LEAF LESSONS: CIGAR 101
Smoking your first cigar can be a daunting experience. With the many complex rules and rituals it may seem difficult to know where to begin. The important thing to remember is that smoking a cigar is supposed to be a pleasurable and relaxing experience. Every moment of the cigar ritual is one to be savored and enjoyed.
Unlike cigarettes, a cigar should always be smoked slowly. Some of the larger varieties of cigar can take over an hour to smoke, so you should never rush yourself and always allow a good length of time to smoke your cigar properly.
A key thing to remember is that you should never inhale the smoke from your cigar. When you are appreciating a good cigar you should compare it to appreciating a fine wine – consider the following aspects of the cigar, the aroma, the body and the flavor.
Aroma: It is important that you are pleased by the aroma of the cigar.
Body: There are three different types of body, or strength of tobacco. These are light, medium and heavy. The varying strengths will have a different overall effect on the smoker.
Flavor: Cigar experts prefer to use terms such as floral, fruity, herbal, nutty and spicy in order to reference the balance and mixture of tastes. They can recognize flavors such as cedar, chocolate, cinnamon, citrus, coffee, cream, nut, nutmeg, pepper, leather and wood. They also classify the degree of the flavor under mild, medium and full.
Taste it slowly, allowing yourself time to savor the complex aromas and flavors of the smoke. It’s all about the palate so find yourself a beverage that complements your choice of cigar, sit back, and relax.
So let’s begin to build your expertise.
The first step to joining the ranks of the cigar enthusiasts is to select the best cigars to use to practice. Cigars vary in quality, taste, strength and cost so you want to be sure that your hand-rolled cigar selection is from a tobacconist or authentic cigar shop as opposed to your local convenience store. There is a big difference. Don’t be intimidated or nervous about asking for advice from the resident store expert as they’re the best on hand resource for learning about premium cigar smoking.
How do you choose a cigar? All of the features such as the shape of a cigar, the size, as well as the color of cigars, affect the cigar’s taste. The size is measured by length and ring gauge (the cigar’s diameter). One ring is equivalent to 1/64th of an inch. A cigar with a larger ring gauge, compared with the smaller ring gauge cigars, will have a fuller and more intricate flavor and will produce more smoke. The larger the ring gauge the more a cigar maker can blend and combine different types of tobacco leaves. Some of the most common are:
• Churchill (7 ¼ x 48)
• Corona (5 ¾ x 42)
• Double Corona (6 ½ x 48)
• Lonsdale (6 ¾ x 42)
• Panatela (6 ½ x 35)
• Robusto (4 ½ x 50)
Color also plays an important part in choosing your cigars. The first thing you see when you look at a cigar is the wrapper and it plays a very important part in the desired flavor of your cigar. The wrapper is made from a single tobacco leaf rolled round the tobacco filler. It has several properties, which affect both the look, and quality of your cigar, not to mention the taste. The cigar filler is arguably the most complex component of the cigar. It can be blended with other types of tobacco to create different flavors and strengths, or can be entirely made from one kind of tobacco (like many Mexican cigars).
Cigars from Cuba (illegal in the USA), Nicaragua and Mexico often have a strong, full-bodied flavor and will mostly be dark in appearance. Nicaraguan cigars may be milder, giving a medium strength smoke, though you will find that the mildest cigars generally come from Jamaica. The majority of the tobacco grown in the Dominican Republic has been from Cuban seed and is full-bodied with complex flavors. Ecuadorian Cigars are milder, but also of high quality as they use a mixture of tobacco grown from seed found in Connecticut and Sumatra.
Like the Cuban, Nicaraguan cigars are full-bodied and spicy. Mexican cigars are famous for being sun-grown and often have a very dark wrapper, like the maduro. You will find that the filler is often wholly made from home-grown San Andreas tobacco.
The USA produces some excellent leaf-wrap grown in Connecticut, the home of the American cigar. These cigars have a medium level smoke and are recognizable from their brownish yellow appearance. Cameroon produces a neutrally flavored leaf; an excellent match when couple with fuller flavored fillers.
For beginners, I typically recommend mild cigars and depending on their experience with smoking, perhaps a flavor infused premium. The closed end of the cigar is the end that is put into your mouth. But before that, you need to cut off the cap just before you light the cigar and are ready to smoke it.
CUTTING: There are different types of cigar cutters, but the guillotine cutter is the most popular. Hold the cigar in one hand and the guillotine cutter in the other hand .The cut should be made just above the cap line, just before the curved end of the cigar begins to straighten. Cut too low and you won’t create a big enough aperture, making the cigar difficult to smoke. Cut too high, and the wrapper may start to unwind. The cost of a cigar cutter is less than the cost of an expensive cigar. You can also simply punch a hole in the cap of the cigar using a pencil or a pen, but again, don’t do this with an expensive cigar.
LIGHTING:To light your cigar, it is important to “toast the foot” to warm the tobacco prior to putting the cut end in your mouth. The cigar is always lit with just the heat from the flame of a match or butane lighter. The flame does not touch the underside of the wrapper. Roll the cigar slowly between your fingers to make sure the entire foot is evenly warmed. This will make the tobacco in the cigar more readily accept a flame.
Once you have warmed the tobacco, put the cigar in your mouth at a 45º angle and use another flame to light it. Hold the flame directly in front of the cigar (again, so it is not actually touching the wrapper), and slowly inhale to draw the flame to the foot of the cigar. While lighting your cigar, ensure that you turn the barrel so that all sides of the foot are equally lit. You may wish to lightly blow on the foot of the cigar to even things out and make sure your cigar continues to burn evenly.
Always light your cigar using wooden matches or a butane lighter, as anything else contains chemicals that may give the cigar an unpleasant chemical taste. Paper matches and gas lighters are especially poor choices in this regard.
If your cigar goes out, just tap it to remove any clinging ash, and then blow through it to clear out any stale smoke. Then, merely relight it as you would a fresh cigar. What to expect is an amazing relaxed state.
WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT TO TASTE: Below is a list of tastes and smells to look out for when judging the strength of a cigar:
Mild Strength Cigars
The Smell - Dusty, softened and short-lived
The Taste - tasteless, flat, herbaceous, muted
Medium to Full Strength Cigars
Smell - Cocoa, coffee, floral, green, subtle, supple, leather, undergrowth, and woody
Taste - Aromatic, exotic, fruity, heady, heavy, mellow, nuts, peppery, ripe, robust, spicy, sugary, sweet, tart and woody
Full Strength Cigars (Pronounced Strength Cigars)
Smell - Coarse, earthy, tangy, insidious, sharp and spicy
Taste - Hot, tasty, scorching, tannic, and peaty
Once a cigar is lit correctly, it is expected to evenly burn to the end, and if it doesn’t then this is a sign of an improper roll. The ash of the cigar should remain somewhat firm and intact for at least an inch without trouble; however a small ring-gauge cigar can be an exception to this. It is a sign of a well made cigar when the ash becomes firm whilst smoking it.
SMOKING YOUR CIGAR: Smoking a fine cigar is truly an experience. Whether relaxing by yourself or socializing with friends, this ceremonial art form is designed such that every aspect of smoking a cigar should be savored. From the selection, to the cutting, to the lighting , to the first to final draw, enjoyment occurs from the cigar by itself or when accompanied by a rich coffee, a fine whiskey, or with a full-blooded glass of wine. Always follow cigar etiquette and always ensure that you have the time to savor every second of the cigar experience.
Speaking of cigar etiquette, in 1967, a man called Zino Davidoff published a now-famous essay for cigar connoisseurs. It includes a charter and code for cigar smokers everywhere, telling them how they should behave when smoking or preparing to smoke their cigars. As to his reasons for publishing what is effectively a guide to cigar etiquette, Davidoff has this to say:
“The important thing to remember is that we cigar aficionados should present ourselves as considerate and understanding individuals. Changing people’s preconceived notions and giving the growing numbers of aficionados a good name is well worth that little extra effort.”
While many cigar lovers don’t necessarily subscribe to every protocol, this is great guidance for the novice.
•Warm the foot of the cigar slightly before starting to puff on it.
•Take your time smoking your cigar, a puff a minute is about right.
•Allow the cigar to die a dignified death; after it's smoked halfway, it will go out on its own.
•Dispose of a dead cigar discreetly and quickly.
•Wait at least 15 minutes between cigars as anything less indicates obsessive behavior.
•Touch the flame directly to the foot of the cigar, simply rotate it around the edge instead, until it begins to burn, and then puff on it lightly.
•Light your cigar too slowly or too quickly.
•Put the cigar in your mouth to relight it. Simply scrape off the excess ash and turn the cigar in the flame for several seconds until it relights.
•Clench your cigar between your teeth.
•Wet the end of your cigar. Don’t chew it, or slobber on it either.
•Smoke too quickly.
•Ever use a cigar holder.
•Stick a toothpick or matchstick in the end of the cigar to help hold it in your mouth.
•Dip your cigar in port or brandy, a habit attributed to Winston Churchill.
•Smoke whilst walking in public.
•Put the cigar out by crushing it in an ashtray. Let your cigar die a natural death.