Looking into the origin story of Drew Estate Cigars is to realize their story is just as unique as their product offering. Launched in 1996 in New York City, Drew Estate Cigars was founded by two college fraternity brothers, Jonathan Drew and Marvin Samel. While their story isn’t a traditional one, it is a case study that could be taught in business school.
In 1998, two years after the company’s founding, Jonathan Drew moved to Esteli, Nicaragua, bringing Drew Estate with him. It’s been there ever since. He moved there with very little money and no industry contacts—he didn’t even speak the native language—and lived in a makeshift room he built above the rolling floor of the cigar factory. Meanwhile, Marvin stayed back in New York to secure funding, working out of a small office in a New York City neighborhood called DUMBO (short for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). While Jonathan figured out cigars in Nicaragua, Marvin was hustling in the streets of New York, borrowing money wherever he could and selling a cigar that didn’t even exist yet. Their teamwork and entrepreneurial drive would pay off.
A year later, Jonathan returned to New York with several blends that didn’t look or taste like anything the industry had ever seen before. With that, ACID cigars were born. Although it wasn’t yet on the radar of traditional cigar smokers, ACIDS were a genuine hit with an entirely new market, combining bold, infused cigars and wild art from up-and-coming DUMBO artists.
In 2000, Drew Estate launched Natural by Drew Estate, helping transition a new generation of infused smokers to something slightly more traditional. It was still unique in the sense that it had a slightly sweeter taste than typical cigars, but it was significantly more traditional than other infused cigars. The Natural was an early indicator of their emerging image as a premium and respected brand that would be solidified with the Liga Privada years later.
In the early years of the 2000s, Drew Estate was beginning to really build a name for itself. The La Vieja Habana was finally rereleased after some setbacks from its initial release in 1998—and by 2001, Forbes Magazine was listing Drew Estate alongside the likes of Apple and Harley Davidson.
As 2004 rolled around, it was clear Drew Estate was growing fast and had to make some changes to keep up with the success and stay innovative. As a result, Drew Estate moved their headquarters to Miami, bringing on Steve Saka as president, one of the most respected blenders in cigars. With Saka at the helm, Drew Estate was ready to evolve out of being a minor counter-culture brand to start a new era as one of the biggest companies in the cigar industry.
After a decade of hard work, Drew Estate had outgrown their first factory. They needed a new factory that could keep up with the high demand and that would be a symbol for their new position in the cigar industry. In 2006, they broke ground on the La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate. In July of 2007, the distinctly unique factory opened, adorned with art and representing a mix between traditional and sub-culture. The La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate is still one of the largest cigar factories in Nicaragua.
The story of Drew Estate doesn’t end there. Today, the company has one of the most diverse offerings in the cigar industry, and most cigar appreciators have likely smoked a Drew Estate cigar without even knowing it.
Their infused brands like ACID, Tabak, and Deadwood pay homage to Drew Estate’s early days by utilizing wild and interesting flavors. Their infused line is so popular that the Acid Kuba Kuba is among the bestselling cigars in the world.
In 2007, they went against the industry trend where everyone was making Puros and instead released the Liga Privada, a blend of four counties. In 2009, they followed up their success with the No. 9 by releasing the T52 blend. Ten years later, Liga Privada is considered one of the most premium cigars on the market, and their limited quantity ensures they’re special finds that stay fresh in people’s minds.
The Liga Privada evolved into the Undercrown line. Undercrown was created because the rollers were smoking too much Liga Privada and were asked to smoke less of it. The rollers took the original blend and tweaked it, changing the primings and vintages and wrapping it in a San Andreas leaf. The resulting cigar was not a Liga but a rich and beautiful cigar in its own right.
In 2015, with the help of master blender Willy Herrera, the original blenders of the Undercrown created the Shade. Now a core line of Drew Estate with ratings of 90 or higher, Undercrown has found great success and was even listed as one of the top cigars to smoke in 2017.
Despite their many successes, Drew Estate has not rested on its laurels but has engaged in joint ventures with other makers including Joya de Nicaragua, the oldest cigar manufacturer in Nicaragua. They’ve also collaborated with big names from popular culture such as Eminem for the Undercrown Shady. Whatever Drew Estate does next, they’ve earned their place as one of the biggest names in cigars.
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