Process for Making Handmade & Handrolled Cigars
Lesson 4: Handmade Cigars
Handmade cigars have three main parts – the filler, the binder, and the wrapper. Each of the parts has a different function when the cigar is actually smoked.
The outside wrapper dictates the cigar’s appearance. It is grown under gauze and fermented separately from other leaves to ensure that it is smooth, not too oily, and has a subtle bouquet. It also has to be soft and pliable so that it is easy for the roller to handle.
Wrapper leaves from different plantations have varying colors (and thus subtly different flavors more sugary if they are darker, for instance) and are used for different brands. Good wrapper leaves have to be elastic and must have no protruding veins. They have to be matured for between one year and 18 months the longer the better. Wrapper tobacco might come from Connecticut, Cameroon, Sumatra, Honduras, Mexico, Costa Rica, or Nicaragua. The wrapper is the most expensive part of the cigar.
The binder leaf holds the cigar together and is usually two halves of coarse sun-grown leaf from the upper part of the plant, chosen because of its good tensile strength. The filler is made of separate leaves folded by hand along their length, to allow a passage through which smoke can be drawn when the cigar is lit. The fold can be properly achieved by hand and is the primary reason why machine-made cigars are often less satisfactory. This style of arranging the filler is sometimes called the “book” style – which means that, if you were to cut the cigar down its length with a razor, the filler leaves would resemble the pages of a book. In the past, the filler was sometimes arranged using the “entubar” method – with up to eight narrow tubes of tobacco leaf rolled into the binder, making the cigar burn very slowly.
Three different types of leaf are normally used for the filler (in fatter ring guages, like Montecristo No. 2, a fourth type is also used). Ligero leaves from the top of the plant are dark and full in flavor as a result of oils produced by exposure to sunlight. They have to be matured for at least two years before they can be used in cigarmaking. Ligero tobacco is always placed in the middle of the cigar because it burns slowly. Seco leaves, from the middle of the plant, are much lighter in color and flavor. They are usually used after maturing for around 18 months. Volado leaves, from the bottom of the plant, have little or no flavor, but they have commendable burning qualities. They are matured for about nine months before use.
The precise blend of these different leaves in the filler dictates the flavor of each brand and size. A full-bodied cigar like Bolivar Cofradia will, for instance, have a higher proportion of ligero in its filler, than a mild cigar, such as Don Diego, where seco and volado will predominate. Small, thin cigars will very often have no ligero tobacco leaf in them at all. The consistency of a blend is achieved by using tobacco from different harvests and farms, so a large stock of matured tobacco is essential to the process.
Are there any differences between the blends of different size cigars in the same line?
Manufacturers often use the same types of tobacco in different sizes, producing different tastes. Often the consumer will perceive this as the same “blend.” There is a difference however – it’s in the proportions of each type of leaf used. An experienced roller may use different proportions of the tobacco leaf in different sizes to allow for the size differences. In a smaller ring cigar, the binder and wrapper have a greater influence on the taste, for instance. The blender will allow for this difference by reproportioning the filler blend. It’s just one of those details that requires years of training among master rollers (and, of course, one of the reasons smokers will prefer the taste of one size over another of the same blend).
What is ring gauge and how is it measured?
Ring gauge is the cigar’s diameter, measured in 64ths of an inch. Thus, a 32-ring cigar will measure 1/2 inch in diameter. Although many catalogs list ring sizes, they may deviate from each measurement by a couple of points on specific cigars.
The Wrapper Color
The wrapper color of a cigar is as important as the brand or shape of a cigar in terms of enjoyment. People recognize slight changes in the wrapper color of their favorite cigars. Color changes and changes in the country where the wrapper was grown and can dramatically change the taste of a cigar. Wrapper colors are generally graded from the lightest to the darkest color as follows:
- Claro Claro or Double Claro: A light green fire-cured wrapper.
- Claro: A very light brown with a greenish cast.
- Colorado Claro or Natural: A light brown.
- Colorado or EMS: A medium brown.
- Colorado Maduro or Maduro: A dark brown.
- Maduro or Double Maduro: A very rich dark brown or black.
- Oscuro: A very dark brown or black.
Variations in wrapper colors within these seven groups produce the possibility of 32 wrapper colors. A wrapper that is almost double maduro, but not quite, is classified as maduro. The possible 32 wrapper colors have been lumped into five basic color categories. Each category has a variety of names but all have the same meaning. The categories are described below.
- Claro Claro or Double Claro (light green).
- This wrapper has a mild quality and the taste of the binder and filler are discernible. The following are names the light green wrappers are sometimes called:
- Double Claro
- A.M.S. (American Market Selection)
- Claro (light brown with a greenish cast) or Colorado Claro (light brown)
- Both of these wrapper colors and any variations between the two are called “Natural.” These wrappers have a noticeable taste of their own, but they do not disguise the flavor of the binder and filler tobacco. They are not as strong as the darker brown wrapper colors.
- Colorado (medium brown)
- Other names for Colorado are as follows:
- Sun Grown
- E.M.S. (English Market Selection)
- Colorado Maduro (dark brown) or Maduro (very dark brown or black)
- Both of these colors may be called maduro. This is a dark, oily wrapper and has a heavy-bodied (strong) taste.
- Oscuro (double dark brown or black)
- This is a difficult wrapper color to find and even more difficult to produce. Other names for this wrapper are as follows:
- Double Maduro
- Maduro Maduro (Double Maduro)
The taste of the wrapper is more noticeable in the darker wrapper colors, and the taste of the binder and filler will be less discernible.
Punch and Hoyo cigars use a wrapper called Rare Corojo.This is a reddish-brown wrapper. It is used on the Rothschild size of Punch and Hoyo and is rarely used by any other cigar brands. The flavor of the Corojo wrapper is sweet and nutty with a very nice aroma.
The American Standard for Wrapper Colors
- Double Claro (DC): Green
- Natural (Nat): Light brown or tan
- English Market (EMS): Medium brown
- Maduro (Mad): Dark brown
- Double Maduro (MM or X): Dark brown, almost black
Havana Seed Wrappers
Havana Seed wrappers vary in color depending on the conditions during the year the crop was grown. When grading the Havana Seed wrapper, the 32-shade separating process is not performed. These wrappers are graded on a comparative basis. This means that, at the time of the selection, the darkest wrappers are graded Maduro Maduro (double maduro), the next darkest Maduro, and so on. The result is that the consumer will receive a lighter or darker cigar than he normally would depending on the shades of color that particular year.