Glossary of Cigar Terms
A unit of storage for fermented cigar tobacco. Bales vary in weight and appearance, depending upon where the tobacco was grown, and the company that grew the tobacco. To make a bale, workers in a tobacco warehouse take dry tobacco that’s been cured and fermented and layer it in a wooden crate atop a scale that has been lined with material. Burlap or nylon are two of the more common. When the desired weight has been achieved, a hydraulic press compresses the tobacco into a rectangular block that might weigh 110 pounds or so. The sides are then stitched by hand, and the wooden supports removed, revealing the bale. Tobacco ages in bales, and can be kept in this form for decades, but a few years is more common.
A ring of paper wrapped around the top third of most cigars that contains information about the cigar, typically the name of the brand, country of origin, and indication that the cigar is hand-rolled. While legend says that Catherine the Great or Spanish nobles created the cigar band, seeking a way to keep their gloves from being stained, many credit Gustave Bock with pioneering the practice, creating the first cigar band in the 1830s. Others say Ramon Allones was the first brand to use cigar bands. Cigar bands were widespread in Cuba by 1855.
Many cigars today also have a secondary band (see photo) beneath the main band (typically denoting some type of special edition) and some have bands on the bottom, or foot, of the cigar. Very few are sold without bands today.
Many cigar bands have quite colorful graphics and often stunning lithography, which have made them popular collectors' items. In many folk tales, a cigar band served as a wedding band in impromptu ceremonies. For the record, it is equally appropriate to leave the band on while smoking a cigar or to remove it, as long as the cigar's wrapper leaf is not torn when the band is removed.
Banda is a term for binder, the portion of a tobacco leaf used to hold together the blend of filler leaves called the bunch. It’s also known as the capote. With the wrapper and filler (known as capote and tripa in Spanish) the binder is one of three main components in a handmade cigar. A torcedore uses it to hold together the collection of filler leaves inside of a handmade cigar. Many binders were grown with the intent of being wrappers, but defects in the leaf caused them to be graded as binders, which are considerably less expensive than wrappers. Some factories use two binders to add complexity to a cigar blend.
A method of shipping cigars in the United States in the early 1800s. Cigars, often quite cheap cigars, would be packed in barrels of 2,500. Mark Twain, one of the most famous cigar smokers in history, once said that he paid very little for his barrels of cigars. “I have always bought cheap cigars—reasonably cheap, at any rate,” he said at his seventieth birthday speech. “Sixty years ago they cost me four dollars a barrel, but my taste has improved, latterly, and I pay seven now. Six or seven. Seven, I think. Yes, it’s seven. But that includes the barrel. I often have smoking parties at my house; but the people that come have always just taken the pledge. I wonder why that is?”
A tobacco beetle is the scourge of cigar smokers. The beetles eat cigar tobacco, and although they are very small they can ruin a cigar very easily. Beetles begin as eggs, and when the temperature inside a humidor rises above 72 degrees, the eggs can hatch and form beetles, which will burrow out of a cigar. If you see a tiny, perfectly circular hole in a cigar, or little canals, it’s a sure sign of a beetle problem. Other signs are sandlike dust, which contain beetle droppings.
For Cigar Aficionado’s story on how to identify and fight tobacco beetles, click here.
Traditionally a short, pyramid-shaped cigar with a shorter, more rounded taper at the head than found on a pyramid or torpedo.
A mixture of herbs, wine, rum or a combination of such materials used to treat certain types of tobacco. It’s a process some cigarmakers do, but few discuss. Royal Jamaica was famous for using a bethune on its tobacco.
The tobacco leaf (or leaves) that hold together the filler tobacco. The combination of a binder (known as a banda in Spanish) and filler tobacco is known as the the bunch. With the wrapper and filler, the binder is one of three main components in a handmade cigar. Many binders were grown with the intent of being wrappers, but defects in the leaf caused them to be graded as binders, which are considerably less expensive than wrappers. Some cigar factories use two binder leaves, to add complexity to a cigar blend.
The process of removing air and old butane from a lighter. Bleeding a lighter helps maintain its performance, and not bleeding a lighter is the leading cause of lighter malfunction, as pockets of air can suppress the flow of butane to the lighter mechanism.
Watch this video to see the proper method to bleed your lighter.
The mixture of different types of tobacco in a cigar, including up to five types of filler leaves, one or two binder leaves and an outer wrapper. Some specialty cigars are made with two wrappers, but this is rare. To achieve complexity in a blend, a cigarmaker will use tobaccos grown in various countries, or from varying regions of one country. He will also use tobacco from different primings. In many factories, the blends are well-kept secrets passed down from father to son. The blends at Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia. in the Dominican Republic, for example, are not written down, and are only known by Carlos Fuente Sr. and his son Carlos Fuente Jr.
A process of judging where the identity of the judged product is kept hidden from the taster. All of the tastings in Cigar Aficionado magazine and Cigar Insider newsletter (save for those that appear in Connoisseur’s Corner) are done blind. A tasting coordinator buys cigars at retail outlets, creates a code, removes the identifying cigar bands from the cigars, replaces the branded band with a plain numbered band and passes them out to the tasting panel. The tasting panel does not know the identity of the cigars, nor how much they cost, where they are from, or any other detail.
Watch this video of Gordon Mott, Cigar Aficionado’s executive editor, explain the blind tasting process.
Bloom, which is also called plume, is a naturally occurring phenomenon in the cigar-aging process. Oils that exude from the tobacco in a finished cigar will appear as a fine white powder and can be brushed off without leaving a mark. Bloom is not to be confused with mold, which has color to it and stains the wrapper.
Blue mold, or peronospara tabacina, is a fast moving, airborne fungus that can ruin a tobacco field in just a few days. It flourishes in cool, cloudy weather with light rain and riddles tobacco leaves with small blemishes. Honduras once suffered from chronic, virulent outbreaks of blue mold, and it has been a problem virtually everywhere tobacco is grown. Some tobacco hybrids are less susceptible to blue mold than others.
The protective sheet of paper that folds over the top layer of cigars packaged in a dress box. It is usually glued to the inside of the box and bears the brand’s logo. It’s the first thing you see when you open the box.
Boite Nature (BWAT Nah-churr)
The cedar box in which many cigars are sold. It has two rear hinges, a brooch-style clasp, four collars within the edges of the box and corners that are dovetailed, or interlocked. Semi-Boite Nature boxes also are made entirely of wood, without any trimmings, but lack some of the characteristics of a true boite nature box.
An agricultural region in the Dominican Republic located about an hour’s drive from Santiago. The Bonao region was used for candela wrapper, but it became best known as the region where the Fuente family grew the Dominican Republic’s first shade-grown tobacco from Cuban seeds, which became the wrapper for Fuente Fuente OpusX cigars.
Filler leaves are rolled together and wrapped with a binder leaf to form a cylindrical shape.
A rolling method by which the cigarmaker lays the filler leaves atop one another, so they resemble pages in a book, then rolls them up like a scroll. This method of cigarmaking is very quick, but can create problems with the cigar’s draw.
Bouquet, or aroma, is the smell of a burning cigar. Great cigars typically have enticing aromas that perfume the room. Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate the aroma of a cigar you are smoking; it often helps to leave the room for a moment and come back, or to cup your hand and direct some smoke toward your nostrils. One can also admire the bouquet of a box of cigars, or the unlit cigar.
The container used to package most premium, handmade cigars. Some credit the start of the practice to Cuba’s H. Upmann brand in the early 1800s. In the United States, laws in 1865, which sought to get an accurate count on sales of cigars for purposes of tax collection, required cigars to be packed in wooden boxes of 25, 50, 100 or 250 cigars. After the U.S. Civil War, cigar boxes were everywhere in the United States. Cigar boxes are traditionally made from wood (particularly Spanish cedar), but tin, cardboard and even plastic have been used.
There are several traditional styles. A Dress Box or Semi-Plain Box is the most common type of cigar box. These boxes are made of wood or cardboard, and the entire box is finished with overlays of decorative embossed paper, usually emblazoned with logos, seals and crests. Many of these boxes are Flat tops, or Thirteen Toppers, the flat rectangular box most popular today, with 13 cigars on top and 12 on the bottom and a spacer. The boxes are typically closed with a brass nail. Semi-Boite Nature is a plain cedar cigar box that has two rear hinges and a brooch-style clasp. A Boite Nature cigar box is a cedar wooden box with two rear hinges, a brooch-style clasp, and four collars within the edges of the box. Cabinet Selection refers to wooden boxes with sliding tops, designed to hold 25 or 50 cigars, often wrapped with a ribbon. This type of packaging is also known as a Slide-Lid box. Cabinets are often much taller than dress or semi-dress boxes, and the cigars are often packed with greater amounts of air between each cigar. Some connoisseurs who age their smokes prefer cigars packed in cabinet style, believing the increased amount of air allows for better aging. 8-9-8 refers to a round-sided box specifically designed to accommodate three rows of cigars—eight on top, nine in the middle, eight on the bottom.
Box aging refers to the time a cigar spends in the box after being rolled, which improves the qualities of a cigar, much as a fine wine can improve with age in the bottle. Cigars can improve with age for many years, and the Connoisseur’s Corner section of Cigar Aficionado—which deals exclusively with aged cigars, some as old as many decades—provides some of the highest scores the magazine has ever given.
Oftentimes you can ascertain the age of a cigar by its box codes. Every Cuban cigar produced has a code at the bottom indicating the age of a smoke; that will not only tell you how old it is, but the vintage, which may be important. This coding process is rare outside of Cuba. Today’s Cuban box code is transparent and easy to understand, but earlier incarnations were disguised, to discourage consumers from knowing the date the cigars were produced. The best-known Cuban date code was known as NIVEL ACUSO.
The slightly squared appearance taken on by cigars that are packed tightly in a box, particularly a flat-top box. Montecristo No. 2s from Cuba exemplify the box-pressed shape. Cigars are packed into a dress box, stacked atop each other, and then are physically pressed to give them a somewhat flatter and somewhat square appearance.
The term has also been used incorrectly to denote trunk pressing, which is a much more severe press involving wooden slats between cigars, a process that results in a very squared-off cigar.
Check out this video senior editor David Savona shot while recently touring the Partagás Cigar Factory in Havana for further explanation
The clasp that secures many cigar box lids to the bottom portion of the box.
Brother of the Leaf
Brother of the leaf is a modern-day term, popularized on the Internet, to describe a fellow cigar smoker. It’s commonly shortened to BOTL.
A name used in the days before the Cuban Revolution to describe a small cigar factory in the United States. The term came from the factory’s liberal use of tobacco from Ohio, the Buckeye State.
The term for a large pile of tobacco, arranged for fermentation. Bulks can be enormous, weighing 3,500 or even 4,000 pounds or more. After curing in a curing barn, or casa de tabaco, the tobacco is brought into a warehouse and assembled in bunches of leaves called hands, and made into a bulk.
The leaves sit flat in a bulk, one on top of the other, with boards, cardboard or old tobacco stems beneath. The weight of the tobacco and the moisture in the leaf (as well as moisture that is added by workers before assembling the bulk) creates heat, which causes fermentation to begin, changing the chemical structure of the tobacco, removing impurities such as ammonia and rendering the tobacco smokeable. When the desired temperature is reached, workers break down the bulk and rebuild it. This process is repeated again and again, and can last for months or longer.
There are many terms to describe the same thing. The Cubans call such a pile a pilón, others call the piles burro or trojes (TROH-heys). Another variation is to call a pile of tobacco that has been removed of its stems a burro.
Check out our video on curing barns.
Bull's Eye Piercer
A device for opening the closed head of a cigar before smoking. It creates a circular opening like a target’s bull’s eye. It’s a type of punch cutter.
A type of punch cutter (see photo) used to open the closed head of a cigar before smoking. It creates a circular opening.
The combination of filler (tripa) tobacco and a binder (banda). The bunch, after being placed in a mold, is then rolled with a wrapper leaf to make the finished cigar.
A worker who makes the bunch of a cigar, the combination of filler and binder leaves. In many factories, the tasks of rolling and bunching are separated. In others, one worker performs both jobs. When separated, bunching tends to be done by males, and rolling by females.
A hand-powered device consisting of a leather pad, metal handle and guides that aids in the creation of the bunch. These devices are used practically everywhere in the Dominican Republic, but are rare in Central America and not used in Cuba. The devices are also known as Liebermans or Temscos.
A packaging method, designed with economy in mind, that uses a cellophane overwrap. It usually contains 25 or 50 cigars, traditionally without bands. Bundles, oftentimes seconds of premium brands, are usually less expensive than boxed cigars.
The term for a large pile of tobacco, arranged for fermentation. Burros can be enormous, weighing 3,500 or even 4,000 pounds or more. After curing in a curing barn, or casa de tabaco, the tobacco is brought into a warehouse and assembled in bunches of leaves called hands, and made into a burro.
The leaves sit flat in a burro, one on top of the other, with boards, cardboard or old tobacco stems beneath. The weight of the tobacco and the moisture in the leaf (as well as moisture that is added by workers before assembling the burro) creates heat, which causes fermentation to begin, changing the chemical structure of the tobacco, removing impurities such as ammonia and rendering the tobacco smokeable. When the desired temperature is reached, workers break down the burro and rebuild it. This process is repeated again and again, and can last for months or longer.
There are many terms to describe the same thing. Others call the piles pilones (pee-LONE), bulks, or trojes (TROH-heys). Another variation on is to call a pile of tobacco that has been removed of its stems a burro, and the pile with stems a pilón.
A colorless, odorless gas that is used to fill cigar lighters and is the preferred lighter fuel for a cigar smoker. It’s advisable to use high-quality, filtered butane to refill your lighters, particularly torch lighters, to avoid clogging the lighter.
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