Cigar smoking is a pastime that’s not quite as popular as it was during the cigar boom of the mid-’90s, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a worthwhile hobby to learn to enjoy. Cigar smoking is a multi-faceted experience: taste, smell, draw, burn, construction, beverage pairing, etc. all come into play when smoking. But where does one even get started? Well, just like riding motorcycles and drinking whiskies, you can’t just start smoking the biggest and baddest cigar right off the bat. If you’re not a seasoned cigar smoker and you go and light up a Nicaraguan double Ligero Churchill, you’ll most certainly find yourself green in the gills after just a few puffs. That’s no way to start things off, but you can eventually get there as your cigar-smoking palate matures over time. The key is to take the time to enjoy, and remember that a beginner cigar is by no means a lesser cigar, as long as you know what you’re looking for.
Start with a Mild Cigar
Also understand that taste is subjective, and it varies from person to person. If you love strong spirits, hoppy beer, and bold foods, you might be fine with a stronger cigar. But if you’ve never smoked a cigar, it’s safe to err on the side of mild so as not to wreck your constitution (and your evening). This way, you can test to see what works for you, and what you enjoy, and you’ll have the opportunity to build up to fuller-bodied cigars as your palate develops. When starting out, it’s just as important to understand cigar etiquette and how tos in order to enhance the beginner experience.
Smoking a cigar is so much more than just about picking a stick, cutting, lighting, and puffing away at it. You have to understand the actual culture of cigar smoking before you break out your noob lack of knowledge in front of a group of seasoned cigar smokers. Even if you fancy a late night cigar by yourself on the deck with a glass of your favorite beverage, there’s an art to smoking, and etiquette should be consistent no matter where you smoke. Here are some key pointers on how to handle yourself when you light up.
- Have a meal before you smoke but don’t gorge. Smoking on a full stomach helps prevent the queasies. Bring your favorite beverage with you as long as it’s not a chocolate martini.
- Don’t ask to bum a cigar. Bring your own sticks, case, cutter, and lighter or matches. Make sure the lighter uses butane. Never lighter fluid and never, ever a Bic.
- Hold the cigar between thumb and index/middle finger (thumb under the cigar with index and middle together on top of the cigar), not between your index and middle finger. That’s for cigarette smokers.
- Cut above the cap line so the cigar wrapper stays intact.
- When lighting, don’t let the flame touch the foot of the cigar. This will singe the wrapper, rendering it bitter in flavor and uneven in draw.
- Remove the band only after a few minutes of smoking so the glue warms and the wrapper doesn’t get damaged.
- Don’t smoke quickly. A couple of puffs every few minutes is sufficient.
- Draw in the smoke slowly, let it rest in your mouth briefly before blowing out the smoke gently. Never inhale.
- Don’t re-light often because that will render the cigar hot and make the taste bitter.
- Don’t ash too often, and don’t hit it against the ashtray. Roll the cigar into the ashtray gently and allow the loose ash to fall.
- Enjoy yourself.
What You Should Look For in a Entry-Level Cigar
The good news is that plenty of great handmade beginner cigars aren’t inferior machine-made versions found in your local pharmacy. Don’t touch those with a ten-foot pole because they lack the depth and complexity of handmade versions because their fillers tend to use chopped pieces of tobacco versus the long filler whole leaf ones found in handmade cigars. Most cigar companies make mild- to medium-bodied cigars that are great for beginners, as well as for seasoned smokers. Most of them use a lighter, paper-like Connecticut shade wrapper that’s tamer in strength but doesn’t compromise on flavor.
The Best Cigars for Beginners
CAO Gold Torpedo
The CAO Gold Torpedo is the one cigar I recommend to every new cigar smoker I meet. It’s mildly sweet with bread dough, sweet cream, and citrus notes. The construction and consistency are excellent, and it never tastes harsh. Even after a couple of decades of cigar smoking, I still enjoy what I would call a great cigar, not just a beginner cigar.
6.2″ x 52
Montecristo White Label Rothchilde
This is an exquisite smoke, and it tastes as beautiful as it looks. Cream, leather, vanilla, and oak permeate from the easy drawing stick. The White has mild to medium strength and medium body, and it’s remarkably consistent from the first lighting to the finish.
5.0″ x 52
Victor Sinclair Primeros Torpedo
Victor Sinclair might not be a household name, as far as handmade cigars go, but they’re worth a try because they’re consistent, mild, and tasty. We’re particularly impressed by the excellent draw and construction of the torpedo, which is a hard cigar to make well. Flavors of vanilla, leather, roasted nuts, and cream make it a great morning smoke and one that’s perfect for beginners. The price is hard to beat, as well.
6.5″ x 54
Oliva Serie O Toro
The Serie O is a great beginner cigar for those who can handle a cigar with slowly progressing strength. The Nicaraguan cigar boasts delicious flavors any beginner would love like cherry, chocolate, and a bit of cedar, but there’s a layer of pepper and spice that emerges the longer you smoke it. It provides complexity and the strength builds nicely. Pace yourself on this one. It’s worth it.
6.0″ x 50
Arturo Fuente Chateau Fuente
I’ve been smoking Chateau Fuente’s ever since I started my love of cigars 25 years ago, and they never disappoint. The Dominican robusto is wrapped in Connecticut Shade tobacco, and the burn and draw are just about perfect. The 4.5-inch length means you don’t have to commit to a long smoke, but the experience is a comprehensive one with a bit of spice at the outset, followed by cream, vanilla, and a bit white pepper peeking through. The construction is also remarkably consistent from stick to stick.
4.5″ x 50
Padrón Dámaso No. 12
The Dámaso line bucks the Padrón trend of medium to full-bodied smokes that are loved by cigar aficionados everywhere. Its strength profile is mild to medium, but it lacks nothing in terms of flavor with cream, spice, and coffee from first light to finish. It’s the first Padrón line to use Connecticut Shade tobacco for the wrapper, and the Nicaraguan binder and filler ensure excellent complexity.
5.0″ x 50
Alec Bradley American Classic Toro
This is one of my go-to smokes and not just because it’s affordable. The American Classic line, as a whole, is mellow and satisfying with nuts, toffee, and cream on the palate, and the finish has tasty wood notes. The Honduran and Nicaraguan tobacco puts this stogie smack in the middle of mild and medium making it a perfect beginner cigar. While the construction isn’t perfect, the burn and draw are excellent.
6.0″ x 50
Gispert might be low on the cigar radar, but it’s an excellent beginner smoke thanks to its Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper. The burn can be a bit uneven, but the sweet caramel, cedar, and cocoa make it worth the maintenance. The 54 ring gauge prevents it from getting too hot, and the price makes it very approachable.
5.0″ x 54
Romeo y Julieta Reserva Real Churchill
This is one of my favorites from R&J because it checks all the right boxes: beautiful construction, even burn, rich flavor, and take-your-time length. It takes at least an hour to smoke at a relaxing pace, and the journey unfolds with a toasty, nutty, and creamy flavor that’s medium-bodied. The Nicaraguan long-leaf filler ensures a richness that delivers all the way until you can’t even hold the stubby end.
7.0″ x 50
Perdomo Reserve 10th Anniversary Champagne Super Toro
This cannon of a cigar belies its girth with some of the best beginner smoke mildness on planet earth. The big stick offers up coffee, sweet cream, and honey throughout the smoking experience. Its body rests on the mild end of the spectrum, and the impeccable construction using Ecuadorian Connecticut shade tobacco is wonderful to hold and look at. This is a cigar that will convert anyone with doubts about pursuing cigar smoking.
6.0″ x 60