An introduction to cigar smoking – Raban Aso

A few weeks ago I had reason to celebrate with the safe and joyous arrival of a new Gentlebaby (that is the name for a junior gentleman right?). To mark the occasion a generous egg that I know presented me with a Romeo y Julieta Churchill, and bally enjoyable it was in the gentle evening sun with the company of the cat.kiricigar

Anyhow, to cut a long story short this sparked a conversation with another chum of mine who suggested that we should have a sly jug or two of foaming ale and a cigar to introduce a friend of his who, at 21 years old, happens to be the youngest qualified cigar expert in the UK and one of the youngest in the world. CEO and founder of Cigar London (website link here), Raban Aso.

Picture the scene, a secret location in Mayfair in a wainscoted room decorated generously with taxidermy animals, from polar bears to tigers down to beautiful exotic birds. A cosy gentleman’s club lounge with an old fashioned cocktail bar with countless bottles of gin glistening like juniper infused chandeliers. The perfect place to enjoy a little cigar talk and of course to enjoy a cigar itself.

The world of cigars can be daunting and so I thought it prudent to get some cigar related advice whilst in such esteemed company and to share it with my readers.

To be a cigar smoker you need not puff away at dozens of cigars. Oh, no. Even if, like me, you only enjoy a cigar once every few years to mark an occasion you can still consider yourself a cigar smoker. You see, cigar smoking is not about satisfying a craving nor is one a slave to a cigar like many are to cigarettes. Cigar smoking is about relaxing and enjoying a special moment. It’s about treating all the senses, the aroma, the taste, the feel of a cigar. But how do you go about it without showing yourself up as a novice?

The first stage is naturally choosing a cigar. Raban offered some advice here suggesting that it’s best to get some advice from your cigar merchant who will be able to make some recommendations based on both your budget and the amount of time you have to smoke your cigar saying:

For beginners I would usually recommend the most popular Cuban brand, the Montecristo – specifically the no, 4 ( RRP £13.20) which is the best selling worldwide. It’s a simple smooth likeable cigar with medium strength and not too big, perfect for the novice. However for those looking for more thickness and flavour they should try a Hoyo De Monterrey Epicure no. 2 (RRP £19.10) which is my personal go-to cigar, perfect for any occasion and won’t blow my mouth off. It is quite flavourful and classified as a light cigar and its robusto size allows you to enjoy a big cigar like all the connoisseurs..

hoyo

It is wise to procure your cigar as close to the point of smoking it as this will ensure that you smoke it in good condition. You don’t want your cigar too dry or too moist and Raban showed how pinching and squeezing the cigar at certain points allows the moisture level of the cigar to be tested.

Once you have your weapon of choice you are ready to enjoy it. It is common to see people sniffing their cigar before lighting it as this will give hints as to its character and is all part of the fun. Enjoying the aroma in anticipation of the taste.

The next step is to cut the cap of the cigar to allow it to be smoked. Cutting is very simple. On the head you will see a little line showing where the cap starts and you should be careful not to cut further up the barril of the cigar than this line as you could risk the cigar unravelling which would be sure betray you as a novice. Try also when using a cutter to slice using a single action so that the cut is clean.partsofcigar

Next up is the all important lighting. For this Raban explained that using petrol lighters or gas clippers is not recommended as the fuel can have an adverse effect on the taste. It is preferable to use matches, but some find it easier to use butane gas lighters, but care must be taken not to torch the cigar. It is generally accepted that the way to light a cigar is to light it first whilst in your hand then after a few seconds place the cigar in your mouth and continue to light it whilst gently sucking to light it up a little quicker, but again try not to go too quickly, remember that this is a relaxing experience and you should take your time.

It is then time to relax and enjoy your cigar. Whilst enjoying our cigars, each other’s company, the ale and the ambience we discussed cigar etiquette and the myths that make cigar smoking unnecessarily complicated to some. I had previously heard that you should not hold a cigar between your first two fingers like you would a cigarette, but Raban eloquently explained that each cigar is about an indulgent moment, each its own experience and that when smoking the cigar you should be completely at ease to enjoy the atmosphere and so you should be comfortable holding your cigar in any way you feel appropriate. It is after all your cigar and your experience.

He told a lovely story about Sir Winston Churchill who when famously smoking his cigars would be quite animated when talking to people, waving his hands about and his audience would often get transfixed on the long build up of ash on the end of his cigar worried about where it would fall off.long-ash

On the subject of whether you should ash a cigar or not like you would a cigarette Raban feels that there is a story behind each individual cigar and that their quality is created with time and effort and honouring the culture and traditions of many years. As such allowing a cigar to “burn with dignity” is a tradition amongst cigar smokers and so it is common not to ash your cigar during smoking. However, if smoking indoors or if you don’t want to risk the ash falling on the floor or your clothes then it is acceptable to ash your cigar gently once or twice during a smoke. He did say that at gatherings with his cigar smoking crowd they often compete with each other to see who can keep the longest ash going without it dropping. It also seems like a perfect excuse for a Gentlemanly wager to me.

Thanks Raban for sharing your cigar expertise and for making cigar smoking less complicated. Here is to our next smoke!