Wednesday brought another early wake-up, another terrific breakfast at the hotel buffet, and another bus ride to the General Cigar Dominicana factory. Today we would have cigar making lessons and tour the box manufacturing facility. Videos of my attempts are available on my previous entry.
I admit to having some apprehension about the hands-on aspects of this part of the trip. It’s something I’ve looked forward to trying, knowing full well that my manual dexterity is pretty terrible. We were each provided with a mentor, trainer, teacher. In my case, it was a gentleman named Danny, who was a supervisor. As I speak no Spanish and he spoke no English, this was going to be interesting. We began with the Leiberman machine, and building the bunch. Each leaf is rolled individually, and each leaf is placed in a specific order in the hand, with the ligero placed in the middle. I had a 4 leaf blend, with one of the leaves being a half. Once the leaves are placed in the hand, they are obviously too long for the 5½ x 42 coronas we were rolling, so you tear off the bottom parts and place them back in the bunch, carefully distributing these parts through the bunch. Once that’s all accomplished, it’s time to put the bunch into the binder leaf and roll it using the Leiberman. Next comes a bit of pectin on the end to hold it all together and a twist, then it gets shoved into the mold. I screwed this up a few times and Danny bailed me out, deftly redistributing my filler leaves. We made 20 cigars.
While our cigars were spending some time in the press, we went to the box factory. This incredible place was a wood shop, where they took slabs of wood and ripped it, planed it, cut it to various sizes. Think of the number of brands that General Cigar makes, then consider the line extensions, then each size. One quickly reaches the conclusion that there are a whole bunch of different boxes to make! Then there’s dress boxes, lacquered boxes, all different kinds of boxes, even the semi-circle boxes for the La Gloria Artesanos Obilescos. They also make boxes for others, we saw Guillermo Leon Signature boxes as well as E.P. Carillo boxes (including one for a cigar we hadn’t yet heard of, “Dark Rituals”. Once the boxes are made, they have to be decorated. Some boxes are paper-wrapped, which they were doing in a “Lean Manufacturing” cell method, where each person completed one step and passed the box to the next person in line. Henry Ford pioneered this method of manufacture and the Japanese auto industry perfected it. Other boxes are stained and lacquered and decorated with silk screening or foil printing. They have old printing presses and boxes of type, very old school but quite efficient. They produce some really beautiful boxes, it was quite an amazing operation.
Once we were done being amazed once again by the sheer scope of the operation, it was time to do the most difficult thing ever, wrapping our cigars. As we were making Macanudo cigars, we were using a Connecticut Shade wrapper. In my self-deprecating way, I viewed this exercise as a fine way to turn excellent raw materials into crap, at least in my case. If my blend wasn’t a complete abomination and assault on the senses, the possibility of me rolling a functional cigar was remote at best. Again, Danny was my mentor, and he really knew what he was doing. I struggled with trimming the leaf to the right size, he jumped in to make corrections. I never was able to properly trim the “flag” that forms the perfectly rounded head of the cigar, and actually lost the cap, when I successfully punched one out of the leaf, several times, I thought I had gotten it glued on properly, only to find it on my finger. Think of some delicate task, like threading a needle, or putting a watch together, and do it with mittens on, that’s how I felt trying to wrap my cigars. The military has a phase involving a monkey and a football, that’s how I felt. I feel safe saying that I think we were all pretty humbled by the experience.
Once we were finished and properly fed, we were escorted to the packaging area where we banded our cigars, We placed Macanudo bands on ten of our cigars, and bands with our names on the remaining cigars. The ones with our names would be smoked by the executives and the blending experts and one would be selected as the best in the group, based on the blend, construction, draw and appearance. I certainly would not have a horse in this race! Once the cigars were banded, we put them in cello, another seemingly simple task that, upon doing it, one wonders how these women can do it so quickly. Then our ten cigars went into a Macanudo box, got a seal and were wrapped in cello. The company took a whole lot of people away from their jobs to try to show us poor schlubs how hard their jobs are, and they succeeded!
On the way out we stopped in the El Credito area and watched the one pair of rollers making the La Gloria Cubana Artesanos De Obelisco. It was amazing to watch, they had special molds made just for this shape and it’s very hard to roll. Here’s a little video of the pair doing their thing:
Some of us went sight-seeing where we visited the Centro Leon museum which had one floor of historical and cultural artifacts, and the second floor was made up of art collected by Eduardo Leon Jimenes, who many will recognize in association with La Aurora/Leon Jimenez. They had cigars in the gift shop, guess what kind? We also paid a visit to the Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration which has a wonderful view of Santiago.
The day wrapped up with a sumptuous meal at the Camp David Ranch. Again we were able to hob-nob with all of the executives of GCD. It was great to be able to talk candidly with these new friends, as well as spending some time with others in our group. The award for the best cigar went to Stephen Boyajian, with yours truly miraculously pulling down and honorable mention for the best construction (thanks to Danny!). We were each presented with our box of ten cigars of our own blend and rolling, as well as a commemorative box with each of our names printed on it. It was the perfect end to a fantastic trip. I will forever be amazed by all of the time and effort that goes into making something that we burn in an hour or so, and am grateful to everyone at General Cigar for the opportunity, and to my fellow bloggers for their fraternity (that’s a fancy way to say Bro!). I smoked a bunch of cigars that I hadn’t smoked in a while, and they were excellent. I found myself smoking Macanudo Maduros and enjoying the heck out of them, as well as regular old Partagas. No one should think that because they are so big that they don’t have the same passion for the product that smaller producers have.
I’ve certainly typed enough here, yet I feel like I’ve left so much out. I’ll sprinkle in videos and photos over the coming months as I go through and edit them into something meaningful.
That’s it for now, until the next time,