How to Select and Buy a Cigar
- Monday, 09 September 2013
Planning to buy some Cigars for your Deer Stalking or Driven Shooting this Autumn? Read on, Rupert Mackintosh provides some top tips on getting the best from your smoke.
Eventually the time will come when you can no longer just accept cigars as gifts, or be offered one by a friend who has a stash – you will need to actually go to a shop and buy one.
(Above: Planing to buy some cigars for your shoot days? Then read on)
This can be a daunting experience (even for the experienced smoker, believe it or not). Most shops will have in excess of fifteen brands available, more likely thirty, with several different viotolas (sizes) available in each brand, all with different names, dimensions and taste profiles. Not to mention different prices. Some boxes will be plain while others will be ornately decorated – not to say that plain boxes contain plain cigars, it can be the other way around.
On entering a cigar shop, you will probably notice the Aladdins cave of the cigar room itself. This is a larger version of the humidor you may have at home – it’s simply a space, where the climate is controlled to have a higher degree of humidity than the rest of the UK (so it’s warm and muggy, like Cuba). These are usually “walk in” humidors, that is, you open a door and walk around inside. Some of the larger shops, like Dunhill, even have seats inside to take the weight off. However, before you reach the humidor you will hopefully be accosted by a member of the store staff who will greet you. You probably get this in gun shops, shoe shops, watch shops and luxury car showrooms; it’s fine to say you are just looking, and summon them back later if you choose. Equally, there is no harm in surrendering to them straight away.
I used to spend circa three hours every Friday in a range of cigar shops around the city and the West End. Indeed, in one, I even took part in advising customers. If the owner was just too busy, he was happy for me to step in and help advise potential customers on which brands would work well for them. In all this time and experience, I have never actually seen someone try and ‘up-sell’ a more expensive cigar over one that the person might genuinely like, because it just doesn’t make business sense. So you can trust their judgement.
By and large, buying cigars in a shop is about checking the basics – do the cigars look good, do they smell fresh, do they have just the right amount of bounce between the fingers. Questions for the next level of experience will include things like looking for bloom (the soft, powdery layer of fur that can develop on good cigars over time – this is fine), and often, simply asking what is selling well at the moment. Note that cigars that are “selling well” can mean they are popular, or the shop have a few too many boxes and they are trying to promote them! If you meet a cigar through this introduction, be sure to ask the age. Younger cigars often taste harsher and more tannic than older ones.
There are few things to really avoid, but be sure you handle every cigar with care, as if you are going to buy it. If you mistreat it, you will be asked to pay for it anyway. Incidentally, some shops will ask that you do not handle the stock, which is fine. Find a retailer assistant and ask them to get the cigar, but then, do make sure you check the cigar yourself to content yourself it’s fine. As much as you have to respect the “do not touch” rule in some shops, under no circumstance should you accept a duff stick. Additionally, never “listen” to the cigar by rolling it near your ear. Goodness knows where this custom came from, but it’s considered very silly these days as it tells you nothing about the stick itself.
For the new shopper, think about a purchase of a Romeo y Julieta, a Montecristo, a H. Upmann, or a Punch. Petit Corona (or equivalent) size is always a good choice for a first purchased cigar, and in the UK should set you back no more than £15 or so.
Once you have made your selection (by hand or by retail assistant), they will take it to the counter to pay. It will usually be presented in a small cardboard case, usually branded. At this point they will probably ask if you want it cut or not. If this comes as a surprise or you do not have a cutter at home, say yes, and they will offer a cut of varying degrees or lengths. I have been smoking for over a decade now and this moment still causes me anxiety, it’s rather like the moment at the barbers when they offer you a tissue – what do you do with it?! I just say “as it comes, thanks” and let them make the chop as necessary.
If left in the box, or possibly in a little clear bag in the box, the cigar will keep fresh for no more than 24 hours so please consider looking after it properly if you plan to be smoking it the next day at your chosen shooting event. If you are purchasing it for a dinner or drinks that day, it should largely be fine, but see if you can lose the packaging prior to the event, as it’s not suave flashing packaging (but more on that later!).
Enjoy your smoke.