Part Two: Las Vegas Big Smoke Saturday Seminars

How To Blend A Cigar

As the audience smoked their first anniversary cigar, David Savona, senior editor of Cigar Aficionado, began his seminar on blending by discussing the difficulties and nuances of balancing tobacco to make the perfect cigar. He was joined on stage by master blenders Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, famous for La Gloria Cubana cigars, and José Seijas of Altadis U.S.A Inc. The crowd of some 400 cigar enthusiasts listened intently while taking mental notes on the rare José Seijas Signature cigar they were smoking.

"The true art form that these gentlemen exhibit, day after day, is making a good blend, something that's a critical success, a commercial success, and doing that consistently. It's not like baking a cake. You can't simply follow a recipe. Cigar tobacco changes," said Savona, who continued to explain how blending, fermentation and seed growing also play a critical role.

After the introduction and overview, Seijas shared his personal philosophy on blending, stressing the importance of access to great tobacco from various countries, as well as proper aging. Both ensure the absence of "disagreeable elements" such as dryness and bitterness. "Once the blend is decided, then it becomes a job of immense discipline," said Seijas, who supervises the production of about 40 handmade brands at the largest premium-cigar factory in the world. Throughout his dissertation, he reiterated the importance of consistency.

Perez-Carrillo chimed in, mentioning the role of soil, which he believes determines much of the tobacco's taste, strength and aroma. The quality of tobacco from Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, he added, is the best it has ever been.

"The first thing I do before I make a blend is try each tobacco separately, and then I try to think how this will blend with tobaccos I have now or tobaccos I might be interested in," said Carrillo. He is always on the lookout for tobacco that might make a compelling blend for the short term, or perhaps for a future cigar, the cigar maker added.

Ernesto Perez-Carrillo
As the consumer has become more educated and savvy, the industry has responded by producing higher-grade tobacco. Perez-Carrillo said he is confident that today's cigar smoker can not only detect changes in the blend, but will appreciate the finer points of a superior cigar. "The consumer demands more quality and better cigars," said Carrillo, who goes through about 350,000 pounds of tobacco a year at his factory.

The presentation shifted to the immense variety of tobacco on the market today. "I think the industry has evolved a lot from the early days. We had fewer blends," observed Seijas. "The growers of today have presented blenders with far more options. This increased variety of tobacco allows blenders to be far more experimental, something that Seijas and Carrillo admitted to having fun with. When you see a good crop, you want to buy it all," said Carrillo.

When asked about the secrecy of cigar blends, Seijas responded that this information is usually confidential, but pointed out that even if one had all the right the tobaccos in front of them, it would still be very difficult to replicate any given cigar.

José Seijas
Seijas and Perez-Carrillo each elucidated on the difference between a cigar with strong flavor and a harsh one, noting that often times harsh blends are mistakenly referred to as strong. The term strength refers, more aptly, to full-body, depth of flavor, and complexity. A cigar could very well be harsh and at the same time weak and unbalanced. It is elegance and balance, not harshness, that the true master blender strives to achieve.

"You can have a strong cigar with bite and you may feel it in your throat," Perez-Carrillo added, "but you can also have a strong cigar that may seem smooth, but if you're sitting down smoking it, and you try to get up, you can't."

This statement was greeted by a roar of laughter and knowing nods of agreement from the smoky room. Carrillo and Seijas gladly answered questions at the end of their presentation. By this time most of the crowd had finished their first cigar, and some had even begun lighting up their second.

For many of the seminar's attendees, these blenders are like old friends whose artisanship and skill have spoken to them through perfectly tempered combinations of wrapper filler and binder.

Photos by Camilla Sjodin Hadowanetz




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