Let’s just call it how it is; cigar smoking is cool. Health issues aside, it is a fun way to spend an evening. But if you are smoking the stogies for the first time, you may need a little hand-holding to get you through it so you don’t end up looking like the rookie that you actually are.
Now, I am a cigar novice with very little real-world smoking experience. My first taste of cigars was in the eighth grade when my friends and I used to steal Dutch Masters Cigars from the local drugstore and then smoke them in the woods. As you can imagine, it did not end well. (It ended in barfing.) But now that I am older and (finally) wise enough to stay away from cheap product, I am happy to smoke cigars on special occasions, though I don’t smoke them on the regular. So since I can’t speak about proper cigar smoking technique, I had to bring a greater wealth of knowledge on the art of smoking a cigar to the table without looking, you know, dumb. I decided to enlist the services of a more experienced cigar aficionado, so I brought my friend Roberto into the mix.
So, for this cigar-smoking lesson, we did not go out and steal Dutch Masters. No, those days are long behind me. For this experience, we were lucky enough to have our cigars provided by Garo Cigars, an LA-based independent cigar company (founded by a doctor, no less!) that creates their own boutique brand of cigars in a factory located in The Dominican Republic. We smoked Garo’s Maduro Especial – consisting of a wrapper from Ecuador, a binder from Indonesia, and Garo’s own signature blend for filler.
Before Roberto and I lit up, we smelled our cigars, which is actually a thing and not just done by gangsters in movies who are about to icepick someone in the back of the head. A high-quality cigar is rolled tight so it will evenly burn and this one smelled just like… tobacco, which is what you would expect, right? But beneath the scent of tobacco — which is a great smell in and of itself — was another one, one that was pleasant and sweet, which added a very nice touch and spoke of better things to come.
Our next step was to use a cigar cutter to prepare the cigars for lighting. What you never want to do is bite the tip of the cigar off and spit it out. This isn’t the goddamn Wild West and cigars deserve better treatment than that. If you don’t have a cutter, you can punch a hole in — or “bullet” — the tip of the cigar, but cutting it will give you a fuller, richer pull.
Then, we lit these bad boys. We used a regular lighter because, as Roberto elucidated, “matches aren’t for cigars.” Along those same lines, mini blowtorches aren’t just for those on-the-spot welding jobs or, you know, crack . They’re great for getting your cigar to burn fast and hot, which is crucial to the getting the full taste of the cigar.
When lighting your cigar, you should turn the cigar continually (clockwise or counter-clockwise) as you puff on it to get an even burn. Keep puffing until that ember is a nice orange. You want that ember to be constantly glowing. Many cigar aficionados refer to the ember as “the cherry.” To quote Roberto: “You never want to lose the cherry,” which probably makes this the only situation in your life when you would want to follow that advice.
When you smoke a cigar, a good rule of thumb is to puff two times to get it going, and then take a third pull that is more of a drag where you hold the cigar smoke in your mouth. (Note: In case you didn’t know, you don’t inhale cigar smoke like you do cigarette smoke. It is poor form and, more importantly, makes you sick as a dog.) A good cigar is almost like food, with the smoke hitting different parts of your mouth as you continue to enjoy it. A really great cigar, like the Maduro Especial, hits almost all areas of your palate. So when you take a pull you want to keep that smoke in your mouth and almost roll it around in there to experience each flavor profile. (Yes. I just threw out the term “flavor profile” when talking about a cigar. You’re welcome.)
The biggest take-away from this cigar-smoking experience is that you absolutely have to be patient with cigars. Your mouth needs a little time to get familiar with the flavors. Like a really good DJ, cigars change their flow the longer they burn. Most people tend to enjoy the middle and end parts of the cigar, as that is when the flavor profiles really hit. Says Roberto: “Cigars always finish better than they start,” and oftentimes, cigars can be kind of overpowering and a bit of a flavor bully in the beginning. These Garos were not so. With the Maduro Especial, there was a taste of coffee, roasted nuts, a touch of fruit with a spicy, an almost-peppery finish — all of which I would have never experienced if I had bailed early on smoking it.
Cigars take time. A good cigar should take about a half an hour to forty-five minutes to smoke. They are meant to be savored. It is something you make time for. They are not like cigarettes where you just need that nicotine in you right goddamn now. As Roberto eloquently stated as he savored a particularly good pull, “Cigarettes are a quick bang. Cigars are making love.” And there’s no cigar that you’ll love more than a Maduro Especial by Garo Cigars.