We need to take time to enjoy the ride and take part in simple pleasures. Time with friends, incredible food, magnificent Scotch and of course a good cigar. Cigars are a pleasure that many people already enjoy, yet there are many watching though the window. They hesitate because they simply don’t know much about cigars and can be embarrassed to ask. If I were to give you one sagely piece of wisdom, it would be to always have the courage to ask questions. Because I now many people are curious, let’s take a brief look at cigars and help you on the path.
While Columbus is credited with the introduction of tobacco to Europe, the Mayan Indians of Central America had been smoking tobacco long before Columbus’ parents even thought about little Christopher. The word the Indians used was sikar which would be morphed by the Spanish into cigarro and then to cigar. Tobacco soon became a massive cash crop and it flourished from Virginia throughout the Caribbean. By the 19th century there were cigar factories scattered around the United States as the popularity of the cigar began to grow. Cultural icons of the time such as Mark Twain were rarely without a cigar which further fueled its growth.
Twain was noted to have smoked at least 20 cigars a day by the way. Cigar smoking continued to expand over time and more makers entered the market. Considered some of the best, Cuban cigars ran into an issue in 1962 when President Kennedy imposed an embargo on Cuba and its’ new leader Fidel Castro. What is not widely known is that Kennedy sent his press secretary, Pierre Salinger, on a mission to find as many Cuban H. Upmann petit corona cigars he could find in Washington.
Once he had secured around 1200 of the cigars, Kennedy put the embargo in place. Fast forward to today and the cigar is even more popular. Premium cigars are made in several different countries, including Nicaragua, Brazil, Cuba, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and the Philippines. While Cubans are considered a premier cigar, the quality of cigars from other countries has improved dramatically in recent years and in many cases, rivals their Cuban counterparts.
We have our history lesson out of the way, now we need to begin to understand just what is what with different cigars. Cigars come in a variety of shapes and sizes and is one of the primary ways cigars are classified. Cigars are measured using two specific factors – length and diameter. While length is measured in inches, the diameter of the cigar is measured in something called “ring gauge.” The diameter is broken into 64ths of an inch. As an example, a cigar with a ring size of 44 is 44/64ths of an inch in diameter.
Sorry, I should have warned you that there would be math involved. Don’t fret over it though. This is just a guide to give us an idea of how close to an inch in diameter the cigar is. Cigars also vary in length from something called Nubs which are short cigars in the 4” range to Cohiba Lanceros which can reach the 7” area. Contrary to what some believe, there is no connection between the size of a cigar and its strength. It all comes down to tobacco used. Regarding shape there are two specific classes. Straight side cigars with rounded heads and an open foot are called parejos. Cigars with irregular sides are called figurados. A good example of this style is called the torpedo and its’ name describes its shape quite well.
The cigar is further broken down into four parts; the cap, or tip, the head, the body and the foot. More simply, the foot is what you light and the cap is where you cut the cigar. The insides of a cigar can be complex and based on unique formulas created by the makers. Suffice it to say the filler, binder and wrapper are a topic worthy of an article by themselves. In the end a cigar maker wraps everything together and caps and trims the stick to a uniform size. At minimum cigars are aged 21 days with some ageing them up to 24 months.
Well, you have all the fundamentals of history and nomenclature so let’s move forward a bit. When it comes time to choose your first cigar you should visit with a professional tobacconist or good friend who is extremely knowledgeable about the topic. A good cigar will have been kept in a humidor to ensure it is properly maintained. Your tobacconist will also have a cutter to trim the cigar for you. I would encourage a mild cigar to get you started such as a macanudo. Next up we need to put flame to it. Simply hold it in your hand and put flame to the foot. Rotate it gently until it is glowing a bit, then take a few puffs on it to get it rolling.
Now for the most important thing you must know about smoking a cigar. Do not inhale. Yes, let the President Clinton jokes roll freely now, but this is no joke. Inhaling can be overwhelming and even lead to nausea. Cigars are like exceptional Scotch or wine. They should be slowly tasted and enjoyed. You should puff on the cigar, allows the smoke into your mouth to enjoy the flavor, and then blow it out. Take your time and enjoy it. Smoking a cigar is designed to be a pleasurable break from the hectic nature of life. Do not be tempted to cut corners or rush the experience.
A good cigar reminds us that life is supposed to be lived and not rushed through. Remember, everyone has ultimately the same destiny. We might as well take some time and enjoy the ride.