Cigar Spotlight: The Culebra

Cigar Spotlight: The Culebra

The history of cigars stretches back as far as the Mayan empire, though their existence in the greater consciousness of humans dates to only around the early 18th century. It was then when cigars as we know them today, as neatly rolled bundles of tobacco made up of layers that each served specific purposes, comprising the wrapper, binder, and filler tobacco. In the nearly three centuries of modern cigar making leading to the present, this basic formula has remained consistent, with outliers certainly possible, though these have come to be essentially nonexistent in the current industry landscape outside of small tweaks such as a double binder or barber-pole-style wrappers. What has changed, however, are the various vitolas, or shapes, of cigars, with new silhouettes gradually appearing as the art of rolling advanced.

Among these shapes, a striking number of unconventional vitolas have debuted, many crafted in exceedingly small numbers for special occasions, such as the Football, Egg, Pipe, or Baseball Bat. Very few of these have become canon in the annals of cigar history, save for one: a twisted cluster of three separate cigars known as the Culebra.

What is a Culebra?

Translating from Spanish as snake, the Culebra comprises three to four separate cigars generally rolled into 6 x 38 Panatela size, essentially petite lanceros purposefully underfilled with tobacco and over-moistened to make them pliable. This enhanced flexibility allows the three cigars making up the shape to better withstand the process of braiding, with each one coiled around the others to create an intertwined whole, its extra moisture content ensuring that the wrappers don't split during the braid. After the three are unified, the Culebra is tied at the head and foot with twine and allowed to age and its excess moisture evaporate, locking each strand of the braid into a distinctive, gnarled shape.

... the Culebra is tied at the head and foot with twine and allowed to age

There's some debate about the origins of the Culebra, though two generally accepted theories exist. The first, and most dubious, posits that the Culebra originated as a form of loss prevention inside cigar factories, as torcedors would often smoke as they rolled and would pull cigars from company stock to smoke while on shift. According to this version of the shape's history, it was developed to ensure that the torcedors weren't taking too many cigars. The Culebra was crafted to give each torcedor three cigars that they could smoke throughout the day, all of which were easily identifiable because of their twisted appearance. Another benefit of their shape is that they were unsuitable for sale, meaning that the torcedor couldn't take them home and sell them.

The Contradictory History of the Culebra

Since these cigars would be considered unsuitable for sale, it also means that the factory itself couldn't offer them to the public, and this is where the theory starts to become rather tenuous. Not only is there plenty of evidence that the Culebra has been an accepted shape that has been sold for many decades, but it would be inefficient for the factory to roll a stock of cigars in such a complex shape and not sell them, and it's likely that experienced torcedors could roll these cigars for themselves, smoking as many as they pleased and defeating the purpose of the innovation.

... there plenty of evidence that the Culebra has been an accepted shape that has been sold for many decades

The more likely story is that the Culebra originated in the Philippines during the late 1800s. It was theorized that a cigar crafted in such a way would mature faster than other vitolas. The style made its way to the United States, where it was regularly made from 1890 to around 1920, with most of the production centered in Ohio and Wisconsin.

As the years passed, opinions regarding the vitola shifted, and the Culebra began to be considered a novelty cigar, falling out of favor, though there were still certain companies producing them after this shift. Following the cigar boom of the '90s and the craft cigar revolution, the Culebra re-entered the collective consciousness of smokers, though Cuba's industry had accepted the coiled vitola for several decades before this. The resurgence in popularity is evidenced by such releases as Tatuaje's Old Man and the C and Fausto Culebras, Warped's Eastern Standard Dos Firmas and Crafted and Curated Antoinette Culebras, and various other releases from many different companies, especially in limited lines.

How to Smoke a Culebra

One of the main questions that many people have about the Culebra is: "How do I smoke this?" Quite simply, the best way is to separate all three of the cigars from their braided formation, carefully unraveling them from each other and smoking them one at a time as normal, treating each one as a standard Petite Lancero smoke, albeit with a touch more character thanks to its unique, serpentine outline.

The slim ring gauge of these cigars means that they burn a bit faster than larger examples, and this predisposition is furthered by its intentionally reduced bunching of filler. However, the small ring gauge and reduced filler amount magnifies by proportion the flavor of the wrapper, which is more prominent than in more fully-filled Petite Lanceros.

The slim ring gauge of these cigars means that they burn a bit faster than larger examples

Culebras are some of the most interesting cigars on the market, not only because of their shape, their rich history, and their unique style of rolling, but because of the entirety of the experience they provide. From holding the bundle in hand and loosening the ribbons at the foot and head, to unraveling the braid and smoking the gnarled cigars one by one, the experience of the Culebra is unlike any other the world of smoking.

Category:   Cigar Certified
Tagged in:   Cigars


    • Astrocomical on November 20, 2022
    • I have seen these cigars before and guys smoking all three at one time stuffing it in their mouths. LOL.... I thought it was a joke of some kind.

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