Anatomy of a Cigar

Feb

09

by at 8:11 pm No Comments Cigars 101


Welcome to  “Anatomy of a Cigar”, the first installment of “Cigars 101”.  In response to the many emails and questions I receive which start with “How do I…?”, or “What’s the best way to…?” I decided to put together a series of posts covering everything from what a cigar is actually made of, to choosing, storing, and most importantly, smoking a cigar.

Cigars 101 is meant to be a straightforward, general guide on these topics, based on years of personal experience, trial, and a few spectacular errors I’ve made.  Enjoy!

Anatomy of a Cigar:

If you’ve ever read a cigar review, advertisement for a cigar, or visited the website of virtually any cigar maker, you’ll usually see a breakdown of what the featured cigar is made of.   Terms like “binder”, “wrapper” and “filler” are usually front and centre, and for good reason.  The filler, binder, and wrapper are responsible in varying degrees, for the taste, strength, and appearance of a cigar.  The terms “cap” and “foot” are also readily found in most cigar reviews, but refer to a part of the finished cigar, as opposed to a type of tobacco.  In order of assembly, here’s a breakdown on the three main components of every cigar:

Anatomy1

FILLER:

Quite simply, filler tobacco is the first component of your cigar, and accounts for most of the bulk, or size of the cigar.  The filler tobacco is also where most of the strength of the cigar comes from, and plays a big part in burn, and  the overall flavor of a cigar.   Filler can be broken down further into two distinct types: long filler and short filler.  Short filler is smaller, cut up pieces of tobacco, and is most commonly used in lower quality, machine made cigars.  Long filler consists of… you guessed it, long tobacco leaves, and is used almost exclusively in the making of handmade cigars.  Using long filler, cigar makers can strategically arrange different types of leaves and blend a cigar to change in strength and flavor as it burns. If you’re not sure whether your favorite cigar has long or short filler, I’ve laid out a few pointers that might help you out:

  •  If your cigar of choice is most commonly purchased off an open-air shelf from a convenience store or gas station, it’s likely short filler.
  • If your cigar gives off a shower of tiny tobacco particles when cut, or worse, comes pre-cut, it’s short filler.
  • If your cigar was purchased from a humidor, at a reputable tobacconist, and the words “hand made” or “man made” were located anywhere on the box, it’s most likely long filler.

The points I’ve laid out are by no means a knock on short filler cigars, but as I’ve mentioned above, the use of long filler tobacco by skilled blenders and rollers allows much greater control over flavour, burn and the strength of a cigar.

BINDER:

Luckily for me, “binder” pretty much explains itself.  The binder tobacco is what’s used to wrap, and hold the filler tobacco in the shape of a cigar. Since the binder is ultimately covered by the wrapper, looks aren’t important when the binder is selected.  The application of the binder is where skill really comes in to play.  If the binder is applied even a little bit too tight, the cigar will have a tight draw, or worse turn into a plug at some point during the smoke.  If the binder is applied too loose, a cigar will burn hotter, quickly, and unevenly. If you’re ever feeling curious and have a cigar you’re willing to sacrifice, you can start at either end of the unlit cigar, carefully peel the wrapper off, and see just how different the binder looks from the wrapper.

WRAPPER:

The wrapper is but a tiny percentage of the overall tobacco used in making a cigar, but is almost entirely responsible for the final appearance of your cigar.  The wrapper is a thin, elastic tobacco leaf, which is carefully selected for appearance, then skillfully applied over the binder to give a cigar its “finished” appearance.  The wrapper plays a big part in how a cigar feels in your mouth, and also influences the taste of a cigar.  There are many different types of wrappers out there, ranging from very light in color (ie: a candela) to fantastically dark wrappers (ie: maduro wrappers), which are grown in many different regions.  I’m not going to delve in to the different nuances and characteristics of each type of wrapper right now, but I will make one significant point:  The strength of a cigar is NOT determined by the color of the wrapper.  There’s a preconception out there, particularly among folks who are new to cigar smoking, that a dark wrapper equals a very strong cigar.  I’m telling you here that while a dark wrapper may sometimes coincide with a stronger cigar, wrapper colour is not a visual indicator of cigar strength.  Without naming cigars, I can think of many occasions where I’ve had my ass handed to me by cigars with light wrappers, and been fully underwhelmed by cigars with near black wrappers.

 

Now that everyone’s got an understanding of just what the hell a cigar is made out of, I’ll shed a little light on the cap and the foot of a cigar. The cap and foot are located at opposite ends of the cigar, and don’t really exist until the wrapper, binder, and filler have all married up.  Once you’re actually ready to smoke a cigar, it’s pretty damn important to light the right end, so pay close attention to these two areas.

Cap and Foot

CAP:

The cap is a piece of wrapper, carefully applied to the end of the cigar (the end opposite the foot), which goes in your mouth.  The term “head” is also used to describe the capped end of a cigar. The purpose of the cap is to hold the cigar together, keep the rest of the wrapper in place, and to prevent your cigar from unraveling and falling apart as you smoke.  A cap can be a single, double, or triple layer, and may also be twisted into a pigtail shape.  Cut your cap wrong, or even mangle it as you smoke, and I assure you that disaster will ensue. It’s important that the cap of a cigar is applied well, which is why Cigaropolis reviews will normally mention the appearance of the cap before cutting. I’ll touch on cutting a cigar later on, but when you’re looking at the cap of a cigar, you’ll see a natural line where the cap has been applied. Use this line as a guide, and never cut beyond it.  If in doubt, cut off the absolute least amount of cap possible to open up your cigar.

FOOT:

The foot is the open end of a cigar, which has not been sealed with a wrapper.  This is where you’ll carefully apply flame to light your cigar and get the whole experience off the ground.  You may see “shaggy” feet, with tobacco protruding beyond the wrapper, or cigars where the foot tapers down to a tiny little opening (ie: a La Aurora Preferido) but the purpose is all the same.  As a small aside, in Cigaropolis reviews, I’ll often refer to the smell of the unlit foot.  This is exactly what it sounds like, and refers to the aroma off the foot of a cigar before I’ve set fire to it.

I’m hoping the first installation of Cigars 101 has provided a straightforward approach to getting to know your cigar.  Stay tuned for upcoming posts on how to choose, store, and of course, smoke a cigar.

Rock out,

-Matt

 


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