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Cigar 101: Dyed Maduro Wrappers – Are Companies Cutting Corners?

We’ve all seen it before—every once in a while, you’ll light up a stogie with a nice, shiny, nearly black wrapper, something with the word “aged” on the band. While smoking, you notice that your fingers are starting to turn dark brown, and you look in the mirror and see the same thing happening to your lips. It is difficult to tell as brown stains from non-dyed tobacco are common and can occur any time tobacco gets wet, especially given the high concentration of sugar and oil in a “real” Maduro wrapper. However, there’s always that lingering

Wrapper leaves aging nicely

suspicion that your “aged” Maduro cigar is actually dyed.

While the vast majority of Maduro wrappers are produced legitimately through months and sometimes years of aging, there are always some that take shortcuts. A few companies—I won’t mention any names—color their wrappers through a hurried aging process commonly referred to as “cooking.” This is where the leaves are placed into a large electric oven at a very low heat and cooked to develop the compounds that give Maduro wrappers their dark colors. Another method of cooking is pumping steam into vats of tobacco leaves. These methods are technically natural and do not add any additional components to the cigar. However they also cause the wrapper to become milder and mellower, resulting in full-bodied fans preferring the more traditional aging process.

Another method of darkening a cigar quickly  is through a process in which the stems of the tobacco plant are made into a tea, and the leaves are infused or painted with this solution. This results in the wrapper having a sticky feel and rubbing off onto your skin and clothes, and also causes the cigar to have a much spicier taste.

But sometimes, artificial colors are added to the leaves by a machine known as the “Maduro-Matic,” which passes the wrapper through a set of paint rollers. Artificial coloring will often give the cigar a bitter, unpleasant taste, as I experienced very recently while smoking a suspect stogie. The thing was so saturated with molasses-like brown syrup that I was able to write on a piece of paper with it.

Steve Saka of Drew Estate wrote a very extensive piece detailing different fermenting techniques. He gives a lot of good info and of course also states how his company only uses only long-term aging and fermenting techniques. His passion for the subject clearly shows what a controversial topic this can be, and he clearly does not appreciate his techniques coming into question. The nature of the cigar industry is for the people involved to act with integrity and class, with only the goal of achieving the highest-quality product. The majority of manufacturers act this way and therefore wouldn’t consider taking a shortcut, but since the industry boom in the 90s there will always be some people out there just looking to turn a quick buck and who are willing to sacrifice the quality of their product to do so.

So why do they do it? Some, including myself, would say it’s a sneaky, deceitful marketing technique, adding an aged look to a lower-quality leaf. Some companies dye the leaves to hide the fact that the aging process often turns the wrappers mottled and visually unappealing. Are there smokers who will refuse a fine stogie simply because it’s not pretty enough? Call me crazy, but I always thought the reason you smoke cigars in the first place is—brace yourself—TASTE! Who gives a crap what the wrapper on a cigar looks like if it tastes good and burns well?

By that same token, you could argue that it doesn’t matter if your cigar is dyed, as long as it tastes good. I beg to differ, as the coloring techniques often alter the taste of the cigar for worse. Plus, if a company was proud enough of their cigars in the first place, why would they have to load them up with unnecessary chemicals?

So do smokers really care if the wrapper on their cigars is a little inconsistent in color? Is the dyed Maduro wrapper as much of a turnoff for everyone else as it is for me? Let us know what you think.