Cigar blending is an artform
Cigar blending is an artform
Image: Nejc Soklic / Unsplash

According to the Royal Society of Chemistry, “the art of alchemy was handed down through the centuries from Egypt and Arabia to Greece and Rome, and finally to Western and Central Europe ... Simplified, the aims of the alchemists were threefold: to find the Stone of Knowledge (The Philosopher’s Stone), to discover the medium of Eternal Youth and Health, and to discover the transmutation of metals.”

Alchemy is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a power or process that changes or transforms something in a mysterious or impressive way.”

As is the case with whisky or cognac, there is an alchemy to making cigars and, central to that process, is master blending. I am often asked what it is about cigars that appeals to me. First, it is the craft, the alchemy involved in transforming a tobacco seed into a cigar stick. It all starts with a seed planted in a planting tray. Once the seedling is a couple of centimetres tall, it is planted in the soil. The soil, the climate, the fertiliser used and the amount of water and sun the tobacco plant receives all have an impact on the flavours of the end product.

There’s pruning and priming, which is how the leaves are harvested: from the bottom of the plant up, fermentation in a curing barn and ageing in a warehouse where the leaves are packed into bales. Thereafter the tobacco is sorted according to colour, thickness and which part of the cigar it will be. It is then rolled into a cigar and a banded. Often the cigars are left to age before going out into the world. It can take years before they end up on the shelf of a tobacconist. 

But that's just the mechanical process. The documentary, The Hands of Plasencia, states that the brand has a 573-step process in making each of their cigars. And each step is done by hand.

At the heart of this journey is a cigar master blender who — through their extensive knowledge of tobacco and their ability to discern nuances in taste — is able to blend different tobaccos to create different flavours and aromas. They oversee every step of the process from tobacco selection, ageing and fermentation to quality control and blending.

Mastery takes time - the process of cigar crafting is meticulous
Mastery takes time - the process of cigar crafting is meticulous
Image: Alex Plesovskich / Unsplash

Being able to combine the different tobacco varieties from different regions, each with unique characteristics, is truly an art form. The number of combinations created and the process of determining the right pairings is mind-boggling.

Master blenders also have blenders working under them to execute the blending process with their guidance.

While they often remain behind the scenes and, at times, move between brands, the reputation and professional skill of a particular master blender can elevate a cigar brand, even one that has been operating for years. Some master blenders such as AJ Fernandez, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo and Hendrik Kelner have gone on to establish their own companies producing distinguished cigars.

As with most things in the world, mastery takes years and, as an enthusiast, I truly appreciate that. Knowing that each cigar I smoke is a work of art, a product of alchemy, makes the experience even better.

© Wanted 2024 - If you would like to reproduce this article please email us.