“This isn’t a factory, it’s the Disney World of cigars,” was all I kept thinking as I was guided through the sprawling, beautifully designed La Aurora manufacturing plant in Santiago, Dominican Republic. There is an area made to look like a curing barn, complete with tobacco leaves dangling from the ceilings. There are sections mimicking each process involved in manufacturing a cigar from seed to final product, much like a museum. There is a hallway right in the middle of the place the tobacco is being sorted where you can view relics, such as old cigar boxes and rum, from La Aurora’s long history. On one wall you’ll find a massive mural of the world that features the La Aurora emblem over the tiny island of the Dominican Republic as well as over the many countries the company ships to, showcasing its worldwide impact.
To say their factory is gorgeous is an understatement. In fact, TripAdvisor named the tour the No. 1 attraction in Santiago. At one point during the tour, we rounded a corner and found a full Dominican band and dancers who put on quite a show for us. It truly is the “Wonderful World of La Aurora.”
Earlier this year, I was given the opportunity to take this tour during Procigar Festival. I had already toured a couple of cigar factories over the previous few days, and, for the most part, they looked exactly how you’d expect a factory to look, and I wasn’t very impressed. But not La Aurora—no, they crafted an experience and an environment that anyone would be proud to work in.
The tobacco rolling room at La Aurora is stunning, featuring many ornate wooden desks and immaculate floors. Though, the main feature in this area is a man called a “lectores” whose only job is to read the news and books to the employees whose hands are otherwise occupied with tobacco. This occupation has a long history, finding its origin in Cuba, and it is a testament to the cigar factories that employ this method and care for the mental health of their many employees.
Another highlight of the tour is a visit to the Cigar Institute, during which one of the master blenders teaches you how to properly taste a cigar and pick out various flavor profiles, and then allows you to sample a cigar during each step of the rolling process. It was a treat to be able to try just the filler or just the binder, and to be able to understand how each part complements the other because without each part the cigar would largely be flavorless.
After the stop at the Cigar Institute, visitors get a lesson in rum and cigar pairing, sampling La Aurora’s superb E. Leon Jimenes 110 Aniversario rum [see below], of which only 3,000 bottles are made each year.
“La Aurora was founded in 1903 by my grandfather, Eduardo Leon Jimenes,” Guillermo Leon Herbert, the president of La Aurora, told me after the tour. “He started with only six rollers, and today, 150 years later, we have over 1,250 employees.”
Equally impressive is that La Aurora is the oldest cigar factory in the Dominican Republic, manufacturing over a billion cigars every year, and has a presence in 85 countries around the world.
“Because we are the oldest Dominican factory, we wanted to pay tribute to the oldest tobacco pressing process, called the ‘andullo,’ which we used in the ADN Dominicano cigar,” Herbert says. “The andullo process is very tough—very difficult.”
One of the many benefits of andullo (pronounced an-doo-yaw) is the potent strength and heady aroma it imparts on the cigars. La Aurora is one of the few manufacturers that employs this method, and the company takes immense pride in showcasing it during the tour. But what makes the process so difficult? Let’s break it down.
- Harvesting: The first six leaves on the bottom of the tobacco plant are removed, and only the leaves from the upper middle and the top of the plant are used. The upper leaves contribute to the strength, flavor, and aroma found in andullo.
- Curing: The tobacco leaves are tied up in bundles. The leaves are then hung in the curing warehouses for two weeks so they become more flexible. The leaves are then folded to fit the cylindrical shape of the andullo.
- Leaf midrib removal: The bundles are taken down from their drying slots, and then 3/4 of the midrib (the coarser central vein) is cut out of the leaves. The tobacco is weighed, with the ideal weight being about 30 pounds to 32 pounds.
- Preparation: The tobacco is placed in “yaguas”—the leaves of the Palma Real, a common palm tree found in the Greater Antilles—which measure about 6 feet long. Doing this aids the curing and fermentation processes because the leaves are organic material that allows the tobacco to breathe.
- Pressing: After the it is placed inside the yagua and rolled up, ropes are used to tightly squeeze the tobacco. This tobacco pressing is done at least five times until the tobacco is completely dry. If, at any time during the process, the yagua is damaged, it gets replaced with a new one.
- Aging: After the last pressing, the aging process begins. This process lasts until the tobacco dries up completely and its flavor and strength qualities mature. The result of the entire andullo process is a paste that can then be used for chewing tobacco, pipe smoking, or cigars.
After witnessing this painstaking process, taking the in-depth tour, and participating in the Cigar Institute, I was ready to try the ADN Dominicano. I was given a cigar and the E. Leon Jimenes rum to accompany it. I lit the cigar, sipped the rum, and was immediately transported into smoking Shangri-La. By the end of the cigar—and a couple glasses of rum—I was reeling from the potency of both in the best possible way. I left the La Aurora factory tour with my pockets full of ADN Dominicano cigars and a big, goofy smile on my face.
For more info on La Aurora, visit laaurora.com.do.
Leon Jimenes 110 Aniversario rum
A tribute to Leon’s grandfather, the rum was launched in 2013 for the 110th anniversary of the company, with a limited production of only 3,000 numbered bottles released each year.
It’s a blend of selected rum reserves, aged in sherry casks. The dark, amber-colored rum is a perfect complement for any La Aurora cigar, with flavor notes of honey, red fruits, vanilla, and cocoa. This is a powerful and delicious spirit that may well be considered a work of art.
La Aurora ADN Dominicano
Wrapper: Dominican Republic
Filler: Dominican Republic, Pennsylvania, and Nicaragua
This cigar is a favorite of ours here at Cigars & Leisure, thanks to its milk chocolate sweetness that is combined with notes of earth, espresso, oak, and pepper. It’s a very pleasurable smoke. Currently, the ADN Dominicano comes in four formats: Robusto, Toro, Gran Toro, and Churchill. And if you’re looking for more excellent cigars from La Aurora, try the Leon Jimenes, Imperiales, Family Reserve, or Principes. You can’t go wrong with any of these cigars.