After nearly two decades of marriage, it is not uncommon to find yourself in a bit of a rut. If you have kids, you can find yourself going through the motions every day. Some days can be considered a success simply because the house didn’t catch on fire and no one ended up in the ER. We make our own sacrifices and do the best we can to make each day interesting, but the routine can cause us to fall into a pattern of sameness. One day in the Spring of 2017, my wife and I made an out of the blue decision to change things up and we are so glad we did. Since she is a teacher it makes the most sense to take our trip during her spring break. That did not coincide with spring break for our kids, but we were fortunate enough to have family and friends nearby who could help us out at home and keep an eye on the kids (see the earlier comment about catching the house on fire). We decided on a destination that would give us a tropical setting, beautiful beaches, and a vibrant local culture. Since we are also just average working people the overall cost was also a big factor.
After a lot of searching, we settled on Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. In today’s market we are so fortunate to have multiple sources on the web with reviews and recommendations related to travel destinations. So many people raved about Punta Cana, and the prices for local all-inclusive resorts were outstanding. Since Dominican Republic has such a wonderful cigar related history, I looked around for a cigar related excursion that would not take me away from the beach for an entire day and would not break the bank. I searched quite a bit online and had a conversation with Emmett, the Founder and CEO of Blind Man’s Puff and Don Lucas Cigars was at the top of the list. Emmett put me in touch With Kelmin Nacor. Kelmin is one of the lead representatives for the Don Lucas cigar brand.
The Don Lucas factory in Punta Cana is only one portion of the wonderful Muno Autentico. The Mundo Autentico facility is open and available to people staying at resorts in the Punta Cana area. In most cases, they will provide free transportation from your resort as well as free return transportation to your resort. On the surface, Mundo Autentico may look like a shopping and tourism experience, but it is so much more. It is almost like a history lesson about Dominican Republic and a glimpse into some of the industries that have provided such a great name to Dominican Republic. Not only can you tour the Don Lucas Cigar factory, you can also experience the process behind Dominican coffee, chocolate, and rum. All of this capped off with a visit to a beautiful all-in-one shopping center. Being Blind Man’s Puff, we will focus on the cigar factory, of course.
The Cigar Factory
Since I have already been to some cigar factories, I had some idea what to expect. What was so wonderful about the tour at the Don Lucas cigar factory was the close family atmosphere. While it is a small factory by some standards, they do not cut corners on quality or final product. They meet or exceed some quality control and aging standards that I have seen from other manufacturers. They don’t disclose what daily production rates are, but they vary. It all depends on what leaf they have in stock that day that is ready to be rolled. They do not base anything off production quotas, but only on quality standards. I greatly admire that practice, especially considering how rare it is becoming in the cigar industry.
I was very pleased with the attention to detail in all aspects of the cigar operation. From the storage of the bales in that pungent and overwhelming smell of ammonia, to the sorting room, all the way to the rolling floor. It is evident that they take great care of the tobaccos that are sourced from farms in and around Santiago, as well as some tobaccos from other major producers around the world. About 60 percent of all the cigars rolled at the Don Lucas Factory are sold right there at the Mundo Autentico gift shop. The rest are sold at retail cigar shops in the United States and Columbia. Don Lucas can be found at about 20 brick and mortar stores in the United States and 5 or 6 stores in Columbia.
The cigar lines from Don Lucas are varied and well-tailored to any palate. The Classic Series is a blend of Dominican binder and filler under a CT wrapper from Ecuador. While mild, it still has plenty of flavor and natural sweetness. The HS Series has a bit more punch, thanks to some higher priming Dominican leaf in the filler, along with a tasty Sumatra wrapper. The AL Series bring the bold strength that Dominican cigars are known for. Earthy and strong, with just the right balance of sweetness from some USA Broadleaf. The 20th Anniversary Series is an ultra-refined Dominican Puro that really showcases the flavors that the native tobaccos are known for. Almost a perfect mix of the HS and AL Series. The Family Reserve Series, in both natural and maduro, are a true statement of the history of Don Lucas Cigars. It is a blend that is incredibly refined, and yet still has enough boldness and nuance to please the most experienced cigar lover. Needless to say, all of the blends are made in extremely small batches.
Not only do they take great care in the making of their cigars, they also make all of their cigar boxes with the same attention to detail, and the best in materials. The boxes are made from solid locally sourced cedar and cedar veneer plywood. Every aspect of the box production happens in-house. The boxes are for all retail sales, but directly at the factory you can buy some of the Don Lucas blends in cellophane wrapped bundles.
Dominican Coffee & Chocolate
If you are a cigar connoisseur you may not be aware of the delicious coffee and chocolate grown and made right in Dominican Republic. The tour at Mundo Autentico gives a nice look inside. The sections they have dedicated to coffee and chocolate are each like a mini-museum. With beautiful artwork and displays showcasing the history and the process that go into producing some of the most highly regarded products in the world. Interestingly enough, in my experience, Dominican chocolate and coffee share some of the same characteristics that also tend to define Dominican tobaccos. They lean towards an earthy quality that give a nice balance when properly blended. The chocolate is very smooth, but has a unique boldness that really stands out in the darker blends with higher cacao content. One of my favorite versions they had was a dark chocolate that was molded with sesame seeds. The nutty flavor of the seeds was an almost perfect balance with the chocolate. The coffee operation was just as impressive. You can see right inside the rooms where the beans are sorted, blended and roasted. It smells like absolute heaven. Similar to the chocolate display, you are given a museum-like tour through the world of Dominican coffee, with great detail and passion. I loved many of coffee blends that I tasted, but one was especially delicious and unique. It was a blend of cold brewed Dominican coffee, dark rum, and some local spices. It has such a kick and yet in the end I could still taste the coffee. The section with the coffee and chocolate really impressed me, and adds such a nice touch to the tour and the facility as a whole.
From there, we moved on to the most wonderful rum bar. This place was fantastic, and reminded me of the kind of sports bar you would regularly find in the USA. The walls on one end of the bar are lined with signed soccer jerseys from all over the world. It also boasts another walk-in humidor that rivals what you would find in many cigar shops. The star is, of course, the rum. It is truly mind-boggling to see the selection that they have behind the long, narrow bar. I was able to sit down and sample Dominican rums ranging from 4-year-old, all the way up to a 35-year-old rum. I would be willing to swear that the 35-year-old rum was like drinking liquid butterscotch. It was truly one of the most luxurious spirits I have ever tried, and one that I must try again someday.
To close it all out, the tour ends at the massive shopping complex. It is simply incredible to see all they have to offer. There is a huge selection on the main level of every kind of souvenir you could possibly imagine. From t-shirts to can coolers, and fridge magnets to baseball caps, they have all of it, in every conceivable style and size. At the time I was there, they also had a beautiful jewelry counter but they were finishing up a separate building dedicated exclusively to jewelry. The upstairs of the shopping complex has a great selection of the Dominican coffee and chocolate, and one thing that could have held my attention all day. The majority of the upstairs was dedicated to one of the biggest walk-in humidors that you will find anywhere. Of course I found a large selection of Don Lucas cigars there, but also cigars from almost every other mainstream brand you can think of. This also included a very large selection of cigars from Habanos, SA. A nice touch, considering the unreal amount of counterfeit Cuban cigars available throughout the resorts in Punta Cana. It is nice to know that the Cuban cigars at Mundo Autentico are truly legitimate. In addition to peace of mind in knowing they are legitimate, they also take an extra step to keep you safe as a cigar consumer. We know that Cuban cigars are not wrapped in cellophane, so at their shop they take the time to individually encase each and every Cuban cigar in cellophane to reduce the risk of damage or contamination while on the retail shelf. As far as I’m concerned, that is going above and beyond.
All in all, this retail space was a wonderful touch. I saw a couple of online posters bash the retail portion saying it was tourist trap and money grab. That kind of narrow-minded view makes no sense to me. As safe as it is in Punta Cana, you have to be more aware of your surroundings and aware of your own lack of knowledge of your environment. That doesn’t mean that Punta Cana is an unsafe place, but some tourists might not feel safe leaving the resort and going into town. With Mundo Autentico, they keep everything close and in-house to basically eliminate the risk. They give you free transportation to a site that will take you on a museum-quality tour of some of the best handmade industry that Dominican Republic has to offer. They also allow you to sample some of that wonderful handmade product. Then, they take you directly to a one-stop shopping center that has everything a tourist could ever hope for, at reasonable prices, in a gated and safe environment. To top it all off, they drive you back to your resort in Punta Cana free of charge. Aside from the fact that my wife decided not to join me, it was one of the best experiences of my trip. And she was glad to have a couple of hours to herself to just lay in the sun by the ocean. I would call that a win-win, but that doesn’t do it justice. Most of the resorts in the area have a listing in their activity book for Mundo Autentico, but it’s always a good idea to plan it before you even arrive in Punta Cana. You can find out more HERE.
Here are some more images from my visit to Don Lucas/Puro Autentico. Click each image to enlarge.