Today we will look at the anatomy of a cigar, what makes it so special and why.
Over the past three decades it is fair to say I have honed my skills in being able to read and translate the make up of a cigar and quickly judge if the will have the potential to be an amazing cigar or not.
Now that's a bold statement, for every cigar I think will be amazing and not is also the polar opposite for someone else. Much like a rum aficionado vs a whisky aficionado vs a bourbon aficionado; we each have our different preferences.
Ultimately, a cigar has three key tobacco elements in a very simple if not rudimental design; but when blended and crafted correctly, can become someone absolutely epic.
The complexity of getting that blend and craft perfect, every time is the essential piece of the masterpiece.
But more than just three tobacco elements, combined they all lend to delivering strength and flavour and then when perfected; delivering the perfect balance of strength and flavour.
The filler is the core or heart of the cigar; it determines each cigars individual nuances including the desired flavour (taste) and strength. It contributes to the cigars depth and complexity.
The tobacco used is removed of stems and matured (fermented) for a set period before being ready to roll into a cigar; the filler tobaccos are generally from multiple countries and any number of specific growing regions within those selected countries.
Likewise the different primings of tobacco leaf from the individual tobacco plant come into play here; from the lower part of the plant (Volado) to the lower-middle (Seco), to the upper-middle (Viso), through to the top of the plant (Ligero) - blending these correctly has a direct impact on how the cigar will burn, taste and its strength.
In general cigars will contain 3 to 5 different tobaccos as the filler; some like the Alec Bradley Fine & Rare contain 10-different tobaccos making it one of the more challenging cigars to roll and also wonderfully complex to smoke.
This "second layer" holds the filler tobaccos together (binding them). Binder is also chosen for its strength and burn capabilities.
This is a supple section of the leaf in which the filler is rolled together creating the "bunch" of the cigar.
A newer trick or game changer is using B-grade wrapper leaves that are just ugly and/or have some minor damage in them, either way not "worthy" of being used as the wrapper of the cigar - this allows the modern Master Blender to use the likes of Cameroon tobacco and USA Connecticut Broadleaf tobacco as the binder; imparting a huge shift-up in flavour and complexity to the cigar.
The "outer-most layer" of the cigar is the crowning glory of tobacco, the perfect single piece of unblemished leaf that is what is visible to the aficionados eye.
Great care is taken during the curing and aging of the wrapper-tobacco used in cigars as it is crucial to the eye and also adds the last layer of flavour.
Typically it is a strip of the finest leaf which is spiral-rolled around the bunch (binder and filler tobaccos) to create the eye-watering masterpiece cigar, created by a true artisan master following hundreds of years of craft.
What else do you need to know?
- It is estimated up to 200 hundred pairs of hands have been used in the creation of a single handmade cigar from cultivation to fermentation to construction
- Cigars are 100% natural with no added chemicals
- Nicaragua produces the most handmade cigars in the world (150 million in 2021) vs ~90 million from Cuba in 2021
- Tobacco fermentation and aging is natural, no additives are used during this process and it is key to how well the cigar tastes (think of the difference between a 10 year old whisky and an 18 year old whisky)
- New Zealand has one of the highest tobacco-taxes in the world at NZ$1,372.92 per kilo of tobacco imported (this can equate to anything from 900% to 1500% per cigar in tax burdens)
Understanding those four key primings of the tobacco plant:
Volado: the leaves on this leaf level are mainly used to help the cigar burning, since they contain fewer oils, and very little flavor.
Seco: leaves that offer a mild flavor to the cigar, since they contain oils and nicotine.
Viso: these leaves have more oils and strength than the previous ones.
Ligero: this is the part of the plant with the most oils, and which adds more strength to the cigar.