A primer on the basic skills of the cigar ritual, from selection to cutting and lighting.
The enjoyment of cigars is rich in technique and ritual, which to the uninitiated, can appear daunting at the least, and overwhelming at extremes. From selecting cigars to cutting and lighting, from the first puffs to the last nub, the routines practiced by cigar lovers can be complex and varied. But neophytes need not dismay! A few words of instruction can help cut through the layers of subtlety and skill that may not be easily revealed by observation.
There is not necessarily only one way to do anything relating to cigars. There are as many different opinions on how to select, cut, light, and smoke cigars as there are cigar brands on the shelves of your favorite tobacconist. What works for some may not work for others. The important thing to understand is that there are a few practices that may enhance your enjoyment of cigars. With a working knowledge and a few basic skills, a cigar smoker, new or old, can enter into any cigar smoking context with confidence and savior-faire.
There is a greater variety of cigars available today than at any time in history, and the choices can be endless and unnerving. When choosing brands, the informed smoker will do a little research in this publication or online before heading to the cigar shop. But if you find yourself inside the massive walk-in humidor at your local cigar shop, without a clue of what to choose, remember, you are not alone!
For beginners, look for something with the mild strength, but plenty of flavor. There are literally hundreds of cigar choices that fit that bill, but the only real way to know what you like, is to smoke as many cigars as you can, and begin to develop your own palate. Until then, trust the experts. But remember, when browsing the shelves for cigars wrapper and construction. Avoid cigars with too many prominent veins, major blotches, or loose wrappers. Ask the tobacconist, or even pull out your smart phone. You’re bound to find a review for nearly any cigar on the shelf.
A final word on selection: When you finally choose a cigar, always get its full name, both brand and blend! There’s nothing worse than smoking a delicious cigar but not knowing how to ever find it again. The cigar band is usually not sufficient to determine the brand and blend of a cigar, nor is the box it was sitting in on the shelf. Again, ask the tobacconist for help.
Cutting a Cigar
To be smoked, the cap at the head of the cigar must be removed. To do this, there are a number of tools available, including guillotines with single or double blades, cigar scissors, V-cutters, and punches. Ultimately all cigar cutters do the same job, though in slightly different ways. Select a cutter that fits your personal style and sensibilities, and become skilled in its use. If you find yourself without a cutter, a last resort is to remove the cap by very carefully biting just the very tip of the cigar, just removing the outer layer. Be careful as to not actually bite into the cigar.
The goal when lighting a cigar is to get it burning evenly without scorching the wrapper. The tools of the trade include torch lighters, disposable butane lighters, wooden matches, ORT the best case, natural pieces of cedar wood called spills the tool you use is where on the cigar you cut. Use care not to cut the cigar any more than absolutely necessary for the desired draw. Aim to cut just above the shoulder, the point where the straight sides begin to curve the top. Cutting too low can cause the cigar to come unwrapped, making it impossible to smoke. After cutting the cigar, test the draw with a “cold draw”, puffing on it while unlit. This will give you an idea of the openness of the draw before you light it.
Lighting a Cigar
The goal when lighting a cigar is to get it burning evenly without scorching the wrapper. The tools of the trade include lighters, disposable butane lighters, wooden matches, or the best case, natural pieces of cedar wood called spills.
Whether you choose a torch lighter, or “soft-Flame” lighter, be sure the fuel is butane (standard Bic brand disposable lighters burn butane). Avoid liquid fuel lighters like Zippo lighters, as the kerosene-based fuel may impart a chemical taste and scent to the cigar. Never use propane or any other chemical or fuel other than butane.
If you use a match, choose wooden matches, as paper matches are coated with chemicals which may affect the cigar’s flavor. Use multiple matches at once if needed, and allow the match to burn away completely before attempting to light the cigar.
Regardless of the heat-source, there are two distinct to lighting a cigar. The first is toasting the foot, and second is actually igniting the cigar. To toast the foot, hold the cigar in your hand, and bring the heat source near the foot of the cigar, allowing the cigar to warm, but not directly touching it with the flame. This releases volatile organic compounds from the tobacco leaves which aid in ignition. Be patient. This it takes some time, and a little self-control
Once this foot is toasted, it’s time to light. Put the cigar in your mouth, and bring the flame back to the foot, but again, hold it about a quarter-inch away. Take a series of long, Slow puffs, pulling the flame into the foot. Between puffs you will notice that a small flame erupts on the foot of the cigar. This is normal, and even desirable. Pause a few seconds between puffs to allow the flame eruption to die down. Many smokers puff away quickly like a steam locomotive. This is unnecessary. Take it easy, don’t draw too hard, and pause between puffs. And most importantly, rotate the cigar during the entire process. This is critical to ensure an even light.
SMOKING A CIGAR
This is the best part. One your cigar is lit it may burn handsomely for an hour or more, filling the time with pleasure and flavor. This is what it’s all about. A few pointers remain to keep your cigar burning properly, ensuring a satisfying and trouble-free smoke to the nub.
First, do not inhale cigar smoke. The tobacco in a cigar is much more potent than in a cigarette, and inhaling a cigar can cause a negative reaction from the nicotine. Draw the smoke into your mouth, savor it for a moment, and blow it out. The primary experience is on the palate, as well as in the aromas that you smell.
Do not neglect your cigar
Do not attempt to knock your ash off prematurely, as this can negatively affect the burn. When your ash has reached 3/4of an inch in length, set it down between puffs, or hold it over an ash tray, and allow the ash to fall off on its own. Depending on where you‘re smoking, it’s okay to tap the ash off once it has grown to a reasonable size.r. Take a puff about once every minute, drawing long and slow. Paraphrasing a quote from Lord Archibald Wavell, a cigar is like a lover. If the flame goes out, it can be relit, but it’s never quite the same. Touch –ups are occasionally necessary to keep a cigar burning straight, and to prevent tunneling (burning on the inside without burning on the outside), but tread lightly with a torch lighter, to avoid scorching the wrapper.
Slow your smoking pace as you approach the mid-way point of a cigar, in order to keep the flavor fresh. It is natural for the flavors to change slightly, and develop a more roasted character in the second half, and a slower pace may delay a decline into bitterness
Some smokers will smoke a cigar until it literally burns their fingers. Others choose to set it aside before the flavor turns. Ultimately, smoke as much of your cigar as you’d like, and set it down only when the taste or burn characteristics become less than satisfactory to you.
And finally, under no circumstances should you mash out your finished cigar in an ash tray. Doing so will produce a foul odor. Simply set it down and allow it to go out and cool naturally. Use Common sense when disposing of cigar nubs, using care to prevent creating a fire hazard.
There is too much pleasure to be derived from the enjoyment of fine cigars to allow worries about rules and mechanics to interfere with your smoking experience. In time, a new smoker will develop routines and rituals that are as natural as tying his or her shoes. The hard and fast rules are few, and though you may encounter other smokers who differ with you on specifics, you will likely discover that cigar smokers are an accommodating bunch. Watch others, learn all you can, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. As long as you’ve got a cigar in your hand and a smile o your face, you’ll find yourself part of a grand fraternity, the brotherhood of the leaf. So light up another cigar! After all, practice makes perfect..