All things Whisky & Cigars
The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes (and outstanding tobaccos!)
As an avid cigar smoker (and self-professed Cigar Aficionado in Training – ‘In training’ as there’s always more to be learnt..), I have had a passion for cigars for around 15 years now, and my true love lies with the feisty, flavoursome and aromatic tobaccos which are grown in Nicaragua, and the cigars that utilise these tobaccos in the best ways possible…
I had the privilege of visiting Nicaragua in April of last year as part of a small UK Cigar Industry trip - a bona fide treat for myself, given my love of Nicaraguan tobacco. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and a great education. We visited fields, farms and factories (including two of my favourite cigar makers), and even had time for a spot of culture – A visit to an active Volcano, a trip out on Lake Nicaragua and quite a few other highly memorable moments… I was going to touch on this life changing trip today, but I think that it merits a journal entry of its own, so keep an eye out for that!
(If you’d like to see some pictures of our trip – click here for the official Cigar Safari photo blog with some gloriously unflattering photos of myself partly due to an ill-advised haircut choice but mostly Flor de Cana Rum's fault ...)
Nicaragua, which is located in Central America (with Honduras to the North, the Caribbean to the East and Costa Rica to the South), has such unique geography and natural resources that set the nation apart from its rivals – its dark, nutrient rich earth and ideal climate rivals that found in the Vuelta Abajo region in Cuba , which many a cigar smoker would argue is the benchmark for the best tobacco growing region…
However - Nicaragua benefits from four outstanding and distinct tobacco growing regions, and each has slightly differing soil and minerals which in turn impart their own unique flavours and character to the tobaccos used in a cigar’s blend:
The soils around Estelí are a deep and dense black, ideal for growing extra strength Ligero filler, thick binders and sun grown wrappers – tobacco plants in Esteli receive plenty of sun exposure, which causes the leaves to grow much thicker and as a result have stronger flavours.
The great strength, and notable spice, makes leaves grown in Estelí the ideal for use in strong, bold and flavourful cigars. Tobaccos from this region are most commonly found as a filler component (to add some punch to the blends), but occasionally they are also used for wrappers!
Condega valley lies to the north of Estelí and this region also yields flavour packed tobaccos, although they are notably less potent than its neighbours.
The regions coarse and rocky soil that is rich in minerals, and steady cloud cover, gives rise to tobaccos that are often thinner in texture, with some sweetness, but they also contain a fair amount of strength. Leaves grown in Condega are predominantly used as binders
The Jalapa valley is even farther north of Condega – Its sandy soil is very thin and slightly red in colour (notably, very similar to the soil found in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio region).
Tobacco leaves from Jalapa tend to be soft with a ruby brown tinge, and they are renowned for their aromatic and sweet flavours. These leaves are readily used as a wrapper due to their smooth, elegant and rich flavour, and for their eye pleasing characteristics, however many cigar producers do experiment with the use of leaves from Jalapa as a filler component too.
Ometepe is Nicaragua’s fourth growing region – housing two volcanoes (one dormant and one active), it is a modest 107-square mile island nestled within Lake Nicaragua. Accessible only by a one-hour ferry trip, Ometepe is a jungle paradise that is home to some wild and unusual animals - monkeys, jaguars and exotic birds all call the island home!!
The islands volcanic soil is prized for growing outstanding mild/medium strength tobaccos with sweet and earthy flavours, however due to the inconvenience of access, transport and labour, only a couple of companies grow tobacco on Ometepe.
Of course, these esteemed tobaccos are extensively used in cigars rolled in Nicaragua, but one of the joys of New World Cigars (essentially, cigars made in any country other than Cuba) is the ability and willingness of the factories and master blenders to use tobaccos of multiple origin in their cigars! It is not uncommon to see tobaccos from Ecuador, Honduras, Brazil, Indonesia or the Dominican Republic being blended with exceptional Nicaraguan tobaccos to produce some of the best cigars in the world!
Famed cigar producers, such as Joya de Nicaragua , Drew Estate, My Father and A.J. Fernandez and are all based in Nicaragua and all expertly utilise multi-origin tobaccos in some of my personal favourite cigars – the Liga Privada line from Drew Estate, the Flor de Las Antillas from My Father, the Last Call Genialies from A.J. Fernandez and, of course, Robert Graham’s fantastic Tobacco Lords cigars, which are all rolled under the watchful eyes at Joya de Nicaragua!!
Nicaragua and its gorgeous landscape was heralded as a tourism success story, seeing a massive increase in tourism which, in turn, brings welcome money to what is one of the poorest countries in the Americas.
Sadly, over the course of the last 12 months, civil / political unrest has returned to Nicaragua on scales unseen since their Civil War which ended in 1990…
I hope that peace can be restored to this beautiful nation over the weeks and months ahead, so that it’s cultures, people and traditions can once more become readily accessible for all - If the opportunity ever arises for you to safely visit Nicaragua, I cannot recommend it enough.
Even if cigars and tobacco aren’t for you it truly is a beautiful country to see, and there is plenty to keep you occupied in ‘The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes’…
~ Simon, Edinburgh Manager