Eddie Ortega of United Tobacco (EO Brands)
Eddie Ortega founded United Tobacco in 2003 with Erik Espinoza. Also known as EO Brands, the company has created some of our very favorite blends including the 601 Serie Red, 601 Serie Blue, 601 Serie Green, and Cubao. In this latest edition of our Cigar Insider series, Eddie tells Stogie Guys about his start in the industry, his partnership with legendary cigar-maker Don Pepin Garcia, his favorite cigars and drinks, and much more.
Stogie Guys: When did you first start smoking cigars? How did you get into the industry?
Eddie Ortega: I started smoking casually in my late 20s when was married to one of the daughters of Rolando Reyes Sr. Back then, I wasn't an avid smoker and had little knowledge about the industry. During that time Rolando made Aliados, an awesome cigar, and I fell in love with it. I had a successful computer business in New Jersey but, in 1990, I sold it and moved down to Miami. While working as director of MIS for a company in Miami, my ex-father in law asked me to come work with him, so I did. By this time, it was Puros Indios partly due to legal problems with the Aliados name.
SG: These days you're probably best known for your collaborations with Don "Pepin" Garcia, particularly the 601 line. Can you tell our readers a little about the cigars you made before those, and the history of EO Brands?
EO: Well, we've had kind of a rocky"start in the cigar industry. We initially started out as distributors, but our goal was to one day make and distribute only our own brands. We've been kind of fortunate and unfortunate with each new project we've launched with the exception of our current brands.
Don't know if you've heard or know about our first brand, "Series X." This brand was made for us by Oliva. We had great success.
For our next project, we decided to contact Rocky Patel. We had Rocky make two brands for us, REO and VIBE, for the first two years from introduction, we also had great success with these two brands. Unfortunately for us, the consistency of the cigars slowed down the sales at the retail level to such an extent that we decided to make it only in limited production and to a limited number of resellers.
SG: We've written about your new Cubao line fairly extensively on StogieGuys.com (and reviewed it very favorably), but can you tell me a little about the Mi Barrio cigar you just released?
EO: We wanted to do something unique with a Habano wrapper Pepin had picked up awhile ago. Gorgeous, but very limited in quantity. We also have a great friend who happens to be an artist, Edin Gutierrez, and not too long ago he had painted some scenes depicting some of the Cuban culture. Being that they compliment each other, we decided to introduce Mi Barrio as a limited edition release by combining this great Habano wrapper and the beautiful scenes depicted by Edin in his paintings.
SG:How is Pepin to work with? Any insight into how he continues to create hit after hit?
EO: Pepin and his family are great, not just as business associates, but also as personal friends. How does he do it? Easy: by being meticulous at what he does best. It's actually very easy to make one good cigar. The trick is to make millions of cigars while maintaining perfect construction and consistency.
SG: I've read you're partnering with Rocky Patel on a project. Care to reveal any details?
EO: I can't. He is actually lending me the Aston Martin for the weekend, but asked me to please not tell Nimish or Nish.
SG: Two questions I like to ask everyone: First, what is your favorite beverage to pair with a cigar? Second, in your own humidor, do you generally store cigars with the cellophane on or off?
EO: Tawny Australian Ports, actually. I love ports period. Always, no cellophane.
SG: Do you smoke Cuban cigars with any regularity? What do you think about Cuban cigars being made these days?
EO: Nope, I don't. Don't think much of them or the current quality.
SG: Besides your own cigars, what are some of your favorites?
EO: Wow, many. Every time I'm in a store, I always try something new, but I do have certain favorites. I'll just mention some of the ones I smoke the most. Rocky's Vintage and Summer Release, Ashton Cabinet series, Alec Bradley Tempus, Pepin's Cuban Classic line, Pete's Cabaiguan, and many others.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008