Ultimate Cigar Guide
Over the years I’ve been asked many times to discuss with cigar smokers, whether new to the lifestyle or long terms aficionados, about many different subjects from buying a cigar, what makes a good cigar shop to why the different tobacco leaves impart certain characteristics to a cigar.
It is my goal with this Ultimate Cigar Guide to cover what I did over my years of enjoying cigars and the lifestyle that is cigars. I will break the guide down into four parts starting with a basic section and finishing with final thoughts from my perspective. Each part in the guide is a summary of a more in-depth topic that you can link to from here.
I hope the Guide assists you in finding the answers you are looking for.
What to look for in a good Cigar Shop & What to avoid:
A good cigar shop is in the eye of the beholder. Does the shop being posh and luxurious make it better than another shop that is more like home? No. These are not the things one should look for when thinking about a good cigar shop. What one needs from a good cigar shop is rather simple in fact. The shop should be organized, have proper humidification, a broad selection, knowledgeable and helpful staff and most importantly the desire to educate you as the smoker on their wares.
Often, I have walked into a cigar shop and found that the humidor smells musty or the staff ignores me until I ask for assistance and I truly dislike a messy shopping environment. Granted these are some of the things one may want to avoid. But sometimes there are valid reasons why these scenarios exist. It may be that is how the owner wants their shop to look and feel or messy can be a technique to keep the customer looking for that rare gem. A musty humidor or lack of desire to help or educate though are unacceptable.
Briefly the list that makes a Good Cigar Shop is as follows:
- Organized, even if in an odd fashion. Just because it looks like a mess it may not be the case. Remember sometimes first impression is not right and taking a moment to look further can lead you to a cigar shop that meets a lot of other criteria in being good.
- Shop-able, you should be able to shop the shop easily. If the shop is an obstacle course and the humidor leaves you little space to move before you knock things over then this is not good. You want to be able to look and touch the product easily and without concern.
- Helpful Staff, being greeted and asked if you need assistance is key to me. Even if you are an aficionado and have been to multiple cigar shops it is always nice to know you have a friendly and courteous staff that is there to assist you. This fact alone is one of my most important facts as to what makes a good cigar
- Willingness to Educate, many new smokers want to learn about cigars and the do’s and don’ts of the cigar lifestyle. The staff and owners of good cigar shops are more than willing to take a new cigar smoker under their wing, but they should also be willing to educate the aficionado too. The industry always has something more to learn and the best cigar shops are always learning and offering education to the patrons.
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Buying a Cigar:
I know this topic probably sounds simple but, 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 located within the shop is properly humidified. Do this by holding the cigar in your fingers and pinch down slightly. you should get a firm feel with some give, not a lot of give, just some give. Look to make sure what you see on the cigar is a tobacco leaf that is free of blemishes (blemishes are further discussed in the more in-depth section). Look to see if the cigar is free of cracks or holes, this is important. Often the cigar is wrapped in a clear tube so make sure that you turn it over and see that if there was something sealing the tube, like tape or a manufacturers sticker, that it is intact and not broken.
Regarding 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 of starting with a mild cigar. Feel free to explore, ask questions and realize that your pallet, 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.
In the long run this will teach you what your cigar personality is and what your preferences are which helps you buy cigars and buy new cigars you have never smoked before. Click the link to explore more about Buying a Cigar.
How to Cut a Cigar – Techniques, Do’s and Don’ts:
Now that you have purchased your cigar it is time to cut it prior to applying fire and lighting it. There are so many options on how to cut your cigar that it can be just as overwhelming as picking it out. Cuts that are straight, V cut, punched, small razor cuts to make openings, one or multiple holes in the head of the cigar using a special tool, or just your fingernail are all options. What is important to understand is in the end how you choose to cut a cigar is your personal preference. I prefer a straight cut which removes the cap of the cigar at the head with a clean straight cut. Second choice a V cut.
Now, why are all these types of cuts available? Again, it is preference, but each does really have a purpose in the end. Let me discuss the two extremes with you. A straight cut open the most surface area straight across the back and allows the smoke to freely be pulled from all parts of the cigar without a deviation from the cut itself. Think about it like this, you created a cut the basically makes the cigar act like a straw and it is about as equally open on both ends, the lit end and the draw end. Of course, you need to be careful to not cut off too much with a straight cut and we will explore that in the in-depth section. On the other extreme is a small hole or holes in the head of the cigar using a tool that has a small sharp poker on it. I have seen people use toothpicks, ice picks, or a new cutter that has several of these types of picks on them to create multiple holes in the head of the cigar. By having a smaller hole, it concentrates the smoke into one opening and gives a stronger impact on your pallet and how the smoke tastes.
Somethings to remember when cutting your cigar. First never lick your cigar or make it wet, this is just a straight out DON’T, especially if you are using someone else’s or the shop’s cutter. Some long-time cigar smokers will hold the cigar in their mouth for a little before cutting it to help the more delicate wrapper cut easier but with today’s cutting instruments this should not be necessary. Inspect your cutter prior to using it to make sure it has no defects, especially punches which often get defects with use or while being carried. It is important that the cutter be sharp. Look at your cigar and decide where you will cut it, each cut has a proper placement and technique that needs to be used. For example a straight cut should be level, cut just above the shoulder of the cigar (the part that rolls up at the end of the cigar and finishes at the head of the cigar) and one should use a swift decisive cut to make sure it is clean and neat. On the contrary a punch requires that you center the hole and are gentle in the process to not crack the head of the cigar. Try different types of cuts to see what you prefer and know that even though there are multiple types of cuts there are also different ways to use each cut and cutter to create unique openings in your cigar.
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How to Light a Cigar – Techniques, Do’s and Don’ts:
So, we have a cut cigar in our hands, and it is time to light it. Even for the most tenured smoker this can be tricky. To start with there are so many options for how to light a cigar from a match, to a 4-flame torch lighter with 14,000 BTU’s – that is HOT!! So, what do you use? Well again that depends on you. Personally, I like either a soft flame lighter or a single torch, but I have used them all and each has its own technique to be used properly.
For the most part remember the following, a soft flame match or lighter takes longer and requires more time to light a cigar and the 4 flame torch lighter can burn the foot of your cigar to make it taste like char if you do not light it properly. Basically, it boils down to the time it takes to light your cigar.
But there are some basic techniques, do’s and don’ts that apply to all cigar lighting. First do not use a candle of any form, car lighters (if your car has one), any lighter that takes oil to work like a classic zippo, or anything that has a scent or additive for it to create fire. This will cause the cigar to change flavor and for most part not taste correct. Next when using matches I recommend that you use only wood ones and ideally cigar matches that are long in length. It takes about 3 cigar matches to properly light your cigar, so short matches that are wood it would take 6 to 8. If you use a lighter be aware of what type of flame you have, soft or torch, and how many elements or flames it creates; yes, even soft flames come in 2 and 3 flame options that create more heat.
Now it is time to light the cigar. The key is to get a good even light with a strong red ember at the end. If you are using that 4-flame torch hold it further away from the foot and let the foot heat up while rotating the cigar in your fingers working to get that even burn. A soft flame or match will take longer of course. The key is to be patient, do not jab the torch flame into the foot of your cigar to go faster since it will just char the tobacco and make your cigar taste bad. Take time to get that even light and toast in the beginning. Once you think you have this accomplished put the cigar in your mouth and hold the flame below your cigar about 2 inches away and at a 45-degree angle and draw on the cigar. Make the flame jump up to the foot and do this a few times rotating the cigar a bit for each draw or puff. Lastly, I then take the cigar out of my mouth and puff on the foot to visually see that I have a red ember that covers the whole foot and there are no parts not lit.
This takes practice and feel free to ask different cigar smokers their preferences on how to light a cigar or even teach you if you are new to the lifestyle. Proper lighting makes for a much more enjoyable smoking experience.
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How to Store and Keep Cigars – Techniques, Do’s and Don’ts:
Eventually every cigar smoker starts to build their personal collection and each smoker has their own personal way to store and keep cigars. There are many devices to store and keep your cigars that include traditional wood humidors, jars, bags, cabinets, converted closets and even plastic containers like cigar cases or Tupperware. I have seen some version or another and I have tried or seen every one of these used and then some. Once again, the way you store and keep your cigars is personal preference and I urge you to explore your favorite.
There are however some known truths, techniques, do’s and don’ts that apply to storing and keeping your cigars. Let us first start with what to keep them in. I am a traditional wood humidor person and like how the Spanish cedar of good higher end humidors impart a characteristic on the cigars I keep in the humidor. However, with that said I also have an all acrylic humidor and use a lot of large Ziplock bags for storage and keeping. Each style has its benefits, pros and cons that we will explore more in the in-depth section.
Some absolute facts about keeping and storing cigars are as follows. Do not use any old form of humidification device, I have seen people use wet sponges, open jars with water or just the greater humidity outside. If you are using water for a humidifier then only use distilled water for the device. When you season your wood humidor do not take a wet sponge and wet the inside, this can cause it to swell and even crack. Season it properly by following the manufacturer’s directions or research devices that help you season a new humidor for the first time. I recommend that you have a hygrometer in each humidor to make sure that the humidity level is correct at 68% to 70%. If you are someone that likes to smoke flavored cigars and non-flavored cigars, I recommend that you have a separate humidor for the flavored cigars keeping them separate from the non-flavored cigars. Lastly do not leave any humidor in the direct sunlight even if it is indoors it will just heat up your cigars.
It is important that you regularly check your humidor and make sure it is operating correctly. Too often I hear about collections lost because the individual ignored their humidor for months and found that every cigar inside was dried out from under humidification or wet from over humidification. Regularly checking and maintenance will avoid this and with a new humidor you should do it more often until you figure out how that specific humidor works. YES, humidors work differently even from the same brand and even the same exact humidor. They “breathe” and “live” differently because they are affected by both the inside and outside environments. We will explore this in detail in the in-depth section.
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As we continue the Ultimate Cigar Guide, we will explore the next parts with Part 2 focusing on how cigars are made and the parts of a cigar. Part 3 will explore the nuances of the tobacco itself and how it plays a role on the cigars you smoke. I will finish with Part 4 discussing my personal journey with cigars and the cigar journey beyond this guide.