This is part one of a series of articles, in no particular order, discussing the basics of cigars. In this article is a brief interpretation of what goes into the making of a hand-rolled cigar.
Tobaccos are selected from amongst the very highest priming’s. There is great diversity in the method, however they are selected based on texture, appearance and growing method. The majority are grown in soil, while there are others that are grown hydroponically – without soil. Some are even grown in swamps. Each method imparts a different flavor or body to the cigar. The selected tobaccos are then baled and stored for fermentation for a predetermined amount of time (as much or more than three years!)
The wrapper leaves (outer leaf) are classed and graded according to length and color – from light tan to deep brown (maduro) to a shade of green. During this process, leaves that are marred in the slightest manner are eliminated. What remains are the best quality tobacco leaves which are then divided by stripping their stems.
Making ‘hands’ or sizing
A team of eight or more inspectors tie the wrapper leaves together to form what are referred to as ‘hands’. Each of these ‘hands’ consist of 40 leaves each between 15 and 21 inches in length. These sizes make them appropriate for the most sought after cigar sizes.
‘Blending’ or ‘making the magic’
Blending is a thorough process that can make or break a brand. In this area consistency pays! The worker known as the ‘blender’ combines the various leaves by placing them one on top of the other in a designated sequence. The Blend is then placed into a cedar box and placed in cedar storage rooms for as little or more than three weeks. During this time the leaves’ various aromas will marry creating that sought after flavor and aroma.
The worker known as the ‘buncher’ then takes leaves from separate filler box compartments and rolls them with his or her fingers inside a binder stretched to its limits. This process allows for each buncher to develop an expert feel for dozens of unique cigar sizes.
When the bunch is complete it’s placed in a wooden mold that shapes it to the specific length and ring gauge of a particular cigar size. Ring gauges are expressed in 64ths of an inch; therefore a fifty inch ring gauge cigar has a diameter of 50/64”.
Cut and roll
A wrapper-roller can average about 35 cigars in an hour. The wrap-roller uses a Cuban knife known as a ‘chaveta’ to cut each wrapper leaf to the correct shape for a particular cigar size. The wrapper-roller than places the leaf upside down on a cutting board so that the smooth unveined side of the leaf will be revealed on top. The crown or ‘head’ is then ‘capped’ by sealing it with a natural, flavorless gum. The cap will prevent the cigars unraveling.
The cigar then undergoes a rigorous inspection. Each must slide through the appropriate ring-gauge with ease and pass a hand test for firmness, density, texture, and uniformity. Once past this, the finished cigars are placed in a room built of Spanish cedar. Here they will go through that final aging process wherein the various flavors and aromas marry to achieve bold and unified flavor and consistency. Voila – a cigar is born!
Smoke ’em if ya got ’em!