Advice for cigar beginners

Disclaimer: This is simply my opinion. These are either things I have done or wished I had done as a new cigar smokers years ago. There are plenty of other options/opinions out there so take it for what it’s worth. Of course this is the internet so we get all the “know it all” types pointing out all sorts of things from things we should have mentioned to spelling errors. It’s a cigar and bourbon blog for God sake. If you have that much time and concern to critique a personal blog, well…I ‘ll just leave it at that. If this was a term paper I might be a bit more concerned but anyway…moving on.

So I often get asked about the best cigars for beginners or I want to get into cigar and bourbon pairings, etc. As recently as today I had someone reach out to me about what cigar to pick, what site to order from etc.

First things first, forget pairings. That will come. You have no idea what your cigar profile is at this point so trying to find a cigar you like is priority #1 right now. Trying to match something you have no idea you will even like to a bourbon you may be familiar with is pointless. Let’s try to narrow down the cigar first.

Instead of trying to randomly order something online, my suggestion is to research articles like this online or take a drive to a reputable cigar shop/lounge and work with someone there. Do your home work and read reviews online about the staff, knowledge, and selection before going down to Brad’s Vape’s and Sticks (disclaimer, random name I picked here and no way represents any actual business. If there is a store out there by this name this is solely coincidental and I accept no liability for slander). Take a trip and be honest with the person in the shop and explain that you are new and are curious about trying cigars. If you have tried them before and you have an idea of what you had before, tell them honestly what you liked and didn’t like about it. If you are brand new I would expect them to offer you something mild or even something like a Drew Estate Acid infused cigar. I can’t smoke them now but truth be told I started with a Monte Cristo White Series and fell into Acids for a bit as I worked into enjoying non infused cigars. For about the first 6 to 9 months, I tried Acid, Natural, Isla del Sol, etc. Slowly my taste changed and I was able to try some mild to medium, then medium to full and now my flavor profile is full blown full bodies cigars almost exclusively. Great story I know. Back to our regularly scheduled program. My point to all of this is try non-infused and if you like it cool but don’t be afraid of the infused stuff and don’t feel like you will be there forever. Some people simply don’t have the palate for it and that is ok too. The cigar snobs will disagree. Ignore the noise. Your money, your palate, your experience. If they want you to smoke other things by all means request they purchase them for you, then simply move away. Cigar etiquette 101 is never criticize other smokers choices. You like what you like and don’t try to impress anyone.

Once you make your selection, I suggest finding reviews or tasting notes from different sites about that specific cigar. Make sure you find the exact cigar, same size etc. as tasting notes do vary with different vitolas (sizes). I encourage you to find videos about proper cutting and lighting of a cigar as well. Improper cutting and lighting can ruin your cigar and experience with it. Take your time to properly cut your cigar and try pulling (sucking) through it prior to lighting it. Watch video reviews or read up on reviews about it. Try learning about how different cuts will give you different draw options. If you have a cigar that is super tight and hard to get air through, it is likely plugged and will ruin your experience. Let the shop you bought it from know and hopefully they make it right. I have reviewed a tool here called the PerfecDraw and it can be great for those issues. The draw can make the experience great or horrible. Too open and too tight are both a problem. Take note of this. There should be a little resistance, similar to drinking a milkshake through a straw. It should not be wide open like sucking air through a straw of so hard you practically turn blue trying to get smoke through it.

Once the cigar is lit, (make sure you do not inhale cigar smoke into your lungs) try to understand what notes you might be tasting. It will be overwhelming at first and you may be like “I have no idea” and that is fine. If you decided to follow a reviewer wither through a blog or a video, try to identify the things they are describing. Even if it is just one or two things, that’s great. Most importantly, take notes. a written journal will help tremendously. I did this and I actually started putting them on FB for my own tracking purposes. Whatever you chose to do, this is very beneficial. Keep in mind that every reviewers palate is different and you may not pick up anything they are describing. Always take reviews with a grain of salt. Some of the top reviewers out there have palates that just aren’t compatible with mine so there is no value in me reading/watching them because I cannot identify with what they are describing. They aren’t wrong and neither am I. Note what you like and what you don’t like.

Make notice of strength as well. If you feel yourself getting sick, there are a couple of things that may be in play here. You can be inhaling into your lungs, which is common for cigarette smokers, or you may be smoking too fast. You should try to take a puff of your cigar every 1 minute or 1 minute 30 seconds or so. Enjoy it but do not rush it. It is meant to be enjoyed and if you take your time with it so what? I am by far one of the slowest smokers I know and I really don’t care. I know that when I smoke fast I get sick so what is the point in rushing it and ruining the experience? If you do start to get sick, sugar helps. I have also found that peppermints help to calm an upset stomach (but it will destroy your taste buds) and lots of water as well.

Cigar flavors will change from third to third. (Cigars are generally referred to in thirds.) If you like a cigar in the first third and it changes, stick with it because it will likely change again. On the flip side, if you don’t like it, if you can stick with it, wait for the halfway point or last third. Some cigars just aren’t for you and that is fine too. I have had a number of cigars that I really wanted to like and they didn’t fit my profile. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad stick, it just simply isn’t for you. However, WRITE THAT DOWN or note it, take pics whatever, because that info is super valuable to you and the person helping trying to narrow your profile.

I try to identify beginner cigar smokers palates to a shotgun filled with buckshot. You are all over the place. The goal of any good tobacconist is to narrow that down each time you smoke and report back to them so they can start to narrow that down to a single shot from a hand gun and you are hitting the bulls eye every time. Once you find what you really like, start looking for alternatives to that cigar that stick within that general profile.

I did the exact opposite of this and I tried everything I could find and what it got me was a bunch of wasted money and no real idea of what I liked.

Your best friend is a good employee that understands tobacco and listens to you. Unfortunately they can be hard to find. If you get a suggestion from them that you don’t like, let them know. If it happens again, it may be time to consider a different option. Regardless, track the cigars the tried and didn’t like. Again, this is good info. As you navigate your way into what you like, keep in mind that your taste and palate may very well change.

If you gravitate towards medium rare rib-eyes, high proof bourbons, and dark red wines, black coffee, you may not enjoy a mild cigar. Connecticut cigars are generally the mildest of the cigars on the market, however, do not fall for the “darker the wrapper, the stronger the cigar” saying and vice versa.This is not always true. You might enjoy something more medium to full but this is all trial and error. As you move through your cigar journey you may want to revisit something you didn’t like before. What may have started out as too heavy or harsh may be right in your wheelhouse months/years later. This is the beauty of the industry. As someone that smokes very dark cigars almost exclusively, there are times that I really enjoy light colored Connecticut cigars. You will learn over time and research that mild cigars with coffee can be a great way to start the day and open up your palate to other cigars you will smoke throughout the day.

Once you have your profile narrowed down and you have 3 to 5 cigars that you really like/love, then and only then would I experiment with trying to pair them. This is another world all of its own. Just like cigars, everyone’s taste buds are different so even doing pairing with guys I know that have similar taste as myself, we find ourselves picking up different notes and enjoying pairings to different degrees.

The final thing to understand about cigars and cigar pairings, is like what you like. Don’t try to force yourself to taste things you hear or read in reviews. This is all 100% subjective as I stated before. And, while cigar manufactures try hard to be consistent, not all cigars are the same. I have had entire boxes of the same cigars and very few were consistent.

Like I said before, this is simply some tips and pointers I wish someone had shared with me. If this the be all end all of Cigars 101, no. Not even close. This is one opinion and a recommendation that you do your research and explore. I do suggest narrowing that exploration with the help of someone that has some knowledge and not just looking to sell you cigars. Otherwise, you will end up spending a ton of money as I said.

Hopefully this helps. My final suggestion is to join a solid cigar group like CigarHawk Group on FB and now on MeWe since FB has banned cigar and alcohol content to some degree. We are on Instagram and Twitter as well.

Feel free to ask questions, drop some comments and suggestions. Until next time, #LongAshesFull Glasses. Peace.

Changes, Updates and Contest

When I started out doing this blog awhile back I really had no idea how I or the blog would be received. After all I am just a guy that enjoys cigars and decided to start doing reviews. Little did I know the response would be overwhelmingly positive and it has really taken off for me. I want to take a second to say “thank you” to all of you that follow me, share my reviews and my social media content etc. Without you, none of this takes place. To the cigar companies that have reached out to me, supported me and helped me along the way, it’s because of you that I do this. I am always amazed when I am contacted about doing feature pieces on a business or company or to do a review.

It has always, and will continue to be, my number one goal to provide my honest, PERSONAL opinion about a product. I am not going to absolutely love every single cigar I smoke. If that happens then you know this is all BS and it doesn’t matter. That said, I will never slander or destroy someones work simply because it wasn’t the cigar for me. I encourage anyone that read blogs, reviews, media releases, etc, to never fall into the trap of allowing ratings and popularity to guide your decision to try new cigars and products. What I have found is that what I don’t like, others may love. I would say that if you do base your decision on a cigar you read about here or other places, is to have the review at the ready when you smoke it and compare what is written to what you experience. From there you can quickly determine if your taste fall in line with the reviewer and you will know after a few times of doing this where to base your opinion. I have read reviews from people that have a huge following in the business and my palate and their’s are on totally different planets because I get nothing in the sense of what they are describing to me. Does that mean they are wrong? No, it means they experience things differently and that is what this is all about. So if you see a really high or not so high rating on a cigar, take the time to explore others thoughts and see why it is rated like it is, but above all, keep an open mind.

So with all of this said, I have been told that “success brings change” and that is certainly true. So it is time for some change here as well. In order for this blog to continue to grow and gain some traction in the realm of cigar reviews that matter, I feel it is only right to move towards a rating system. We all know that just about every site out there has a points or letter system assigned to a cigar review. I plan to move towards that as well but I am looking for some help. More to come on that later down the page.

I will be basing my review points on a number of things.

Appearance/Construction: The look and feel of the cigar. Wrapper quality, veins, seams, caps, artwork, etc. This is rated at a max of 15 points.

Performance: Draw, burn quality, is it too hot, does it burn to quick, does it require touch ups, etc. This is a big one for me because I don’t care how good a cigar is if I struggle to keep it lit, or if I have to suck my cheeks inside out to get anything from it. This is rated at a max of 30 points.

Flavor: Simple right? Not really. Liking the flavor of something or not is easy to say. But if we are being honest and fair shouldn’t there be more to it? Yes. Complexity of the blend, or not, consistency, transitions, huge swing in flavors, bitterness, does the blend flow well together, is it one dimensional, etc. This is rated at a max of 25 points.

Overall Experience: Summing all of this up into a total experience. Did I enjoy my time with this cigar? A lot of factors come into play with this one. I will always pair a first tie smoke/review with water so that it is a true reflection of the cigar itself and no outside influence. I have always done my reviews in a place where I am the only one smoking and it is not tainted my other lingering elements. For me, this is the truest representation of the product. Being in a lounge with other people smoking has effected my cigar experience before and you cannot be 100% truthful when you are reviewing a new stick and your buddy just lit up a Drew Estate Acid next to you. Let’s be honest here. While I absolutely love the aroma of said Acid cigar, it really takes over when I am trying to smoke a Padron 1964.

These point totals will add up to a total score with 100 being the highest obviously. Where I need your help is taking those point categories and pairing them in a way that continues with the Cigar Hawk theme. So basically, something that rates 1 97-100 is in a class on it’s own called “__________” and so on for the following:

100 – 97:

96 – 93:

92 – 87:

86 – 83:

82 or under:

Thinking Birds of Prey, or something around that thought process. Leave your comments and suggestions here and if I pick your suggestion, I will message you for your address.

I have some new companies reaching out to me so look forward to more things to get posted and reviewed soon. I have an event with the Master Steve Saka coming up this week that I am looking forward to, new reviews I am working on. A new pairing review coming up with the Protocol and Layne Coffee collaboration coming soon.

Again, Thanks to all of you for the continued support and following. I am open to new ideas, things you want to see, reviews you want to read, topics about cigars in general, topics outside of cigars, whatever. I am looking to start doing some joint reviews with a couple of people soon. We have discussed it a little but just haven’t really moved forward.

Don’t forget to drop your comments on the rating system here and social media. Until next time, long ashes and full glasses! Peace.