Having a “Boston Legal” Moment (With A Good Cigar)

“In what is now the traditional ending to each episode, Shore and Crane wander out to the spacious balcony off of Crane’s office, and Scotch and cigar in hand, rehash the high points or lessons learned of the previous 60 minutes.” From Betsy Model’s Sept/Oct 2006 Cigar Aficionado article on William Shatner.

I will begin by giving you the definition of a cigar: “It’s a tightly-rolled bundle of dried and fermented tobacco that is ignited, so that its smoke may be drawn into the mouth” (and not the lungs).

The History Of The Cigar

Cigars have a rich and varied history, dating back to when Christopher Columbus and his crew encountered them in Hispaniaola and introduced them to the rest of Europe.

There have been many notables throughout history who have enjoyed cigars. For example, Rudyard Kiplings (1865-1936) made reference to cigars in his poem “The Betrothed” when he wrote, “And a woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke.” I’m always very careful about quoting this phrase.

Another was Red Auerbach – former coach of the Boston Celtics from 1950 to 1967. When the victory was certain, out would come the cigar. It was “the symbol of victory” during his time as the Boston Celtics coach.

Perhaps the most famous cigar smoker was George Burns. When he was interviewed in 1994 (he was 98 at the time), and he was asked about his cigars, he said, “Today I smoke about 10 cigars when I’m not working and 15 when I am working.” So much for the Surgeon General’s warning. When he died at the age of 100, he was buried with three cigars in the breast pocket of his suit. George Burns had many quotes, but my favorite was his definition of happiness: “A good cigar, a good meal, and a good woman – or a bad woman; it depends on how much happiness you can handle.”

While I certainly don’t pretend to be an expert, I would like to pass on some things I’ve learned about selection, accoutrements, protocol, and how to simply enjoy a good cigar.

A Cigar Is A Smoke

I’m sure most of us have at least tried a cigar, or at least received one as a gift. Receiving a cigar as a gift can be great, and what always makes it great is the price. I’ve received some good ones; however, if the cigar’s cellophane wrapper has printed on it “It’s A Boy (Girl),” I’ve found it’s always a bad cigar. So, apart from receiving a cigar from a trusted friend, I certainly prefer to select my own, and I tend to avoid a stogie (definition) – “a cigar, especially a thick cheap one.”

When it comes to selecting your cigar, you will be presented with lots of choices. But what it all boils down to is making four decisions: how long you want the cigar to last, how intense you want the smoke, what flavors you want to savor, and how much you want to pay.

Smoking Time

Cigars are categorized based on their sizes, shapes, ring gauge and smoking time. A cigar is usually about 3-7 inches in length, but it can be much longer. The diameter of a cigar is measured by a ring gauge. As a rule, a ring gauge of 64 means a 1″ diameter. So, gauge is determined by 1/64ths of an inch. Wider cigars also tend to give fuller flavor and smoke slower. Thin cigars usually do not give as full a flavor as thick cigars.

Smoking time ranges from 15 minutes to over an hour. I found a table on the internet that listed length and ring gauge according to type of cigar by name. I added some other information, such as average smoking time, to help you in making your decision. See the table below:

NameLengthRing GaugeSmoking Time and Comments
Belvedere3 to 530 to 36From 15 - 20 minutes. For those in-between moments.
Corona5 ½ to 642 to 45From 30 – 45 minutes. A nice size. The benchmark other cigar sizes are compared to.
Panatela5 ½ to 6 ½34 to 38Around 35 minutes. Generally smooth and mild with a variety of flavors.
Belicoso5 ½ to 648 to 54Around 40 minutes. Like a corona, but has a pointed cone-shaped head which amplifies aroma and taste.
Lonsdale6 to 6 ½42 to 44Around 45 minutes. Like a corona only longer, and thicker than a panatela.
Churchill6 ½ to 746 to 48From 45 – 60 minutes. Thicker than a Lonsdale.
Robusto4 ½ to 548 to 50Around 25 minutes. Short and fat.
Toro
(also Corona Gorda)
6 to 6 ½48 to 50Extremely flavorful. Usually pricey. Great for special occasions.
Presidente7 to 8 ½52 to 60From 60 – 90 minutes. Sporting events or length social gathering. Usually complex and flavorful.
Torpedo (Cone Shaped Head)5 ½ to 6 ½46 to 52From 45 – 60 minutes. Also termed a figurado.

Smoking Strength

Generally speaking, cigars are separated into four categories of smoking strength:

  1. Mild
  2. Mild to Medium
  3. Medium to Full-bodied
  4. Very Full-bodied

Mild cigars are recommended for beginners, since the more full-flavored cigars would most likely taste too strong to a new smoker. Mild cigars are also the least expensive, so you won’t have to worry about ruining an expensive cigar by lighting it incorrectly, or by cutting too much off the closed end. Also, cigars can make you sick. I repeat. A CIGAR CAN MAKE YOU SICK. . . REALLY SICK. So take it easy on size and intensity – especially in the beginning.

In terms of color, the darker the wrapper, the more full-bodied the cigar is likely to be. The longer the leaf stays on the plant, the more sunlight it gets and the darker it will end up being. There are dozens of possible shades of cigar wrappers.

Flavor (taste)

Each brand and type of cigar tastes different. While the wrapper does not entirely determine the flavor of the cigar, darker wrappers tend to produce a sweetness, while lighter wrappers usually have a “drier” taste. Whether a cigar is mild, medium, or full-bodied does not correlate with quality. Some words smokers use to describe cigar flavor and texture include spicy, peppery (red or black), sweet, harsh, burnt, green, earthy, woodsy, cocoa, roasted, aged, nutty, creamy, cedar, oak, chewy, fruity, and leathery.

Many different things affect the scent of cigar smoke: tobacco type, quality of the cigar, added flavors, age and humidity, production method (handmade vs. machine-made) and more.

Price

Former Vice President Thomas R. Marshall, was once quoted as saying, “What this country needs is a good five cent cigar,” and a century later we are still waiting. The range of prices is as great as the range of types. Being an occasional cigar smoker (around once a week), I usually pay around $6.oo; however, I have paid up to $15.00 on special occasions. As in most cases, you usually get what you pay for.

How To Store A Cigar

Cigars can improve and mellow with age, and a properly stored cigar can last almost indefinitely. An aged cigar in perfect condition burns more evenly with a smoother taste, but an improperly stored cigar can crumble or become moldy. Choose a well-made humidor lined with unfinished Spanish cedar. Most humidors, even the less expensive ones, come lined this way, so you won’t have to max your credit card to get Spanish cedar.

There are many sizes of humidors to choose, beginning with those small enough to fit in one’s pocket. These humidors store approximately five cigars and have a humidification device set into their tops, so cigars can be stored for several days. A slightly larger humidor, the travel variety, stores approximately 10 cigars. There are even travel humidors slightly larger in size that resemble a small briefcase for those who wish to carry several boxes of their favorite smokes. The most common humidors are desktop models. These range in size from those that store approximately 25 cigars to those that include a shelf for stacked storage. They can store up to 250 cigars. Desktop models are extremely popular and are purchased for the office as well as the home with styles that complement any decor.

When selecting a humidor, there are two schools of thought on the size to purchase: One says your humidor should provide twice the capacity of what you’ll store. The other says a humidor is like your freezer – it is most efficient if it is full. I subscribe to the former.

The humidity in the humidor should be between 67 – 70%. Most humidors come with a humidification device. From what I’ve read, most don’t do an adequate job. The recommendation at the cigar stores I’ve visited is to use a bottle of crystals manufactured by a company called Xikar. It will maintain the humidity at 70%, and is advertised as “the best thing to happen to cigars since fire.” Along with this they make a propylene glycol solution to replenish the crystal solution, or to add to the humidification device if you are using it.

To cure the humidor, you must first prepare it. This means making sure the Spanish cedar has been properly moistened and the humidity is maintained at the proper levels. It is not the humidification device (or crystals) that directly adds moisture to the cigars. It provides the moisture for the Spanish cedar which, in turn, will supply the moisture to the cigars. If the cedar has not been properly moisturized, or cured, the humidor cannot do its job. To properly cure the cedar, wet a sponge or paper towel with distilled water and wipe down the complete interior. Make sure you use distilled water and there is no standing water. Repeat this step after an hour or so, checking the hygrometer as to the humidity, or take that sponge and make sure it is damp. Place it on the bottom of the humidor (preferably on a piece of plastic, not directly on the cedar), and let it sit for about 24 hours. Check the sponge for moisture. If it is relatively dry, add more water and repeat the procedure. If it is wet, then the cedar has absorbed all the moisture it needs. Check your hygrometer to verify this. Once the humidor has been cured, use your humidification device (or crystals) to maintain the proper humidity. Don’t use tap water as it can damage your cigars as well as the humidification device.

How To Cut A Cigar

Preparing to smoke a cigar can be a wonderful experience in itself. First of all, almost every premium cigar has a closed head that must be cut before you can begin to smoke. Watch the actors in old movies and you’ll see that there are a host of ways to open the closed end of a cigar before smoking it. Some characters used a pocket knife to cut a neat V-shaped notch. Others used horseshoe nails as piercers. Certain film stars in tough-guy roles bit off the end and spat it out. Sure, it would fit well with the belching and scratching we will probably be doing, but biting the end destroys the integrity of the assemblage, and you probably will be spitting tobacco leaves the rest of the smoke. Some people today still use these methods, but for the most part, cutting cigars has become a bit less colorful, and a bit more elegant.

Cutting your cigar is not rocket science, but certain basic skills and good materials are needed to give your cigar a clean cut. If you don’t have the appropriate tools or don’t cut where you are supposed to, your wrapper will unravel and it may be bothersome while you smoke. Let’s take a look at the different cutters in the market:

  • The Guillotine cutter:
    A single blade cutter designed to cut off the cap. Most will cut up to 54 ring cigars.
    Pros: These are some of the cheapest cutters you can find.
    Cons: You will need to cut your cigar in one quick, strong movement to get acceptable results.
  • The Double Blade cutter:
    It is the same concept as the guillotine, but the two blades provide a more precise cut. You will also need to cut with force, but some sophisticated double blade cutters have a spring mechanism that ensures a clean cut every time.
    Pros: You can cut any shape cigar, including Figurado shapes like Torpedo.
    Cons: Be careful not to cut below the cap or your cigar wrapper will unravel.
  • The Bullet Punch cutter:
    The punch cutter will cleanly cut a small hole on the head of the cigar. To cut a bigger hole, you just need to insert the punch several times at different places of the cap until you get the desired width.
    Pros: No cutting skills required, and you can conveniently carry your cutter around using the key ring attachment.
    Cons: You cannot use this type of cutter on Figurado shapes.
  • The Cigar Scissors:
    Just like a double blade cutter, the cigar scissors cuts off the cap of the cigar.
    Pros: They have an elegant, sophisticated look and some are very lightweight and small.
    Cons: You will need special cigar cutting scissors with surgical quality stainless steel.
  • The V-Shape cutter:
    This cutter will cut a V-shape hole on the cap of your cigar.
    Pros: Will give you more surface area than the punch and works great on small ring cigars.
    Cons: Don’t bother with a cheap V-shape cutter; it will most likely damage your cigar.

The key to a good cigar cut is to be quick and precise. Find your mark and clip it quickly. If you plan on smoking cigars on a regular basis, you should invest in a good cutter. Also ensure the blades are sharp so that there is no tearing involved, cutting your cigar correctly means you will have a better tasting smoke.

How To Light A Cigar

The preferred way to light your cigar is to first toast the end before you bring it to your mouth. Do it the same way you would toast a marshmallow over a campfire–keep the cigar above and near the flame, but don’t let them touch. Burning a cigar directly in a flame makes it too hot. And, as with a marshmallow, you’ll want to rotate the cigar so all parts of its tip are equally heated. Be patient, and keep at it until there’s a glowing ring all the way around the cigar’s tip. Once the cigar is lit, gently blow on the embers to create a smooth, completely rounded ash.

Then, raise the unlit end of the cigar to your mouth and take the first puff. The question is, which way to puff? Many aficionados blow the first puff out through the cigar in order to avoid unsavory flavors such as sulfur from matches or gasses from lighters. No one, of course, should ever apply more than one outward puff. Realistically, even the best cigars will go out on those occasions when the conversation becomes so absorbing that you forget to take a puff for a couple of minutes. Do not, however, intentionally let your cigar die out and then relight it the next day. This will lead to stale, harsh flavors that will ruin your fine memories of the first few puffs. Never light a cigar with a flame from a source that will alter the essence of your cigar.

Cigar lighters are the easiest way to get an even light. What makes a lighter a cigar lighter? A cigar lighter uses odorless gas, and often has a “fatter” flame, or even two adjacent flame sources, and adjustable flame heights.

Cigar lighters come in a wide range of designs and materials, so it will be easy to find one that’s an appropriate accessory for your sense of style. Your first requirement should, of course, be performance. A good lighter, like a good pen, should fit your hand. The cap should open easily, and swing back so the whole flame is available for lighting.

Regardless of the style of lighter that you select, the experts suggest the best ones have butane fuel. They caution people not to use regular lighter fluid or matches since cigars can absorb any number of tastes, and butane is both colorless and odorless.

Because cigars are made with moist tobacco, opposed to the dry tobacco used in cigarettes, it is best to use a lighter made specifically for cigars. They have a broader flame and use clean-burning fuel. The combination of these two factors makes for a better tasting cigar. And if you are an outdoorsy person and plan on enjoying cigars in the great outdoors, then a windproof cigar lighter is crucial.

Butane lighters use a clean burning fuel that won’t alter the cigar’s taste. They are also wind and waterproof and provide a precise flame that allows for a more evenly lit cigar. Torch lighters produce a bright blue or green flame with an intensity that can be more easily controlled.

Decide how much you’re willing to spend. A good, wind-resistant lighter with refillable butane costs in the $50-$100 range, while a designer lighter can run you up to $200.

You can buy these online, but I suggest buying them in a cigar store so you can either try it or have it demonstrated. If I’m going to spend that kind of money, I want to test drive it first.

The Cigar Life

Cigar enjoyment

The bloggers enjoying cigars at The Carnegie Club, New York City, May, 2017

We’ve already covered cigar selection and the needed accoutrements. And we’ve discussed how to cut and light the cigar. Now it’s time to enjoy your cigar.

Hold the cigar up to your mouth and draw in smoke. Hold the smoke in your mouth for a few seconds to taste it, and then let it go. It’s usually not a good idea to inhale cigar smoke. Rotate the cigar periodically to maintain an even burn on all sides. Cigar smoking is supposed to be fun and leisurely. Take your time. It isn’t a race to the end. Break any other rule but this one because someone who is calmly and coolly enjoying a fine cigar is at least doing the most important thing right.

Extinguish it when it is done. As a rough guide, when you’ve smoked 3/4 of the cigar, it should be set to the side of an ashtray and allowed to go out on its own (don’t grind out your cigar). You’ve just experienced the most enjoyable part of the cigar, that tasty “sweet spot” occurring in the last 3-1/2″ to 4″ of a full-sized stogie, and now you’re getting a bit too close to the burn for any quality smoke. Before you set it down, gently blow through the cigar to expel any smoke that will go stale. After about half an hour, a cigar will give off a strong odor due to chemical buildup inside the stick. Relighting a cigar after this period has passed generally results in a strong, bitter taste; as a result, most aficionados prefer to throw out a smoked cigar.

So how does one get the most enjoyment from their cigar? To truly enjoy a cigar, the main thing that you would need to know is the type of cigar that you enjoy. We covered this under selection, but if you are not sure of what you like, you can go to any cigar store and there you will find someone that can help you get started. Once you have determined the type you enjoy, the next thing that you will need to do is determine the environment in which you will be smoking the cigar. Some people enjoy smoking at a lounge or in an indoor area where cigars are allowed. Others prefer to smoke in a quieter place outdoors. Once a place is selected, you will then need to determine who, if anyone, you want to share a cigar with. This is one point that most cigar smokers will agree on. There is nothing better in the world than smoking a cigar with a friend…

…And a drink. Sit back with your cigar in one hand and a glass of your favorite drink in the other. My personal favorite is Courvoisier. It is a wonderful cognac which comes in all price ranges. A fifth of V.S. runs about $30, while the V.S.O.P. costs about twice that much, and it goes on up from there. Coming in a close second is Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum. Also, Ken Meier of Meier’s Cork ‘n Bottle in Lincoln has recommended several wines, one of which is a 2008 California Old Vines Turley Zinfandel. I’ve tried a tawny port and loved it. I’ve tried some single malt and didn’t care for it – too crisp, too clean. I’m thinking a good quality bourbon may possibly be better.

So you have gotten the basic foundation for you cigar enjoying experience. Given just this, you will be hard pressed not to enjoy your cigar. This can be an experience almost more wonderful than anything else in life.

I would be remiss if I failed to offer a warning after extolling all of the goodness and fun. By no means are cigars healthy. Cigars contain more nicotine than a cigarette has. Actual absorption varies based on frequency of puffing and inhalation. I’ve said this several times before, but do not inhale the cigar! Especially if you are very conscious of the health effects, you will know that they can be minimized, (but never eliminated) if you don’t inhale. Even just puffing will have nicotine and other ingredients absorbed by the lining of your mouth.

Despite all of this, DO remember George Burns. He lived to be over 100 years old even though he smoked 10-15 cigars a day. Your health risk is proportional to your exposure. If you smoke a couple of cigars a week, it probably won’t hurt you. Despite some minimal risks, many physicians actually encourage cigar (and pipe) smokers to continue smoking up to three times a week because the psychological benefits far outweigh any sort of health risks.

I can get this marvelous sense of well-being from smoking a cigar with a splash of cognac I haven’t been able to find anywhere else. It totally relaxes me. I consider it a sophisticated pleasure, and the experience is enhanced for me when shared with Dorothy and friends. Cigar aficionados and people involved in making cigars have created a culture around the art of smoking and its finer elements. It won’t take you long to discover there is a huge difference between a good $3 hand-rolled cigar and a $1.79 pack of cellophane wrapped stogies.

So sit back, relax, and savor the moment, for it truly will be enjoyable.

I will close with some quotes other people have said about enjoying a cigar:

“Cigars: They force me to slow down, savor the moment, and take a deep breath. You cannot hurry a cigar.” – Nathan Pralle

From the Sex, Cigars and Booze Lifestyle Magazine:

  • “What I like about cigars is that they make you stop, relax and enjoy the moment. You don’t smoke a cigar, you experience it.” – Justin T. Ogden
  • “Smoking a cigar is like meditation for me; it’s a point of focus that stimulates all of my senses, taste, texture, smell, sound, everything.” – ergo_evolution
  • “I like the relaxation that cigars give me. I enjoy the look, aroma & feel of cigars. I respect the heritage of cigars & the people who make them.” – cigarsmokingman
  • “I like the brotherhood/sisterhood and friendship that comes from being a cigar aficionado.” – DCsPeoplesChamp
  • “Un cigare c’est beau à regarder” (Translation: a cigar is beautiful to watch). – JP_O

“Any cigar smoker is a friend, because I know how he feels.”  – Alfred de Musset

“Watching the smoke dance out of a cigar is like watching a woman dance out of her dress. Sublime, beautiful & sensual.” – D. H. Mondlfeur

“When you have an hour to smoke a cigar, it should be the best hour of your day. And we want to be part of your best hour.” – Alan Rubin, CEO, Cigar Co. Alec Bradley

“I smoke nothing but Cubans. My favorite Cuban cigar is a Ricardo. It’s a Desilu production.” – Bob Miller