‘Tobacco Business’ magazine has published a beautiful and extensive interview featuring La Aurora’s master blender, Manuel Inoa. During the interview, Inoa explains how he came into the world of tobacco, how his passion for premium cigars was born and what the whole process of making an excellent premium cigar is like. “The creation of a good cigar begins with the selection of the best tobacco to use in the blend,” he stresses.
More specifically, Inoa goes on to define the ‘best tobacco’ as being tobacco leaf with good qualities that come from an accurate region of harvest. At La Aurora, the cigar blending process begins with the entire company focusing on the proper harvesting of the tobacco, as the article (written by Antoine Reid, senior editor and digital director of ‘Tobacco Business’) reports.
Once this process of harvesting is done, Inoa and other members of his team set out to discover the properties of the tobacco leaves and the soil in which the tobacco has been harvested. As Inoa reveals, this is done to identify the aroma and desired notes that can be derived from the tobaccos used in the blend. In his view, it is important to understand the body of the cigar that is going to be made, as well as how the different tobaccos selected for the creation of the cigar will interact with each other when they’re combined into the final blend.
“Something else really important is the mix of compounds from different leaves. That is key for making a good cigar,” he explains in the article published in ‘Tobacco Business’ under the title ‘Blending with a passion’. “You just can’t make a blend as a random experiment. It has to translate the experiences that we enjoy from our connection to nature. I draw my inspiration from nature and good-quality harvests,” he adds.
As Manuel Inoa tells the magazine, one of his biggest challenges is to maintain consistency and develop alternatives that add to La Aurora’s long legacy of being one of the best premium cigar makers in the Dominican Republic. Therefore, his day-to-day work is intense, as there is always something in development and the need to work towards the future.
Furthermore, when Manuel Inoa is not working on a new blend, he looks for ways to improve the production process of La Aurora’s current blends. In this way, he says that every cigar that La Aurora, the oldest cigar factory in the Dominican Republic, puts on the market is the product of a complex process.
In addition, cigar blending is almost always a collaboration, involving many different skill sets and professionals, each of whom plays an important role in creating a cigar that captures the passion, dedication and love of tobacco that many in the Dominican Republic have.
“We are a very open company with many global relations,” says Inoa
There are two different directions you can take when it comes to making cigars, Inoa explains. One is to focus on what the market is looking for, which can mean developing a blend focusing on its strength or flavour profile. In doing this, the master blender and his team can determine which layer sheet is needed. It is a process of trial and error, often involving experimenting with different tobacco varieties until the right combination is found.
We are a very open company with many global relationships,” explains Inoa in the article, which was published on the 8th of June. He then goes on to say, “Wherever tobacco comes from, we reach out and get it. That’s why in our blends there are tobaccos from Cameroon, Brazil, Nicaragua, Honduras, Ecuador, North America and, of course, the Dominican Republic. With that variety of tobacco, we start working on a blend aimed at the market.”
There is also another way to blend cigars, and this method is what Inoa calls his ‘personal process’. He sometimes develops blends for himself in an effort to expand his knowledge and gain experience in working with new types of tobacco that have been cultivated. While he confesses that he loves working with Corojo tobacco for its aromatic, textural and organoleptic properties, he highlights new varieties such as La Habana ’98, as well as new vintages of Corojo and San Andrés.
Inoa experiments with different tobaccos and stores and documents them until he is asked to share what he has been working on. The ultimate goal of the experimental blends is to find new ways to help cigar smokers savour the best Dominican-made cigars, as Inoa points out.
“The constant search of new experiences and harmonising blends make me get a thrilling sensation,” he says. “I’m always looking forward to showcase a country brand product, uplifting the best qualities and richness of our land.”
Everything he does is documented directly onto his laptop. He tracks every element and aspect of the harvest, which is then later evaluated, down to each type of tobacco seed he has planted. This documentation is where the blending process really begins, as Inoa likes to review data on the history of the harvest, from the weather conditions the tobacco was subjected to to the flavours found in the harvested tobacco. Because he and La Aurora work with so many varieties of tobacco, Inoa’s computer and documentation process are critical to creating the perfect blend.
Blends for third parties
Not all the blends he works on end up as La Aurora cigars; sometimes he has to make blends for different companies or partners. In some cases, they already come to the company with a blend in mind, so we help them bring that idea to life. “Sometimes they come with ideas of blends that might not have the correct proportions, so we help them harmonise the compounds. Together, we find a balance in the combination of tobaccos.”
At the beginning of this process, he works to identify what the other person is looking for in terms of flavour and strength. When they identify what they want from the blend, Inoa tries to be even more specific with what they are looking for in terms of strength and flavours. In these cases, Inoa believes that success comes once the customer is satisfied with what they receive.
Manuel Inoa’s beginnings, from industrial engineer to master blender
Our master blender, Manuel Inoa, was not born in the tobacco industry. But as he himself says, “master blenders are not born, they are made”. The title of “master blender” is something that is earned, not given, according to Inoa. It is the result of years of work and experience in the cigar business and validated by years of studying all areas of tobacco, from how it is grown from seed to how it is harvested and combined to create a final blend.
With a background in Industrial Engineering, he entered the world of premium cigars through a friend. He has gone through different areas of the industry, until he was in direct contact with the rollers, supervising the curing and ageing processes, where he had the opportunity to learn how to make blends of cigars.
And so he started at La Aurora, as a master blender. He worked closely with the then president of the company, Fernando León, and approached his job with passion: to be responsible for making blends that had to use tobacco from perfect harvests. Being a master blender, Inoa explains to the magazine, requires an open mind and a willingness to always learn something new and explore all areas of the tobacco business.