Launched about a year ago in May of 2022, West Tampa Tobacco Co. surged onto the premium cigar scene with dizzying success. Conceptualized as the spiritual successor to Tampa’s historic West Tampa cigar industry, West Tampa Tobacco Co. recaptures the romance and grandeur of Tampa’s Havana Clear cigars with some of the finest aged tobaccos from Ecuador and Nicaragua. Although limited in line and selection, the company operates as a boutique manufacturer. Indeed, West Tampa Tobacco Co.’s Rick Rodriguez deliberately stays true to the roots of mom-and-pop cigar manufacturing by Cuban immigrants instead of the sprawling industrial complexes of modern factories.
Rick Rodriguez began his tenure in the cigar industry in 2000 with General Cigar Co. Rodriguez mastered the art of blending fine cigars thanks to the tutelage of Edgar Cullman, Sr., Benji Menendez, Daniel Nuñez and Ernesto Perez-Carrillo. From 2009 to 2022, Rodriguez worked as the master blender and brand ambassador of CAO. Rodriguez became a rockstar in the cigar world, blending classic cigars like the CAO Flathead or Pilon. Dissatisfied with the corporate culture of Scandinavian Tobacco Group, Rodriguez struck out on his own with the assistance of fellow Gus Martinez. Martinez and Rodriguez now operate West Tampa Tobacco Co. as a powerhouse of the boutique cigar scene.
In June 2022, West Tampa Tobacco Co. launched its two pioneer lines: White and Black Series. The White Series, an Ecuadorian Rosado, ascended to critical success in the sizes of robusto (5×50), toro (6×52), and gigante (6×60). The cigar is a smooth to medium bodied cigar with the rich sweetness of the Ecuadorian wrapper complimented nicely by the spice of the Nicaraguan filler tobaccos. The Black Series is, of course, the full-bodied brother of the White Series. Launched in the same sizes, the Black Series differs with a rich and aromatic Ecuadorian Habano fermented to a notably dark shade. These cigars burn nicely with pronounced spice and a certain woody smoke flavor. Starting off on the right foot, Rodriguez maintained the offensive with new cigar lines in the coming months.
The West Tampa Tobacco Co. storyline and blending style draws extensively from the traditions of Tampa’s cigar industry. In Rodriguez’s own family, there were Tampa cigarmakers:
“The seed for West Tampa Tobacco Company was planted in 1953, when Rick Rodriguez’s grandparents, both highly respected master cigar rollers, heeded the call of the U.S. They left behind the glamour of Havana for U.S. shores, seeking to capitalize on the booming cigar business of West Tampa, Florida.
Their love of tobacco skipped a generation, gathering momentum when it was awakened in their beloved grandson Rick. Growing up in West Tampa, in the shadow of the once-bustling cigar factories, taught Rick the value of hard work and instilled in him grit and determination.
His grandparent’s stories of Havana and Cuban cigars in their heyday were never far from Rick’s mind. So, when the opportunity to work in the cigar business knocked, Rick was quick to answer. He soon found himself studying at the right hand of industry legends, most notably Benji Menendez who freely transferred his knowledge to Rick. Decades later, Rick has been recognized as a cigar master in his own right.”
If his grandparents were his inspiration, it makes sense that his next line would debut as the Attic Series. Drawing from the deepest recesses of his soul and mental archives, the Attic Series is a rich and full-bodied Mexican San Andreas wrapper cigar with a spicy-sweet blend of Nicaraguan filler tobaccos. Drawn from the attic of his mind, this cigar is the blend Rodriguez always desired but felt his obligations at CAO would never allow such experimentation. Perhaps this is a cigar, too, that Rodriguez’s grandparents conceptualized in the dusty attic of their West Tampa home.
Capitalizing off the popularity of the Attic Series and Mexican San Andreas wrapper in general, Rodriguez now launches the West Tampa Red Series. The Red Series is another gem in the Rodriguez diadem. Rich and full-bodied, this cigar captures the essence of Nicaragua. The Red Series uses the exact same wrapper as the Attic Series but with a different blend of Nicaraguan filler tobaccos. To compliment the spice of the fuller tobacco, the smoky cocoa flavor of the San Andreas wrapper gives the cigar smoker the best cigar yet recovered from the mind of Rodriguez. Rodriguez spoke of the cigar in his own words:
“West Tampa Red gave me the opportunity to sit down with the factory and really focus on creating a blend that I enjoy. Normally when I blend cigars, I don’t blend for what I like, I blend cigars for what my fans enjoy. Red will be a reflection of what I believe is the next piece to lay in the West Tampa puzzle, a full-bodied cigar that delivers the full flavor consumers have come to enjoy from West Tampa.”
This cigar is handmade from the finest aged tobaccos at the Garmendia Cigars Co. factory in Estelí, Nicaragua. These cigars will ship as boxes of twenty sometime in May. Cigar smokers may expect them in late May or early June. In a press release from West Tampa Tobacco Co. the cigar sizing was listed as follows:
- West Tampa Tobacco Co. Red Robusto (5 x 50)
- West Tampa Tobacco Co. Red Toro (6 x 52)
- West Tampa Tobacco Co. Red Gigante (6 x 60)
These cigars are available for order at LMCigars.com.
West Tampa Tobacco Co. Red Review:
This is a truly enjoyable cigar. From the first puff down to the roach, the cigar is bursting with flavorful streams of smoke. The primary palate of flavors of the cigar contains anise, cardamom, cocoa, coffee, cinnamon, ginger, molasses, and white pepper. The cigar does build in intensity towards the final third of the cigar but never diminishes in enjoyability. Even when the final third is punctuated by tar and heat, the overwhelmingly phenomenal flavor of the cigar shines through. The quality of Rodriguez’s debuts continues to build as the company matures. The cigar requires a good toasting but once lit it never struggled to burn consistently. Cigar smokers typically dissuaded by a full-bodied cigar should not hesitate to pick up a box of the Red Series once available.