Buying a Cigar:
I know this topic probably sounds simple and honestly, it is far from it. Buying a cigar, especially if it is your first time, can be tricky and even overwhelming for many people. Often the smoker goes to something they already know whether it is brand specific or blend specific. New smokers always tend to think they need to head over to the mild section since they are new. The truth is that buying a cigar depends on you and your personality.
Before we get to into the last statement, let us talk some basics in cigar buying. Make sure the humidor or location that the cigars are kept within the shop is properly humidified. This is easy to know by entering the humidor and seeing how it feels. It should feel cool, around 70 degrees and moist about 70% humidity. Basically, it should not feel hot or ice cold and it should not smell damp but rather be cool and humid with the clean fresh smell of cigars. Another way to test the humidor is by feeling the cigars. Do this by holding the cigar in your fingers and pinch down slightly, not hard. You should get a firm feel with some give, not a lot of give, just some give. If the cigar feels spongy then put it back since most likely it is over humidified and not going to smoke well. Lastly, a key attribute on cigar humidification is how the humidor, especially a large walk in humidor, smells. I stated before it should smell clean and like cigars and this is the last test to proper humidification. We all know what damp and musty smells like, so if the humidor you are standing in smells this way, especially after you have been in it for a minute or so, then odds are the cigar shop is not keeping that specific humidor in proper condition and I suggest move on.
Next when buying a cigar, you should look to make sure what you see on the cigar is a tobacco leaf that is free of blemishes. Blemishes are major forms of discoloration either darker or lighter than the rest of the cigar. It is good to note that there are some cigars the outer leaf naturally has dark and light variations, but this occurs all over the cigar while a blemish is usually in one or two spots. In buying a cigar you also want to make sure that you look for another type of blemish, which is a patch. A patch is a small piece of tobacco, usually round, that may be slightly different in color and is covering a hole or small crack. I want to be clear that a patch should not deter you from buying that cigar, but it does show that at some point the cigar was not 100% perfect. My guide to patches is it depends on the cigar; if it is something rare or limited, I am more willing to accept a patch versus an everyday cigar that is plentiful. Another tip for buying cigars is to see if the cigar is free of cracks or holes, this is particularly important. Cracks or holes effect how the cigar burns as you smoke it and often create runs, tunnels, or poor burn lines and for me these are a strict absolute NO. I never buy a cigar with a hole or crack, never! Lastly, you will find that often the cigar is wrapped in a clear tube of cellophane. Make sure that you turn it over and see that if there was something sealing the tube, like tape or a manufacturer’s sticker, that it is intact and not broken. If the seal is broken it may mean the cigar was removed from the cellophane tube and this for me is a pass since I do not know how the cigar was handled outside the tube. Now I know you may be thinking what if I am buying a cigar that is in a glass or metal tube even a single wood coffin? Same idea applies, glass tubes tend to have seals on them or the cork/plastic plug that seals it tight when you pull on it the first time. A metal tube often has the screw cap on tight and requires extra energy to unscrew it, so this is how you know it was sealed well. Of course it is a bit more difficult to know if the cigar was removed in a glass or metal tube but a good test is look at the cigars in cellophane and if a random sample shows the seals are in perfect condition the tubes are most likely good too. Wood coffins are mainly sealed with something from the manufacturer, so these act the same as cigars in cellophane.
Now let us talk your personality. It is important to understand that in the end what you like is what you like, there is no right or wrong in cigar smoking as far as taste and desire. As a new smoker one should not be afraid to try out all types of cigars from mild to full and YES, it is ok to deviate from the standard practice of starting with a mild cigar. Feel free to explore, ask questions and realize that your palate, the thing that lets you taste, will guide you over time to your preferences. Every cigar is different, and one should ask or research about it to make sure it is something they want to smoke. The best learning experience is to smoke everything your cigar shop of choice has in the humidor and learn what are your likes and dislikes. One key thing to remember is that when you are standing in the humidor, ready to buy a cigar, do not think that you should judge the cigar by its cover. Many people think that dark means strong and light means mild. On the contrary there are many dark cigars that are mild and there are light cigars that are stronger than you might expect. At this point I am sure you are thinking “How do I tell them apart?” Well if you read the blog on What to Look for in a good Cigar Shop & What to avoid, you will remember the part about the staff and willingness to educate. This is one of those areas that is KEY!! Ask someone to help you in selecting a cigar. Remember to give as much information to the staff member as possible. Information like what you like to drink, maybe your favorite foods, what cigars you have smoked before (if any) and what you liked or disliked about them and also when and where you plan to smoke the cigar. Along with this information I suggest you ask lots of questions and discuss whatever conceived, or potentially misconceived, ideas you have about cigars and the lifestyle. By asking and learning you will begin to build not only your cigar personality but also learn what cigars you genuinely enjoy smoking. When I started smoking cigars most cigars in the humidor were mild with a few being more towards the medium spectrum. Of course, it did not take long for me to want something more powerful and with more flavor. I found that lots of the choices I had in front of me seemed the same. So, I set out to find those more powerful and flavorful cigars. How did I do this? I simply asked. Of course, this had mixed results, so I decided to try things I had not smoked before and keep a little book with my notes. Yes, I strongly recommend this if you are starting off because there is a lot to remember and it is easiest to refer to something written versus trying to recall the cigar’s profile from memory. After much trial and error, I began to find my preferences and my cigar personality. I discovered that flavor for me was far more important than strength and that I was finding cigars that fit me and what I wanted to smoke. I also learned something along the way that helped me truly learn about a cigars flavor, this one thing makes a huge difference; it was how to retro hale. In simple terms, retro hale means to take the smoke into your mouth and blow it out through your nose. For beginners you will need to have someone teach or guide you through this process since it is not as easy as it sounds. I remember that it reminded me of the first few times I opened my eyes underwater in the pool – took a little getting used to, but eventually you get the hang of it. We will discuss more about retro hale in further segments.
In the end buying a cigar is a very personal thing. The experience is different for everyone. I know people that basically go into a humidor and get the same cigar they have always smoked, and never deviate from this. Then there are those that must always try something new. Me, I like to have my core group of “go to” cigars, but genuinely enjoy trying new ones or ones I have not smoked in a while. It is fun to hunt for something new for my taste buds and even more fun to talk to a well-educated staff member about what they like to smoke or not. When you have been smoking cigars for as many years as I have, you also find it enjoyable to hear people talk about cigars with such passion especially when it is a cigar that you dislike. Makes me wonder what I missed and sometimes I even get convinced and try it again. Of course, the opposite happens too, at which point I try convincing the person to try it again. Either way it is part of what makes cigar smoking great.
I tell many smokers to be open and willing to try many different types of cigars and in the long run this will teach you what your cigar personality is and what your preferences are. Of course, this will also help you buy cigars and buy new cigars you have never smoked before. For me this is what this lifestyle, we call cigar smoking, is all about and I hope that you will find as much enjoyment in this lifestyle as I do.