For centuries, the cigar has been the mark of the refined, worldly and well-heeled tobacco smoker. Even if you are none of these things, though, you can still enjoy a cigar. Smoking a good cigar can be an extremely relaxing and rewarding experience if done properly. It’s not easy for an absolute layman to fully appreciate the full varieties and complexities of cigar smoking, but with a little effort, you will soon be well on your way to becoming a cigar aficionado.
Cigars are composed of bundled tobacco leaves (called the filler) wrapped in the broad top leaves of the tobacco plant (called the wrapper). A cigar’s wrapper and filler determine its flavor and character. Filler can be composed of leaves from either the bottom, middle or top of the tobacco plant. The more sunlight the leaves are exposed to, the more flavor and complexity they have. Fillers are almost always blends, not only of different types of leaf from the same strain of tobacco, but very often of several different tobacco varieties.
The wrapper always comes from the widest leaves of the tobacco plant. A wrapper’s character is determined by the conditions under which it was grown: A wrapper made from leaves grown in the shade, such as a Claro, has a dry and mild flavor, while one made from leaves grown in direct sunlight, such as a Maduro, are more oily and sweet.
Your quest for cigar enjoyment at Yale can start and end at the Owl Shop, located on College Street between Chapel and Crown streets. The Owl’s huge selection of cigars and knowledgeable staff make it easy to pick out the perfect cigar for your price range. The fact that the Owl is the only public place in Connecticut where smoking is permitted indoors — plus the abundance of comfortable chairs, relaxing music and well stocked bar — make it a pleasurable place to enjoy your cigar as well.
After picking out your cigar, the first thing to do before smoking it is to clip it — ideally, you want to clip between 1/16 and 1/8th of an inch off the end. Die-hard cigar aficionados will often have high-quality silver or gold guillotines, but for beginners, a sturdy plastic one should suffice — in fact, if you don’t wish to buy your own guillotine, the salespeople at the Owl will be happy to clip your cigars for you.
Next, you will want to take the maker’s band, the little piece of paper wrapped around the cigar near the bottom. This has no practical purpose but it is considered ostentatious to leave the band on, somewhat akin to leaving the tags on your clothing.
Begin your cigar-sampling experience by simply looking at the cigar and feeling it. Examine the wrapper carefully. Is it oily, dry, coarse or smooth? Roll the cigar between your fingers; it should feel firm, but have a little bit of “spring” — not too hard but also not too loose.
Next, you want to smell your cigar and enjoy the aroma, give yourself an olfactory warm-up for the upcoming smoke.
Perhaps the most crucial part of smoking a cigar comes at the very beginning of the smoke: lighting it. It is extremely important not to introduce any sort of chemical contamination into the cigar when you light it. Wooden matches or a butane torch lighter tend to be the two best lighting methods. Holding the cigar an inch or two above the mouthpiece, hold the end of the cigar in the flame at a 45 degree angle while slowly taking short puffs (puffing too fast will cause the tobacco to oxidize, making the smoke taste bitter). Begin to rotate the cigar as you puff until the entire end is cherry red.
Now that your cigar is properly lit, it’s time to enjoy it. Puff the cigar slowly, savoring each mouthful of smoke. Is the cigar sweet or dry? Are the overtones spicy, woody, earthy or chocolatey? After each puff, savor the aftertaste on your palate: Is it enjoyable, or do you want to take another puff to get rid of it?
As you progress through the cigar, do the flavors change? Does the cigar get more simpler or more complex? Make note of the cigar’s construction as well. Does it draw easily? Does it burn evenly or canoe? Does the smoke get hot as you reach the bottom of the cigar?
Don’t expect to be able to catch every complexity of your first cigar, or even your second or third. But keep at it, and in no time you’ll be appreciating cigars to their fullest.