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Strange Leaves

Cigarmakers are looking to unusual leaves to find inspiration for new premium cigar blends
G. Clay Whittaker
From the Print Edition:
Liev Schreiber, November/December 2013

Despite all the technological innovation in the world today, cigarmaking really hasn’t changed much in the last few decades. Premium, handmade cigars, for the most part, are rolled from Central American tobaccos, arrive in boxes, and lighting one up still requires fire and a blade.

It’s a surprise then, when the word “innovation” is thrown around the premium cigar industry with some heft. This year has bore witness to an intriguing trend—integrating tobaccos not typically used as part of a cigar.

These distant relative tobaccos aren’t new (the processes for curing them are hundreds of years old), but adding these strange leaves into new blends is adding a layer of creativity to blending and flavor in a new generation of cigars.

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 give it potent, rich flavors of wood and smoke.

Fire-cured, or “dark fired” tobacco, is actually cured in a similar process to that of candela wrappers. Both are hung in sealed barns and subjected to high heat. Over a series of days, the tobaccos go through a gradual increase that sets in flavor and leaches out moisture.

The key difference is in the timing of the curing. While candela is cured almost immediately, flash sealing the green pigment of the leaf, fire-cured tobacco rests first. “After five or 10 days hanging [in the barns], the tobacco begins to yellow,” says Drew Estate executive vice president Nicholas Melillo, who oversees many of the new products and blends at Drew Estate. Melillo says that once the yellowing has begun, that’s when the fires come into play. But instead of odorless heat, which is used heavily in the curing of premium cigar leaf, fire-cured tobacco is cooked like barbecue, with the woods and their smoke imparting as much flavor as heat into the rafter-packed leaves.

 

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Andullo tobacco has been smoked in pipes for hundreds of years in the Dominican Republic, but the compressed, rock-hard collection of leaves is quite uncommon in the premium cigar industry.

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Some of the unusual leaves that are making their way into new blends have quite distinctive flavors. Fire-cured tobacco from the United States is cured in the smoke of burning fires, imparting notes of barbecue.

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Pungent Louisiana perique tobacco ferments under pressure in barrels.

Fired-cured tobacco is difficult to blend. As a flavor agent, a little bit goes a long way—it can be a lot to handle the first time you taste it. As a component in a cigar, it can also create burn problems, because it is cured to different humidity specifications than most cigar leaf. Melillo says that for the Drew Estate blend, which is rolled at the Joya de Nicaragua factory, Kentucky was mixed with Nicaraguan tobaccos “so it will combust properly.”

Sam Leccia and George Rico also incorporated fire-cured tobaccos into the filler of their newest blends. Rico’s cigar, the Miami S.T.K. American Puro, is made entirely from American tobacco leaves. It has a Connecticut Habano leaf as the wrapper and binder (something rare in the cigar business), and filler leaf from other parts of the United States meant to balance out the fire-cured.

Leccia uses a bit of fire-cured leaf in his Leccia Tobacco Black, which is made in the Dominican Republic. 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 says the fire-cured tobacco is a finishing touch, rather than a central component.


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Comments   6 comment(s)

MA Hoffman March 3, 2014 10:11pm ET

Desperation may be driving this, but some of us are not desperate to smoke them. Rediculous!


Jerome Lauzon — Lachine, Quebec, Canada,  —  March 4, 2014 2:23pm ET

Innovation is always a positive. It is after that a personal decision to try new things or to ignore them. I'm all for it even though it may not be my cup of tea.


float dub March 11, 2014 3:29pm ET

I hardly think Drew Estate as the 3rd largest importer of cigars to the US, is desperate. The same thing was probably said 15 years ago about Acid. Leccia and Rico seem to be doing just fine.


Mark Miller — Keller, TX, USA,  —  March 11, 2014 4:49pm ET

I have smoked AJ's Spectre and I feel the flavor is a nice change of pace. Everyday cigar? Probably not. But I do enjoy it.


tempbond@hotmail.com March 11, 2014 8:14pm ET

As I became interested in making my own cigars, I bought different kinds of tobacco and did make pretty good cigars. A few of those were made with fired cured tobacco and perique, which are both very fragrant.
As the article says, a little goes a long way. The fire cured gave a nice intense smokey flavor. The perique gave deep tobacco and molasses flavors.
I had friends of mine try them and even though it wasn't the best cigars they ever smoked, they did have an interest in it.
Now compare this to all the flavored cigars on the market. I'd rather smoke one of those "tobacco" flavored cigars (pun intended) than cigars that taste like if you are smoking pot pourri wrapped in a tobacco leaf...


Harvey Gibson April 5, 2014 5:42pm ET

Having smoked my first Project 805 cigar earlier this week, and having smoked fire cured tobacco and perique tobaccos as a component in my pipe tobacco blends for years, I can tell you that these tobaccos are mainstream, and some might argue that it's a bit surprising it took this long for them to show up in cigars...


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