Sometimes a Cigar is Just a Cigar…

…But sometimes it’s more than a smoke.
 
“Brothers, a cigar is not just a private pastime, but the start of a conversation…“ This was the advice of Grand Master Jackson when he handed out cigars to the Masons he met during his term of office.“…If you take this cigar, you’re telling me you will enjoy it while talking to another brother about how to improve your lodge.”
 
We follow that advice, in that smoking for smoking’s sake isn’t our goal, but instead, many of us enjoy a carefully selected ‘stick’ in the great company of the brothers.
 
Our conversations have a purpose. Yeah, we talk about work, our families, sports – manly stuff – but we always come around to the topic of our lodges.
 
A good cigar, for many of us, helps that conversation along.
 
One of our pallies owns Anthony’s Pipe and Cigar Lounge, formerly Golden Leaf Cigar Shop, and we’re pleased to send him our regular business. The smokes pictured in our desktop humidor include some nice Marco V’s, an excellent house brand found at Anthony’s. Others in the photo – and in our humidors at home – include St. Luis Rey, La Gloria Cubana, or Rocky Patel cigars of any type. One of the fellows swears by the Perdomo Habano line. Another likes fat 66 ring gauge Nat Sherman ‘Bankers’, and a third is partial to Cain products. We all like Opus X – who wouldn’t? – and occasional rare and aromatic selections from a certain island 90 miles south of Key West. So close, yet so Foreign! Our Chief Humidor Officer can help you pick a stogie that suits ya!  Speaking of our friend Matt…

Relaxing on the Veranda with Matt

Matt Vegdahl, recently returned from another testing excursion to the fields of Honduras, has agreed to write an occasional column for the many cigar aficianados who visit our website. In addition to his role as Chief Humidor Officer (CHO) of the Chairmen, Matt serves as president of his own Twin Cities cigar club, and we turn to him often for his sage advice on all aspects of that greatest of diversions, tobacco.
Some of the favorites smoked by the Chairmen include:

  • Saint Luis Rey, Serie G, Reserva Especial 6×60
  • Marco V Platinum Grand Reserve
  • Oliva Serie G, Churchill
  • Rocky Patel “Decade”
  • Partegas Serie D, No. 4

Cigars 101

Whether you are one of the Chairmen, or a potential member, or just a guest, we are delighted to provide a little advice while you are here.

When you are looking fer a cigar, you are faced with a range between cheap (Swishers, Backwoods, or machine-made sticks), all the way to the ultra-premium branded names. One of our boys really likes the Backwoods brand, and believe me, he can afford anything he wants. They burn quick, and taste right – fer him. So don’t think you have to drop $20 or $25 on a stick for it to be good. Some tips:

–Quantity–

Individual Cigars or 5-packs are the more expensive way to buy.

Bundles are cheaper than boxes for the same quality.

–Labels–

Cigars without a label can be quite good: they may be seconds (with cosmetic flaws), or extras from a batch of sticks that would normally sell in a box. The label costs money, so omitting the label allows these to go to bargain deals.

–Construction–

The optimal construction of a cigar consists of a number of long leaves individually rolled into thin straws as the filler, then bound up together and somewhat compressed by a fairly tight binder, and finally finished with an unblemished, pretty leaf, called a wrapper. In a fine cigar these three types are all long leaves, so you end up lighting the tip of the leaves, smoking toward what would have been the stem.

Mid-priced cigars can be a mix of long-filler and short-filler (essentially chopped bits of better cigars). This style is called a Cuban Sandwich Roll. The bits of tobacco can flake into your mouth, but may allow you to enjoy a good tasting blend from the parts of better cigars that were cut away to fit into a box. Nothing goes to waste. Good examples include: Bella Cuba, Rocky Patel Renaissance Fumas, Argyle Fumas, and Don Lino Fumas. A tip: when lighting a Cuban Sandwich roll, use a punch cut. More on cut styles, later.

The cheapest cigars are almost fully made of the chopped bits, held by a wrapper. They flake, they burn funny. Often machine made, you will find them at gas stations. Avoid them. Fully machine made cigars are made with short filler, and may omit any effort to make them pretty.

The tighter the cigar, the longer it should smoke, if well-constructed with the tubes we mentioned earlier. Thus if you pick up a bargain bin cigar, and give it a squeeze, and it can compress to half its thickness, that cigar will smoke quickly. It may taste OK, but especially on the lower end, you may not like the way it burns, or flakes.

It’s the combination of Filler, Binder and Wrapper that make the final taste.  Each are different types of leaves, and may even come from different countries. A cigar made of just one of these types is almost always a bad experience and a foul tasting cigar.

–Intensity–

Sun Grown cigars are the most potent, as the flavors are concentrated.  Even for veteran smokers, as one of our pallys put it, “I avoid ’em; they kick my ass.” Their tobacco comes from the leaves that endured the most sun.

On the other end of the spectrum, light wrappers are often grown under gauze. A common source for these in years past has been Connecticut grown tobacco, a name that has become synonymous with lightness. They are milder and the gauze allows the growers to avoid blemishes.

A mid-color wrapper is a Habano, while a Maduro simply means dark.  A maduro isn’t stronger, it’s just more earthy, or rich tasting, which is a product of the curing process.

One interesting style of cigars has a green wrapper. This is a natural style that keeps the original color, and is called a Candela. They can be very tasty.

Last time we were in Cuba, in the western city of Pinar del Rio, we learned their signature construction technique of sealing the wrapper and cap with a few drops of cane sugar water. It leaves a pleasant taste with each draw. If you taste a cigar that has a sweetness at the end, Pinar del Rio is where that idea came from.

Cigars are sold in boxes or bundles, and are usually round. Sometimes cigars come in a “Box Press” shape, tightly packaged and come out of the box in a square form.  While aesthetically pleasing, the only way the cigar can keep this shape is that it is a little looser inside, thus slightly less tobacco. There are other construction tricks that your finer cigar store can explain, like ragged cut, pigtail, or triangular press. These are cosmetic, finishing distinctions.

–Sizing–

Width is measured in ring gauge. Cigarillos are the smallest type, both in gauge and length, just a bit bigger than a cigarette. A Lancero is a long, thin cigar, where the predominant flavor comes from the wrapper and binder, and might be a 38 gauge, about the width of your pinky finger.  A middle-width cigar is commonly a Churchill, measuring maybe 7 inches with a 43 ring gauge, or shorter Robusto. Fatter cigars are called Toros (50 ring) or Gordos (60 ring), about the width of your thumb.

–Taste–

Generally, the darker the cigar, the more earthy or leathery it tastes; dark cigars are not necessarily stronger.  You should sample these to find out what you like. There are flavored cigars, using either a little cognac or scotch, or coffee, or a fruit infusion, all of which have their place. Some cigars are infused with other forms of nastiness, as is common with the Acid brand of smokes.  One of our boys likes a particular Acid smoke called a Kuba Kuba, and outta respect to his age (not his taste buds), we won’t pick on him too much. They say Kuba Kubas are infused with herbs and botanicals, but I think they simply use drug store aftershave. I note his taste buds may have been ruined over the years. The man also likes Laphroaig scotch, fer Pete’s sake. –We ask him to stand downwind.

A premium cigar is a natural product, so residual smoke in a garage or smoking shed tends to dissipate over a day or two. Compare this to the stench from a cigarette that can linger for years. That stench is due to the 1000’s of chemicals used in making cigarettes, versus cigars. Still, we remind you, don’t draw the smoke from a cigar into yer lungs.

–Smoking Cut–

The most common way to cut the end of a cigar is with a Straight Cut. A regular smoker will carry one in his travel humidor.  An option to this, which keeps more of the cap of the cigar in place is a V-cut, where a notch is taken out. A third type is a Punch cut, a tool which may come on the end of a better lighter, fer convenience.  It makes a straw-sized hole in the end of the cigar, leaving most of the cap in place. When smoking a Cuban Sandwich style stick, or a machine made cigar, use a punch cut or V-cut, allowing the cap to hold in the loose tobacco.  Light the other end, and away you go.

Note that on a Cuban Perfecto roll, both ends come to a point.  Cut the one nearest the main label, from which you will draw, but then simply light the other end.  In two puffs it will burn through and begin to burn nicely.

–Storage–

The standard advice is 70/70, that is, keep your sticks (~cigars) at 70 degrees Fahrenheit, at 70% relative humidity. If a stick burns funny, like one side only, that is called “canoeing” and can be prevented by aging unused sticks in a humidor. You can turn the cigar and relight it to attempt to adjust for the uneven burn on a lit stick. Construction errors and poor humidification cause this. A cigar should burn evenly down to the nub.

Note that you don’t have to smoke a cigar all the way down; Winston Churchill smoked eight a day, and would typically put his cigar down half way through smoking it. That’s probably unnecessary, but know that a premium cigar has three taste profiles as you smoke it: first third, middle and last third. Pay attention when smoking a good cigar as to when these tastes evolve. On a really big, and/or long cigar, the final third can get clogged with tar. Tar is unpleasant, so watch for that, too.

Check below for reviews by Matt and the gang. Favorites will get special mention.

Reviews by The Chairmen

Helpful cigar review sites:

The Aspiring Gentleman          Cigar Blog          Brian’s Random Thoughts

The Stogie Guys         Cigar Fan         The Fifty Best (many categories)

Cigar Aficionado.com          Blind Mans Puff.com/         Cigar Dojo.com

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