Ever wonder what makes the best cigar? If so, your mind probably wandered to Havana Cuba with all the pomp and circumstance that comes with Hollywood stars and famous politicians. And you would have been partially correct.
Before the Bay of Pigs
Prior to the Bay of Pigs in 1963 there was a consensus that the best cigars in the world were made with Cuban binder, Cuban filler, and an authentic Connecticut shade wrapper. That’s right, a shade wrapper produced right here in Connecticut.
Most people do not realize that Cuban cigars used Connecticut shade wrappers and that Connecticut cigar companies like Topper Cigar used Cuban filler with their cigars. After the Bay of Pigs, however, we no longer traded with Cuba and all of their cigar manufacturers stopped using the Connecticut shade wrapper. And, of course, we stopped using Cuban filler tobacco.
The History of Connecticut Tobacco
The history of Connecticut tobacco starts with the Native Americans growing tobacco before Europeans arrived. When the settlers came to Connecticut in the 1630’s sthey began growing tobacco themselves and then began expanding the crop. Windsor, CT was founded in 1633 and seven years later tobacco was being grown for profit. By 1700, Connecticut began exporting tobacco to European markets. In 1820, Connecticut tobacco leaves started being used for cigar wrappers. And by the time the Civil War broke out, the Connecticut River Valley yielded 10 million pounds of tobacco per year.
In 1896, the longest continually operated cigar company in Connecticut was born in Meriden:Topper Cigar Company. This company is still operated today out of Meriden and led by the Topper family -- Chris Topper, to be specific. Chris is the fourth generation of Toppers to make quality cigars from Connecticut tobacco.
The Birth of Shade Tobacco
Shade tobacco was born in 1900 on River St. in Windsor. For those of you who may live in CT and wonder what those tents near the airport are, wonder no more. That is where they grow shade tobacco. CT shade tobacco is very delicate and needs to be grown under cheese cloth. The cheese cloth filters out 85% of the sun’s rays. In the height of its popularity in 1920 there were 20,000 acres growing shade tobacco; currently we are down to 2,000 acres. There are many reasons for its decline including high taxes and smoking bans -- not to mention it’s a hard way to earn a living! When tobacco farmers passed away, their children did not want to take over the farm so they would sell the land to developers.
However, CT shade wrappers are still the most sought-after wrappers in the world. Why? Because Connecticut weather is ideal for growing high-quality tobacco leaves. CT actually has tropical summers similar to island climates but also harsh winters that kill certain bacteria and mold that destroy plants in island climates. The CT river valley, in particular, has the perfect concentration of nutrients that provide ideal fertilization for tobacco crops.
So now you know what cigar aficionados have known for years: great cigar wrappers are grown in the USA, Connecticut, actually!