Some Observations on Cigars

I enjoy cigars and have for almost 40 years. But being in the business, and especially since my focus turned to blending pipe tobaccos, I’ve become more analytical about them and have noticed some things that have changed my perspective.

With the trend moving toward larger ring gauges, there’s seems to be a common conception that the bigger they are, the stronger they are. I don’t know how or where this started, but it’s completely untrue. The smaller the ring gauge, the more influence the wrapper has on the flavor, and the wrapper is typically the most flavorful leaf in the blend. Even in a cigar that has a load of ligero in the filler, the wrapper is still 30% or more of the flavor profile. Niko recently wrote about his preference for lanceros and coronas, and I totally agree. Some cigars that I found uninteresting as a robusto or toro will really come to life as a corona. In fact, two of my favorite cigars are the Man O’ War Puro Authentico and the Joya de Nicaragua Antaño Dark Corojo Peligrosos – both coronas. The Puro Authentico is A.J. Fernandez’ personal cigar. It’s a real firecracker with a pigtail cap, and the wrapper is folded over the foot, giving a real burst of flavor at first light. What I like about the Dark Corojo is that the very dark corojo wrapper has enough sweetness to better balance out the intense spice that Antaños are known for.

I’ve run into a number of cigar smokers who complain often about cigars cracking and splitting. The brands they complain about are usually well-made, and the issue doesn’t seem to be common. So if this is happening to a number of different brands for that smoker, the common denominator is the user. I’ll be talking with them while they’re smoking and notice that they puff like a steam engine. This causes rapid expansion of the tobaccos, so I would be more surprised if the cigar doesn’t split. Cigar smoking is supposed to be relaxing and enjoyable, so slow down. Besides the inevitable problems with the cigar turning into a daisy, smoking too fast fouls the flavor.

I often hear comments like “I don’t care for cigars with a (fill in the blank) wrapper.” Really? That’s like saying that you don’t like food with onion in it. Painting with such a broad brush is counterproductive because you’re denying yourself the possibility of trying some great cigars. I don’t gravitate toward Connecticut Shade wrappers, but I occasionally enjoy a San Lotano Connecticut because it has more flavor than most shade-wrapped sticks. Cameroon isn’t normally in my wheelhouse, but Oliva Serie ‘G’ and Latitude Zero Experimental have a place in my humidor. Broaden your horizons, you just me be pleasantly surprised.

I’m constantly amazed when people complain about their kitchen knives, and then I observe that they have a drawer full of cheaply-made knives. It’s better to spend decent money on 4 or 5 quality knives than to load up on garbage. The same thing holds true for cigar cutters. I hear frequently from folks who seem to always shatter the cap of their cigars. The answer is usually that their cutter is dull. You don’t have to spend a lot on a cutter. A $5 double-guillotine will do the job just fine, but you need to replace them often because the lower quality steel won’t hold an edge. More expensive cutters like a Xikar will not only stay sharp longer, but they can resharpened by any shop that sharpens knives. Here’s a little tip, though, if you’re forced to use a dull cutter – leave the cellophane on the cigar when you cut it. For some reason, cutting through the plastic will a dull cutter will usually trim the cap without cracking.

That’s all I have today, but I’ll be back with more thoughts later.

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About Russ

Russ Ouellette is the blender/creator of the Hearth & Home series of tobaccos for www.pipesandcigars.com in Bethlehem, PA. He has been a pipe smoker and blender for over 30 years, and enjoys feedback from the pipe smoking public. You can reach Russ at russo@pipesandcigars.com or by calling 1-800-494-9144.