Smoking a cigar involves much more than just stuffing tobacco leaves in your face, lighting and sucking. While it’s likely true that anyone who can walk to the fountain and get a drink of water can also successfully smoke a cigar, there are some techniques that will allow you the greatest enjoyment of the flavors, aromas and other nuances of your smoke.
Unlike a cigarette, a premium cigar contains 100% pure tobacco product. There are no additives, reconstituted or expanded tobacco and neither is there a cellulose acetate filter. The moisture content is between 14-17%. Because of these characteristics, a premium stogie will burn cool and slow and most of the tobacco will burn incompletely. Based on his/her experience with cigars with these essential properties, the seasoned cigar smoker will typically gravitate toward certain techniques for obtaining the greatest pleasure from smoking a choice cigar. Let me list and explain a few of these techniques:
How are cigars shaped and sized?
Cigars are measured by two factors: length, which is given in inches, and “ring gauge,” a designation of a cigar’s diameter broken into 64ths of an inch. A cigar with a 42 ring gauge, for example, is 42/64 of an inch in diameter. There is no correlation between the size of a cigar and its strength. An 8-inch cigar made with mild tobaccos will be mellow, while a thin, short cigar rolled with powerful tobaccos will be full bodied.
How is a cigar constructed?
There are basically four main parts of a cigar to be divided:
A small, round piece of wrapper leaf attached to the head of a cigar. The purpose of the cap is to secure the wrapper.
The closed end of a cigar. The head of a handmade cigar must be clipped or cut about 1/16 to 1/8 of an inch down (about 2-3 millimeters) before the foot is lit.
The label that sits around the head of a cigar.
The end of the cigar that you light. The foot of a cigar is usually pre-cut.
How do the tobacco leaves used affect the cigar?
The top of the plant will be the strongest, because it’s closest to the sun. We call that ligero. As you move down the plant, the flavors get milder. Next is viso, then seco, then volado. The strongest leaf is used as the middle because it burns slow. But it also burns harsh. All the layers around the middle create a way for you to draw without getting a harsh taste—you get the full flavor of the entire plant.
To blend, you have to use some ligero, because it gives you strength, body, intensity, and will slow combustion. The strongest tobaccos burn slower; they’re smaller and thicker. The secos and the velados get longer and thinner as you move down the plant. They’re going to burn faster, have less strength, but they’re great to add balance and stimulate combustion. If you made a cigar with all velado, it would burn super fast, super hot, and have no real body or flavor. It’d probably smell really nice, but that’s it. If you make a cigar that’s all ligero, it’s going to be strong as hell, it’ll burn super slow, if at all, and have no finesse.
Making a good cigar is about balancing the right leaves and putting them in the right order, so that the ligero is in the middle of the bunch with the milder tobaccos surrounding it, ensuring an even burn.
You can make a cigar, theoretically, out of just one plant but you won’t have complexity as far as other countries of origin, other harvest years or vintages, or other seed varieties. Leaf position is important to understanding behavior, but knowing the countries involved, the harvest year, the seed varieties involved, is important for understanding flavor.
What are the stereotypes about countries and flavors?
Tobacco from the Dominican Republic is mild-to-medium bodied. The strongest tobaccos come from Cuba and Nicaragua. But they combine to create different flavors that have nothing to do with those stereotypes. You shouldn’t always make purchasing decisions based on countries; a good cigar will draw on different places.
How good are Cuban Cigars?
Cuban cigars are world famous. They are known to be the very best cigars on the market. The fact is that tobacco has been grown in Cuba for hundreds of years, and manufacturers have been producing cigars in that country since the time of King Phillip II of Spain (1527-1598). At present, Cuba’s cigar industry is under direct government regulation. This governmental supervision serves as a product quality control, in place to ensure that every cigar leaving the factory is well made, properly rolled, and does not contain flaws or imperfections.
These cigars stand out because they are made from high quality materials and a lot of care and attention goes into the making of every single cigar. In fact, it has been estimated that it takes over one hundred steps to properly produce a single Cuban cigar. The industry follows a detailed cigar creation ritual that has not changed much over the last hundred years or so. This dedicated care and attention is another thing that sets these cigars apart from cigars made in other countries.
What should you smoke if you’re new to cigars?
Start off with something light. You don’t need nothing big. The Nat Sherman Vanderbilt [half-corona] is the perfect size. You need to test your palate out. Stay on the milder level for a couple cigars, see if you like that feel, that taste. From there you can expand up, or stay where you are.
What’s the proper way to cut a cigar?
To cut, typically a scissor-style tool is used, also called the guillotine. The line that rings the end of a cigar is the cap. The wrapper leaf is all one whole leaf that runs to the end. The cap is holding that leaf on, like the belt holding your pants up. When you cut below the lines, you cut off everything that’s holding the cigar together, then it’ll start to unravel on you. The pants fall down. So you just cut the tip off the top, above the belt.
A cigar is rolled foot to cap. You’re cutting at or above the horizontal lines [the belt]. If we cut below the belt, that’s a problem.
How do you properly light a cigar?
The best way to do it, its burn the end of the cigar, rotating it. This is called toasting.
A cigar can light by heat alone, without you drawing on it. By toasting, you ensure an even burn. Also, toasting—lighting without you drawing—keeps the smoke cooler, which is easier on you and makes for a more pleasant smoking experience.
How do you talk about what you’re experiencing?
Let the smoke roll around on your palate.
When you draw, it’s a cheek function, not a lung function. If you allow the smoke to hang a bit before you exhale, your palate starts to receive the stimulation of the smoke differently. It’s important to pay attention to flavors then. You have the flavor of the smoke itself while it’s in your mouth, and then you have the flavor that remains after you’ve expelled the smoke. That’s the finish. The other thing to pay attention to is the behavior—what it does to your mouth. Do you feel it in the front of your mouth? Do you feel it along the sides? Does it dry your mouth? Do you salivate more?
Wine tastes like wine. A cigar tastes like a cigar. It tastes like burning tobacco. What you want to be able to do is talk about the difference between cigars. What makes this one different from that one. The only way to do that is to find the flavors that are reminiscent of what you’ve got there.
You can talk about strength—is it mild, medium, or strong? You can talk about body—is it heavy in your mouth or light? Does it feel silky when it hits your palate? Does it feel creamy? Does it feel velvety? These are the things to think about as you try different cigars.
Love is an exploding cigar we willingly smoke. – Lynda Barry