Cigar Weekly Interview with Juan B. Sosa, Master Blender
Reprinted from Cigar Weekly, July 1, 1998
The Sosa family has been in the cigar industry since the early 1900’s in Cuba. They began as tobacco growers and later transitioned into the manufacturing and distribution of premium hand rolled cigars. They began small at the turn of the century but by the 1920’s, Santa Julia, their hacienda in the Las Villas region of Cuba, became known and respected for its superior quality products. The family moved its operation to the Dominican Republic and the United States in the 1960’s and founded the Antillian Cigar Corporation. Today the company, headed by master blender Juan B. Sosa, distributes six premium brands of cigars: Sosa, Sosa Family Selection, Macabi, El Imperio Cubano, E. Trinidad by Sosa, and Royal Honduras. The company also owns and operates a chain of cigar shops in the Miami area under the Macabi Shops name.
Mr. Juan B. Sosa agreed to take time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for Cigar Weekly Magazine. He also graciously agreed to answer a few questions from our readers.
Cigar Weekly: When developing a new cigar blend, what are the steps involved? Do you start with the wrapper or filler tobacco?
Juan B. Sosa: The wrapper is usually selected first. The fillers and binder are then selected depending on the desired body of the cigar. We know going in what tobacco gives what characteristic to the finished product.
CW: Has the quality of tobacco changed over the last ten years? Has there been improved seeds or growing methods? Can you explain?
JS :The actual quality of tobacco over the last 10 years has changed very little. There are naturally occurring fluctuations in quality due to yearly changes in weather conditions. As the demand for premium tobacco increased in the middle of this decade it took a while for the supply to catch up. This forced many factories to use lower quality tobacco or limit the quantity of cigars they produced. During this time the quality of tobacco from premium growers did not suffer, it just became a scarce resource.
CW: Over the previous several years, have there been any improvements in cigar making productivity to shorten the cigar making cycle? What are they?
JS :Absolutely not. The cigar making process is a handcrafted art which has changed very little over the last century. The time invested in tobacco curing and aging does as much for the cigar’s taste as the blend.
CW: What are the biggest challenges to maintaining a consistent blend? How do those challenges change from season to season?
JS :The biggest challenge to consistency is the fact that you are working with a natural product. The quality of the tobacco we use varies from year to year or even month to month. Some growing seasons may be to wet and humid, other seasons may be too dry. A good example of this would be cyclical weather phenomenon such as El Nino causing problems to farmers in Ecuador, Honduras and Connecticut.
CW: On average, how much of the total flavor of the cigar do you think comes from the wrapper?
JS :I would say between 60% and 70% of the flavor comes from the wrapper.
CW: Which wrappers do you work with most frequently? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?
JS :I work a lot with Ecuadorian wrappers which tend to be stronger and Connecticut wrappers which tend to be smoother and milder.
CW: What special processes do you use during fermentation?
JS :That, my friends, is a family secret passed down from generation to generation.
Jeff Brittain: In a recent article in Cigar Aficionado, it was stated that Brett Farve (QB for Green Bay) had his own brand of cigars made by Sosa. They were to have an alligator style band. Did anything ever come of these? Can I purchase them anywhere? When I ask the retailers they give me stupid looks! Thanks!
JS: Sosa is making a cigar for the Favre family. They are wholesaled by The Cigar Tender Company (call 414-343-8286 for info) and are available in several Wisconsin area stores. This cigar is a mild blend of Dominican filler and Connecticut wrapper.
Kent Eichataedt: I have tried the E.Trinidad by Sosa and like it very much. What sizes are you making? Could you tell us more about the line? Thank you for another great cigar.
JS: The E.Trinidad by Sosa is a medium to full bodied blend of Dominican filler and Sumatra wrapper made in the Sosa’s Miami factory. To insure the highest level of quality and consistency each of the five sizes is worked on by only one roller.
Bob Southard: I very much enjoy both your regular Sosa blend, as well as the Sosa Family Selection. What is the difference between the two?
JS: Well, there are several differences. The Sosa uses a dark, flavorful Ecuadorian wrapper. The Sosa Family Selection uses a buttery Connecticut wrapper and derives its spice from the blend of Dominican fillers.
Cigar Weekly: There has been some online buzz over a new, small OpusX belicoso. Any truth to the rumors? Will we ever see this new cigar on the market? Why was it created?
JS: Yes there is some truth to the rumor. Carlos Fuente Jr. sent Arturo Sosa about a dozen or so to sample a while back. It was about 4 3/4 x 48 (+/-) with a taper. There is still no certainty as to when or if this cigar will ever be introduced in the market.
Cigar Weekly: After publishing our review of the Sosa Petit Cetro, many people have asked where they can be purchased. Do you have a dealer list online?
JS: We are working on an Antillian Cigar Corp. website that will include a dealer list. For the present time, customers can call Antillian cigars directly at (800)238-2234 and ask for the retailer nearest them.
CW: Thanks to Juan B. Sosa for answering our questions.