Of the three main ingredients that comprise premium hand-rolled cigars – the filler, the binder, and the wrapper – the binder seems relegated to the chorus, while the filler and wrapper tobaccos get the spotlight. Does that mean the binder leaf isn’t important? Quite the contrary. The binder, or capote in Spanish, is as carefully considered and chosen by the master blender, as is every tobacco in the blend. To move the spotlight over to the binder, I asked Ernest Gocaj, director of tobacco procurement for General Cigar Company (GCC), about this very necessary tobacco leaf. Señor Gocaj is responsible for acquiring tobaccos worldwide, oversees all leaf cultivation, and inspects all of the tobacco to ensure GCC’s high quality standards. He’s also responsible for GCC’s recent use of exotic tobaccos from Africa, Brazil, and Colombia, and works with General Cigar’s in-house research and development team to develop new tobacco varieties, improve agricultural practices, and revitalize vintage seeds for future use.
Cigar Journal: Can premium cigars be made without a binder?
ERNEST GOCAJ: No, a binder is required for premium cigars. The purpose of the binder is to hold the filler together, to allow the cigar to be pressed and to make a smooth surface to support the wrapper.
Cigar Journal: Compared to fillers and wrappers, what are the main differences in curing, fermenting and aging for binder tobaccos?
ERNEST GOCAJ: The curing process is the same for all tobacco types, but fermentation plays an important role. The first stages of fermentation are the same for wrapper, binder and filler tobaccos. The amount of time needed for fermentation, plus other variables such as temperature during fermentation, are dependent on the ultimate use of the tobacco. Only the wrapper gets prolonged fermentation to enhance the flavor and color of the leaf. Filler tobacco is fermented depending on the grade of the tobacco. Volado (lower- priming) is the thinnest leaf and requires the least amount of fermentation. Seco (mid-priming) gets more fermentation than volado, while ligero tobaccos are fermented for the longest amount of time to remove the gum from the leaf.
Cigar Journal: What are the flavor and aroma properties of the binder leaf?
ERNEST GOCAJ: In principle, all tobacco can be used as wrapper, binder or filler, but the use of the tobacco is determined during the sorting process when the leaves are designated for use as wrapper, binder or filler.
Tobacco designated as binder tobacco is actually wrapper tobacco that is not aesthetically pleasing. For example, a Connecticut Broadleaf leaf that has heavy veins or a mottled appearance cannot be used as a wrapper, so it is designated for use as a binder. So, by comparison, Connecticut Broadleaf is designated for a wrapper when the leaf has fine veins, a uniform color and any other characteristics the cigar manufacturer sets forth for a wrapper. As I mentioned earlier, tobacco designated for use as a binder is fully fermented, but it does not undergo added fermentation used for wrapper tobacco. A binder doesn’t touch the palate so it doesn’t provide much flavor; therefore, the deeper fermentation required for wrapper tobacco is not required for binder tobacco.
Cigar Journal: Are there binder tobaccos from certain countries that are used more often than others?
ERNEST GOCAJ: Speaking for what we do at General Cigar, we mostly use Broadleaf and Mexican San Andres for binders because they blend well with other tobaccos and assist in ensuring the combustibility of the cigar.
Cigar Journal: Are there “proprietary” binder tobaccos grown specifically to impart a particular flavor, as is often done with wrapper leaf?
ERNEST GOCAJ: Tobacco is never grown specifically for binders. Whatever isn’t suitable as wrapper tobacco is used for the binder; and if not the binder, then it is used for the filler. However, there are certain binders that will impact the blend by adding strength. Binders from Estelí, Nicaragua, are a good example, which we use for several of the La Gloria Cubana cigar blends.
So, the next time you light up your favorite cigar, give the binder a little added reflection. Without it, it’s just not a cigar.
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Winter Edition 2017. Read more