Eladio Díaz has worked his entire life in the cigar industry, and is now master blender and quality manager for Davidoff. He tells Unfiltered about the art of rolling the perfect cigar, and his collaboration with the SMWS to créate the first-ever cigar using cask-aged tobacco
Article by Richard Goslan, courtesy of the SMWS November 2017 Unfiltered magazine. Images by kind permission Oettinger Davidoff AG 2016
When did you start working in the industry?
My mother sent me to the Diana Cigar factory next to our house [in the Dominican Republic] as a seven-year old. I started as a sweeper, then they taught me how to strip leaves, then sort them and later I went through the banding area. At 12, I finally got the chance to sit at a table and put together cigars.
Our members are familiar with the term master blender in the whisky world…but what is a master blender’s role in creating cigars?
The master blender has to learn about the whole process, from the plantation where the seed is sown right through to the completed cigar. This is essential, as it allows you to acquire a knowledge of the necessary elements along the way, from when a cigar starts out as seed to finally being enjoyed, and how these might be combined to achieve a consummate and fulfilling taste experience.
When I’m travelling and meet new or existing cigar aficionados, I always ask them what they love in a cigar. I often hear that they appreciate a cigar that is medium strong but very aromatic. This is challenging in terms of blending, because the tobaccos need to be perfectly aged and be at their peak to provide all the flavours and aromas.
At the moment, we have access to tobacco grown from 82 seeds and multiple origins. Having access to these makes it possible to blend a variety of taste experiences to delight cigar enthusiasts and open the eyes of many who until today have never considered Davidoff. A master blender is like a chef – it’s essential to have access to multiple ingredients to deliver exciting and innovative experiences.
What are the key considerations in being able to craft an exquisite cigar?
When I find a new tobacco from different terroirs or receive the latest tobaccos from the ageing room, I try to come up with innovations, delivering a taste stimulation unlike what I’ve blended before. I usually put together the first 10 cigars myself, to see how the various elements harmonise with each other and the percentages of each tobacco which are going to make up the cigar. The exquisiteness comes from the combination of elements. To develop a cigar the presentation also has to be ideal, the wrapper must be silky, perfect, oily and in peak condition, because it marks how a cigar ultimately looks.
How important is age in the overall process?
Davidoff is a premium and a luxury cigar. For this reason, the tobaccos used to roll the cigar must be aged at least three years. The cigar itself should rest another two to three months.
How do you enjoy a cigar yourself? With a whisky?
Malt whisky is the perfect complement for me.
Where did the inspiration for this whisky-matured cigar come from?
At Davidoff, we are constantly innovating by crafting new blends that provide new taste stimulations. When we started working on the Winston Churchill – The Late Hour, we were inspired by Sir Winston’s love for whisky and cigars during his late hours. When we first tried barrel-aged tobacco, we were delighted and convinced, that with original whisky casks from Scotland, we would be able to create an even more unexpected taste. Plus, the worlds of whisky and of cigars have a lot of similarities, so it made sense to further investigate the idea. As such, we experimented by ageing various tobacco leaves in Scotch casks, and after a year of testing we decided that Nicaraguan Condega tobaccos would age beautifully in whisky casks.
How does the ageing of the tobacco in single malt Scotch whisky casks from the SMWS influence the cigar’s flavour?
The cask-matured tobacco suffuses the cigar with a unique complexity, depth and the most heady of flavours, creating its own atmosphere. The Late Hour blend contains cask-aged Condega Visus tobacco. Those leaves are firmly pressed inside 10 casks from The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, made of American white oak, which formerly held single malt Scotch whisky from the Speyside region. As the temperature in the closed casks rises, the tobacco enters a fermentation process. After three months, the tobacco is rotated and aged for an additional three months. The tobacco absorbs the aromas of the cask and whisky for a total of six months. Then, it is ready to be integrated into the blend that makes up the Davidoff Winston Churchill – The Late Hour.
What’s the perfect way to enjoy the cigar?
The late hour is the point where you can really persuade, cajole and inspire the people you need to inspire. The Late Hour cigar itself is worthy of being the subject of such communication. It is ideal to be enjoyed with family and friends, colleagues, enjoying good conversation with a glass of whisky. The chosen beverage should match with the leathery, woody and complex taste of the cigars. Ideally it would be whisky that is neither too peaty nor too smoky, but rich and complex in aromas and taste.
Since the Nicaraguan Visus tobacco has been cask aged in the finest Scotch single malt whisky casks from the Speyside region, the beverage needs to be rich and complex in taste to harmonise with the elaborate character of the Winston Churchill – The Late Hour cigars.
Enquires: Davidoff of London, 35 St James’s Street, London SW1A 1HD / 0207 9303079 / http://davidoff.com/winston-churchill-the-late-hour
SMWS: To join: www.smws.com/whisky-club-membership
SWMS Kaleidescope Bar (open to non-members), 9A Devonshire Square, London EC2M 4YN / www.smws.com/about/venues/kaleidoscope-london