Cigar Q&A: Cigar Fillers Defined
Cigar fillers are the tobaccos at the center of a cigar, and account for the majority of a cigar’s weight and volume. In a premium handmade cigar, they are the tobaccos at the center of a cigar, surrounded by the binder and outer wrapper. They may also be wrapped in a single leaf or a homogenized sheet binder, depending upon the brand. Fillers can be classified as either long or short.
Long fillers are whole leaves of tobacco, torn by hand according to the length of the cigar being rolled. In a premium handmade cigar, they are typically bunched using either the ‘booking’ or far-superior ‘accordion’ method, before being rolled in a binder, then wrapper.
Shortfillers comprise tobacco left over from longfillers during the construction of a premium cigar. They may also contain stems and other bits of tobacco too low in quality to be used in a premium handmade cigar. These are processed to a uniform consistency.
Cigars can be constructed using long fillers or short fillers exclusively, or a mix of the two. This is referred to as a ‘mixed filler’ or ‘Cuban sandwich’ cigar.
Filler tobaccos in a cigar are classified according to ‘priming,’ which denotes the location of the leaf on the tobacco plant. Generally, there are three primings. Each receives an amount of sunlight and nutrients relative to its orientation on the plant.
- Ligero come from the top of the plant and are the oiliest, strongest-tasting leaves. Because it burns slowly, Ligero is rolled in the middle of the filler bunch, which imparts a characteristic conical shape to a burning cigar.
- Seco comes from the middle primings of the tobacco plant. This priming is valued for their balanced taste and aroma.
- Volado comes from the bottom of the tobacco plant. It has a very mild taste and aroma, but greatly improves a cigar’s combustibility.
Each tobacco seed variety produces its own distinctive taste and aroma. These complexities are subject to geographical and meteorological considerations, similar to the concept of terroir in winemaking. The process is further complicated by storage and processing of the harvested plants.
When developing a cigar blend, manufacturers consider seed-type, plant origin, and vintage of the cigar fillers, and how well they interact (or don’t interact) with the binder and wrapper tobaccos.
Once the blend has been finalized, manufacturers must tweak the filler recipe to produce a consistent taste across all sizes and shapes. Generally, large ring gauge cigars offer a cooler smoke with deeper complexity than cigars with smaller ring gauges.