculture to the rest of the world.