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Cigar Tip: Don’t Get Slammed on the New-Release Treadmill

19 Jun 2017

[Editors’ Note: The following article was first published at StogieGuys.com in May 2015, though the advice it contains is as sound now as it was two years ago. It is reprinted today in anticipation of the fast-approaching 2017 IPCPR Trade Show.]

Cigar Shop

One of the great things about cigars is the incredible choice available. Unfortunately, it’s one of the not-so-great things as well.

Every day seems to bring news of a new release, a limited edition, a store special—or, more likely, several of each. One email I received recently touted five new limited cigars. As we approach the annual summer trade show, the stream of new announcements will almost certainly become a flood.

A dedicated cigar lover could go crazy, and broke, trying to keep up.

I suggest you don’t. Go crazy or broke, that is.

Now, I’m not recommending you forgo new cigars. Far from it. I’m just advocating a little thought and preparation to maximize the enjoyment potential of the purchases you do make.

First, remember that selling cigars is not like selling most other consumables. The premium cigar market is small and barely growing, if at all. A large percentage of cigar smokers have only a handful of sticks a week and rarely venture beyond a few brands.

Two companies—Altadis and General—dominate the market; add in a few other big players like Padrón, Fuente, and Rocky Patel, and you see why smaller manufacturers face a tough battle. They’re fighting for a thin slice of a not-so-big pie.

For many of those small manufacturers, social media has had a huge impact. Even though the cigar digerati is a relatively small subset of the market, it’s a vocal and influential component. Generating buzz and producing the next hot stick can make the difference between being a success and an also-ran. All of which leads to more releases, more limited editions, more store exclusives, and on and on.

Here are three thoughts to help you evaluate your purchases:

1) Pay attention to the manufacturers you really like. As any regular StogieGuys.com reader knows, I am a big fan of Aging Room cigars. Their blends just about always appeal to my taste. I’ve even gone so far as to violate a basic rule of cigar purchases by buying a box of a new offering before I’d tried one. Other favorites, like Fuente and My Father, also always get a close look from me.

2) Pay attention to tobaccos. Think about those you like and those you don’t. This can be tricky, I’ll be the first to admit. For example, I generally dislike San Andrés. But there are some using it, like E.P. Carrillo’s La Historia, that I think are terrific. Still, given the choice between a new smoke featuring that Mexican leaf and one that doesn’t, I’ll usually pick the cigar without it. Similarly, recognizing tobaccos you usually enjoy can be a deciding factor.

3) Look at the manufacturer’s output. Some companies put out so many new cigars, it is difficult to believe they all can be special. On the other hand, when someone like Padrón puts a new smoke on the market, it is worthy of special notice.

George E

photo credit: Flickr

Cigar Tip: Don’t Lose Your Cool This Summer

14 Jun 2017

With Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer in the U.S., now past, most of the country is looking at increasingly hotter temperatures and higher humidity levels.

For cigar enthusiasts, that can also mean rising anxiety levels as they fret over the conditions in their humidors. Here are some tips that I hope can help reduce your stress.

Whether you prefer the “standard” recommendation of 70° F. and 70% relative humidity or something else is, to some degree, a matter of taste. Many smokers these days favor humidity levels in the low- to mid-60s range with temperatures around 65° F.

Significantly higher or lower humidity levels can result in cigars that are too wet or too dry and won’t taste good or perform well. Temperatures much higher than 72° or so risk tobacco beetles hatching if larvae are present.

Only you can decide what settings you prefer.

But once you’ve decided, perhaps the most important step is to maintain relative constancy.

Here are some of the conclusions I’ve reached over the years.

First, I don’t believe cigars are like delicate flowers that will quickly wither and die outside a narrow comfort range of temperature and relative humidity. Sure, leave one resting on the dashboard in July and you can soon kiss it goodbye. But shifts of a few degrees or percentage points aren’t remotely fatal.

So don’t get obsessed. I’ve monitored temperature and relative humidity with two sensors in my cooled cabinet humidor for more than two years. And I can attest what you think is going on inside isn’t always the case.

For example, temperature and relative humidity levels can vary by several points from one shelf to another. (And, yes, my humidor has fans—three of them, in fact—to circulate the air.)

There are also usually differences of a few points in readings at different spots inside the humidor itself, as well as within a cigar box at the same spot. Some boxes hold both incredibly well; others, not so much.

It’s also important to bear in mind a few facts about humidity:

1) It is extremely difficult to measure precisely without very high quality scientific equipment.

2) We’re talking about relative humidity, which means the percentage changes when the temperature changes. That’s why it’s relative.

3) The warmer the air, the more moisture it can hold. So when the same amount of moisture is present at different temperatures, the relative humidity percentage will be lower in the warmer air.

4) Humid air tends to rise.

Hopefully, you’ll be able to keep your cool this summer, at least where your cigars are concerned.

George E

photo credit: Flickr

Cigar Tip: Buying Cigars for Weddings or Other Big Groups

7 Jun 2017

If you’re a regular StogieGuys.com reader, there’s a good chance you’re the go-to cigar guy (or gal) with some of your friends or family. As someone who has written about cigars for over a decade, I certainly find myself in that that situation, which is why I recently provided cigars for a family wedding attended by 200 people. (It was at least the fifth wedding for which I’ve provided this service in nearly as many years.)

The experience got me thinking about some good rules for buying cigars for big groups,  be the occasion a large bachelor party, a wedding, or something even bigger. Next time you get the call to provide cigars for such a group, here are five things to consider:

Don’t Underestimate Numbers

Celebrations are when the very occasional cigar smokers smoke their occasional cigars. So make sure you have enough cigars for everyone who may want to have one. There’s nothing worse than running out of cigars at a festive occasion. If you’re unsure how many to buy, buy an extra, affordable box you’ll be happy to smoke by yourself if you don’t need to open it and put it aside just in case.

Figure Out a Reasonable Budget

If you are buying two boxes or more, costs can add up quickly. It isn’t hard to spend $200 or more on a box of 20 or 25 cigars. Buying cigars that cost an arm and a leg will probably be wasted on most people, so think about a price point where you get something you are proud to share but is also reasonably priced.

Know Your Crowd

Continuing on the point above, remember that, statistically, it’s unlikely many (or even any) of your guests smoke cigars frequently. Even fewer spend lots of time reading about them. Frankly, lots of cigars will probably be lit then abandoned half-smoked (or worse). So don’t buy anything you will be sad getting wasted. I find, if you shop around, you can get a fine box of 20 or 25 cigars in the $80 to $125 range.

It’s Not About You

Many StogieGuys.com readers tend to smoke boutique, more obscure cigars.  But that doesn’t make these smokes ideal for a gathering of highly infrequent cigar smokers who will likely take comfort in a mainstream brand they recognize. So give them something they’ll have heard of. Introduce them to your favorite boutique brand when its a smaller, more personal experience.

Make the Choices Easy

Infrequent cigars smokers tend to believe the darker the wrapper the stronger the cigar. This may be totally incorrect but, unless you are giving a speech explaining the choices or handing out every cigar yourself, you are better off making these biases true when providing cigars for a group. Buy a mild, Connecticut shade-wrapped cigar for the smokers who want a mild smoke, and make the maduro offering the most full-bodied. Again, it’s not about you, it’s about making the experience enjoyable for everyone, which means mostly people who may only smoke a handful of cigars a year.

Patrick S

photo credit: Voodoangel (flickr)

Cigar Tip: Saving Money on Cigars

8 May 2017

While the future of premium cigars may be clouded by the uncertainty of U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations, one thing is clear: Prices are going to continue to rise.

Whether it’s a result of higher taxes, fees, wages, materials, transportation, inflation—or a combination of all of these—you can expect to pay more. That isn’t always bad. I think even the most fervent cheapskate would be hard-pressed to begrudge raises for low-paid Central American laborers and farm workers.

Still, costlier cigars can certainly impact many smokers. Looking for ways to maintain your level of enjoyment without breaking the bank can be tricky. So here are a few points to bear in mind as you try to keep your spending down.

Don’t buy hype. Frequently, you’ll hear or read complaints that some expensive cigar or other is over-hyped. That same objection could be raised about many low-priced smokes as well. Bundles will be pitched as being like a higher-priced brand or as seconds from a major manufacturer with only cosmetic imperfections. Maybe that’s true sometimes. But sometimes someone wins the lottery, too.

Don’t gamble. Sure, you’ve loved every cigar put out by such-and-such a company. That doesn’t mean you’ll love the next one. Be sure to sample a stick or two of any cigar before investing your hard-earned cash in a box. Better to miss out on the latest rare, limited edition than to have 19 of them sitting unsmoked in the bottom of your humidor as you hope (pray) they’ll improve with age.

Read carefully. Quite a few low-priced cigars use short filler. That’s not automatically a disqualifier, but you should be aware that short-filler smokes may, by nature, be inconsistent from stick to stick, burn faster and hotter, and have a looser draw than long-filler cigars.

Try shorter vitolas. Robustos and coronas usually cost less than Churchills, double coronas, or those monster ring gauge behemoths. Sure, you won’t get as long a smoke, but you’ll likely get more bang for your buck.

Save up and stock up. This is, for my money, the best approach. Make sure you’re on the email list for your local B&Ms and the big online retailers and check their sale offerings. Be ready when there’s a markdown on one of the cigars you truly enjoy, whether it’s at your local smoke shop’s annual sale or an online, daily discount. Also, be prepared when manufacturers alter packaging or strike items from their catalogs. Retailers rarely want old inventory on hand and frequently reduce prices to move it.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Photo Essay: Water, the Secret Ingredient to a Fine Cigar

8 Feb 2017

Ask any cigar smoker what are the ingredients in a handmade cigar, and the answer will probably be something along the lines of this: 100% tobacco leaves (maybe they’ll also note vegetable glue, a small amount of which is used to attach the wrapper). This is without a doubt true, and let’s hope the FDA agrees, but when it comes to making cigars arguably the most critical ingredient is water, or more specifically moisture.

You don’t have to be an expert in cigars to know humidity matters. A cigar that is too dry loses flavor and burns too hot, while a cigar kept in too much humidity may be bitter, burn poorly, and risks mold in storage.

But the importance of water and moisture starts long before the cigar is rolled or ready to be smoked. Last week, I spent a few days visiting General Cigar’s facilities in the Dominican Republic. (Each of the photographs comes from the visit.)

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I’ve visited cigar factories many times but, by starting this tour on the farm before going to the leaf processing facility and then finally the factory, it drove home the importance of controlling moisture to make an enjoyable final product. From seedling until harvest, of course, a tobacco plant needs water.

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After leaves are primed (removed one leaf at a time, first from the bottom of the plant then, over time, upwards to the top) the work of preparing the tobacco begins. After harvest, green tobacco leaves go into curing barns where the the goal is removing the moisture, as well as the chlorophyll that makes leaves green. (Candela wrappers use a different curing process that locks in the green color.)

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When tobacco enters the curing barn, its moisture content is around 85%. After hanging upside down for four to six weeks (either sewn onto a rope or fastened to a wooden pole), the moisture level drops to around 30%. Some producers will use small fires in the barn to bring down humidity levels in what are generally high humidity tropical climates. At this point, the leaves are ready to be sorted and prepared for fermentation.

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After curing, the tobacco leaves begin to look like the tobacco you’ll find in the cigars in your humidor. It isn’t ready to made into handmade cigars yet, though. The critical next step is fermentation, sometimes referred to as “sweating” the tobacco.

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In fermentation, tobacco “cooks” by being stacked in a way that pressure, along with natural microbes, break down the tobacco and generate heat. Hands (a bunch of four to six leaves) of tobacco leaves are stacked in piles, often as high as six feet, where the middle particularly begins to rise in temperature.

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Temperature is closely monitored. If the tobacco gets too hot (140 °F, perhaps lower depending on the type of leaf) it will overcook. Over time, the tobacco is rotated to ensure even fermentation. By the time fermentation is completed, taste, aroma, and combustion are improved, while the harshness of nicotine, sugar, and ammonia are reduced as proteins breakdown.

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True maduro wrappers, as opposed to those that rely on artificial coloring, come from a longer, more intense fermentation process that creates a darker, richer color. At this point, the tobaccos are ready to be rolled into cigars. That said, some companies will age their tobaccos further (one to three years is not abnormal), the especially wrappers. This can be described as low level fermentation. For select tobaccos, aging in barrels (especially rum barrels) is another common technique to add even more complex and rich flavors.

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Even as cigars are being rolled, proper moisture is key. Wrappers, in particular, are frequently moistened to make them more pliable and durable. Later, after the cigars are bunched and rolled, they go into aging rooms where moisture is again key. In the aging room, cigars release excess ammonia and equalize moisture levels between the filler, binder, and wrapper tobaccos.

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After at least a few weeks in the aging room, cigars are ready to smoke. But, in order to remain ready to smoke weeks later, moisture content must remain stable between 65% and 70% relative humidity throughout shipping to your cigar shop and, eventually, to your home humidor, where Boveda packs or your humidification device of choice keeps humidity stable.

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As you can see, controlling moisture from start to finish may be the single most important aspect to cigar production. The best tobacco without proper curing and fermentation will produce bad cigars. Only time, tobacco, and proper moisture control can produce a fine cigar.

Patrick S

photo credits: Stogie Guys

Cigar Tip: Holiday Guide for Giving the Gift of Cigars

5 Dec 2016

gift

Including today, there are only twenty shopping days left until Christmas. I say “only” because, while that may seem like a long time (to my three-year old it seems like an eternity), rest assured the holiday will be here before you know it.

If you’re like me, you loathe shopping and haven’t bought a damn thing yet. I can’t help you with that. But if you have a cigar enthusiast or two on your list, I am more than happy to offer up some guidance in the form of the following tips:

Only give a box if you’re sure. Some cigar enthusiasts are completely loyal to one brand or one specific blend. If this is the case, you can’t do wrong by buying a box he or she is sure to love. Maybe this isn’t the most original idea—and maybe the box won’t be much of a surprise—but any cigar smoker will tell you that you can never have enough of your favorite smokes, especially if they’re made in limited quantities.

Samplers offer variety. Many cigar enthusiasts don’t have just one favorite cigar. For these folks, we don’t recommend buying a whole box. Instead, samplers are terrific. When you give a sampler of ten different cigars, it’s like giving ten different gifts. The recipient might not love all ten, but chances are he/she will really enjoy at least a few, and you might even be responsible for turning someone on to a new favorite.

Consider cigar accessories. Every cigar enthusiast needs a great table lighter, travel lighter, nice cutter, good ashtray, travel cigar case, humidor, etc. Instead of buying cigars, think about giving the gift of a cigar accessory. Many accessories can be personalized and, unlike cigars themselves, are likely to last for years to come.

Don’t forget cigar rights. Most cigar smokers have a fervent passion for defending cigar rights and opposing tobacco taxes and smoking bans. For these folks, a membership to Cigar Rights of America is an excellent gift. Benefits of membership include supporting professional lobbyists who fight for cigar freedoms, discounts at cigar shops, free cigars, and more.

Many cigar lovers also enjoy bourbon. Cigars and bourbon go together like peanut butter and jelly. I would strongly encourage you to check out our bourbon gift-giving guide, our A-Z Bourbon Guide, and our extensive archive of spirits reviews (all of which also include pairing suggestions). You could do a lot worse than a nice bottle of bourbon and an accompanying cigar or three.

Don’t forget to treat yourself. Lots of cigar purchase opportunities come with a free gift (i.e., a five-pack, a table lighter, a cutter, etc.). Go ahead and take advantage of the offers. You’ve earned it.

Need help? Ask. Find a local tobacconist and don’t be afraid to ask an employee for guidance or suggestions. Any good cigar shop will have helpful, patient, knowledgeable staff. Even if you aren’t a regualr cigar smoker yourself, your visit needn’t be intimidating or unfruitful.

Have other ideas for helpful cigar gift-giving tips this holiday season? Please feel free to leave them in the comments below.

Patrick A

photo credit: Flickr

Cigar Tip: Have a Happy Thanksgiving… With Cigars (2016)

23 Nov 2016

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With football on the TV, turkey in your stomach, and family gathered, Thanksgiving is a great day to enjoy a cigar (or several). So, as we have for each of the previous nine years, today the StogieGuys.com team tells you what cigars we’ll be firing up after our big meals.

Patrick A: Industry veteran José Blanco may have relinquished majority control of Las Cumbres Tabaco to his wife as he began his new role at E.P. Carrillo, but that doesn’t make the Señorial brand any less spectacular. I’ve enjoyed this blend—which includes a Habano Ecuardor wrapper, a Nicaraguan binder from Estelí, and Dominican filler tobaccos of the Piloto Cubano and Corojo varieties—since it was launched, and I think the Señorial Corona Gorda No. 5 will be an outstanding post-dinner selection (likely the first of several cigars I’ll smoke Thursday evening). The toasty profile and flavors of red pepper, cedar, molasses, and green raisin will pair well with a strong cup of black coffee. I look forward to sharing this cigar with my family.

Patrick S: A little-known fact is that there were two blends in contention to be the Paul Garmirian 15th Anniversary blend. The blend ultimately not selected for the 15th Anniversary became the PG Soirée. While I’m glad they selected the blend they did (the 15th is my favorite PG blend), the Soirée is also excellent with roasted notes, wood, pepper, and full-bodied flavors. Seeing as it will be cold outside (in order to have a cigar I’ll need to head outside post-dinner), I’m firing up the four-inch Paul Garmirian Soirée Short Robusto and pouring myself an Islay Single Malt.

George E: This Thanksgiving, as we’ve done for the past several years, my wife and I will go out to eat with some friends. That will likely put me home in time to fire up the iPad on the deck and watch the NFL’s mediocre late game. While the football doesn’t hold much promise, my smoke certainly does. I have a Casa Fuente Corona Gorda that’s been in my humidor for several years. It was a gift, and Thanksgiving seems just the right time to celebrate with it.

Previous cigars the StogieGuys.com team designated as Thanksgiving smokes include:

Not a bad list, eh? If you’re so inclined, feel free to let us know what you’ll be smoking tomorrow in the comments below. And be sure to have a safe and joyous Thanksgiving.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Flickr