Welcome to the world of cigars! You might feel overwhelmed if you're new to this fascinating realm. Fear not, as this guide is designed to introduce you to the basics of cigars, making your entry as smooth and enjoyable as possible. Whether you're looking to enjoy a cigar at a special event or just curious about this age-old hobby, you're in the right place.
1) The Essence of a Cigar
Summary: Understanding what a cigar is, its history, and its cultural significance.
Cigars are not just tobacco leaves rolled together; they are a blend of tradition, craftsmanship, and cultural heritage. Originating from the indigenous peoples of the Americas, cigars have evolved into a symbol of leisure and luxury. The process of making a cigar – from growing and harvesting tobacco to fermentation and rolling – is an art form, with each step contributing to the cigar's final flavour and quality.
2) Types of Cigars - Shapes, Sizes, and Colours
Summary: Delving into the diverse world of cigar shapes, sizes, and the significance of colours.
Understanding Cigar Shapes and Sizes
The shape and size of a cigar, known as its Vitola, greatly influence its flavour and smoking time. Here are some common types:
- Parejos: These are straight-sided cigars, typically with an open foot for lighting and a cap that needs to be cut. They can be round or box-pressed (squared off). Examples include:
- Corona: The benchmark size is usually 5 1/2 to 6 inches, with a ring gauge of 42 to 44.
- Petit Corona: A smaller version of the corona, around 4 1/2 inches by 40 to 42 ring gauge.
- Churchill: Named after Winston Churchill, these are large, typically 7 inches by 47 ring gauge.
- Robusto: Popular in America, short and fat, around 4 3/4 to 5 1/2 inches by 48 to 52 ring gauge.
- Corona Gorda (Toro): Growing in popularity, traditionally 5 5/8 inches by 46 ring gauge, but variations exist.
- Double Corona: A large format, 7 1/2 to 8 1/2 inches by 49 to 52 ring gauge.
- Panetela: Long and thin, varying from 5 to 7 1/2 inches, with a ring gauge of 34 to 38.
- Lonsdale: Longer than a corona but thicker than a panetela, typically 6 1/2 inches by 42 ring.
- Grande: The thickest, with ring gauges of 60 and above, at least 4 3/4 inches in length.
- Figurados: These are cigars of various creative shapes, including:
- Pyramid: With a cut foot and a tapered head, usually 6 to 7 inches in length, ring gauges about 40 at the head, widening to 52 to 54 at the foot.
- Belicoso: Short pyramids, often with a slightly rounded head, around 5 to 5 1/2 inches, ring gauge about 50.
- Torpedo: Similar to pyramids but with a sharper point.
- Perfecto: Both a tapered foot and a tapered head, often with a bulge in the middle.
- Culebra: Three panetelas braided together and smoked separately.
- Diadema: Very large, with tapers on both the head and foot, sometimes over eight inches long.
Cigar Colours and What They Mean
Cigar wrappers come in a spectrum of colours, each affecting the cigar's flavour:
- Double Claro (Candela): A light green wrapper created by a quick-drying process.
- Claro: Light tan, often achieved by shade-growing and early picking.
- Colorado Claro: Light reddish-brown, often grown in direct sunlight.
- Colorado: Medium brown to brownish-red, medium-flavoured, often shade-grown.
- Colorado Maduro: Darker than Colorado, lighter than Maduro.
- Maduro: Deep reddish-brown to almost black, matured longer, often with a sweet flavour.
- Oscuro: Black, achieved by leaving the leaves on the plant as long as possible, often very rough.
3) Cigar Strength and Flavour - Navigating the Spectrum
Summary: Understanding the nuances of cigar strength and flavour and how they cater to different preferences.
The Difference Between Cigar Strength and Body
Cigar strength and body, though correlated, are distinct aspects. Strength refers to the nicotine content, while the body reflects the depth and fullness of flavour. Common descriptors for both include mild, medium, and full.
- Strength: This is about the nicotine content. A mild cigar has lower nicotine, while a strong cigar is high in nicotine.
- Body: Think of this as the 'weight' of the cigar's flavour, similar to comparing a light beer with a strong ale. The higher the tobacco content, the stronger the body.
Cigar Colours and Strength
Darker tobacco leaves, which have matured longer on the plant, tend to be stronger in flavour. However, a dark wrapper doesn't always mean the filling is equally strong.
Types of Cigars Based on Strength and Body
- Mild Cigars: Ideal for beginners or transitioning cigarette smokers, mild cigars are well-balanced in flavour and smoothness. They can be as complex and rich as stronger cigars. Mild cigars are preferable in situations like outdoor settings where a strong cigar might be overwhelming.
- Medium Cigars: These are popular for their balance. They offer a middle ground between mild and full-bodied cigars, pairing well with various drinks. Medium cigars are versatile and suitable for different times of the day.
- Full-Bodied Cigars: Preferred by seasoned aficionados, full-bodied cigars are rich in flavour and nicotine. They are best enjoyed after a meal and pair well with strong drinks like whiskey. Full-bodied cigars should be smoked slowly to appreciate their complexity fully.
Choosing the Right Cigar for You
The choice between mild, medium, and full-bodied cigars depends on personal preference and experience. Even seasoned smokers can enjoy a mild or medium cigar, depending on the occasion. Full-bodied cigars are recommended for those accustomed to a stronger nicotine kick.
Exploring Various Brands
As you delve into the world of cigars, you'll encounter a plethora of brands, each offering unique experiences in terms of strength and flavour. Some notable brands to explore include:
- A.J. Fernandez: Known for a variety of strengths, often with rich, complex flavours.
- Padrón: Offers a range of cigars from mild to full-bodied, famous for their robust flavours.
- Oliva: Offers a range of medium- to full-bodied cigars known for their rich Nicaraguan tobacco.
- Cohiba: Both Cuban and non-Cuban varieties offer a range of strengths and sophisticated flavours.
- Montecristo: Renowned for both their Cuban and non-Cuban cigars, offering medium to full-bodied options.
- La Flor Dominicana: A brand that offers a variety of strengths and is known for its deep and rich flavours.
- Romeo y Julieta: Offers a wide range of strengths, with a focus on balanced and nuanced flavours.
4) Choosing Your First Cigar - A Guide for Beginners
Summary: Selecting the right cigar for beginners, focusing on size, strength, and flavour to ensure an enjoyable first experience.
Petit Cigars: A Swift Introduction
For first-time smokers, starting with a 'Petit' cigar is advisable. These smaller cigars, typically shorter than five inches, offer a brief yet comprehensive introduction to cigar smoking, lasting about 20 to 30 minutes. They allow beginners to appreciate mellow flavours without committing to a lengthy smoke.
- My Father Cigars Le Bijou 1922 Petit Robusto: Known for its creamy and spicy notes intermingle with hints of coffee and cocoa, evolving into a slightly peppery experience complemented by dark chocolate undertones.
- A.J. Fernandez New World Oscuro Petit Corona: A great entry point into a renowned brand, it provides a short smoke filled with peppery, woody flavours.
- Oliva Series V Melanio No.4 Petit Corona: A medium option, it's cool for a smaller smoke and features a subtle coffee bouquet.
Mellow, Mild Cigars: Gentle on the Palate
Larger than petit cigars but still mild and creamy, these options are perfect for beginners who want a longer smoking time without overwhelming strength.
- Romeo y Julieta Romeo y Julieta Linea de Oro Dianas: A smooth smoke with green tea and honey notes, offering a gentle introduction to the brand's flavours.
- Davidoff Zino Nicaragua Robusto: A luxurious choice with dried fruit and creamy spice notes, ideal for a longer, indulgent smoke.
- Casa Turrent 1880 Rosado Gordito 460: Less nuanced but sweet and smooth, a great value option for beginners.
Large, Easy Cigars: For the First-Time Smoker
These cigars are chosen for their size and ease of smoking, making them suitable for beginners who want the experience of a larger cigar without the intensity.
- H. Upmann Magnum 54: A large cigar that's mellow and uncomplicated, perfect for those new to cigar smoking.
- Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No.2: Offers a vaguely sweet, pleasantly cool smoke that's easy for beginners.
- La Flor Dominicana Reserva Especial Belicoso: Medium-sized with a mild flavour, it's a good choice for a second cigar, offering a mellow experience down to the last puff.
Expanding Your Horizons: Other Notable Brands
As you become more familiar with cigars, you should explore other notable brands. Each brand offers a unique experience in terms of flavour, strength, and craftsmanship. Some of these brands include:
- Alec Bradley
- La Galera
- Casa Magna
- Casa Turrent
- Rocky Patel
5) Mastering the Art of Cigar Smoking
Summary: A comprehensive guide for beginners on how to properly prepare, light, smoke, and enjoy a cigar.
Selecting Your First Cigar
As a beginner, choosing a smaller cigar is advisable. Smaller cigars typically offer a milder smoking experience and don't require a lengthy commitment. While you may be tempted to opt for a cheaper cigar, investing in a premium cigar, even at a slightly higher price point (around £10), can significantly enhance your experience.
Understanding Cigar Sizes
Cigars are categorised by their vitolas, which refer to their shape, length, and ring gauge. The ring gauge is the diameter of the cigar, measured in 64ths of an inch. Familiarising yourself with standard cigar sizes, such as Coronas, Robustos, or Churchills, will help you make an informed choice.
Preparing Your Cigar
Before smoking, you'll need to cut the cap of the cigar. Using a quality cigar cutter, like a guillotine or V-cutter, is crucial for a clean cut. Avoid using a knife or your teeth, as these can damage the cigar. Only remove about 2-3mm of the cap to ensure a proper draw.
Lighting the Cigar
Lighting a cigar requires skill. Use long cigar matches, a butane lighter, or a torch lighter for best results. Start by toasting the foot of the cigar at a 45-degree angle, close to the flame but not touching it. Once toasted, bring the flame closer to ignite the filler fully. Draw in air through the cigar to help the flame take hold.
Smoking the Cigar
Remember, cigars are not inhaled like cigarettes. Draw smoke into your mouth, hold it for a moment, and then exhale. Smoke slowly, drawing on the cigar every 60-120 seconds. Smoking too quickly can overheat the cigar while smoking too slowly may cause it to go out.
How Far to Smoke a Cigar
There's no hard rule on how far down to smoke a cigar. Some prefer to stop at the halfway point, while others enjoy it right up until the end. The decision often depends on the cigar's flavour profile as it burns closer to the nub.
Tasting Your Cigar
To fully appreciate the flavours of a cigar:
- Smell and taste the cigar before lighting it.
- Let the smoke linger in your mouth for a pronounced aftertaste.
- Retro-hale (exhale through the nose) to detect more flavours.
- Keep your palate fresh to distinguish different notes.
Relighting and Putting Out a Cigar
If your cigar goes out, you can relight it by holding the flame in front of the foot and blowing through the cigar to clear any trapped ash. To extinguish a cigar, let it rest in an ashtray and go out on its own. Avoid stubbing it out, as this can release unpleasant odours.
If you plan to smoke your cigar soon, storing it in its tube or plastic wrapper in a cool, dry place is sufficient. For longer storage, invest in a humidor to maintain the right humidity level, ideally between 65-70%.
As we conclude this comprehensive guide on the basics of cigar smoking, it's clear that the journey into the world of cigars is both intricate and rewarding. From understanding the different types and sizes of cigars, recognising the nuances of strength and flavour, and selecting the right cigar for your taste to mastering the art of smoking and savouring each puff, every aspect contributes to a rich and fulfilling experience.
- Cigar Variety: The world of cigars is vast and varied. Brands like Arturo Fuente, Cohiba, Montecristo, and Oliva offer a spectrum of flavours and strengths. Each cigar has its own character and story waiting to be discovered and appreciated.
- Beginner's Choice: Starting with milder, smaller cigars is advisable for beginners. This approach allows for a gradual introduction to the complexities of cigar flavours without overwhelming the palate.
- The Art of Smoking: Smoking a cigar is about enjoying the moment. It's a ritual that involves proper cutting, lighting, and a leisurely pace. Remember, cigars are not inhaled but savoured in the mouth, allowing the intricate flavours to unfold.
- Personal Preference: Your cigar journey is uniquely yours. What appeals to one may not suit another. Experimenting with different cigars will help you find your personal preference in terms of size, strength, and flavour.
- Social and Cultural Aspects: Cigar smoking is not just about the smoke; it's about the experience. It can be a solitary moment of reflection or a social activity shared with friends. Understanding cigar etiquette enhances this experience.
- Storage and Care: Proper storage in a humidor is crucial for maintaining the quality of your cigars. This ensures that the cigars remain at the optimal humidity level, preserving their flavour and burn characteristics.
- Continuous Learning: The world of cigars is ever-evolving. Even seasoned aficionados find something new to learn and explore, be it a new blend, a rare, limited edition, or a unique pairing with a drink.
Embracing the world of cigars is to embrace a culture rich in history and tradition. It's a journey that goes beyond just smoking; it's about appreciating craftsmanship, savouring complexity, and enjoying the finer things in life. Whether you're a novice or an experienced smoker, there's always a new dimension to explore, a new flavour to experience, and a new moment to cherish.
As you continue your cigar journey, remember to take your time, be open to new experiences, and, most importantly, enjoy every moment of your cigar-smoking adventure.