When people talk about premium handmade cigars, Brazil rarely comes up, at least not as much as cigar nations like Cuba and Nicaragua. Yet Brazilian tobacco is an essential player in the global cigar ecosystem. This article delves into the Brazilian cigar industry, its origin and where it stands today.
The Origin of the Brazilian Cigar Industry
In 1872, Geraldo Dannemann, a 21-year-old German citizen, emigrated to Bahia, Brazil. All through his childhood, he had been in close proximity to the thriving cigar industry in the city of Bremen.
Now that he was all grown up, he set off to Brazil to pursue his big vision—producing some of the world's finest cigars. Luckily, he had come to the right place. The state of Bahia, specifically the Recôncavo region, had perfect conditions for growing tobacco.
The climatic conditions and nutrient-rich soils produced tobacco with robust aromas and earthy flavors. Better still, the port city of Salvador was only a few miles away, which meant he could ship his cigars back to the booming European market.
As we've discovered through our series on Cigar Countries, the Americas and the Caribbean Islands natives had been growing tobacco for thousands of years. Brazil was no exception.
In 1873, Geraldo set up the first cigar factory in Brazil and started procuring tobacco from the local farmers. Over the next four decades, his cigar business had expanded to 4,000 employees spread over seven factories.
This was the birth of Dannemann Cigars, which to date remains to be one of the world's largest producers of cigarillos (short narrow cigars).
Tobacco became so significant for Brazil's economy that a tobacco branch was included on the Brazilian coat of arms in 1889.
By the turn of the 20th century, tobacco cultivation had expanded to become Brazil's most important export. At the same time, the state of Bahia had become one of the first regions in the world to cultivate tobacco on a large scale.
The Brazilian Cigar Industry Falls Behind
Through the first half of the 20th century, Brazilian tobacco was mainly used to make cigarettes and small-format cigars known as cigarillos. These are smokes that generally come under a 40 ring gauge in thickness and are less than 5 inches in length.
It wasn't until the 1960s, when most cigar barons fled Cuba, that more interest was shown in Brazilian tobacco for cigar production.
Even then, the dark and fragrant Brazilian tobacco was only used to make wrappers. However, the actual cigars were rolled in other countries like Honduras or Nicaragua.
Also, most cigar makers didn't like to advertise that they were using Brazilian tobacco in their blends. This is because Brazilian tobacco wasn't so popular or well known in the U.S., which was the primary cigar market.
Other factors that inhibited the expansion of the Brazilian cigar industry included strict government regulations, high taxation and smoking habits that favored cigarettes over cigars. As a result, Brazil lagged far behind countries like Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.
The Comeback of The Brazilian Cigar
However, more premium cigar-makers have been embracing Brazilian tobacco in their cigars in the past two decades. There's also been a considerable rise in the use of Brazilian tobacco to make premium wrappers. In the past 5-10 years, Brazil has been beginning to emerge as one of the preferable sources for filler tobacco as well.
As a result, the Brazilian cigar industry is building up a good reputation as a formidable player in the cigar field.
- C.A.O. was the first brand to promote Brazilian tobacco when it debuted its C.A.O. Brazilia line in 2001. The cigar brand packaged the cigars using the colors and some design elements from the Brazilian flag.
- Villiger is a German cigar company started in 1888, constructed a cigar plant in Brazil in 2013. Here it produces Brazilian puros (cigars made entirely with Brazilian tobacco). The company makes different cigars like the Villiger San'Doro Maduro for the U.S. market and Villiger Celebration for the European markets, which contribute to most of its sales.
- In 2016 Davidoff launched its first-ever Brazilian cigars. The binder and filler comprise Brazilian tobacco, while the wrapper is made with an Ecuadorian Havana-seed leaf. All of the tobacco is taken to Davidoff's factory in the Dominican Republic, where it's fermented, hand-rolled and aged for a minimum of three months.
- The annual Brazilian cigar festival, which was started in 2017, allows cigar enthusiasts to visit the tobacco fields and cigar factories of the country's leading brands. By getting a first-hand glimpse of Brazilian cigar infrastructure and interacting with master blenders and rollers, they leave with another perception of the quality of Brazilian cigars.
Top Brazilian Cigar Brands
Unlike other cigar nations like Cuba, the most famous Brazilian cigars are actually not made in the country. Most Brazilian cigars are blends or are made with fillers and binders from other countries, then rolled in Brazilian leaf wrappers.
Named after the Brazilian region it's grown in, Mata Fina is the No. 1 Brazil's cigar wrapper tobacco variety. This dark-colored, sun-grown leaf produces a smooth, earthy, rich flavor that imparts a little natural sweetness to the cigar.
Launched in 2001, C.A.O. Brazilia is a medium-bodied cigar made in Honduras with an oily, dark Brazilian wrapper leaf. This cigar is part of the C.A.O. World Sampler II, a 5 cigar collection blended with the best premium tobaccos from all over the globe.
Villiger Do Brasil Maduro
Villiger Do Brasil Maduro is one of the few cigar lines blended entirely from Brazilian tobacco and hand-rolled in Brazil. Some of its standout flavors are chocolate, earth and coffee notes.
The Escurio cigar brand uses a blend of Davidoff signature tobaccos and Brazilian tobacco from the Bahia region. This captivating cigar burns slowly and produces a smooth, creamy, spicy-sweet flavor with hints of white pepper and curry.
To Wrap Up
Although it is unlikely that Brazil will catch up with other cigar nations, manufacturers and enthusiasts of Brazilian cigars have every reason to be optimistic about the future.