What Should One Look For, In a Cigar?

First Look: Often when perusing cigars, whether in a shop or online, the first thing you see is the band. That sometimes ornate piece of artwork adorning the shoulder of the cigar. Most of the time these bands are merely the name of the company that manufactured the cigar, but more often than not, they are masterpieces of the graphic arts in miniature. Colorful, sometimes with foil embellishments or embossed, they have become collectible art in and of themselves, while serving as the manufacturers signature crest.

There are at least a couple of theories about how and why cigar bands came into existence. One says that the bands were attached to prevent nicotine staining the smoker’s fingers, while another says it was of course, an early attempt at advertising. Either way, the question always asked, is whether or not to remove the band when smoking. In Europe, they tend to remove the band prior to smoking. Here in the U.S. we usually leave them on until we have finished smoking, primarily this is so that we don’t risk tearing the wrapper leaf, rendering our cigar hard to smoke properly.

The Smoke: Some think of cigars as just bigger, brown cigarettes. This could not of course be any further from fact. Smoke a cigar with the same drag and inhale method as you would a cigarette and you will not only miss the whole point of enjoyment, you might give yourself a rush, and may also end up a little queasy. Cigars contain significantly higher amounts of nicotine than cigarettes. In addition, it would be time consuming and very expensive.

Man Smoking Cigar

A cigar should never be inhaled, ever. The smoke should roll around your mouth, imparting its flavor profile on your palate and its aroma on your nose. Take your time with your investment in pleasure, a good corona should take 30-40 minutes to smoke and a Churchill should take well over an hour. Feel the stick in your hand, roll it between your fingers, taste it, smell it, look at it. Experience the sensation of getting everything from the seed, to the leaf, to the earth in which it was grown, to the mastery of the artisan roller who crafted it into the fine cigar you hold in your hand. 

If your cigar should go out, and it will, gently tap the ash to reveal the foot end, and after you have blown through it to expel any stale smoke, relight it. Relax and enjoy. Life is too short to rush a cigar.

Cigar with Ash

The Ash: If you are smoking your cigar properly, long smooth pulls, not short, quick puffs. You will see a significant difference in your ash. It will burn down and be replaced by an even round ash. Ash color can also signify the quality of your cigar, A white ash is usually a far superior cigar, or at least one that came from very good soil, much like a fine wine is indicative of the vineyard soil in which it grows. A grey ash is preferable to black, because black ash just means the cigar was too moist. To keep your cigars at optimal smoking humidity, remember 70-70, seventy degree temperature and 70% humidity.

You do not need to constantly tap, or flick your ash off, it will fall by itself eventually. But if you must tap, do it gently so as not to disturb the burn. A story is told about Clarence Darrow the famous Scopes “monkey trial” attorney. Wanting to distract jurors from paying too much attention to his opponent, William Jenning Bryant, he lit up a cigar. As the ash at the end of his cigar became longer and longer as he paced about the courtroom, the jurors were amazed at the length, wondering when it would fall. Unbeknownst to them, Mr. Darrow had secreted a wire in his cigar, designed to hold the ash from falling, keeping the jurors wondering and not paying attention to attorney Bryant. Of course the ruse did not affect the outcome of the trial, as Scope was found guilty and levied a fine of $100.00 or about $1500 in today’s money.

Charles S. Darrow

The End: When your cigar has been smoked, relit and smoked again, there is no need to stub it out like a cigarette. Left alone it will go out, resting on your ashtray, and when all is said and done, what is left? Why, that cigar band we mentioned above, that can now be safely removed and saved as a collectible or memento. Fill a shadow box with them, paste them to some wood and decoupage or toss them in your workshop drawer until you have hundreds. You could even paste them in a smoking journal with notes about the palate, mouth-feel and aroma of each cigar you sample. However you use the band, it will always stand as a reminder of the time you spent enjoying a natural, organic product whose sole purpose was to give you pleasure. And that, is what cigars do best.