Friday, April 07, 2006

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Isn't there a cheap way to store my cigars?

Yes, of course! You don't need an expensive container to keep them stogies happy! Any container which limits the exchange of outside air will work. Many a.s.c. readers use large Tupperware containers, humidified with homemade credo units.

The difference between tupperdors and wood humidors....
Wood humidors "breath" - slowly exchange gasses, and are less likely to get you into the overhumidification problems of tupperdors. A well-sealed tupperdor doesn't allow excess moisture to escape (they require less frequent recharging because of this). A wood humidor "dampens" these changes in humidity by absorbing the excess moisture, and slowly releasing it. Cigars like slow changes better than rapid ones. A sudden change in temperature can produce condensation in a well-sealed container (until the credo can compensate). This, and their large storage volume give Igloodors a distinct advantage over tupperdors. (and of course, wood remains king in this way too)

Tobacco needs to breath to age properly. The downside of tupperdors is that they don't allow any gasses to exchange. Cigars will consume a small amount of oxygen and give off other gasses as they age. If you open your tupperdor at least weekly, this is not much of a problem, but leave it tightly sealed for a months at a time to age some premiums, and the ammonia smell will make you want to give up smoking when you open it! This won't happen in a properly finished wood box.

- Big Mike

Thursday, April 06, 2006

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Lighting a Cigar

Is there an etiquette for lighting a cigar?

This is as delicate as that wrapper color question! Everyone seems to have their own opinion on this, so what I am going to do is pass on is IMHO only! I light my cigars this way is that it provides me an even burn from the start, prevents any bitter taste during the lighting process, and also because I do enjoy the quiet ceremony of being so deliberate.

1. If you use a match, wait till the sulphur burns off before using it to light you cigar. Also if you can find those fancy long cedar matches all the better.

2. If you use a lighter, use a butane one. The gasoline based ones impart a foul flavor to your smoke. Of course this statement irritates the hell out of the Zippo manufacturer, so in rebuttal they actually published a rather nice little book that explains that if you allow the flame to burn for a few seconds all of the disturbing odor will dissapate. Try and see for yourself is my advice. Personally I use a butane lighter. I have no experience with the new fancy flameless lighters, so to put it simply: ask someone else.

3. Some people claim that the only proper implement for lighting up is a cedar spill. A cedar spill is a long thin strip of spanish cedar which is lit first and then used in turn to light your cigar. You will typically see these in use at fancy cigar dinners, rather elegant way to light your stogie, but not all that practical in the car...

4. Here is where it gets messy, "how to actually light it" has been the key stumbling block to peace in many a nation. I have heard so many different methods, with such subtle differences it is perplexing. So what I am going to share, is how -I- light my cigars.

Here we go:
- I preheat the foot (the open end) by slowly rolling the cigar above the flame at an angle allowing a tiny black ring forms all the way around the wrapper. I don't allow the flame to touch the cigar.
- Then I place the cigar in my mouth, and draw in as I repeat the process, slowly rolling the cigar at an angle above the flame, but never letting the lighter flame actually touch the cigar. I guess about a 1/2 inch or so away. What appears to happen is the flame seems to leap from lighter up onto the foot of the cigar, even though my stogie never comes in direct contact with the lighter's flame. Remember to slowly spin the cigar to establish an even burn.
- Once I think I have it lit, I pull it from my mouth and actually look at the glowing foot to see if I did my job properly. Now if the burn is really uneven, I will reapeat the previous step on the appropriate side to even the burn. If it is just a bit uneven (which in my case it typically is) I gently blow on the end in the appropriate place to intensify the heat there, and will then take a couple steady draws, but will then just wait a minute before continuing to puff. This short delay seems to allow the cigar a chance to stabilize and self correct the burn.
- Then I sit back and relax and smoke to my heart's content!

5. If I am outside, and it is windy, and shelter is not accessible, I then throw decorum out the window, and I flame-torch the end, and put up with the initial bitterness to ensure a fast even light. Hey you, yeah you, the cigar snob, stop that groaning!

6. If my smoke happens to go out, I just knock off the ash, gently blow through the cigar to clear out the old smoke, then I jump right to the drawing while rolling part of my light up sequence.

- Big Mike

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

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Cigar Ring Guages

Many smokers dismiss narrow ring gauges, opting only to smoke 50+ diameter cigars. This seems to be particularly true of the newest generation of American cigar smokers, who seem to overwhelmingly prefer stocky Robustos, Toros, and Gigantes. Many cigar makers have recently released 54-60 ring cigars, attempting to cater to this "bigger is better" philosophy subscribed to by American smokers. It seems as though everything has become bigger in America: Big Gulps, Super-Sized Fries, and now, Monster Cigars.

Personally, I think this is a huge mistake (pun intended). Massive 56+ cigars are unwieldy in the hand and tragically uncomfortable in the mouth. These mammoth-size cigars tend to burn so cool they are often difficult to keep lit. And finally, their size actually tempers much of their flavor. I was genuinely surprised to see so many behemoths introduced at this year's RTDA. I am extremely interested in seeing whether most smokers will adopt these sizes, or if they are a quickly passing fad. My money is on fad, but I could be wrong (wouldn't be the first time).
Smaller-ring-gauge cigars have taken a beating in mainstream print publications over the last decade . The common charge is that they burn too hot and are not as complex in flavor. Personally, I say, "Hogwash!" Narrow-ring cigars offer a wide array of experiences to the smoker, and such generalizations are devoid of truth. So while the entire US cigar industry works to get you to try larger cigars, I am suggesting just the opposite and proudly champion the narrower classic Corona, Lonsdale, and Cuban Corona Gorda sizes.

These 40-46 ringed parejos provide some of the best smoking in the world; you are really doing yourself a disservice by not sampling these smaller vitolas. Yes, I concede they tend to burn hotter, but this, in itself, is not necessarily a negative. In fact, I argue that, in many cases, it is a positive attribute. Many blends that you find dull on your palate in a larger-ring gauge prove to be dream smokes in a smaller format. The increased combustion can convert a ho-hum blend into one of your spicy, full-flavored favorites. I often find that the cigar blends I usually think of as snoozers in a 50 ring, are delightful when smoked in a smaller ring.

Your fathers smoked them, cigar makers smoke them, and you will discover that most long-time American cigar connoisseurs regularly prefer a narrower 40-46 over the larger vitolas. Monster-size cigars are seldom smoked by seasoned smokers, except as a novelty.

My own tastes vary from large to small, so while I do appreciate a large Double Corona, I have also learned the joys of smoking narrower-ringed cigars. A smaller smoke can deliver a taste explosion that is so often lost in the girth and length of larger cigars. Also, they peak much quicker, delivering their flavor without the long wait that many larger vitolas require. Much pleasure can be found in the smoke of these thinner cigars. To dismiss them because of their size is a shameful mistake

- Big Mike

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

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10 Cigar Smoking Tips

1. An easy way to get a perfect cut from most double-bladed guillotine cutters is to lay it flat on a table, place the cigar in it straight up, and snip. This method makes it easy to not only get a straight cut, but with most cutters it nips just the right amount of the head off your cigar.

2. A great way to keep your cigar burning evenly is to rotate the slow-burning side to the bottom. I know this seems odd, but the bottom side will burn faster because the oxygen needed to feed the flame isn't being displaced by the smoke. Try it and see!

3. Your cigar a little tight? First thing to try is to gently squeeze and massage it; many times this will loosen the bunch enough to fix the problem. But if that doesn't work, go for the gusto and use a skewer or ice pick to just poke a hole through its length. Word of warning though: Do this before you light it and be very careful!

4. To prevent your cigar from going out between puffs, give it a couple of extra quick, short draws coupled with quick exhales before you take a long draw of smoke to savor against you palate each time. You will be amazed at how this simple practice helps to improve any difficult burning cigar.

5. Ignore what everyone keeps telling you about 70% being the ideal relative humidity for cigar storage. Many cigars are too wet at this level and draw poorly and taste sour. You will enjoy a much better smoking experience keeping your stogies closer to 65% RH.

6. Don't become anal about relative humidity. Cigar smoking is meant to be relaxing; stressing over your humidor humidity level is a waste of time! The goal is to keep it stable… your cigars will be just fine anywhere between 60% and 72%. In my opinion, they smoke best around 65-66%, but they are not going be harmed at a few points higher or lower. The goal is to find what you like and to maintain that level.

7. A quick and easy way to check how good your humidor's seal is is to empty it, place an energized flashlight inside, close the lid, and inspect it in a dark room. If there are any leaks or gaps, the light will shine right through.

8. Your butane lighter doesn't seem to be working as well as it used to? Purge it! What does this mean? Purging is simple: Next time your lighter is empty, depress the fill stem and allow the air that is trapped within the empty gas reservoir to be expelled. You will know it is properly purged when you cease to hear any hissing.

9. It is best to wait five minutes or so after a cigar is lit before you try to remove the band. The heat of the cigar will loosen any glue that may have come in contact with your cigar's wrapper and will prevent you from tearing the leaf as your remove the ring.

10. Want to relight a cigar that you left sitting for awhile? The best way to do this is tap off any remaining ash, then gently blow through the cigar to clear any stale air. Then, as you light it, continue to blow gently through the cigar with the flame at the foot for about three seconds before you take your first draw. Doing this simple set of actions will greatly reduce any initial sour flavor from a relit cigar.

- Big Mike

Monday, April 03, 2006

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Cigar Smoking

The practice of cigar smoking has been on the rise in the U.S. since the early 90's. In part due to a reputation as a glamorous alternative to cigarette smoking, the increase can also be tied to its popularity among celebrities, as well as to the social nature of its practice. But whatever the reason, it is clear that cigars are big business in the U.S. with higher sales of premium brands each and every year.

Magazines like Cigar Aficionado portray cigar smoking as alluring, and perhaps slightly risque (particularly for women), and so the hobby strikes a cord with young Americans. Celebrities are often photographed at parties or social gatherings with a cigar in hand, and cigar lounges find regular folks trying to emulate these stars. Clubs and societies, particularly those dominated by men, often design their regular activities around the ritual of cigar smoking.

In general, cigar smoking is viewed as the "civilized" alternative to cigarette smoking. Unlike cigarettes, cigars have a distinct, elegant stigma attached to them that often appeals to young people, particularly those with a higher than average income. They are most often associated with an elevated status in society, and the many of the available cigar accessories reflect that fact.

One of the most prominent cigar accessories, the humidor, reflects the overall style and refined nature of cigar smoking among young Americans. More expensive humidors are hand crafted out of wood. They serve not only to protect and preserve the product within but also to display them in a tasteful and fashionable manner. Large humidors may cost many hundreds or even thousands of dollars, and are often fixtures in the homes of the wealthy.

But despite their prominence among the upper class, the increased affordability and availability of quality cigars has also contributed to an overall increase in cigar smoking over recent years. Today discount cigars are readily available for purchase, often from easy-to-find online merchants, at prices well below normal. Cigar stores have increasingly moved to the Web in order to offer a wider variety of brands to any location at a fraction of the usual cost.
In part because of its current glamour and in part because of its practical affordability, cigar smoking has never been hotter, trendier or more profitable in the U.S.

- Big Mike