My father-in-law and I had the unique pleasure to spend some time with Benjamin Petrocchi, the creator and owner of Aruhiba Cigars – the one and only cigar maker on the island of Aruba. A true cigar lover, Benjamin spoke passionately about overcoming the odds to fulfill his dream of becoming a cigar maker in his native homeland. Benjamin, with the help of his brother and sister, have been painstakingly crafting the very best cigars that they can for over ten years now, and after one puff, I was convinced of their craftsmanship.
Although he has accomplished a lot and has much to be proud of, Benjamin is a very down-to-earth, pleasant individual to be around. Coming from a family of bean farmers, Benjamin learned how to work the Aruban soil to his benefit. Now the land that once produced beans is used to grow lush tobacco plants.
Following a windy, dirt path that leads past the homes of Benjamin’s family members, you come to a dead end where Benjamin resides. Next to his home, is mobile home sized building where his cigars are made and sold. Behind that building, the wrappers for his cigars are grown. On a separate piece of land, he grows his filler.
Interestingly, the tobacco used for the wrappers is grown literally several feet from Benjamin’s backyard in an area no bigger than three large swimming pools. Surrounded by chicken fence, sheet metal, and plastic tarp, Benjamin makes sure that the tobacco is protected from the animals and the elements. Fertilizer is delivered when needed as well as government collected rainfall. Benjamin has to choose the precise time to plant since the island sees little rainfall for much of the year. Like a well educated farmer, Benjamin is prepared for the worst with a sprinkler system in place.
With a smile and a twinkle in his eyes, Benjamin explained that when it comes time to plant the seeds he turns the event into a family party. The kids are given the seeds and turned loose planting them throughout the fields. After the planting is done, a celebration takes place at the beach.
Each tobacco plant is harvested from at least three times and Benjamin makes sure to cut the flowers from the tops of plants to ensure that the nutrients reach the leaves to strengthen them. Large trailers surround Benjamin’s property filled with harvested leaves going through the fermentation process. After the fermentation process is complete, which takes about a year, the leaves are inspected and selected for use.
Due to changes in weather, the flavor of tobacco can alter. Benjamin has entrusted his brother with the blending process to ensure that it is consistent from year-to-year. As I listened to Benjamin speak lovingly of his family, it was a no-brainier that he selected his brother to serve such an important role.
At times, it was difficult understanding Benjamin’s broken English, but after four or five times of asking what, my father-in-law finally figured out that Benjamin was saying doves. Benjamin showed us a stack of dried stems (for lack of a better word) that were separated from the tobacco leaves and explained that he provides them to an individual on the island that raises doves. According to Benjamin, there is no better material for doves to make nests out of. I respect that – not much of what is produced is wasted.
In the mobile home sized building that sits in front of the wrapper field, I watched Benjamin’s brother and sister, and two other ladies, skillfully craft the cigars. Benjamin likes his product to remain fresh, and therefore, he does not over produce. When asked how many cigars get produced a day, he shrugged and said it depends. I got the impression that he prefers quality over quantity.
My father-in-law selected a strong cigar and I selected a medium one to smoke. Immediately, I was impressed by the construction of the cigar. It didn’t feel spongy and in fact it felt pretty solid. The wrapper was very smooth to the touch and a nice golden brown color – I’d liken it to a Connecticut sun-grown wrapper. My father-in-laws’ cigar was a nice dark chocolate colored wrapper that reminded me of a Maduro. Interestingly, the wrapper and cap of the cigar are kept tight with…cactus glue. What else you going to use on a somewhat desert island?
We were both very pleased with our selection. My father-in-law likes a nice, strong tobacco-y flavor and that’s exactly what he got. My medium cigar was smooth and had the right amount of strength and flavor of a medium cigar. We both commented on how easy and smooth of a draw with had. Both of our cigars burned with a nice fine line that didn’t require a re-light throughout our forty minute or so smoke.
I purchased a mild, medium, and strong cigar and will be reviewing their differences more closely in the days to come. I did not purchase the gargantuan cigar that was probably a foot and a half long at about a 52 ring size. That thing was massive. My father-in-law joked that you’d start smoking it on Monday and wouldn’t finish it till Friday.
The only thing Benjamin’s company doesn’t make are the tubes, boxes, and wrappers. I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t get one in a tube. His tubes are elegantly designed to remind you of the Aruban flag. A very nice look indeed.
Since Aruba is close to Cuba, I asked Benjamin if his tobacco seeds are from there. Benjamin told me that they probably are. “Probably.” I asked. Benjamin informed me that he found tobacco plants growing throughout the island and those are the plants that he harvested from initially. Benjamin believed that the tobacco plants he found were the result of Cuban seeds getting stuck to Arubans who worked in the Cuban tobacco fields, and when the workers returned home, the seeds found their way into the Aruban soil.
In a small cigar box, Benjamin maintains several photos of his humble beginnings. He showed me the first plant he grew, how he dried the tobacco on clothes lines, the tables and tools he built to craft his product, and other memories. Benjamin stated that he learned the craft of cigar making by visiting the plants in Cuba and working as a cigar seller.
Benjamin’s business offers many services other than making and selling cigars. Have a wedding coming up or a business meeting?You can book Aruhiba Cigars to be there and supply you with fresh, handmade cigars made right in front of you. He also has something big in the works that I won’t spoil here, but I’m sure that the American tourists are going to love. Winner of “The Best of Aruba” business award in 2014-2015, you got to check out Benjamin’s sticks.
It was a true pleasure spending time with someone who worked hard to find their success using the resources around them. Everyone told Benjamin that his dream was never going to be within his reach, but his dedication and determination paid off greatly. I highly recommend that you check out his shop that next time your in Aruba or pick up one of his sticks from the hotels and grocery stores that supply them. Consume. Review. Repeat. gives Aruhiba Cigars a 10 out of 10 long, smooth draws.