“It just comes down to trusting your palate and your instincts”- Dion Giolito, Illusione Cigars
Recent years have seen the rise of the truly independent cigar maker; men who have created fantastic cigars and booming companies from the ground up. These visionaries have been able to accomplish what many of us can merely dream- to tailor a cigar perfectly to one’s own taste. The multitudes who spend their hard-earned time and money in pursuit of these cigars constitute the most irrefutable proof of the talent that went in to their production.
Blog of the Leaf is proud to present an interview with one of the most prolific and intriguing examples of these Young Turks of the cigar world. Dion Giolito’s Illusione Cigars immediately created a well-deserved buzz when they began to appear in Brick and Mortar cigar shops across the country. With their dark, satiny wrappers and thought-provoking imagery; Illusione cigars look fantastic. But the real story is in the smoke. Light up a Magdala and experience the sophisticated power of Dion’s blending genius. Put flame to The Holy Lance and take in the richness and complexity of Illusione’s choice Nicaraguan wrapper. Each different shape provides a unique smoking experience while remaining ever true to Dion’s vision. Fire up your favorite Illusione and enjoy a brief window into the philosophy of a truly great cigar maker.
Anejomofo: What characteristics of Nicaraguan tobacco made it the right choice for the cigar you sought to create?
Dion Giolito: I’ve always been fond of Nicaraguan tobacco. It’s the taste profile that most suits my palate over all other countries. It’s bold, bright, clean, no bullshit flavor.
AM: What flavors and qualities would you like to develop further in your cigars?
DG: That’s a difficult one. I’ve already achieved everything I really wanted to in Illusione with regards to those two points. From here on out, it’s more of a “style” aspect that I would approach future blends.
AM: Do you have any plans to release Illusiones with a variety of different wrappers?
DG: There’s already one with a different cover leaf which is the e c c j. It’s the cigar I made for European Cigar Cult Journal’s 15 year anniversary. The blend was tempered to compliment the cover leaf and to be more receptive to the European palate. The cover leaf is Corojo, café Rosado/Rosado claro and comes from a different farm than the wrapper that’s on Illusione.
AM: The last decade or so has seen a rise in upstart, premium cigar brands. A sort of “cult of personality” now exists as the likes of Pete Johnson and Don Pepin Garcia become known as much for their charisma as their cigars. Where do you and your cigars fit in to this trend?
DG: I think that certain publications like to play up that sort of thing to create a personality of sorts to befit the cigar. It’s been done with Avo, Rocky, Zino, Paul Garmirian etc. I just think it kind of goes hand in hand with many types of a business marketing approach, not just cigars.
AM: What is your favorite part of the cigar-making process?
DG: Actually getting out to the aging barns and going through the giant stacks/hands of tobacco called pilones. It’s where you can really get specific about which components are suitable for production. We go from pile to pile and just roll up little cigars to sample each component i.e. viso, seco , ligero etc. I’m extremely fortunate as a brand owner to be involved at this level of selection. It is also where you can literally select the best of the best before anyone else has a chance to review it before it goes to Pre industirias for sale. Pre industrias are like a market place for tobacco where factories and buyers go to get leaf.
AM: What role do you play in the blending of your cigars?
DG: They’re my blends 100%. In the past, I’ve usually started with one specific component to build the blend around that flavor or taste profile. Along with the factory owner, the leaf man, the farmer and a trusted friend, we sit and validate various creations, take notes etc. Sometimes they agree with me, sometimes they don’t.. It just comes down to trusting your palate and your instincts – that’s the biggest part of the whole process.
AM: Aside from the Magdala, your cigars rarely stray beyond the traditional 52 ring gauge of the most hallowed Habanos. Can you comment about how you arrived at the gauge and length of your cigars? What are your feelings about the (now declining) trend toward very large ring gauge cigars?
DG: I’m all for the 54 + ring sizes to go away. I’m not a big fan. Society as a whole is also dictating the movement as well – less time to smoke, fewer places to enjoy a cigar, bans etc. I do enjoy a Churchill or a DC when time permits. There is a time and a place I believe for every size of cigar, maybe yeah, the friggin’ 6 x 60’s as well but, not for me. I like traditional sizes. The wheel didn’t need to be re-invented in this case. I think that the perfect vehicle for flavor lies between a 42 and a 46 ring.
AM: What inspired you to include a lancero size in your lineup?
DG: I had requests for both a lancero and a 6 x 60ish cigar. The choice was obvious. Besides, on a whim, I had the factory make some cigars that were a 6 x 56 just to goof on them. I hated them and hated the way the tobacco performed in that ring gauge.
AM: Where do you see your brand in 10 years?
DG: That’s for Congress to decide. I don’t believe that I truly have control over my destiny with regards to tobacco at this point.
AM: As demand for your cigars increases, what changes are made in their production?
DG: Not a single thing. First off, I can only make what the factory is capable of making me. Secondly, I’m bound to the blend. If someone comes to me and says that they can triple my sales (and they have) I tell them that it’s much more important to me to keep the integrity of the blend. Being in the retail business for almost 20 years, I’ve seen brands like mine come and go. I’ve also seen them morph into something that is completely different than the original incarnation. Screw that – my cigars are what they are and, believe me, it’s a struggle uphill every freakin’ day to keep the integrity and the consistency to my satisfaction.
AM: Is there a maximum number of cigars-per-year you believe is possible to produce while still maintaining fidelity to the quality of the small-production ideal?
DG: That really depends on the availability of the raw materials in any given year. Speaking for myself, I’d say anywhere between 500-750k cigars isn’t a stretch by any means. As for someone like Henke Kellner of Davidoff, he can literally do millions of cigars with little to no issue. The guy is a God.
AM: Aside from Illusione, what are some of your favorite cigars?
DG: Anything Vegas Robaina. I like Pete Johnson’s Tatuaje Brown Cazadores, Davidoff Gran Cru series, LFD, Ashton VSG’s, Henry Clay, Punch Rothchild double maduros. Hell, there’s really not much I’d turn my nose up at.
AM: Are there any surprises on the radar from Illusione cigars?
DG: Well, If I told you then it wouldn’t be a surprise now would it?!
AM: Finally, can you tell us a little bit about your new line of cigars?
DG: My newest line is called Cruzado. Whereas illusione is a Corojo blend with one component of Criollo, Cruzado is a Criollo blend with one component of Corojo. Illusione exhibits an earthy sweetness in the olfactory sense. The profile of Cruzado is more forward on the palate with leather and spice.
We’d like to thank Dion for his candid and thorough responses. For more information on Illusion cigars please visit the official Illusione website. Stay tuned for more news and interviews with the people that make this lifestyle possible.