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Commentary: Older and (Somewhat) Wiser, At Least When it Comes to Cigars

13 Feb 2017

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Over the course of twelve years of serious cigar smoking, I’ve learned a thing or two. True, there’s still so much more cigar knowledge to absorb—that’s one of the beautiful things about this complex, engrossing hobby—but I’ve come a long, long way since my early days as a young brother of the leaf.

I was thinking about this a week ago today, on my 34th birthday. Birthdays are a natural time for reflection, a chance to take stock in what has been accomplished, what is yet to be achieved, and, of course, lessons learned.

My cigar development—and the development of any new cigar smoker, I think—can be broken down into a few different categories of knowledge. First is gaining an understanding of your own palate. What you like, what you don’t like, and which cigars tend to satisfy you the best under different circumstances. This category is incredibly personal. There are no right or wrong answers, and your palate’s preferences may be entirely unique to you. This is why the phrase, “The best cigar in the world is the cigar you like the best,” rings true.

The second category concerns learning how to properly evaluate and taste a cigar. While the outcome of any evaluation might be completely subjective (for reasons mentioned in the preceding paragraph), there are a few criteria that, more or less, are universally applied. Think broad standards for characteristics like appearance, flavor, aroma, balance, burn, draw, smoke production, etc. For any one of these—like flavor, for example—there might be a number of tools that can be employed to assist with a thorough examination, like a tasting wheel or prevailing cigar literature about flavors commonly found in cigars.

Finally, I tend to lump all other cigar knowledge into a catch-all category for cigar-related tips, ritual know-hows, cultural norms, and other miscellaneous items. Here, you’ll find stuff like how to properly cut a cigar, how to store/age cigars, cigar shop etiquette, etc. This final category, I think, is teeming with misinformation—tidbits that 22-year-old me read or heard, accepted at face value since I didn’t know any better, and have since learned were either incorrect or misleading.

Allow me to throw out a few examples. For instance, ever recall learning that only wooden matches or butane lighters were suitable for lighting a cigar? Something about lighter fluid tainting a cigar’s flavor? Well, I’m going to call bullshit on this one. Not only have I used lighter fluid to ignite a cigar many times without noticing any impact to taste, but I have personally witnessed many of the world’s foremost cigar authorities doing the same. If the occasional use of a gas station-bought Bic lighter is good enough for some of the most admired cigar makers/blenders, then it’s good enough for me.

Here’s another load of crap I was taught early on: “To fix an uneven burn, you can rotate the cigar so the slow-burning part is at the bottom of the cigar. Because a fire needs oxygen to burn, the bottom of the cigar will burn faster (as it has access to more oxygen) than the top. This is also why you should rotate your cigar as you smoke.” I’ve tried this technique thousands of times and can’t say I’ve ever seen it work. If your cigar starts to burn unevenly, just touch it up with your lighter and be done with it. Problem solved.

One last example for you. When I was younger, I used to obsess over monitoring the humidity inside my humidors. I had read 72 percent relative humidity was ideal, and I made every effort to achieve and maintain that level. Then I read 69 percent was best. Then I started to pay attention to a crowd that suggested certain types of cigars aged best at one humidity level, and others required different conditions. Enough already. After much trial and error, I don’t think it matters much. Somewhere between 65 and 72 percent is probably best. These days I just get the 69 percent Boveda packs, throw them in my humidors, and don’t even bother to worry about reading and calibrating the hygrometers anymore.

Am I starting to sound like a bitter old man? Maybe. But I think I’ve been around the block enough to form my own cigar-related opinions, however incorrect they may seem to some.

On that topic, if you disagree with anything above, or if you have other cigar myths you’d like to dispel, please let me know in the comments below. I am eager to continue to learn, and I am excited to see what knowledge I can attain over the next twelve years.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Drew Estate

11 Responses to “Commentary: Older and (Somewhat) Wiser, At Least When it Comes to Cigars”

  1. Swede214 Monday, February 13, 2017 at 9:46 am #

    Thanks Patrick, great read. Kept up the reviews!

  2. Brad Monday, February 13, 2017 at 10:13 am #

    I’m 15 years or so into this great hobby. I can so relate to the points you bring up. Great article!!! Keep up the good work! Old man!

  3. Cigar Seeker Monday, February 13, 2017 at 10:22 am #

    “To fix an uneven burn, you can rotate the cigar so the slow-burning part is at the bottom of the cigar. Because a fire needs oxygen to burn, the bottom of the cigar will burn faster (as it has access to more oxygen) than the top. This is also why you should rotate your cigar as you smoke.”

    Actually, it makes more sense to rotate the cigar so the slow-burning area is on _top_. That way, the heat from the faster-burning region below can rise and ignite the slow-burning region above. I have done this a lot, and it often works for me.

    • Mike Monday, February 13, 2017 at 1:52 pm #

      I’ve used the rotating trick for years since I first read about it and I find it works for me.

      Zippo-style lighter fluid does have a strong odor and I avoid it when possible. But butane is tasteless and odorless, and Djeep lighters are my favorite disposable lighter. I travel with them often.

  4. Sam C. Monday, February 13, 2017 at 10:52 am #

    Placing the cigar with the slow-burning side down in the ashtray holder works for me sometimes. Definitely not a catch-all for all misburning cigars, but worth a try. Also, the only way this does work is if you can see the slow burning side at leads catch part of the fire on the draw. If it stays as is, you’re out of luck.

  5. Joe E Monday, February 13, 2017 at 1:14 pm #

    Your run of the mill Bic and gas station lights are Butane so by all means use them. Just because it’s “soft” flame as opposed to “torch” doesn’t change the actual fuel used. However “Zippo” fuel which is “naphtha” or referred to as “Lighter Fuel” can impart am oily petroleum flavor into and onto your nice expensive cigar which just about ruins it. With that said I’ve lit a lot of cigars with a zippo style lighter when none other were available and 95% of the time no issue at all. But there is that slight risk and it sucks when it does happen.

  6. RT Elkin Monday, February 13, 2017 at 2:12 pm #

    Agree with the burn stuff. Never worked for me, either. Never been able to stomach Zippo fuel, not even when I used to smoke cigarettes in my teens. Hate the fact that some cigars have dead periods, and often fresh shipped/sold/smoked are incredibly fragrant & flavorful for about a month only. Sure do miss CAO Italia Larga in the tube. Never had a less than spectacular one. Also hate my humidor in the winter, because the smokes never hit 70 degrees or close, which kills flavors.
    Also, Trojes Corojo tastes like milk chocolate on your lips when you drink a vanilla coke with it.

  7. Brad G-man ER Monday, February 13, 2017 at 9:46 pm #

    Patrick,

    I’m a 25 year cigar smoking veteran (literally & figuratively)

    I enjoyed your article. It’s hard to imagine you as “old”, when I’ve enjoyed Scotch almost as old as you ( Macallan 30).

    A few comments in reply to your article:

    (1) you are NEVER to old to learn new things about the cigar hobby/ lifestyle. I’ve been enjoying this since my intern year (1992) and haven’t looked back since. I always look fo new cigars, cutters, adult beverages to enjoy with, etc.

    (2) The practice of rotating your cigar when you smoke it if it’s now burning evenly is based not so much on oxygen but on the channels in which the air flows when puffed. Since most of us know that Fine cigars are a handmade, human product. There might be some inconsistencies with the bunching of the different components in the tobacco leaves in the cigar. By rotating it kind of takes into account and minimize the differences between those airflow differences. But I do agree that touching up a cigar with an occasional spark or two from your lighter it certainly reasonable and efficient.

    (3) agreed on your point of lighters, although part of the experience of lighting a fine cigar with an equally fine lighter only adds to the ambience & the pleasure of the experience. However if you only have a supermarket or stationary store lighter, so be it.

    (4) I would add that the “best” cigar is the not only the “one you are smoking”, but at the time and the environment and in the company , and the event/s in which you are enjoying for, with, and what occasion.

    (5) Band on or off: personal preference, just don’t be the obnoxious “show off” flouting your Behike.
    Enjoy with humility, respect & reflection.

    (6) Boveda packs- AGREE completely, easy peasy lemon squeesy

    (7) the more pricey the cigar the better it is: Negative on this one. I’ve had $5 gems and $30 duds
    Explore, and support your local brick & mortar cigar stores, they almost always will not steer you wrong.

  8. Stan Walker Tuesday, February 14, 2017 at 6:04 pm #

    I’ve been into hand rolled cigars for two years or so after I retired from my real job and now have the time to enjoy this hobby. I have been reading your old posts to increase my knowledge. My son runs a B&M in the KC area, so I’ve been fortunate to have a great source when I started smoking.
    What I have found out is that my taste is not my son’s and even in the short time I’ve been enjoying this hobby, my taste, or at least my perception has changed. Construction, good draw, good smoke output and not harsh are most important. I recognize some flavors, but it is as much about the experience and conversations.
    Really enjoy your site and keep up the good work.
    By the way, I find if I keep the slow burning side up, it seems to work better.

    • Cigar Seeker Wednesday, February 15, 2017 at 8:13 am #

      Glad to see another cigar fan has found putting the slow-burning side up works better. Heat rises. It only makes sense.

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