Why Green Cigars Aren't Just For St. Patrick's Day

Candelas are a holiday staple, but they deserve to be smoked year round.
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Candelas are a holiday staple, but they deserve to be smoked year round.
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No, it's not another white and gold dress situation. Those cigars are really green. No, they’re not painted, dyed, stained, or otherwise altered. It’s called a candela cigar wrapper, and it’s been around for a long time.

A Brief History

Candela had a big following once. As an easy-to-produce wrapper tobacco, it made cheaper and faster cigars for the masses. You’re actually hard pressed during certain eras in American cinema not to run across men smoking candela cigars, though the green hue varies in brightness. It has a couple other names: double claro, American Market Selection—they all come back to the fact that, at one point, this was the dominant cigar wrapper in the U.S. market.

If you’re seeing it for the first time, that’s no surprise. Candela is a rather mild cigar (the mildest, generally) and the two-decade trend has been stronger and stronger.Nowadays candela gets a bad rep for being the bud light of cigars: flavorless and behind the times. But it’s back now, in little controlled bursts of a few thousand boxes that make appearances around this time every year. And the most prominent iteration is that released annually by Alan Rubin, owner of Alec Bradley Cigar Co.

Rubin’s Filthy Hooligan is released before St. Patrick’s as a holiday tie-in for the Guinness and whiskey chugging festivities. But it’s really a year-round smoke, not some kitsch green-beer nonsense. “We get a lot of people telling me how much they enjoy it,” he says. “It happens to be that we did this seasonal offering, yet people enjoy it, they know it’s limited, so they moderate themselves until the following year’s release comes out.”

Why?

What gives these cigars a green hue? No, it’s not food coloring. It’s actually the tobacco’s original chlorophyl you’re seeing, and while this might be a bit mind boggling for anyone who passed middle school science, let’s take a look at the process.

Candela’s vibrant color comes from a markedly different curing process than other tobaccos. While most cigar tobacco is fermented in bales over extended periods of time, candela is actually baked. Over three days the leaf is hung from the rafters in a barn with high-temperature fires burning on the ground level. The process cooks out the sorts of compounds that fermentation leeches out, but without the yellowing and decomposition of the chlorophyll. The result is that candela keeps its green hue.

And whereas the fermenting (read: decomposing) leaf of most cigars takes on nutty, earthy flavors as it dries and decays, the heat-cured candela retains a green, bright set of flavors—somewhat similar to hops in beer.

What You Should Smoke

As for Rubin’s Filthy Hooligan, it’s available in one size: a 6-inch-long 50 ring Toro. The candela wrapper is Nicaraguan, and the cigar has filler tobacco from Nicaragua, Honduras, and Panama, with a double binder (Nicaraguan and Honduran tobacco). For the Alec Bradley fan, this is essentially the same cigar as the parent Black Market blend, with a fascinating wrapper substitution.

It’s a dynamite candela cigar, mainly because he takes pride in it and has produced something particularly bright, with a sweetness that result is something sweet and a bit tart—think lemon grass or lime zest. For a box of 22 cigars, the suggested retail is $176 (which works out to about $8 per cigar).

What You Should Drink With It

The green color is a red herring for pairing: candela doesn’t go well with Guinness or Irish whiskeys. “It really pairs well with a beer that has a nice citrus undertone to it,” says Rubin. He highlights Blue Moon, Dogfish Head, and various hefeweizens as his favorite pairings. That said, you could probably enjoy this with just about anything with a hint of lemon or lime—year round.



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