Cigars 101

5 Things You Need To Know About… Pennsylvania Broadleaf Tobacco

Cheesesteaks, Yuengling (pronounced ying-ling), and potholes the size of moon craters are as Pennsylvanian as it gets – but what about the tobacco? We recently spent a day with the Drew Estate crew at their PA Barn Smoker which, as a life-long Pennsylvanian, led me down the rabbit-hole of what goes into growing and using this heavy tobacco in cigars. While it’s Connecticut cousin is the more popular of the two, many say this burly leaf is making a comeback.

pa broadleaf tobacco field
Even at just a few weeks after being transplanted in the field, the plants are already showing their leathery, veiny structure.

Learning the different types of cigar tobacco can be confusing. There’s dozens of things to take into account: primings, growing regions, countries, styles…So instead of giving you an article that’s a mile wide and an inch deep about all the versions of the tobacco plant, we’re going to focus on one of the oldest tobaccos strains, and give you the rundown it truly deserves. So, what is Pennsylvania Broadleaf tobacco?

Tobacconist University defines Broadleaf tobacco as:

Broadleaf is a dark tobacco varietal family popular for producing wrappers leaves that are enormous, resilient, and thick. These leaves are ideal for creating a Maduro colored wrapper. Broadleaf wrapper is not Primed, but rather the whole plant is stalk-cut when it matures.”

stalk cut pa broadleaf tobacco
Stalks of Pennsylvania Broadleaf are cut and hung on lath (a strip of wood), then hung in the barn to air cure.  

pa broadleaf tobacco 1

PA Broadleaf: it’s a Lancaster thing…Pennsylvania Broadleaf is exclusively grown in the Lancaster, PA area, mostly by the Amish and a few ‘English’ farms. The tobacco history of the region goes back to the early 1700’s. During the Revolutionary War, Virginian tobacco farmers expelled British firms and turned to Philadelphia for their tobacco. By 1859 Lancaster produced 65% of the state’s tobacco and was home to various brands such as Bayuk Brothers and Theobold and Oppenheimer. To this day, the oldest cigar shop in America, Demuth’s, still stands, though it’s currently an art museum.

pa broadleaf tobacco lancaster barn
The Lancaster area is dotted with barns like these, each large enough to hold a couple acre’s worth of tobacco. The sides are opened to regulate temperature and humidity inside during the curing process.

pa broadleaf tobacco 2

What makes it Broadleaf? It’s not called Broadleaf for nothing. Growing to a monstrous height of up to 8 ft this plant is adorned with thick, gummy leaves that almost feel like rubber. While similar to their Connecticut cousins, the Amish farmers use a varietal called Pennsylvania Type 41. It does exceptionally well in Pennsylvania’s heavy soils and humid harvesting weather. Much to the detriment of the rollers, Broadleaf is often said to be a tough leaf to work with.

pa broadleaf tobacco up close
A look at Pennsylvania Type 41, up close. This tobacco grows best in PA’s (usually) dry conditions, between March and August.

pa broadleaf tobacco 3

Don’t confuse it for Connecticut. While both tobaccos are ‘broadleaved’, there’s a vast difference between the two. The seeds are essentially the same; but both regions have a unique terroir and microclimate that affect everything from flavor to how they’re used.

What they have in common:

  • Can be used for wrapper or binder leaf.
  • Harvested by stalk-cutting.
  • Have a heavy, dark profile.
  • Typically used for maduro.

Where they differ:

  • Pennsylvania Broadleaf can also be used for snuff, filler, chewing tobacco and other products.
  • PA tobacco has a much more rustic look.
  • The texture of PA Broadleaf is thicker than its Connecticut counterpart and harder to work with.
  • PA Broadleaf imparts a bold spicy-sweetness, whereas Connecticut tends to be a sweeter, more rounded smoke.

pa broadleaf tobacco 4

They’re the original ‘Stogies’. We all know stogies, the old cigar slang for cheap cigars, but do you know the origin of the word?

marshwheeling

When Pennsylvanian tobacco was in its heyday, Conestoga, Pennsylvania was as well, but for wagons. From the 1700’s to mid-1800’s this sleepy Pennsylvanian town was pumping out its famous Conestoga Wagons, primarily used for freight and industry. The term stogie derived from the wagon masters who would often smoke long cigars, resembling the spokes of the wagon wheels. Further cementing stogies into American culture was the unveiling of the brand Marsh Wheeling in 1840, one of the oldest operating American brands and a self-described stogie. The rest, as they say, is history.

pa broadleaf tobacco 5

It’s making a comeback, “they” say…For the most part of Broadleaf’s career, it had been used as a filler leaf in cigars. Historically, Pennsylvanian tobacco could be found in local brands such as Phillies, Garcia y Vega, and Henry; but by the 1970’s all this changed. As all tobacco farmers know, the wrapper is where the cash can be found. According to Don Welk, 4th generation tobacco farmer and host to Drew Estate’s Barn Smoker, “On average, if the tobacco doesn’t meet the standards for cigar wraps, it will sell for $2 per pound to be used as filler. If the tobacco is of wrapper quality, it sells for about $4.”

don welk pa broadleaf tobacco farmer
Farm owner Don Welk, with Drew Estate’s Pedro Gomez at the PA Barn Smoker.

PA Broadleaf’s newfound comeback began when AJ Fernandez unveiled Diesel in 2008, jumpstarting his career and renewing our interest in this heavy tobacco. In recent years we’ve seen more brands jump at the opportunity to use this leaf such as J. Fuego’s Vudu Dark, Southern Draw’s Jacob’s Ladder, and Camacho’s American Barrel Aged. On the other hand, we’ve seen some exciting blending by James Brown, of Black Label Trading Company, who added PA Broadleaf to his yearly-released Bishop’s Blend. It doesn’t end here though, as Drew Estate’s Willy Herrera is planning a PA Broadleaf-wrapped cigar (release date is TBD, for now) – and he kindly distributed samples to attendees of the Barn Smoker.

Do you think Pennsylvania Broadleaf is making a comeback? Write a comment below!

Sources:

http://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/tobacco/

http://www.cpbj.com/article/20150925/CPBJ01/309239998/lancaster-county-leads-pennsylvanias-tobacco-business

https://tobacconistuniversity.org

Fred Lunt

Fred Lunt

Copywriter

Fred Lunt was discovered to be the youngest cigar smoker in his family shortly after setting his crib ablaze; today, he's added an avid whiskey and craft beer appetite to his lineup. Fred has worked in marketing, blogging and communications at boutique PR agencies across New York and has personally had the pleasure of witnessing over four breakdancing shows in a single commute on the NYC subway. Prior to his work in marketing Fred was a student of communications at Temple University and still holds illusions that Temple has a better football program than Penn State.

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