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Cigar Insider: Pete Johnson of Tatuaje Cigars

2 Dec 2009

Since their debut in 2003, Tatuaje cigars have been highly acclaimed. Created by Pete Johnson, then buyer for the exclusive Grand Havana Room in Beverly Hills, Tatuaje was named the most in-demand cigar of 2009 by Cigar Aficionado.

These days, Johnson has expanded his cigar line, and in addition to several Tatuaje blends, he now produces Cabaiguan, La Riqueza, Ambos Mundos, and El Triunfador. He recently spoke with about his foray into cigars, the challenges of bringing his cigars to market, what he would do if he had access to Cuban tobacco, and much more:

Stogie Guys: When did you first start smoking cigars? At what point did you know you wanted to make your own cigars?

TatuajePJPete Johnson: My first, a Hav-a-Tampa at the age of 13, doesn’t really count. I didn’t continue with cigar smoking because I didn’t think that was a good tasting cigar. I had another cigar at the age of 20 and thought it was good, but it was another year before I wanted to explore the cigar world. So right around 1991, the father of the guitar player in my band was a cigar smoker and in 1994 he wanted to invest in me to create a cigar—something I wanted to do but never had the money or the nerve. I went to the DR in 1995 to ask the few people I knew to make the brand. No go. The cigar business was nuts and those people didn’t have the time to make anything original for me. So I waited.

SG: What was the greatest challenge in starting up your manufacturing operation?

PJ: Well, I don’t manufacture anything. I design and create new brands and have a great manufacturer for all my products. I can tell you that to start a new operation, you need money, tobacco, patience, and more money.

SG: What’s your favorite Tatuaje cigar? What are your favorite non-Tatuaje cigars?

PJ:  Just in the original Tatuaje, I would have to say the Havana Cazadores. I have so many brands now and so many line extensions, it is hard to pick just one favorite. I guess the best answer is, depends on my mood and the time of the day. Outside my brand, I tend to smoke a lot of Pepin Garcia-made products and some La Flor Dominicana. I still do smoke a lot of Cuban cigars.

SG:  Two questions we like to ask: 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?

PJ: I like orange soda or Cuban coffee with a cigar. If you haven’t tried orange soda, you are missing out. Cellophane is an odd one, I do both. If the cigar came in cello I leave it that way and I don’t put cello on any non-cello cigars. I did a ton of experimenting when I was younger and ruined many great cigars that I took out of cello.

SG: What are your thoughts on Cuban cigars being produced today? If Cuba opened up today and you could use Cuban leaf to make a new line, would you make a Cuban puro, or would you blend it with non-Cuban tobacco?

PJ: Some Cuban cigars are still wonderful, but I think they are hit and miss at times. I like some of the regional and limited products, but I think where you see more problems is in the regular production cigars. I know if Cuba opened up, I would start with a blend before making a puro. There are growers out there that in my opinion grow and process better leaf than Cuba and I would wait for those people to work some of that land before I would make a puro. A puro, for sure, eventually because the soil and climate in Cuba are so perfect, but now the tobacco processing is crude.

SG: If someone is new to your cigars, which vitola and which blend would you recommend as the best cigar to introduce them to Tatuaje?

PJ: I usually guide people to a robusto or a corona gorda size in any of the lines so a good starter is the Havana VI Noble or the Havana VI Hermoso. Not to strong and not to mild. If they like those, they are going to like many others in the Tatuaje portfolio.

SG: What’s one thing about your cigars that would surprise even the biggest Tatuaje fan?

PJ: I don’t know if this is a OMG one, but when I was a kid I used to repair baseball gloves for a job. Okay ,that’s a boring one. Take two: I know my way around a sewing machine.

Many thanks to Pete for taking the time to answer our questions. For more information, visit the Tatuaje website or follow him on Twitter @TatuajeCigars.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

16 Responses to “Cigar Insider: Pete Johnson of Tatuaje Cigars”

  1. Ben I Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 8:54 am #

    I want to know when Tatuaje Orange Soda is going to be available 🙂

    Glad to see StogieGuys is getting some heat!

  2. The Friday Cigar Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 12:34 pm #

    Awesome interview guys, great to see Pete took the time.

  3. Raul H Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 1:16 pm #

    Another great “get” for what has quickly become my favorite cigar website. Tatuaje is the best, and I’m so glad you got Pete to sit down with you. Sounds like he’s a great guy.

    I’m probably putting his kids through college…

  4. Argyle Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 2:31 pm #

    Nice interview. Like your other Cigar Insiders with Eddie Ortega, Tim Ozgener, Dion Giolito, and Kinky Freidman, this was indeed a great “get.”

    I assume Pete was unwilling to discuss the recent lawsuit with Altadis?

  5. TheGentleman Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 3:41 pm #

    Great interview. I give props to Pete…he always seems to give time for interviews. I appreciate how available he makes himself for the public and cigar community. I second Raul H above…I had some serious explaining to do to my wife after the Drac/Boris release.

  6. sam a Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 6:05 pm #

    crush or sunkist?

  7. Joel Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 11:04 pm #

    Orange Soda; another reason Pete is my cigar hero! I drink the orange when I smoke cigars all the time! It is a carry-over from the days of smoking other combustibles in college. Lately I have been on a root beer kick, from a glass bottle ONLY of course!

  8. John Brooke - The Weekly Cigar Thursday, December 3, 2009 at 1:29 am #

    Great interview. Pete’s a great guy.

  9. Jon Tsourakis Thursday, December 3, 2009 at 1:25 pm #

    Great interview. I got to try the orange soda combo.

  10. Mark Bresky Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 12:44 pm #

    I'll tell you what, If you put Pete's Tats up against a Cuban Limitada I think you would think they are both Cuban and the Tat would come out ahead. It's probably the best non-Cuban that tastes like a Cuban. Pete and Dion got it going.

  11. smoke plus smoking b Thursday, December 10, 2009 at 5:48 am #

    Cigar smoking is not a habit for everyone. Cigar smoking is all regarding flavor besides taste.

  12. Iris Ablaze Monday, October 10, 2011 at 2:22 am #

    My household recently received a copy of Cigar Patriot magazine. All magazines that arrive addressed to previous roommates go to me because of my obsession with making paper collages. When I saw the ad for Tatuaje cigars on the back, and that infectious image of Pete Johnson, I couldn't stop staring back. That picture of him makes me almost, ALMOST want to smoke his cigars… I don't smoke anything, but oh my heavens! I think I'm going to start.

  13. jeffreygoldstein Monday, July 16, 2012 at 4:16 pm #

    best cigar u ever came out with was the Barclay-Rex 100th annv special l

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