Cigars, eh? So many great men have been habitual Havana puffers, the Schwarzeneggers, Nicholsons, Churchills and Che Guevaras of this world, making their mark and having a hand-rolled to draw on at the same time.
Now we’re not saying everyone should go out and buy themselves some blow-you-socks-off bad boys and pick up a filthy habit. Far from it. But at special occasions, (birth of your first son, promotion to the Premier League, capture of Osama) you might, just might, fancy one.
So after speaking to the experts over at cigar-connoisseur.co.uk, we’ve assembled a handy go-to guide on how to buy, smoke and care for your stogies, just so you can seem that little but more knowledgeable in front of your mates when the time comes.
Where do cigars come from?
Like a lot of other awesome things (most of the Western Hemisphere, for example) we’ve got Christopher Columbus to thank for giving the world cigars, discovering Cuban natives smoking dried tobacco in rolled plantains in 1492. Research has shown that Caribbean lounge lizards had been smoking in this way since the 10th century, the crazy cats.
Entomologically, they’re called ‘cigars’ (rather than, say… rolled-up tobacco tubes) because the Spanish call them ‘Cigarros’, itself a bastardisation of the Mayan word ‘sikar’.
And though South America and the Caribbean are best known for their cigars, we’re assured that “Cigar tobacco is mainly grown in – Brazil, Cameroon, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Indonesia, Mexico, Nicaragua, the Philippines and the USA.” So nowhere near Britain then. Bum.
How are they made?
With great difficulty, hence the intimidating price tag. The tobacco leaves are cut, bundled together into ‘hands’ and transported to ‘curing barns’, where the leaves are left to air cure for anywhere between 45 to 60 days, the humidity and temperature carefully maintained as they turn from green to brown.
They’re then moistened and covered in cloth during the fermentation period (another 30 days), reducing the amount of nicotine and ammonia inside. After several more months in a warehouse being sorted, dried and de-veined, the leaves are wrapped up with stronger ‘binder’ and ‘wrapper’ leaves to make… Cigars! See?
How can you tell if they’re good or not?
Besides how good it tastes, there are a couple of general rules to abide by… one, is it rock hard? If so, that’s bad news. Likewise if it’s too soft or damp, even in small patches – it’ll ruin the ‘drawing’ experience if certain sections don’t burn correctly. They should also be smooth to the touch, with a slight shine.
Because of this temperamental nature to cigars, whether they’re well kept or not is key to a good smoke. You’re looking for 21 degrees Celsius, and 70% RH (room humidity), for months, if not years, so it’s best to invest in a special container known as a ‘humidor’. So if you’ve found a few dodgy Hamlets in your grandad’s toolbox, don’t expect fireworks. Or a good cigar, even.
How and why do you cut a cigar?
Besides making you look like a Gordon Gecko moneybags, suited, booted and utterly minted, cutting the tip of your cigar does actually have a practical function, physically allowing the air you’re puffing to flow through the leaves and the end to burn, what with it greedily needing oxygen and all.
Though it might seem that you have to use a fancy metal cutter, biting it off is also fine, though bullet hole style cutters are available, as are v-shaped ones, to allow for different smokes. The key, more than anything, is to only just get the tip cut, and try to make it as clean a cigar beheading as possible.
The guys over at Cigar Connoisseur point out that: “Great care must be taken when cutting the cigar as if too much is cut off, the wrapper will start to unravel, so just remove sufficient cap to allow a wide enough aperture to allow for an unobstructed draw.” Duly
How do you light a cigar?
You can’t just light a cigar, no sir. Cigars are tricksy wenches, and they’ll absorb aromas and tastes from other places like anyone’s business. Because of this, a struck match’s sulphur could contaminate the cigar’s taste, so make sure the flame has burned a bit before you do the ‘toasting’.
What’s that, you say? Toasting is when you slowly rotate the cigar over the flame, to prepare it, after which you should bring the flame closer and gently puff on the end to get it to properly light. Keep it at a 45 degree angle and keep slowly rotating it and you’re good to go – and don’t worry if it goes out, that’s normal, just shake off the excess ash and start again.
What’s a good cigar to try first?
We’ve been assured the likes of Helix Blue Tubular, which is pretty mild all round, or Gispert, a very easy smoke, are good calls on this front. Oh, and try the Macanudo Hyde Park, if you like the idea of scents of almonds and fresh herbs in amongst your tobacconess. For a few good Havanas (the king of Cigars) that a newbie can enjoy, why not try a Bolivar Corona Junior or a Hoyo Short Corona.
By Alastair Plumb, Asylum