Everything You Need to Know About Box Pressed Cigars
By Fred Lunt
So you say you hate box pressed cigars, huh?
“What the hell are they?” Not an uncommon question. They certainly aren’t normal looking. They’re chunky, bulky, and have awkward squared edges. You’ll bring it up to your round guillotine cutter and wonder- how will this fit?
Well in the words of a wise unknown, “never judge a book by its cover.” The practice of box-pressing cigars is used on some of the absolute best cigars in the world, and has a history going back to pre-embargo Cuba.
Why Box Your Cigars?
No, this wasn’t just discovered by some bum rolling cigars in his mom’s basement. Box pressed cigars go back to old-time Cuba, though its true origin is widely debated. Cigar Czar Richard Carleton Hacker claims that companies such as Henry Clay began the practice to keep cigars from rolling off the table. Others, including Tobacconist University, argue that this practice was started in packaging to fit more cigars into a box. Who knows – maybe it’s that simple?
You’ll also hear them referred to as square-pressed, Spanish-pressed, Quattro, or cuadrado. The practice of making these square stogies most likely originated from the Spanish press, an original Cuban practice. Romeo y Julieta were among the most prominent cigar makers to feature a semi-square cigar made in the Cazadores size. You’ll even find Padron, now one of the most prominent advocates of box-pressing, featured a Cazadores in its original lineup as well. Over time, the shape became more pronounced and we often see sharp-edged smokes in nearly every B&M in the country.
How’s it Done?
Creating cigars, as you may know, is a process that takes months and even years. After our sweet tobacco leaves are primed from the fields, they are sorted, cured, fermented, sorted again, and bunched. It is here that we differ from the regular cigar and get into box-press. Once ‘bunched’, the filler is rolled in its binder; a standard cigar will be pressed into shape in a mold and this will be its final shape. The molds are stacked sometimes 25 high for an allotted time. The stacking allows for pressure to be distributed evenly. From here the cigar is trimmed and paired with its wrapper. Where box-pressing differs is the compression methods used to make the iconic square shape. Box-pressing is only ever done on a stronger leaf; a broadleaf wrapper is far too delicate to withstand the pressing process.
This method is very similar to pressing your regular cigar. Once the screaming newborn stogie has its wrapper, it’s snugly placed in its box, while multiple boxes are stacked and placed on a manually controlled press with just enough pressure to form a tight seal and avoid breakage.
The trunk press is similar, but more complicated and time consuming than the standard press. Those brand spankin’ new cigars are placed in a special mold, i.e. a trunk press. This trunk press is specially shaped, made of wood, and consists of ten shelves with slats that can hold up to 25 cigars. Clamps are placed around them to evenly distribute the pressure for a period that can range anywhere from 30 minutes to 12 hours. Like any box-pressing technique, this must be done with extreme care to prevent the wrappers from tearing. The result of this is some extreme edges, a shear flat face, and a very slow burn.
Different Variations of Box Pressed Cigars
While these are the main methods of box-pressing, you’ll hear a few off-beat variations. A term that is often tossed around is soft-pressed. The Partagas Naturales comes in a soft-press, which is more of a semi box-press. It doesn’t have the sharp edges your trunk press will have, but still delivers on some of the flavor a box-press will feature.
There’s also the newer and very rarely seen Hexagon press, as in six sides. In October, 2016 Plasencia introduced the Alma Fuerta in a Sixto II 6 x 60 with a hexagon press. So why on God’s green earth was the hexagon necessary? Nestor Plasencia IV says, “The hexagon is nature’s most perfect shape. Think of the honeycomb. And it burns perfectly.”
Another odd-ball looking cigar: Alec Bradley Trilogy. No longer in production, these were
among Alec Bradley’s early lineups as a three-sided, exotic cigar.
A bit more common than some of the other presses mentioned, the oval press. This trend was unveiled at the 2011 IPCPR Convention under San Lotano’s Oval. It’s semi-pressed and contoured to a smooth oval shape. More recently, the Casa Magna D Magnus II from Quesada features a very flavorful version of the oval press.
Why You Should Smoke One?
The pros to any cigar are always subjective to the smoker. I can make a checkmate argument as to why I like one cigar and that point will be the exact counter-point to why someone else hates it. Still, many cigar makers and smokers argue that box pressed cigars burn cooler and more evenly, and provide a more flavorful smoke.
While it’s true that the additional pressing time marries the wrapper, binder, and filler in a whole new way, the cigar roller will typically use less tobacco in a box-pressed form then the traditional shape. However, you may notice more flavor due to that good ole pressing that squeezes out any space or holes where air can form pockets. The result can vary but typically will result in more flavor and a better draw.
Often, as is the case at Tabacalera de Garcia, these cigars are aged in their presses – giving an oh-so-slight extra hint of cedar. So, another point for box-pressing. Much to the Torcedor’s delight, these cigars don’t roll; it’s just impossible. These is great for klutz-y cigar smokers like myself who unwittingly will destroy a desktop through a domino effect series of events, originating in dropping. For some people, the shape is why they love it. It fits perfectly in their hands and mouth, while for others it feels like putting a square peg in a round hole. It’s a sensitive matter, so for all new smokers I typically recommend trying both to see which they prefer.
Rafael Nodal, owner of Boutique Blends Cigars, says it best that “The extra pressure marries the pressure a lot better in my opinion. It doesn’t work… for every single blend, but for the ones that do, you have magic.” Much like the cigar, box-pressing doesn’t work for every blend. It’s that one that does that makes a great cigar though. For Mr. Nodal, I’d say he knocked it out of the park with his box-pressed Aging Room Quattro F55 winning No.2 on Cigar Aficionado’s Top 25.
Who’s making them?
So, you’re convinced enough to give one a try….Well, here you go my friends:
La Galera 1936 Box Pressed Cigars
Do you want to talk consistent? Because that’s what you’re gonna get. If there’s one brand that knows box pressed cigars it’s La Galera – and the 1936 Box Press is the bee’s-knees, my friends. 1936 is a reference to the year Tabacalera Palma opened its doors to the world. Wrapped and blended with a faultless Habano Ecuadorian wrapper and bound to Dominican Criollo 98’ binder and Piloto Cuban and Criollo 98’ filler – all gift-wrapped together in a handsome box-press.
Camacho BXP Ecuador
Camacho BXP Ecuador has that pin-point perfect balance of spice and sweetness, strength and mildness. Hand-rolled and box-pressed to perfection, the BXP features the ever-versatile Ecuadorian Habano wrapper with a smooth yet hearty Brazilian Mata Fina binder and an array of Dominican and Honduran filler. Also, a great opportunity to compare the box-pressed version to the original.
Rocky Patel Vintage 1990
Simply put, Rocky loves him some box-press. He’s made many of his top sticks in the box-press format – be it the 1990, 92’, Decade, or the 15th Anniversary. While the 1990 is a semi- box pressed cigar, it just has something special to it; be it the 5-year aged Dominican and Nicaraguan tobacco or the oily Honduran Broadleaf – you can’t go wrong here.
A favorite for many, the Oliva Baptiste is a savory full-bodied smoke with a balance of cedar and coffee flavors with just a nip of pepper. A boutique style blend, Oliva knocked this stick out of the stratosphere. Do yourself a favor and try one of these.
If this cigar doesn’t change your mind on box-pressed cigars, most likely nothing will. A 10-out-of-10 blend of Nicaraguan tobacco from Esteli, Condega, Jalapa, and the volcanic ranges of Ometepe – Davidoff spent 10 years of patient curing and aging to tame the wilder tendencies of these tobaccos. Box-pressed, full-bodied, and full-flavored, this cigar is quite possibly one of the best cigars in Davidoff’s lineup.
Sources for this Article:
Tobacconist University: http://www.tobacconistuniversity.org/curriculum_tobacco_college_shapes2.php
Richard Carleton Hacker, The Ultimate Cigar Book, 4th edition.
Cigar Advisor Magazine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKWZ9z0JF3g