“While in character, you can look at somebody, raise your eyebrow, then take a draw on the cigar – it gives a little more meaning to the moment,” says well-known actor and cigar aficionado, Frank Vincent, author of A Guy’s Guide to Being a Man’s Man.
What is it about the cigar that gives a man that certain air of authority and confidence? Blame it on our culture. Through books, movies, and television we’ve become accustomed to the “big boss man” with the cigar; a stereotype, certainly, but most stereotypes are founded in reality. For that matter, why do we hand out cigars for a new baby, a wedding, or a big job promotion? The cigar makes us feel important, wealthy, and in some instances, as in Mr. Vincent’s reference above – wise.
There was a time when only the upper classes smoked cigars, mainly Cuban cigars, and a certain degree of arrogance went along with it. Bankers, lawyers and politicians smoked cigars; working men smoked cigarettes. How gauche!
In defense of the working class, once upon a time, cigars were too expensive to splurge on. Yet, even today, in some corners the cigar is still looked upon as a rich man’s folly, even though you can buy a very good premium handmade for around $4 on average – about the price of a couple of lottery tickets.
Fortunately, no matter your race, religion, or upbringing, the premium cigar has become the great equalizer among men, as well as women. Cigar smokers today are a coterie of sorts; a fraternity in which hazing is verboten and all you have to do to become a “Brother of the Leaf,” is light-up.
That said, if you’re going to partake, there are certain practices that should be employed if you want to be a “cultured” aficionado. Keep in mind that cigars are smoked mostly for pleasure and relaxation. Being faithful to the following will make your cigar smoking more enjoyable and may add “a little more meaning to the moment.”
Removing the Cigar Band
There was a time when cigar smokers removed their cigar’s band before lighting-up. This was done to avoid “advertising” that they were smoking a very expensive cigar, and showing-off was not a gentlemanly thing to do.
This practice cuts both ways. Some cigar smokers might remove the band to prevent others from seeing them smoking a 99¢ cheapo. In any event, most cigar smokers today leave the band on, if only to prevent possibly tearing the wrapper leaf when removing it.
Besides, seeing what brand a fellow enthusiast is smoking can be the key to the door of good conversation, and most cigar smokers today really don’t care what brand you smoke as long as you enjoy it. The best advice is to wait until the burn line gets too close to the band for comfort and then remove it.
Preparing Your Cigar
Premium cigars must be cut and toasted before lighting. There are several tools available for cutting cigars, the most common being the double blade cutter. As you smoke cigars you may find yourself experimenting with other devices, and eventually you’ll find the cigar cutter that works best for you.
Whatever cutter you decide upon, try to refrain from using your teeth to bite off the cap. Not only is it unrefined, but if done sloppily can ruin your cigar by causing it to draw improperly, or even worse, the wrapper may unravel on you.
When toasting the foot, you want to be careful not to char the wrapper, which can cause the cigar to burn poorly, taste lousy, or both. Torch cigar lighters are the most commonly used, and their powerful flames can do a lot of damage if not handled properly. Therefore, keep the flame as far from the cigar’s foot as possible while still being able to ignite the exposed tobacco.
Whatever you do, don’t stick the cigar in your mouth and light it like a cigarette; you’re only asking for trouble. Instead, simply turn the cigar or move the lighter in a small circle as you toast it.
This will help give you a more even light. Once you start to see the tobacco turn red, pull back a little, then try to find the “sweet spot” between the flame and the foot where the tobacco will light evenly. When most of the foot begins to glow red, gently blow on the foot to spread the heat across the entire foot. Then, place the cigar in your mouth and puff.
Puffing Your Cigar
To get the most flavor from your cigar take your time between puffs. Remember, you’re supposed to be relaxing, not drag racing. Letting your cigar rest a minute or two, either in your hand or on the ashtray saddle, will keep it from getting hot and turning bitter on you.
A cigar will go out by itself if left unattended, but if it’s burning well, it should remain lit for at least 2-3 minutes without touching it. This practice will not only keep the cigar’s flavor more consistent, it will help you better distinguish the flavor nuances revealed in the blend.
Space out the time between your cigars, too. Chain-smoking cigars will only burn-out your palate, and if you can’t taste your cigar then you’re burning money. Follow your cigar with something citrusy like tonic water, bitter lemon or lime soda, or even sorbet to cleanse your palate – and try to wait at least an hour before lighting-up again.
Ashing Your Cigar
Although it may be fun to see how long you can get your cigar ash before gravity grabs hold of it, try not to let your ash get longer than an inch before tapping it into the ashtray.
The ash acts as a virtual filter that helps keep the cigar on the cooler side, so keep an eye on it, and when you do ash it, gently turn the cigar against the wall of the ashtray to remove any excess flakes. Finally, never use the floor, an empty cup, or the nearest planter as an ashtray.
It’s just plain tacky.
Putting Out Your cigar
The time to put out your cigar is either when it turns bitter on you – yes, even if you’ve only smoked half of it – or when it’s just too small to handle. Some cigars are that good, but by the last two inches, most cigars will start to sour or become too strident to fully enjoy any longer.
Chances are, if you get down to the nub, you’ve gotten your money’s worth. At whatever point you decide you’ve had enough, DO NOT snuff your cigar out like a cigarette by grinding it into the ashtray. Doing so will only cause the remains to emit a really smell foul. Moreover, there’s nothing uglier than the sight of a smashed cigar stub. As noted above, leave the nub in the ashtray saddle and it will extinguish itself, no harm – no foul.
Whether you’re smoking alone or with friends, these basic tips will help you get started on your journey toward becoming a cultured cigar aficionado. Remember, it’s better to be a gentleman who smokes cigars than a cigar smoker who isn’t a gentleman.