Whether done in solitude or amongst friends, cigars have been enjoyed across the planet for hundreds of years. Despite the wide availability of stogies and a bustling and enthusiastic industry, getting into cigars can be a rather intimidating, and at times confusing experience — a situation that’s exacerbated by the immense number of cigars on the market, the plethora of different varieties, and the steep MSRPs that are often attached to some of the segment’s more elite stogies.
To help simplify the situation and offer a robust, yet easily digestible introduction to the world of cigars, we’ve sat down with the renowned master blender from the Dominican Republic’s oldest continuously operating cigar company Manuel Inoa, for insight on how one goes about selecting a cigar, what one should consider when shopping, and the differences between tobacco and leaf types, along with a few recommendations for some of the cigar sommelier’s favorite sticks.
A Brief Introduction To Our Cigar Expert & Interviewee
Formally educated as an industrial engineer, Manuel Inoa spent a decade working at the General Cigar Co. under legendary Cuban-born master blender, Benji Menendez, developing the meticulous taste and skills needed to eventually take over as master blender himself, at fellow Dominican cigar firm, La Aurora — a legendary outfit in its own right that dates back to 1903. Now in his early 60s, “Manu” has amassed over three-and-a-half-decades of experience in the cigar business and currently serves as La Aurora’s production manager and master blender, as well as acting as one of the company’s main brand ambassadors.
Advice From A True Aficionado
Sitting Down With Renowned Master Blender Manuel Inoa
While you could spend your time scouring online blogs and forums to learn about the world of cigars, your best bet will almost always be getting your information directly from a trusted source, and when it comes to cigars, few individuals have a name that carries as much weight as Manuel Inoa. So, to get you up to speed on the subject, we’ve linked up with the acclaimed master blender to ask him a series of questions on how to find the perfect cigar, along with some other crucial, fundamental info on the space.
What’s the first thing everyone should consider when choosing a cigar?
It’s all about the time and place. The right time and the right place will determine the right cigar, mostly consider size and strength. It’s also good for smokers to know themselves and have clearly articulated preferences, that way the right cigar can be selected from its flavor profile.
What’s the difference in the size/shape of cigars and how does that influence the decision-making process?
It goes back to time and place since It would be very complicated for someone to pick a Churchill for their lunch break from the office, so for that, as an example, a Corona would be perfect. The size of the cigar will obviously give you an estimate of how long you’ll be smoking; but some cigars, like our La Aurora Preferidos, have tapered shapes and varying ring gauges, which ultimately gives the smoker a novel experience.
How do you choose between the different tobacco varieties?
It’s a very meticulous process; every variable is like an ingredient: seeds, origins, and the foliar level of the leaf in regard to the tobacco plant, it all matters. Options are seemingly endless for blending so careful consideration of the consistency of these variables is ultimately the deciding factor, after the quality of the material, of course. We design our blends to fulfill our market goals, carefully targeting consumer trends and preferences.
When is it better to buy single cigars or boxes?
It’s certainly all to do with what your preferences are. If you have a list of cigars you really like, then that’s a list of boxes you can confidently buy. The option of buying singles, or even samplers, is great for figuring out what new cigars should be on that list of boxes you should buy.
What can you learn from the smell of a cigar you haven’t tried?
It’s not going to decide whether or not you’ll like a cigar, it’s a common misconception. What it will do is give you a small clue, but ultimately, the smoking experience is what will speak for the cigar if it has been well stored in a proper humidor. We work hard on writing tasting notes for our cigars, so we highly recommend reading those to get a good idea of what the smoke will be like.
What are the primary differences between cigar places of origin?
The answer to that question revolves around preferences. Every factory has its culture, in the same way that every smoker has their own preferences. In the case of La Aurora, we blend with tobaccos from all over the world, and other factories focus on blending only home-grown tobacco. It all matters, as we’ve discussed before, in giving consumers something to enjoy, and we all do it in different ways, that’s what makes this industry so rich, and why we believe are cigars are so special.
Besides the tobacco variety and cigar shape, are there any other factors people should be considering?
The manufacturer matters and their insistence on consistency. You want a reliable cigar that you’ll buy at different places at different times and still get the same experience. Aside from that, a good cutter and lighter with proper technique make a big difference in the smoking experience too.
Are there really significant differences between inexpensive and pricey cigars? If so, what are they?
Not really. Sometimes an inexpensive cigar will blow an expensive cigar away. What really determines costs, at least in the case of our cigars, is the cost of materials, and higher-skilled labor. Our Preferidos, for example, aside from having very nice packaging, are crafted by our best rollers, who have decades of experience. Preferidos also have the best tobacco we can possibly get, which has been aged for eight years since harvest. That’s a lot of work, by a lot of people, and it comes with a price, but also tends to result in a better smoking experience. With all that said, nothing is stopping a consumer from enjoying a 5$ cigar more than one that costs 30$.
Are humidors really necessary? What are their benefits and drawbacks?
Humidors are a very good investment. Your cigars are valuable! A well-kept humidor will ensure that your valuable cigars stay in great condition for years to come. If you have cigars, having a humidor as well is a very good idea.
Are there any common misconceptions about cigars that you frequently hear?
Aside from any I may have dispelled already, I often notice that some people believe that dark wrappers indicate a strong cigar; while that could potentially be the case for the individual wrapper leaf, strength is ultimately determined by the blend in the filler, not the wrapper.
Aside from a humidor, what other items or accessories does one need to enjoy/partake in smoking cigars?
As mentioned earlier, a good cutter and a proper butane lighter (which will not contaminate the tobacco when you light it) are very important. I also believe that a good travel humidor and pocket case go a long way in ensuring that your cigars stay in good shape. Other things like a dedicated space and good company are also very nice things to have.
How does one go about pairing a particular cigar with a whiskey or liquor?
It’s very important to be familiar with both the cigar and the spirits you intend to pair before the fact. If you don’t try them beforehand, you could make the mistake of pairing a mild smoke with a strong drink, and the results of that pairing are sub-optimal. When strength matches, most pairings will work wonderfully, and naturally, once you’re better versed, you’ll be able to selectively pair to get the most out of your drink and your cigar.
How does one light a cigar and why this is of importance?
A general rule is to ensure that your cigar is evenly lit, it’s actually fundamental to a good experience. There are other nuances about lighting slowly or using cedar spills, and while I don’t believe it’s necessary to go there, they have their charm. Just focus on getting your cigar evenly lit!
Do you have any final tips or advice for novice cigar smokers?
Yes, take your time. Don’t be embarrassed to rely on mild cigars, especially in front of your friends. Those will be easier to smoke and won’t be overwhelming. Lastly, remember to ease yourself into it and enjoy the time a cigar gives you.
Lastly, Can you give us three cigar recommendations — a budget cigar, a mid-range pick, and a top-quality option?
That is a very difficult question! There are so many amazing choices for each category, making it difficult for me to mention only one. Our La Aurora 1903 Cameroon is one of the most critically acclaimed smokes in our portfolio. It’s part of our original blends family, which includes other great blends at the same price. For our 115th anniversary in 2018, we made La Aurora 115 Anniversary. It has been a consumer favorite since as well as highly appreciated by critics. This definitely has to go to one of our limited editions. The La Aurora Preferidos Hors d’Age series is a recurring release for each dedicated harvest. Because tobacco of its quality is so scarce, we have to limit production for each edition, so I’d recommend getting your hands on them when you have the opportunity!
La Aurora Cameroon 1903
A 5” medium strength cigar with a 60-minute smoke time and sweet aromas of cinnamon and pastry, La Aurora’s 1903 Cameroon features Dominican tobacco and an Ecuadorian binder rolled in a Cameroon wrapper — a leaf that La Aurora has been using since the company’s inception in 1903.
La Aurora 115th Anniversary
Available in Robusto, Toro, and Grand Toro, shapes (with lengths of 5”, 5.75”, and 6”, respectively), La Aurora’s 11th Anniversary series cigars are medium-to-full-flavored stogies that have previously been awarded with Cigars & Spirits Magazine’s “Cigar Of The Year” award and boast tastes of creamy aged wood that’s present throughout the cigar’s entire flavor profile.
La Aurora Hors d'Age
Born out of a 12-year process from seed to stogie, La Aurora’s Hors d’Age is a true spare-no-expense cigar, made using the finest available materials including an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper, an ultra-rare blend of Dominican, Colombian, and Nicaraguan filler. Available in limited numbers, this well-balanced and extra-aged cigar possesses spicy notes of black pepper and coffee along with hints of caramel and wood.
Editor's Cigar Pick
La Aurora 107 Tobaccos Of The World Sampler Pack
Another stellar option for dipping your toes into the cigar world is to opt for one of La Aurora’s many sampler packs. And, while there are a dozen different sampler pack alternatives to chose from, we’ve become particularly enamored with the Dominican firm’s 107 Tobaccos Of The World Sampler Pack ($33), which contains two 107 Ecuador Robusto cigars, a pair of 107 Nicaragua Robusto stogies, and a single La Aurora 107 USA Robusto.