Walk into a cigar shop and not only will you be overwhelmed by the different aromas, you'll find yourself surrounded by immense possibilities.  For the newcomer the world of cigars may be overwhelming, but rest assured even the seasoned smoker faces his share of challenges when selecting that perfect cigar.

My quest to find the great smoke in New York City led me to three individuals with extensive experience in the smoking world. I sat down with Len Brunson, co-owner of OK Cigars, established in 1997 in SOHO. I then smoked a fine Zino corona cigar while watching the World Cup finals with David Alicea of Davidoff in the establishment's smoking lounge. And I met a true aficionado and serious collector, who chose to remain anonymous for this article after having presented me a vintage 2000 Punch Royal Selection #12 Cuban cigar.

According to Brunson, cigar smoking  is a world in which the smoker makes the rules.  "Don't get hung up on particulars, the point is to get where you light it up, and know that it's a good cigar," he says, before going on to explain that smoking a good cigar is very subjective and is determined by the smoker's palate. "To know a good cigar takes years, same as a guy who appreciates single malt scotch. A lot a people don't get it, but you know it when you smoke good cigar." 

cigar3.jpgTalk to an expert, he advises. Let them know what you're looking for and they can guide you to the right cigar. "Look at the cigar, its construction," he says. "See if the wrapper leaf is beautifully presented,  wrapper leaves with an extreme amount veins are a definite no."

Smoothness is key.

On my next stop at the renowned Davidoff cigar shop on Columbus Circle, one of my first questions to David Alicea is about the different variations of cigar cuts. He explains that there are three different types of cuts for the cigar: V cut, which is a deeper cut in a "V" shape; punch cut, a smaller circular cut; and straight cut, which cuts the cap. The V cut and punch cut leave the top (cap) intact,  while the straight cut is like a guillotine chopping off the part where you inhale.

There are two special caps found on some premium cigars --  triple cap and a Cuban pigtail cap. The triple cap can be opened with the finger (it's three layers of tobacco leaves that cover the end of the cigar) , and the Cuban pig tail (the end has a pigtail-like tobacco thread at the end) which is pulled off gently and ready to light.

Alicea proceeds to tell me that a new smoker should understand the basic categories of cigars.  Cigars are mild, medium body or full body. There are subdivisions (medium mild, medium full body), however, the less seasoned smoker should start with a mild cigar, and work his way up to a full body cigar if he likes the taste.

cigar6.jpg"It's about building up your palate for strength and flavour," he says,  recommending a Robusto or Corona cigar for beginners, which don't require a long commitment from the smoker.

Some of the different types of popular cigars are Robusto, Corona, Churchill (large format), and Double Corona to name only a few.

One of the things Alicea advises anyone buying a cigar is to keep in mind what you'll be eating before you smoke the cigar. Heavier meals call for a stronger cigar afterwards,  while he suggests a milder smoke with a lighter meal. "It's about the right balance," he says.

I decide to ask a few smokers at Davidoff what they've tasted when smoking a good cigar and their answers range from finding undertones and flavours from dried fruit, cedar, black pepper, licorice and  black tea, to cilantro, root beer, musk, leather, black cherries, earthy tones, and the sweetness of such things such as caramel, sugar, graham crackers, and cream.

My anonymous friend tells me that the most important thing about smoking is patience -- not only in the actual smoking, but also in the entire process from beginning to end. This seasoned smoker explains that what makes the perfect cigar is the entire process, beginning with:

cigar8.jpg1. The raw material (the planting and harvesting)

2. The treatment (fermentation)

3. The blending (here the right proportions are determined and combined)

4. The rolling process (one of the final stages responsible for getting the product ready to be consumed)

5. Storage (maintaining the cigar before it's smoked)

6. Smoking style ( if you smoke too fast, the cigar gets too hot, if it goes out too many times because of slow smoking, and both will affect the taste)

7. The mood of the smoker.

The best cigar you ever had is the one you're currently smoking. That is an attitude shared by most seasoned smokers, who common advice is to enjoy each cigar.

Smoking is about flavour, relaxation and camaraderie.

Cigar Sins:

- Don't tap out the cigar, let it burn out by itself.
- Don't allow different cigars to touch as flavours will blend, and the cigars will lose their individuality.

- Don't store them in the heat.
- Don't smoke an unlit cigar that has sitting for too long. The taste changes after time.
- Don't inhale as you light the cigar (hold cigar and light it with the other hand, you'll end up inhaling lighter fluid if you do it while it's in your mouth).

- Don't smoke on empty stomach.

- Don't horde, share (you'll come to find out many true friendships will be made with a good cigar in hand).

Things to know:

- Parts of the cigar: the filler which is the bulk of the cigar; the binder which holds it together; the wrapper, which yields the flavour.
- Extend the life of a cigar with a humidor. One lined with cedar enhances the flavour over time.

- What should one drink with a cigar? Sparkling water and coffee actually allow you to get full range of the cigar flavour.

- Don't take the band off the cigar right away. The glue used to attach the band to the cigar may damage the cigar if the band is removed incorrectly. After the cigar is lit, the band will gradually slide right off due to the heat.

- The thicker the ring gage (the wider the cigar), the faster you'll smoke it.

The bottom line when it comes to smoking cigars is that a cigar should give you pleasure.

Enjoy it, sit back, and relax.


3 Comments | Add a Comment
Solid piece.
Came on the site to look at the stylebook section, and came across this article. My boyfriend just started smoking cigars, and read the article - he loved it (we love the site). Keep up the good work.
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