Blending Cigars Part I

The mystery surrounding how different tobaccos blend together to create a distinctive and consistent flavor can be attributed to the talents of the blender and the quality of tobaccos used. Of course other factors, such as the skill of the roller are important, but the quality and aging of the tobacco itself and how each component (filler, binder, wrapper) intermarries is critical. The old saying “garbage in, garbage out” applies here, as there is no substitute for quality. The 3 different portions of a cigar contribute differently to a cigar’s strength, flavor, and how it smokes overall.

Filler Tobacco: Fillers are the tobaccos found at the center of the cigar. Generally the filler is responsible for determining how strong a cigar will smoke. There are several types of filler tobaccos, including seco, olor, volado and ligero. Ligero, the fullest in flavor and strength, is becoming increasingly common in today’s premium blends. Great blenders can achieve identical, consistent flavor even with different types of tobacco. Rolando Reyes, Sr. for example, is renowned for his ability to “improvise” and create consistent-tasting blends even though the actual filler combination may vary from batch to batch.

Binder Leaf: This is used simply to keep the filler tobacco together. Generally, the binder is a lowest grade of tobacco within a cigar, serving structural purposes only. However, today’s top blenders have been using wrapper-quality leaves to add more levels of flavor, strength and complexity to their blends. To achieve this, a unique leaf is used that varies from the rest of the blend. For example, a spicy Mexican binder may surround a mellower blend of Dominican leaves.

Wrapper Tobacco: The wrapper is the outside layer of tobacco on a cigar. It gives a cigar one of its primary flavor components. Wrappers are typically the highest-quality leaf and are available in colors ranging from Double Claro (the lightest) to Oscuro (darkest). Wrappers are either shade-grown – grown under a cheesecloth tent called a tapado – or sun-grown – grown under direct sunlight. Sun-grown wrappers tend to be thicker and oilier, leading to a fuller flavor. Wrappers are the most expensive part of the cigar and must be thoroughly inspected by hand to assure perfection aesthetically. Fermentation is another way to achieve perfection. By heating and re-heating the moist wrapper tobaccos, a specific color, texture and flavor can be achieved. Rocky Patel, for example, will ferment the same wrapper tobacco a varying number of times to create wrapper leaves for various blends, each having its own, unique characteristics.

Manufacturers often use the same types of tobacco in different sizes, producing different tastes. Often the consumer will perceive this as the same “blend.” There is a difference, however - it’s in the proportion of each type of leaf used. An experienced blender may use different proportions of the tobaccos to account for size differences. In a smaller ring cigar, the binder and wrapper have a greater influence on the taste, for instance. The blender will allow for this difference by re-proportioning the filler blend. It’s just one of those details that requires years of training among master blenders.