Cigars of a Different Flavor
Long a part of the machine-made cigar world, flavored smokes make a stand in the premium market
From the Print Edition:
Michael Jordan, July/August 2005
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While some enjoy the experience, others abhor it. "Any cigar that needs to be flavored is pure, unadulterated horse manure to begin with," wrote Dr. Barry Kamen, a regular poster who goes by the name Doc Barry. A poster named Karajan who unknowingly tried a flavored smoke wrote that he would be "forever scarred" by the memory.
More likely, flavored cigars serve as a bridge to premium cigars for the uninitiated, something to be smoked as an entryway into the world of cigar smoking. For the novice, a simple, sweet and easily identifiable flavor (honey or cherry, for example) is an easier step than moving into a box marked Cuban-seed Corojo. "I started with flavored cigars," wrote a poster named Jadawin, "but don't smoke them at all anymore."
Flavoring a cigar is anything but a new process. The majority of cigars sold in America are flavored, even if they aren't necessarily marketed that way. Nearly all machine-made cigars rely on some type of agent to boost their less naturally flavorful blend of short, chopped, value-priced tobacco. Flavoring is especially important in the cheapest segment of the industry, which features cigars wrapped in brown, extruded sheets of homogenized wrappers. In one machine-made cigar factory, beer is an essential part of the tobacco blend.
But the flavored cigars making headway today are handmade, a fairly new trend. During the cigar boom of the mid-1990s, the flavored handmade cigar was a rarity, and the flavor was typically some liquor.
Diana Silvius-Gits, owner of Chicago's hip Up/Down Cigars, has a personal distaste for flavored cigars. "It's like putting sugar on a steak," she says. But she allows that today's varieties are an improvement. Previously, she says, flavored cigars were trumped-up factory rejects. "When they couldn't sell something, they poured booze on it," she says. "We started getting some good flavored cigars recently."
Tobacco can be flavored in a variety of ways, some more preferable than others. First is the choice of flavor. As with food, one can go natural, which is more expensive, or choose something artificial, which is cheaper. Second is the flavoring process. The flavors are sometimes sprayed onto the tobacco, or the absorbent tobaccos can simply sit in an area permeated by aromas. The crudest method involves syrups that are mopped onto tobacco.
Flavoring is a major part of the cigarette production process, and Aurora, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes for the Dominican Republic, has used its experience in that area to efficiently flavor cigar tobacco. In a special room separated from the main cigar-producing areas in its sprawling Santiago facility, Aurora makes flavored cigars for C.A.O. and Miami Cigar & Co., to the tune of 11 million a year.
"Most people spray onto the filler and make a cigar, or inject it with a syringe," says Blanco. "Because we have that [cigarette] technology, we're about 20 years ahead of everybody else."
Blanco shows off a machine that he says costs millions. It's a metal drum with various ports that has been converted from the cigarette division. Filler tobacco (Aurora flavors only the filler) goes into the drum, and tobacco is sprayed with the flavoring as the drum turns.
"The flavoring is applied in a very subtle way," says C.A.O.'s Ozgener. "It's not painted on the tobacco, there's no syrup, there's no direct contact with liquid."
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