Up in Smoke: The Art of Preparing a Fine Cigar


I’ve resisted the temptation to provide commentary on all manner of pursuits pertaining to what is now referred to as ‘lifestyle’ – not least because I find the term to be tacky, at best, and sullied by luxury brands, at worst. But, because I believe my patrons to be discerning enough to make informed decisions for themselves with regards where they eat, where they drink, where they shoot, and where they spend their vacation time, I’m in no hurry to fill these pages with things unrelated to the fine art of tailoring.

However, having given it some thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that given the location of Brown in Town’s studio, in Hotel du Vin’s humidor, it would be churlish not to indulge in a little cigar commentary from time to time. Let’s face it, it is, like bespoke tailoring, one of life’s great pleasures, nay, luxuries, and one which is seldom afforded the column inches that bespoke tailoring is these days. And more’s the pity.

And there are few pleasures, that I can think of at this moment anyway, that are as gratifying as smoking a cigar after a good meal – not that we are often afforded this luxury in modern times, and, ergo, all the more important to maximise one’s enjoyment when it happens.

The meal in question was lunch at Bristol’s Bell’s Diner & Bar Room, where I was joined by restaurateur Jack Bevan, of The Ethicurean– a man that knows his seasonal from his seasoning – something that our scallops on oxtail was to perfection.

Together with the salt cod croquettes, matched with champagne bellinis, it was a perfect precursor to our cigars course.

The cigars in question were Davidoff robusto’s which produce a generous plume of smoke, with chocolate and coffee notes and a mildly sweet finish. However, tasting notes, are, at the best of times as subjective as they can sound pretentious, so we’ll not concern ourselves with the enjoyment which one derives from smoking these Dominican delights. Instead, I thought it might be worthwhile taking the time to consider just how one prepares a cigar for smoking in order to glean maximum enjoyment. So, here we go;

Cigars, and, moreover, the tobacco leaves from which they are rolled, like to be kept in the manner to which they are accustomed – that is to say, stored in a humid climate. This is particularly pertinent if you have received, or receive, a cigar once in a blue moon and wish to save it for a special occasion.

A humidor is a box designed for storing cigars, which is typically cedar lined, and air tight. By means of a humidifier (a method by which humidity is released gradually into the atmosphere), the humidor attains a constant relative humidity of around 74 degrees – theories abound as to the perfect humidity, but you get the idea.

A cigar is made-up of 3 parts; wrapper leaf – the highest quality leaf  of the cigar, like wood veneer, and which fetches the highest price from the plantation. The binder leaf – which is what holds the cigars contents together. And the filler, which is typically ‘long-filler’ in all handmade cigars, which are whole tobacco leaves bound together, air dried, and rolled to form a tube shape – sadly not on the thighs of Cuban virgins. Have you been?

The majority of hand-rolled cigars have one capped end; this is the end which is cut using a cutting implement such as a guillotine, cigar scissors (the personal favourite of Bristol’s local tailor) or a punch (a bullet shaped/sized tool with a circular blade at one end which is pushed into the capped-end of the cigar) through which the prerequisite ‘draw’ is attained.

The cap must not be removed completely, for, if it is, the wrapper leaf will unravel like a flag on a pole! We’ve all done it, but taking time to observe, and appreciate, the skill and workmanship that goes into capping the end of a hand-rolled cigar, you will quickly become accustomed with how much of the end to snip.

Remove almost all of the capped end of the cigar, leaving app. 1-2mm remaining in order to hold the wrapper leaf in place.

Now, unless one is smoking one’s own ‘stock’, which we will assume is perfectly kept at the right humidity etc. then I generally take the precaution of moistening the capped end in my mouth, as if smoking it, prior to cutting – this prevents the wrapper leaf from splitting as it is cut.

A cigar sommelier friend of mine once showed me how a cigar is ignited without even putting the cigar in one’s mouth – a neat trick used by a sommelier when lighting a customer’s cigar; hold the end of the cigar in a flame, or, if using a high powered jet-type lighter, point the flame at the end of the cigar and, using a circular motion, begin to first char the end until, gradually, it glows orange.

In order to ensure a smooth smoke, and, moreover, a smooth smoke until the very last without causing the cigar to ‘burn-hot’ – a peppery taste at the tip of the tongue – it is imperative to achieve an even draw. The analogy I use is to consider one’s self attempting to coax a milkshake up a straw which is little more than ice cream – difficult. Simply clamp the end of the cigar between your teeth and, firmly yet gently clamp your lips around the barrel and pull/suck slowly, as if to melt the ice cream by transferring heat from your lips to the end of the shaft – easy!

The Three Pull Rule
I generally recommend pulling/sucking on the cigar, as described above, three times in order to coax a generous plume of smoke up the barrel and into one’s mouth – in order the smoke might swirl around the pallette in order we may taste the cigar, before exhaling.

Now, sit back, let time stand still, and enjoy..

Now, unless you are a patron of Hotel du VinCambridge or Cheltenham who have smoking cabins (lucky devils) in order that we might smoke in luxury, protected from the elements, then I suggest that 3pc suits made of flannel cloth might be the most appropriate attire for this time of year – a wool or cashmere overcoat or covert coat might also be prudent depending on the size of your cigar, and, ergo, smoking time required. Personally, and providing Douglas (my mannequin) allows me to borrow it, my grandfathers smoking jacketwhich he Douglas wears, is really the ticket – if he ever allows me to borrow it!

I welcome your cigar anecdotes and hope to join more of your over the coming year for a cigar here at Hotel du Vin.

Brown in Town