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.
So let’s get to some of the more tried-and-true tenets of cigar etiquette. As the late, great jazz pianist, Dave Brubeck once said, let’s “Take Five.”
- Preparing your cigar: When preparing your cigar, cut the cap with a genuine cigar cutter such as a double blade cutter, cigar punch, or a V-cutter. Don’t use a pen knife or a box cutter, and most of all, don’t bite-off the cap. It’s just bad taste, and the latter can cause a number of problems, particularly unraveling. When toasting the foot, take your time, and keep the flame as far away from the foot as possible while still being able to char the tobacco. If you use a torch lighter, you can easily ruin a cigar by holding the flame too close. And please hold the cigar in your hand, not your mouth, so you can see what you’re doing. When the foot begins to glow red, gently blow on the foot to spread the heat across the entire foot. This may require a little extra toasting, especially if the cigar has a lot of oily ligero tobacco in the blend. Those leaves are usually the black areas that don’t take right away to the flame. Finally, whatever you do, don’t just put the cigar in your mouth and light it like a cigarette or you can overcook it, which often results in a lousy light and a bitter smoke.
- Smoking time: Ever notice how some cigar smokers finish their cigars in record time? Chances are they are former cigarette smokers or still are; they’re used to puffing often. Even if you’ve never touched a cigarette, you should hit on the cigar roughly about once a minute or two. It lets the cigar cool down a little, and allows you to pick-up the flavors and aromas the blender intended. Besides, cigar smoking is supposed to be RELAXING. Take your time and savor it, like chewing your food slowly. Otherwise, you may find the cigar isn’t living up to its rep, and that could be your fault for not being patient.
- Ashing: A lot of cigar smokers get a kick out of seeing how long they can get the ash on their cigar. Oh, it’s a fun game, but normally not a good way to smoke. If you doubt me, think about how many times you’ve ashed yourself as a result. A one half to about an inch of ash is about right. It also acts as a filter allowing the cigar to smoke a tad cooler. Once you get to that one inch point, gently tap the ash into an ashtray. You can also roll the ash against the wall of the ashtray to shape it into a neat little cone. Whatever you do, NEVER tap it on the floor, or into the palm plant in the corner of the room.
- Putting out your cigar: Are you a “nubber?” You know, one of those cigar smokers who smokes their cigar down to the very last inch or more? There’s nothing wrong with that as long as the cigar is still delivering good flavor, and there are some cigars that will taste good to the very end. However, most of the time the cigar will start to turn bitter in that last inch or two. If you continue to relight it to get every penny out of that $10 cigar, it will only get worse. Moreover, if a cigar turns bitter early on and doesn’t change or gets worse, you should just put it down and let it go out. It’s not going to improve no matter how long you stay with it, so let it go. When you do let it go, don’t snuff it out like a cigarette. Simply lay the butt in the ashtray saddle and it will extinguish itself. Snuffing it out only causes it to release a sour odor and leaves an ugly mess.
- Chain smoking: I know a fellow who’s a “chain cigar smoker.” Not one minute after he puts his cigar out, like magic, another appears in his mouth, and they’re always excellent, complex cigars. There’s nothing wrong with smoking several cigars in one sitting if you can handle it, but give your palate a break! Try to wait at least a half an hour before preparing your next cigar. You might also want to cleanse your palate with bitter lemon or lime soda. By chain smoking you can get palate burnout. That first cigar may have tasted great, but without a hiatus between smokes, don’t be surprised if the next cigar doesn’t taste right. Here again, the whole point of cigar smoking is to relax and enjoy the flavors and aromas. If you take your time during and in-between smoking cigars, you’re more likely to get your money’s worth. The maker of some very fine and highly-respected cigars, who could smoke 50 cigars a day if he wanted, recently told me that he only smokes two cigars a day; one in the morning with coffee, and another at around 3:00 in the afternoon. That time-lapse between cigars allows him to get the most out of each smoke, so he consistently enjoys his daily cigars.
So, there’s some food for thought to digest the next time you light-up your favorite cigar in a cigar lounge. Keep in mind that most of the cigar etiquette tips noted above apply to wherever you happen to be partaking of the leaf. Suffice it to say, it’s better to be a gentleman who smokes cigars than a cigar smoker who’s not a gentleman.