For a novice, smoking a cigar — hell, just venturing into a local cigar store to buy one — can feel more daunting than fun. The mechanics of properly smoking one (how to draw without inhaling?) don’t come naturally. Faux pas (when to ash the thing?) abound. Then there’s the impossible question of which cigar, in a room stuffed with boxes of them, to buy.
You’re not imagining it: cigar smoking is full of tradition, ritual and enigma. The good news, says Pierre Rogers, is that cigar smokers form a natural, welcoming community — acolytes not just to the rolled leaf but to lighting them up together.
Community is Rogers’ purview. He’s the founder of PuroTrader, an online trading service that includes community-created cigar ratings, forums, and blog posts. Rogers set up the site as a searchable e-humidor for collectors after discovering someone had stolen a single cigar out of a prized box he’d been saving for over a decade, which made that box pretty much worthless. An event that would devastate most collectors but not Pierre. “Initially, we set out to create a way for every collector- for free- to build an online humidor. It’s a way to catalog their own collection, take notes on each cigar, and then make it searchable. You could log on and look at anyone’s humidor anywhere in the world. The inevitable conclusion to that was, ‘You got something I want — how do we make that happen?'” he says.
Since founding PuroTrader, Rogers has made cigars a more accessible hobby through the new Unicorn Hunter's Club, a monthly subscription box and a must-have for new smokers looking to start a great collection. (Editor's note: As of January 2023, Unicorn Hunter's Club is no longer affiliated with PuroTrader). Rogers' expansive knowledge of cigars makes him an excellent resource for defining what makes an excellent smoke. So from the best everyday cigar to one you'll save for the most special occasions, these are the best cigars to smoke now.
Best Overall CigarDavidoff Aniversario Series Read More
Best Upgrade CigarPadron Anniversary Series 1964 Read More
Best Budget CigarFerio Tego Timeless Panamericana Read More
Best Short SmokeDavidoff Aniversario Short Perfecto Read More
Best Mild Yet Complex BlendFoundation Highclere Castle Churchill Read More
How to Smoke a Cigar
Step 1: Choose the right stick
It turns out, like many things in our lives- size matters! But not in the ways you think. “Men and women tend to do the exact wrong thing when they choose a cigar.” Says Rogers. “So, women tend to go, ‘ok, I want a smaller cigar, a petite cigar.’ Because they think it is going to be milder. And men say, ‘I want a strong cigar! Give me the biggest cigar you have.’ So they tend to grab the bigger ring gauge and larger cigars. That’s actually backward.” The strength of the smoke is all about the ratio between air, heat, and proximity. The shorter the stick and more concentrated the air and heat coming through the lit end into your mouth- the more robust the smoke. So fellas, no need to overcompensate so much. Try the shorty. You might like it.
Step 2: Cut the cigar
Once you’ve picked your stogie, it’s time to lite that baby up, right? Slow down! “Before you light it, you’ve got to cut it," Rogers says. "The trick with a cut is when you look at any cigar, any shape, you can see where the roller has rolled an extra cap line between the wrapper and head of the cigar. When you cut, you want to cut just above that line. You’re only removing the cap. You’re not cutting into the wrapper. If you cut into the wrapper, i.e. you cut a little too much off of the top, it will start to unravel and fall apart in your mouth. There are several different kinds of cuts: A straight cut is the classic way to do it.”
Step 3. Toast the foot
Now here's the fun part. “[Use] a match or a butane lighter," Rogers says. "You want to use the heat, not the flame. You want the cigar to be a quarter-inch to an inch above the flame, and you want to toast the foot of that cigar. Rotate the cigar and toast. You should be literally toasting it. Browning just the edges, just barely. Don’t get any char or flame on the wrapper."
Step 4: Draw and rotate
“Once it’s evenly toasted, still using just the heat, draw and rotate, " Rogers says. "That should only take a moment to light it if you’ve properly toasted it, since the cigar is primed to make that happen. The different types of tobacco in there are meant to be smoked in a linear fashion; you don’t want a third of the bottom to be lit because then you’re only tasting that one piece and destroying the profile. Another obvious but overlooked tip: when using a match to light, let the head burn off, and only use the stick of wood to light the cigar. Allow the sulfur head to dissipate because you don’t want to pull any of that into the cigar.”
Step 5: Keep the cherry cool
“One of my tips about maximizing the enjoyment of any cigar, cheap or expensive, new or old, is to keep the cherry cooler," Rogers says. "You do that by taking long, slow, easy draws on the cigar. Don’t take short pulls where you heat up that cherry. That’s a way to create acidity, acridness and a burnt carbon taste."
Step 6: Taste the cigar
“Allow the smoke to come into your palate from the tip of your tongue, front to back and side to side," Rogers says. "You don’t want to push all that smoke out too rapidly. Just gently exhale the smoke. Obviously, with cigars, you’re not inhaling. It’s just for the flavor. So think about how that flavor hits your tongue. Start with the basic ones. Is it salty? Sweet? Bitter? Sour? Those are basics. We tend to all agree on those things."
Step 7: Ash the cigar
“The best way to do it is a light touch on the ashtray and roll the cigar to let the ash fall off," Rogers says. "The real reason you do it is to control the temperature of the cherry, the lit part. You want to keep it well-lit but cool. There’s a perfect ratio. If you don’t smoke your cigar fast enough because there are no additives in a cigar, it’ll go out. The cherry gets too cool. However, if you start puffing away on it, and the cherry becomes really bright, it becomes bitter and acrid, and you don’t want that. So there’s this balance that you’re always trying to strike between keeping your cherry fully lit but as cool as possible.”
Cigar Terms to Know
Wrapper: The single leaf that literally wraps the outside of the cigar. It imparts around 60 percent of the cigar’s final flavors. Its flavors have to do with its country of origin, the way it’s grown (in the sun or shaded) and the type of tobacco plant. Different examples include Connecticut, maduro, claro and oscuro.
Filler: The innermost leaves rolled within a cigar, almost always a blend of different types of leaves.
Binder: The tobacco that helps hold a cigar together. It must be the strongest leaf in a cigar, but also imparts flavor.
Ring Gauge: The diameter of a cigar, measured by sixty-fourths of an inch. The bigger the ring gauge, the bigger the diameter.
Head/Cap: The end of a cigar that is cut and put in your mouth. Make sure not to cut off the entire cap, which will unravel the wrapper.
Foot: The end of a cigar that is lit. Smell this end before lighting to get a whiff of all the tobacco inside.
Strength and Body: Are not the same. The strength of a cigar has to do with how powerfully its nicotine affects the smoker; the body has to do with the impact of the cigar’s flavors in the mouth, its mouthfeel, and its overall richness.
How We Tested
On two separate occasions, we sat down with PuroTrader founder Pierre Rogers to smoke and talk cigars. Pierre understands and appreciates cigars in a way that very few, besides the most dedicated craftspeople and sommeliers, can replicate. We asked Rogers to give us a rundown of cigar etiquette and basic knowledge, along with the cigars he loves most, across a range of prices and through the common categories of mild-, medium-, and full-bodied. Consider them a good starting place to figure out what you like and don’t like.
Editor's Note: The price for each cigar represents the cost for a single cigar. In some instances, purchasing a single cigar online is not an option but the price per cigar you can expect to pay is the most useful.
The Best Cigars of 2022
“A mild cigar is similar to a great cup of coffee with a touch of half and half in it,” Rogers says. “It’s warm and rich, but it’s also soft and very approachable.” According to him, the best examples come from the Dominican Republic; they also tend to have a Connecticut wrapper, which is golden and light in color. “The flavor tends to be very subtle and soft,” Rogers says. “No sharp edges, no bitterness. Something that on a fresh palate with nothing in your stomach you can really enjoy, and it won’t disrupt your day. That’s what a great mild cigar is to me.” So the next time you skip lunch, think about lighting up one of these tasty treats.
An increase in the body of the cigar has a lot to do with how its smoke feels in your mouth. “Is there an oiliness there? A richness?” Rogers asks. “Wine people call it mouthfeel, and it’s no different with cigars.” Medium cigars are what most people end up smoking — they’re a great middle ground. “It provides enough strength that can be paired nicely with everything from a coffee to a bourbon. Flavors tend to be richer, the mouthfeel warmer and oilier. The smoke tends to be denser and richer,” Rogers says.
Full-bodied cigars can go in a few different directions, particularly, becoming spicy. “You can have a few different kinds of spice,” Rogers says. “A white pepper, black pepper, or even a cayenne pepper.” Those larger flavors can hold their own against a steak dinner or a peaty Scotch. “But the key here remains balance. Strength is not flavor. When you smoke that cigar, you want the palate to be full of flavor. Rich, complex. That’s what makes a great full cigar — not the strength,” Rogers says.