What Gives a Great Cigar Balance?
There is a fine line between ligero and other types of filler tobacco that can dramatically affect the strength and flavor of a cigar
From the Print Edition:
George Lopez, January/February 2010
(continued from page 1)
If you have forgotten, ligero is the strongest tobacco the Cubans use in their cigar blends. I have no idea why they call their most powerful leaf "light" in Spanish, but they are the leaves that are picked from the top of the plants and are the ripest and richest. They also have the highest nicotine content as well as the most pronounced flavor elements in tobacco. They need the most processing to reduce and mellow their impurities.
Cubans traditionally use a half, or quarter, of a leaf of ligero in a cigar that could have as many as three to five filler leaves in the blend. The ligero is the elemental strength and flavor, much like a chef uses black pepper in his, or her, signature dish. It's important not to over use pepper in cooking as well as in a cigar blend. This is why most factories do not make a ligero-only cigar. It's with good reason too because it would blow your head off if they did, as Alejandro's crazy American visitor found out.
Some well-known cigars actually use no ligero in their blends. For instance, I remember years ago dissecting a new-production Hoyo de Monterrey Double Corona with the late Rick Meerapfel, and he pointed out that the cigar was almost entirely made of seco with a bit of volado. Rick, whose family still grows most of the cigar tobacco in Cameroon and Central Africa, was one of the best tobacco men I knew in my life. He said that what we found made sense because the Double Corona was so thick and long that it could still deliver refined, yet flavorful character.
Cubans say that the volado tobacco is from the lowest part of the plant and used for combustion of the blend. The seco is for flavor and perfume of the cigar and comes from the mid-part of the plant. Meanwhile, the ligero is for adding spice and strength and is picked from the top.
I couldn't understand why such a famous cigar as a Hoyo Double Corona could not use ligero, even though Rick explained that it was to maintain the balance of the blend. The cigar blender obviously wanted to keep the cigar smooth with rich flavor and didn't want to spice it up too much with ligero. This may be why I always preferred Punch Double Coronas, which have a little more spice than the Hoyo Double Corona.
This same idea was explained to me recently by Dion Giolito of Illusione cigars, which are made in Honduras and Nicaragua. I was hanging with Dion the morning before last year's Big Smoke in Las Vegas drinking an Illy espresso and talking tobacco. Dion is a cool dude and makes some of my favorite non-Cubans at the moment. What I like about Illusione smokes, in particular the Epernay range, is their balance. They have beautiful perfumes and aromas and fresh and clean palates, with just the right amount of rich tobacco, almost cappuccino, flavors. They smell as great as they taste when burning.
Dion uses no ligero in his Epernay line. He said that he uses viso seco and viso ligero (which is far milder than normal ligero as it grows lower on the plant) in varying proportions. I liked the way Dion explained why he doesn't want the powerful ligero in the Epernay blend.
"It just got in the way of the blend," he said bluntly. "I didn't like it. Using the ligero would have been like the drunken guy at the party. When everybody is chilling, the big sweaty drunk takes the vibe out of the party."
I know what he meant. I thought back to that small party in Hong Kong and the killer Ramon Allones Double Corona that I smoked. Maybe some people like getting stoned on cigars, but I can't say I do. I am going to take note the next time a friend tells me "I have a special cigar for you"-even after a few bottles of great wines. I think flavor and balance have more to do with a great cigar than just power.
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MAURICE ANTONIUS KOKS — SANTIAGO, DOMINICAN REPU, — January 19, 2011 5:49pm ET
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