I recently had one of my favorite cigars, one I’ve smoked hundreds of times, and to my surprise, it tasted…different. Not necessarily bad, but the flavor was off. I kept smoking it and the cigar didn’t improve, in fact, it got worse. The cigar picked up a chemical taste and it disappointed me terribly. Why did this happen? Was it just one cigar? Had one of my favorites hit a bad crop, or had it changed (my worst fear)? So I lit up another. It was also a bit off, but not quite as much, and it never dissolved into the funky mess the first one had. But the big question remained. Why?
I had one more left, and I hesitated before smoking it. I thought about it for a while, and it struck me that the cigar wasn’t the only common denominator. The other was me. Had I allowed my smoking technique to change to the point where I had distorted the flavor? So I analyzed what I was doing. First, I usually toasted the foot of the cigar, blew lightly on the end and puffed easily a few times to get it going. I also used to use a soft flame unless I was outside, in which case I would use a torch. And probably half the time I was inside, I would use a match or a cedar spill instead of butane. But lately, I had fallen into using a torch all the time and had gotten away from toasting first.
That might explain some of the problems, but why did the cigar deteriorate into that nasty chemical mess? I realized that when the cigar started to go awry, I began to puff more frequently, and in the past when I’ve smoked too hard, it’s had that effect. So with all that in mind, I grabbed the third cigar. I toasted it using a match (which has a relatively cool flame) and blackened the foot by holding the foot of the stick about an inch above the visible part of the flame, at a 45 degree angle and rotating it until completely black. I blew lightly on the foot to make sure that there was little chance of any bitter ammonia gas remaining. I struck another match and held the foot well above the flame and rotated the cigar while drawing gently. Guess what? The problem wasn’t the cigar, it was the smoker.
Why had I allowed this to happen? Well, I’ve been recovering at home from my surgery, and instead of coming home to relax with a cigar, it was pretty much a break from the boredom, so I had become impatient. Now that I was thinking about what I was doing, I slowed down, kept the combustion temperature low and the flavor improved immensely.
And it doesn’t matter what kind of cigar you’re smoking. If you light up a delicate, yet complex cigar, like, let’s say, a Davidoff Grand Cru or an Ashton Cabinet, it doesn’t take too much extra heat to distort the elegant flavor. At the same time, a heftier cigar along the lines of a Tatuaje Fausto or Viaje WMD, for example, is so intense to begin with; it doesn’t take too much prodding to muddle the profile.
So, let me run down my list of ideas that might help you to enjoy virtually every cigar you smoke (not every one can be a gem):
- Use the coolest flame you can, based on the wind currents. From coolest to hottest- match, cedar spill (higher because of the oils), soft flame lighter, torch. Toast the foot, not allowing the flame to touch the tobacco.
- Blow gently on the foot after toasting to disperse the potentially bitter gases.
- Hold the foot above the flame and puff lightly and steadily while rotating the cigar until fully lit.
- For maximum flavor, try a short easy puff followed immediately by a longer gentle one.
- Allow the smoke to escape slowly from a small opening in your mouth, rather than forcing it out.
- Keep an eye on the foot. If there’s no cone shape to the ash (either flat or slightly indented), you’re smoking too slowly, and, believe it or not, the cigar can get incredibly hot if you try to get it going again. Use your matches or lighter to touch it up. If the cone is long and thin, you’re smoking too fast, and this is when that nastiness can start. A small cone is what you want to see.
- Try to keep some grey or white ash on the foot, but not much more than an inch. If the ash gets too long, it can restrict airflow, and when you knock off the loose ash, be careful to go easy with the first few draws to avoid getting the cherry too hot.
- If the cigar runs, tunnels or canoes, touch it up right away. Trying to smoke an unevenly burning stogie is one sure way to get a bad flavor.
- When a gentle puff delivers a hot mouthful, it’s time to salute the dead soldier and let it go out.
- And when you get a nasty aroma like burning paper, you forgot to take the band off.
I hope this helps you have a more consistent smoking experience. Leave a comment if you have any other tips that might help.