Ernesto Perez-Carrillo came by the office the other day. Ernesto, who I call Ernie, has been making cigars almost as long as I've been alive. He made La Gloria Cubanas before opening EPC Cigar Co. with his children, and he has a track record of making superb cigars on a consistent, longterm basis. While I've known the man for 20 years, I always seem to learn something from him, and I look forward to each one of his visits.
Ernie had to miss our Big Smoke Las Vegas weekend due to some family issues—he was supposed to present his E. P. Carrillo La Historia EP-III to the audience at our Saturday seminar. He was able to film a short video that we showed, which went into the blending of the cigar. And when he came to New York we started chatting about half a leaf.
You see, it was a half leaf that made a difference in the La Historia blend.
"Every leaf that you put into a cigar is going to affect the taste, the aroma, the complexity," said Ernie, as he sat in my office here in New York. "There's no such thing as a neutral leaf—it doesn't exist."
The La Historia cigar is made with a Mexican wrapper, Ecuador binder and Nicaraguan filler. In that complex filler blend, among other leaves, is Nicaraguan seco—the mildest grade of filler tobacco. The early blends of the La Historia cigar were made with an entire leaf of that seco, and while the cigar was good, Ernie felt it could be better.
"I was smoking the cigar, and for some reason there was something in there," he told me. "It was hard to explain. ...It just wasn't the best. ...Everybody loved it. They said the cigar was great."
Production began. The factory rolled 20,000 of the cigars, but Ernie put on the brakes. "I said, you know what? Maybe I'm being neurotic, but at the end of the day, to me it's not as good."
The seco was bothering him. He had a mental note of what that seco was delivering, and he felt it was a little too much. So he directed the factory to change the blend, turning from a whole leaf of the seco to just one half.
"What I was tasting in that leaf was too much creaminess," he said. "I [had them change it to] half a leaf and it balanced out the whole blend."
The cigar went on to take the No. 2 spot in Cigar Aficionado's Top 25 cigars of 2014, with a score of 95 points, classic on our 100-point scale. Ernie had made a fine cigar even better.
And his revelation of that tiny change that resulted in great success was indicative of one of the myriad things a cigarmaker needs to know to make a great product out of tobacco.