The beginners guide to cigar smoking
The cigar world can be a confusing place. Never more-so than when you are just starting out. This blog isn't intended to have all the answers, but will hopefully serve as solid source of info for people looking to dive into the world of cigars. It will cover a lot so I'll try to keep it to sections so you can jump to the parts that you want to know more about.
If you're looking to buy your first ever cigar, maybe for a special occasion, or maybe just because you want to give it a go, then this quote really sums it up well
If you talk to any veteran cigar smoker and ask what cigar they would recommend you start with, you'll get a different answer every time. Because it all boils down to what THEY like.
So where do you begin?
The first piece of advice I will give you is that not all cigars are created equal. So diving in on the cheapest cigar you can find will likely give you a rather poor first experience, but that doesn't mean you need to rush out and spend $100 on a stick either, as it's likely you won't appreciate the difference in it.
For a good balance between cost as quality I recommend starting with smaller cigars., but I would say reduce length not ring gauge.
So thats where we will start - What the hell do the sizes mean?
Most cigars can usually be categorised among the 12 common sizes from smallest to largest
Petit Corona (4.5 x 42g)
Rothschild (4.5 x 52g)
Gordito (4.5 x 60g)
Robusto (5 x 50g)
Corona (5.25 x 44g)
Toro (6 x 50g)
Gordo (6 x 60g)
Panatela (6 x 34g)
Lonsdale (6.5 x 42g)
Churchill (7 x 48g)
Lancero (7.5 x 38g)
Double Corona (7.5 x 50g)
Gran Corona (9.25 x 47g)
but there are also a lot of others that brands release, so rather than looking at the name of the sizes, let's dive into the numbers that follow, as this is the actual representation of the size of the cigar.
Cigars are measured in inches. Whilst most countries employ the metric system, it’s an industry norm to use imperial measurements.
Overall, cigars are measured according to their length and ring gauge.
The length is simply measured in inches such as a Toro, which is usually 6 inches long. Meanwhile, the ring gauge is the cigar’s diameter. Because a ring gauge is often quite small, it’s measured by 64ths of an inch, rather than a decimal.
This fraction is then simplified by simply giving the resulting figure. For instance, a typical Toro is 0.78 inches thick. When converted to 64th of an inch, it comes to 50/64, which is presented as simply 50 or 50g. Therefore, when giving it's overall dimensions, a Toro will be presented as 6 x 50.
Now jumping back to my advice on smaller cigars to start with, I would say something around a Rothchilde @ 4.5 x 52 or a Robusto @ 5 x 50 is a good place to begin.
Next bit of advice is to buy from a reputable source...
The cigar industry is rife with fakes... especially of the Cuban brands. So much so that there are dedicated websites and numerous pages to identifying a fake from a real cigar.
But what's the difference between a fake and a real cigar? well.. the tobacco that is in them. Fakes often contain 'floor scrapings' literally. Finding things like rat droppings, sawdust and even whole nails in fake cigars isn't uncommon.
Smoking a fake will most definitely give you a 'bad taste in your mouth' (sorry for the pun)
The Cold Draw suggest you shop here.
As a cigar is made entirely of tobacco, the variance in quality and flavour comes from the types of tobacco used to make it. Rather than going into the leaf in too much detail here, I will just refer you to an earlier post I wrote all about the the tobacco used in cigars here. But I will say that usually the lighter the colour of the cigar the more mild it is, so for first time smokers it may pay to stick to Claro, Colorado or even Connecticut shade.
Buying from a reputable supplier won't just ensure you do not get a fake, it will also ensure that the cigar has been looked after. Tobacco is a natural product, so it ages and can even go bad. Smoking a cigar that hasn't been looked after won't be enjoyable.
Now I won't make the age old mistake of saying, "You should start with this cigar" because as I touched on at the start, that would be based on my preference. But I will say that, just as it is important to buy from a reputable supplier, it is important to buy from a well regarded brand. Brands generally become well known due to consistency and quality of manufacture. Because everyone has different tastes, the cigars that scores well in many reviews are the ones that are a good cigar regardless of flavours.
There are next to an infinite number of cigar brands available so this can be tricky but here are a few that we suggest that are top quality but also offer a wide range.
Joya de Nicaragua
RoMa Craft Tobac
Cohiba (tho beware of fakes here...)
Cigars come in many shapes, just like sizes. And while the shape isn't overly important when it comes to choosing a cigar, we may as well discuss it.
There are two main 'shapes; for cigars. A Figurado and a Parejo.
Firstly, a Parejo is the classic cigar shape, which means “flush” or “straight” in Spanish. As this suggests, it’s straight with one rounded capped end called the head and a flat open end known as the foot. Additionally, Parejo can be almost any size.
Anything that isn’t a Parejo is simply referred to as a Figurado. This means that the shape doesn’t follow the conventional straightness and may alter in thickness at some point.
How to Cut & Light a cigar.
Ok, so now we have covered a few important details about choosing a cigar, let's get into the actual smoking of one.
The first thing you will need to do is cut your cigar to get it ready to smoke. If you have a cigar that is already cut, chances are you didn't pay attention to anything I've said yet so just continue on being you ;)
If you have been watching westerns from the 70's or mafia movies from the 90's you may think you can simply bite the end off the cigar and lite it, and well, technically I guess you could, but we don't recommend that. The reality is you will need a cutter.
There are many types of cutters and they all do basically the same thing - cut the end off the cigar - but they are not all equal. so heres a whole bunch of info on the differences.
FIRST. Wet the end of your cigar with your mouth. Cutting through a dry cigar will result in breaking the leaf and could cause it to fall apart.
Single Blade Cutters.
A single blade cutter is a simple device. It will be compact but not exactly robust, and here’s how it works
Take your cutter and you will see it has a hole in the middle. There will usually be a sliding switch on the side, or some models you simply move the ends of the casing outwards to reveal the blade. Move the switch, and you’ll see the blade come across the hole. Simple isn’t it?
Now, take your cigar and have a close look at the tip. You’ll probably see some form of line close to the cap. This is where you want to cut the cigar. Don’t go any further down or you’ll find your cigar – which is made up of many tightly rolled layers – begins to unravel. Place the cigar in the hole – you can either do this while holding both cigar and cutter, or you can place the cutter on the table – and hold it still. Now move the switch downwards – do it swiftly and firmly, without a pause – and it will cut a tapered route through the cigar, dropping the cap. That’s it – you’ve cut your cigar
Dual Blade Cutters
The cleaner the cut the more enjoyable the smoke. These cutters work in the same way as the single blade device, the difference being that they feature twin blades that cut from both sides.
The action is the same – one piece of advice with both this and the single blade device is, once you place the cigar in, slowly move the blades until they rest on the sides of the cigar. Then, while keeping a firm hold, execute a smooth and hard cut with the switch – and that’s job done!
The dual blade cutter is an easy to use device. If you are new to smoking cigars it may be sensible to try one before you settle for a single blade example, as we believe you will find it much more to your liking.
The V-cutter is one of the lesser-used designs, but it’s also one that is preferred by some smokers thanks to the way it works.
Rather than cutting the cap off, the V-cutter incises a v-shaped cut in the cigar through which it can be smoked. Usually, the v-cutter works with a single blade and via the moveable casing design. You simply hold the cigar in the cutter and move the casing slowly yet firmly towards the cigar. The result is a neatly delivered V-shape.
An added bonus to the V-cutter for newbies is that it is next to impossible to cut to much off and therefor the cigar will not unravel.
A cigar punch is a simple implement to use, and a very small one that can fit in a pocket with ease. The punch itself is a cylindrical device that will have a cap, which you remove to insert the cigar. Once the cigar is in place you simply press the button on the end of the punch, which sends a sharp point into the cigar – that’s your hole. You then take the cigar out and push again to remove the debris from the punch.
Sometimes on large cigars a punch is the only way as not all cigars will fit into to the hole in a standard cutter.
Some other cutters exist too like Scissors and knives but we will save them for a later time.
Now the cigar is cut, lets light it!
Lighting a cigar is not like lighting the tip of a cigarette or the wick of a candle—it takes longer. In other words, patience is key, especially when you are starting out. Mistakes happen even if you are a seasoned cigar veteran, so just accept it and try not to let errors ruin what should be an enjoyable process. A properly lit cigar is important because it means all the components (wrapper, binder and filler) will be evenly lit, thus imparting the flavours of the blend as the maker intended them to be experienced. Additionally, you won’t be fighting an uneven burn while you're smoking, which can add hassle to a time that should be relaxing.
1. Light your cigar the same way you would toast a marshmallow over a campfire—keep the cigar above and near the flame, but don’t let them touch. Burning a cigar directly in a flame makes it too hot. If you do accidentally nick the cigar with the flame, don’t worry! You haven’t ruined the cigar. Instead, calmly, but quickly, move your smoke back out of the flame.
2. And, as with a marshmallow, you’ll want to rotate the cigar so all parts of its tip are equally heated. Be patient and keep at it until there’s a glowing ring all the way around the cigar’s tip and the edges are thinly blackened.
3. Raise the unlit end of the cigar to your mouth and take the first puff. The ember should burn evenly while drawing, If it doesn’t, take the cigar out of your mouth and go ahead and touch up the end with the flame. You can also try to gently blow on the embers to create a smooth, completely rounded ash.
Remember, it's better to avoid lighting a cigar with a flame from a source that will alter the essence of your cigar, for example, a candle, Zippo or oil-fueled lighters, and standard sulfur matches. These lighting implements can add odd flavours to your smoke.
We suggest you use a cedar spill (thin piece of cedar) or a specially designed cigar lighter.
And there you have it! That is my general overview for people looking to take up the extremely enjoyable pass time of cigar smoking.
Did I miss anything?
- Don José