Cigar Academy: The Ligero Trap

I recently wrote about powerhouse cigars. I’m a real devotee of stogies with a serious kick, and at the center of the fast growth of this genre are ligero tobaccos. We’ve heard the term bandied about quite a bit, and we know that it has to do with spice and strength, but what exactly is ligero?

The short and the long of it is (in most cases), ligero leaves are from the uppermost part of the tobacco plant, usually the top five rows. The two highest rows are often referred to as corona ligero, and this is where the real punch comes from.

So, this begs the question- Are ligero leaves always powerful? In relative terms, yes. As compared to the leaves lower on the same plant, the top leaves will always be more powerful as long as the plants are harvested using the priming method.  Priming involves harvesting the leaves of a plant from the bottom up, with a period of days in-between removing rows of leaf. This allows more nutrients to reach the upper leaves, making them more full-bodied and/or spicy. This doesn’t hold true for stalk-cut plants, where the entire tobacco plant is cut low on the stalk. Since the flow of nutrients stops when the plant is chopped, there’s much less of a difference from the top to the bottom. Very few cigar tobaccos are stalk-cut, however.

But, the ligero of, let’s say,  U.S. grown Connecticut Shade will be far lighter in flavor than a Nicaraguan Criollo, in general. So, to strike down one misconception: Ligero is not always going to translate into power.

What do I mean by the title of this post- the ligero trap? Well, the answer is two-fold. With stronger cigars becoming a much bigger part of the market in the last 15 years or so, there has been a level of one-upmanship that is unprecedented. Every new “firecracker” on the shelves promises to be 100% ligero, and strong as the coffee your cousin Frank makes because he measures with a scoop instead of a tablespoon. Sometimes this results in a cigar that’s all power with no balance and an uneven flavor. Cigars like the Fausto, Super Shot, Joya de Nicaragua Antaño (both wrappers) and Camacho Corojo have gotten it right, but there have been a number of dog rockets out there that remind me of the crazy-hot chicken wings at a dive bar that you only eat to prove your masculinity; not for flavor.

The second part of the trap has to do with construction. In milder cigars, there’s usually one piece of ligero in the filler, and it’s typically centered in the bunch. This is partially why stogies burn in the shape of a cone- the oily, thicker leaf in the very center burns more slowly. And this is at the heart of the construction issues- ligero leaves are normally thicker and more leathery with more oils and/or sap which make them burn more slowly than other leaves. When we are now looking at cigars that are 100% ligero, how can the burn be controlled? The answer comes from the fact that there are two levels of ligero. The corona ligero (top two rows) are the thickest and oiliest, so they will burn the slowest. These are the ones that should be toward the center of the filler. The ligero from rows three through five will work best in the outer part of the filler, the binder and wrapper of the ligero puros. Does that mean that all strong cigars follow that method? No, but it does explain why so many of the new thermonuclear stogies can, and often do, burn a little wonky. If you love the flavor and mule-kick of these cigars, you’ll have to suspend your dislike of cigars that don’t smoke with a razor-sharp ash.

Now that I’ve covered this subject, I’d like to take a bit of your time to point out a potential problem. The government is considering allowing the FDA to regulate premium cigars. This can present any number of potential problems ranging from requiring companies to make their cigars differently, to banning a brand because it violates the new guidelines they may impose, and, at the very least, it will cause your favorite sticks to become even more expensive. This could lead to brands disappearing, people losing their jobs and the possible destruction of the premium industry for the U.S. There are a number of ways you can help combat this assault on our hobby, but the easiest, and probably the most effective is to join Cigar Rights of America. The CRA coordinates lobbying efforts, petition and letter-writing campaigns and other efforts to keep government from making it any more difficult for us to enjoy our hobby. Dues are very reasonable, and I urge you to go to their website (http://www.cigarrights.org/) and do your part. It’s appropriate that we all do so now, with it being so close to Independence Day. Let’s make our voices heard so we can beat back the nannyism and allow us to have the freedom to enjoy one of our pleasures.

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About Russ

Russ Ouellette is the blender/creator of the Hearth & Home series of tobaccos for www.pipesandcigars.com in Bethlehem, PA. He has been a pipe smoker and blender for over 30 years, and enjoys feedback from the pipe smoking public. You can reach Russ at russo@pipesandcigars.com or by calling 1-800-494-9144.