Smoke Signals: Cigar Basics

So you've decided to give Dad a good cigar or two for Father's Day.  Provided he likes them this could be a really great gift.  You might need just a little information before your journey begins.  Here we discuss basic information and tips for buying and smoking (in case you get one for yourself) a cigar.


Cigars are grown in distinct regions.  Some are Cuba, Mexico, USA, Indonesia, and Central Africa.  Like many other things (for example wine and coffee) the region in which it is grown can have an impact on the overall product.  One such effect is the shade of the wrapper.  Because some cigar smokers have very distinct preferences, be sure to investigate their tastes before purchasing.

Also similar to wine, the cigar making process takes longer than one might think.  After leaves grow and are harvested there is still fermenting, rolling, and aging to factor.  Overall, many cigars take from 2-3 years to produce from seed to finished product.

 In simplest terms, cigars are constructed by rolling (either by hand or machine) filler tobacco in a binder leaf.  The binder leaf is then wrapped in an outer leaf.  Handmade cigars typically utilize long filler which extends the length of the cigar.  Machine made cigars often use short filler which is made up of tobacco scraps and pieces.

There are a variety of cigar shapes and sizes.  Sizes are categorized by the length (usually in inches) and the ring guage (the diameter of the cigar in 64th inches).  Sizes range from the small and slim Cigarillos to the Giant.  This is truly a personal choice.  Be sure if you are buying as a gift that you have a general idea of the recipient's preference. Likewise, the ends of the cigars should also be a consideration.  The head of the cigar is the end that you cut.  The foot is the end that you light.  Some have tapered ends while others have completely pointed ends.

As a gift idea, purchase an empty wooden cigar box from your local smoke shop.  Place some raffia in it and then fill it with a lighter, cutter, a couple of cigars, and perhaps some information about the cigars you've chosen or a gift certificate to the smoke shop.  This is sure to please a cigar lover and would give them an opportunity to try something new.

savour... smoke rings

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What you should know about smoking a cigar:

  • When lighting, the flame should not touch the foot of the cigar.
  • You should turn the cigar as you are lighting it.
  • Soon embers will appear.  Blow through the end of the cigar to remove any unwanted residual flavor left over from butane, sulfur, etc.
  • There is no need to mash a cigar in the ashtray to extinguish.  They will naturally extinguish if not drawn upon after a few minutes.

A couple of important things to note:

  • A humidor is critical for anyone to plans to keep cigars on hand.  If the recipient of your cigar gift does not have a humidor do not buy more cigars than they might smoke in a few days.
  • Cigar smoking is a personal choice.  I do not necessarily advocate tobacco usage, but I do respect the tradition and long-time allure of cigar smoking.  As I have said many times, all things in moderation. 
  • This is just a basic outline.  Do not underestimate the knowledge base at your local smoke shop.  Ask lots of questions.