How A Cigar Gets Its Flavour
Like a good wine or whisky, the subtle inflections and notes on the palate and on the nose are what make cigar smoking such a special experience. These flavours and scents cannot be simply traced to one simple thing; they’re the result of a combination of factors from the provenance and type of the tobacco, to the drying process, to the wrapper.
We don’t advocate trying to make a science of cigar flavours by analysing it down to the minute detail, but it can be helpful when selecting a cigar to know what sort of things impact the flavour. And after all, enjoyment is a subjective thing – two different people can get a very different experience from the same cigar. Personal taste, context and even the time of day can all have an effect.
Tobacco grows in a variety of strains, and the strain or strains used to fill your cigar have a big impact on the flavour. Not only that, but the country or region the strain was grown in can alter it significantly – the climate that the tobacco grew in has a big impact.
Some strains are more spicey, others sweet. What’s more, the fermentation and aging process can change a strain even further, as can choosing different parts of the tobacco plant. The lower leaves (volado) are milder in general, whereas the middle leaves (seco) are stronger and the top (ligero) are the most powerfully flavoured.
Generally producers will blend different leaves and strains from different regions to create a unique flavour profile for the cigar. A general rule is ‘fatter’ cigars have more space for different strains of tobacco, so tend to offer more complex flavour profiles. A “puro” cigar refers top one made from tobacco produced entirely in the same country.
It’s widely thought that it is the wrapper that has the biggest impact on a cigar’s flavor. It’s actually quite easy to get a broad impression of a cigar’s flavour simply by looking at the colour of the wrapper. Lighter wrappers tend to indicate a ‘dryer’ flavour, whereas darker wrappers indicate a little more sweetness.
The wrapper growing process is unique, with the tobacco thriving under gauze canopes that limit the amount of direct sunlight they receive. The result is a smooth, supple leaf that keeps the filler fresh. Cuban wrappers are known to feel almost like silk (indeed, the cell structure of good Cuban wrapper leaves is very similar to silk).
There are four major leaves used for wrappers:
-Connecticut. Hailing from the Northeastern US, it is grown under protection from light and therefore the leaf does not darken as much. As a result it has a milder flavour, with hints of cedar and spice, and lower nicotine content than the other three types.
-Corojo. Darker than the Connecticut, the Corojo leaves create a complex, very spicey flavour that is highly sought-after among regular cigar smokers. Sometimes the Corojo leaf can create a less easy smoke due to its natural toughness, but aficionados tend to say it’s worth it for the flavour.
-Habano. The Habano leaf is roughly similar in colour to the Corojo, and is commonly grown in Nicaragua (although originates in Cuba like the Corojo). It tends to produce a thick, spicy, robust flavour and has high nicotine content. Generally enjoyed by experienced smokers more than by beginners.
-Maduro. The darkest leaf and commonly used in premium cigars. The process to ready it for use in cigars is lengthy and complicated, producing a thick leaf with a sweet flavour profile. It’s for this reason that Maduro-wrapped cigars are regularly smoked while enjoying or digesting desert.
We hope this guide has been helpful if you’re interested in what goes into a cigar’s flavour. In future blogs we will explore the different tobacco strains, how they’re grown and what they’re known for.