Twisty, serpentine Culebras are an oddity in the cigar world. Many producers have released Culebras, including Davidoff, Drew Estate, and Rocky Patel (with Partagas being perhaps the most well-known), but they’re not a particularly popular format, and there’s sparse history on when, and exactly why these strange cigars came to be.
What are they?
Culebras are often made with 3-4 Panetela sized cigars. The cigars are purposely under-filled and over-moistened so that they may be bound together in a bunch without cracking the wrapper. Once bound, the cigars are sold in a bundle, and stored in this bundle until the an individual cigar is ready to be smoked. Once the bundle is separated, the individual cigars maintain their twisted shape, and the under-filled nature of the cigar results in a better draw than you’d expect.
How do you smoke a Culebra?
The cigars are not intended to be smoked as one (probably a good idea!), but separated and smoked individually, or shared with friends. Whether or not this ritual of “breaking bread” was intended, it adds a wonderful social dimension to the Culebra format, as friends may gather and share the flavour and nuance of a “single” cigar.
Where did Culebras originate?
Cigar lore suggests that the Culebra originated as a result of worker thievery. As the story goes, workers were granted a daily ration of 3 cigars from the factory floor. Workers routinely took more than their share, until a crafty manager devised the Culebra as a solution. By providing workers with 3 twisted cigars, the idea went, it would be easier to identify if regular production cigars also went missing. This myth is often repeated, but has been challenged by cigar historian Tony Hymen (among others). Culebra’s were not common in Cuba at that time to begin with. Further, the number of factory rejects far outnumbered the cigar roller’s daily ration, and even so, employees could have easily circumvented the rules by producing more Culebras. The logical arguments against the story are compelling enough, but the fact is that there is no evidence corroborating the thievery myth either.
Instead it seems likely that the Culebra originated in the Philippines sometime between 1880-1885 before being produced in the US in 1890, and eventually making its way to Cuba. Since the revolution, only H. Upmann, Romeo y Julieta and Partagás have released Culebras.
But why were they made?
No one knows for sure, but it’s likely the Culebra was simply a marketing gimmick, a novelty form of packaging designed to sell more cigars! Despite this, Culebras are the testament to the skills of the torcedors who craft these curious smokes.