cigar smoking

some pointers and tips
I am mainly a pipe smoker but I do enjoy the occasional longfiller cigar. The designation longfiller refers to the contents of the cigar: a longfiller is filled with long, entire tobacco leaves, whereas a shortfiller is filled with smaller bits. Most longfillers are hand-rolled, slow-smoking, premium cigars, often sold individually rather than by the box. The good stuff, essentially.

I'm no stickler for etiquette, but I do like to observe the little customs and traditions that come with cigar smoking - they add to the enjoyment for me. I've been fortunate in that I was taught these customs by some experienced cigar smokers over the course of the years, and I think the things I have picked up may be of benefit to anyone interested in the hobby.

To each their pleasure of course, and I'd never dream of telling anyone how to enjoy a cigar - but this is how I smoke mine.

Images are coming to this page to fortify the didactic process, but for the moment it's all text.

take off the band

Could I give you only one single tip, it'd be this one: take off the cigar band. Never smoke a cigar with the band on. It's considered ostentatious, conceited, bordering on rude. You're flaunting the brand, you're flaunting the price, you're just plain flaunting. It's like wearing a hat indoors - you just don't do it. First thing you do with a cigar is take off the band, period.

This one will really signal to seasoned smokers whether or not you're any kind of cigar smoker and not some idiot who picked one up on a lark. Harsh words these, but as I said, it's the most elementary thing to get right and people get it wrong all the time. To amend the statement I made just before the break, this is one thing I'd consider berating someone for.

the speed is built in

The way the cigar was rolled and the leaves used will dictate the ideal speed at which to smoke. If you've a good tobacconist, you can ask if they can advise you, but if they cannot, you'll just have to feel your way. If you smoke it too fast, the smoke will get to be too hot and you'll see the ash column beginning to smoke excessively. If you smoke it too slow, you will draw out a very thin smoke and you may even need to relight.

For your average cigar (there is no such thing), start off with a few puffs per minute. Get it good and lit, and then just draw smoke once every ten or fifteen seconds and see if it works - if it thins out, speed up, if it gets hotter, slow down. You'll get the hang of it pretty quickly.

let ashes drop

With a cigar, it's customary to let your ashes drop of their own accord rather than tapping them off. A good cigar is made to drop its ashes regularly and evenly, leaving a neat, flat smouldering surface. You'll see cracks appear at the base of the ash column when it's itching to break, so don't hold it over your clothes when it's getting ready to fall.

If your ash column does get to be long to the point that it worries you, you can lever it off by pressing it against the bottom of an ashtray. It'll leave a pointy cone of ember on your cigar though, which looks funny, but it will soon rectify itself. This usually happens when you smoke your cigar too fast, or when it's been rolled too tight.

don't smoke it down to a nub

Don't smoke your cigar down all the way. It may be tempting to keep smoking a good cigar, but it's best to lay it down when you have about three or four centimetres left to go - some cigar makers will even indicate the stop point by wrapping the unsmokable part of the cigar with a darker or lighter leaf.

It may seem like a waste, but those last couple of centimetres taste worse and smoke hotter than the rest of the cigar - it's a case of stopping when the cigar is at its best rather than letting it get worse until the point that you can't bear it anymore. Smoking a cigar is about enjoyment, so don't spoil your own fun by getting greedy.

don't extinguish

Don't extinguish your cigar when you're finished with it. There's enough tobacco still remaining that trying to squish and twist it out will just spread the embers to the unlit tobacco; it'll just keep smoking, and it'll stink up the room.

When you're done, just lay the cigar down on your ashtray and let it extinguish itself; usually it'll stop smoking within a minute or two.

even out the burn

A good cigar will burn evenly; that is to say, it won't get burn-in with the top smoking faster than the bottom, leading to a kind of pointy cigar situation that looks and smokes bad.

a lit cigar that has burnt unevenly, with one part having burnt in too far

There are two ways to remedy this when it does happen. The preferred way is to rotate your cigar so as to place the burnt-in part at the bottom. Heat will rise to the top and the unburnt bit will start to burn more quickly. It'll take a few minutes to take effect, during which time it's advisable to smoke slowly to not aggravate the situation.

The second, more drastic remedy, is to get a wooden match and help things along. Just scorch the unburnt bit, turn it to the top and things will straighten out a lot faster. It's best to only do this when your cigar really doesn't want to smoke straight (i.e. you have a faulty cigar), as relighting a cigar doesn't help the flavour.

Top tip: good tobacconists will replace a bad cigar. If you buy one, start to smoke it and it smokes crooked, or if the leaves start flaking, or if there's a knot somewhere, any tobacconist truly worth their salt will give you another cigar free of charge. Ask your tobacconist if it's something they do.

wet before cutting

This one's fairly elementary, but I've seen it done wrong. When you buy a cigar, the end you put in your mouth will usually be wrapped closed, so it needs cutting. You can do this with a cigar cutter or a pocket knife or in any way you like, but it is important to first wet the part you're cutting. Dry, crispy leaves will flake and break if you cut them, screwing up the cigar.

So make a kissy face and wet the end with your lips before cutting. Don't get it soaking wet, just wet to the point where it's more flexible and a bit darker. At that point, it'll cut like fine cheese.

light with matches or cedar

Another fairly well-known one: light your cigar with a wooden match or a piece of cedar wood. Prepackaged longfillers, especially the kinds that come in their own individual cigar tubes, will often include a thin piece of cedar wood for lighting. You light the wood with a match or a cigarette lighter and you light the cigar with the wood. Most tobacconists that sell longfillers will also have cedar wood and/or matches available free of charge.

Please do it this way. Whereas with a pipe, a match is preferable but not obligatory as the use of a lighter doesn't really seem to interfere with the flavour, a gas lighter can really ruin a good cigar. The difference is immediately noticeable - you can do the taste test yourself, but it does require the ruination of at least one cigar.

You can also use a storm lighter, the kind that produces a blue flame. It burns up all the gas, leaving no residue to get into your cigar. This is easier than using matches or cedar, but it's also a bit less fun.