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New Blends Look Beyond the Bales with Fire-Cured Tobacco
G. Clay Whittaker
Posted: October 29, 2013
While a quick search through this year's newest cigar releases showed many of the familiar blends that have been common during the last few trade shows, a new trend has emerged integrating tobaccos not typically consumed as part of a cigar. The most prominent example is fire-cured tobacco.
Three different cigarmakers—Drew Estate, George Rico and Sam Leccia—released blends this year containing some portion of fire-cured tobacco, a leaf typically used for pipe tobacco and chewing tobacco that takes its name from the wood-fire curing process used to inject it with potent, rich flavors of wood and smoke. Fired-cured tobacco isn't new—in fact the processes for curing are hundreds of years old—but integrating its flavor into new products is adding a new layer to blending and flavor in a new generation of cigars.
The tobacco is categorically difficult to blend into a cigar. As a flavor agent, a little bit goes a long way. It can be a lot to handle the first time you taste it,and it has to be used sparingly as an ingredient. Says Drew Estate executive vice president Nicholas Melillo: "It actually mutes your palate if you use too much."
As a flammable component, it often creates burn problems because it is cured to different humidity specifications than most cigar leaf. Melillo says that for the Drew Estate blend, which is called Kentucky Fire Cured and is rolled at the Joya de Nicaragua factory in Estelí, Nicaragua, the company included a dominant blend of Nicaraguan Jalapa and Estelí fillers to aid combustion.
Sam Leccia and George Rico have also incorporated fire-cured tobaccos into the filler of their newest blends, both of which use Habano leaf wrappers. Rico's cigar, the Miami S.T.K. American Puro, is made entirely from American tobacco leaves. It has a seldom-incorporated Connecticut Habano leaf as the wrapper and binder, and filler leaf from other parts of the United States to balance out the fire-cured.
Leccia uses a bit of fire-cured leaf in his Leccia Tobacco Black, which is made by Las Lavas Cigars in the Dominican Republic and distributed by Toraño Family Cigar Co. The smoke, which has some fire-cured filler from Tennessee as well as Kentucky, also has filler from Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and Brazil. Leccia likens the taste to that of a smoky whiskey.
But it's the folks at Drew Estate who took it one step further by putting two different wrappers on the same cigar. The top portion is covered in fire-cured wrapper. The remaining portion is wrapped in a leaf of San Andrés. "We used Kentucky fire-cured and combined it with Mexican San Andrés for the rest of the wrapper so it burns evenly," said Melillo.
An interesting plot point—all of these blends retail for under $10. Despite the amount of tinkering and tweaking going into the process to incorporate high-maintenance leaf, none of that is driving the smokes to higher price points. So for the time being, the new cigars inspiring the most curiosity are also staying the most wallet-friendly.
For much more on fire-cured tobacco and other tobacco oddities, see the full-length article in the December issue of Cigar Aficionado, on newsstands November 5.
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