Cigars consist of three different parts:
  • The wrapper is the outermost leaf, usually tobacco of very high quality (to increase the face value of the cigar).
  • The binder holds the filler together. The amount of tobacco in the binder varies greatly.
  • The filler is the innermost part of the cigar. It can be made from longer strips of tobacco or smaller pieces, usually bits trimmed off of wrapper leaves.
As the different parts of the cigar burns at different temperatures depending on their proximity to the cooler surrounding air, different characteristics are desirable when choosing tobacco for the different parts.

The filler should preferably be light and thin, to ensure a steady burn without emitting too much tar as it burns, whereas the wrapper and, to some extent, the binder should be more full-bodied, perhaps darker and contain more oil and sugar to provide most of the individual taste of the cigar.

The length of a cigar is commonly measured in inches and the girth is either referred to in inches or ring gauge (64ths of an inch) at the thickest part of the cigar.

Cigar sizes are grouped in facons, of which the following are commonly used:
(Exact sizes may vary. Examples takes from Davidoffs)

By storing cigars in around 70% relative humidity somewhere around room temperature, in an air-tight container, the oils in the tobacco slowly seep through the cigar, greatly improving its taste. This happens fairly quickly, usually requiring no more than a couple of weeks to achieve good results. Some cigars are packaged in a metal cylinder along with a piece of veneer from some aromatic wood like sandelwood or cedar. This has the dual benefit of providing flavor to the cigar and a strip of wood with which to light the cigar (dem so called aficionados wouldn't let an ordinary sulphur-infested match come near their prized cancer-torpedo.)

Baffo's guide for the beginner cigar smoker

OK, so you want to try smoking a cigar. Maybe because you wonder what the hype is all about, maybe because all that Clinton business turns you on, maybe because you saw people smoking cigars with great enjoyment, and you think that you will like it.
Just as long as you don't do it because you think it makes you look cool - that would be the silliest reason.
But you never smoked a cigar before ! How do you go about it ? Easy.

Choose a cigar

Choose a good cigar. What is a good beginner cigar ? It is one that is not flavored with cognac, maple, gerbil hair or anything. It is one that does not came with a "It's a boy !" wrapper.
It does not have to be expensive, either. Cuban is great, unless you are being embargoed, in which case you can get great cigars from Honduras, Mexico (Te Amo is OK, Cruz Real is too), Nicaragua, even from Italy (a nice toscano)!
What is most important, is that it has to be fresh. Cigars have to be moist (70% relative humidity), and they do not really keep well unless stored with extreme care. So get it from a shop that has a lot of trade. The cigar you found in a box in the attic probably will not be a good one. A cigar that has been kept in a humidor, on the other hand, can be good even after years.
A dry cigar can be told by gently rolling it between the fingers: if it makes crunchy noises and sheds bits of tobacco, or if it feels very light, it is probably dry and will not be good.

Cutting the cigar

Get a very sharp blade, like a razor blade or a really sharp penknife. Carefully cut a little round piece of the external tobacco wrapper from the closed rounded end of the cigar. This will expose the filler. A very shallow cut is usually enough. I have found Cuban Cohiba cigars that had a somewhat thicker hide, and that required a deeper cut.
Why do you cut the cigar ? The rolling process leaves the cigar open at one end (where you will apply the fire), and close at the other end (where you will apply the mouth).
But to be able to suck air through the cigar (a complex definition for the simple act of smoking it) you need to open the closed end.
If you decide that you like cigars, later on you may want to get a specialized cigar-opening device. Some of them look like little guillotines. I like a penknife. Give the cigar a little experimental suck: you should feel resistence, like sucking on a drinking straw, but air must come through.

Notice that some cigars, like the toscano, are meant to be cut in half. Since the cigar is a bit pointy at both ends, you get two half-cigars with a wider end, which is the one you light.

Lighting the cigar

Cigar purists claim that they light cigars only with cedar splints, not with matches. Whatever. As a beginner, you will not be able to tell the differece. I would use a butane lighter.
The idea is to light evenly the whole end of the cigar, which can be a bit difficult with a big cigar. Anyway, my method is to char the end of the cigar while rotating it before I start puffing. Then, I put the cigar in my mouth, apply the flame and suck (CAREFULLY !), rotating the cigar slowly - this is the trick.
Then take the now-smoking stogie out of your mouth and inspect the embers. If you see a nice uniform cherry, all is well. Some cigars will require a second round of lighting. Don't worry, it is OK. I confirm what Rollo said above: if the cigar does not go cold, you can relight it.

Smoking the cigar

(or, how not to cough up your lungs)

Cigar (and pipe) smoke is NOT like cigarette smoke. It is much more potent. It is meant to stay in your mouth, and it does not go in your lungs. If it goes there, you will feel as if you had swallowed a file, a rasp and a bag of nails.
So, at the beginning, puff carefully. And taste the smoke with your tongue. Take it easy. Smoking a cigar is a somewhat slow experience, best done when you have a bit of time and quiet.
Notice that an unattended cigar will go out in a minute or two - but it can be relit without difficulty.

Cigar ash is much harder than cigarette ash: this means that you can easily accumulate a good inch and a half of ash, without risk of it falling off. Don't keep tapping your cigar obsessively.

In good company

I don't know if it is just a preconceived idea, but I noticed that cigars go well with some really powerful alcoholic drinks: straight rum, tequila, grappa. All of them at room temperature, at least that's the way I like it.

Social acceptability

Did I mention that a cigar produces a lot of very powerful smoke ? This means that you should try it somewhere that you do not mind smoking up.
Your parents' living room probably is not OK.
Cigar smoke also flavors things, like your hair, your clothes, curtains and if you have an open closet ... you get the picture.
Porches are great. Cigars make you understand the Victorian fuss about the gentlemen retiring to the parlor to smoke.

Disposing of the dead

When the cigar gets too hot for your lips, it is time to stop smoking it and put it in an ashtray. Do not crush it, for it will stink. Just leave it there, it will stop burning by itself.
Notice that a dead cigar butt after a while stinks terribly, so after an interval you would do well to empty that ashtray.
Endly, remember that a cigar is a much bigger fire hazard than a cigarette.
This guide comes from personal experimentation
Cigar is also the name of one of the most famous racehorses in recent history. Notable events in his career include:
This node is an example of noding what you don't know--I got all this information from the walls of The Parting Glass, a tavern and dart hall in Saratoga Springs, and the official website of Cigar, at Possibly because of my upbringing near Saratoga, horse racing has a sort of cultured, romantic feel to it, which may explain why I find its history nodeworthy. One other point of interest--my assumption is that the reason behind the name of this horse comes from the common phrase, "Close, but no cigar."

How To Choose the Perfect Cigar

It can be very difficult to choose the right cigar for a particular occasion, especially if you don't smoke with great frequency. The matter of cigars is complicated; cigars are composed from three cuts of tobacco, each of which might come from its own unique location. They come in dozens of shapes and sizes -- hundreds, on both counts, if you include the really obscure figurado sorts. They have different colors, wrapper textures, cap leaves, scents -- even the date that the cigar left the factory is of essential importance to judging it. What I am going to attempt to do is node for all of you an authoritative (if not definitive) guide to picking the perfect cigar.

The Bare Basics
First things first: This node shall not regard paper-wrapped nor mass-produced cigars at all, and only certain information will be applicable to machine-rolled cigars (which can actually be of fairly high quality if produced by a careful manufacturer). I know hand-rolled and quality boutique cigars very well, but what I have to say here probably won't help he who seeks a cigar that costs less than $3. In my opinion -- and, of course, my opinion will be reflected by the construction of this node -- if it doesn't come out of a box, a tube or a humidor, don't smoke it.

Also, I won't touch on cigar brands in the body of this node. There is a list of my favorite brands at the end, but it strictly expresses my personal dispositions, and in no way specifies a standard of quality. Keep in mind: While buying brand names might give cigar consumers a sense of control over what they smoke, even the most reputable Cuban companies (i.e. Cohiba, Partagas, Romeo y Julieta) can produce, and have produced, mediocre and sub-par cigars. Don't worry about the names just yet; wait until your a seasoned aficionado.

Cigar Nationality
Where you cigar comes from isn't so important. That's why I'm starting with this topic. As I stated in the introduction of this node, every individual component of a cigar can have its own country of origin -- Hell, it could have its own continent. However, most cigars are constructed and boxed in a handful of places, and you should probably stick to buying your fine rolled tobacco from one of them. They are, pretty certainly, the USA, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua (and other Central American countries), Mexico, and, if applicable to your circumstances, Cuba. There are many Europe-based boutique cigar manufacturers; they're not all bad, but they tend to severely overprice their products, so you are best off staying away from them.

Shape and Size
The shape and size of a cigar have less to do with its quality than how it burns. Really, the size and shape of your perfect cigar depend on your preferences and circumstances. There are far too many of them for me to cover here, but let a few rules of thumb suffice:
--The longer the cigar, the longer it lasts.
--The broader the cigar, the more intense the smoke.
--The more irregular the cigar's gauge, the more irregular the draw and the evenness of the burn. Cigars with irregular gauges tend to be handmade, and, at that, very difficult to craft. Some people believe that this indicates the superior general quality of a cigar. While obviously there is no immediate correlation between gauge irregularity and the quality of the cigar, it should be noted that they are often equated -- wisely or unwisely.

The size and shape of a cigar are its two most sensational attributes. They will be considered in the selection of your cigar. But don't let the them hijack your decision. They are important when accounting for how and when you are going to smoke; if you are looking for a dessert cigar, you might look to a robusto, which is short (usually between four and five inches in length), but thick (with a ring gauge close to 50), minimizing the time invested in it while producing a bold, flavorful smoke; similarly, if you are looking for an easy, relaxed smoke, maybe for the last four holes of your golf game, a good lonsdale would be best, as they tend to be slightly longer than your standard corona, but comparatively narrow, and smooth. So, if you're buying a cigar for a special occasion, its shape and size might be the first things you have to think about -- but once they're figured out, stop thinking about them! They are practically important characteristics of a cigar, but they don't matter unless the cigar has a specific purpose.

To The Eyes
The way a cigar looks counts for a lot. The first thing that one must take into account is the texture of a cigar's wrapper. If it is easy to make out the lines between the layers of wrapping, the cigar you're looking at probably isn't a great one. In similar form, the cap leaf (the bit of leaf at the end of the cigar from which you smoke) should attach to the rest of the cigar pretty seamlessly; if it looks like it was just stuck on there just before it was packed into the box, it probably was. There shouldn't be any loose wrapper leaf hanging off the cigar, or any filler hanging out of the cigar. Basically, the cigar as a whole should look as if it had been carved from a single piece of wood, sand-blasted and all.

The color or the wrapper is important as well, although less to general quality and more to... you guessed it, preference. Basically, a cigar gets most of its flavor from the wrapper, and its texture from the filler; so the color of the wrapper says a lot about the way a cigar is going to taste. Darker cigars tend to be smokier and spicier, and tend to have more tar and carbon overtones than lighter cigars; those lighter cigars, on the other hand, tend to be lighter and slightly acidic -- which some people demand for their voucher, and others can't stand. Personally, I like lighter cigars for a general smoke, but prefer a darker cigar if I am also enjoying a whiskey, brandy or cordial.

And one last thing: Look out for veiny wrappers. While some like the crispier flavor that veiny wrappers impart to a cigar's overall taste, most do not, and consider it a definite turn-off. The most common position is that the smoother the wrapper, the better.

To the Hands and Nose
This section might be shorter than you'd think, because there isn't really a huge amount to know about how a cigar should feel or smell. Basically, a healthy cigar should have an oily wrapper leaf, and a firm, even construction. If the wrapper isn't slightly oily to the touch (and when I type oily, I mean like adult-skin-oily, not extra-virgin-olive oily), it is probably dried out, and therefore too harsh to smoke; if the cigar is lumpy or the filler feels loose, the burn will be uneven, and the draw too heavy or too light. Stay away from inconsistent cigars -- consistency is key, even with those irregularly shaped figurados.

On to smell. Well, cigars have a reputation for smelling bad. Which is ridiculous. Because stogies -- machine-rolled, mass-produced, processed-tobacco cigars smell bad -- not quality cigars. A good cigar should have an pungent, earthy aroma, which should only be detectable within an inch of the cigar -- until you light it up, that is. There is little variation in cigar scents, but you can generally determine the most outstanding flavors in a cigar by the way it smells -- whether, say, it will be chocolatey or acidic, or have coffee or ash overtones. You might need to have a sharp sense of smell about you, but such things can be figured.

Box Dates
Cigars are like fine wine, and no, I'm not making some tacky romantic simile. They really do get "better" with age. Basically, tobacco ferments as it sits still in a warm, moist environment, and as it ferments, its distinct flavors become more obvious, and its harshness tends to mellow. Cigar filler tobacco is fermented before it is even put into the cigars, but it continues to do so after it has been boxed and shipped. So cigars that have been well-kept in a humidor for a few years can be mighty good, far superior, in most minds, to those that have just left the factory. Most cigar retailers keep their stock in a large humidor, and keep it there until it is sold off. They'll also usually leave a few boxes unopened in there for those who want to buy them as they came. When buying a cigar, or a full box, go for the ones that have been in the humidor mellowing out for a few years. A new cigar can be a great cigar -- but if you have an option, vintage is the way to go.

My Favorite Brands
Remember, brand preference is very subjective. Don't take these selections too seriously.

Romeo y Julieta, Cuba/Dominican Republic; always a strong, flavorful smoke, without those nasty aftertastes; moderate to expensive in price.
Rocky Patel, USA/Honduras; the 1990 Vintage torpedo was the best cigar I have ever smoked; moderate to expensive in price.
Partagas, Cuba/Dominican Republic; always a pleasant surprise from a Partagas cigar of any vitola; moderate to expensive in price.
Oliva, Cuba/Dominican Republic; naturally sweet, mellow cigars for any occasion; inexpensively to moderately priced.
Royal Jamaica , Nicaragua; thick, strong and spicy cigars with great construction; inexpensively to moderately priced.

Ci*gar" (?), n. [Sp. cigarro, orig., a kind of tobacco in the island of Cuba: cf. F. cigare.]

A small roll of tobacco, used for smoking.

Cigar fish Zool., a fish (Decapterus punctatus), allied to the mackerel, found on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.


© Webster 1913.

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