In my mind Cigarettes are to Cigars as a Microwave is to a BBQ using Briquets; one is quick and easy and the result tastes bland while the other, when done right opens your palate with a full bouquet of flavor and relaxation. Mix the latter with good friends and conversation and you build great memories. If you are someone who is on the go and cannot spare an hour or more to the process, then maybe cigars are not for you.
With Cigar Smoking there is an etiquette to the process from selection to extinguishing and to get the most out of the experience one should not be rushed.
As a new smoker you would benefit from the knowledge and experience from your local premium tobacconist. This resource can help you down the road of discovery for not all cigars are created equal… for a purpose. They can help you select a cigar that fits your level of acceptance in flavor. If you are serious about smoking cigars you need to be humble and ask your tobacconist questions. There is nothing worse than taking a draw on a cigar that is too strong for your palate. Remember, the cigar experience is about the taste not blowing rings or getting a expresso sized hit of nicotine.
Sounds obvious, but as you know most cigars are wrapped around the head to finish off the presentation of the stick. Depending on what kind of draw you like will depend on how you cut the head of your cigar. Some reverently cut the wrapper with a light pinch and pull off a small area of wrapper while others use a cutting device such as cigar scissors, snips, cutters or punch. The thing to keep in mind here is that the smaller the hole the tighter ( or harder ) the draw. The wider the hole the loser the draw. How tight the tobacco leaves are rolled and packed also play a big part on the cigar’s draw. Full leaf cigars such as the Don Abram Harris Cigar line up tend to have a higher draw as the leaf is bunched up in the barrel ( the inside of the cigar from foot to head ). Cheaper machine made cigars tend to have loose “Chopped” tobacco filler and are typically made from off cuts or lesser parts of the leaf. These tend to draw loosely because there are no walls of tobacco slowing down the air flow.
Having lived some time in Texas I have found that there are the BBQ masters… none of them use gas, “It is in the wood,” they all say. Even the way it is lit will make or brake a good BBQ. The same is true with your cigar. Take your time and prep it right… DON”T GO FULL IN before it is warmed up. I am sure that comment can be taken in many context and I guess it is a good life lesson to know when it comes to ANYTHING worth doing.
The Art of warming up a cigar is called “Toasting” just as the name implies, it is not burning but rather heating up the tobacco. Never touch the “Foot” ( the open end of the cigar ) of the cigar to the flame. Your moving way to fast… rather hold your flame away from the Foot, about an inch away from the visible part of the flame ( The Heat Zone ). This step is also best if done from a side view of your cigar rather than a smoking view. Remember we are toasting the cigar right now not lighting it. Hold the cigar in your dominant hand and the lighter in the other and watch from the side as you rotate the cigar in the heat zone; Your objective here is to heat up the tobacco at the start of the cigar say the first 1/8 to 1/2 inch.
When an even toast is made keep the foot of the cigar to the heat zone and pull the cigar to your mouth. Using the band on your cigar as a guide, twist it a full 360 degrees as you draw in. Take a short draw, turn, short draw, turn… as many turns as it takes to evenly light the toasted tobacco. Be Carful Here if your cigar isn’t toasted enough you will get a little light headed by hyperventilating on the draw. You should never have to touch the flame to the tobacco directly.
This process isn’t based just on tradition for there is method to the madness… Toasting your cigar, if done right will aid in an even burn through the entire smoke.
Now is the time you have been waiting for, the time to experience the joy of a finely tuned cigar. This is the vision the master blender had in mind when building the recipe that made the cigar. Different tobaccos blended with different parts of the leaf that make up the filler, then the binder and lastly the wrapper. All playing a part in the flavors you are about to experience. Take your time with each draw. Don’t draw so much in that your cheeks ballon out or your forced to inhale. Rather draw in sips of smoke as if tasting a new beverage for the first time. Be prepared to sense change as you smoke through your cigar. Pause to try and identify or describe the flavor you are experiencing in your own words. What flavors you are tasting? This part of any smoke is really objective… words often used in cigar reviews include, Peppery, Leather, Mocha, and others. Remember these are their ways of trying to illustrate to others what your palate will experience not the actual flavor… the harshness of pepper, Smooth earthy notes of mocha and aged hints of leather. Obviously none of these things are used in cigars. Some may be lightly infused with a flavor such as an Aged Gran Marnier, like in the DAH Presidential Reserve; But one thing is true as with a great BBQ, relationship and other things where time is taken to get to the enjoyment part of the experience… don’t rush it, savor every draw and build your memories from the entire experience.
There is no filter barrier between your lips and the hot burning tobacco in a cigar. Where and when you decide to end your session is up to you. Remember, there is refinement in smoking a cigar. It is not rushed and tossed to the curb and it is not a one night stand. Whether or not you enjoyed the smoke, laying what is left in the ash tray is probably the most respectful release to the hour or two spend smoking the cigar; Crushing it out in an ash tray or extinguishing it in an unfinished beverage is not.
On & Off again designer and friend of Don Abram Harris.