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Spotting Trouble Ahead


It’s amazing how much effort in quality control goes into making each cigar. Some poorly rolled cigars do inevitably slip through the cracks and don’t burn or draw properly. This is frustrating when one of your prized cigars isn’t performing to your expectations. In some cases, it’s hard to foresee problems until you actually light your cigar, but with a well-trained hand, and by following these tips, you’ll be able to spot trouble the moment you pick up any cigar.

A “problematic cigar” usually relates to the burn or draw and the two are very closely related.  As long as the tobaccos are properly fermented, it all comes down to the filler and how well the leaves were bunched. Most often, filler tobaccos are folded in accordion fashion and are strategically placed in the buncher’s hand per the instructions of the master blender.  A typical cigar utilizes three to five filler leaves, depending on the size of the leaves and of the cigar being made. The accordion bunching format is meant to pack the tobaccos together but still allow for airflow through the body of the cigar. If the buncher packs the bunch too tight, too loose, or inconsistently, the cigar may burn too fast or too slow and in some cases, unevenly. The master blender creates a cigar based on it burning at a certain rate and temperature. So these types of construction issues will not deliver the intended balance and flavor, thus causing a “problematic cigar.” 

The best way to tell if a cigar is over-filled, under-filled, or inconsistently filled is by making a circle with your thumb and index finger and then pulling the cigar through the circle. The circle of your thumb and index finger must be firm and pressed against the cigar enough to feel the texture, but not so hard that it damages the wrapper. This gives you a great initial feel to see if the cigar has any soft spots. Next, perform a pinch test. Hold the cigar in one hand while pinching it gently from head to foot between your thumb and index finger. The cigar should give slightly and depress only a little bit. If it gives too much, it could be under-filled and if it is too firm without any give, it may be overfilled and probably won’t draw properly.

Once a cigar is bunched, the cigar maker will hold the cigar in one hand while breaking the excess bottom portion of the bunch off with the other. Those small scraps are then added to the middle of the bunch. It is important that this breaking motion is done smoothly in one direction. If the maker twists the bunch in any way, it will create a compression in the leaves which won’t allow air to pass. When a cigar has a hard spot leading to a draw problem, the “knot” is almost always between the band and the head of the cigar. When doing your pinch test, always be sure to spend extra time in this area.

While these are some great rules to go by when selecting a cigar from your humidor, there are many other rules to follow and understand. More than anything, mastering these initial skills will aid in your cigar enjoyment for the rest of your life.  

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