Friday, January 22, 2010

Top ten cigar faux pas and idiosyncrasies that could ruin your cigar experience

I knew I wanted to write a "Top Ten" list like this and the idea got some fire under it last week after a conversation with a good friend of mine. At age 26 and with only eight years of cigar experience, I do not pretend to know it all. Paul Garmirian once wrote that "taste is subjective, but a bad cigar is a bad cigar." I want to add a little bit to that. Yes, anyone has the right to enjoy a cigar and in the fashion that they fit. However, as my good friend, Chris, said the other day, "If people would take just a little time to research a little, it improves an experience tenfold."

I couldn't agree more.

That is where I feel this blog should fit in. I am writing down my reviews, experiences and stories for your enjoyment, with a little education on the side.

So, without further ado, here is my top ten list of faux pas and idiosyncrasies that will ruin (or marginally disrupt) your cigar experience...

10) Size Matters? - Get your mind out of the gutter and quit trying to compensate for something. Yes, there was a time when all I did was reach for a Churchill. God love'em, after all you get twice the cigar for just little more money. It was economical for me, but either way allows you to mature and experience all sizes; Robusto to Toro, Salomon to figurado, and yes, even Presidente. Grow up Count Chocula, size DOES NOT matter.

9) Is that a Cuban?- When puffing on your favorite stogie, either on your porch, in the park, or even at your local cigar shop, how many times have you heard this question? Let's put it this way, as a ratio from how many times I've been asked, first, versus how many Cubans I have actually smoked, the number looks like this: 100 to 1. That isn't an exaggeration. I get asked, probably 1 to 3 times per month. "Yes, as a matter of fact, I am a cultural attaché to a South American country, visiting Texas and I brought my own Cubans!”

8) CIGARS STINK! - So does your mom! Just kidding, only when she doesn't bathe. I have approached this debate from many angles over the years and I have a conclusion. Just as taste is subjective, I suppose smell is too. On the other hand, I have had a few experiences like the following story by Paul Garmirian. In his book, Gourmet Guide to Cigars, Garmirian describes an instance where he was sitting at his desk in his office one night and a female colleague walked by and saw an unlit, still wrapped cigar by his side. “You’re not going to light that are you, Paul? Cigars smell terrible!” Garmirian being the gentleman that he is replied that he would abstain in her presence. Later that evening, after she had left, he lit the cigar and continued to work. The colleague returned and unbeknownst to the source, asked Garmirian what smelled “so heavenly.” Over the next few hours they had a candid chat about smoking and eventually the woman quit smoking cigarettes and moved onto cigars. Miracle worker!

7) I DIDN'T INHALE!- You better not. I get asked this almost as much as the Cuban question. Why would I inhale? I smoke because I enjoy life, not because I want to end mine. On the same note, I do see many first-timers and amateurs inhale. Althought mostly by accident or habit of smoking down cigarettes, inhaling occurs quite frequently among newcomers to cigar smoking. That really doesn't bother me as much as the fact that it turns many of these people away from cigars altogether. I remember introducing cigars to a one-time girlfriend, who commented, "Not bad, but I think I like cigarettes better." Oh, the agony! Never mind, her first puff was inhaled deeply then exhaled through the nose. Pretty bad ass at the time, but even now it is pretty brutal to think what that would do to one's nasal passages. If you haven't figured this out yet, take this under serious advisement. Cigars are about flavor not about inhaling smoke into your lungs and dying from lung cancer.

6) TOOTY FRUITY- This next one is going to be seriously sexist, so I apologize profusely upfront. If you have a penis, you should NEVER smoke a flavored cigar. Guys- if you have, all is forgiven if you never do it again. Ladies- if you must, continue. Mango belongs in fruit salad and Amaretto should only be mixed with 7up. "But why, Bear? They taste so good. Didn't you just say that cigars are about flavor?" Damn, you caught me. Yes, flavor is important, but the fastest way to taint your palate for cigars is with flavored ones. Key fact: all flavored cigars are laced with sugars to create that false flavoring you love so much. Ok guys and gals; let's take a trip back down memory lane to AP Chemistry. I know, I know. Who really wants to remember high school, but indulge me for a moment. We all know that sugar burns, but it is the temperature at which it burns that is important. Sugars burn incredibly hot and will destroy taste buds. Keep the fruit as an after school snack and graduate to the wonderful world of real cigars.

5) WHERE'D MY STOGIE GO? - It is considered rude to pick and cut someone else's cigar. That is one of cigar etiquette rules 101. I will say that many of my friends ask me to pick and cut out cigars for them all the time, and I will continue to be more than happy to oblige them. However, if I see anymore examples of people leaving half of their cigar in the ashtray after cutting it, I just may hurl it at them. The risk does not just lay with cutting too much cigar, but also destroying the construction of the cigar. On most cigars there is a clear and defined "cap" on the end of the cigar. With a traditional cutter, one should cut just below the line or on the "shoulder" as it is called. If you cut too much of the cigar the wrapper may come undone and/or the burn's consistency may falter. One brief story. At a bachelor party I was attending, a very generous guest supplied a stash of genuine havanas (Yes, Cubans) he'd been saving up. All the lads were giddy as schoolgirls, including myself, and we all chose our sticks and the oooing and ahhing began. As we all cut our cigars, one of the guys became the victim of some teasing as he had cut off quite a bit of his havana. I even tried to light it! The point is you don't want to disrupt your smoking experience, nor take a chance at potentially damaging or destroying your wrapper or cigar.

4) STUUUUUB OUUUUT! - The following is taken from a previous entry, as some of you already know my opinions on the dreaded "stub-out". A number of reasons include two that have to do with consideration: First off, if a cigar is stubbed out, the inevitable stench that lingers is lengthy and extremely unpleasing to even the aficionado's nose as well to the company around him/her. It is simply easier to let it burn down with no long-term lingering effects. The second reason, if given a cigar, it is extremely rude to put it out once lit. If one is done enjoying (or not enjoying) they need to let it burn out as well. A "stub-out," especially one that is premature, signals to the giver that the cigar was not good or to the taste of the individual in a very abrupt and rude fashion. One friend, in particular, continues to do this in my house even though I remind him each time that it is considered rude and it really stinks up my house. He doesn't do it on purpose, or at least I am convinced he doesn't, but if you are one of these people...PLEASE STOP!

3) FLAMMIN' HOT LIGHTS- Lighting a cigar may invariably seem like a simple task and one that is learned the easiest. Au contraire! With the hundreds of times that I have witnessed someone lighting their cigar I have seen it all from the perfect light to the most botched of jobs. People lighting with bic lighters and butane blow torches, it’s enough just keep my eyes from falling from jumping out of my head in disbelief. Lighting preference is, as most cigar concepts are, subjective. Yet, to see a fellow cigar smoker to point blow torch butane directly at the foot of their cigar and puff furiously is like nails on a chalk board for me, but it can't be enjoyable for them either. I know two guys who make lighting a cigar look as effortless as breathing, my brother, Shawn, being one and another friend, Trent, being the other. They'll take a simple cocktail book of matches, strike one, and form a perfect burned cherry at the end of their cigar. Oh, it's a masterpiece! I, on the other hand, am a cool lighter by trade. I don't inhale at all, I simply apply a butane lighter's flame to the foot for about 30 consecutive seconds and allow it to catch itself ablaze. Traditional? No. Cool? Yes.

2) WHAT'CHA SMELLING THERE BOY'O? - Everyone has no doubt seen this one. You're in the walk-in humidor at your local cigar shop and "that guy" walks in. You know, the one with the strut, probably wearing a suit and maybe even on a cell phone. He'll walk right over the Romeo y Julieta tubos or cedros, pick it up, and take a big ol' whiff! I do humbly admit (note: sarcasm) that plastic does smell really good, especially after a long day, but I usually abstain. What do these people expect to smell? I love it when they pretend to smell something and say, "Ahh, now that is the real McCoy." I usually reply with a sarcastic, "Yeah, nice." I turn to roll my eyes. Tool.

1) (TIE)

a) DO YOU HAVE A TICK? - I think this may be a direct indication of the society that we live in. Impatience does not mix with cigar smoking. Your cigar is not a cigarette; it does not need to be flicked constantly. Let it sit, let it burn, savor the moment....TRUST ME! The flavor of the cigar will be enjoyed much more, if you leave it alone.


b) PUFF THE MAGIC DRAGON? - Smoking a cigar as indicated above is about the moment. It isn't a race. That being said, stop with the constant puffing. Oh, so you finished a toro in 15 mins flat, eh? Big deal, where did you need to be so badly? You should, ideally, take two puffs per minute. Seriously, this will allow your palate enough time to savor and discern the complexity of the cigar. If nothing else, it will give you more time to relax and enjoy some time with friends.

There you have it guys and gals, enjoy! And remember, there is nothing wrong with knowing you are the best!




  1. I really enjoyed this post. I find myself committing some of these cigar crimes, so it was nice to learn some of the basic ettiquete. Even though this felt a little scolding, I came away better informed. But to set the record, I've never enjoyed flavored cigars. Keep up the writing!

  2. Never knew about the "stub out". Now I know, and knowing is half the battle.