15 Jul 2010
We’ve all seen them. They’re relatively rare compared to other cigar formats but can be found in cigar shops, online, and at events where manufacturers are eager to display their talents. They’re called “culebras” and, if you’re like me, they always seem to prompt the same question: Why?
Why in the world would anyone braid three cigars together like snakes engaged in some sort of weird ménage à trios? Why, with all the creative cigar shapes and sizes, do we need a twisted tobacco pretzel of cigars married by conforming shape and shiny ribbon?
And why three? Much like Schick and Gillette are ensnared in a razor blade arms race (re: Gillette’s Mach 3, Schick’s Quattro, Gillette’s Fusion), why haven’t cigar makers started to pack more sticks into culebras? More is better, right?
I suspect tradition has something to do with it. In the cigar business, tradition usually reigns supreme—as does legend. One explanation for culebras claims that 19th century cigar factories allowed rollers to take home three sticks per day. Naturally, the rollers twisted three together in an effort to bring home three times more tobacco than they otherwise could, and the culebra was born. Another (less fanciful) explanation suggests mere marketing creativity.
Whatever their origin, some culebras have stood the test of time, most notably with Davidoff, Illusione, and the original Partagas brand from Cuba. Intrigued, I recently shared a culebra from Pinar del Rio’s Selección series with two friends to see what all the hubbub is about.
First off, the drawbacks. Culebras take up more space in the humidor than three separate cigars otherwise would. They’re also difficult to travel with, prone to burn and draw issues, and often aesthetically damaged around curves. And they just feel like a damn gimmick meant to lure suckers.
That said, my inaugural culebra experience was a wonderful one. The presentation was spectacular and attention-grabbing for my two guests and I (you have to smoke a culebra with two other people simultaneously; it’s a rule). And since we were all smoking the same thing, the conversation centered on the flavor and physical properties of the Selección—both of which exceeded expectations.
So, when it comes to culebras, I guess shouldn’t be wondering “Why?” but rather “Why not?” For many of us cigars are about company and conversation. So while I can’t see myself regularly burning through culebras, I’m not going to dismiss them either. It’s a smart format to have on hand when you’re with two other cigar enthusiasts and you want a unique conversation-starter.
Three’s company? No. Sometimes three’s culebra.
photo credit: Stogie Guys