Author: Eric Brown
When I’m choosing a cigar, the most important qualities are burn and construction. If it doesn’t smoke, flavor means nothing. I can’t tell you how many times, the only cigar I had with me had a plug, unraveled or was rolled too loose. By carefully inspecting potential cigars one can drastically reduce the amount of sub-par cigars that find their way into your humidor.
The first thing I do is to inspect the humidor to see if humidity and temperature are sufficient. A well-kept humidor means well-kept cigars and shows the level of dedication to quality the tobacconist has. If the tobacconist is nearby, ask questions about quality, flavor and cigars that you may need to know about. A good tobacconist should hear all the good as well as the bad reports from their customers.
There are many red flags to look for that will indicate poor construction or damage due to customers that may have handled the cigar incorrectly before you. Shoppers tend to squeeze cigars to see if they are fresh. Softness is an indication of poor construction, not freshness. A soft cigar allows much more air into the cigar causing it to burn hot and fast. When one squeezes a cigar, damage may occur to the wrapper, binder (wrapper binding the bunch or filler) and to the gum that holds the wrapper together at the head. Do not squeeze or roll cigars between your fingers.
When inspecting cigars we are looking for cracks in the wrapper, especially on the edges of the seams. After the cigar is lit the cigar will tend to expand causing these small cracks to split the wrapper. If this happens, the cigar may unravel. Cigars are often dropped by customers causing cracks near the head and foot of a cigar. Make sure to inspect these areas before you buy.
Cellophane has done a lot to curb damage to cigars; it also has its drawbacks. While cellophane protects cigars from damage, it also can make it very difficult to spot potential problems. Look very carefully at cigars with cellophane. Another drawback is the inability to smell the cigar through the cellophane. Although it is important to smell a cigar, there is no need to touch the cigar to your nose. When handling a cigar never touch the head with your fingers or your nose as this is the end that will end up in someone’s mouth. What we are smelling for is not just flavor but also for ammonia that has not been aged out of the cigar. Ammonia can make for a rather nasty flavor. I do take the cellophane off before the cigars hit my humidor.
Some cigars may be rolled with disproportionate filler. This means there is not an even amount of filler leaf throughout the cigar. This will cause the cigar to burn faster in the area were there is less filler. Sometimes a good torch lighter can help; however, I would prefer to avoid this altogether. I know I have stated previously to never squeeze cigars; it is ok to put slight pressure on them to identify problems such as an uneven fill. Cigars with an uneven fill can be identified by noting spots in the cigar that are softer than others. An experienced smoker can also identify these cigars by visually inspecting the body and foot of the cigar.
Plugs are also a problem faced by most cigar aficionados. A plug is a portion of the cigar that has too much filler causing a stoppage of air flow. My opinion at this point is to throw the cigar away or bring it back to your tobacconist. There are items on the market to help deal with plugs but I am more concerned with decreasing the likelihood of encountering plugs.
Bloom is a naturally occurring phenomenon when a cigar has aged well in a perfect environment. Bloom is a white powdery substance formed by the natural oils of the cigar and is visible on the wrapper. We should not confuse Bloom with the bluish or green colored mold. As companies cellophane more and more cigars and customers are allowed to handle them, bloom is not as common as it used to be. I have encountered bloom most frequently with Tubos or cigars packed in glass or alloy tubes.
People say I‘m very picky and meticulous when it comes to my cigars….YES I AM!