Interview with Manuel Inoa of La Aurora, S.A.

Manuel Ino La Aurora

When Manuel Inoa, La Aurora’s master blender, started in the cigar business, he knew very little about cigars let alone tobacco. Fresh out of college with a degree in industrial engineering, Inoa was hired by General Cigar Co. in the Dominican Republic to improve the factory’s processes. He was soon enamored with the industry. While at General and under the tutelage of Benji Menendez, a world-renowned cigar crafter, Manuel learned everything he could about tobacco and the art of blending and crafting.  

After ten years with General, Manuel Inoa left the company to run production for
the La Aurora cigar factory, which is the Dominican Republic’s first cigar
La Aurora Factoryfactory. Originally hired to manage the factory of this century-old, family owned company, Inoa eventually took on the responsibilities of trying out new tobaccos and creating new blends.  

Now with more than 35 years in the industry, Manuel Inoa is not only La Aurora’s production manager, but he is also their master blender and brand ambassador.   

Recently, Neptune Cigars was fortunate enough to catch up with Manuel and discuss blending and the La Aurora 107 Nicaragua, which is part of the Company’s Tastes of the World portfolio and their first Nicaraguan puro.  

What’s it like working at La Aurora?  

There are so many things we can do. There are so many problems to be solved. Good problems because every year you have different crops. All the time you are discovering new things and making new things. It’s amazing.


So, you are always working on something new?  

Exactly! You never stop. Every day you are working on something new. Trying new tobacco, or a new blend.  

You wear a lot of hats at Aurora. You do the blending. You’re a brand ambassador. What is your favorite task?  

The best for me is the blending because you are making new things for the customers. But on the brand ambassador side, the customer can speak to the people who make the cigar. What are they looking for … what are we trying to do … what is the right way to get flavor to get strength? There are so many brands on the market. People are confused. They don’t know how to tell the difference between one brand and another. But if they can meet a blender, they can discuss and talk about blending. This lets them understand the blend and appreciate it more. But in the end, I like both parts of my job. The blending lets me work with the tobacco, and as an ambassador, I get to meet the people who smoke the cigars.  

La Aurora 100 - Neptune CigarsWhat is your favorite blend?  

In 2003, we celebrated La Aurora’s 100th anniversary. The owners said we want to celebrate our anniversary, and we need to do something unique. I said, “Wow! What a problem I had, but it was a good problem. I had to create a blend that the people  would like. I can make a few cigars that I really like, but maybe you won’t like them, because a cigar is a very personal thing. Then, I asked around. What are the people looking for? Something full-bodied? Flavorful?  They said make it smooth and flavorful. With that, I started to work. I developed 60 samples.  From there I chose three blends that I thought would work. Finally, we got a blend that everyone liked, and it became, at that time, the number one cigar by Cigar Aficionado. For the Anniversary cigar, we started to work on the blend in 2000 from tobacco that was five years old.  

You have the 100 Anos and the 100 Anos Maduro, which one do you prefer?  

The 100 Anos. The 100 Anos Maduro was an experimental cigar that we made in just one size to see what people thought about it. Everybody loved it. We released the 100 Anos Maduro in 2013. We eventually stopped producing it because we were waiting for a nice crop. We have it and it is aging, and we are waiting for the right moment to bring it back.  

When was the 107 Nicaragua released? Wasn’t it released in the Summer of 2020?  La Aurora 107 - Neptune Cigars

Yes. The 107 Nicaragua we worked on it for a long time. The plan was to release it in February, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to stop. When we were able to release it, we started in Europe. It was the first time we started there. We normally release cigars in the United States first and then the rest of the world, but because of the pandemic, we had to release it in Europe.  It was a very successful brand in Europe. We got a very nice score from one of the most important cigar magazines in Europe. We got some very good comments. It is very successful because it is a very unique cigar. We have never done anything like that. It is a beautiful cigar.  

What does the 107 Nicaragua taste like? What notes can you pick up especially with retro-haling?  

The profile of this cigar is totally different from other Nicaraguan cigars. We blended it from different crops throughout Nicaragua such as Condega, Esteli, and Jalapa. I smoked a lot of Nicaraguan tobacco to accommodate my tastes … to see what people are looking for. We adjusted it to make it more flavorful. When it starts, the cigar is very spicy and woody. It is smooth. You can feel all the nutrients that Jalapa tobacco has. You can pick up the flavors that Esteli tobacco is known for. It has the right combination of the two. The cigar is changing all the time. In the first third, it is very spicy and a little peppery like black pepper, but too much. Also, it has some very nice nutty and fruity notes inside.  It is not overpowering. It is a cigar that makes you want to keep smoking. It is a good daily cigar. I always tell people not to judge a cigar at the start. I tell them to wait until the finish. This cigar has some cocoa towards the end. The tobacco from Nicaragua also has something like tropical fruit. It is a very pleasant cigar.  

As a master blender, what is your first step in the blending process? If you’re asked, we want to release something next year, where do you start? 

We have the marketing director and the sales director who are all the time engaged with consumers. For example, they come to me with an idea to make a cigar from Nicaragua. I ask them for which market because each market is different. Then I start to choose the tobacco that I think will work. Then I need to taste every single tobacco from Nicaragua. I make some samples using leaves from the different levels of the plant: seco, ligero and viso. We start to smoke the different tobaccos from Esteli, and Condega. Then we start taking notes. What is the profile for that tobacco? What is the taste? Then you start to blend it on paper. Sometimes, something you think that can work on paper doesn’t always work in practice. Once you smoke it, it could be totally different. But at least if gives you an idea as to which way to go. From here we can start adding or removing the tobaccos. At this stage you need to do 20 to 25 different blends. If you’re lucky you can do it with this number of blends, but sometimes you may need to create 20 or more blends.  

What was the hardest blend you had do develop? 

For me it was the Untamed, I had to create 92 different blends. Sometimes it takes 20 blends. Other times much more. It’s complicated because you know you have to use the right tobacco in the right amount to create a blend.  

Going back to the 92 blends. How many days does it take to smoke all of that?  

We have a team, and everybody gives their input until we have the right blend. Once you decide on a blend, you have to make sure you have enough of the tobacco in the warehouse to make that cigar consistently throughout the year. Because the crop changes every year, you need to have a nice inventory to keep the cigar’s profile.   

How many people are on the team?  

We have two teams. One team has fourteen people. It is a smoking panel. Then we have a final panel. Let’s say we do 40 blends. The first team is smoking, providing feedback, and adjusting the blend. This team decides on the best three blends. Then it goes to the second team. This team is made up of five people: the company owner, a few others and me. From those three blends we have to choose one. You may ask, “why five people?” It cannot be four or six. It has to be an odd number so we can have a majority. Also, we include the Miami team members. They are part of this panel. Because it is not just about my palate. It is about everybody’s palate.  

How many cigars does La Aurora produce in a year? 

We normally produce 12 to 14 million premium cigars. We also do machine made cigars like Black & Mild. Total production is around 2 billion cigars.  

We have a program called La Aurora 107 Tobaccos of the World. It includes cigars made of tobacco from all over the world. We use tobacco from Cameroon, from Ecuador, Connecticut Broadleaf, Connecticut Shade, Brazil, Peru, and Nicaragua. A long time ago we used tobacco from Nicaragua, but we never came up with the idea to do a pure Nicaraguan cigar because I was afraid of what people would say about a Nicaraguan cigar made in the Dominican Republic.  

What do you think is going to be the most popular tobacco used in 2021? We’ve been hearing that the next new wrapper craze is going to be Brazilian tobacco. What do you think about that?  

Brazilian tobacco has had problems with crops and the farmers. It is hard to get Brazilian tobacco at this moment. In the past it was easy. Now it is a little bit complicated, but La Aurora does have a few brands that uses the Brazilian wrapper. We have the Preferidos. I love Brazilian tobacco because of its spiciness and sweetness.  

How about Mexican tobacco? 

The San Andres is very good tobacco. It is very good for wrapper. We use Mexican tobacco just for the wrapper and binder.  

Do you mostly use Dominican tobacco for the filler?  

Yes, but we also blend it with Mexican, Peruvian, Colombian. Colombia has very good tobacco.  I love to work with Nicaraguan, Peruvian and Brazilian tobacco and mix it with Dominican. It makes some very nice combinations.  

What do cigars mean to you?  

The way that I see it. Cigars are for enjoyment. When you smoke a cigar, it is not for smoking because anyone can do it, but to enjoy a cigar that is totally different. When you get a nice cigar, you need to enjoy it. You need a nice chair, be around good people. You are enjoying something that will help you create nice memories.

Image(s) Sources
Listed in order of appearance from top to bottom.
Manuel Inoa of La Aurora, S.A., www.La, , Accessed on 03/10/2021
La Aurora Factory, Dominican Republic, www.La, , Accessed on 03/10/2021

Published on March 10, 2021

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