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I attended La Aurora’s 120th Anniversary cigar-tasting and it was incredible

La Aurora 120th Anniversary Edition with brand's legacy
La Aurora

Cigars don’t grow on trees. They’re not just plucked from a tree or a vine but handcrafted. So much goes into creating a new cigar blend, from the initial experimentation to find the right tobacco concoction to growing the tobacco needed for mass production to distributing the finished product into retail markets. When you stroll into a shop or venue, snag a cigar off the shelf and light it up, it’s easy to take for granted how much blood, sweat, and tears went into its creation. Cigars are made by hundreds of people over the course of years, perfected, aged, and sometimes even aged again. But it’s a labor of love, and every so often, those of us on the other side of the equation get to share in that love.

I come to you with that spirit today, having been fortunate to attend and humbled by La Aurora’s 120th Anniversary virtual celebration. As a man in his late 30s, it’s hard to imagine 120 years of anything, let alone dedication to a single, precisely honed craft, but La Aurora has achieved it. Its many masterful blends are a testament to this storied history, a result of generations upon generations of passed-down knowledge and craftsmanship.

Started by Eduardo Leon Jimenes in 1903 at 18 — yes, 18 years old — he teamed up with a small group of cigar rollers and launched the business. In the early days, they used a donkey to transport the tobacco they produced. A useful beast of burden but a slow one, indeed. Eventually, the company passed to Eduardo’s son, Fernando Leon, and today, Guillermo, grandson and son, respectively. Today, they transport tobacco and goods much more efficiently, though donkeys may still play a role, if not only on the farms. It’s been a long, arduous journey, but La Aurora has grown into a thriving cigar maker, just as Eduardo had envisioned all those years ago.

A legacy 120 years in the making

La Aurora 120th Anniversary Training Kit closed on desk
Briley Kenney / The Manual

The brand’s 120th Anniversary takes inspiration from Don Eduardo’s original concept, borrowing from its namesake, La Aurora, or “new dawn.” Christening 2023 as “the New Dawn of La Aurora,” the company has rebuilt its Tabaqueria, invoking its Dominican roots. As a team, La Aurora also has a renewed interest in and focus on tobacco education to create a lasting family of artisans, much like it has done for over a century. But also to build more momentum in the cigar industry as new enthusiasts begin their journey to try out the various types of tobacco and cigars on the market. With new retailer relationships, limited or special releases, and exclusive events to follow.

In that vein, I and many others were treated to an exclusive virtual experience and “sensory journey” as Master Blender Manuel Inoa walked us through a cigar 120 years in the making. Collaborating with La Aurora’s Guillermo Leon, he and Inoa tried 62 different tobacco blends before settling on a final composition for the 2023 120th Anniversary Edition label.

During the event, we tried five different cigars, four rolled with a single type of tobacco. Together, these separate tobacco leaves make up the 120th Anniversary Edition cigar, but on their own, they deliver a fragmented experience that doesn’t quite live up to the finished product. It shows how much goes into perfecting and creating an exceptional cigar blend like the 120th Anniversary Edition. The point, of course, was to smoke each cigar individually to understand better what each type of tobacco contributes to the penultimate blend.

I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. While I’ve heard of these training events before — typically, cigar reps host them for people involved in the industry — I would recommend them to all cigar enthusiasts if given the opportunity.

La Aurora 120th Anniversary Training Kit open
Briley Kenney / The Manual

So, what did I taste and experience during the event? Let’s discuss.

Tasting greatness and all its contents

La Aurora tobacco types with 120th Anniversary Edition cigar
Briley Kenney / The Manual

With a gourmet dish, the collective ingredients compose the full experience. A cigar is crafted and presented the same way; only the “ingredients” are a variety of dried, aged, and fermented tobacco leaves from varying global regions. By now, you undoubtedly know the makeup. Tobacco filler is rolled into a binder, and then it’s all tied together using a wrapper, with the latter providing most of the flavor.

So, when a cigar blender begins the process of creating a new premium smoke, they first mingle with the various types of tobacco to determine what they actually want to taste and experience in their new chef-d’oeuvre.

That’s what we were treated to on the call. Beforehand, we were given a primer on the basics of tobacco cultivation and cigar production, and from there, we tried the various tobaccos. Manuel Inoa, La Aurora’s master blender, was with us every step of the way, encouraging everyone to pick out distinct flavors and discuss. It was interesting seeing how everyone else experienced the tobaccos compared to the flavor profiles I recognized. We each took turns calling out flavors like cream, anise, wood, leather, and beyond. One taster in the group called out “pink peppercorns.” Inoa informs us that this is because everyone has a different lived-in experience, so to speak, formed through nostalgia, personalities, and our own preferences. A flavor you might pick up in a cigar and recognize as wood on a broader scope, someone else might specify as oak or cedar.

Of course, this also highlights one of the core tenets of cigars and the cigar industry — it brings people together. Cigar enthusiasts love to share their experiences with one another and talk about what they’re feeling and tasting. That’s something I love about it all, too. Never mind politics, religion, or race, the cigar world is incredibly diverse and varied, and we all come together under one banner: the love of the leaf.

Inoa said it best. When you’re smoking, it’s about more than just a cigar or the flavors or what you’re drinking with it, it’s a feeling. It’s the experience you have.

Learning the tobacco

La Aurora 120th Anniversary tobacco types separated
Briley Kenney / The Manual

Before the meeting, everyone on the call was sent a La Aurora 120th Anniversary Edition testing kit. Inside were four individual tobaccos, a lighter, a cutter, and the finished 120th Anniversary Edition cigar. We tried each type of tobacco one by one, stopping to discuss prominent flavors we tasted and recognized before eventually moving to the finished cigar.

Manuel Inoa’s expertise throughout the event was invaluable. Not only did he explain how tobacco is grown and where each of the types comes from on the tobacco plant, but he also walked us through picking out flavors, cleaning our palates, pairing them with the perfect beverages, and just about everything you’d ever want to know about the cigar industry. An interesting thing I learned during the session, for instance, was that salt flavors in cigars generally come from the soil or the land where the plants are grown. It’s a flavor in particular that the soil adds to the mix.

For those curious, the four types of tobacco or mini cigars we smoked were, in order:

  1. San Vicente
  2. Corojo
  3. Olor Carbonel
  4. Piloto Cubano

At the risk of repeating myself too much here, all four of these tobaccos are used in La Aurora’s 120th Anniversary Edition. So, the tail end of the meeting consisted of us smoking through that creamy, delicious cigar and tossing around, again, the flavors and notes we recognized.

Over a century of craftsmanship: La Aurora 120th Anniversary Edition

La Aurora 120th Anniversary Edition cigar up close
Briley Kenney / The Manual

I won’t do an in-depth review of the cigar here, as it involves breaking down the experience into thirds. However, I will say that the cigar was phenomenal, and I would highly recommend everyone give it a try. The construction was solid, and I did not run into any burning issues despite constantly putting it down and spending a lot of time talking.

It’s a medium-strength smoke brimming with creamy, chocolate, sweet, and even some floral notes indicative of a genuine master blender who understands his craft. Inoa made it clear that a new cigar goes through an extensive review process before it’s officially launched, with several panels weighing in on its quality and a final word from the company’s owner — today, that’s Guillermo León Herbert. At least in La Aurora’s case, the review process certainly works because the 120th Anniversary Edition came out pristine.

To the La Aurora team, I say “bravo,” and to everyone else, I’ll simply say, you have to try this cigar. It’s divine. And if you ever have the opportunity to do a tasting or training like this, don’t hesitate, just do it.

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Briley Kenney
Briley has been writing about consumer electronics and technology for over a decade. When he's not writing about deals for…
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