What did Groucho Marx, Winston Churchill and Al Capone all have in common? If you said they’re all hilarious, you have major problems! The real answer is, every single one of them was a cigar smoker! And you can be too! Starting the hobby may sound daunting at first, but there are only a few things you need to jump right in.
1. Get yourself a cigar cutter. There are several options out there, including the guillotine cutters (which literally chop the “head” off the cigar, and range anywhere from $2-$100+), a hole punch (which literally punches a pencil eraser sized hole in the end) and a slicer (it’s not necessarily called that, but it makes several cuts in the end from which to suck the smoke through). In my opinion, if you smoke all types of sizes and shapes, you’ll probably find the guillotine works the best.
If you plan to stick with this hobby for the long run, investing in an expensive cutter might work best. A company called Xikar offers various types of cutters, with an assortment of designs, and have a free sharpening service and lifetime warranty. Not a bad value for $40+, though you can get them for cheaper prices on sites like Amazon.com or any number of discount cigar places online. Shop around until your price.
As for me, I always get the cheap $5 plastic and steel-bladed guillotine. It doesn’t last as long, but it does the trick. I find these break about once every one or two years, so it’s a perfect starter cutter.
2. Get yourself some fire! Lighters are a dime-a-dozen; as long as they make fire you’ll be fine. I started off with matches, switched to the typical front-of-the-line-display-at-your-local-grocer lighter, and then switched to a fair priced butane jet-flame lighter by Xikar ($20+) called the Executive. The Executive retails on their website for $30, and offers a unique side-body ignition which helps you avoid burned fingers. They offer a life-time warranty on it too, so that’s nice.
3. Get yourself a humidor! In my opinion, as long as its cedar lined it’ll probably do the job. Various cigar stores online have had them for as cheap as $15, but the average price for a cheap beginner model is probably around $20. Or, you can probably even get them on ebay.com for a steal. Once you do, all you need is purified water, boiled water, or an assortment of various solutions (like propylene glycol).
As for me, I boil water, CAREFULLY stick in a folded paper towel and stick it in a cheap plastic shot glass and place it in the corner of my humidor. It’s a cheap solution and it works fine, although I usually have to replace it every three days, or at least a day before I want to smoke one. Not ideal, but it works! You can also put the same paper towel into a sandwich bag with a single cigar for several hours before smoking. That works too, especially if you don’t plan on smoking a lot.
Now that you got your equipment, there’s are only two more things you need to know, two pervading myths in our culture about cigars that need to be addressed. The first is the idea that you need to buy Cubans in order to get a truly good smoke. Not so! The fact is, some of the best cigars in the world come from all over the world. My personal favorites, which are some of the highest rated makers in the business, come from Dominican Republic (La Flor Dominicana), and Nicaragua (Padron).
According to my sources, this myth is perpetrated for three reasons. 1) Cubans can be very tasty, and can be highly rated. 2) After the Cuban embargo in US in the 60’s, many cigar companies went scrambling to find other regions that were not affected by the embargo. As such, they had to open up and start new factories, ones with tobacco fields and stock which were not quite as old and ready as the already established Cuban factories.
For several years, if not decades, these factories were sending out second-rate cigars and the quality was noticeable by hobbyist. After more than forty years, the rest of the world has caught up to Cuba, so this is no longer holds true. 3) Everyone loves the unattainable. Because they’re hard to get, and are, in fact, illegal to sell in the US and their holdings, Cuban cigars seem so mysterious. Coupled with reasons 1 and 2, and you’ve got a status symbol that doesn’t live up to the hype.
The other myth is that you have to pay a lot for a good smoke. The fact is, cheap cigars are sometimes cheap for a reason and, as such, cheapest is not always the key! What you want is VALUE. If your friend comes around holding a Swisher Sweet or any gas station brand cigar, just say no (hat tip to Nancy Reagan)! You can get a good, highly rated stick for $2 or $3, provided you buy in bulks of 5 or more. It requires a little research, but it’s worth it. Be sure to check out reviews online for good recommendations.
As for me, when I go for cheap I tend to buy Nica Libre or Diesel. They only go for $2 to $6 each when you buy in 5-packs to 20 count boxes. Once you’ve graduated your taste buds into premium country, you’ll want to check out brands like the aforementioned La Flor Dominicana, especially the Coronado, DL, or Air Bender line, or Padron. (I’ve tried most of the Padrons and haven’t found a bad one yet). Magazines or websites run by Cigar Aficionado offer healthy, starter point recommendations.
Once you find out what you like, by trying their higher rated, inexpensive recommendations, you won’t need it any more because you’ll find that often times what they rate as a mediocre cigar is your favorite. (For example, my favorite cigar is the La Flor Factory Press II. Best, smoothest, tastiest cigar I’ve ever clomped teeth on, but I believe it was only rated a 87 – an average score at best).
There are thousands of cigars made all over the world, with different tastes, smells and sizes. Sample a few, backed by recommendations, and check them out at your local cigar shop. Or, if there’s not one in your area, you can find plenty of good ones available online at the provided links. Once you start you’ll soon find yourself a part of one of the most relaxing hobbies around!