What Makes a Good Cigar?

Engulfed in the supple leather of a wing chair sitting and staring out into the room, I find myself asking, what makes a cigar?

Looking around I see all sorts of people enjoying the cigar lounge experience but I wonder do they really know the answer to this question too? I know I have pondered it for most of my cigar smoking life and I have answered this for myself many a times but, do my fellow cigar smokers ask themselves this?

I look between my thumb and forefinger and see the cigar I am smoking, it is rich in flavor and with each puff I exhale billows of creamy gray smoke. I know the maker, I know the tobacco that makes this cigar, and I know everything there is to know about it. Yet, I still feel after all these years I do not truly know what makes this cigar what it is. As a matter of fact I can say that about every cigar I smoke.

So here I sit, engulfed in this supple leather, the smell of smoke, the chatter of people and a great cigar in my hand writing about cigars and what I am going to try to explore as the essence of this blog – #whatmakesacigar.

I will look into what is really behind the cigar and what is it that makes it a cigar. Yes, this may sound corny to you but let me explain. We all can go study the maker, the blend, the tobaccos, the farms, the growing regions, the way to store, cut, light, enjoy a cigar – and yes we will talk about that in this blog. BUT, this is not the essence of what makes a cigar. There is more to it. What was the maker thinking, why these tobaccos, what time of day should it be smoked, what are the myths and truths in cigars and of course the history and experiences behind them. Why do we smoke cigars as consumers and what makes a cigar for each of us.

I will start with my journey into what makes a cigar and continue with other topics in each subsequent post. It is my endeavor to explore and uncover as much as possible on the above topics and more as I go on.

For me a cigar was something my father and grandfather smoked. This tubular long object of dried plant that they would examine carefully before they cut it and lit it with fire. It was odd to watch them and the rituals they had regarding cigars. My father had a special cabinet in our house, custom built for him and carefully humidified with this black box that buzzed when it was out of water. He would check on it every Sunday morning to make sure it was working to his liking. The smell of the wood and tobacco filled the den in our house when he opened it. He would carefully examine all the cigars in their boxes and then make sure that the water was right, along with temperature and humidity. I remember the first time I got to help him do this and just the joy of holding those boxes made me happy – it was like getting to touch the one thing you were always told as a kid, was off limits! Man was I flying high feeling like the cool kid when my dad let me help him. BUT, it was still off limits unless he was around. That Sunday, I remember that he took out a cigar after we had inspected the cabinet and he walked into the living room to sit and enjoy it and watch the game. Not that this Sunday was different than any other, it was just the fact that I got to help him and I remember pointing out this one cigar that looked different from the rest in this one box. This was the cigar he chose to smoke today. This cigar he said was something very special.

I was watching him look at it, hold it, smell it and just admire it for what seemed to be forever. Then he carefully took out what looked like scissors and cut off the end of the cigar. He put it in his mouth and just puffed on it for some time. I remember asking him if he planned to light it, I mean, we had almost played a quarter in full and he had still not lit it, this made no sense to me. He looked at me and said that a cigar this great needs to be truly enjoyed and not rushed and that some day I would understand what he meant. Shortly after, he grabbed a box of long wooden matches and struck one. He let the fire take to the wood and slowly lit the cigar, puffing on it and turning it as he lit it. The fire jumped up off the match to the foot of the cigar and the living room filled with smoke. He of course told me quickly to crack the slider so that mom would not come and get upset with him. My mom did not care that he smoked in the house as long as it was in the living room or his den where the custom cigar cabinet was. She just wanted the window open to take out some of the smoke. I sat back down and looked at my dad as he was leaning back in the sofa with the cigar in his mouth and his eyes closed. He pulled a big amount of smoke into his mouth and then let it out slowly, in a long stream that worked its way to the ceiling. I watched feeling as if the worries he carried just floated away while he was lost in the cigar he was smoking.

Most of the time it would take my dad about until the end of halftime to finish his cigar and then get up to make food for us. You see, Football was a big deal in my house and of course the home team was an even bigger deal. But Sunday during football season also meant steak for dinner and my dad loved to grill. This is why he had to finish the cigar by halftime since mom wanted dinner right after the game. But not this Sunday, something was different. My dad kept slowly puffing on that cigar and enjoying it. He actually missed watching most of the game and only payed attention if I blurted out something about it. He was totally lost in his cigar. I kept watching him, out of the corner of my eye, and he kept just leaning back with his eyes mostly closed and puffing on the cigar. Nearly halfway into the fourth quarter my mom asked if he planned to grill the steaks and he sat up, looked at her and with the cigar still lit in his mouth, walking off to the kitchen. Of course my mom chased after him telling him to leave the cigar in the living room, but he didn’t. The game came to an end and I went outside to be with him. I looked up and the cigar was almost completely gone. I never recalled him smoking one to that point. Most of the time he would put it down in the ashtray at about two thirds of the way in. Today that was not the case. I watch as he grabbed it from his mouth and cursed slightly as the burn line burnt his fingertips and he let it fall to the ground. He looked down at it and then looked at me and said

“Well that’s the cigar telling me I’m done with it.”

I still remember this to this day, and for me, it was the first of many great memories about cigars.

Years later I asked my dad why was that cigar so special. He told me that the cigar itself was nothing special, in fact it was a cigar that someone could buy every day at most any given cigar shop, even to this day it is still made and on the market, but it was special for a totally different reason. He bought it the day he went to pick up my mom and me from the airport. He was running late but wanted to get something to remember the day by, along with the gifts he had bought for me and my mom. He told me he happened to be right by a cigar shop in downtown near his office, ran in and just grabbed at the first cigar he saw by a brand he liked. He came home that night and put it in the box from the same maker but not the same cigar and it had stayed there until that Sunday several years later.

“Well if it was just a normal cigar then why was it so special?”

I asked again. He responded to me that it was I that made it so special. You see even though he is my dad, he adopted me into his life as I did with him. A Cigar was our common bond when I grew old enough to smoke them with him.

Now you may be asking why did I tell you this story, what purpose does it have about what makes a cigar?
Well, after smoking cigars now for some 30 plus years I have a small opinion about what makes a cigar. It is more than the overall sum and parts of the cigar, though trust me they play a great role in it. It is more than what cigar you haven chosen to smoke at that moment, whether it is by country of origin or by brand. It is even more than the company you keep, location you smoke and even items you pair with the cigar, again all important roles and key contributors to it.

For me, and some that I have asked, it is the experience behind that cigar. What makes a cigar is what you experience in your journey of smoking cigars. It is stories that you remember that brought you into this wonderful world of dried plants rolled up into this beautiful little thing that we cut on one end and apply fire on the other, puffing on it all while blowing the essence of it, the thing called smoke out of our mouths. This thing is a cigar. The long history of experiences behind each cigar whether they are yours, theirs or others, is, what makes a cigar.

We shall discover more together as #whatmakesacigar continues with monthly posts.