For most of us, we start as occasional cigar smokers. Maybe you had a family friend who let you try one of the Swisher Sweets he always smoked, no matter where he was. Maybe you only had the occasional CI Mega Sampler cigar from the Ziplock gallon bag passed around at the tailgate. Maybe you and a buddy would go to the Smoker’s Express and grab the coolest looking cigar you could afford on a college budget so you could smoke, shoot the shit, and watch the drunk students on their walks home on thirsty Thursdays. Maybe that was just me… Anyways, at some point, you ended up smoking the seemingly perfect cigar, at the perfect time, in perfect company and you realized what cigars are meant to be. Then you’re hooked. If you care enough to be reading this article, you’re probably in that position right now, or I just reminded you of your humble beginnings. If you’re the former, I’m about to save you some time, money, and aggravation. If you’re the latter, you may disagree with what’s coming, or you may not, but we’ll certainly share these memories.
Oftentimes cigar smoking is presented as a lifestyle that can be intimidating. Fancy accessories, extravagant settings, elaborate pairings, and extensive collections. While this is definitely true for a segment of the cigar smoking population, it is not, in my opinion, the norm. In fact, most of the cigar smokers I have come to know through this hobby do not fall in that category. This hobby for them, and myself included, is about a love for the craft. It’s about camaraderie. It is about enjoying a product that has been brought to life through a passion for tobacco by the hundreds of hands that have been involved in creating a single cigar. In order to enjoy this hobby, I am going to tell you what you NEED. It may not be as incredible as you expect or have been led to believe.
The first step for at home cigar smoking is storage. As a beginner, I did my storage research and quickly learned that I needed a humidor; but not just any humidor! One that was cedar lined. Oh, and I had to be able to close a dollar bill in the lid and experience some resistance when pulling it out. I set out to find a “starter” humidor and quickly stumbled upon a coupon code for CI. $20 for a desktop humidor AND 10 cigars. My heavens, what a deal! Especially since this humidor came equipped with a fancy analog hygrometer built in, not to mention a handy humidifier puck! So I ordered this fabulous kit, ignoring the old adage of “If it’s too good a deal…”, and I was ready! Save yourself that agony, because unknowingly, all I was ready for was the aggravation of unstable humidity levels and subpar smoking experiences. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the humidor was junk and the cigars weren’t special.
If you want a wooden humidor, or a show-piece humidor, my recommendation is to spend some extra money to make sure you are getting a sturdy, well crafted piece. There is NOTHING wrong with a quality wooden humidor, and if I personally had an extravagant collection or desire to display my cigars, I would definitely put the money into this. However, what I recommend to a beginner is something like a food storage container like this. Or, if you have one handy, a cooler (I personally use a medium sized Igloo cooler). Both of these options are affordable, easy to find, and come in various sizes as your stash grows (or dwindles). An added benefit to these types of storage options is they require no seasoning like a cedar lined humidor. Do note that cigars breath, and so there needs to be some regular air transfer. If the cooler or container is “air-tight” and you are not smoking regularly, you will want to open the lid every couple weeks to allow some fresh air exchange.
Once you have decided on your storage, the next consideration is very important. You undoubtedly will figure out how important Humidification is in cigars when you get into the hobby and begin learning. Above I mentioned the fancy dancy built in hygrometer and the humidifier puck that came with my starter kit and also the humidity related aggravation I had. Well, right away I read that I needed to store my cigars at 70% RH (relative humidity) and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Any higher and I better have frozen my cigars to kill dreaded cigar beetle eggs (what a joke. I won’t get into it, but don’t do it), and any lower and my cigars would be un-smokeably dry. Turns out, that humidifier puck was great at storing water and taking up space and the hygrometer was great at lying. Don’t bother with that stuff.
For most of us, the best humidity control devices we can get are Boveda packs and a digital hygrometer like this. These are 2-way humidity packs, meaning they will release and absorb humidity. These provide an incredibly stable environment for your cigars (unless you have a large cabinet humidor, in which you would want an active humidification system). Just through a few packs in with your cigars and you're done! As I mentioned above, the rule of thumb I knew when I started was 70/70, however, as I became more familiar with the hobby and began experimenting with humidity and speaking with others in the hobby and industry, I personally recommend starting lower and working up to 69%-72%. I personally use 65%. I find this, at least for my climate, has given me the best smoking experiences. Do note that when you purchase cigars online, many retailers ship your cigars with 69% Boveda packs. Throw them in with your 65% packs!
The next thing you will need is a way to light your cigars. If you look up the best way to light cigars, you are going to find all sorts of opinions. None of them are wrong, but in my opinion, some are impractical. Most brick and mortar retailers will ask you if you need matches and many purists may say you should use matches. Better yet, some purists may tell you that you must use the match to light a cedar strip, then light the cigar using the cedar. That is all well and good if you are smoking indoors. Even then, using matches or cedar strips can be a process and can present a challenge when trying to toast and light your cigar in a manner that will prevent burn issues throughout the smoke. In my opinion, you cannot beat a lighter. More specifically a torch lighter. Soft flame lighters like Bic lighters work, and are actually quite popular for industry people that travel back and forth to South America. Bic lighters are available everywhere and you avoid the chance of the airport confiscating your fancy torch lighter. For most of us, this is not a concern.
The reasons most cigar nerds use torch lighters are because you are able to beat the wind with a torch, you can toast and light the cigar without actually touching the cigar and risk scorching the tobacco, and you have more accuracy with the flame. When it comes to lighters, there are many options, designs, and prices. You can spend a couple hundred dollars on an ST Dupont or you can spend ten dollars on a torch insert for your old Zippo (this was what I ended up doing years ago and have been using ever since without issue). For starters, I’d recommend just picking up a Vertigo by Lotus single or double flame lighter. These are affordable and reputable. Also, get yourself some quality butane. This will save you the heartache of lighter troubles. I have used Ronson and Zippo because they are easy to find and I have not had any issues.
Lighting your cigar will not do you any good if you cannot pull the smoke through the cigar. To do that, you need to remove a portion of the cap at the head of this cigar. This requires a cutter. This is another extensive topic of debate. Should you V-Cut? Punch? Straight cut? Bite off the cap (NO!)? Besides biting off the cap, there’s no wrong answer. In fact, for the past year I have exclusively used my pocket knife to cut my cigars by holding the cigar at the head between my thumb and the blade and lightly slicing around the head. This just cuts the cap and allows it to pop off. This started out of necessity because I smoke around the farm and wouldn’t have my cutter. Now I just don’t even grab the cutter. This may sound ridiculous, but consider that I’ve heard many cigar manufacturers, tobacco farmers, and brand owners just use their finger nails to essentially do the same thing because they smoke so many cigars in many settings and don’t always have a cutter hand.
However, a cutter is considered a necessity. I can’t attest to the effectiveness of the V-cut or punch, because I never messed with them. I started with a straight cut and have stuck with it. To a beginner, I would strongly recommend a straight cutter, and more specifically, the Perfect Cutter 80RG by Cuban Crafters. This cutter is fantastic for the beginner because it has a backing plate that prevents the operator from cutting off too much of the cap. Removing too much with the cut will cause the cigar to unravel and is a common mistake made by early adopters of the hobby. This particular Perfect Cutter also goes up to an 80 ring gauge, which makes it suitable for lanceros clear up to the ridiculous 8x80 cigars out there. This is the cutter I had used up until I started using my knife. It worked perfectly every time and it has a lifetime guarantee.
With everything mentioned above, you are able to store your cigars and smoke them. Two other valuable items to have once the cigar is lit are an ashtray and a stand. For obvious reasons an ashtray is necessary for indoor smoking or when you’re relaxing on the deck or in the garage. A great ashtray to use that supports the site bringing you this content is the Whiskey & Whitetails Barrel Stave Rest and Ashtray. This gives you a place to rest your cigar and ash your cigar. Obviously, any ashtray that accomplishes these two things is great, but I had to shill a bit. A foldable stand is a must for me personally. Something like this from the fine folks at Small Batch Cigars (use code “Whiskey” for 10% off) is perfect to throw in your pocket. Then, no matter where you’re smoking, you have a place to rest your cigar.
Now that you have your storage, humidification, lighter, cutter, ashtray, and stand, you’re ready! Oh wait… you don’t have any cigars… When I started, this meant I needed to get my hands on some cigars, but goodness cigars are expensive at the brick & mortar retailer and I have no idea what I like or what’s good except for the #1 cigar on Cigar Aficionado's yearly list. Maybe I should check the interest. Oh wow! Cbid and CI have “Best of” sampler packs of different cigars for 75% off MSRP!! That’s crazy! I better jump on these since the description says these deals surely won’t last! Well, here we are years later and the deals are still there and the cigars are still… well I won’t go there.
In reality, you like what you like and if that is cheap online retailer’s bundle brands or factory seconds, then that’s great! This hobby is gonna be much cheaper for you! I also think these types of cigars are important in the hobby because they get people into cigars because they create a lower cost of entry and if you are just learning how to smoke and taste cigars, then it will take practice. It’s better to power smoke through a $3 bundle cigar than a $30 Davidoff before you realize that you need to slow your roll and keep the smoke cool. So, by all means, if you are still super new to this hobby, buy some cheapies for now. Just know that it gets better. If you don’t understand how people are getting these delicious, prominent flavors of milk chocolate and dark cherries when all you get after smoking for a few months is bitterness with a hint of hay, then it means it’s time to graduate!
So, with the help of the guys over at Small Batch Cigars, I put together a sampler for you readers! The Whiskey & Whitetails Introduction Pack was crafted to provide a variety of smoking experiences. The pack contains 8 premium, hand rolled cigars that I personally enjoy and that also showcase different tobaccos, flavor profiles, country of origin, and overall experiences. The A.C.E. Prime Pichardo Clasico Sumatra is an excellent blend to showcase Sumtran wrapper. The Aladino Corojo Toro is an all Honduran Corojo cigar that showcases what Honduras has to offer. The Crowned Heads Le Careme Robusto is a wonderful example of Connecticut Broadleaf maduro cigar that won’t overwhelm a newer smoker. The Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust Sobremesa Short Churchill is a cigar that offers tobaccos from 4 countries and is an example of nuance and complexity. The Foundation Wise Man Maduro Robusto is another maduro cigar, but it showcases the Mexican San Andres wrapper in a beautiful manner. The Illusione Fume d’Amour Concepcions is an elegant, all Nicaraguan blend that shows the sweet, peppery, soft side of Nicaraguan tobacco. The Patina Connecticut Robusto is a cigar that pushes the boundaries on the traditional Connecticut cigar profile. The Xhaxhi Bobi Mi Hermano is an all Dominican cigar that presents the flavors of Dominican tobaccos.
Buy one or a few of these sampler packs to stock up that new container or cooler! Use coupon code “Whiskey” for 10% your entire order, plus make an account and receive 5% back in rewards points.
Let me know what you think of these cigars by reaching out @guitarsandcigarsfarm on Instagram, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to reach out with any questions, comments, criticisms, or concerns as well.