Leafy goodness: Designing your own cigar

The courtyard at the Plasencia factory

The courtyard at the Plasencia factory

It’s been 5 months since our amazing journey to Nicaragua with Colin Ganley and Andrea Woolverton of Cigar Tourism for the express purpose of experiencing the cigar culture of that country. To our delight, Colin and Andrea did a masterful job of introducing us to all things Nicaraguan and not just cigars. Today I’d like to tell you about one of the most remarkable cigar aspects of the trip which was visiting the highly regarded Plasencia factory in the mountain city of Esteli where we were invited into their blending room to concoct our own private cigar blends. Of all the many varied elements involved in the handmade craft of creating fine cigars, blending is the where the magic happens, or doesn’t. (Yes, it’s that critical.) Fortunately, only magicians work in the Plasencia blending room and as an added bonus, we’ve discovered that Colin, our guide and the former Chief Editor at Cigar Journal magazine, is also a blending wizard in his own right as three of us who sought his assistance that day are delightedly realizing as we now smoke our aged private blend cigars for the first time.

reservaorganicaA little background on Plasencia: Even if you are a regular cigar smoker, you might be feeling a bit stumped right now as you struggle to recall what cigars Plasencia makes and that’s understandable. They have tobacco farms and cigar factories in Nicaragua and Honduras where they produce 30+ million cigars each year for over 30 different customers including Rocky Patel and Alec Bradley. But the only cigar you’ll find bearing their name is the Plasencia Reserva Organica which is the result of their groundbreaking work, no pun intended, to develop sustainable organic tobacco growing methods. The Plasencia family left Cuba in 1965 after their farm where they grew 130 acres of  tobacco and raised 600 head of cattle was confiscated by the Castro government and they arrived in Honduras with little more than the clothing on their backs and about $100. With hard work and time, the family established tobacco farms in Honduras and Nicaragua where they persevered despite losing 90% of a season’s crop to blue mold leaving them in horrendous debt and then having their Jalapa Nicaraguan farm seized during the brutal Nicaraguan revolution and given away in the early 1980s. They retreated to their farm in Honduras and would not return to farming in Nicaragua until 1991. Over the years, the father and son team of Nestor Plasencia Sr. and Jr. have built a company renowned in the cigar industry for its decades of experience and expertise and if you’d like to develop your own boutique cigar brand, they are a great place to start. The minimum order is 10,000 cigars which makes what we got to do in their blending room truly remarkable.

Our crew in action in the blending room

Our crew in action in the blending room

After touring the entire factory, we entered the blending room where we were instructed to document what we were looking for in a cigar using a suggested template and with that in hand, we then consulted with a “blender” to match up our parameters to actual tobacco leaves stored in numbered bins on the wall. Once fully spec’d out, our blend was handed to the “roller” in the room who then gathered up the necessary leaves and masterfully assembled each of our cigars at the rolling bench in the corner. Cigar in hand, our marching orders were to smoke our fresh stogie that evening as a test and if satisfied, we had the option to order as many as 25 cigars at $5 per stick to take home at the end of the week which we all ended up taking advantage of.

Let me take a moment to explain the “fresh” cigar phenomenon. The cigars we smoke every day have been aged at the factory for a number of months after rolling to allow the leaves to blend and ferment during which a remarkably foul, ammonia smelling, out gassing occurs. But when that stick is initially rolled, you can smoke it that day and get an accurate preview of what you can expect to emerge on the other end of the stinky aging process. Wait a day or two and it’s too late to smoke it. As I lit up my fresh cigar that night with a glass of 18 year Nicaraguan rum in the other hand, I didn’t know what to expect and I was thoroughly delighted as it delivered exactly what I asked for.

Below you’ll find two reviews of a particular stick that was blended for my brother Eric, a member of our expedition who lives in LA. Since Eric did not have a humidor at home, he sent them with me to Seattle for aging. We were advised that it may take as long as 180 days but once the out gassing tapered off at 140 days, I asked Eric to authorize some quality control testing. I would have smoked one myself today but I was busy testing one of mine own and one of Nathan’s, another of Colin’s super tasty blends, so I enlisted two other brothers from the trip with diverse taste buds. Without further ado, here’s your QC report, Eric. — Scott Bruce Duncan */:-)

  • Brother of the Leaf: Eric Espensen, aka “Dr. E”
  • His blend: “El Doctor”
  • Blender: Colin Ganley, Cigar Tourism & Chief Editor of Cigar Journal
  • Factory: Plasencia Cigars, Esteli, Nicaragua
  • Aging: 150 days at 65% humidity / 70 degrees
  • Size / Tamaño: Robusto (5 x 50)
  • Wrapper / Capa: Cameroon Seco
  • Binder/ Banda : Indonesian Natural
  • Filler / Liga:
    • Jalapa Ligero (20%)
    • Ometepe Viso (25%)
    • Condega Viso (25%)

  • Tester #1: Brother of the Leaf Marco EtheridgeBrother Marco Etheridge
  • Cut: Double punch
  • Construction & performance notes:
    • Excellent draw,
    • Compact white ash,
    • Big smoke,
    • Ash held until halfway without babying it
  • Flavor notes:
    • 1st third: 
      • Snappy red pepper hit, especially with retrohale;
      • Don Carlos / Fuente Cameroon richness;
      • Rich Jalapa sweetness, cocoa;
    • 2nd third: 
      • Cedary notes,
      • Retrohale smoothing out, less pepper, more wrapper flavor;
      • Vanilla and cinnamon replacing red pepper;
    • Last third: 
      • Medium strength,
      • Medium to full body
  • Verdict?: Buy a box!

  • Tester #2: Brother of the Leaf Ray PetersBrother Ray Peters
  • Cut: Guillotine
  • Construction & Performance notes:
    • Excellent draw, smoke output & ash
  • Flavor notes:
    • Initial impression is that of a Punch Rare Corojo or Macanudo Hampton Court;
    • Straightforward, really good tobacco taste without spice or pepper;
    • Light woody, leather flavor;
    • Toasted bread taste on retrohale;
    • Woodiness replaced by leather in 2nd half
  • Verdict?: I expect this to be a great morning stick with coffee. I can’t wait to try it again when Brother Eric comes to visit!

Further reading:

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Lee’s Big Adventure!

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I answer the phone and it’s Sam Devlin, builder of the two boats I’ve owned and who I webmaster for. “If it’s okay with you, we’d like to borrow your boat this weekend. Lee (the Devlin Shop Manager) just bought a 30 year old Devlin and he’s not sure he’ll get her to Olympia from Vashon Island so he might need a tow. Read the rest of this entry »

Rain City Cigar

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El Rico Habano

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I’d like to introduce Patrick DeWitt, the General Cigar rep for the Northwest. Affable, gregarious, knowledgable and fun to hang out with (all good cigar rep qualities), he’s a familiar face to my Brothers of the Leaf and me as he carries 20 lines under the General Cigar banner and so we get to see him at cigar events at our favorite cigar shop and lounge haunts (Rain City, Lit Lounge, Thunderbird, Smokey Joe’s). Read the rest of this entry »

Oliva, Cain & Nub!

A little cigar porn to brighten your day, courtesy of the Oliva website

It’s a stunning, summery Puget Sound day in May and Rain City Cigar is hosting an Oliva event, one of my top brands which also includes Nub and Cain. I look forward to getting some quality time with Russell Graham, the Oliva rep, and enjoying the top notch camaraderie one can expect at RCC. I attend these events regardless of the weather but on such a glorious day, something that has been is very short supply this Spring, it will be jacketless smoking pleasure outside — natural vitamin D and clouds of aromatic cigar smoke — sweet! Read the rest of this entry »

EP Carrillo Elencos Elite

When your favorite cigar rep puts his hand over his heart and swears this particular box of cigars is perfect for you, what can you do but thank him and whip out the plastic? I first met Terry Coleman at Rain City Cigar, my beloved neighborhood brick and mortar cigar emporium where he was peddling La Flor Dominicana sticks on an LFD event day. Read the rest of this entry »

The greatest cigar experience of my life (so far)

The following guest post is from musician, business continuity consultant, father and cigar lover, Doug Cassell:

Brothers of the Leaf,

What follows is the story of the greatest cigar experience of my life (so far). I have waited to writeMaui this up, partially so I could attempt to come up with words that can describe the experience, and partly because I wanted to type it with a real keyboard vs. my iPad, knowing it would not be a short review. First, I must set the scene: Read the rest of this entry »


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