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By: Lindsay Heller
In the words of Sigmund Freud, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." In the words of a Master Blender, however, a cigar is just a cigar in name only without filler, binder, and wrapper together. Most cigar reviews wax poetic about wrapper tobacco and today, often highlight the variety of fillers, but rarely does one discuss the binder. To paraphrase the late Rodney Dangerfield—it gets no respect—but it's time to give binder its fair share of the spotlight.
Let's begin with the rundown:
Wrapper: A cigar's outermost leaf, wrapper originates from higher primings of the plant. Visual appeal and good flavor is a must.
Binder: In blending terminology, they're often called the capote—Spanish for "cape"—as they drape over the filler bunch.
Filler: The filler bunch must consist of long leaves in premium cigars, and each bunch often contains a variety of tobaccos.
WHAT IS BINDER TOBACCO ACTUALLY?Although all leaves get sorted along the way, the entire tobacco plant once it reaches maturation contains everything necessary to make a cigar. (No one specifically sets out to grow only wrappers, binders, or fillers, however, as all leaves are meant to be utilized in one form or another.)
On average, the lower-to-mid portion of the primings contain larger leaves, and that's ideal for this blend component. This portion of the plant contains less nicotine and flavor than its Ligero counterparts, but its character is expressed in the form of aroma, which comes out during fermentation. (These primings, customarily Seco and Volado, cure anywhere from one to two years, whereas higher portions of the plant cure for three years or more to really bring out their inner flavor profiles respectively.)
WHY IS A GOOD BINDER SO IMPORTANT?The common answer to this question is that binder leaves exist to secure the filler bunch, but they're so much more than that. Their underdeveloped leaf venation makes them smoother in texture, which makes binder leaves the ideal surface on which to roll the wrapper. The leaves must contain a fair amount of elasticity as well, otherwise the filler bunch will not remain secure. Tobacco suitable as binder is also more combustible, so it will light easily and burn well. Could you imagine a cigar with a poor draw you had to relight all of the time? That's something you'd probably not smoke in its entirety, let alone purchase again.
Of course there is one very simple factor: without a binder in its blend, a cigar is merely a cigar in name only, and would not be considered "premium" by any stretch of the imagination.
THE IMPACT ON QUALITY SMOKING EXPERIENCEEven though they're not the focal point, a lot of thought is put into how they function within a premium blend. If a binder doesn't work well with the fillers or wrapper, the resulting flavor profile would not be pleasant. Let's face it—smoking something that tastes bad is a "fool me once" scenario, and putting in the time and skill to create a cigar that's putrid on the palate won't exactly keep a company in business.
A rare point of discussion, but binder can actually contribute to the strength and complexity of an overall blend. Depending on country of origin, the soil can be fertile enough to impart more characteristics to lower primings despite decreased exposure to sunlight. Esetlí, Nicaragua is a prime example: this Central American valley grows some of the most flavorful and potent tobaccos on the market, and is home to many Cuban cigar ex-pats for that very reason. If you're a fan of many La Gloria Cubana blends, the binder tobacco utilized hails from Estelí, imparting strength plus added aroma; if you enjoy My Father Cigars, a trademark of Don Pepín García and son, Jaime, is their use of a double binder for added complexity and richness in flavor.
Aside from Nicaragua, other countries that produce noteworthy binder leaves are Indonesia and Brazil: they each are home to extremely fertile valleys which consistently grow top-tier tobaccos. Many Cigar Aficionado Top 25 blends contain binders from Indonesia such as Alec Bradley Tempus ('94' rated, #5 Cigar of 2017), and Room101 FARCE. ('94' rated, #22 Cigar of 2019; and from Brazil is Drew Estate's famous Liga Privada No.9 ('94' rated, #10 Cigar of 2015).
Like harmony to a good melody, the right binder provides consonance—not dissonance—so the next time you enjoy a premium cigar, remember that substances comes from within.
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