Continuing with the third installment of our initial primer on cigar smoking, we will begin here by focusing on some of the specific guidelines for etiquette before moving into a few troubleshooting problems and finishing with some recommended online reading. While this may serve as the conclusion to our three-part guide on the basics, it is only the beginning as we venture forth into the exciting world of cigars focusing on everything from quite literally A-Z.
By now you’ve probably read part one and two, and are fairly well versed in selecting, smoking and enjoying your cigar.
“Cigar smoking knows no politics. It’s about the pursuit of pleasure, taste, and aroma.”
In the year 1967 a man by the name of Zino Davidoff, the proprietor of the company with the same name, in an effort to educate the mass population, published an essay called Zino Davidoff’s Guide to Cigar Etiquette. One of the first of its kind, this well regarded primer still rings true today.
Warm the foot of the cigar slightly before starting to puff on it. This doesn’t necessarily mean toasting it under a flame, but can simply involve rolling it gently in your fingers allowing your hands natural body heat to slowly warm the foot.
Remove the band carefully after lighting the cigar. It should only take a minute for the gum on the cigar band to be sufficiently warm to remove the band with ease. While this is a rather archaic rule, it is no longer steadfast and is now optional in most circles. When smoking with a group of people, my first inclination is to recommend following suit of your host.
Take your time smoking your cigar, a puff a minute is about right. Smoking a cigar is an experience, not a chore. There is no need to wildly puff your cigar as allowing it to cool for a moment won’t be long enough for it to self extinguish.
Hold the cigar between your index finger and your thumb, not between your index finger and middle finger. This is one of those rules that differentiates the aficionado from the novice. There really is no reason for the rule, but it is one that most cigar enthusiasts learn early on and still obey to this very day. It is far more elegant and separates you from the pack of nicotine addicts we so often get compared to.
Allow the cigar to die a dignified death; after it’s smoked halfway, it will go out on its own. Today most men will continue to smoke it until there is about 1/4 left. A cigar is not meant to be smoked down to the foot and the shorter you allow it to go the harsher the smoke will become. I myself will generally allow it to go out about half way.
Dispose of a dead cigar discreetly and quickly. Just as a cigarette butt is one of the most distasteful sights one can see, there is truly no reason to keep a cigar once it’s extinguished. Discreetly dispose of it and carry on.
Wait at least 15 minutes between cigars as anything less indicates obsessive behavior. I myself have never smoked often enough for this rule to apply, however, there have been days where I enjoy a cigar with each meal as well as one in the late afternoon before dinner and again in the later part of the evening before bed. As I’ve said before, cigar smoking is a passion and with such a diverse flavor profile available, there is no reason a cigar cannot be paired beautifully with each meal, a dessert or even an after dinner drink.
Use a penknife to cut or pierce the end of the cigar. This comes down to class. It just looks bad and there’s no reason to do it. If you’re going to enjoy a cigar, enjoy it properly. Don’t mutilate it.
Touch the flame directly to the foot of the cigar, simply rotate it around the edge instead, until it begins to burn, and then puff on it lightly. The goal isn’t to light the cigar on fire. It’s to toast it just enough that it shows its beauty in a breath of silver smoke.
Lighting a cigar should be a personal experience; never ask someone else for a light. This doesn’t mean you can’t borrow a friends lighter or matches. It simply means that you should undertake the responsibility of lighting the cigar yourself. This is very personal and asking a friend to light the cigar is akin to asking them to undress your wife before making love.
Light your cigar too slowly or too quickly. Again, this is an experience. Take time to enjoy the lighting process but don’t stall or pause throughout the process. It should be a continual toast but with caution and your full attention.
Indulge in exhibitionism, whether you are lighting or smoking your cigar. This is one of the most personal and gratifying experiences that one can have. This is your moment in the day to relish in the tranquility of the cigar. Let the cigar be your focus and relish the time you have with it.
Relight your cigar if less than one quarter of it is leaf. This really comes down to quality of the smoke. If your cigar keeps going out then chances are you should leave it out. Continually relighting it only strengthens its harshness.
Put the cigar in your mouth to relight it. Again, this is just poor manners. Hold the cigar in your finger tips gently rotating it as your lightly toast the end with your heat source.
Clench your cigar between your teeth. Unless your goal is to replicate the brute actions of Tony Montana from Scarface, this is not a behavior a gentleman should exhibit. Smoking a cigar should be an elegant display, not brash or unsophisticated. And for the love of God, please never talk with the cigar in your mouth. Remove it first and then speak. Your listeners will thank you for giving them that respect.
Wet the end of your cigar. Don’t chew it, or slobber on it either. You’re not a dog and the cigar is not your bone. There is no need to wet the cigar unless it’s burning unevenly and if that’s the case, you can simply moisten your finger tip and then dab the area to slow the burn. And if you ever visit my home and rip off the cap with your teeth it’s a distinct possibility that I’ll ask you to leave and never invite you to return again.
Smoke too quickly. This isn’t a sprint or a race, it’s a casual stroll through the park. Enjoy it. There’s no rush and if there is then you shouldn’t be smoking a cigar in the first place.
Ever use a cigar holder. This isn’t a cigarette and you’re not Cruella DeVille. Smoking a cigar is about relying on all of your senses, including touch. You want to feel the cigar in your hand. You can often feel if it’s beginning to burn too hot or if the leaves are fragmenting at all should it be an improperly filled cigar.
Stick a toothpick or matchstick in the end of the cigar to help hold it in your mouth. A cigar isn’t meant to stay in your mouth. Hold it between your fingers at all times. Even when you’re taking a draw.
Dip your cigar in port or brandy. This is a habit attributed to Winston Churchill but you good sir are not Winston Churchill. Just because he made this faux pas doesn’t mean you should too. Cigar makers spend years perfecting the flavor profile they want you to experience. If you cannot handle the taste of a cigar or don’t enjoy it then don’t smoke it. Stick to the bargain bin cigarillos you can buy at the gas station. I’m told they even come in chocolate flavor.
Smoke whilst working. Work is stressful and while a cigar can be stress relieving, it’s intended to be enjoyed in a relaxed state of mind. Despite how difficult your day at the office was, wait until you get home, pour yourself a drink and sit back to enjoy your cigar. The experience will be much more meaningful.
Hold a cigar between your index and middle finger; always between thumb and index finger. This is back to basics. It’s just manners. Cigars should not be held like cigarettes. It’s degrading and insulting to those trying to push past the myth that cigar smoking is an addiction rather than a passion.
Smoke whilst walking in public. While you may certainly enjoy the fragrant aroma of your cigar, it is distinctly possible that others will not. This is a matter of respect and courtesy as many people have allergies or medical conditions that your cigar could adversely effect. I will however, be the first to admit that on a warm evening when it’s quiet, I do enjoy a stroll through the park or the walking trails near my home while I smoke a cigar and listen to my iPod. I do, however, ensure that there are no people where I’m walking and try my best to move away should I see someone approaching.
Put the cigar out by crushing it in an ashtray. Let your cigar die a natural death. A cigar is like a lover. Allow the relationship to die with dignity and grace.
Chain-smoke cigars. Again, a cigar is not a cigarette. If you’re addicted you should stop reading this article and seek help to quit.
Why is my cigar hard and/or cracking?
If your cigar is firm and cracking under light pressure it is a sure sign that your cigar has simply dried out. Rest easy as this is one of the easiest issues to overcome. Even when you purchase a cigar direct from the humidor of your local tobacconist, it’s impossible to know how long that cigar has sat resting in the humidor. Was it in a truck a short time ago? Did it sit untouched on a loading dock or in a warehouse? The reasons a cigar can dry out are many, but the fix is relatively simple. Dry cigars are the primary reason that I always recommend storing the cigar in your humidor for a fairly lengthy time after purchasing them. I myself, typically will store the cigar in a sealed humidor for 8-10 months before I smoke it to ensure it’s had a chance to soak up the humidity. If you do encounter a hard, dried out cigar, the process is time consuming and will take some patience, but it is simple.
First, take the cigar and put in a non-humidified humidor. If you don’t own one, place it in a sealable plastic bag with some holes poked in it with a sewing needle. The goal is to bring the cigars to a consistent humidity level that is significantly less than 70%. It should take a few days.
Next take a new sponge that hasn’t been used before and dampen it with distilled water. Place the sponge inside the bag and allow it to sit for at least a full week if not longer. This will begin to introduce humidity to the cigars slowly but won’t cause the wrapper to burst.
After a couple of weeks your cigars should look and feel much healthier. While they aren’t ready to smoke, it is safe to place them back in a regulated humidor at this point in the process. Allow them to rest for awhile, at least a few months and then enjoy them as you would any fresh cigar.
Why is my cigar burning unevenly?
A properly lit cigar should burn evenly if it’s well constructed. If you find one end is burning faster than the other, simply wet your finger with a drop of water or saliva and gently moisten the side burning too quickly. This will slow down the burn on that side permitting the rest of the cigar to catch up.
Why isn’t my humidor staying at a consistent humidity level?
This can be due to a number of reasons. First, ensure that your humidor is properly seasoned. If it is, the next step is to ensure the seal isn’t broken and that it properly closes. Once that is ruled out, try re-calibrating your hygrometer to ensure it’s accurate. Make sure it’s not overly full of cigars and that you have a humidity source that’s capable of meeting a 70% level for the size of your humidor. If all seems okay, the next step is to ensure that your humidor is in a safe place and isn’t located next to a heat source or cold air supply. To give you an example, I live in an old house that was built over 100 years ago. To top it off, I also live in a City that suffers from very cold winters and inclement weather. Because of this, my humidors have a difficult time maintaining consistent humidity levels throughout the fall and winter months. I often have to place small shot glasses filled with distilled water in the bottom of the humidors to ensure they can maintain a 70% humidity level. Often this can be about trial and error, but if you are regularly seeing differences in humidity, I highly recommend seeking the advice of the tobacconist you purchased your humidor and accessories from.
Help! There are beetles in my cigars!!!
This is every cigar smokers worst nightmare. The dreaded cigar or tobacco beetle. Despite the cigar manufacturers best efforts, tobacco leaves have tiny beetles that exist as larvae in them. If the humidity level in your humidor is too high, these beetles come to life and can consume your precious collection like piranhas turning all of your cigars into small piles of dust with maggots crawling all over them. While the cigar beetles are difficult to spot, one way to look for them is to examine your cigars for tiny pin sized holes. These holes are a sure sign of a beetle infestation. Once the humidor reaches 72% humidity, these larvae can begin to hatch and the beetles quickly tunnel out of the cigars and multiply. The process is so quick that within a day a collection of hundreds of cigars can be gone. However, if you do notice signs of cigar beetles, the outbreak can be stopped rather quickly. As soon as you notice signs of cigar beetles, gather up your entire collection of cigars in that humidor and place them in ziplock bags. Immediately put them in a freezer and allow them to sit for four or five days. The freezing temperatures will kill the larvae and beetles and save your cigars, allowing you to re-humidify them and smoke them. The most important thing to remember is not to take chances. Make sure you freeze every single cigar in that humidor even if only stick looks contaminated. Chances are the outbreak has spread and despite a lack of visual evidence, the beetles will hatch and consume your collection. Of course, please remember before placing the cigars back in the humidor, that the reason they hatched was due to high humidity levels. Ensure before you place the frozen cigars back inside that humidor that the issue has been resolved and the humidity level is back at 70%.
Here is short list of some of the best online resources for budding cigar enthusiasts:
By now you should have a fairly rudimentary level of knowledge when it comes to smoking cigars. As always, should you have any questions, please feel free to post them in the comment section. Stay tuned for upcoming installments to this column where we’ll discuss accessories such as cutters and lighters as well as delve a bit further into some troubleshooting techniques and frequently asked questions.