Like so many families in the cigar industry, the Plasencias are no strangers to the challenges and occasional heartbreak of pursuing their love of working with tobacco. From crop-destroying infestations and blights to catastrophic weather and unstable governments, five generations of Plasencias have persevered with their traditions of tobacco cultivation and cigar production.
The “1865” in the company name refers to the year that Don Eduardo Plasencia departed his native Spain to grow tobacco in Cuba. The next generation, under the direction of Elder Sixto Plasencia, expanded the business to domestic sales and exportation. When the Castro regime confiscated the family farms in 1963, they emigrated initially to Mexico, and subsequently to Nicaragua. There, in 1978, they were once again forced to flee from a revolution, settling in neighboring Honduras, where they restarted their tradition of planting and cultivating tobacco.
In 1986 the family expanded in a new direction when Nestor Plasencia Sr. incorporated cigar production into the business. They were soon producing a million cigars annually as contract manufacturers for several companies. By 1990 conditions had stabilized in Nicaragua, allowing the Plasencias to return to growing tobacco and rolling cigars there, while retaining their Honduran facilities.
“He started producing cigars, contracting with other manufacturers, then continued to grow, sell and make cigars,” according to Plasencia COO Hank Bischoff. Between the fields and factories of both Honduras and Nicaragua, the Plasencias now produce 45 million cigars per year, both for their own Plasencia brands and for 30 other companies. Their vast enterprises in growing, processing and distribution combine to make Plasencia the largest producer of tobacco in the world.
Bischoff says the family’s history and reputation in tobacco cultivation eventually led to branching out into production. But brand recognition did not automatically follow, largely because the Plasencias were focused on farming and production, not on distributing their own cigars. Instead, they were sold in the U.S. market by distributors and online vendors.
By 2016 the next generation of Plasencias, led by son Nestor Andrés, took the brand a quantum leap forward, opening up distribution in the U.S. as the entity Plasencia 1865, and establishing the brand as a serious contender in the premium segment, with the release of Alma Fuerte as the new face of the company. The launch was supported by print advertising and use of social media, and consumer response was, and still is, overwhelmingly enthusiastic.
In all of their advertising platforms, the Plasencias use the slogan “Light up your soul.” The Spanish word alma translates as soul, and fuerte means strong. Therefore, we can take this to mean that this cigar is “the soul of strength.” Bischoff says that was the reasoning behind debuting a stronger cigar: “Today’s experienced smokers prefer fuller body. With Alma Fuerte you will get that.”
The popularity of Alma Fuerte led to the creation of two newer Alma series. The second iteration is named Alma del Campo, meaning soul of the country (or countryside). It is a tribute to the fertile land that produces the high-quality tobacco grown by the Plasencia family. Alma del Campo is a medium-bodied, creamy blend with a hint of spice.
This brings us to the third release in the Alma series, Alma del Fuego, which means Soul of Fire. The reference is to the volcanic (hence “fire”) soil on the island of Ometepe, in which much of this cigar’s tobacco was grown. Alma del Fuego cigars also feature a wrapper leaf from the famed Jalapa region, balancing the blend’s fire with a natural sweetness. We’ll discuss the Fuego’s qualities in the review which follows. Since the Alma line’s inception in 2016, Bischoff says the brand has experienced “phenomenal growth,” with production numbers “in the millions.”
The Plasencia family is now running on all four cylinders, as patriarch Nestor, still active in every phase of the operation, is joined by sons Gustavo, whose responsibilities include accounting and accounts receivable, Jose Luis, in charge of U.S. distribution, and the aforementioned Nestor Andres, the driving force behind brand creation. They are supported by national sales director Javier Carranza and his team of inside and outside sales representatives, covering the entire U.S. market. Plasencia Cigars also has a robust international profile, with a presence in 85 countries.
While growing tobacco and producing and selling cigars remains the main focus for Plasencia, a growing line of swag is available at Plasencia cigar events, and also on their website. What makes the accessory line unique is that 100 percent of the profits are dedicated to building and maintaining three childcare centers in Nicaragua. These centers are a benefit to Plasencia’s employees, providing meals as well as medical and educational services to the families. It is this spirit of generosity and public service that causes Bischoff to exclaim: “It is an honor for me to work for these people. There is no other family I would want to work for.”
What better way than that to epitomize putting the soul into cigar manufacturing!
This story first appeared in PCA The Magazine, Volume 2, 2023. To receive a copy of this magazine you must be a current member of PCA. Join or renew today at premiumcigars.org/membership.
– Photos courtesy of Plasencia 1865. Story by Larry Wagner.