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Cigar Tip: Cigars and the Common Cold

18 Sep 2017

[Editor’s Note: The following commentary first appeared at StogieGuys.com on April 7, 2010. Since the author is currently suffering from a head cold, and since he’s not feeling well enough to smoke, he thought today would be a good day to revisit the topic. Conveniently, re-posting an old article would also get him out of having to write anything new for the day. He figures if you’ve been publishing for overa decade, you deserve a little break now and then. By the way, take note of two specific cigars that get mentioned below; in the author’s eyes, at least, they really date this article.]

Some call it a sinus infection. Others call it the common cold. The medical community recognizes it as a “viral upper respiratory tract infection.” No matter what the name, the symptoms are usually the same: runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, mild fatigue, and possibly a fever. And, like the summertime blues, there ain’t no cure.

The average adult experiences two to four colds per year. I got my first (and hopefully last) case of the 2010 cold this weekend. In typical fashion, it came overnight with a scratchy throat, stuffed up my nose for a few days, and left just as quickly as it arrived. No big deal, but enough to cause me to cancel a few weekend activities.

One activity I cut back on while sick is cigar smoking. I’m not really concerned that cigars will prolong the cold’s duration (although doctors say smokers tend to have longer colds—but then again, doctors say a lot of things). I just find cigar smoking a lot less enjoyable when my throat is sore or my nose is clogged.

I’d never attempt to review a cigar when my nose—the best cigar tasting instrument I have—is out of whack. Recently, though, I conducted an experiment. I fired up a Rocky Patel Vintage ’90 Toro to see if I could identify the flavors I normally associate with this cigar (cocoa, spicy wood, etc.). I couldn’t.

Not even close. I could have been smoking pretty much anything and it would have tasted like chalky, billowy air. As expected, this was a reminder of the huge role our sense of smell plays in cigar tasting and how important it is to routinely smoke through the nose.

Aside from being an impediment to appreciating premium tobacco, my cold also reminded me that I’m far from addicted to tobacco. I went a solid five days without smoking (and I’ve gone much longer under different circumstances, like when I was training for a marathon). Never once did I experience cravings, headaches, nausea, anxiety, or other symptoms common to those trying to quit cigarettes. Sure, I missed not being able to thoroughly enjoy a cigar. But it wasn’t an epic battle to lay off the leaf for awhile.

Now I’m feeling much better. I took my nose for a test drive with a 601 Red and everything seems to be back to normal. Health permitting, I’m looking forward to catching up on some new reviews and Quick Smokes in the weeks to come.

The next time I get a cold, I’ll probably get lots of sleep, drink lots of fluids, and avoid cigars—at least expensive ones. I suggest you do the same.

Patrick A

photo credit: Flickr

Cigar Tip: Ten Do’s and Don’ts for New Cigar Smokers

6 Sep 2017

When you’ve been writing about cigars for as long as we have at StogieGuys.com—more than 11 years, actually—it can seem like every subject imaginable has been covered. Sometimes it’s necessary to take a step back and remember that not all of our readers have been with us for years, and not everyone is a seasoned cigar veteran.

So this one is for the beginners. Those smokers who’ve just gotten into the hobby. After all, we like to think of our site as free of snobbery, judgement, or condescension. New smokers are most welcome here and encouraged to ask questions (either via comments or otherwise).

In honor of you, the new cigar smoker, here are ten do’s and don’ts addressing some questions you may have and, hopefully, helping you get off on the right foot.

Don’t ask your local cigar shop for Cubans. Now, let’s be honest. Some shops may have a stash of Cuban cigars for regular customers. But it’s still illegal, and you can get off on the wrong foot by bringing up the topic.

Don’t bring your own cigars into a shop to smoke. It’s in poor taste, and a slap at the store owner who has to pay rent.

Don’t buy too many cigars at first. Your tastes will almost certainly change along the way and so will the cigars you enjoy. Also, focus more on samplers and less on boxes.

Don’t obsess. Whether it’s humidity levels or finding a new limited edition release, don’t let pursuit create stress. That’s the polar opposite of the mental state cigars should help create.

Don’t flick the ash like it’s a cigarette, and don’t stub out the cigar when you’re done. Just leave it in the ashtray to die on its own.

Do pay attention to what you like and dislike. Note things like the blender and tobaccos. That can help suggest other cigars to try and to avoid. Keeping a simple cigar journal can help with this.

Do experiment. There’s a vast world of cigars out there, and if you limit yourself too soon you run the risk of missing out.

Do listen to informed smokers to gain information and insight, but don’t take anyone’s word as gospel. Remember: The best cigar in the world is the cigar you like the best.

Do select a cigar size appropriate to the time you have for smoking. And when you have it lit, take your time. Smoking is not a race, and you don’t want to overcook the tobacco.

Do enjoy yourself. That’s what it is all about.

For further learning that’s a little more structured than search engines and perusing blogs (all of which are great resources, by the way), check out our Cigar University.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

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