Today’s cigar marketplace is flooded with “boutique brands”; many nothing more than a gringo with enough backing to produce a “limited” number of cigars and release them through “select” retailers often only to have the bottom fall out and end up being blown out at pennies to the dollar on a discount website. But there are certainly exceptions, many of whom have been featured on this blog, and many who will be in blogs to come. But before this onslaught of out-of-nowhere boutique BS, the cigar industry really had two classes; the “big name” time honored brands that people smoked because their father and their father’s father smoked them, and the small local brands that were created for and sustained by their local market without ever really capturing national or global acclaim. So how did the “little guys” finally gain credibility as viable brands? How did the mom and pop factories become real players? One man changed the game, and paved the road for the rest of the “boutique brands” to follow. Who pioneered the change? Easy. Ernesto Perez-Carillo.
Perez-Carillo came from a tobacco family. His grandfather began making cigars in Cuba in the early 1900’s and his father and namesake worked in tobacco as well before becoming a Cuban Senator. In 1959 the family relocated to Miami and in 1961 Ernesto Sr. opened the El Credito cigar factory where eventually the famed La Gloria Cubana brand would be made. At that time, Ernesto Perez-Carillo, Jr. was a 19-year-old newly married drummer who worked part time with his father while pursuing his music career. When his father passed away in 1980 when Jr. had to take control of the business.
El Credito’s business during the 80’s was steady but not growing, mostly making cigars for the local Miami market. However, the increased popularity of cigars in the United States during the early to mid 1990’s and a favorable rating in Cigar Aficionado Magazine in 1993 catapulted Perez-Carillo, the El Credito factory, and his La Gloria Cubana brand to be the one of the hottest brands in the U.S. with demand far over supply naturally creating one of our industry’s first “boutique brands”.
In 1999 General Cigar Company purchased Carillo’s El Credito factory and the corresponding brands with Perez-Carillo remaining “president and cigar master” of the El Credito division. But in March 2009 Carillo announced his departure from General Cigar Company walking away from the factory and brands he built.
But he quickly announced his new venture. Following his family tradition with daughter Lisette and son Ernesto III joining him, they successfully launched the E.P. Carillo “Inaugural” cigar in late 2009 followed by the E.P. Carillo “Short Run” in early 2010. Just this past week at the industry’s annual International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailer’s Convention in New Orleans, LA, the Perez-Carillo family debuted their new E.P. Carillo “Core Line” as well as a 2010 Edicion Limitada. The family is embracing the philosophies and ethics that they always have, the ones that built El Credito in the first place, keeping production small and controlled while maintaining quality and consistency. Now the Godfather of the Boutique Cigar is right back where he belongs … at the top!