Since I’m around them all the time, I don’t really think about all the minutiae when it comes to cigars, so last might when I was looking through our catalog, I was struck by some of the things that the public doesn’t know, but might find interesting. Here are my observations:
There were two cigars on the market that called their Lonsdale shape an 8-9-8 – Partagas and Ashton. But in truth, only the Ashton should have been using the name. Why? 8-9-8 is a reference to a Cuban box style in which the sides of the box bow out, so a box of 25 is packed eight cigars on the bottom, nine in the middle row and eight on the top. Ashton’s box has the rounded sides necessary to pack the cigars that way. The Partagas version? Two rows – 13 over 12.
By the way – do you know what that cedar or cardboard block is called when cigars are packed 13 over 12? That, my friends, is called a dead man.
In another piece of creepy terminology, when cigars are boxed individually, the box is called a coffin.
You’ve probably seen pictures of a cigar roller cutting the wrapper leaf with a curved bladed knife. That knife is a chaveta, but it’s not just used for trimming the leaf. Once the cigar is rolled, most torcedors will use the flat side of the knife to roll and smooth the cigar.
The wrapper leaf known as Criollo was first developed in Cuba. Criollo grown from seed from the descendants of the original, but grown elsewhere, are still called Criollo, but that’s kind of confusing if you happen to know that the word means “native”.
There’s a “rule” regarding freshly-rolled cigars. If a roller hands you a cigar right off the table, either smoke it right away, or put it away for awhile. The rule is called 48/48. A cigar that’s just been rolled should be smoked within 48 hours, or allowed to rest for 48 days. Why? When cigar leaf is moist and put under pressure (which happens when a cigar is made), it will begin to ferment. The by-product of that fermentation is ammonia, and I’m sure that, at one time or another, you’ve had a bitter cigar. Most likely you’re tasting ammonia from a stick that was rushed to market. Those cigars are commonly referred to as “green” or “young”, but I like the term we use in the office – “sick”. Why is it okay to smoke the cigar within the first couple of days? Simple, fermentation doesn’t begin right away. The fermentation will continue for about a month and a half, so 48 days is enough time to rest.
In England, it’s considered bad form to leave the band on your cigar. It’s looked upon as bragging. Here, we tend to leave it on until the burn line approaches the band. Me? I leave it on until about halfway so the heat softens the glue and reduces the chance of tearing the wrapper when I remove it.
A new line of cigars was created because the rollers at one factory enjoyed another line too much. The rollers at Drew Estate in Esteli, Nicaragua apparently enjoyed Liga Privada No. 9 so much, that they were smoking too many of them. Some of the tobaccos in the No. 9 series are hard to get, so that presented a problem. They told their rollers to come up with a blend that wasn’t using such rare tobaccos, so they could enjoy them when they wanted. The result was another hit for Drew Estate – Undercrown.
While we’re talking about Drew Estate, here’s another piece of DE trivia. Jonathan Drew wanted to make a cigar called “Uzi”, after the Israeli automatic weapon. When he went to sample the cigar, he was handed a bundle of them and was surprised at how heavy they were. His comment was “My Uzi weighs a ton“, and that became the name of the cigar.
Seconds are usually sold in bundles for a much lower price than the first quality cigars. The standards vary from one factory to another, but a cigar with sun spots, blotchy coloration or a poorly cut wrapper might well wind up as a second, even though the defect won’t affect the flavor or burning characteristics. Another reason to reject a cigar is if the color isn’t close to the other cigars in a batch. But every so often you’ll get a cigar that looks really nice, and you wonder why it was rejected…until you start to smoke it. The flavor is fine, the aroma is nice and it burns well, but it feels like the draw is a little “airy”. What gives? Take a look at the cigar just below the cap. If there’s a fairly large vein at the top of the cigar, it can allow air to get past your lips. When this happens to me, I just position the vein between my lower front teeth and lightly bite down. That usually solves the problem, and I just saved a buck or two.