Culebra cigars are the most curious-looking cigars in the industry. The uninitiated may not even know that they’re looking at a cigar let alone how to go about smoking one. Appearance aside, it’s a pretty straightforward process even if the history is ambiguous.
Cigar or Tree Branch?
Enjoying a good premium smoke is fairly simple. Choose a ring gauge, a length, and then an exterior wrapper. Sure, you’ll find ornately designed boxes and some beautiful-looking bands, but other than some of the more delicately constructed sticks like perfectos, torpedos, and figurados, cigar smoking is a no-frills lifestyle. You should smoke a fine cigar, not admire it on the shelf. Still, even the least discerning eye can’t help but notice and admire a Culebra sitting in a cigar shop.
Culebras are known for their distinct appearance- a contorted braid that resembles a tree limb more than a traditional cigar. At first glance, a novice cigar smoker may not even know what they’re looking at. But aficionados and experienced smokers are familiar with the Culebra and its surprising contortions. Culebra means “snake” in Spanish. The Culebra cigar is actually three panatellas twisted together, and it’s about as novelty as it gets in the cigar world.
How to Smoke Culebra Cigars
The Culebra can be smoked all at once, but no cigar pro would recommend it. The proper way is to remove the ribbon or band that holds the cigars together and carefully separate them. Cut the cap as you would a standard cigar and enjoy. And don’t worry, most guys who have smoked them attest to getting a pretty good draw despite their exotic shape.
Twisted Origins of Culebra Cigars
No one knows exactly how the Culebra came about, but most cite its origins to the Philippines in the 1880s. The most popular origin story is that factory owners gave these curious-looking smokes to their rollers to prevent theft. According to tradition, manufacturers allotted cigar rollers three smokes a day. A Culebra was the perfect ration- 3 cigars wrapped in one. These cigars might look like a single smoke, but you smoke individually. Once separated, their easily recognizable contorted appearance would be a telltale that employees weren’t pilfering from the regular stock.
No one has ever confirmed this bit of cigar lore, and if it ever was actually practiced, no factory does so anymore. But if it ever was the case, factory owners probably saved a buck or two because in order to attain their unique proportions and that signature twist, Culebras are purposely rolled with less tobacco.
More Oddity than Icon
When you think of iconic cigar smokers-Winston Churchill, Michael Jordan, Arnold Schwarzenegger – you picture them with a traditional stick. Toros. Robustos. Coronas. And of course the eponymous Churchill. You don’t picture them smoking something that resembles Harry Potter’s wand. Not that cigars haven’t made their way into film and television. Clint Eastwood in Spaghetti Westerns. Al Pacino in Scarface. Tony Soprano. You simply can’t separate the man from the cigar. And not a Culebra in sight.
But the Culebra has made at least one appearance on television. You’d just have to catch it as a late night rerun of Rod Serling’s Twilight Episode. Burgess Meredith, perhaps best known for his role as Mickey Goldman in Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky, champs on one of these twisted rarities throughout the episode, “Printer’s Devil”. Since Meredith played the devil who bargains with a failing newspaper reporter, the snake-like cigar and its allusions to the first temptation in Eden was more than a suitable prop.
No, you won’t need to make a deal with the devil to give a Culebra a try. Although they are rare, plenty of companies, like Partagas, Davidoff, and Tatuaje, still make them. You can smoke all three of them at once, but remember it’s best to unbraid them and share with a couple of friends.
Photo credit: J.C. Newman Co.