Smoking cigars has a very old school, upper-crust, Gentleman’s club vibe about it. It’s redolent of the leather Chesterfield in the drawing room after dinner, a fine Cognac warming in a glass next to the fire as a couple of chaps puff on a pair of Havanas.
But, things change and you no longer have to wait for an invite to the Groucho or for one of your friends to have a baby before indulging in a cigar. All you have to do is go to the right shop, buy one and smoke it. It’s a free world, after all.
An occasional cigar is a pleasure you can’t beat, on a par with a sneaky nip of single malt at the weekend or splashing out on a special bottle of red. And like wine and whisky, there’s a little bit of specialist knowledge you’ll need to enjoy your cigar at it’s best. We take you through buying a great cigar, then offer a few tips on getting the best out of your smoke.
Go to a specialist cigar shop or club
They’re becoming a rare sight on high streets full of electronic cigarette shops, but the best place to go for a cigar is a good old fashioned tobacconist. You should choose one that specialises in cigars and that has its own “humidor”. That’s a special cabinet or even a room that has a controlled, high level of humidity that helps stop the tobacco from drying out.
You can buy cigars online, but the advantages of going to a shop include:
- The expertise of the staff
- You can see, smell and even touch the wares before you buy them
- It’s easier to compare the different sizes and styles
The UK can be a little more expensive than other countries when it comes to cigars. The majority of quality cigars come from South America – so you’re paying for careful importation and rarity. Expect to pay at least £12 for a decent smoke. You can go much higher, but your money may be wasted.
“If this is your first time smoking a cigar, stay away from the higher-priced ones,” says Andre Naser, of Club Offers, “You won’t be able to truly savour the distinguishing elements of an expensive cigar.”
It makes sense to invest in just one or two cigars at a time. The last thing you need is to buy half a dozen you don’t like.
Look and feel
You can tell a lot about the quality of a cigar from the way it looks. The cigar should be perfectly rolled, the wrapper of even consistency with no lumps or bumps. As anyone who’s ever rolled a cigarette will tell you, uneven distribution of tobacco affects the smoke. It should be a uniform colour too, without any patches or variation.
According to experts, it’s a myth that dark cigars are all richer while lighter ones are all milder. What depends is the tobacco inside.
Finally, you won’t be able to do this in the shop, but when you’re a little further down the road to cigar expertise, you can judge quality by feeling the cigar. “Before I do anything with the cigar I always look at it”, Edward Sahakian, owner of Davidoff in London says, “Then I feel the cigar to make sure there are no knots or defects.”
Like champagne bottles, there are special names for cigars of different length and thickness . The very smallest are cigarillos – which are barely even worth bothering with. The longest smoke is a Toro Grande – which translates as “Big Bull”. At seven inches long and with a “ring gauge” of 52 (which makes it about 7/8’s of an inch thick), that’s one big cigar.
Does size matter? Some experts think that the more modestly dimensioned cigars actually offer more complex flavours – because you smoke more of the outer leaf or wrapper. Thicker cigar deliver more smoke per puff. The bottom line? You should go with what you’re comfortable with as a first time cigar smoker.
As in wine and whisky, there are cigars that aficionados agree are among the best. We know that the Hoyo Epicure de Monterrey No. 2 is a delicate, light smoke that reviewers say is grassy and woody, with nutty tones. We know that Cuban Bolivars are much more challenging, with flavours of “deep earth” according to reviewers.
But are these always best for beginners?
Yaniv Levy CEO of the Cuban Stock Cigar Co. says “When you’re beginning to smoke cigars, you won’t know what you like. Preference is built up through experience.”
A good cigar shop should be able to guide you with some tasting notes; a breakdown of what kind of flavour to expect. Cigars can have complex, surprising flavours, from bitter and dark tastes through to more floral or sweet flavours. All these are natural, down to the characteristics of the tobacco used.
“A cigar is like food. If you like it and it looks good – smoke it,” says Levy.
How to smoke your cigar
The ritual for lighting and smoke your cigar is important to follow. You can’t just tap one off a friend and spark it up behind a garage. Here’s how to enjoy one like an expert:
Remove the head:
When you unwrap your cigar, the end you put in your mouth will be sealed off like a bullet or torpedo. You’ll need to cut this “head” off with a very sharp knife or, preferably, cigar cutters. These are made like a guillotine or rounded scissors. You cut where the curve of the cigar just begins to straighten.
You should light your cigar with a flame that has no odour… that rules out petrol lighters, candles and most household matches. You can get special, long cigar matches and double flame lighters. Or you can use a spill – a length of thin wood that you light
Light the foot:
The “foot” is the opposite end of the cigar to the head; the bit you light. Hold the foot of the cigar near the flame and heat it all around. You don’t need to put the cigar in your mouth, just rotate the very end in the flame until it’s fully lit. You can test whether it’s lit by taking a quick puff.
Smoke your cigar:
Finally, now you’ve carefully chosen, bought and lit your cigar, you can enjoy it. If you’re a cigarette smoker, you’ll have to adjust your style quite a bit.
Don’t draw too hard:
Take a couple of puffs at a time; just enough to get a mouth full of smoke.
Cigar smoke is very strong and acrid. You don’t want any of it going into your lungs. There’s not a lot of nicotine in there anyway.
Taste the cigar:
Hold the smoke in your mouth and taste it. That’s the whole point of doing it!
Enjoy it slowly:
Your cigar will go out if you leave it for too long, but don’t feel you have to be puffing away on it all the time.
And that’s it. Everything you need to know to choose and smoke a fine cigar. Don’t wait for a special occasion to indulge.