It’s like a 12-minute immersive experience in a cigar escape room! Join us as we search for unicorns, never-released samples and private blends in Willy Herrera’s cigar stash. The master blender for Drew Estate combines tobaccos to maintain consistency among legacy lines and to create new releases for the cult cigar brand. His authentic Cuban influence led to the creation of the eponymous Herrera Estelí cigar lines, which include a Habano, Norteño and Brazilian Maduro. The Herrera Estelí Miami is crafted by “Level 9” rollers from Cuba at El Titán de Bronze Cigars, which is the oldest remaining Fabrica in Miami’s Little Havana. His family-owned cigar factory is where Willy learned the craft of premium tobacco. Filmed on location in at El Titán de Bronze with Box Press host Rob Gagner.
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Read Full Interview: Video Transcript
– There’s a story inside every smoke shop. With every cigar and with every person. Come be a part of the cigar lifestyle of Boveda. This is Box Press. We land in Little Havana, the heart of Miami’s Cuban diaspora. The neighborhood is centered around Calle Ocho Street. It’s also where you’re going to find the famed Máximo Gómez Park, known as Domino Park, where locals gather to talk politics over heated games of dominoes. Any time of the day, you’ll find regulars sipping Cuban coffee, playing dominoes and chess, and chatting with friends. The authentic Latin energy and competitive banter is in the air and the players don’t mind a good audience. Game play at the park is serious and exciting to watch. The roads are lined with murals and artwork depicting classic Cuban heritage. There is music and Latin performances up and down the street. But we did not come here for the culture, we came here for the cigars. El Titan de Bronze or in Spanish, El Titan de Bronze is a family-owned cigar factory where they’ve been rolling cigars the traditional way since 1995. Willy Herrera got his start here in the cigar rolling and blending process. And I want to go through the aging rooms to find out what Willy Herrera sticks are lingering around, that haven’t hit the shelves, waiting for that opportunity for someone to smoke them. Come join me as I comb through the shelves and find those cigars that Willy has not let go. Corona Willy?
– Corona’s Willy? There’s a lot of stuff labeled Willy and I know there’s a bin somewhere that says Willy’s Test Blends, and I’m gonna find it and see if I can smoke one of ’em. It’s a unicorn, I’m gonna go for it. I’m here, might as well. We’re getting Willy to possibly help us.
– [Willy] But you’re really cold right now.
– [Rob] I’m really cold, okay.
– [Willy] You’re really cold right now.
– [Rob] Okay, I gotta get warmer. I’m trying to find Willy’s Test Blends. It’s like a little tupperdor or Tupperware® and it says Willy’s Test Blends on it. If you look and follow El Titan de Bronze on social media, there was a picture of this posted. And I’m going to find it, sniff it out, and Willy’s gonna tell me if I’m hot or cold. Willy? Powerade®, Willy?
– [Willy] So we got some here, some here. What else do we got? We have the Miami somewhere around here, unless they already banded them all. We had the, we had the Herrera Miamis in here and we had the Herrera Raji that I did.
– [Rob] Old test blends that you used to do before you even brought…
– [Willy] That doesn’t exist.
– [Rob] Oh, wow. That doesn’t exist anymore?
– [Willy] No, it never did. That’s something I just did.
– [Rob] This never did.
– [Willy] I just did it here.
– [Rob] This is great.
– [Willy] Well, looks like you got the only good one.
– [Rob] What, what other test blends did you do?
– [Willy] Hmm.
– Boy, there’s so much history in here.
– [Rob] I know. That’s why I’m here, I’m like, pulling back the curtain.
– [Willy] I mean rogue, I mean rogue.
– [Rob] Okay Willy, I gotta ask you plume, real or fake?
– [Willy] You know, according to everybody it’s real.
– [Rob] I think it’s a myth, I think it’s crap. I think it’s mold.
– [Willy] I don’t know. I don’t know, you gotta smoke it. If you get, if it gets you sick, then you know it’s mold.
– [Rob] So the only way to tell is you smoke it. And if you get a sinus infection, it’s mold.
– [Willy] It’s all trial and error, bro.
– [Rob] Is there a little bit of like, a dusting on here? And is that just from like, the humidity? Like, the minerals and the humidity?
– [Willy] Yeah, these haven’t been made long enough for it to have plume or any of that shit.
– [Rob] If it exists.
– [Willy] I have some at home, if it, if it exists, I have some at home. But you’re talking cigars that are over 10 years old.
– [Rob] Then you think plume exists?
– [Willy] I know they mold. Because nothing else in the thing has it. You know what I mean?
– [Rob] Yeah.
– [Willy] So if it was mold, why would just those really really old ones have it and not the rest of my cigars in there?
– [Rob] Yeah, I don’t know.
– [Willy] So maybe it is plume.
– [Rob] Okay. He believes in plume. I call BS.
– [Willy] I don’t know, man. You know, it’s…
– [Rob] The whole thing, the whole concept is the sugar in the tobacco is kind of coming to the surface, creating a crystal-like appearance. And I’ve seen only one cigar that looked like that in my bunch, and it was a Cuban. And it was old, so like, you know, I can kinda, you know? I could kinda get there. But the problem that I have with it is that I didn’t like, send it off to a lab to get tested, which I wish I would’ve done.
– [Willy] You know, and that’s the same thing too, there’s certain cigars kept in the same place that, depending what tobaccos are in that cigar, will develop tobacco beetles more than others. It’s happened to me.
– [Rob] Beetles?
– [Willy] Same temperature. Yeah, I’ll get a cigar and it’s got a little hole. I’m like, ah, but it’s only on certain cigars that has happened to me. I don’t know if that’s ever happened to you. Eh, but everything is fine in there. And nothing else gets hurt–
– [Rob] I had beetles before, right.
– [Willy] You know what I mean?
– [Rob] Yeah, they don’t migrate…
– [Willy] It’s just certain cigars.
– [Rob] Sometimes.
– [Willy] Right. Well, I’ve never had it.
– [Rob] If you’ve ever had a whole box of the same thing they might migrate, because that’s probably the same tobacco.
– [Willy] Well, because they’re coming off in the same thing. You know how the whole beetles thing is? the eggs is in all tobacco, it’s on all the stems.
– [Rob] You freeze the tobacco, to crack the eggs.
– [Willy] Right, but for the tobaccos with the cigars that have not been frozen, if that temperature goes above 74, 75, 76, they come out and that’s what makes them come out. But I’ve never experienced that where you hear, “Oh, they eat up all your cigars.” They come out and then they die. They go looking for water.
– [Rob] They don’t last long.
– [Willy] No, I mean they just–
– [Rob] But they will chew through a pretty good and then–
– [Willy] To come out.
– [Rob] Then you got a really good draw.
– [Willy] Yeah, right. Then you got scotch tape everywhere so you could plug the holes.
– [Rob] Hang on, they we’re playing the flute here. We had cigar beetles. We gotta try to get a draw on this cigar.
– [Willy] But it only happens with certain cigars with certain types of tobaccos.
– [Rob] Okay, so you really cut your teeth here in tobacco, right?
– [Willy] This is where, this is my learning, bro.
– [Rob] This is where it all happened.
– [Willy] And where it all started.
– [Rob] You were a banker and then you decided to help out the family here. And it was–
– [Willy] And I ended up here. And then from here, I ended up at Drew Estate, which was like I say to everybody, that was my master’s.
– [Rob] This is the fundamentals of tobacco.
– [Willy] This what got me, yes.
– [Rob] You gotta have the fundamentals.
– [Willy] Absolutely.
– [Rob] You can’t go to Drew and be like, “Yeah, I can do this,” if you didn’t have the basics.
– [Willy] It wouldn’t have worked, it wouldn’t have worked.
– [Rob] And you got the basics.
– [Willy] Nor would they had been interested in me, either.
– [Rob] Once you got introduced basically to the warehouse that is their tobacco, or multiple warehouses, I should say.
– [Willy] Well, yeah, it is multiple now.
– [Rob] Were you like, whoa?
– [Willy] Oh yeah, yeah.
– [Rob] How long did it take you?
– [Willy] A year and a half.
– [Rob] To just get through all of it?
– About a year and a half and that’s how long it took for the Herrera Esteli to come out.
– [Rob] A year and a half and the whole time you were just–
– [Willy] Trying, trying everything.
– [Rob] Trying everything, mix-match, just play.
– [Willy] I had never seen it. I had only seen the few, the workers that we have here.
– [Rob] What did it do to your experience of, since you came from a third of a closet basically to tasting? Did you taste new flavors that you’re like, “Whoa, I didn’t even know this existed”?
– [Willy] Totally. Totally, that’s why I said that was my master’s because I learned all the basics here and then there, I got introduced to the real world of tobacco.
– [Rob] Just so you guys know, this is what we call the Willy step. So if you want to get on the same level as Willy, you have to get up on this level and then–
– [Willy] Now we’re eye to eye.
– [Rob] Now we’re eye, now we’re eye to eye. How’s it going up here? Is it good? Is the air is good down? It’s good up here.
– [Willy] Well, you tell me. Right, if it’s good up here.
– [Rob] It feels really good up here.
– [Willy] See what I’m saying?
– [Rob] Really good. What, what is in here?
– [Willy] So this is, with the exception of these four right here, everything you see here is all different fillers.
– [Rob] All different fillers. Habano, is Habano typically sweet tobacco? Or does it matter how they ferment it?
– [Willy] I find it typically sweet.
– [Rob] I love that. There’s that sweetness that I have to have in a cigar to keep my palate excited.
– [Willy] Mm-hm, mm-hm.
– [Rob] Herrera Estelis, is a perfect example of that.
– [Willy] Yeah, yeah.
– [Rob] You nailed it.
– [Willy] You know the blend has a lot to do with that too.
– [Rob] Right.
– [Willy] But the wrapper, if you were to smoke it by itself, you’ll taste, then pick up a certain sweetness that it does bring to the table.
– [Rob] Sure.
– [Willy] You know what I mean? Other than, you know, maybe you compare it to Indonesian or Sumatra, or Mexican, or Brazilian, broadleaf.
– [Rob] Does Indonesian have a lot of flavor or is it pretty bland?
– [Willy] I think it brings a very unique flavor.
– [Rob] Okay. It’s not overpowering, but it adds a lot to the, it could add to the blend.
– [Rob] They typically use it as a binder because it burns so well and so straight.
– [Willy] Or you tend to see it used a lot in wrapper for the short filler or more of the value-type cigars. You’ll see a lot–
– [Rob] Because it’s not gonna overpower that short filler.
– [Willy] And it’s just a lot cheaper. You know, you’re selling a a dollar fuma, or short-filler, $1.25 cigar, like a lot of that stuff that you find in Calle Ocho and in the cafeterias.
– [Rob] Well, even your guys’ dollar short-fillers, I bought a bundle. They are a perfect lawn mowing stick.
– [Willy] And that’s in there.
– They’re awesome.
– [Willy] Yeah. But the blend is all from all of this stuff.
– [Rob] Right, the leftover, chopped up great tobacco.
– [Willy] So you’re getting prime tobacco in that filler. That makes it a great cigar.
– [Rob] The complexity of it isn’t like a full-length cigar where it changes over time and blah, blah, blah.
– [Willy] It’s not supposed to be.
– [Rob] But it tastes great the whole way.
– [Willy] You’re right. It is not intended to be complex.
– [Rob] I give them to people who don’t smoke a lot and they’re like, “This is a really good cigar. “Where’d you get this?” I’m like, “I can’t tell you. “If I tell you, I have to kill you.”
– [Willy] You don’t want lose your stash, man.
– [Rob] Yeah, exactly. Don’t call up El Titan de Bronze, they’ll take all my secrets away. Yeah, it’s more like leather, like aged leather and kind of funky but like, not a bad funk, but good. It’s amazing that all this is gonna get turned into beautiful cigars, just like that. How do they do that?
Missing cigars! Tobacco mysteries! Watch these highlights:
- 00:24 Where cigar lovers go in Miami’s Little Havana
- 02:03 Playing Hot-and-Cold Cigar Guessing Game
- 03:40 Is it plume or cigar mold?
- 04:47 What is cigar plume?
- 05:13 What cigars get tobacco beetles?
- 06:46 Learning tobacco at the family cigar factory
- 08:43 Looking for a good Habano cigar?
- 10:06 What’s a great lawn mowing cigar to pick in Little Havana?