It’s ironic. Every day some anti-smoking group wants to take the cigars out of our mouths by advocating another smoking ban, while at the same time minions of new cigar smokers are getting ready to enjoy their first cigar. If you’re among the latter group you may be asking yourself, “What cigar should I smoke first?”
Fair question. With thousands of premium cigars to choose from, it can be a little intimidating. Just walk into a store with a big walk-in humidor and you’ll know what I mean. If you ask most experienced cigar smokers, or the manager at your local cigar store, they’ll usually suggest something mild like a Macanudo Cafe, a Don Diego, or a Baccarat; all good choices, too. So why start with a mild cigar as opposed to a Camacho Triple Maduro or a Padrón Serie 1926? Look at it this way; if you were learning how to cook, you might want to start by making something simple like an omelet rather than Veal Cordon Bleu. Like any pastime you pursue, you have to start at the beginning, and with practice, climb the rope ladder of experience. The same goes for learning how to smoke premium handmade cigars.
Mild cigars are generally best for newbies because one of the most important aspects of smoking cigars is developing an appreciation for the flavor properties in different tobaccos. A mild cigar won’t overpower you. I can cite a number of instances where first time cigar smokers lost their lunch. Which reminds me; DO NOT INHALE regardless of how mild the smoke tastes. (If you’re a former cigarette smoker, this may take some getting used to.)
Mild doesn’t mean bland
Over the years, cigar smokers tend to drift towards more full-bodied cigars. The reason is, as you develop a taste for premium cigar tobacco you eventually tend to desire more flavor, and the most flavorful (in terms of strength that is) are the full-bodied, or what I call full-flavored cigars. Strength is only one component of the cigar, and in this writer’s humble opinion, flavor trumps strength.
On the other hand, “mild” doesn’t mean bland. Some veteran cigar smokers tend to believe this (often for the reason I just pointed out). However, there are plenty of cigars classified as mild that are light years from bland. Recently, some of the top cigar makers have begun introducing cigars with milder wrappers like U.S. and Ecuadorian-grown Connecticut. Connecticut is one of the most widely used mild wrappers and is also sought for its sweet aroma. Ecuadorian Connecticut is also mild, but with a little more flavor and a shade or two darker in color. So, when searching for that first cigar, browse the cigars with Connecticut wrappers first. Other mild wrappers recommended for new smokers are Sumatra (or Indonesian) and African Cameroon. Keep in mind that many full-bodied cigars are also rolled with these leaves, so be sure the cigar you choose is listed as “mild” in the retailer’s store, catalog, or on their website. I would even add “medium-bodied” cigars to the mix. So also keep in mind that there are plenty of excellent, medium-bodied “first-smoke” candidates available to new cigar smokers.
Suggestions from a “professional cigar smoker”
Since it would take up too much space, I can’t list every good mild and medium-bodied cigar available. So, without turning this post into a commercial, here’s a line-up of cigars that I’ve recommended to new cigar smokers over the years with a good share of success.
- Arturo Fuente 8-5-8 Flor Fina (Cameroon natural)
- Carlos Toraño 1916 Cameroon
- Flor de Oliva (Sumatra natural)
- Gispert (natural)
- Gran Habano #1 Connecticut
- Macanudo Gold Label
- Occidental Connecticut Reserve
- Perdomo 10th Anniversary Champagne
- Rocky Patel American Market Selection
Seek and ye shall find
You can start with one of the above, or maybe you’ll find something else. If you like your first cigar, you may want to return to it or, more than likely, you’ll want to try something else. For this reason, I would also recommend starting with a sampler that has a mix of mild and medium cigars. Samplers are a great way to discover your first cigar, for one, because of the variety of cigars in the pack, and secondly because you have a better chance at finding the right cigar for you until you’re ready to move on; maybe even more than one in the pack will satisfy you enough to buy a box. Moreover, part of the fun of discovering the wonderful world of premium cigars is trying new and different blends.
A trendy business
As a new cigar smoker you should note that the cigar business is also a trendy one. Recently, plump, extra-wide-body cigars have become all the rage, while about five years ago Lanceros (long, skinny cigars) were in vogue, and for the better part of the last 14 years, manufacturers have been making stronger and more complex cigars. Lately, as I’ve spoken to cigar smokers who have been partaking for decades, I find that many of them have tired of the heavy stuff and are returning to milder cigars. Even the great Don Pepin has just released Don Pepin Connecticut selection, a mild Nicaraguan cigar with an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper. I don’t think those cigar smokers are going to give up their Liga Privada No.9‘s, Alec Bradley Prensados, Ashton ESG‘s, or Oliva Serie V’s anytime soon, but you can be pretty sure the majority of them started out just like you!
Why The Dominican Republic Grows Great Tobacco
Though Nicaragua has become the breeding ground of choice for many tobacco growers, in terms of sheer numbers, The Dominican Republic remains El Rey (the king) of the Central American tobacco-growing nations. The DR accounts for more than half of the cigars sold in the United States. Of course, the Dominican had a big lead. After the Cuban Revolution in 1959, many of Cuba’s best growers and blenders emigrated to the DR. Most histories of Dominican tobacco production credit Carlos Toraño Sr. for introducing Cuban seed to the country, which we know today as Dominican “Piloto Cubano;” though it should be noted that many other Cuban tobacco men brought their seeds with them to other countries such as Honduras and Nicaragua. Due to their minuscule size – less than the size of a pinhead – they were easy to smuggle. When the Sandinistas overran Nicaragua, even more found their way to the DR. This helped further solidify the country’s cigar industry.
Like Cuba, Nicaragua, and Honduras, the Dominican Republic has a specific region that’s most favorable for growing the best Cuban seed tobacco – the Cibao Valley. Located between the northern Cordillera Septentrional and the southern Cordillera Central mountain ranges, if you follow the Yaque River northwest you’ll find several villages in the Yaque Valley, a sub-region of the Cibao valley, that are known for producing some of the world’s richest tobacco: Navarette, La Canela, and Villa Gonzalez. It is in the Yaque Valley region where you’ll find the richest and deepest topsoil, and where most of the black cigar tobacco is grown. Another reason the Yaque Valley is so ideal for growing tobacco is its microclimate is more conducive to producing hearty plants due to its excellent drainage, plentiful sunlight, and afternoon breezes which keep the plants from overexposure to heat. To put it another way, the Yaque Valley and Villa Gonzalez are to the Dominican Republic what the Vuelta Abajo and the town of Pinar del Río are to Cuba, respectively.
Southwest of Villa Gonzalez is Jacagua, renowned for its tropical microclimate and ultra-rich soil. Navarette, in the northwest region of the valley is drier; therefore, the soil is irrigated by a vast series of canals to make up for its drier microclimate. Because each village has its own unique climate and soil, the tobaccos grown on certain farms have their own unique flavor properties. The Dominican tobaccos which are considered “the industry standard” are La Canela, a very rich-tasting, full-bodied leaf which is grown northwest of Villa Gonzalez. The other is Jacagua which is grown just southwest of Villa Gonzalez and produces a finer and much more attractive leaf. This is why when you see the blend information on Dominican cigars and other premiums, the name of the leaf represents a specific region within the country.
Common Types of Dominican Tobacco
Tobacco production in the Dominican Republic starts in July or August when the growing areas are prepared. In September, 35 to 45 day-old plants are placed in the seedbeds where they are constantly monitored to avoid diseases, certain types of mold, and leaf-devastating insects.
Since under the right conditions, tobacco will grow just about anywhere, every tobacco-growing country has its own indigenous tobacco. The two primary families of tobacco grown in the Dominican Republic are “Olor Dominicano” and “Piloto Cubano,” But there is also a third type of tobacco grown in the D.R. called “San Vicente.”
Olor Dominicano is the D.R.’s native strain, and produces a leaf that is thinner and smaller than Piloto, but has a marvelous aroma (olor means “smell” or “aroma” in Spanish) and excellent burning qualities. This is why so many Dominican-made cigars use Olor Dominicano (or simply “Olor”) for the binder portion of the blend.
Piloto Cubano tobacco is grown from Cuban seed originating in Cuba’s Vuelta Abajo region. The result is a more malleable leaf with a fuller body and richer flavor than Olor, making it ideal for filler. Due to its ample flavor properties, you will also find Piloto Cubano in many cigars made outside of the D.R.
San Vicente is a hybrid of Piloto Cubano and was originally developed on the San Vicente farm in Cuba’s Vuelta Abajo. It’s less potent than Piloto Cubano and a little more acidic on the palate. This leaf is commonly found in the blend of most Avo cigars.
Famous Dominican Cigars
The center of the Dominican cigar production is in Santiago, home to Tabacalera La Aurora, the country’s oldest cigar factory and maker of La Aurora cigars. Other manufacturers, either in or near Santiago produce such renowned brands as Arturo Fuente, Avo, Macanudo, Partagas, La Gloria Cubana, La Flor Dominicana, Montecristo, Davidoff, Zino, Ashton, Fonseca, Aging Room, H. Upmann, Romeo y Julieta, and so many more, space just won’t permit.
At one time, the Dominican Republic was considered the source for “milder” cigars. However, with the growing popularity of tobaccos from Nicaragua, Honduras, Brazil, and Peru, to name but a few, Dominican-made cigars now span the entire spectrum of strength and complexity. Moreover, since growers have been producing high-quality Dominican wrapper for over two decades, now there are more Dominican puros being made than ever before.
The Dominican Republic is also a popular tourist spot for its lush terrain, beautiful beaches, and challenging golf courses. If you’re planning a trip there and would like to see how Dominican cigars are made, tours of several top factories including La Aurora and La Flor Dominicana are also available.
Viva La Republica Dominicana!
Try some Dominican cigars!
All this talk about fine Dominican cigars have you hankering to sample some for yourself? Check out our Best of the Dominican Republic #3 Sampler! It contains 10 Dominican-made stogies that show off the best that the country has to offer. You’ll find Macanudo, Aging Room, Four Kicks, and more! Oh yeah, and did I mention that it’s currently on sale for a whopping 49% off MSRP? You won’t find a better bargain on these outstanding Dominican cigars.
Some things are so intuitively easy you hardly have to think about them. Starting a car, making coffee with a K-cup, buttoning a shirt. You’d think that refilling a cigar lighter would be just as simple, right? Yes, but there’s a little more to it than you think, and by following the instruction guide below, you’ll not only learn how to fill your cigar torch lighter correctly, you’ll add many more months, even years, to its lifespan.
First things first: Fuel
Torch or jet flame lighters are the most commonly used lighters among cigar smokers. They run on butane, a liquid gas that’s easy to find and relatively inexpensive. But when filling or re-filling your lighter you don’t want to use just any butane. You want the most refined butane, not the stuff they sell behind the counter at the corner convenience store. The reason for this is, the more refined the fuel, the less impurities in the gas. For example, Vector butane is refined five times, while Xikar’s Purofine™ butane is so highly refined that the level of impurities is less than 15 parts-per-million, making them both excellent for use in all jet flame lighters. The cleaner the fuel, the more efficiently your lighter will work, which means the chances of clogging are also greatly reduced. Never use any fuel that is not at least triple refined.
TIP: Before filling your lighter DO NOT SHAKE THE CAN of fuel. This will cause the gas propellant to seep into the fuel tank during filling.
Filling your cigar lighter
The first thing you want to do, even for a new lighter, is release all of the fuel tank’s pressure by depressing on the inlet valve located on the bottom of the lighter. To do this you can use a small screwdriver, a ball point pen, or a cigar accessory that comes with a “bleeder.” Some lighters even include a bleeder in the box. Depress the valve holding the lighter in its upright position, as you do when you light your cigar. Repeat until you no longer hear any hissing coming from the valve. You can also release the air pressure by pressing the ignition and holding the trigger down until any hissing ceases.
Next, turn the flame adjustment to the lighter’s lowest (-) setting. This keeps the opening tight for a more efficient filling, and helps limit the amount of air that could get in by keeping the adjustment dial open to full bore. Turn the lighter upside down and insert the tip of the butane valve over the fuel valve. Now, press down firmly and hold it for about five seconds. If your lighter has a fuel tank window and it looks like it hasn’t filled completely, you can repeat this procedure, but keep in mind that it will only fill-up so much. It’s almost impossible to “top-off” a butane lighter.
After filling you’ll notice that the can and the lighter will be very cold. Wait three to five minutes before igniting the lighter. This permits any excess butane to evaporate, and will bring the liquid gas up to room temperature.
Finally, set the flame adjustment dial or wheel to the height you prefer. Do not open the valve all the way. This will not only cause the flame to shoot out like the exhaust pipes on a dragster. It can also cause the flame to cut out, and more importantly, you’re wasting fuel. Start by adjusting the dial to its midway point. This should give you a good strong flame and then you can adjust it up or down from there.
TIP: An optional trick that will help you fill your lighter more efficiently is to place your lighter in the freezer for about 5-10 minutes. This lowers the air pressure in the lighter. By doing this, when the sub-zero gas hits the freezing cold lighter the fuel will enter faster and more completely. If your lighter has a fuel window, you’ll notice the increase in speed that it fills-up.
Filling a lighter at high altitude
If you happen to live in a high-altitude part of the country like Denver, CO, it is critical that you use fuel that is at least quadruple-refined and higher. Also, make sure that you keep your lighter’s fuel tank as full as possible at all times.
As before, you want to allow the fuel temperature to reach room temperature. One way to do this is by simply holding the lighter in your hand for a minute or two. You can also put the lighter in your pants or a shirt pocket.
Next, adjust the flame dial or wheel to the (-) setting. This will allow more oxygen to enter the combustion chamber and will improve your lighter’s ignition and flame height, by compensating for the lack of oxygen at higher altitudes. At lower altitudes, turning the adjustment wheel towards the (+) setting will increase the fuel flow.
When igniting, depress the trigger slowly until you hear the gas hissing out, then finish depressing the trigger to ignite the flame. Do not do this repeatedly to ignite the flame faster. A slow, deliberate, motion will decrease ignition failure.
In-between cigars, when you’re not using your lighter, keep the adjustment setting at the midpoint as mentioned above. The next time you light your cigar adjust it by turning the dial higher or lower as needed.
Storing your lighter after use
If you plan on storing your lighter for a long time period, wait until you’ve used up as much fuel as possible, then empty all of the remaining fuel. If you did not completely empty the lighter before storing and the lighter has not been used for a long period of time, when depressing the ignition trigger it may appear to be no longer working. If so, simply empty all of the fuel from the lighter as described in the first paragraph under “Filling your cigar lighter” above, then refuel and adjust the flame level as noted. This should help fix the problem.
Even with all the wild, wacky and dumbass hijinks you see daily on the internet, there’s one place where etiquette is still the norm – the cigar lounge. Not surprisingly, Zino Davidoff is credited for what we call “cigar etiquette” today. He even wrote a book about it, and I can’t think of a better person to write such a book than Mr. Davidoff. Zino was the quintessential “gentleman,” from his grooming, to his clothes, right down to the way he smoked his cigars. I’m talking “Old World” manners; when men opened doors for women, and removed their hat when entering a room. Though some of those customs have survived, today anything goes. But step into a traditional cigar lounge and you’ll think you stepped into the Bizarro world. I’m not saying that cigar lounges are for the stiff upper lip type; quite the contrary. That said, there are some guidelines that will help you become a better cigar smoker. Even some of Mr. Davidoff’s rules are a little too Victorian by today’s standards. For example: holding the cigar between your index finger and thumb, rather than your index and middle fingers. Zino felt the former method was more “elegant.” He may have had a point, but the way you hold your cigar is pretty much considered your own business. Another is removing the band so as not to “advertise” how costly (or cheap, for that matter) your cigar is. Though many cigar smokers still apply this rule, it appears to have faded over time, since a lot of other smokers want to know what you’re smoking. It’s also a great conversation starter. More often than not today, the band comes off when the ash gets too close. Continue reading
You hope it never happens, but one day when you least expect it…BAM!, your cigar begins to unravel on you. Your heartbeat increases; your mind becomes cluttered with frustration. “How am I going to smoke this cigar now?” you ask yourself. The last thing you want to do is trash it, especially if it’s a favorite, a pricey primo, or both.
The unraveling wrapper is one of those snafus that’s hard to fix unless you just happen to have some roller’s glue, and most cigar smokers don’t own a bottle of roller’s glue. The good news is, depending on how and where the cigar is unraveling there are several ways you can repair it, and you don’t have to be a torcedor either. Just keep in mind that whichever method you use, be it the remedies listed here, or your own invention, wrapper leaf can be very delicate, so caution and patience are the keys to getting the job done right. Finally, NEVER use spit; it just doesn’t work. Continue reading
Why the FDA Has It All Wrong
By now, we’ve all heard the news: the FDA has given us a look at what they’re thinking about doing to the cigar industry, vis-à-vis new regulations. Pending though they may be, it’s only a matter of time and outspokenness before they decide how hard to come down on cigar lovers. At the heart of the issue is how premium cigars are to be defined…they already have been, by various state legislatures; but now it’s time for the Feds to come up with something they feel is more formal. And the definition of what a premium cigar “is,” is really the subject of the debate if we’re to have any reasonable shot at the FDA moving away from regulating premium cigars. Continue reading
If “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” could the same be said for cigar lighters? Maybe, but like cigars, the tools for igniting them are almost as multitudinous as bird species. For the purposes of this post we’re going to focus on the most popular jet lighters used for lighting cigars, as well as how and when to use them. From single jet designs like the XiKAR EX Windproof lighter, to lighters with special tools, like the Vertigo Golf lighter with its built-in divot tool, to the Vertigo Intimidator with its four jets and futuristic design, there’s a torch lighter for every cigar lover. Continue reading
This is an article about Nicaraguan cigars. It’s not about Cuban cigars, Dominican cigars, or cigars from any other country, for that matter. If you look at the brands that have been scoring some of the highest marks these days, the Perdomo 10th Anniversary Champagne cigars, or the My Father Le Bijou 1922 cigars, for example, they are produced in Nicaragua (primarily in Estelí), using a decent dose of Nicaraguan tobaccos in their blends, or a mix of Nicaraguan and other tobaccos.
One of the reasons Nicaragua is so ideal for growing great-tasting tobacco is that the geography and climate are very similar to Cuba’s. The cigar tobacco growing region has three valleys – Estelí, Condega, and Jalapa – each with its own unique soil and minerals, which respectively impart their own distinctive flavor to a cigar’s blend when properly fermented and aged. Continue reading
One of the subjects I’m often asked about is, how to spot fake Cuban cigars. That’s a good question, too, because despite the fact that Cuban cigars are still illegal for American cigar smokers to purchase, some choose to do it anyway. Is it because they’re still considered “forbidden fruit,” or is it that most cigar smokers believe Cuban cigars are still the world’s best? It’s more like a combination of the two; cigars made in Cuba are so great you just have to get your hands on some, even if it means risking losing them to U.S. Customs. And they’re not cheap, either. That is unless you’ve been bamboozled by a hustler who will sell you a box of so-called “Havana’s” at a great price while you’re vacationing somewhere in the Caribbean. Chances are, they’re fakes. What’s that old saying? “A fool and his money…” More on that later.
Yes, at one time Cuban cigars actually were the best and had virtually no competition. Zino Davidoff realized this in the early part of the 20th century, and was one the first European retailers to introduce Cuban cigars to the world. Later, when he began producing cigars under his own name, they were made in Cuba. Additionally, when you see someone smoking a cigar in old movies from the 1920′s to the 1960′s (and very likely even after the 1962 embargo), you can bet they were smoking Cuban-made cigars. Continue reading
Boutique cigars are one of the hottest trends going in the world of cigars today. If you need more proof, check the 2013 Top 25 Cigars of the Year List – if you eliminate cigars you can’t score legally in the USA, you’ll find the Aging Room Quattro at the top of the list. What company makes the Aging Room you ask? Rafael Nodal’s cigar company, the aptly named Boutique Blends. But what makes a boutique cigar a boutique cigar? Simple. It’s…um, yeah.
Well, if you consult a dictionary, you’ll get this: “…of, designating, or characteristic of a small, exclusive producer or business: one of California’s best boutique wineries.”
Obviously, for our purposes, we’re replacing the word “wineries” with “cigars” (or should it be manufacturers? More on that in a minute) – but when we define “boutique” – should we be doing it in terms of numbers, such as output of bottles (or cigars)? Or is it in availability of supplies, as in “small batch?” Is it the size of the manufacturer that matters?
Yes. And no. Continue reading