Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Retro-haling: The Only Way to Get the Most from a Cigar Smoking Experience

Retro-haling is the act of moving smoke from the back of the mouth, up through the nasal cavity, and exhaling through the nose. In order to retro-hale, the mouth and nasal cavity can be connected by simply closing a smoke filled mouth and exhaling through the nose. Retro-haling creates a powerful synergy of taste and olfaction (aroma/smell) where the spices, body, flavor, and strength of the cigar will be pronounced simultaneously. This method is quite easy in theory but takes some practice getting the action down. Once perfected the enjoyment of cigars will increase to an unbelievable level.

When retro-haling, I recommend starting slow. A smoker can control the amount of smoke he or she retro-hales, so start off by only retro-haling a fraction of the smoke. The following is a step by step break down of the method I use to get the most flavor and enjoyment out of my cigar.

1. Take 2-3 puffs from the cigar. First take a short pull and then on the second or third puff take a long, full pull to generate lots of smoke.

2. Close your mouth around the smoke. I like to think of this as smoke control. At this point in time you can choose whether you wish to blow all the smoke out of the mouth or retro-hale a portion of the smoke if not all of it. Practice smoke control before trying retro-haling by opening your mouth at this stage and ever so slowly let the smoke drift out of your mouth. This seemingly endless cloud of smoke floating from the mouth is a really easy smoke “trick” that I get people asking me to do again and again.

3. After closing the mouth around the smoke push air from the lungs out of the nose while dropping the front of the tongue. This will pull the smoke from the mouth around over the palate, through the sinuses, and out of the nose.

4. Important step: Very rarely can retro-haling move all the smoke out of the mouth so finish a retro-hale by opening the mouth and exhaling the rest of the smoke.

The most important advantage to retro-haling is that it increases the flavor of the cigar, and if flavor is increased so is the enjoyment. Smoking a cigar uses all the senses, but the main senses used when smoking are taste and smell. These senses work in conjunction. Food just doesn’t taste as good when suffering from a head cold. It is the same with cigars. By not retro-haling a smoker mutes a large portion of the cigar’s flavor and nuances.

Retro-haling not only increases flavor but it also increases the intensity of the cigar as well. When first beginning to retro-hale a smoker may need to return to milder body cigars and work back up to the fuller-bodied smokes. Retro-haling will open up a whole new world; there is no way to describe the increase in taste. It must be experienced.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cigar Tasting: 31 Flavors and Counting

Ever read cigar reviews and the cigar is described as chocolaty, earthy, or leathery and spicy, or creamy and nutty? And those are just a few of the major descriptors. Sometimes when I read those reviews while smoking that same cigar, I taste something dissimilar from what the reviewer has written. How valid are the use of these flavor descriptors when reviewing a cigar? Tobacco tastes like tobacco, right? In my opinion I think these reviews are valid, but not completely.

There are three major aspects that affect a cigar’s flavor profile; the type of tobacco seed, the region that the seed is grown, and the cigar’s blend. There are many types of tobacco seeds used in the industry. Some of the most well know being Cuban, Habano, Connecticut, Criollo, Corojo, and Cameroon. And there are new hybrid seeds being created all the time through cross pollination. All these seeds will produce a different type of tobacco leaf with differing flavor profiles.

The region a seed is grown in will also greatly affect the flavor. This is due to differences in soil, whether it is sandy, marshy, volcanic, rocky, and so on. The regions cloud cover and annual rainfall will also greatly affect the tobacco. A Connecticut seed grown in Connecticut will taste different from a Connecticut seed grown in Honduras. Even within the same country, differing soils and weather patterns exist. The same seed grown in two different fields will yield slightly and sometimes greatly varying flavor profiles.

The cigar’s blend will also affect the flavor profile of a cigar. The various types of tobaccos that make up a cigar work together to give the cigar its unique profile. The cigar’s filler is made up of Seco, Volado, and Ligero, all of which may come from the same plant or from various plants from different regions. A cigar’s flavors can be drastically changed just by changing the type of wrapper leaf.

A cigar’s flavor comes from the seed, the region, and the blend. So, how do we decide a cigar tastes creamy with overtones of coffee bean and a subtle hint of cinnamon? Taste is subjective and cigars have these extreme differences in flavors, and we can’t make up words to describe these tastes, so we fall back on what is termed “sense memory.” Sense memory is the brain’s catalog of all the smells and tastes you have experienced, so when you are smoking a cigar and a certain flavor is tasted, the brain tries to interpret that flavor against its sense memory. Whatever that flavor reminds you of is the flavor of that cigar. I have smoked a cigar that reminded me of steak. Not well done, but a rich slightly sweet medium-rare steak. Others have told me that that same cigar reminds them of dry roasted coffee. So who is right? We both are. The cigar ratings and tastings, even though they are sometimes overboard in their descriptions, are legitimate. But they are also opinion. Have fun using your sense memory when picking out the various flavors of the cigar. You can’t be wrong; it’s your cigar.

Monday, September 13, 2010

What's the Deal with Cellophane?

Tobacco is both resilient and fragile. Cigars can last for 50, 60 or even 100 years if properly kept. A cigar can also be easily damaged just from being handled. Manufactures began using cellophane to protect the cigar from minor cosmetic damage to major construction altering damage that could render a cigar un-smokable. The only reason for cellophane is protection.

A great debate among cigar enthusiasts is whether to remove the cellophane or leave it on when storing cigars in a humidor. The cellophane used to protect cigars is made by using cellulose from wood. This cellophane is air permeable and allows moisture to reach the cigar which is what you want when storing cigars. This makes it unnecessary to remove the cellophane when keeping cigars in a humidor.

There is one very minor issue with cellophane. This issue keeps the cellophane off or on debate alive. Cellophane on a cigar will slightly retard the aging process. If a smoker's intention with his cigars is to age them for a lengthy period of time (more than a year or two), I would recommend taking the cellophane off, however, you would not want cigars of differing strength or flavor profiles to age for long periods of time in direct contact with each other. This will cause the cigars to marry changing flavor and strength outside of the aging process. To prevent this most cigar smokers who age cigars purchase humidors large enough to store cigars in their original cedar boxes.

When storing cigars in order to keep them at optimal smoking condition, store them as you purchased them, whether that be with cellophane or without. When storing cigars with the intention of aging them it is recommended to remove the cellophane, however, it is not necessary. The reduction in aging process is minimal and the cellophane protects the cigar from damage. There is one other benefit to leaving the cellophane on even when aging cigars. The cellophane on an aged cigar often turns a beautiful golden hue, a by-product of the cellophane absorbing some of the oils and nicotine of the cigar and also a very visible sign of a well aged cigar. There is nothing quite like showing your buddies an aged cigar by holding the cellophane up to a white shirt or piece of paper and saying, "Check out the age on this."

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Have a drink...

Finding the right drink compliment for cigars is as much a daunting task as selecting the perfect cigar. Your choice in beverage can greatly enhance your cigar smoking experience and guide you into relaxation. Your beverage choice isn’t limited to the alcoholic varietal; coffee, soda and tea are equally wonderful compliments to cigars. I’ll briefly touch on beverages that could greatly enhance your cigar experience.

Port wine is a wonderful spirit that melds with entire cigar spectrum. Port is produced from grapes grown and processed in the demarcated Douro region of Portugal. Port begins as wine, it is then fortified by adding aguardente, a neutral grape spirit, to halt the fermentation process; it leaves behind residual sugars and boosts the alcohol content. Some of my favorite port wines are Sandeman and Smith Woodhouse, both offer sweet, yet spicy flavor profiles.

Rum, whisky, and cognac pair very well with cigars. Each spirit delves into different flavor profiles that might bring out flavors you might not normally experience. A good rule of thumb to follow with these spirits is to pair with opposing flavors. For example, if you’re smoking a bold, spicy cigar it would pair well with a straight rum or fine cognac. If you’re smoking a mild cigar, pair it up with a spiced rum or whisky.

Drink choices are not limited to the alcoholic variety, coffee, tea, sodas and water pair surprisingly well with cigars. Our Corona Cigar Co. coffee is a low caffeine Nicaraguan blend that is mild and flavorful. Teas are refreshing cold drink alternatives and have many varieties that you can easily find one that will pair well with your cigar. Cola based sodas are more suited for cigars, but don’t count out there’s a cigar for even the fruit based varietal. Much can be said for water paired with cigars, but try some sparkling water with your cigar; it’s a pleasant combo that marries well with cigars.

I’ve only touched base on some of the possible pairings with cigars. Don’t be hesitant; variety is the spice of life. Share your pairings in the comments and let us know about your experiences.