It’s a combination of design and old-world artisanship that goes into a good-quality cigar. When you buy a cigar, you’re buying a 100-percent natural product that’s composed of three parts. The cigar has a wrapper, a binder, and a filler.
Like the name suggests, the wrapper is the outside leaf that holds the whole thing together. It’s the outer cigar rolling tobacco that gives the cigar a good portion of its flavor, and it’s what gives the cigar its appearance and character. The binder is like the sheet on your bed, under the bedspread. It holds the filler together and is a barrier between the filler leaves and the wrapper. In other words, if you were to peel a cigar, the binder is what you’d see under the wrapper. The binder is there to ensure the cigar burns evenly, and it provides the surface needed so that the wrapper can adhere to the rest of the cigar.
So, under the wrapper and the binder, you have…the filler.
And Now, The Filler
Filler tobaccos are what gives a cigar most of its flavor, as well as its weight and volume. It’s usually a mixture of different strains of tobaccos, sometimes even imported from different countries, blended carefully to offer the most flavor and to properly complement the wrapper tobacco’s flavor. And like most of the elements in a cigar, you definitely get what you pay for when it comes to filler tobaccos.
Fillers are often broken down into “long filler” or “short filler” varieties. Long fillers are also known as whole leaf cigar tobacco, and are usually associated with more expensive hand-rolled cigars. With long fill tobacco, whole leaves of tobacco are hand-torn to the length of the cigar itself. In a truly premium cigar, long filler leaves are bunched together using the “accordion” method, or perhaps the “booking” method, then are rolled up in the binder and wrapper.
Short fill is composed of tobacco that’s left over from the long filling process used for premium cigars. Short fill might contain stems, heavy veins, filler and other scraps of tobacco deemed too poor in quality for use in a premium hand-rolled cigar. The short fill pieces are then processed for uniformity and consistency. Some cigars might be put together using a mix of long fill or short fill materials, and are sometimes known as a “mixed filler” cigar or “Cuban sandwich” cigar.”
Classification of Filler Tobaccos
Filler tobaccos, whether long or short, are graded by their location on the tobacco plant itself. These classifications are known as “priming,” and are determined by the degree of sunlight and nutrients each grade of leaf gets, in relation to where it grows on the plant itself.
Ligero leaves are located at the top of the plant and usually have the strongest taste. These leaves are often oily and are usually rolled into the middle of the filler. This oily characteristic means that they burn slowly and evenly, and give a burning cigar its conical shape. Seco leaves are from the middle of the tobacco plant and are a priming that is prized for a balanced aroma and flavor. Volado leaves are found at the bottom of the tobacco plant and are often more pale in color. Volado tobacco has a milder aroma and taste, but it’s also more combustible and is valued for its even burning properties.
When cigar makers are blending tobaccos, they use a selection process that’s not unlike the idea of terroir for grapes and winemaking. Many variables come into play for the final product, including tobacco seeds and strains, soil types, geography, weather and climate, and even the storage, drying and processing of the plants after they’re harvested. All these factors figure into the taste and aroma of the tobacco and the cigar.
The characteristics and flavor of the filler are then taken into account when selecting the binder and wrapper tobaccos. All of these factors have to interact with each other to create the perfect cigar. When the cigar makers finalize this blend of filler, binder and wrapper, they also often tweak and fine-tune the recipe of filler tobaccos for a smooth taste that will be consistent across all sizes and shapes of their cigars. Interestingly, the fatter the cigar (or, the larger the ring gauge), the more cool and smooth they will be to smoke. Larger cigars also tend to offer a more complex flavor profile than skinnier cigars.
Thinking about taking up cigar smoking? Now you know a little bit more about what goes into a good cigar and what to look for when you’re trying to pick out the perfect smoke.