A first step into a humidor full of cigars can be a little overwhelming.
There are boxes of options that look totally different and exactly the same, all at once. But no one has to know you’ve never bought a cigar before. With these tips, you’ll look like you know what you’re doing:
If you’re buying a gift for someone who likes cigars, find out what cigars they like to smoke. They probably have a preference and will be more likely to appreciate the gift, said Marcie Sumpter, an employee at Lewiston’s Smokes and Suds.
Stick with a middle-of-the-road option if you’re buying for someone without a known preference, whether that be you or another. Find a medium-priced cigar with a medium flavor, said Sumpter, and stay away from maduros, the darker-colored cigars, which can have a stronger taste.
Don’t get hung up on the names. Cigars are named for their length and girth, Sumpter explained. A Petit Corona is on the shorter side, and a Churchill is on the longer side, with a Robusto and Corona being in the middle. They’re also generally labeled with two numbers, a smaller number which indicates the length in inches and a larger number that indicates the “ring size” or girth. This variance affects the way the cigar smokes: the longer cigar takes longer to smoke, and a thicker cigar smokes more slowly.
Try things out. There are nuances of flavor in cigars, depending on where they are grown and how they are processed, much like coffee or wine, said Adrian Miller, a former Smokes and Suds employee who now works at the Lewiston Tribune. Over time, people develop preferences, but if you’re new to it, don’t worry about it and just try something. Some people recommend beginning with a mild cigar, others recommend trying a mix of mild, medium and stronger cigars to discover your preferences. Flavored cigars are an option, especially for people who might be hesitant to try a more traditional cigar.
Select cigars that have been stored properly. Humidors maintain a cigar’s form and flavor, so stay away from cigars that look brittle, said Miller. Also check for little holes in the cigar, which indicate an insect infestation. And don’t be afraid of bloom, a white powdery substance that can appear on the exterior of the cigar. It’s different from mold, which grows in fuzzy white patches and should be avoided. After your cigar purchase, smoke it or store it properly.
Fake it ’til you make it. That’s right. You’re just buying a cigar. Do it with confidence, and no one has to be the wiser.
How to get your hands on a Cuban cigar
Cuban cigars are famous for being the best, and if you want to smoke one, you’re in luck.
As of October 2016, it is no longer illegal in the U.S. to smoke a Cuban cigar or have one in your possession. Good news for cigar aficionados, right?
Not really. That’s because the only place you can legally purchase a Cuban cigar is in Cuba. The ban was lifted on having Cuban cigars, but not on importing or reselling them — those activities are still illegal, which is why you won’t find Cuban cigars at your local cigar shop.
But if a vacation to Cuba is not an option for you, it’s not the tragedy you might think.
“Cuban cigars were desirable because they were illegal,” explained Chris Meacham, owner of Smokes and Suds in Lewiston.
Cuba used to be a haven of cigar production, he said. But when communism overtook the country, the big cigar producers fled with seeds in their pockets and restarted in neighboring countries whose climates — geographic and political — were more favorable to business.
The Exodus of 1959, as it is called, led to new companies in Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and other locations in the region, which often bear the same company names as their counterparts in Cuba. In some sense, “Cuban cigars” have been available for years; they just were no longer being grown in Cuba.
And those Cuban cigars that were from Cuba? The general consensus by those in the business, Meacham said, is that the communist government was about as effective at producing cigars as it was at running the country. So really, we didn’t miss out all along.