Cigar 101: For the Beginner

Alfred Dunhill did not call his book "The Gentle Art of Smoking" for nothing. He understood that cigar smoking is an art form, that provides a sense of contemplation, peace and appreciated pleasure. Cigar smoking as experienced a renaissance in the United States. The sale and importation of fine handmade cigars has risen more 30% annually for the past several years. It's a wonderful, relaxing past time that can be shared with friends. Here are a few suggestions that might help the beginner.

The best way to start with cigars in my opinion is to sample a variety of different cigars. I always suggest starting with cigars like Dunhills, Avos, Arture Fuente, and Macanudos. This way one will gain an appreciation for construction quality and the reason it is important to enjoying a good smoke.

I would suggest starting with cigars using a Connecticut Shade wrapper, like Dunhill's Tabaras, Avo's No. 2, or Macanudo's Hampton Court. This provides a good experience to help in wrapper comparison and flavors too. A good smoke should be even burning and easy drawing, with flavors one enjoys.

Firm construction provides a base for the tactile sensations of holding the cigar between one's teeth or fingers. It also provides the base for a proper draw. Draw is important because it determines how easily the cigar flavors can be enjoyed. All cigars should be properly humidified for maximum flavor reward. Either too dry or too moist makes a cigar hard to taste. Too dry provides for a hotter and perhaps spicier smoke than normal. Too moist makes the cigar's burning qualities suffer.

One thing a new cigar smoker should do is smoke several of the more popular brand name cigars first. This will give them an understanding of how consistency can make or break a brand. It will also provide some repetition with certain cigar flavors.

Once the new smoker is acclimated to cigar quality, they should begin to explore! Cigars range in color from green (claro) to almost black (oscuro). Between these two extreams are the bulk of today's most popular cigars with EMS (English Market Selection) or Maduro wrappers.

The difference between EMS (or natural) and maduro wrappers is quite interesting because one would generally assume that darker cigars are stronger. This assumption is natural because logically, one would parallel this to coffee or another similar experience they have already had. This is not always true. Maduro wrappers are fermented longer than natural wrappers and the basic difference is:

EMS (natural) Tan to medium brown in color. Typically shade grown under cheese cloth to provide for a very consistent and smooth appearance. The most common type of EMS wrapper is the Connecticut Shade wrapper grown in the United States, in Connecticut.

Maduro (reddish brown to almost black) Typically is not shade grown and has a rougher texture. Appearance wise, maduros usually appear drier and more rustic than there shade grown EMS counterparts. Today's premium maduros are usually blended with Connecticut Broadleaf wrappers.

EMS wrappers are generally lighter bodied, smooth and provide a multitude of flavors for the smoker to enjoy. One will detect some sweetness among light to medium tobacco flavors. A good EMS cigar will not be too bitter or acrid. It should leave a pleasant aftertaste in one's mouth.

Maduro wrappers are generally medium to full bodied smokes. Maduro has a flavor which can range from sweet to bitter too. Maduros when properly aged are quite smooth and do not seem stronger than their natural wrapper counterparts, but more flavorful. Again, one should expect a good maduro to not be too bitter or acrid with a pleasant aftertaste.

Either wrapper can provide a one dimensional smoking experience: a cigar which essentially has one prominent flavor throughout the experience or complex, a cigar which provides a multitude of flavors during the smoking experience. This is determined by how the cigar maker blends the wrapper, binder and filler tobaccos within the given cigar.

When storing cigars in a humidor, you can do one of two things with the cellophane wrapper. You can either leave it on or remove it. There are two schools of thought on this issue. First, leave the cellophane wrapper on so that cigars of different brands don't share flavors. If you store many different brands in you humidor, this method may be best. Second, remove the cellophane wrapper so that the cigars can "breath" and absorb mositure. If you store only a single brand or only two or three brands, this storage method works well. The key in storing different brands is to keep them from touching. Use of cedar strips can be helpful. As long as the cigars don't touch, don't worry about flavor cross-over.

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