Cigars for a Novice by a Novice
By Richard Duckworth
Ah, cigars! There is a great deal of information on the topic which can be bewildering for the newcomer to navigate. A few words then from a relative novice which might provide a useful point of departure into the subject.
A cigar demands attention from all the senses, implying attention both in the selection and preparation of one’s cigar.
Keep your cigars in a humidor.
Opinions on optimal humidity and temperature vary. Around 70% is a good rule of thumb, although some believe that a Cuban cigar requires slightly lower humidity, say 65%-68%. There are special pre-fabricated packs made by Boveda for this purpose.
Consider the shape.
Broadly speaking, cigars can be divided between parejos – which are cylinder-shaped and figurados – which converge into a point at one end. Generalizations are dangerous, but the narrower cut afforded by a figurado may allow a more focused, precise smoking experience.
Enjoy the gradations of colour.
The colours of cigars run the full gamut of shades, from Oscuro (black) through Colorado (reddish-brown) to Claro (light tobacco brown) to Double-claro. Some aficionados correlate colour to strength of flavour but this is a nuance rather than a hard rule – and standards can vary between manufacturers.
The author enjoying a Cohiba Corona Especial in the Georgian wine country (Tsinandali Estate, Kaheti).
Admire the cigar but don’t be too precious. In cutting the cigar, ensure a clean, precise cut above the cabeza to ensure the wrapper does not unravel. Light the cigar with care. First warm the end, then lightly toast the edges of the cigar foot. Don’t rush. Once the foot is glowing evenly the cigar will be ready to avail you of its pleasures. The first, contemplative puff can often be the sweetest.
Once the cigar is lit devote your attention to the cigar and be patient in the rate and the intensity of your smoking. The great Zino Davidoff pronounced a smoke rate of 1 puff per minute yielding (per Zino) a 60-minute smoke for say a corona vitola. Maybe this pronouncement is a little draconian, but some consideration to these guidelines ensures that most of the lit cigar’s life is in repose on the ashtray or between your fingers. By the same token, smoke gently not hard. A hard draw can cause the tobacco to overheat leading to a bitter off-flavour. I’ve made this mistake before and my gauche error was exposed by the bitter, noxious taste emanating from the cigar.
Don’t worry too much about ash.
A well-made Cuban cigar will hold its ash well (say up to 1 inch or more), a characteristic which naturally regulates the temperature of the lit cigar. If ash does fall on your trousers don’t worry about it. It can be brushed off easily with no harm done. And finally, once you have finished enjoying your cigar, leave it to expire gracefully in the ashtray. Don’t stub it out…it’s vulgar, will leave an awful smell, and is no way to treat a fine hand-made product.
There are a range of cigars for differing palates. The general guideline is that less experienced smokers would be best steered towards mildly flavoured cigars (say a Por Larranaga) before exploring the fuller flavoured ranges (say a Partagas). In the long-run, choice will be a function of one’s personal preferences, aesthetic and the circumstances in which one intends to enjoy the cigar. Let me suggest 3 for you to consider as you begin this journey, representing some of the classic Cuban cigar brands and vitolas (formats).
Hoyo de Monterey Epicure No. 2
Measuring 124mm x 19.84mm, with a 50 ring gauge, the Robusto format has emerged as the most popular vitola today. The Robusto girth provides a good volume of airflow – facilitating the smoke - and copious quantities of smoke. The Hoyo Epi 2’s characteristically mild, grassy qualities make it a very accessible, appealing puro for many smokers starting their exploration of Cuban cigars.
Bolivar Petit CoronaMeasuring 129mm x 16.67mm, with a 42 ring gauge, this Mareva format is a smaller shorter variant of the traditional Corona vitola, historically the most popular cigar shape. Its relatively small size allows a neophyte to investigate the infamous Bolivar cigar without inducing a cigar-led coma. Bolivar cigars are traditionally seen as one of the most fully flavoured cigars in the Habanos portfolio and should be approached with some caution. This Petit Corona has complex flavours of earth, black pepper, leather that belie its size and is a very enjoyable way to conclude a lunch or dinner.
Cohiba Corona Especial
Measuring 152mm x 15.08mm, with a 38 ring gauge, this Laguito #2 (named after the factory where Cohibas were originally produced) is an extremely elegant, well-made cigar. The Corona Especial is the younger brother to the Lancero, famous as Castro’s cheroot of choice. As with the Lancero, the narrower gauge of the Corona Especial demands attention in the lighting and smoking, but the diligent smoker is rewarded with a development of cocoa, coffee, floral and cream notes. To be enjoyed at any time of the day, it is a marvellous partner to coffee.
If approaches to aesthetics, etiquette and selection can vary, there is at least one truth in respect of these Cuban cigars. These cigars are fully hand-made object through their entire lifecycle of planting, harvesting, fermentation and construction. Treating the cigar with due regard and patience accords it the respect it is due. It is least we can provide in return for the sensory pleasures it provides the smoker, alone or in company.
About the author:
Richard lives in London, enjoys wine and cigars, and owns too many blue ties.