Smoke: Infusion Invasion
The mere mention of flavored cigars usually elicits sneers from serious smokers. And for good reason: Most are machine made with gutter-grade tobacco and soaked or slathered with sugary substances. In the past few years, though, some flavored cigars have achieved a more dignified status. The latest entries are crafted by hand at rolling benches in Central America and the Caribbean, the same way other premium smokes are made, and enhanced with essences that are subtle rather than sickly sweet.
In fact, the term “flavored” seems inappropriate for these new creations. “We prefer ‘infused,’ ” notes Steve Saka, president of Drew Estate, the company usually credited with pioneering the high-quality flavored cigar. “ ‘Flavored’ makes people think of the machine-made grape cigars you get at a convenience store.”
The simplest infusing process involves placing aromatic substances—for example, rum, brandy, or crushed coffee beans—alongside completed cigars as they age. But cigar makers now employ a more complex technique. Neither Drew Estate nor CAO International, another company noted for hand-rolled flavored cigars, will reveal the secrets behind its method. They will hint, though. “The process begins long before we manufacture the cigar,” Saka explains. “It has to do with how we ferment the tobacco and how we store it. We produce the tobacco for each flavor in a separate building to keep the flavors pure. Our technique is based on bethune, an old Cuban process in which the tobacco was treated with alcohol-based flavorings, typically spiced rum.”
Rather than using existing tobacco blends, manufacturers typically adjust their blends to suit the infusing process. “We use Dominican long-filler tobaccos for all our flavored cigars,” says CAO vice president Aylin Ozgener, who oversees the Flavours by CAO brand. “These are milder tobaccos, which is important because they complement the flavoring as opposed to overwhelming the essence of the extracts. We use Cameroon wrappers on five of our six Flavours cigars; these wrappers have a subtle sweetness that goes well with the flavors.”
Drew Estate’s ACID line of cigars includes infusions both exotic and subtle. My personal favorite is Extra Ordinary Larry, a 6 x 60 behemoth in which the infusion’s aromatic melody harmonizes beautifully with a bold tobacco blend so that the flavoring seems almost native to the leaves. The Kuba Kuba, one of Drew Estate’s most popular frontmarks, combines a sweet taste with a more intense, perfumelike herbal aroma.
With its smaller sizes and lighter, sweeter tastes, the Flavours by CAO line is targeted mainly at female smokers. The best and most popular is the Moontrance, in which bourbon vanilla and exotic fruit flavors subsume the taste of its Dominican and Cameroon tobaccos. The KarmaSutraSplash, with dashes of mango and chocolate-mint ice cream, delivers a playful tang that might coax a smile from the most somber smoker.
Infused cigars have been embraced by beginning smokers who are not yet bold enough to sample a full-bodied natural cigar. Still, some veterans may find surprising satisfaction in these smokes. “Yes, they’re mainly popular among younger smokers,” Saka says, “but we also have 65-year-old grandfathers smoking these.”