Up in Smoke: What Can The Ash Of A Cigar Tell You?
Ash is normally considered waste- dirty and useless. When in fact, the ash of a cigar can reveal a number of things about it and also has an affect on the way it burns.
Ash has a significant influence on the temperature at which the cigar burns it does so which will in turn have an effect on the aromas you will smell and taste. If a cigar ash is long, there will be less oxygen reaching the part of the cigar that is alight, which will mean that the burning temperature is taken down and the smoke is cooled. This cooling affect allows the aromas within the tobacco to develop more. Is anyone else imagining one of the Bolivar Cigars with a healthy amount of ash developing those already much loved aromas? We certainly are.
There are three features of ash that can give us more information about any of the cigars online. First is the colour, second the structure and finally how firm it is. With any of our Cohiba Cuban Cigars, such as the Cohiba Behike, you will be able to tell that they have been hand-rolled by the finest torcedors and this is because their burn will be even and the ash, light and coning. Of course, once it's in your hands, the burn is up to you.
Ash is formed as tobacco burns, this is because the organic substances in it are destroyed (those that contain carbon) and the non- organic substances are not. The non-organic substances are what makes up the ash, made from oxides, bicarbonates of potassium, silicon and more, as well as chemical elements like phosphorous and zinc.
Colour of the Ash
The colour of ash can demonstrate a lot about a cigar. If the cigar ash is white or light grey, it shows that the soil it grew in had high potassium levels because all of the organic substances have burnt entirely and there are little to no black particles to be found in the ash. Cigars with this type of ash will usually combust very well and have an excellent draw. It will not however give any inclination as to its aromatic or flavour qualities.
Slight canoeing of an otherwise almost even burn, with the perfect white coloured ash.
The Structure of the Ash
The structure of the ash can show a little more than the colour, particularly concerning the rolling technique and quantity of tobacco used. Every true aficionado has experienced both types of ash, one that is so dense and firm that the cigar can actually be stood vertically balancing on it and an ash that is super fragile and sadly crumbles easily. So why does this difference happen?
The structure of a cigar depends on how much tobacco is used as filler. A firm ash will usually be because the cigar has been densely packed with tobacco leaves; a loosely packed cigar will deposit crumbly ash that falls away easily. Furthermore, if the tobacco leaves have been placed in the bundle straight away, it will have a lower draw resistance and higher burning speed compared to a cigar which has been rolled by a torcedor who placed the leaves turning in towards each other.
Many cigars for sale are made using various tobaccos so as to give them their unique flavour and aromas, whilst also ensuring the cigar burns evenly. The volado tobaccos are made using the leaves from the very bottom of the tobacco plant. This tobacco is known for its high mineral content and excellent combustibility. The seco/viso is taken from the middle and is a little more aromatic, but does not burn as well as the volado. And finally the ligero is found at the top of a tobacco plant and gives the cigar its strength and nicotine levels.
Each tobacco has its place in a cigar because of their physical properties as well as their effects. The ligero takes its place in the centre of the cigar because of its thickness, stability, and its poor burning characteristics. This is because the temperature of the burn is at its highest here. The seco/viso is then wrapped around the ligero and followed by the well burning volado. Despite each tobacco having various burning properties, if the structure is done accurately then an even burn will be achievable.
Cigars can burn in a number of different ways. They can tunnel, canoe, straight burn and one that we all hope for, they can cone. Most of the time the shape of the burn is usually down to the cigar itself and the smoker is blameless, particularly if one of the things we spoke about earlier has not been done correctly.Canoeing
This is when a cigar burns on one side only. This usually means the roller has not placed the ligero tobacco exactly in the middle, therefore, the cigar burns quicker on only one side.
Photo sourced via: Cigar JournalTunnelling
Tunnelling is a definite fault by the torcedor. This means that the torcedor must have used the volado as the middle leaf and the ligero as the outer leaf, which would obviously have this affect as the ligero leaf burns very badly in comparison to the volado.
Photo sourced via: Cigar JournalStraight Burn
A straight burn is typical of short filler cigars, such as the Jose Piedra Conservas. This is because the chopped tobacco used in these cigars create a very even burn.
Photo sourced via: Cigar JournalConical Crater Burn
Usually a rolling fault, a conical crater burn occurs when a torcedor has used seco as a binder and wrapper rather than a volado. Therefore, the cigar begins burning correctly, but then ash begins to form on the outside.
Photo sourced via: Cigar JournalConical Burn
To create a cigar that burns conically is the aim of every torcedor and the goal for any smoker. The cone shows that the ligero tobacco is burning slower than the other tobaccos and therefore leaves this conical ash- not only burns well, looks great, but its easy to remove to.
Photo sourced via: Cigar Journal
See our other posts on our Cuban Cigar Blog if you want to learn more about your favourite Cuban Cigar brands and the history of Cuban Cigars.