Don’t worry. Even Winston Churchill had to start somewhere!
Cigar Secrets is filled with lots of information about choosing cigars, lighting smoking them, accessories, etc. But this page is devoted to answering the questions many ‘virgins’ ask. A Cigar Newbie’s FAQ, if you like. (And don’t be too hard on yourself – some of the, shall we say, more ‘experienced’ cigar smokers who are reading this site could do with a refresher in these basics too.)
So start here and keep on reading. And why not enjoy a good smoke while you do?
What’s a ‘premium’ cigar?
Only cigars handmade by experts from a choice blend of top-quality tobaccos and aged to perfection may truly be referred to as premium.
If I can pick up a cigar at my local drugstore, why should I spend all that money at the fancy cigar stores?
I can buy a Twinkie at MY local drugstore for a lot less money than a muffin at the French bakery down the street, but do you really think the quality is the same? Come on. Don’t be coy. You know better.
Pre-packaged cigars often include non-tobacco ingredients like paper, PG (Propylene Glycol) or Glycerin (to prevent drying) and even saltpeter! Quality cigars, the ones that you’ll purchase from reliable cigar stores, contain only tobacco. Further, better cigars are rolled with top of the line leaves and are made with leaves that run from end to end.
Is the price of a cigar indicative of its quality or its consistency?
High prices do not guarantee good cigars. It’s the smoker’s dilemma to judge their relative worth. This is one situation where trial and error can be fun.
Is it ok to buy “machine made” cigars?
There a lot of things a machine can do, making cigars is not really one of them. An experienced roller will know when to add more or less filler to help with the perfect smoke – a machine will not. How will you know? Well, if there is a plastic tip on the end that will be one dead giveaway. Secondly, most reputable brands do not make them with machines – if you are worried, stick to the larger cigars.
What’s the story with ordering cigars by mail or off the Internet?
Mail order cigar distributors – and there are a wealth of them on the Internet – offer the advantage of a good product and great prices, usually highly discounted over what your local merchant will charge. The downside is an occasional “quality” issue and the minimum purchase requirement – Don Diego’s Casa de Cigars wants you to spend $100 for a box, not $5 for a single.
You should also remember that your local tobacconist is a source of information and advice, as well as selling cigars and accessories. Once you have established a relationship with your local tobacconist (and they understand your tastes) he/she can recommend new brands for you – brands that you may have easily missed in the “catalog”.
Are cigars supposed to be aged or fresh?
The word ‘fresh’ is probably not the best adjective to apply to a cigar. Premium cigar rollers utilize tobacco that has been (hopefully) aged for several months before rolling and then the manufacturer may age them an additional year before releasing them to distribution outlets.
So any way you smoke it, your stogie is hardly ‘fresh.’ Many people still savor the flavor of pre-Castro Cubans, and we’ve even read about cigars from the 1940’s, which still taste great. In fact, some people have such a preference for ‘vintage’ cigars that they age their stogies themselves.
Can I figure out how a cigar will taste just by knowing what country it was made in?
Cigars are a global industry and each country’s cigars have textures and flavors that reflect different rolling techniques, unique curing or aging processes, even the difference in soils from one region to another. You could spend a lifetime getting to know the subtleties and nuances of each.
It’s likely that the first cigars you choose will be from the Caribbean.
Of course there are always exceptions but it you’re looking to start out with a mild smoke, go Jamaican. On the other end of the scale are cigars from Nicaragua and Honduras, which are considered more full-bodied. In between are cigars from the Dominican Republic. And, at the top of the list – cigars from Cuba, the richest and most prized in the world.
So, are Cuban cigars the best or what?
Some people believe they are the best others feel that they are overrated. I think it is just a matter of individual taste (ie: California Cabernet vs. French Bordeaux). Cuban cigars are typically more of a full-bodied cigar (they have milder versions as well), so if that is what you like than you may enjoy them. Cuban Cigars are made exclusively of Cuban tobacco. The likelihood of coming across a fake Cuban cigar is also pretty strong (it is big business creating fakes). Keep in mind that some Cuban cigars are machine made – if you want to avoid the chance of this, stick to the larger sizes. (Also see the Top Cuban Cigars list for more information).
How do I know if I want a “strong” cigar?
First, lets lose the term “strong”. In the industry we prefer to refer to them as “full bodied” (although occasionally even I will say something is strong). Secondly, sometimes this will be due to inefficient aging of the tobacco. If you find a cigar line that you like, you may want to slowly move up into more full bodied cigars.