Filler Tobacco for Premium Cigars

January 25, 2012

by: Hendrik Kelner
Photos by: Jacob Fuller
Featured in Vol V Issue II 2010

A premium cigar is constructed by using 3 types of tobacco components: the filler, the binder and the wrapper. We have explored the wrapper influence on the cigar on a previous issue of Cigar Press. This time we are going to be talking about filler and how it can be blended into a cigar.

The filler is what goes inside a cigar, normally its a combination of 3 or 4 types of frog stripped (when a leaf is de-veined it can look like a frog) tobacco leafs that give the base structure of any cigar. The filler leaf has the central vein or stem, 2/3 of which is removed leaving 1/3 of the stem still present on the upper end of the leaf.  This is done for structural support on the cigars construction, allowing air channels for the better flow of the smoke from the foot (where it is lit) to the head (where you absorb the smoke).

There are five aspects we’re going to look at regarding filler tobaccos:

The Land

For any tobacco, choosing the right land is crucial for the outcome of the tobacco. The land should be chemically analyzed to determine if the soil is right for planting tobacco.   The PH or acidity and chlorine levels in the soil and in the irrigation water needs to be correct (very low) otherwise improper levels will affect the combustion in the final product.  The presence of Micro organic elements, the land drainage capacity, everything must be considered in order to produce good tobacco.  Each farm and growing region can be different in their soil’s chemical composition, so the same tobacco seed planted in different lands will result in different tasting tobacco.  Changes in the tobaccos characteristics can be noticed from farm to farm within the same growing region and even from the same farm from crop to crop.

The Humidity

After curing the tobacco in barns, the fermentation and aging processes, the filler tobacco should be air-dried to a humidity level in the leaf of about 13% to assure the proper combustion of the cigar. If the filler is too humid the tobacco will taste moldy and will not burn well.

The Construction of a Cigar

Cigar rollers who are in charge of assembling the filler leaves with the binder are called empuñeros  in Spanish,  or bunchers in English.  These trained tabaqueros will place the filler leaves in the correct way to guarantee the right draw, combustion and taste.  They must place the thicker, slow burning ligero tobacco leafs in the center of the bunch.  The type of filler tobacco that burns slowest must be right in the center surrounded by better combusting tobaccos. Many times we see a cigar that has a bad burn and is visibly burning to the side. That’s mainly due to two things: the seco tobacco coming from the lower/center part of the plant that naturally burns better and faster was put on the side of the bunch not around the ligero leafs that are slow burners.  Another thing resulting in an uneven burn is when the empuñero made a defective cigar by placing a less amount of filler tobacco in one area of the cigar making an air pocket, therefore giving it more oxygen and increasing the combustion on that side.  When smoking a cigar that is not correctly lit and/or is not burning evenly, then you are not getting the taste from all of the filler tobaccos prohibiting the cigar from being enjoyed in its full potential.

The Filler Blend

The most important aspect of the filler is that it gives you the possibility to combine different tobaccos that come from other genetic seeds, other lands, other counties, and turn into countless unique blends.  Blending is combining different fillers to create a taste that can be balanced, positive, harmonious, interesting, overwhelming. or simply pleasant. There is a lot of synergy involved, where the taste of the final blend is better than the sum of its individual fillers.  The purpose of a blend is to give an identity to the cigar brand, a specific taste and strength level that will prevail through the years. Unlike the wine business where the consumers can appreciate and tolerate the differences between crops, the cigar smoker expects the brand and size of the cigar they smoke to be consistent through time. For example, a consumer who started smoking Avo # 2 since 1997, this person is accustomed to that taste and strength level and that’s what he would expect from this cigar today.

The filler blend is not necessarily a specific recipe that your grandfather discovered, or a mythical formula that came in someone’s pocket on a boat from a forbidden island and has been hidden in some drawer not to be touched or corrupted by anyone. The blend is the different filler leaves that create part of the final taste in the cigar.  By having good, well fermented, aged tobacco in inventory gives the potential to blend excellent and consistent cigars.  It is the responsibility of the cigar manufacturer to alter the blend if necessary to recreate the same original taste of the cigar.  In case one of the filler components is not available, the manufacturer must replace it with another or redo the whole blend in order to obtain the same taste profile as the original.

The Human

The human intervention with tobacco blends in undeniable.  Big inventories filled with great tobaccos don’t always deliver a harmonious balanced smoke; therefore you need the touch of a true master blender to determine the percentages and what works together using the different tobaccos available. The making of a new cigar blend consists of a lot of sampling, smoking cigars with only one type of tobacco to familiarize the palate with individual flavors, tastings of blends, describing the aroma, seeing where the impact is on the palate (controlling the balance of the cigar), etc.  Creating a cigar is a long but magical process.

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