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Growing Up Tobacco: The Thrill & Agony of Blending Cigars
Remember playing baseball when you were young? What was more fun, standing in left field waiting for a fly ball, or digging into the batter’s box?
Blending cigars is a lot like that.
You wear a lot of hats as a cigar maker, and they’re all necessary to keep your employees paid and the lights on. But blending is probably the most entertaining and rewarding part of it all, even if it can also be the most disappointing and frustrating. It’s both soaring joy and crushing heartbreak, sometimes on the same day.
When you begin to work on a blend you have to ask yourself a few questions, but there are three aspects I put ahead of everything else: Flavor, Strength and Body.
Once you have answered these questions, you begin to create a picture in your head of what you want the cigar to taste like. Explaining your thoughts is a very hard thing to do, so this is where it gets tricky. You must know the tobacco really well, and those helping you to develop the blend must know you even better, almost to the point of being able to read your mind.
Now that you’ve settled on an idea for what you want out of flavor, strength and body, you’re in for a hell of a ride. You have just begun to chase what is so elusive to all of us: perfection. But what an experience it is, one I wish everybody could have at least once in their lives. Developing something from the depths of your mind into something you can hold, smoke, and enjoy is an indescribable feeling of accomplishment.
Still, that’s not even close to the enjoyment you receive when you see others enjoying your creation or better yet, when you find one of your cigars nubbed to the very end. Yes, true Nirvana!
As we mature and as our tastes change through the years, we find ourselves changing as well. Although I personally gravitate around the Authentic Corojo Seed Tobacco, I often find myself pushing my limits blending this tobacco with other leaves. How can I maintain the strength and sweet finish of the Corojo tobacco while bringing something different to the flavor?
The problem is that one type of tobacco will not blend well with another type of tobacco. This is where the headaches begin! Here is an experiment I would like you to try: light up two cigars that you enjoy and know well, and take a puff of each. The smoke and flavor of each cigar individually is excellent, right?
The frustration of blending is when you take the dominant tobacco from each of these cigars, roll them into one cigar, and the taste is terrible. Now imagine that you’re choosing leaves from every priming of every seed on every plot of tobacco. You can see how this process quickly becomes complicated!
In the end, you can make all the predictions you want about what tobaccos will be complementary, but until you’ve smoked them together, it’s all just conjecture. Proper fermentation also come into play here. Just one leaf of filler that was not fermented correctly can ruin the entire blend.
Let us also not forget the fact that you had to wait seven days to try these samples. You have lost a whole week and all you know is that what seemed perfectly logical, is an absolute failure.
This is the process every time you blend a cigar. Optimism is your biggest enemy during this process, because it will tell you that the cigar is fine to good. You must consciously resist the temptation to compromise, because this is where you separate the good blends from the great ones.
Strength and Body
All throughout this process, you must consider how strong you want your cigar to be. Should it be something milder that anybody could appreciate? Or do you envision a blend that is meant for the seasoned cigar smoker – one that will really get his attention from the very beginning?
Also keep in mind that strength and body are very different. Maximally, strength is the equivalent of a slap in the face, while body can be compared to a kick in the gut.
Body is where a blend can really shine. Anybody can develop a cigar that hits you right up front, but a cigar that develops a large amount of body without creating a harsh taste? This is where very few can shine.
Is the blend consistent with the brand?
While blending, the brand’s identity must be your touchstone. What is the brand known for, and what message do you want your blend to deliver within that framework? What shapes and sizes will best represent both the blend and the brand?
Cigars are ultimately a personal expression of the blender, and need to represent his mood, his temperament, and his point of view. But even if you happen to stumble on a blend you like, if it doesn’t jive with the brand, it’s back to the drawing board.
Getting the blend right takes an extraordinary amount of effort and time. Anything less than perfection will be noticed immediately, and why not? Somebody will eventually dedicate an hour to one of these creations, and the cigar must never disappoint!