A Guide to Premium Cigar Selection and Enjoyment – Part One

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cigar humidors 1 l
cigar humidors 1 l

Part One: The Very Least You Should Know

Let’s face it, premium cigars are not cheap.  And quite often cheap cigars are far from premium.  As a new aficionado of fine cigars, there some pieces of knowledge that will go a long way toward increasing your enjoyment of these incredible delicacies and help keep some of that hard earned cash in your wallet.

According to the most recent Perelman’s Pocket Cyclopedia of Cigars (read book review here…) there are close to 1,500 premium cigar brands in national distribution.  This number does not include many of the small, boutique cigar brands and excludes the majority of “house brands” as well.

With so many cigars to choose from and constant releases of new blends there is a dearth of cigar brands for the newcomer to sort out and select from.  So, how is one to become a connoisseur of fine cigars without having to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy?  We’ll begin with some of the basic knowledge a cigar smoker needs to know… the nature of the blend being smoked.

It is not uncommon for the beginning cigar smoker to select cigars based on name recognition or on the suggestion of a friend.  While neither of these methods of selection is inherently bad, they do not take into account the individual smoker’s preference, or lack thereof.

Determining your preference in cigars is part of the joy of cigars and will save you money spent on cigars that, had you known better, you would not have bought.  I’ve heard many a smoker say, “I tried a so-and-so (insert full-bodied cigar brand here) and it was awful.  I thought I was going to puke half-way in.  It was so bad I threw it away.”

Most often, the uninitiated cigar smoker has purchased a high quality, premium cigar without taking into consideration the blend, its strength, and flavor profile.  Many of the highest rated cigars, according to Cigar Aficionado, such as the Alec Bradley Prensado, the Camacho Corojo, and Rocky Patel Decade are very full bodied smokes that are best left to the experienced smoker.

So, what then is the beginner to do?  Simply put, a little research before purchasing any cigar will prove invaluable to the smoker selecting a new cigar brand to smoke.

First and foremost, you need to know what cigars you’ve tried that you liked and which you did not.  Keeping track of the brands that you find most pleasing will help you identify more, similar brands.  By concentrating on brands of composition similar to cigars known and enjoyed, the beginner can sample a spectrum of cigars that are suited to his or her individual tastes.

So, what then should the discriminating cigar smoker look at when evaluating a new blend?  I believe there are 7 points that should be noted about each new cigar brand sampled.  Knowing these seven simple facts about your cigars will aid you immensely as you begin the adventure of cigar smoking:

  1. Brand name and line
  2. Country of manufacture
  3. Manufacturer (or Distributor)
  4. Size and name
  5. Wrapper type and origin
  6. Binder type and origin
  7. Filler blend and origin(s)

In addition to these seven points, it is helpful down the road to make basic tasting notes and record your thoughts on each new cigar brand sampled.

There are three ways I use to keep my cigar notes.  The first, and by far easiest, is using 3” x 5” cards.  The seven points listed above fit neatly onto the front of a 3” x 5” card with a bit of room at the bottom for notes.  Simply completing a new card for each new cigar brand smoked, the evolving aficionado will become increasingly more and more familiar with the key components of various blends and will develop a better understanding of which cigar have features they favor, and which they cigars they do not.

Oliva Serie V Melanio

3×5 cigar data card for the Oliva Serie V Melanio torpedo

The second way I keep track of cigar brands I smoke is to simply highlight the brand in the latest volume of Perelman’s Pocket Cyclopedia of Cigars.  This book, published annually, lists all major brands in national distribution.  The most recent version, the 2011 Edition, lists 1,321 handmade brands and 77 machine made lines.  Each entry includes the basic information including the Country of Manufacture, the Country of Origin for the Wrapper, Binder, and Filler blend, the Sizes the cigar is available in, and basic notes about the cigar line.  Easily carried, and alphabetically listed for easy access, the information in Perelman’s Cyclopedia is limited by only by being a paper publication with a fixed publication date.  As smoke new cigars that are too new to be found in the most current version, I fall back on 3” x 5” cards to note the pertinent cigar information.

Pocket Encyclopedia of cigars

Perelman’s Pocket Cyclopedia of Cigars, 2011 Ed.

The third option I have used is to create a “Cigar Notebook.”  Just about any notebook will work, however I suggest something durable as in all likelihood, you’ll be thumbing through the pages repeatedly.  At my local artists’ supply store, I found these cool, leather-bound sketch pads.  Each page is large enough (roughly 3” x 5”) to record the seven factors mentioned above, with room for the cigar band and notes.  While I use this method to collect cigar bands more than I do to record information about the cigars (I use the first two methods for this), these books are another great option.  The books I use have an elastic strap that holds the cover closed and a pocket inside the back cover that is perfect for stashing bands until I get a chance to glue them in.  I’ve found that I can safely fit 125 cigar bands in each book, and although there are more pages adding too many bands swells the book and tends to tear at the bindings.

notebook

The 3″ x 5″ leather bound artist notebook from my local art supply store features a bookmark, elastic tie, and pocket inside the back jacket for storing cigar bands makes an excellent cigar notebook.

A final option is to use computer software, either spreadsheet or database, to create a list of cigars.  While this method has some strong advantages, I’ve found that I just never seem to find the time to type in all the information.  There are also a great number of IPhone and Droid apps on the market that can help the up and coming cigar smoker make educated selections.  Some of the better apps have sections for adding favorites, notes, and even pictures.  But alas, this subject too is beyond the scope of this article.

So, to review…

  • Learn and not what you smoke
  • Learn what you like and what you do not
  • Start slowly
  • Start mild
  • Don’t be afraid to try samplers!
Smooth Classic Cigar Combo

2 COMMENTS

  1. That’s right. Start off with a very mild cigar like National Brand (robusto). Take your time and don’t smoke it too fast. Savor the flavor to see how it tastes. It’s an inexpensive cigar, well made by the way, with long filler, and a sweet cap. Not a bad smoke really.

    If someone tells to to smoke such and such a cigar, you may not like it. It may be too strong for you. The point is, you need to take your time and find what cigars you like.

    And learn how to cut and light your cigar. Do you like a straight cut, a plug cut, or perhaps a v cut? When I decided to buy my first cigar, I made a straight cut. But I really like a plug.

    Next, you need to light your stogie. You don’t need a fancy lighter. A Bic will do the same job, light your cigar. You want to light it evenly so that it doesn’t burn up one side more then the other. Again, take your time and rotate the cigar. Wooden matches are also good. If you can, try to get the extra long matches. You’ll have more time to evenly light the cigar. And if you can light the cigar inside, do so. The wind can cause an uneven light, have your lighter go out….etc. But that doesn’t mean you always have to light it indoors.

    And cigars are not to be smoked like cigarets. You don’t inhale a cigar. You draw the smoke into your mouth, savor the flavor, then blow the smoke out.

    And when is the best time to smoke? Well that depends. Some people smoke every day, while others from time to time. It’s a Saturday night, and you just finished a really good dinner.

    Smoking is not about consumtion, it’s about enjoyment.

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