To truly enjoy a fine artisan hand-rolled premium cigar, you must first appreciate and respect the effort that goes into making each cigar. Like a fine wine or liquor, they often take years to produce. Before we ever see them lined up in a cedar box, perfectly rolled, each one identical to the eye, many steps have been meticulously performed. The process may vary slightly from one manufacturer to another, but nonetheless, the journey from a single tobacco seed to placement into its package or box can take years, five or longer for unique aged cigars. During their journey, they may have passed through over 300 pairs of hands, each with great care to detail.
Premium cigars are made up of many different varieties of tobacco from seeds that are carefully selected, nurtured and grown naturally by growers to develop the different types of leaf that will ultimately make up a cigar. The result of this blending will create the unique taste, feel and characteristic of each fine cigar.
Cigars are made up primarily of three distinctive leaf layers, the Filler, the Binder and the Wrapper, each having a very specific role. The filler tobacco is located in the center of the cigar and is mainly responsible for the cigar’s taste. The binder tobacco wraps around the filler, holding the cigar together, while the wrapper leaf is the outermost layer of a cigar, giving the cigar its color, feel and also contributing to the taste. Here is a little known fact, a tiny bit of gum called “tragacanth” which is sap from a gum tree is applied to help seal the wrapper. It’s a tasteless and safe form of dietary fiber that helps keep the cigar together.
Each tobacco seed starts its journey by being germinated in its own pod, indoors, underneath a large well lit cheesecloth draped barn-like structure, carefully watered and monitored for almost two weeks before the plants are transferred to a nursery. They remain in this second nursery for about a month and half. The plants are carefully monitored and nurtured until they are six inches tall with healthy roots, before leaving the nursery for field planting.
Each growing season, the field is prepared with nutrients to provide the best possible soil for the transplanted seedlings. After four months of careful tending in the fields, the plants will have grown to between five and a half feet to eleven feet tall, depending on whether they were farmed with the sun-grown or shade-grown process.
The plants are then harvested and begin a long curing procedure which again, can vary from one manufacturer to another. This phase is crucial to the development of the final cigar. The tobacco leaves are hung in wooden curing barns, subjecting them to dramatic levels of heat and humidity and will take place over a period of forty five days or more, leaving the leaves shrunken, yellow and brown in color. Then, it is off to the fermentation barn.
The fermentation process is a rehydration and revitalization of the tobacco leaves that will also remove any leftover nutrients within the leaves producing a clean fresh tobacco leaf. First the leaves are thoroughly dampened then placed by hand one by one on top of one another creating large stacks called pilons. Each stack when fully constructed can weigh as much as 2,500 pounds. This creates tremendous pressure and heat, the damp leaves sometimes reaching temperatures between 110 to 130 degrees. This causes the tobacco leaves to ferment yet again releasing more of the now unwanted nutrients that were used to grow the leaf. The pilons stacks are then flipped and rotated to a new position about every 10 days until the tobacco leaves are completely dried. This process can take more than a year to complete. Think about that work detail!
Finally the craft of hand-rolling a cigar begins. This process can also vary wildly from manufacturer to manufacturer because of quality control and the inspection processes that take place from the hand-rolling, until the cigars are placed into their boxes. Master artisans are responsible for the bunching, cutting, shaping, rolling and pulling each and every cigar, making each one identical, while producing hundreds of cigars per day. This requires great care and very high attention to detail. Before labeling and boxing, the cigars are put through an aging process that can take three to four months or longer before we are finally able to purchase them.
I truly enjoy, appreciate and respect my OLIVA’s, AJ FERNANDEZ, ROCKY PATEL, ROMEO Y JULIETA, PURA SOUL and ABEL EXPOSITO cigars when I smoke them. I am impressed every time I have one in my hand and in awe of the craftsmanship it took to get there. Here’s to your next premium cigar, I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do, you’ve earned it.
Bill Webb Jr.