Posted by Daz Herring on 13th Sep 2016

Cigar Etiquette #2 - Lighting and Smoking

Smoking Gun Cigar Review September 12, 2016

Cigar Etiquette #2

Lighting and Smoking

Sorry I kept you waiting with that cut cigar and no idea what to do next. I'm pretty sure you figured it out on your own. The next step is lighting; one quick word on prepping that cigar: Don't cut a cigar until you’re ready to smoke. It will contribute to the drying out of the tobacco and your cigar won't smoke well. If you don't have a cutter but you still want to prepare your stick in the cigar store, that's fine, but you need to smoke it within a few hours or you'll regret it. (I usually can't go more than a few minutes).

As long as people have lived on earth, they have liked to set fire to things. I think this is why we have so many options for lighting things today. When it comes to cigars, we have the obvious choices of candles and other open flames, but I would strongly discourage either of those, because both can negatively effect the taste of your cigar. Matches are an option, but it's hard to light a cigar with a regular kitchen match. There are cigar matches that are elongated and, obviously, burn longer, but they are kind of expensive. They are also difficult to keep lit in any kind of breeze or wind. If you’re going to use a match, strike it and let the sulfur burn off the tip before you use it on your cigar. If you don’t do this, you’ll likely experience that sulfuric taste in the first few draws.

Another natural choice would be cedar. A small strip of cedar, referred to as a “spill,” is a great way to light a cigar (if you have the time and aren't in a windy area). Here is an excerpt from my review of the Cigar King's Purofino Milenio by PDR that talks about lighting with a spill.

Light the strip of cedar (referred to as a “spill”), then toast the foot, never touching the flame to the cigar. When you do this you just want to toast the foot, rotating the cigar around until you just see a few wisps of smoke. You're not lighting the cigar just yet, you're getting the tobacco as close as you can to spontaneous combustion. Hold the flame of the spill under the cigar about an inch away from the foot of the cigar— not touching it. Draw on the cigar and you will see the flame magically flash up to the cigar. Draw and rotate the cigar until it is lit. Never touch the flame to the cigar! This can cause a charred taste to appear, and you don't want that. Try lighting your next cigar this way. It's a very traditional and nostalgic way of lighting. If you don't know where to get a cedar spill, ask your local tobacconist. They usually keep some around for people to take. Try it. I think you'll like it.

Next, we come to lighters. There are so many choices on the market that I'm only going to mention a few good and bad choices. First, we have the famous Zippo lighter. While great for lighting cigarettes and other things, don't, I repeat, DON'T use it to light a cigar. Zippos are fueled by lighter fluid, and unless you are a fan of the taste, it’s a bad choice.

Second, are “soft-flame” lighters. These lighters emit a candle-like flame and are fueled by butane. You can find the cheap form of these lighters at most convenience stores, groceries or gas stations (Bic being the most common). They are inexpensive and easy to use. However, they are not designed to be left lit for very long, and you have a good chance of burning your fingers in the cigar lighting process. There are better choices. On the more economical end of the spectrum, Djeep makes a great disposable cigar lighter. You might have seen them as give-aways at a cigar event, but you can usually buy them at cigar stores. They are larger than a Bic, and last much longer. I kept one in my car for over a year and it still worked.

There are better choices, though, for the cigar smoker. Xikar, Calibri, S. T. Dupont and Jet Line are a few very good companies, most with lifetime or, at least, limited warrantees. All of them use butane and can be kept and refilled for years. (I have one soft flame Calibri that I've had for at least 15 years and it still works as well as it did the first time I used it). You'll find a range of pricing, as cheap as $19, that will do the job and do it well.

The last, and most commonly used style I want to discuss is the torch lighter. You can find torch versions of all the lighters I've mentioned above. These are also fueled by butane, but produce a strong jet of flame with which to light. You’ll find anything from a single jet torch to four or five jets. Here's the thing—the more jets you have in your lighter the hotter and faster it will light a cigar. Of course you’ll also burn through fuel more quickly. I have a single jet that I use on my porch that only needs to be filled once every two months. My lighters with more jets have to be filled every week or even every few days, according to how much I use them. If you're lighting a cigar to enjoy outside during a hurricane, a four or five jet might be a good choice, if not, one or two will do the trick.

The only drawback I have found with a torch lighter is using it outside during the daytime. Remember that the fuel is butane. This makes the flame blue. Frankly, on a bright sunny day on the golf course, I can't tell if it's lit or not. It does make it a bit harder to light a cigar and not char the end if you can't see the flame. I never have had any trouble with one on a windy day. There are some new torch lighters that have a coating of nickel around the jets. This causes the flame to change to a lovely red color, which is much easier to see. However, I'm not sure how long the effect will last before the nickel is burned up.

Now, let's light that cigar. If you read the first part of this blog, you already know how to use a cedar spill to light your stick. That’s the same method you should use with a match or a soft-flame lighter (toast, rotate, draw – never touching the flame to the cigar). It's not as easy as it sounds. At least lighting up cigar after cigar is a practice that you can enjoy as you get the technique down.

Lighting with a torch is a little different. Some experts say it does change the taste of the cigar. There’s no way you can do it without charring the end of the cigar. You're placing a jet blast (or multiple jets) on the foot of the cigar. The jets are burning at 2,600 degrees fahrenheit. I've burned by fingers and, on one occasion, part of my beard while lighting a cigar. (That's a story for another time).

If you’re going to use a torch, and chances are most of you own one (they're a bit of a cigar parlor status symbol), start the lighter and hold it an inch or so from the foot of the cigar. Don't put it right up to the foot, you'll get a tobacco scented candle and not a cigar. Rotate the lighter or the cigar, making sure you've toasted (or as the case may be, torched) the entire foot. Try not to let the flame touch the wrapper. It will char quickly and easily. When the foot is all aglow, looking like it is already lit, hold the lit torch an inch or so below the foot of the cigar and draw. It will, most likely, immediately take...and you're smoking!

Now sit back and enjoy a great smoking experience. Don't be rushed. Relax and let the wonderful flavors dance across your tongue. Most experts suggest to draw on the cigar about once every thirty seconds. I’ll admit, I usually smoke a little faster than that. The most important thing is to take your time. If you draw too quickly, you will cause the tobacco to burn faster than it was intended and you will probably get a harsh taste and a hard ash (one that won’t drop right off the foot—it will be spiked and pointed instead of being even). It's also recommended that you slowly rotate the cigar as you smoke. This is supposed to produce a better and more even burn. But, if a cigar is rolled and constructed well, I don't think this is necessary.

Let the cigar do its job. It burns and you puff. You don't need to ash it every time there's a quarter inch of ash. Good construction means good construction. Most premium cigars will hold an ash for well over an inch. (Sometimes it will hold for three or more inches). If you want to be safe and not ruin any good shirts or furniture, I recommend letting it go for at least an inch before holding it over an ashtray and lightly tapping the side of the cigar. Not only does it look cool, it makes for a better smoke.

Now, what do you do when a cigar you're not finished with goes out? Don't worry. It happens. Sometimes it has to do with construction. Sometimes its the weather (high humidity). Sometimes you've been talking too much and not paying attention to your cigar. So, your cigar decides you must have something more important in your life than smoking, and says, “Screw this. I'm outta here!” In any case, hope is not lost. Your stick can be relit. Just tap off any remaining ash and use whatever lighting style you prefer. Slowly rotate the flame around the burnt edge of the cigar, and when you see some red, start puffing. If you’ve partially smoked your cigar and you don't relight it within the next (and God help me for saying this) hour, I wouldn't recommend relighting it. I don't think you'll like the taste. The most I would wait is 10-15 minutes, but only if you’re just too busy to get back to it.

I guess a smoking etiquette article wouldn't be complete without talking about the band. What do you do with it? Well, there are a few schools of thought. If you’re smoking with your friends and they know what you usually smoke, don't worry about it. If you’re with a group and you’re planning on smoking some rare, expensive (or potentially illegal to purchase—you know what I'm talking about) cigar, don't flaunt that band! Take the band off and be one of the masses. I've been in shops before where I think I recognize a band of a hard to find cigar and the smoker is obviously fidgeting with the stick to get me to ask, “What are you smoking?” only to tell me, “Oh, you can't get it here.” If (s)he then tells you how rare it is and asks if you would like to try one, then that's ok. If (s)he just did it to show off...not cool!

One thing the band is good for is gauging when to put the cigar down. Don't try to smoke through it, unless you like the taste of burned paper. If you are going to leave it on until near the end (the last third), it’s easier to remove the band when it’s been warmed (as you smoke the cigar). The factories that produce cigars use a vegetable based adhesive to attach the band and when it slightly heated, it loosens and pops apart easier and usually doesn't damage the cigar.

So, if you like to smoke with the band, that's fine. If you like to take it off, that's alright, too. It really doesn't matter. Remember what I always say, “If you like it, smoke it”.

In the third and last part of this cigar etiquette series I'll talk about what to do when you’re done smoking, how much of the cigar you should smoke, and storage of your at-home cigar stock. I would love your feedback and questions on cigars and cigar smoking. Please feel free to contact me through this page. I want to be a resource for the everyday cigar smoker. You don't have to be an expert, you just need an hour or so to enjoy a good cigar.

And, remember: don't let other people tell you what to smoke. If you like it, smoke it!