Last updated on October 23rd, 2017 at 12:06 pm
So You Want to Start Smoking Cigars
When you first begin smoking cigars it might seem mind blowing how many cigar manufacturers are out there. Many new smokers have a tendency to do one of a few things that might seem logical at the time but are really just counterproductive. So lets list those out of the way first in the hope that I can dissuade you from any of the following. Here is the list of “Donts”.
- Don’t buy a cigar because you like the packaging or the band.
- Steer clear of flavored cigars, at least for the time being. They will hinder your appreciation for the flavor of natural tobacco. Once you have established your tastes, you can absolutely go back and see what you have been missing.
- Don’t be in a hurry to make box purchases. Your taste will change very much when you first start smoking cigars.
- Don’t pick a cigar based on the wrapper color. Maduros are not always stronger in terms of flavor or strength than a natural cigar.
- Don’t fall into the brand name trap. Just because it has a name you know doesn’t automatically mean its high quality. Evaluate everything based on how much you enjoy smoking it.
Now a list of things I would encourage you to do.
- Start off mild to medium with something that is simple well made and high quality. Your tobacconist can help you pick something that fits the bill.
- Take notes. Smoke as many brands as you can and take notes on what they tasted like to you. At a minimum, note whether you like it or not so you can help narrow down the cigars you like to smoke from the ones that you don’t enjoy.
- Try cigars from different nations. A cigar from a single nation is called a puro. There is no better way to gain an appreciation for distinct flavors of tobacco than to experiment. Cuban, Nicaraguan, Dominican, and Honduran tobacco all taste different and have their positive attributes.
- Try, try, and try again. For a long while when you first start enjoying cigars you are finding your palate. Every once in a while its a good idea to go back and try a cigar that you just didn’t get at the time you first smoked it. The worst that can happen is that you still don’t care for it and you have confirmed that it is not to your taste.
Selecting a Cigar
So what do you need to look for in a cigar? The first thing you need to do is determine how long you want to be smoking for. If you are on lunch break and you have 30 min to smoke a double corona is probably not your best choice. That cigar will take 2 hours to smoke. General rule of thumb is that a corona 5.5 x 42 will take approximately one hour to smoke. A double corona will take 2 hours. Along with the length of your smoke are several options that address your comfort and smoking style. Do you smoke fast or slow? If you tend to smoke fast you will probably want to steer clear of the thinner ring gauges because they have a tendency to heat up if smoked to fast. If you smoke slow you can smoke whatever you want but be aware that the thicker ring gauges might go out on you if you don’t at least smoke them fast enough to keep them lit.
Another consideration is the tip. If you do smoke 50+ ring gauge cigars, are you comfortable with keeping your jaw pried open for as long as it takes to smoke? If not then you might want to look for a perfecto or perhaps a belicoso or torpedo. If you have a particular dislike for lighting cigars you might want a perfecto. A perfecto is tapered at both ends to allow you to light the end much as you would a cigarette. The idea being that the embers will spread evenly to light the thickest portion in the middle.
Once you have your size selected you will want to see what options are available. Ask your tobacconist for a breakdown of each one of your options based on strength and his opinion of each stick. Select the option that sounds the best to you based on his/her description and look for an undamaged specimen. Inspect the cigar for any large veins or bulges under the wrapper that may indicate veins. Gently squeeze the cigar to feel for the evenness of the fill from head to foot. If there are any major pockets of space where the fill is less well, full than the rest then select another stick. Then give it a quick once over for cracks, blemishes, mold, beetle holes, or anything else that would ruin the experience. If you don’t find any of those then you have a winner.
Clipping a Cigar
Clipping a cigar is very simple but like anything else you can screw it up if you really try. There are many tools and techniques to get the job done, hell I still think the best cut I ever get is with my 11 inch global chefs knife. Its the sharpest hardest steel blade I have in my house. Too bad they don’t make cigar cutters. Take your cutter and place just the cap of the cigar inside. Begin your clip by ensuring that the blade cuts though the wrapper. Slowly depress the blade watching to ensure that the blade continues to slice through the wrapper rather than crushing and mutilating it.
Double bladed cutters work much better at this. Alternately if you have a relatively thin ring gauge cigar you can punch the cap as well. I punch a lot of my cigars and I find that its an excellent way to cut a cigar. Another method I have heard of, which I don’t personally use, but is still of note is to lay the cutter flat on a table and put the end of the cigar inside and clip the end off with the cigar touching the surface of the table. The point here is to ensure that you cut the right amount off. One of the biggest mistakes new smokers make is to cut too much off. The wrapper is literally paper thin and(ideally) its the only thing that is stopping you from drawing smoke through the cigar. So if you just clip off the cap at the end that is typically the best way to go. After you have successfully clipped your cigar take a test draw. You should be able to draw through the cigar with a bit of resistance. A plugged cigar is the topic of another section.
What to do if your Cigar is Plugged
There is nothing worse than a plugged cigar, well except maybe a broken cigar. But assuming your cigar isn’t broken there is nothing worse than a plugged cigar. Unfortunately there are not many satisfactory options in my opinion to alleviating this problem. But here is what you can do. Check the humidity in your humidor. Are you at 65-70%? A common reason why cigars become tight is because they are over humidified. If a cigar is made to be smoked at 70% and its holding 10% more water then there is going to be less room to draw through inside. Make sense? Good. But adjusting your humidor won’t really do anything for a plugged cigar.
The only thing you can do for a plugged cigar is to get medieval on its ***. Gently squeeze the cigar between your thumb and forefinger to see if you can locate the region of the plug. If you find that your entire cigar is hard as a rock, which sometimes happens, chuck it and grab another one. But if you are able to locate the plug there are two things you can try to get it to draw. You can massage the area gently in an attempt to break down some of the blockage inside. Or you can poke a long sharp instrument like a skewer through the cigar in an attempt to artificially increase the amount of air channels there are from the head to the foot.
It is rare that either one of these methods brings about 100% satisfaction but I’ve had a few occasions where I have been able to partially enjoy a cigar that would have been unsmokeable. Your best bet with either of these methods is if the blockage is right at the head, which often times it is. In this case, aerating with something long and thin will usually work to some extent.
Lighting a Cigar
You can find many references online about how to light a cigar and there is a good chance that no two references will be alike. So the information I’m giving out is not necessarily the only way to do the deed. As they say, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Although I can guarantee you that if you follow these steps you won’t get laughed out of your local shop and your cigars may even taste better.
Successfully learning to light your cigar is imperative if you want gain the maximum enjoyment out of the hobby. After all, who wants to spend top dollar on a bunch of cigars and a fancy humidor only to ruin the flavor of them by ham fistedly searing them to ash? So the first thing to note is, Cigars are prized for flavor. And whether you are smoking a cigar or cooking a steak, the flavor is best when its not overdone. In terms of lighting your cigar this translates into too much heat. You want to light your cigar slowly and delicately. First clip your cigar then grab your torch and place the tip of the flame a few inches away from the foot of the cigar. You never want the flame to touch the cigar only the heat. Light the end of your cigar evenly by making slow deliberate passes back and forth across the foot of the cigar. Make sure you evenly light the edges as well. Blow gently on the end of the cigar until it is evenly lit. All this is done before the cigar ever reaches your mouth. There is nothing that heats a cigar up faster than toking on it over and over again while you light it.
This is also the part of the procedure in which a good torch lighter is important. If you try to do this with a disposable lighter or even a regular match you are likely to end up getting burned. After that take a few slow deliberate draws in. If the cigar is fully lit it will show around the edges and in the middle as an even ember. If not, touch up and then take a few more slow deliberate draws. Repeat until your cigar is evenly lit. Then rest it for a minute as its likely to be slightly hot from the process of lighting it. When you become adept at lighting your cigar using a torch try it with some long matches. When using long matches the steps are the same, only the shape and duration of the flame are different.
Extinguishing a Cigar
Just put it down. Don’t mash or crush or flick. A cigar is different from a cigarette. Cigarettes are dry and contain ingredients which ensure that they continue to burn even when you aren’t drawing on them. In contrast a cigar may be out in a few minutes if you stop drawing on it. So when you are done simply set the cigar down in the ashtray and let it burn itself out. This is more of an etiquette issue than an imperative.
Storing your Cigars
Storing cigar is often shrouded in confusion probably because of a lot of misinformation. Its really pretty simple provided you have right tools and a little bit of patience. Your cigar are most at home at a relative humidity of 70% and a room temperature no warmer than 70% Fahrenheit. There is some subjectivity about the first number. Some cigar smokers, myself included feel that their cigar smoke better at the low to mid 60s range. I will still admit that my cigars age better at 70%. So I have two separate humidors. My big humidor is set to 70%. This is where I store all my boxes. My smaller desktop is set to 65%. Every few weeks I remove some cigars from the large storage humidor to the smaller humidor in preparation to smoke them.
You want to store your cigars in the most stable environment available. This is why people spend top dollar on cigar humidors rather than just tossing them in a Pringles can with a wet paper towel. The interior of a humidor is raw wood. The wood soaks up humidity and acts like a buffer. When you open the humidor lid the humidity stored in the walls and the humidity in the humidifier will work to rehumidify the air in the humidor. Since there is a lot of humidity to go around, your cigars end up losing less of their humidity. The less fluctuation your cigars have, the better they will maintain their integrity during storage.
A second word of note on aging cigars. Aging cigars can be a great way to improve upon the flavor. To do so you must have a box that is very stable, preferably a box that you don’t open frequently. You need to pick a humidification element that will maintain stability without the need to replenish frequently because this will lead to the fluctuations previously mentioned. Ideally if you want to age your cigars you should pick up an electronic humidifier. Its not imperative but there are definite advantages. The foremost being that they will operate for several months at a time before needing to be refilled. This means that you can go for long periods of time without needing to open your humidor.
Selecting a Humidor
When it comes to selecting a humidor the rule of thumb is Bigger is Better. Get something twice as big as you think you will ever need. Cigar smoking may start out as a passing interest until you realize one day that you have over 3000 cigars in your collection and you are looking forward to the next RTDA to see what new sticks come out. Rest assured if that ever happens you will be in good company my friend. As for selecting a humidor bigger is better and construction is key. Look for a humidor that appears to be well made. Inspect it for construction flaws. Lift it up.
A good humidor will be deceptively heavy, even empty. Check the seal. Put a dollar bill inside and try to slide it out once the lid is closed. If you can slide it out then its probably not sealed very well. alternately you can place the humidor in a dark room and put a lit flashlight inside. If light is able to escape then so is humidity. Another way to determine if your humidor is sealed is to lift the lid slightly and then drop it. A properly sealing humidor will slowly close as the air is rushing to escape. An improperly sealing humidor will crash down and snap shut. You are searching for the former. Once you have all those things considered you can purchase with confidence. If you cannot view the humidor in person, see out post best humidor to buy.
Seasoning your humidor
Seasoning a new humidor is another topic that is shrouded in mystery for new cigar smokers. Hopefully this will clarify how to season your humidor. There are multiple ways to do this and everyone seems to tell you something slightly different. I’ll give you the several methods for doing this and you can pick the one that works best for you..
- The first method is the slow and patient approach or the passive approach. All you need to perform this is the humidifier you are using for your humidor, a shallow Tupperware that fits in the bottom of your humidor, a new clean soap-free sponge, and some distilled water. You first want to charge your humidifier with whatever you will be using long-term, such as pg solution. Thats propylene glycol for you non-nerdy types. Its a compound slightly similar to ethylene glycol(coolant) that when mixed with water has a vapor pressure which corresponds to 70% RH when you store it in a box. Which basically means that it will suck up water when the RH is above 70% and let out water when its below 70%. Handy but not my favorite way to humidify a humidor. What I recommend is a good crystal gel humidifier or even better is an appropriately sized container of silica beads sprayed down with distilled water.. They come in several sizes. I recommend getting one that is twice as big as the capacity of your humidor for two reasons. One is because they are cheap and it doesn’t hurt to overdo it. Secondly because if you live in an area that gets cold during the winter and you run your heat a lot you will welcome the extra capacity. OK, so you charge your humidifier or fill it up per the manufacturers instructions. Place it inside your humidor along with the dish. If you have a digital hygrometer, which I HIGHLY recommend, put that inside at this point too. Put the sponge inside the dish and pour distilled water over the top of it until you soak the sponge and there is a little extra water in the bottom of the disk, like approximately 1/4 inch. Close the lid and wait 3 days. Check the hygrometer to see what it says. You are shooting for 70%. If you are under 70%, fill up the humidifier again and rewet the sponge and close the lid for another 3 days. If the RH is over 70%, remove the dish of water and close the lid overnight. This will allow time for you humidifier to absorb excess humidity from the internal environment. With any luck you will have reached an equilibrium by the next day. As soon as your humidor is stable at 70% you can fill it with cigars. This method has the advantage of the least risk of damaging the wood in your humidor.
- The second way to season a humidor is to get a boveda humidor seasoning pack. We sell them for under 10 bucks. You leave it in your humidor for 2 days and it does all the work. Sounds easy because it is easy. Many thanks to the fine folks at Boveda for finally demystifying this process.
- The third way, or the “fast method” is to take a clean sponge and LIGHTLY dampen with distilled water. Then wiped down the inside of your humidor and close the lid overnight. This will cause the wood to immediately soak up humidity. The advantage to this is that it is by far the fastest method. The down-side is that it can raise the wood grain of your humidor and it causes the most stress to the wood in general. I’ve never actually seen a quality humidor warp from this method but allegedly it’s possible. So my suggestion would be to stay away from this method.
- The last method would entail purchasing an electronic humidifier such as cigar oasis or hydra and running it inside your humidor for several days. This will force the wood to soak up humidity to the point of 70%. It is the most accurate method of seasoning a humidor but also the most expensive.
So those are four methods of seasoning your humidor. Any of them should work fine but you might want to stay away from the wipe-down method as its generally considered a bit of a risky shortcut. You can also read our another article on how to season your humidor.
Refilling your Humidifier
There are several types of humidifiers and each humidifier has different ways to refill or recharge. I will quickly go over some of the most common.
- For foam type humidifiers, remove the humidifier from the humidor and set on a counter with a paper towel underneath. Fill with pg solution to the top of the plastic case. Give this 15 min to soak into the foam and then flip it over and shake off any excess liquid. You need to makes sure that the excess is completely gone because otherwise it will drip onto your cigars. I usually lay out another paper towel and then lay the drained humidifier on that. Give it a few min and see if its dripping. Once it is done dripping you can install it back in your humidor.
- Even easier than the foam is the crystal gel type of humidifier. I wholeheartedly recommend these as they work great and are very easy to use. You can tell when they are ready for a refill because the crystals inside shrink and appear dry. Otherwise they are wet and they appear sticky. Lay the humidifier on a paper towel much like the foam humidifier and fill with pure distilled water up to the point where its about to overflow. Let this sit for 15 min and then invert and drain for a min or so. Install back in your humidor and you are all set.
- The last type of humidifier I use and recommend are the silica beads. They work very well but are perhaps the most difficult to recharge correctly. For this you need a spray bottle filled with distilled water. You want to remove the beads from the humidor and give them a light spray with distilled water. I like to stir them a few times and spray them again. You want approximately 70-80% of the beads to be wet. So just keep spraying and stirring until most of the beads look wet but some are left dry. It really doesn’t take much water at all. Never refill the beads by pouring water over them. Look out for water pooling in the bottom of your container, you don’t want this. The beads are much like the wood in your humidor they will take water in and let water out depending on the humidity inside the box. They are also prone to damage if you introduce too much water too quickly. The spray bottle is the way I usually fill them up but an even better way would be to passively charge them prior to use. The perfect setup for this is if you have 2 humidors, one small and one large and the large one uses some sort of electronic humidification. Then you would use one container of beads in your small humidor and one in your cabinet/large humidor and swap them when the desktop needed recharging. This would extend the lifespan of your beads by a long time. Unfortunately its really impractical for most people. So spraying them is the next best thing.