When you think of cigars, the image you conjure up in your mind will likely be that of a stogie with a traditional shape, like a Corona or a Churchill – a long, brown tube of expertly rolled tobacco, with a rounded or tapered end. While the majority of cigar types will fit this description, one cigar type, the Culebra, certainly does not. This particular cigar type is created by plaiting together three cigars, while they are still damp following the rolling process. Culebra is Spanish for ‘snake’ and looking at the shape of these twisted cigars it’s easy to see why such a name has been chosen for them. We take a look at the history behind these peculiarly shaped cigars.
Origins of the Culebra
The exact origins and reasoning for the Culebra cigar remain unclear, but there is one story that is popular within the cigar world which explains why the unusual shape may have come to be. It is said that this cigar type was initially intended for those working in cigar factories. In an attempt to prevent workers from sneaking cigars home with them to sell on or smoke themselves, each worker was given a daily ration of three cigars, twisted and woven into a bundle. As no one would want to buy such a twisted cigar at the time, it would help to prevent a black market for them.
Some questions have been raised about the likelihood of this story being the full truth, however, as the cigar rollers could have turned any of the cigars they were making into Culebras. Secondly, making these Culebras specifically for the workers each day would have taken up a lot of valuable rolling time for the cigars intended for sale.
Another origin story for these intriguing cigars is that they were first formed in the Philippines during the mid-19th century. The idea behind their shape was based on the thinking that weaving together a few thinner cigars would help them to mature quicker. Despite this, the idea never really caught on around the world, with most cigar factories sticking to their own methods for ageing and maturing cigars. Nowadays Culebras remain something of a mystery, and only tend to be produced as part of a limited edition or small run that doesn’t stay too long in each brand’s collection.
How are Culebras Made?
The cigars used in Culebras tend to be Panatelas, a cigar type that is usually around 6-inches long with a 38 ring gauge. These cigars are far thinner than most standard cigars – a Corona, the benchmark cigar size, for example, is a 42-44 ring gauge – as they need to be smaller to braid them together. Panatelas can either be hand-rolled or machine-made.
When rolling the individual Panatelas, the cigars are a little under-filled to make them smaller, as well as being over-moistened, so that the wrapper does not tear and split when they are braided together. Three cigars are then placed together and tied with a ribbon at the cap end. They are then braided, and secured together with another ribbon at the foot. Over time, the cigars will further mould together as the extra moisture evaporates and they age. As such, the cigars will retain a twisted shape, even when they are unbundled from their plait to be smoked.
Have you ever tried a Culebra? Let us know how the smoke was for you in the comments below! You can learn more about different cigar sizes with our handy cigar shape and size guide. If you want to try out a few new cigars, then buy cigars online and get smoking!
Image Credit: Bosta