While so much bad news is coming out of the District of Columbia these days for the premium cigar industry, one shining star the DMV does offer us is Fratello Cigars. The “baby” of Omar de Frias, Fratello Cigars is a small, yet strong company that was born as the result of affection for rich cigar history and culture.
At a Fratello event at UPtown’s Smoke Shop in Nashville, TN, I had the pleasure of speaking with Omar about the inspiration behind his company, FDA regulations and the future of the cigar industry as he sees it. Exactly one week from the day the feds dropped the proverbial bomb on aficionados, the NASA employee and cigar road warrior shared how the pending law could affect him, the Fratello brand and more importantly the families of those he employs.
Growing up near the city of Santiago in the Dominican Republic, de Frias remembers the aroma of cigars from his childhood. As his father and grandfather enjoyed premium cigars, he learned to appreciate the leaf and all that it had to offer. Enjoying cigars as an adult, Omar states that he always knew that he wanted to try his hand at blending and producing his own cigar and putting his own mark on the industry.
When he started working for NASA in DC, he set a career goal early on that he would reach a certain level, which at that early time meant “success” and that “he’d made it”. Having “worked his ass off”, Omar reached his goal far earlier than anticipated and decided that he needed a new challenge. With the support and blessing of his wife, de Frias decided that it was time to get serious about cigars and take his love for them a step further. Traveling throughout and visiting as many cigar manufacturers as possible in Central America, Omar landed in Esteli, Nicaragua in the renowned Joya de Nicaragua factory with Jose Blanco, now owner of Tabacalera La Palma. With aggressive goals and a desire for full production of his blend, the original Fratello was born.
Having a rocky start and more inventory than he could initially sell, Omar and the Fratello cigar broke out at the 2013 in Las Vegas, NV. Through a few key accounts, valuable relationships, plenty of travel and a uniquely blended line of cigars, Fratello has grown from a handful of accounts in 2013 to over 600 in 2016 and being called the “Hottest new cigar brand on the market”
On a personal note, I had heard about Fratello but could never get my hands on one. Having searched high and low in Brick and Mortars around the country, I finally acquired some from the W. Curtis Drapers Tobacconist in Washington, DC (what Omar calls his home store) during a trip in 2015. As I finally was able try the original line, Omar was preparing to release his second cigar, the Fratello Bianco. Since then, the Fratello has become readily available in my local stores and has been a favorite of mine every since.
Wrapper: Nicaraguan Habano
Binder: Ecuadorian Sumatra
Filler: Nicaraguan and Peruvian
Vitola for Eval: 5 1/2 x 46 Corona
Smoking a Fratello with Omar was a special experience as he walked me through why each element was chosen for this blend. We joked that the original Fratello was a “United Nations” (another DC reference) of sorts because so many different qualities and countries were represented. Boasting balance and how the leafs, sections of plant used, and the characteristics of each complimented one another, it was easy to taste and experience what Omar was trying to create. It’s also worth noting that this particular vitola is Omar’s “go-to cigar” each morning as he enjoys his coffee and starts his day.
With a spicy start and finish, along with a sweet, creamy and pleasant 2nd third, each Fratello I consumed told a medium to full bodied story. With each draw, you think of the sacrifice and care that goes into each cigar, each vitola; and have a further appreciation for the boutique-sized company that he has traveled from shop to shop to promote and share.
During IPCPR 2016, de Frias has a few surprises up his sleeve. Looking to capitalize on the successes of the last few years, Fratello is looking to grow and reach more aficionados with its innovative, quality driven, personal feel while navigating their way through red tape and overreaching federal legislation.
Our Smoke Break took place at UPtown’s Smoke Shop in Nashville, TN.