Those of us who enjoy premium handmade cigars rarely think about how they are made. I’m not going to get into the nuts and bolts of cigar construction, but I want to touch on some areas of craftsmanship that most cigar smokers are unaware of or don’t understand completely.
How many wrappers are on your cigar? In about 99.7% of cases, the answer is what you would expect- one. But there are cigars that use two or three different leaves to enclose the bunch. If you have seen a cigar that has different colored spirals, they’re called barberpoles, due to their similarity in appearance to the old symbol. Usually the roller will take one natural wrapper leaf and layer it with a maduro leaf and will then wrap the cigar so the two parallel leaves give a striped impression. There are even some cigars that add a third (usually candela) leaf to make a tri-color barberpole.
One trend in recent years has been the use of a second binder. This is typically done for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it adds a bit more stability to the construction and helps to create a more even burn. The second reason is to add more complexity to the blend. Binder leaves are usually wrapper leaves that don’t make the grade, and the availability of some of the more exotic wrappers to use as binders has led to the idea of using two layers of leaf to do the job and add another flavor element.
There are three main types of cigars based upon the way the filler is composed- long, short and mixed. Long filler cigars make up the vast majority of premium handmades. They are crafted by taking leaves that are a bit longer than the cigar and bunching them together before surrounding them with the binder. Short filler cigars are often made, at least partially, by machine, as these sticks are made by using short pieces of leaf (usually from trimmings) and a machine does a better job of keeping the scraps together until the binder is applied. Mixed filler is a combination of some long leaf with some short pieces added.
What’s the difference? Long filler is the most consistent in flavor and will burn the most evenly. Short filler stogies will be more inconsistent even from puff to puff as there’s no way to control how much of each type of filler is burning at any given time. They also burn oddly at times due to the variability of air flow. All that being said, they also will allow the cigar smoker to enjoy high quality tobacco at a reasonable price, as the manufacturer is using tobacco that would otherwise be wasted. Mixed filler is a compromise. The long pieces are combined with some short trimmings, so the flavor is more consistent than short filler but not as much as long filler, and should burn better than short filler as well. Mixed filler cigars are also referred to as fumas or Cuban sandwiches.
Among long filler cigars, there are three common methods of bunching the filler leaves. Two of the methods are somewhat similar. Booking is done by taking the filler leaves and folding them like a book, whereas the Accordion method folds the leaves back and forth like the pleats of the bellows of the musical instrument. Both of these approaches will result in a firm bunch with an easy draw and a pretty consistent burn. The third type is called Entubar, where the leaves are overlapped and rolled up into a tube shape which packs more tobacco into the filler. The result is a somewhat firmer draw, but a noticeably slower burn with very homogeneous flavor.
Fermented or Dyed?
I’ll finish by answering a question recently posed to me by email- “How can I tell if a maduro wrapper is naturally fermented or dyed?” One of the simplest methods to look at the wrapper for consistency of color. If the wrapper is mottled and somewhat varied in color or tone it’s likely to be natural. If the leaf is exceptionally dark and/or one solid color, it was probably dyed. To be sure, moisten a fingertip and rub it on the wrapper. If your finger has a brown smudge, the leaf has most likely made a trip through the “madur-o-matic” machine.