Cigars have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity over the past decade or so, and for good reason a quality cigar smoked properly is an experience like no other. Cigar smoking however isn’t something you should just dive into blindly. Everything from making the right purchase to the way you light a cigar can make or break the entire experience.
There is an art to the process, so here are a few things you should know about, when smoking a cigar…
Not all cigars are made the same and not all cigars are made by hand. When one is looking for a quality cigar smoking experience, hand rolled is the only way to go, picking up a two dollar box of a store bought brand will not do the trick.
The best place to find a nice hand rolled cigar is at your local tobacconist. They should have their cigars nicely stored and displayed in a humidor, which will likely be a large cabinet with glass doors or, a more elaborate setup in an actual humidor room.
Most tobacconist have a vast knowledge of various smokes and most likely indulgent in the act themselves. They will be more than happy to assist in your selection process.
REAL FROM FAKE
Quality handmade cigars do not come cheap especially if they are from Cuba, this leads to many fakes being produced for the black market. There are several ways to determine a fake from the real thing. The band around the cigar can give a good indication weather it is a counterfeit or not. Normally the quality of the print on the counterfeit is extremely poor and does not have raised lettering (example above). If the label is cut to wide or to short this also shows signs of a counterfeit.
For a more seasoned aficionado a quick examination of the cigar itself can provide many clues. Rolling the cigar in between your thumb and forefingers can let you know how well the cigar has been rolled. If the tobacco is to loose and not tightly rolled then most likely it is a fake. If the cigar shows cracks on the outside not cut even at the ends then this also means it is fake.
Manufacturers have a strict code of ethics when rolling their cigars and every single cigar is taken through a meticulous process insuring each one is of the standards expected. Most fakes are made with the discarded leaves (not the pick of the crop), this leads to cigars with stems in them and a mix of poor tobacco, better known as a tobacco salad.
COLOUR & SHAPE
Cigars come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. If you’re looking for a full-bodied smoke with lots of complex flavors, go for something with a dark wrapper (maduro). If you’re more of a mild type, then go for a lighter colored wrapper.
The ring gauge of the cigar plays into the complexity of the smoke. A larger ring gauge allows for a more complex mix of tobaccos, more smoke.
A fatter cigar, larger ring, will generally smoke cooler, conversely a smaller ring will smoke hotter if smoked quickly whereas the larger ring is more forgiving. The strength experienced can also be different, sometimes smaller ring cigars pack more of a punch. Length can develop complexity, it can also, in my opinion, turn a cigar that is good in a smaller format into a thoroughly boring one.
It’s not a scientific method by any means, but think about how you drink your coffee. Do you order the medium roast or the dark roast? Cream and sugar or black? Your cigar preference probably isn’t too much different. If you find yourself at a loss to decide, ask the tobacconist for help.
STORING A CIGAR
It is important to have a well built humidor at home for your collection of cigars, a good humidor will only require checking about once a month, to make sure it is operating at optimal temperature and humidity.
Once you have selected your smoke depending on how many you have purchased you will want to store them properly.
Cigars are kept at 70/70 range (70F and 70% humidity). If they respond like a wet sponge, then they have too much humidity. If they don’t respond at all and feel like wooden, dry stick, then likely they are too dry. Also check for a bluish tinge. If you see that or perfectly round holes, then these are indications of mold similar appearance to the mold you’d find on food — fuzzy and slightly colored. If you see a white tinge and it’s not quite mold, it’s likely that you have bloom or plume. This is an indication of a nicely aged cigars.
Here’s the thing, cigars are a delicate beast. They have to be stored in ideal conditions or they will either dry up or go moldy. Unless you have a perfectly calibrated, cedar lined humidor at home to store your cigar in, you want to leave as little delay between purchase and light up as possible. A few hours shouldn’t be a problem, but make sure you keep your cigar sealed in a zip-lock bag as a temporary measure. Whatever you do, just don’t let them dry out, or they will be ruined. In some extreme cases it is possible to revive a cigar once it has been dried out however it is not recommend the cigar will never be the same.
Pairing a cigar with a drink is a great idea, but not mandatory. There really isn’t a firm set of rules for what drinks go best with a particular type of smoke, most people go for cognac, single malt scotch or rum. If you prefer to pair it with coffee, then preferably a dark roast or even espresso if you can stomach it. Some people like to lightly coat there cigar with cognac then leave it in the humidor to absorb the aroma, this give the cigar a nice flavor when lit.
You’ve got your smoke, you’ve got your drink, you’ve surrounded yourself with a group of people who enjoy the art of smoking and you have your Cohiba in hand…it’s time to begin the process. Before you can fire up, you’re going to have to cut the end off. Some people refer to this as “creating an aperture.”
There are all sorts of fancy implements that will do the job, but those who are in the know stick with the reliable old guillotine (pictured above), you can buy them literally anywhere fine cigars are sold.
Cut right above the cap line just before the curved end of the cigar.
Lighting your cigar is a bit more complex than you might imagine. It’s not like a cigarette. Lighting it like one will have dire consequences for your smoking enjoyment.
First of all, use wood matches or a butane lighter. It doesn’t matter which one you choose, just steer clear of paper matches or gas lighters. They contain chemicals that will alter the flavor of your smoke for the worst. Once you’ve settled on your fire of choice, do this: If you want to be a true expert then lighting your cigar from a piece of cider wood is the choice for cigar aficionados.
Before actually lighting the cigar, warm the tobacco in the foot of the cigar (the part you light) by holding the flame underneath the foot, but not actually touching it, and rotating the cigar a few times. This will soften the tobacco up and make it more available to your warming flame.
Next, hold the flame (use a new match if needed) in front of the cigar, but not actually touching it. Inhale softly and rotate the cigar to ensure an even light.
If necessary, lightly blow on the foot of the cigar to get everything burning evenly.
That’s it! It reads a lot more complex than it actually is. The gist is that you don’t want to get the flame too close to the cigar while lighting it. The excessive heat will make for an overall less pleasurable smoke.
Once a cigar is properly lit a well hand made cigar should burn evenly throughout.
The most important thing to remember is not to inhale. Just let the smoke waft around in your nose for a bit so you can savor the various flavors and aromas, and then open up and lightly push it out with a small exhale. When smoking or drawing on the cigar there is an art to this. If one draws to often then the cigar tends to loose it’s true flavors and can become quite harsh. On the other hand should you not draw often enough then the cigar will simply go out.
If you’re among a huge group of experienced smokers, you’ll probably want to remove the cigar label. Leaving it in place so everyone can see what brand you’re smoking is considered showboating. If you’re just sitting on your deck with a couple friends, it shouldn’t be an issue.
Again, we can’t stress this enough, you aren’t smoking a cigarette. Cigars aren’t meant to be smoked to the point that you can barely hold them without burning your fingers. Once you hit the halfway point, you’ll begin to notice that things are getting progressively less pleasant on the smoking front. That means it’s time to let it die.
When that time comes, let it die is exactly what you do. One never puts out a cigar like a cigarette, just set it down and it will go out on its own.