The image of a cigar is quite ubiquitous in the Western pop culture. People tend to associate it with social icons such as Fidel Castro, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John F. Kennedy, the movie The Godfather, and so on. Interestingly, its popularity is evident despite the substantiated health risk of cigar-smoking.
But aside from its saturation in our lives, what else do we know about it? What is its history and cultural influence? What’s in it? How is it made? What are the most popular varieties in the market? This article will discuss these points.
Early History of Cigar Production
The people of pre-Columbian America was the first to use tobacco. There use, however, revolved mostly on medicinal functions and ceremonial rites. By the time Christopher Columbus reached America, he recognized the value of the native tobacco but perceived it not as a cultural object but as a commodity.
The Spanish derived their word cigarro from the Mayan word sikar or sicar, which means “to smoke”. Another possible influence of the word cigar is the Spanish term cigarra (“cicada”) – due to the resemblance in shape. By mid-1800s, cigar exploded in popularity around the world.
What’s in a cigar?
Premium cigars are hand-made. A cigar is an all-natural, dried, fermented, and rolled bundle of tobacco leaf. Its parts are generally categorized into three, namely: wrapper, binder, and filler. These parts provide different functions and are integral components of a good cigar.
The wrapper is the outermost leaf that wraps both the binder and filler. Smooth and thin leaves usually function as cigar wrappers. A big part of cigar’s flavor is based on this part. Because it enhances the quality of cigar taste, most manufacturers consider the wrapper as the most expensive piece.
The bottom parts of the tobacco plant (the stronger and thicker leaves) usually serve as the cigar binder. Unlike the filler and wrapper, binder’s taste is usually subtle. This is intended to not overpower the core flavor of the filler. Its very function is to hold the cigar filler together.
The filler is the core and bulk of every cigar. It defines the base flavor and the burning properties of a roll. Unlike the wrapper and the binder, the cigar filler can be from any tobacco part. In fact, many manufacturers use a mixed filler in order to achieve a more nuanced flavor.
Premium cigar brands typically use diverse tobacco varieties and plant parts to produce more complex flavor experience. Puro (which literally means “pure”) is a term aficionado uses when referring to a cigar with all its parts coming from a single country. In most cases, puro cigars are more expensive than your everyday roll.
With regard to the production process, proper curing is necessary when making a cigar. Before curing, a delicate harvesting process is done to make sure that every leaf is of high-quality. Leaves are aged and cured by combining both heating and shading technique. Curing reduces the excess sugar and water. Thus, it enhances the burning characteristic, aroma, and flavor of the leaves. The overall process usually lasts around 25-50 days.
Popular Cigar Varieties
“If I cannot smoke in heaven, then I shall not go.” – Mark Twain
Before lighting a roll, you might want to familiarize the most popular varieties of a cigar. Of course, no one will laugh at you if you cannot identify their differences. But there’s no harm in knowing more. If it is your first time to try a cigar, knowing these things will be useful.
Robusto is surely one of the most popular cigars in the American market. Commonly, Robusto cigars do have a flat head with fat and short body. Its average length is around five inches. Despite its relatively short length, it lasts for about 45-60 minutes (for cigar-smokers, this means a slow burn rate relative to its size). Of all the varieties in this list, Robusto probably offers the most traditional taste and experience.
Belicoso is the Spanish word for “warlike”. Some people call it the “mobster cigar”. Today, most belicoso cigars are with a tapered head. Its length is usually around 5.5. to 6.5. inches and its burn time last for an hour. Because of its sheer strength (which perfectly reflects its name), many cigar aficionados do not recommend this for greenhorn smokers. But for those who are already acquainted to the taste of cigar, belicoso is a must-try.
If it’s your first time to smoke a cigar, Corona would be a good choice because of its light flavor. It also comes in wide-range of taste and aroma. The small filler of Corona gives off light taste. When combined with a premium quality wrapper, its flavor becomes even more complex. Most Corona cigars measure around 5 to 5.5 inches long and with a burn time of one hour.
This cigar is easier to identify as opposed to other traditional rolls. It is because Panetela is significantly longer and slimmer than most cigars in the market. For starters, a Panetela measures over 7 inches with 34-38 ring gauge. Smoking it lasts for about two hours. Panetela’s length also offers an interesting flavor experience because its taste changes as you burn it down.
Heavy cigar-smokers will certainly enjoy Churchill. It is a cigar named after Winston Churchill, the renowned prime minister of Britain during 1940s and 1950s. The average Churchill cigar measures up to 7 inches with 47 ring gauge. Its burn rate lasts for an hour and a half. Being true to its name, this cigar gives off a strong flavor and heavy smoke.
A cigar is a dried, cured, and rolled tobacco leaves. A cigar roll is essentially composed of three parts, namely: wrapper, binder, and filler. The flavor of a cigar is dependent on the combination of these three.
The cigar also comes in different varieties – with each one carrying their own identity and sociality. Humanity has a long history with cigar and tobacco (though they were mainly for medicinal purposes and ceremonial rites during their early stage of development). What is striking is that its influence is still evident until today.