On 8 May 2020 Britain, and many other nations, will celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE Day – and, if there’s one thing we know Churchill almost certainly did to mark the end of World War II, it’s smoke a fine cigar. And just like during war time, with much of the world in lockdown, small pleasures like a good bottle of wine or a great cigar have become all the more important – so it pays to know how to enjoy them correctly.
Just like you wouldn’t drink a fridge-cold red or sip champagne from a tumbler, there are certain rules to be followed when it comes to smoking a cigar. So, rather than cutting your cigar wrong, fumbling for a light and puffing on it like an amateur, listen to the tip top tips of James J Fox’s Master of Habanos, George Frakes, who will lead you to cigar-smoking salvation.
Choose an appropriate smoking time and strength
“Choosing a cigar is a deeply personal decision,” says Frakes, “whether for the seasoned smoker or a newcomer to the wonderful world of cigars. It is of great importance to pick a cigar with an appropriate smoking time and strength – a light, short Rafael Gonzalez Perla would be ideal as a first cigar or breakfast smoke for the regular smoker, as at a 20-minute smoke time and with a delicate, creamy profile it satiates the palate whilst never overwhelming.
“By contrast, a large, full bodied cigar such as a Partagas Lusitania would suit a long, relaxed smoke after a heavy dinner – with a 2 hour smoke time and plenty of velvety, rich, spicy and earthy tones, it will fully satisfy the palate. If these cigar choices are reversed and the Partagas was smoked first thing in the morning it would be nowhere near as enjoyable a sitting.”
Ensure it has been properly stored, and cut it confidently
“Cigars must be stored at 65% to 70% humidity and 17 to 23 degrees centigrade,” explains Frakes. “They are a natural leaf product and must be respected as so. Before smoking the cigar you should gently check the cigar for any indication that it has been kept in too dry an environment, such as damage to the wrapper – outer leaf – or if the cigar is rock hard to the touch.
“Any hand rolled cigar will need to be cut before being smoked,” Frakes continues. “A cap covers the head of the cigar and this should be cut with either a guillotine, punch or V cutter to open an aperture for the smoke to be drawn through. A guillotine – or ‘straight’ – cut is the most versatile, simple and effective format and will suit all shapes of cigar.”
Take your time when lighting your cigar
“When lighting a cigar taking your time is key” says Frakes. “No single part of the process of enjoying a cigar should be rushed. The lighting tool is also key – a good quality, long match, a butane torch lighter or a large, soft flame butane lighter are the best choices as none of these will flavour a cigar adversely. A zippo, however will leave your cigar tasting like a leafy petrol station forecourt.
“There are many ways to light a cigar with these implements, however, the most accessible for the personal smoker is a match. Firstly the foot – furthest from the cap – should be toasted gently in the edges of the flame, whilst rotating the cigar in the fingers. The edges of the foot are of great importance as they must be lit evenly and with precision.
“When lighting a cigar taking your time is key…”
“Once the foot has been toasted and the edges are smouldering, take a couple of gentle puffs through the cigar whilst holding the match up to the foot. Rotate the cigar with each puff. Once the cigar has been deemed lit, turn the foot of the cigar to face you and blow on it gently.
“If there are any dark patches on the foot, continue to gently puff through the cigar while lighting with a match. Once complete make sure to give your cigar a moment to cool down, as all this fire can make the foot burn at too high a temperature and create a bitter finish.”
Pair your cigar perfectly with a coffee or whisky
“Almost any cigar will suit a good quality espresso, however, pairing a cigar with a whisky is little more involved. Ideally a perfect pairing on paper would be whisky of similar body to the cigar, with enough age to ensure a suitably long finish to let the nuances dance on the palate. Generally, I would recommend you steer clear of peated whiskies – there is enough smoke in the cigar.
“A favourite pairing of mine is the Trinidad Fundadores with Glenfarclas 21-year-old,” Frakes reveals. “However, someone highly respected on the matter recently recommended trying Octomore – the most heavily peated of whiskies – and it works extremely well with a Bolivar Super Corona 2014 limited edition. A pairing will look one way on paper, but there’s only one way to find out if it really works!”
Never stub your cigar out and leave it for later
“A cigar should never be stubbed out and saved for later – the cold, stale smoke and moisture from the previous smoke will taste vile once relit and the act is disrespecting the cigars themselves.
“I always advise that there are a huge range of cigars out there, of varying sizes, from a 15 minute Entreacto to a three hour Gran Corona, so there will always be a cigar to suit your time constraints. If you would like to continue smoking later then choose a second, maybe slightly fuller bodied cigar and your experience will be vastly improved.”
Want to know more? Here’s the expert’s guide to buying a good cigar…