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I'm back from my trip to Santiago and Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, one of the birth places of some of the very best, premium cigars in the world. The journey was a real eye opener and made me realise that we often overlook this country, and it is to our own detriment! The commitment, love and passion that these people have is second to none, and it shines through their excellent cigars brighter than the sun.

For anyone with a passion for cigars, who considers themselves a real aficionado, a trip to the Dominican Republic to tour around the factories and farms of La Flor Dominicana and La Aurora should be top of your list of things to do. They are so happy to share their passion and really let you into their world. There are no secrets; they want you to learn and love what they do as much as they do.

Sorting tobacco leaves for fermentation in the DR


I understand that holidaying in the Caribbean Islands can be slightly out of reach for a lot of people, therefore simply sampling the very best Dominican cigars and rums can be a little slice of paradise. Have a read through my trip and maybe some of their eagerness to create and invent a supremely good product will seep out and help you understand just how truly superb they are.

Read about my journey below the galleries.

Galleries

Gallery from La Aurora




Gallery from La Flor Dominicana Factory




Gallery from La Flor Dominicana Farm






Day 1 - Arriving in the Dominican Republic


We arrived in the Dominican Republic after a 9 hour flight and were instantly treated like royalty! Skipping past the queues which looked like they were going to take hours and hours. But, a lot of this country has been built on cigars and they look to us to help show the world how excellent their products are. So to them, we are kings.

We stepped out of the airport into the thick, humid air that smelt fresh and clean but had the consistency of a steam room. It was like the opposite of England! We were greeted at the airport by some Domincan men with the biggest grins, and the very suave looking Tony Gomez standing behind them in his sunglasses. They had arranged for a bus to take us to our first hotel. An old, rickety bus that was blasting out Caribbean music and looked like something from a 60s movie, we stepped onto it, excited to find out more about what was to come. On the bus we were treated to our first, and very much long awaited, cigar, then set off on our travels.

The cigar for the bus journey was the La Aurora ADN Robusto, paired up with a refreshing Presidente Dominican beer. It was the perfect way to be greeted and extremely refreshing. We drove on cracked and bumpy roads, through stunning views of green fields and mountains, with shacks made of concrete and corrugated metal roofs. Motorbikes that were falling apart were flying around us, ridden by helmetless riders who, every now and again, were forced to stop and fix something, or reattach a part that had fallen off. Road laws seem to be, whoever beeps the loudest and the most, is in the right. After a couple of near miss car crashes, we finally arrived at the first hotel, Camp David Ranch - www.campdavidranch.com

Camp David Ranch Hotel - Dominican Republic




Day 2 - A Tour Around La Aurora, Cigar Taste Training & Blending Our Own Cigars!


We started early to get going, let's be honest, we were here to work, and not just have a good time! We were given hats and t-shirts and a bag full of cigars to get us in the mood, we lit our cigars and got back on the bus ready to go off to the La Aurora cigar factory.

Outside La Aurora Cigar Factory - Dominican Republic


La Aurora's slogan is "Our blends are the result of relentless search of the best tobaccos in the world", we could really see that they put a lot of care into everything they do, every single member of their vast company has a huge passion. Eugenio gave us a very hands-on personal tour of the factory. I was instantly blown away by the sheer size and scale of the operation, and how meticulous they were about every aspect of it. The business was started in 1903, by 2000 they were contributing 10% of the taxes collected for the entire country! That gives you some gauge of just how big they actually are. The care they give their staff is so unbelievable, they can't pay them an awful lot as that would make the staff a target to crime, instead they subsidies everything. They give them a life to love. Every single member of their 1,300 strong staff seems to have the biggest smile on their face at all times. They simply love their job and that is shown in the finished product.

La Aurora Connecticut Robusto Dominican Cigar


We enjoyed a delightful La Aurora Connecticut cigar whilst watching a brief introduction video - a superbly constructed cigar featuring deep, dark, rich coffee flavours with notes of cream and enjoyable sugary-spice. The perfect accompaniment to a walking tour of a cigar factory!

After the introduction video, we followed Eugenio into the factory where the first thing I notice was the sweet, rich smell of rum in the air, I later found out the reason. La Aurora put years and years of dedication into every leaf. The leaves are aged for 5-7 years in ex-rum barrels to create a deliciously rich and sweet tobacco. They use over 30 different types of leaves to create over 500 unique blends, it really was a masterclass in how cigars should be treated.



Read my "How to Enjoy a Cigar by Eugenio" - his tips will help you understand some techniques which may help you enjoy your cigar.



Eugenio guided us in to the aging room where the tobacco leaves are kept in ex-rum barrels which helps draw out the sweetness of the leaves. The smell in the air was pleasantly sweet and thick with a distinct haylage aroma. Simply mouth-wateringly good from what is essentially some dry leaves in a wooden barrel! Some of the leaves are even aged after being moistened with a little wine, again this adds sugar and flavour to the fermentation process to truly make these cigars the best they can be.

Onwards with the tour, and on to the rolling rooms. La Aurora's commitment to creating the perfect cigars really does show at every turn. The Limited Edition cigars are rolled by rollers with over 30 years' experience! Even the standard lines of cigars are randomly taste tested by the rollers and quality control inspectors to ensure that there is never an issue and every cigar is as perfect as the last. Each roller still has the ability to make over 500 cigars a day!



Training at La Aurora!


La Aurora Dominican Cigar Blending Training Kit


After the factory tour we went into the conference room for a lesson on how to taste a cigar by the unbelievably knowledgeable Manuel Inoa. Just seeing and speaking to this man shows you how and why the each La Aurora cigar is excellent at worst and perfection at best.

Manuel showed us on the map where the tobacco is grown and helped us understand how the different growing conditions and nutrients lead to the different flavours; the sea, sun, mountains wind, rain and humidity all effect the final flavour, therefore, using different countries and farms helps create the incredible array of complex flavours.

The flowers of the tobacco plant are cut to keep the nutrients in the leaves and then the leaves are selected to create the flavour.

Tobacco Plant Leaf Diagram
Ligero = Chocolate and Cream
Seco = Fruit
Viso = Spice
Volado = Discarded


There is enough tobacco from different regions to create flavour using only the best leaves with the most nutrients. The Volado leaves are not needed.

Once the leaves have been grown, picked and chosen for their excellent flavours they are dried, cured and aged.

Curing turns the leaves from green to brown. Fermentation for a year and a half brings out the flavour. Aging for 2 years in rum barrels brings out the sweetness, complexity and character.

The cigars are then rolled in a way to ensure the humidity throughout the cigar is perfectly consistent. Wet wrapper, slightly dryer binder. Dry filler. Then aged in bundles. After 21days humidity equalises.

The cigars are then ready to be tasted.

The tongue tastes some of it but the nose detects thousands of flavours. The combination creates the flavour of the cigar.

C.Gars Cigar Taste Flavour Wheel
Cigar Flavours detected by the nose:
Coffee
Red citric
Green citric
Earth
Herbal
Floral

Cigar Flavours detected by the tongue:
Spice
Sweet
Fruit
Chocolate

A Guide to Identifying Flavours in Cigars
  • Earthy Notes: Dry earth, wet earth
  • Herbal Notes: Freshly cut grass, dry hay, mint, basil, oregano, eucalyptus, etc.
  • Spicy/Peppery Notes: White and black peppercorns, red pepper, chillies.
  • Spice Nuts: Nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, paprika, curry, ginger and anise.
  • Sugary Notes: Caramel, molasses and brown sugar.
  • Floral Notes: Different types of roses, aromatic flowers, lily flowers, vanilla and liquorice.
  • Wood Notes: Cedar, oak, pine and mahogany.
  • Sweet Fruits: Mango, apple, banana, star fruit, berries such as raspberry, strawberry, soursop and guava.
  • Cocoa Notes: Dark chocolate and milk chocolate
Puros Cigar Taste Training
We were then given 4 puros cigars (only using tobacco from 1 region) to help us identify what gives the flavour. Each of the cigars was rolled using tobacco from 4 different regions, but all using the same type of seed. We used sparkling water and coffee beans to help refresh the palate between each one.

  • 1. Peruvian Puros - seco
    Low strength, aromatic, burns well.
    Stimulates the tip of the tongue with sweetness.
    Earthy notes with mahogany wood.
  • 2. Bahia - ligero
    Sweet tobacco with a pleasant flavour, medium in strength and very aromatic. Combines well with other flavours. Stimulates salty and sour parts of the tongue. Mild spicy and peppery notes as well as dark chocolate. Subtle flavours of mango and banana peak through. More flavour than Peru.
  • 3. Nicaraguan - seco and ligero
    Medium to full bodied, very aromatic, sweet flavour that gives it a distinctive character. Richer and smoother with earthy notes.
    Subtle flavours of citrus - blood orange and orange zest.
  • 4. Dominican - seco ligero
    The strongest tobacco, rich flavour and aroma. Fresh flavours.
    Subtle notes of eucalyptus but with a chilli spice.
    Starts very lively, puff 3 or 4 into it, the flavours level out to be more smooth and refined.


A final top tip from Manuel: Always take the cellophane off when you are storing the cigar in your own humidor. This allows the cigar to breath and can help the flavours.

After learning some superb knowledge from Manuel, we had a quick bit of lunch and some moments of contemplation with a La Aurora 107 cigar and a coffee in the stunning cigar lounge before moving onto blending our very own cigar - a unique privilege that is usually reserve for exclusive clients ordering 10s of thousands of cigars.

La Aurora 107 Dominican Cigar and coffee La Aurora Dominican Cigar Blending Training Kit




Blending Our Custom Blend Cigars

Choosing Tobaccos for Custom Blend Cigars
Now we had been equipped with some of Manuel's vast knowledge, we were taken back downstairs to the factory floor by Eugenio who helped us choose exactly which wrapper, filler and binder tobaccos we would like to use for our cigars. We spent some time smelling and really getting to know the leaves from each different region, as well as each leaf from different heights of the plant to get the strength right as well. I went for a more medium blend with the smoothness of the Dominican tobacco balanced nicely with some medium strength, seco Nicaraguan, then finished with a lashing of Peruvian sweetness (my tribute to the Inka Secret Blend). We got the blend right by choosing the exact percentage of the different leaves that we would use in the blend. It seemed to be a really detailed and in-depth science which I think is perhaps best left to the experts. A great fun treat to do nonetheless.

Once we got the blend how we wanted it (ish), it was time to put our bags of leaves in the box and leave them for us to roll the next day.

It was time to head back to the hotel and freshen up for dinner and to watch the baseball game. Another one of the Dominican Republic's great passions! This is where we met Guillermo, the man in charge of La Aurora. He is a wonderful host who had many great stories to tell, and clearly loved is baseball almost as passionately (if not more) as his cigars! Guillermo clearly holds the values of La Aurora and those of a family business: honesty, integrity, passion for excellence, good business manners with suppliers and employees. He was no doubt a truly welcoming host, a gentleman and a man who clearly knows everything there is to know about cigars but always open to learn more. This has enabled him, along with his excellent team, to make some of the best cigars in the world.



Day 3 - Machine Made Cigars and Rolling Our Own Cigars!

Back to La Aurora where we were given a tour around the Machine Made Cigars factory. Here they make 5 million cigars a week such as Black and Mild cigars! The factory runs 24/7 with workers having a 3 shift pattern, this allows them to create such high quality cigars quick enough for the global market to enjoy. After seeing how efficiently the process was running, we went back across the road to the handrolled cigar factory to roll our new blends into cigars!

La Aurora Machine Made Cigars


Rolling our own cigars! - See video of Scott rolling his cigars



I have often seen videos of cigar rollers and thought, "wow that's impressive", but a small part of me has also thought "I could probably do that!" How wrong I was. Rolling your own cigar really makes you appreciate just how difficult it is to create the magnificent cigars. And to put 500 out a day blows my mind completely! It's safe to say, I won't be getting the job at the factory! The process we followed was bundling the filler leaves from stem to tip, placing them on the binder leaf and rolling the leather up to roll the cigar. Similar to the cigarette rolling machines but much harder and more precise to use. The cigars were then put in moulds for 2 hours to create the shape.

Whilst the cigars were setting, we took a trip to the local museum which details the Dominican Republic's history, this museum was actually built by La Aurora and is free for Dominican's to look round. This shows their commitment to the people and that they have not forgotten their routes!

After the tour and some lunch we went back to apply the wrapper leaves to our custom blend cigars. Again, something which was incredibly difficult and really does go to show how skilled these people really are. We managed to create 10 cigars each in total...

Our cigars were taken away and we then attended another tasting and training with Manuel, this time with the latest release from La Aurora, the ADN (Spanish for DNA). We also paired this with their magnificent rum which is soon to hit the UK market.



La Aurora ADN Tasting

La Aurora ADN Dominicano is the latest release of La Aurora, a cigar with an exceptional blend whose soul is the Andullo.

Using this type of tobacco, La Aurora pays tribute to the oldest Dominican tobacco process and although little known today is deeply ingrained as an essential part of the Dominican Republic's tobacco culture and its processing practices for hundreds of years.

La Aurora, with this new release has rescued the use of Andullo as an essential and unique component in the cigar filler by using it as a whole leaf in the filler.

Andullo is a hard-to-work tobacco that is unique in cigar making; its strength, inspiring aroma and sweetness, combined with a well-balanced blend provides a completely exceptional smoking experience.

We tasted each of the different types of tobacco used in the making of this masterpiece of a cigar which then gave us the skills needed to really identify the beautiful process, and masterful blending that had gone into creating this cigar.

La Aurora ADN Cigar Training Kit


ADN Blend Puros Cigars
  • Dominican Republic - ligero corojo
    Medium to full bodied with notes of red fruit such as mandarin, ripe oranges, subtle notes of wood.
  • 2. Nicaraguan - ligero
    Medium to full bodied with distinctive tastes of wild fruit. Rich and earthy taste with subtle nutty notes.
  • 3. Dominican Republic - piloto Cubano ligero
    Medium to full bodied with very spicy notes and touches of creamy chocolate. Subtle caramel notes.
  • 4. USA - pennsylvannian ligero
    Full bodied with flavours of nuts such as almonds and hazelnuts. Subtle herbal notes.
  • 5. Dominican Republic - Andullo
    A dark, powerful and full bodied tobacco which gives the ADN it's unique character.

After the tasting we moved back into the cigar lounge where we were presented with our very own custom blended, handrolled by us, stunningly presented cigars. The one and only problem with them is, I don't know if I can bare to remove one from the box, they just look so good! I will wait for them to develop a bit though and let you know how I got on! Stay tuned. Alongside our "Owner's Choice" cigars we were presented with a box of the magnificent La Aurora 107 cigars, a bottle of E. Leon Jimenes rum by La Aurora, a pack of La Aurora coffee and a certificate signifying we had successfully completed the La Aurora Blending Seminar. This took my breath away completely, I am not often lost for words, although I did manage to thank them profusely. The presentation was stunning and I simply cannot thank La Aurora enough!

La Aurora Certificate and Owners Choice Cigars




Day 4 - A Trip to Cigar Paradise - The La Flor Dominicana Factory


We had now experienced what La Aurora had to offer, and I really could not wait to see how the guys at La Flor Dominicana would try to top it.

La Flor Dominicana Lady Liberty with Cigar and Whisky
We arrived at the factory through some big iron gates with men with pump action shotguns guarding them. We drove in past a beautiful building that's covered from floor to roof in ivy, which I later found out was the original factory. The place as it stands now is stunning and a small piece of paradise, I was blown away again before I'd even sat down! Lady Liberty, equipped with her La Flor Dominicana Cigar and a glass of Dominican rum, guided us in to the garden area. The scenery was stunning, with the best smoking area you will ever see! And even a little garden where Litto Gomez grows his own fruit and vegetables. Litto and Tony, the father and son behind the brand greeted us with what Tony described as "the perfect cigar with a coffee for a full strength breakfast". We sat and got to know each other and swapped stories while enjoying some wonderfully sweet and rich Dominican coffee and the La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero Chiselito.

La Flor Dominicana was founded in 1997 in Santiago, Dominican Republic. They may be one of the newer cigar brands to hit the world, but Litto Gomez the owner certainly has a depth of love and passion for cigars that couldn't be learnt in many lifetimes. The commitment to quality, consistency and love for his customers has placed the brand among the most prestigious premium cigar brands in the world. Over the years they have developed a portfolio of quality blends, shapes, and sizes which fulfil the ever-changing needs of today's cigar smokers. The well-known consistency is possible because they take a great deal of pride in personally supervising every minute stage of the production; from farming the extremely high quality tobacco at their own farm in La Canela, to the art of manufacturing cigars in their modern factory.

La Aurora Certificate and Owners Choice Cigars


Tobacco Fermentation Room at LFD Cigars Factory
Litto gave us a tour around his factory, the first thing I noticed was that it was a much smaller, more personal operation than La Aurora, each process was kept to one room so that Litto himself could stroll around and be involved in the entirety of the making of each cigar.

Litto Gomez Testing Tobacco at LFD Cigars Factory
We started in the fermentation room, this is their most important room. It's here where Litto plays and experiments. They try and smell the tobacco, every leaf is different, there is no rule for how long the leaves stay here as they are smelt and felt and experienced throughout the whole process. The leaves talk to them and tell them when they are ready. The smell which hangs in the air is sweet like chocolate and rum.

Litto remains honest and true at every stage, if there are no leaves that meet his strict requirements, no cigars will be made. He remarks that the cigars are made to be absolutely and truly enjoyed by their loyal smokers, they are not a product made to sell but a passion made to be shared.

Even when we walked around the room where the leaves where being prepared, Litto grabbed a bunch of cigars off one of the tables and within 30 seconds had bunched them up into a cigar, and lit it to smoke as he walked around. This is a way he can check that everything is still up to his impeccable quality.

Every cigar is also weighed and draw tested and meticulously checked to ensure every single La Flor Dominicana cigar is 100% exactly as it should be, there is never any issue with how they draw or burn. And I really should know as I smoked an insane amount of them whilst in the Dominican Republic!

Day 5 - La Flor Dominicana Tobacco Fields

Driving to the tobacco farms we went through some of the more poor and rundown areas of the Dominican Republic, there was police with pump action shotguns and submachine guns walking around the place which was little more than make shift buildings. Eventually after a very long and extremely bumpy journey, we pulled through the gates of the farm.

Tony Gomez met us there and gave us his personal tour.

La Flor Dominicana Tobacco Farm


Tony clearly takes after his father with the passion for the product as he knows so much detail and he was constantly checking the leaves and barns whilst giving us his tour. It was truly a delight to learn from him and see how the process is developed and how much care goes in right from the very beginning.

They are ever experimenting to bring the customer the best possible experience.

La Flor Dominicana Tobacco Curing Barn


Litto and Tony, are by far the coolest, most fun people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. They both have to be seen to be believed. I joked with Tony that unfortunately he is only the 2nd coolest person in the world as his father holds the title. But, I think they can safely hold the title together as a family unit. Passion, love and a sophisticated coolness ooze out of the both of them, creating an aura that is synonymous with today's cigar smokers. Although they have achieved dazzling heights, such as the number 1 cigar in the world for their Andalusian Bull, they remain so unbelievably humble and laid back. They both had some incredible stories and advice to tell us, words that I will remember forever. Thank you to the both of them for their unrivalled hospitality. I truly hope our paths cross again.

Day 6 and 7 - Blue Jack Tar Holiday Resort


The last 2 days were spent at the Blue Jack Tar Holiday Resort, relaxing, unwinding and digesting our trip… as well as digesting rather a lot of incredible food and alcohol paired up with magnificent cigars from La Aurora and La Flor Dominicana.

La Flor Dominicana Reserva Especial Toro Long Ash




Special Thanks

My special thanks go to Scott and Jerry at Tor Imports for organising such a wonderful group of people. Also to Guillermo, Gustavo, Manuel and Eugenio from La Aurora, for their excellent hospitality and pride in sharing their vast knowledge. And a HUGE thank you to Litto and Tony Gomez from La Flor Dominicana, for welcoming us into their lives in such a kind, friendly and generous way. I have made memories with you all that will last my entire life... I'm sure everyone I meet will quickly get bored of me forever reciting the stories.



Extras

A big thank you to Simon Jackson, from My Smoking Shop, and Kris Parry, from Black Swan Tobacconist, for taking me sea fishing and catching the holy grail of fish! A Sail Fish! An absolutely unbelievable experience, one which I never in a million years thought I would have. This was a dream come true. I did end the fishing experience with my head hanging over the side of the boat... but it didn't ruin the experience one bit! If you ever visit the Dominican Republic near Puerto Plata, and want some seriously fun entertainment, sea fishing for big game such as sail fish, dorado, marlin and many others has to be done! Give Nelson Herrera from High Z's Fishing Tours a call or go on his website www.highzsfishingtour.com and he will give you the time of your life! Super friendly captain of a small fishing boat which will comfortably fit 5 people, and he really has a good skill and art to what he does. You will not regret it! He'll even personally pick you up and drop you off in his van!



Sailfish Sea Fishing in Dominican Republic


Buy La Aurora Cigars Online in the UK


Buy La Flor Dominicana Cigars Online in the UK