13 Feb 2017
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.
photo credit: Stogie Guys