Cigar Bands - On or Off?

Cigar Bands - On or Off?

By Nick Hendry 

So much of our world of Cuban Cigars is enveloped in romantic mystery and the bands that dress every stick to come from Havana are no different.  Popular legends around the origins of these delicate strips of paper range from the English gentry of the late 19th century becoming frustrated at the discolouration of their white dining gloves to the fabled and formidable Russian Empress Catherine the Great adorning the tips of her cigars with silk to combat the smell of smoke lingering on her fingertips.

Gustave Bocke & Catherine the Great - Possible creators of the cigar band Left: Gustave Bocke, 19th Century cigar pioneer.  Right: Catherine the Great, legendary Empress of Russia.  Photos via Twitter.

The truth, perhaps somewhat disappointingly, most likely lies in a more commercial explanation.  A Dutch émigré named Gustave Bocke is said to have begun marking each cigar he produced with a band bearing his signature in the 1830s.  Other reports claim Ramon Allones was the first brand to add bands around 1850.  The romance, then, may be invented to disguise the true, rather more mundane, tale behind the use of bands.

Wherever the truth of their origins lies, cigar bands have become ubiquitous.  From the classical style of H. Upmann, showcasing the medals won by the brand in Victorian times, to the modern dressing of the Cohiba Behike line, intended to protect the prestige by confirming authenticity, every Cuban brand carries one.  Special releases, such as Limited Editions and Regional Exclusives, can even wear two or more.  Cigar bands have evolved to tell us more and more about the cigar they are draped around and allow aficionados to spot what is being smoked by contemporaries and demonstrate with ease their own choices. 

 

Cigar Bands - A Wealth of Information

 A Selection of fine Cuban cigars with a variety of cigar bands.

What, then, is the accepted etiquette regarding their removal from or remaining on the cigar while we smoke?  Should they be discarded straight away, before the ritual of lighting our chosen stick?  Perhaps they should remain as long as possible, acting as an indication as to when our cigar is finished and should be laid to rest in an ashtray?

 

 

The vast majority of cigar smokers will leave their bands on while they smoke, at least for the first two-thirds.  The cigar community enjoy sharing their pleasure, and the bands help us to do this.  Spotting another aficionado across a smoking lounge, on a terrace or even in a photo will, more often than not, lead to attempts to peer at the band to identify their choice in the hope of gaining inspiration for your own next stick.  This practice can lead to conversations, collaborations, in some cases even new friendships springing up and being based on a shared appreciation for cigars.  Leaving the band on, therefore, can be not just a matter of aesthetics but an invitation to compare your smokes with others.

A great many cigar lovers have accounts on Instagram which they use to share their favourite images of what they have enjoyed and where.  Cigar bands serve the purpose here of displaying to like-minded people across the globe, comparing our smokes and maybe even gaining a bit of recognition for our good taste! 

 

A farm-rolled cigar with no cigar band

  A rare custom roll cigar direct from Havana with no cigar band.

The second option is the immediate removal of the band, leaving a clean look and an air of mystery.  Custom and farm rolls are presented in this way, and a smoker may enjoy the illusion having something slightly special, created just for them.  One thing is certain – one should never allow the band to burn along with the cigar as the smoke from burning the printed paper will ruin the flavour of the cigar, and with it the whole experience.  Care should be taken not to tear the wrapper when removing the band and leaving it in place for the duration of the cigar can help here, the heat from the smoke travelling through as it is smoked softening the glue holding the band together and allowing it to be gently removed with no damage at all.

 

Limited Edition  Cuban Cigars with a second cigar band at the foot

 Romeo y Julieta Maravillas 8 cigars, featuring an additional band at the foot.

Like so much else, the true answer is purely a matter of taste.  As with all things related to cigars, the presence of the band and the timing of its removal is subject to only one hard and fast rule: it should align perfectly with the wishes of the smoker.  If you like to advertise your selections to followers on Instagram, to those sharing your favourite smoking venue or even simply enjoy the look of the banded cigar yourself, then keep the band on.  It will do no harm to the stick and will not affect its flavour.  If you prefer the clean appearance of the natural tobacco with no interruptions - or find it an inconvenience to remove the band after the cigar has been lit - remove it straight away.  Either option is acceptable, and neither should come between you and complete enjoyment of an exquisite Cuban Cigar.