There’s no better way to celebrate those memorable manly occasions—the end of bachelorhood, a birthday ending in 0—than with an equally memorable smoke. Anywhere scotch or bourbon are to be served, they can only be made better with the right cigar.
Finding a firestick that will live up to the occasion is a matter of knowing what makes a fine cigar. The best way is to leisurely inspect several in the comfort of your local cigar shop (an essential part of any cigar-smoking experience). Start by choosing a size.
The length of the cigar increases smoking time. Inexperienced smokers are generally wiser to start out with a shorter cigar—something around 5 inches. This will moderate the time spent in what might be an overwhelming experience.
The other measure is the “ring” or diameter (measured with ring gauges in increments of 1/60th of an inch). Larger ring cigars are usually better cigars—smoother to smoke, and burn more evenly and slowly. It’s reasonable to start out with a ring of 44 to 48.
Once you’ve chosen a size, inspect potential candidates. Don’t roll the cigar between your fingers because you could damage the outer layer of tobacco, known as the wrapper. (If you don’t buy it, you’re doing a disservice to the customer who does). Just hold it lightly between your fingers and feel the body. The cigar should not be overly soft, nor should there be lumps or specific soft spots anywhere along its length.
The color of the wrapper (the outer layer of tobacco) will tell a lot about the cigar. The wrapper should be evenly colored with no discernible blotches, and without any sign of loosening or cracking. The exposed end should not have variations in color, because noticeable differences can indicate an inferior leaf and improper rolling. Both will make the cigar burn unevenly and taste odd.
The actual color of the wrapper indicates the cigar’s flavor. The darker the wrapper, the sweeter the cigar will likely be, and the more full-bodied. Cigar colors range widely from the light brown sugar hue of Claro, to the almost ebony Oscuro.
Generally though, if you stay away from the cheapest cigars and those that display obvious signs of defect, you’ll have a pleasant smoking experience. Inferior or damaged cigars may show themselves in cracked wrappers, a whitish mold, blotchy appearances, or tiny holes in the wrapper that indicate the tobacco was attacked by a tobacco beetle.
Be ready to drop a pretty dime on the smoke of choice, and don’t hesitate to ask the guy behind the counter; chances are he’s a smoker himself and can lead you to the choice best suited for your experience and tastes.
When you’ve dropped a healthy chunk of change on an excellent cigar, it only makes sense to follow the established ritual of how to smoke it. You want to get every puff of enjoyment out of that cigar. To do that, focus on covering the four bases: Cutting, lighting, smoking, and finishing. Each can be done in a right and wrong way. The right way not only makes the whole smoke more enjoyable, it makes you look like the worldly chap you are.
Cutting a cigar is a much misunderstood and incorrectly executed maneuver. The idea is to cut off the “cap” of the cigar—the small, circular twist of tobacco at the end that will go into your mouth—to create a perfect opening for smoking. Don’t cut too far into the cigar or you lose precious tobacco. The cigar is best cut with a single-blade guillotine cutter. The sharp blade slices cleanly down through the cigar right where the cap connects to the body, leaving a flat front. Two-bladed bypass cutters are a second choice. But this is for certain: never bite the tip off a cigar. It’s a move right out of vintage movies, and that’s where it should stay. In addition to pulling pieces of tobacco off your tongue for minutes afterward, you’ll likely degrade the structure of the cigar.
Now light your smoke. But don’t use just any flame source. A butane cigar lighter or special long cigar matches are ideal. Regular matches can impart an ammonia or sulfur smell that will be inhaled through the cigar, while regular cigarette lighters carry a fuel smell. The cigar should be lit by drawing in several shallow puffs while rotating the end through the flame, with the cigar held at a slight angle (about 45 degrees) to the flame. Light the end evenly and, when the cigar is fully lit, blow gently on the end.
Now comes the best part. Take the smoke into your mouth with a strong draw, but don’t inhale. Allow it to swirl around, hitting the full breadth of your palette and savoring the flavor. Slowly blow out the smoke.
After about 10 puffs, remove the cigar band. This lets the cigar warm up so that the band’s glue softens, and allows it to be removed without damaging the cigar’s wrapper.
The cigar is finished when you decide you’ve tasted the best part of it. Most cigars become stronger, more bitter, and burn hotter the more they burn down. When you’ve had enough, sit the cigar in an ashtray and let it burn out of its own accord. Stubbing a cigar out can make for an unpleasant aroma throughout the room.