Cigar tunneling, a circumstance in which a cigar’s wrapper leaf doesn’t burn, causing a cave-like formation in the foot of the cigar, can be caused by several factors: The purpose of the binder leaf is to help all of the tobaccos burn at approximately the same rate. Therefore, if the wrapper is too moist, too thick, or too oily, it may not burn at the same rate as the filler and binder. (Maduro and Oscuro wrappers tend to be much oilier than most shade grown and other “natural” wrapper leaves.)
It’s happened to everyone who smokes premium cigars – the bad burn caused by poor cigar construction. Whether it’s the cigar going out on you too fast, canoeing, or the wrapper coming undone, a bad burn is one of the most frustrating things that can happen. Since a bad burning cigar requires so much extra work, maybe a better word would be “irritating.” Often times, you’ve spent so much time getting the cigar to straighten out, you don’t even remember how the darn thing tasted.
There are several factors that contribute to a bad burning cigar. Some of these I’ve touched on in past articles. For example, it could be the wrapper was too delicate, too thick and oily, or just an inferior quality or poorly cured leaf. Other factors can be a wrapper leaf that’s too dry, which tends to cause the leaf to unravel. It could also be due to poor rolling. Either the bunch wasn’t rolled carefully enough, or during the bunching process some of the binder, which aids in the burning of a cigar, got tucked into the filler. The result is a canoeing cigar, because there’s nothing in those spots to help the wrapper along. Continue reading
Imagine walking into a smoke shop (for argument’s sake, let’s call it “Leaf“). You’re greeted by the friendly folks at the retail counter. You wade past wood shelves neatly lined with humidors, pull open a heavy wooden door, and proceed into the 2,000 square foot humidor.
“Can I help you find anything?” the clerk behind the counter asks.
As you ponder the myriad of cigars before you, how are you feeling? Confident? Confused? Excited? Overwhelmed? There’s no right answer; but I’d like to address a couple cigar misconceptions I’ve noticed are held by many beginner to intermediate level cigar enthusiasts.
The first misconception is that many cigar smokers focus too much on wrapper color. Believing that the wrapper color is indicative of the cigar’s strength, the tendency is to reach for an extra-pale shade grown wrapper. This is one of the cigar misconceptions that can cause a smoker to take a pass on a stick they might really enjoy.
While there may be a slight correlation between strength and wrapper color, it’s unreliable at best. The color of a wrapper has more to do with the actual flavors of a cigar than with its strength. That comes from the filler blend, and the ligero leaves, in particular. Located at the top of the tobacco plant, these leaves receive the most nutrients and sunlight, and are therefore the strongest and fullest-flavored.
The second of the cigar misconceptions I’m addressing today is that smaller cigars are less potent. Anyone who has ever smoked a fresh Fuente Fuente OpusX “Power Ranger” can tell you this one is dead wrong. Sure, a smaller vitola may look less imposing, but its diminutive diameter makes for a stronger smoke.
Counter-intuitive? Sure, but if you think about it, the smaller ring gauge means that you are smoking a greater ratio of wrapper leaf to filler blend. The result is more concentrated flavors than offered by its larger-ring counterpart. While a Churchill may have more total tobacco than a Lancero, its milder-tasting smoke may be easier on the novice- or occasional-smoker’s palate.
One final word: there’s no substitute for experience, but good advice goes a long way. Never be afraid or embarrassed to ask for advice from the guy or gal behind the counter. High-quality smoke shops like Leaf take pride in training their staff to cater to your taste preference and experience on a personal basis.
I write about cigars so often that when I try to come up with something new I occasionally come up dry. That’s when I go to my trusty folder of questions from readers. For this post I refer to an email in which the writer had recently bought a sampler of all cigars that feature a Maduro wrapper. He noted that prior to this purchase he had mostly smoked cigars with Connecticut Shade wrappers. His beef was that the Maduro wrappers tended to burn unevenly and required “more relights than other wrappers.” So, the question for me was whether I thought Maduro wrappers normally have burn issues. Since he didn’t say what brands were in the sampler, I gave him an answer based on things that thicker wrappers can cause. But do I think Maduro wrappers have more burn problems than other wrappers? An emphatic “No.”
Wrappers aside, cigars can have burn problems for any number of reasons that might including bunching, rolling, quality of the leaf, how it was cured, fermented, aged, and so on.
Generally speaking, Maduro wrappers are thicker. The reason for this is the plants are exposed to more sunlight. The more sunlight, the more sugars the leaf produces. Additionally, the leaves become thicker to help resist all that extra sunshine. They’re also toothier, meaning the surface is also much rougher in texture as opposed to the silky feel of a fine Connecticut Shade leaf. That said, most tobacco leaves that are exposed to more sunlight will develop a thicker skin, so the same can be said for some sun-grown wrappers, like those found on the Rocky Patel Rosado cigars, for example.
One thing that actually can affect a cigar’s burn is if the wrapper is particularly oily. Although oily wrappers tend to be more appealing to cigar smokers, a cigar that looks like it’s wet is a sign that the leaf has most likely had less fermentation time. Even though the binder is designed to help the cigar burn, an oily wrapper can cause tunneling, canoeing, or may go out sooner than expected when left in the saddle of your ashtray.
Some experts suggest that Maduro wrapper cigars should be kept at a lower humidity level in your humidor, more like 64% – 65%, rather than the usual 68% – 70%. Actually, most cigars do very well at lower RH levels, but if your collection consists mostly of cigars with Maduro wrappers, you may want to consider keeping them in a separate humidor.
As noted above, Maduro wrapper leaves produce more sugars, so they tend to taste sweeter, as well, though a lot of new cigar smokers believe they are stronger. The type of Maduro leaf is also key to the taste, burn, etc. For example, Perdomo Lot 23 Maduro cigars have an appealing sweetness. When I asked Nick Perdomo Jr. about this he said it’s because he uses a Cuban seed leaf instead of a Connecticut Broadleaf. The Cuban seed maduro seems to be a little thinner than the Broadleaf, too. On the other hand, Arturo Fuente uses a Connecticut Broadleaf on their 8-5-8 Flor Fina Maduro, which I find deliciously sweet. On the contrary, the AVO Maduro, also a Connecticut Broadleaf, is not a sweet Maduro. When I asked Avo Uvezian about this, he told me that’s the way he likes it. So, you also have to account for how each manufacturer processes their wrapper leaves.
If a wrapper is darker as well as thicker, like an Oscuro leaf, it may also be a little stronger in flavor. You may also notice the seams in the roll are more prominent. This is another sign that the wrapper is thicker.
Of course, you never know how the cigar is going to burn until you light it up.
So, regardless of whether you smoke cigars with thin or thick wrappers, always make sure you get a good even burn at the foot when lighting up. You want to make sure the binder has fully taken, for as I noted earlier, it helps all of the tobaccos burn.
Yes! Depending on the color of the wrappers on your cigars, their character can shift from a small to even a significant amount of flavor. Read the following excerpt from an article written for the old version of CigarAdvisor.com.
First, Hendrik pulled three of the same type of cigars out of the humidor…The cigars that were chosen were cigars with a fairly mild blend and were identical, in ring gauge, length, filler, binder and wrapper. He then called down to the factory floor and asked one of the supervisors to bring up a few wrapper leaves of different types.
Eladio took the wrapper leaves off of two of the three cigars and replaced them with two different ones…The first cigar, had the original wrapper leaf, which was a Connecticut Shade grown in Ecuador. This cigar exhibited grassiness and a light spice. The second wrapper, which was a hybrid of Cuban seed and Connecticut seed also grown in Ecuador, displayed rich tobacco sweetness and had medium spice. The third cigar wrapper was a Cuban seed grown in the DR. This cigar was very full in spice and had woody flavors and aromas. All three were very different, even though the filler and binder were identical. I never expected that the differences would be so dramatic, but it was clear that, when the filler blend is fairly light, the flavor of the wrapper leaf will be able to assert itself more easily.
Not only will the color and origin of the wrapper affect the flavor of the cigar, but even the same wrapper leaf can impart a different flavor depending on which part of the plant the leaf was grown. Leaves higher on the plant (high primings) get more sunlight, therefore they grow darker, produce more sugars and tend to be fuller in body and flavor, whereas leaves from the lower part of the plant (low primings) tend to be milder in body and flavor.
This latter phenomenon may be noticed by more experienced cigar smokers who have a developed a taste for specific blends. For instance, if you take two boxes of the same cigars and place them next to each other, you may notice a slight difference in the color of the wrapper leaf. That’s because the cigars are sorted by color in the factory so they look uniform when you open the box. Though it’s generally imperceptible, lighter or darker wrappers can affect the flavor of the smoke. You either have to have an extremely sensitive palate, or know how the cigars should taste based on your experience. Moreover, some customers actually call Customer Service insisting that the manufacturer changed the blend, and in some cases, will even return them.
Finally, lest we forget that we are smoking a naturally-grown, handmade product. Though cigars in every wrapper shade can vary from box to box by a shade or two, a little difference in flavor is usually not enough to warrant a return. At the end of the day, it’s all part of the cigar-smoking experience.