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A Second Opinion

I was browsing through The Edge's Options and they featured the president & CEO of Davidoff Group, Hans-Kristian Hoejsgaard, talking about smoking cigars. Its all fine and dandy until he shared some interesting tips in "Doing It Right" when smoking cigars. I literally fell off my chair. Just because someone is CEO of a big cigar company, do not take their views as "the bible". His opinions would have elicited a heated counter argument from me.

I am not a snob but I like my cigars with a passion having smoked them for nearly 20 years. My views may not be better but certainly, let's weigh the views properly. Cigar aficionados please contribute.

The CEO said: a) The most important thing is storage at the correct humidity. A humidor is necessary even in countries like ours. If you don't have a humidor, keep your cigars in a cool, dark drawer but bear in mind they will not stay fresh for very long.

Comment: The most important thing is not the humidor. Cigars need two things, humidity and correct temperature. Even if you do not have a humidor, the worst is the cigars dry out, but they can still be rehabilitated properly with care later on in a properly controlled humidor. 

However, if you do not have the right temperature, its gone. All cigars are made with organic leaves and no insecticides and as such there will be "eggs/larvaes" on them which you cannot see. These eggs will hatch once they reach the right temperature, which is around 28 Celsius or higher. Once they hatch, they will burrow holes through your cigars - which is very much the end of your cigar. 

Humidity in Malaysia is relatively high, much more than the minimum required 70-72, its the heat we have to contend with.

So, the humidor is not the most important thing but rather keeping them in a cool environment. The ideal is between 18-22 C, failing that, even 24 C is acceptable but certainly not ideal. Without a humidor, you can still keep it for some time if you have a ziplock bag with a water pillow (which can be easily purchased at any good cigar shops). Just remember to keep it in a cool place (not the fridge though). 

A cigar is a "living organic" specimen, a cigar is very dependent on the quality of the leaves, the oils in the leaves. You may age a cigar if they are of quality as the oils will permeate and flourish. However, a cigar will also take on other smells which is why they have to be kept in a "neutral environment" such as glass or fiberglass cabinet. The best is cedar wood lined humidors as these have the "right oils" to age alongside with the cigars. So, don't ever leave the cigars in a "paper box, plastic containers or normal drawers" as the cigars will take on these "smells and oils" which will corrupt the cigars.

The CEO said: b) Don't light your cigar with a lighter, but with a match. Its a nice ceremony to indulge in, and you must really get the smell of the cigar before smoking. You may use a lighter when the cigar dies out, but the first time you light it must be with matches.

Comment; How do you say bull shit without being offensive? I don't really care if he is the CEO of Davidoff but that is pure b.s., no wonder I don't smoke much Davidoffs nowadays. Lighting with a match is a nice ceremony ... why don't you bite off the ends like the real Cuban rollers used to do then instead of using a proper cutter?  The one thing you shouldn't do is to light a cigar with a normal lighter for cigarettes, the ones that emit yellow flame as these flames will leave an undesired after taste on the cigars. Next you can use a match but its also not the best because even though its wood based, you can still see traces of yellow flames. You should really only light it with a very neutral flame, which is from butene gas, the blue colour flame. 

The CEO said: c) Never put out a cigar like a cigarette - it must go out by itself. If you do, it will sour when you relight it. Twisting it in the ashtray is an even bigger crime.

Comment: Seriously i don't know how and why a person with such questionable knowledge can be leading a proper cigar company? He is right that you should never put out a cigar like a cigarette, like stubbing it as the dark ash will work its way into the after taste when you relight it again. A cigar should be left to go out on its own even if you are only going through it halfway, and may want to continue later. 

I hope he is talking about twisting the cigar at the lighted end stub, which is a big no-no as well for the same reason. However, getting rid of a long ash, you should rest part of the ash on the tray, and lightly press the ash tip and the ash will break off lightly. A long ash is a desired thing but then it can get messy. 

The other thing about ash is that you should not break off the ah too frequently as that will expose the lighted end to too much oxygen, thus causing it to burn faster and you could end up with a heated smoke which is not desirable. You want a cool smoke. Never, never ... tap your cigar on the ashtray to break the ash as that will affect the structure of the remainder of the cigar, and its way uncool.

While we are on ash and burn rate, smokers should  be wary with the size of cigars they are smoking. They should maintain a good burn rate that allows for a cool smoke. Hence you should not puff as frequent as a cigarette. A well lit cigar will continue burning even after 45-60 seconds between puffs. 

When a person relights a cigar, does it mean he/she is doing it wrong or they have a bad cigar? No, a cigar can at times go off faster than usual if it is too well humidified, or the construction of the cigar is at time too tight at places which does not allow for proper breathing.

There are other practices which are questionable. You sometimes see smokers dipping the sucking end with a bit of cognac - thats a European thing. Seriously, this is a no-no with handmade full leaves cigars. It does not add to the taste. You may do it with a "dry cigars", which is very popular with Europeans. Dry cigars include Villager, Tabacalera, Danneman, etc ... only the outside wrapper leaves is whole, inside is chopped leaves much like cigarettes and they are machine made. They don't age and have little oils but still good and still a lot better than a cigarette.

What to drink when smoking a cigar? Top of the list should be plain water or unsweetened ice tea, they naturally cleanse the palette. Wine is a no-no as there would be too many things competing for your palette, and as a wine develops throughout the night as the wine aerates more, the nuances may be harder to find and certainly your cigar aromas on your palette will be also hard to distinguish. 

I am no fan of blended whiskies, I think single malts are a decent drink to accompany a cigar if all else fail. The single malts are cleaner and does not compete with cigars too much.

Try not to get your cigar too wet with your saliva, its not becoming. You can moisten the end as you do not want the end to unravel but do not drown it with your saliva. Mark of a good cigar smoker, the end is usually clean and dry - it takes time and practice and care.

Should you take off the band when you smoke a cigar, its up to you. I would gradually take them off as a lighted cigar would heat up the band. As the glue holding the band would heat up as well, thus making taking the band off easier. The danger in taking the band off early is you could rip off the most important bit holding the entire cigar. 

Some people will hold a cigar close to their ears and roll it with their fingers, that is again pure b.s., what are you listening for? Its posturing. The first thing before smoking any cigar is to check for how well humidified it is, you can do so by pressing the cigar lightly, it should have some give. If its hard, don't bother smoking. Too soft would be too well humidified, which means the cigar will go out very often.

Difference between a cigarette and a cigar smoker: one is highly addictive; one is a beast of habit, you need to have one the moment you wake up, the moment you take a dump, the moment after a meal, the moment you feel stressed, maybe the moment just after sex ... the other is a cigar: you need to find time to smoke one, you need to tune yourself down to smoke one, you need a proper environment that is relatively sedate and unhurried to smoke one, it is one of life's great de-stressers. 

If you have a choice don't smoke. If you must smoke, go for a cigar.

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