Cigars are best enjoyed socially – here’s our crash course on how to build the best experience.
Thanks to La Aurora for partnering with us to make this article possible.
There’s something about being in your 30’s that’s a wake-up call. You’re not old, but you’ve lived enough to realize that experiences don’t just happen, they have to be crafted.
Maybe you’re finding yourself planning bachelor parties or reunions as often as you’re attending them. Maybe you’re heading out on a camping trip with your dad, knowing just how fleeting time can be. Maybe, in all the hectic hurry of modern life, you’re just looking for a quiet evening of rest and relaxation with an old friend.
No matter what the circumstances are, few things mark a special occasion better than a good cigar, and nothing makes a good cigar great than being able to share the experience with others.
The Fine Art of Sharing Cigars
No question about it – cigars lay the foundation for the perfect get-together when they’re chosen properly.
They fit with almost any occasion or time of year, carry a ton of old-school cool, and work just as well with old college buddies as they do with your boss or a new dad. They’re not just a gift – they’re an invitation to spend time together – either in conversation or in contemplative silence – but for all those positives, it’s still important to be smart when you’re making your choice.
An expensive cigar isn’t always a great cigar, and as strange as it might sound, a great cigar isn’t always the right cigar. A box of hand-crafted figurado might offer complexity and a whole symphony of cacao and spice notes, but that intensity might not make for a good starting point for someone who’s just starting their cigar journey. Knowing how experienced your fellow smokers are should be one of the first considerations you make when planning to share some stogies.
Of course, there’s a good chance that depending on the occasion or the company you’re smoking with, you won’t know right away what your fellow smokers’ preferences are. In situations like these, one option is to simply err on the side of caution and go for light to medium-intensity cigars. An enthusiast will still enjoy a good quality smoke and a newcomer will be grateful for the easy introduction. A more creative solution, however, can be to spring for every aspiring aficionado’s friend: the sample pack.
Almost every cigar manufacturer and vendor on the planet offers some kind of sample pack – a selection of different cigar flavors, sizes, and styles all packaged together for a surprisingly affordable price. While these are a great way to explore different flavors and strengths on your own, they’re also a fantastic way to satisfy a more eclectic group of smokers – letting you offer personalized recommendations based on where people are. Beyond those benefits, there’s definitely something to be said for giving all your guests a unique cigar – everyone gets to feel unique and no one feels pressured to compare their experience (with the smaller cigars in the pack sparing newcomers the chore of smoking too much if it turns out not to be their thing).
Sharing a good cigar experience isn’t just about cigars, though. Let’s talk about…
How to Pair a Cigar
Whether you’re smoking alone or with a company, getting the most out of your cigar has as much to do with the beverage you drink along with the cigar itself. Done right, a good cigar pairing can create an experience greater than the sum of its parts, while a botched combination runs the risk of ruining both. While the perfect pairing is going to vary from person to person, when it comes to building a great experience for everyone, there are a few crucial rules worth following.
Match Intensity with Intensity
You’ve probably heard the old adage that red wine shouldn’t be served with fish. That’s not just some outdated pretension – it’s based on the fact that the lighter, more delicate flavors in most seafood are at risk of being overwhelmed by the stronger, earthier flavors that come from many red wines thanks to the tannins in them. That same principle is doubly important when it comes to cigars.
A lighter, lower-intensity cigar paired with a harsher, alcohol-forward beverage might well mean the cigar’s flavors get drowned out by whatever you’re drinking (heavily-peated scotches and strong whiskeys tend to be common culprits here). On the other hand, a heavy, high-intensity cigar can easily overpower a lighter drink like white wine or gin.
Creating a good pairing means giving both your cigar and your drink an equal opportunity to shine, and while it will take some experimenting and finessing, finding a good balance can make each draw improve each following sip and vice versa. And on that note…
Flavors should ComplementNot Compete
Your pairings should be evenly matched when it comes to the intensity of flavor but don’t make the mistake of simply having them overlap. There’s nothing wrong with an oaky, earthy drink or an oaky, earthy cigar, but put together they don’t wind up bringing anything new to the table.
“Our goal is for flavors to harmonize, not compete,” argues La Aurora’s master blender Manual Inoa. “…Like honey or molasses notes from the rum mixing with peppery notes from the cigar.”
Exploring flavor combinations can be as much fun as finding a truly excellent match, but a tried-and-true shortcut is to simply balance one flavor against another. A creamy, chocolatey stout like Guinness goes great with a cigar with coffee notes. The softer, sweeter flavors you get in Irish whiskeys like Redbreast make a great companion for cigars, bringing some sharpness with pepper, spice, and leather notes.
Alcohol Isn’t Everything
Don’t make the mistake of limiting yourself to alcohol when it comes to pairing. For all the pop culture images of men in smoke-filled rooms holding snifters of brandy, it’s actually coffee that’s traditionally been cigars’ go-to pairing.
With modern cigars and coffee both exploding in popularity at roughly the same time in history (and both grown in Central America and the Caribbean), the two have been taken together for centuries. While die-hards might swear that the Café Cubano (traditional Cuban coffee) is the best way to go, the simple truth is that coffee’s intensity and versatility (from sweet and creamy to dark and deeply bitter) make it a fantastic counterpoint to almost any kind of cigar.
Don’t be afraid to buck the norms, however. Strong teas, cane sugar sodas, and other drinks are perfectly capable of balancing well with many cigars. Remember that for any good pairing, intensity and complementary flavor is essential – alcohol is not.
If Time Matters, Size Matters
The beverage you pair your cigar with plays a pivotal role in how much you’ll enjoy it but so does the time you give yourself to work through it. It’s true that you don’t have to smoke a whole stogie in a single sitting, but as most aficionados can attest to, returning to a half-finished cigar after a long break simply doesn’t deliver the same flavor and enjoyment.
Say you’re at a wedding reception and want to celebrate the occasion with the groom and some friends.
Chances are, the newlywed won’t be able to take a forty-five minute break from mingling with guests to share a smoke on the balcony. That doesn’t mean you need to forgo a cigar entirely but it does mean you need to be strategic when selecting a size.
This doesn’t mean you have to know the difference between a “presidente” and a “double toro” or a “small panatela” and a “lonsdale” but it is important to understand that the range of cigar length and gauges (thicknesses) of cigars isn’t accidental – it exists to give you the ability to pick a cigar that works for whatever time – budget you’re working with.
In a social setting (a bachelor party, reception, etc.), a shorter cigar like a petit corona (usually coming in at under five inches) is going to let you enjoy a luxurious cigar experience without rushing (and either making yourself sick or ruining the flavor in the process). Smaller cigars can also be great picks when you need to smoke outdoors in bitterly cold or uncomfortably hot weather. On the other hand, a setting where you’ve got more time to kill (sitting down by a campfire or at a card game) might well call for a longer and/or thicker cigar.
Location Is Everything (And Other Considerations)
Make no mistake: cigars – even lighter ones – can be pungent. Even during the rise of cigars’ popularity in ye-olden-times, retiring to a designated room full of smoke-absorbent velvet décor was a common practice. While it shouldn’t have to be said, consideration for others should be a foundational part of your plan when you’re looking to share cigars.
When it comes to picking a location, the great outdoors should be at the top of your list. Few places make for a better venue than a backyard on a nice summer evening, and the fresh air can be great for helping newer smokers from getting overwhelmed by the fumes. If you’re at a public event like an outdoor wedding, do make an effort to get downwind of the crowd – nothing ruins a good cigar that looks dirty from people around you (or worse, someone asking you to move somewhere else).
Don’t be intimidated by cigar bars and lounges. While the levels of elegance will vary from place to place, there’s few places better suited for smoking cigars than a place designed for smoking cigars – and even some specialty shops will come equipped with an attached room for sitting back and relaxing.
Regardless of where you wind up smoking, best practice is to come prepared. Far too many great smoking experiences have been ruined by the sudden realization that you’ve bought great cigars but have nothing to cut or light them with (and yes, I’m speaking from painful experience). A halfway decent guillotine blade only costs about ten bucks (on the high end), and most tobacconists are happy to throw in a set of matches for free if you ask for them at checkout.
Be mindful that cigar smoke will get into your clothes. Yes, it will come out in the wash but it’s still a good practice to encourage your guests not to dress in their finest clothes when you know you’ll be smoking (especially if the ash comes off your cigar at an unlucky moment).
But for all those details, remember…
Cigars are meant to be enjoyed
That’s not just a warning against snobbery or gatekeeping – it’s an all-important reminder to not get too caught up in the etiquette and intricacies of building a perfect experience when your real goal is building an enjoyable one.
You’re not bringing people together to smoke cigars, you’re smoking cigars to bring people together – creating a time for conversation, celebration, and bonding.
If any principle, trick, or tip doesn’t make the smoking experience more fun for you and the folks around you, then it’s not one worth following.
It’s not about his status. It’s not about some cheap mask of masculinity or a facade of sophistication. It’s about having a good time, pure and simple – and sharing that time with the people around you!
What tricks and tips have you discovered to build a great cigar experience? Keep the conversation going in the comments!