The Cigar

I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN MARVELLED AT THE ART OF THE CIGAR. THE PLEASURE OF ENJOYING A FINE CIGAR IS A UNIQUE AND PERSONAL MOMENT WITH AN EXCEPTIONAL BRANDY.

THE WORD “CIGAR” ORIGINATED FROM SIKAR, THE YUCATEC MAYAN WORD FOR SMOKING, WHICH BECAME CIGARRO IN SPANISH, PROBABLY FROM THE MAYAN SIKAR (“TO SMOKE ROLLED TOBACCO LEAVES” – FROM SIK, “TOBACCO;”) OR FROM THE SPANISH WORD CIGARRA (“GRASSHOPPER”). HOWEVER, THE WORD ITSELF, AND VARIATIONS ON IT, DID NOT COME INTO GENERAL USE UNTIL 1730. NEW NAMES FOR CIGARS INCLUDE “JULES”, “HAVANA”, “VITOLE” AND “PURO”.[1] AN OLDER ALTERNATE SPELLING IS “SEGAR” [2], NOT UNCOMMON IN 19TH CENTURY SIGNS AND ADVERTISEMENTS.

THE FIRST MODERN OBSERVATION OF THE CIGAR OCCURRED WITH THE ARRIVAL OF CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS IN THE NEW WORLD. ON OCTOBER 28, 1492 COLUMBUS NOTED IN HIS LOG REPORTS THAT THE NATIVES OF SAN SALVADOR BURNED AND INHALED THE LEAVES OF A LOCAL PLANT. RODRIGO DE XERES, A LIEUTENANT ON COLUMBUS’S EXPEDITION BECAME THE FIRST EUROPEAN TO SMOKE THE INDIAN’S FORM OF A CIGAR. RODRIGO SMOKED ON EVERY SUBSEQUENT DAY OF THE EXPEDITION.

The Indians in South and Central America did not smoke cigars as we know them today. The natives smoked tobacco wrapped in maize, palm or other native vegetation. The Spanish created the cigar industry, and are given credit for creating the modern cigar.

The Origin of the word cigar comes from the native language of the ancient Mayans. The Mayans called the cigar a “Ciq-Sigan” which the Spanish word “Cigarro” is derived from. The New English Dictionary of 1735 called the cigar a “seegar”, and was later adapted into the modern word “cigar”.

HOW TO JUDGE A CIGAR (THE 3 C’S)

Construction – How well is the cigar made? How does it feel to the touch? With a firm, but soft grip feel it from end to end. Does it feel consistent all the way through? Are there any hard or soft spots? A cigar that is too hard, too soft, or inconsistent will not draw properly.

Condition – Cigars should be well conditioned before smoking. Cigars should be aged for several months to several years at the proper humidity (70% RH) and temperature (70° F). A dry cigar will burn hot, fast and can taste harsh. A damp cigar will be hard to light and can be hard to draw.

Causality (cause and effect) – How does the cigar taste? How does the cigar make you feel? Does the cigar build in taste, flavor and complexity as it burns? Or is it the same all the way through? Do you feel relaxed and calm after finishing it?

HISTORICAL FIGURES

King Edward VII enjoyed smoking cigarettes and cigars, much to the chagrin of his mother, Queen Victoria. After her death, legend has it, King Edward said to his male guests at the end of a dinner party, “Gentlemen, you may smoke.” In his name, a line of inexpensive American cigars has long been named King Edward.

U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant smoked cigars heavily, an estimated up to 12 a day. In late 1884, Grant was diagnosed with an oral cancer consisting of malignant squamous cell carcinoma. With his health failing, Grant devoted his time to his autobiography; five days after finishing it, he became the only U.S. president to die of cancer.

Sigmund Freud, the founder of Psychoanalysis, smoked 20 cigars a day, despite health warnings from colleagues.[11] Because of his frequent references to phallic symbolism, it is often claimed that his colleagues challenged him on the “phallic” shape of the cigar. Freud is supposed to have replied “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” however, there are no records of such a conversation ever having taken place.[12] Initially concealing a cancerous growth in his mouth in 1923, Freud was eventually diagnosed with the same cancer as Grant’s. Despite over 30 surgeries, and complications ranging from intense pain to insects infesting dead skin cells around the cancer, Freud smoked cigars until his life ended. Freud died at age 83 in a morphine-induced coma to relieve the pain from his cancer.[11]

Winston Churchill, who has been credited with the practice of dunking a cigar in port wine or brandy,[13] was rarely seen without a cigar during his time as Britain’s wartime leader, so much so that a large cigar size was named in his honour.

Fidel Castro and his comrade Che Guevera were often seen smoking a cigar during the early days of the Cuban Revolution. But Castro has claimed to have given up smoking in the early 1980s as part of a campaign to encourage the Cuban population to smoke less on health grounds.[14] Many other celebrities were well-known cigar smokers, including Groucho MarxGeorge BurnsMark TwainJack BennyMilton BerleRush LimbaughRed AuerbachErnie Kovacs and Bill Cosby.[15]

Rudyard Kipling said in his poem “The Betrothed“, “And a woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke.”

Apart from certain forms of heavily cured and strong snuff, the cigar is the most potent form of self-dosing with tobacco, it has long had associations of being a male rite of passage, as it may have had during the pre-Columbian era in America. Its fumes and rituals have in American and European cultures established a “men’s hut”; in the 19th century, men would retire to the “smoking room” after dinner to discuss serious issues.

CUTTING THE CIGAR:

Although some cigars are cut on both ends, or twirled at both ends, the vast majority come with one straight cut end and one end in a “cap”. Most quality handmade cigars, regardless of shape, will have a cap which is one or more small pieces of a wrapper pasted on to one end of the cigar with either a natural tobacco paste or with a mixture of flour and water. The cap end of a cigar must be cut off for the cigar to be smoked properly. It is the rounded end without the tobacco exposed, and this is the end one should always cut. If the cap is cut jaggedly or without care, the end of the cigar will not burn evenly and smokeable tobacco will be lost. Some cigar manufacturers purposely place different types of tobacco from one end to the other to give the cigar smokers a variety of tastes, body and strength from start to finish. Smoking a cigar from the wrong end may result in a bad experience.

There are three basic types of cigar cutters:

  • Guillotine (straight cut)
  • Punch cut
  • V-cut (a.k.a. notch cut, cat’s eye, wedge cut, English cut)

Cigars can be enjoyed with coffee, even a good espresso, whiskey and a brandy. Which ever way you want to have yours is fine, as long as you enjoy the flavor of the cigar.