The Xolotal Philosophy, Tricks and Tips
I like smoking cigars. I do it for enjoyment. I try to balance the time and money I put into the hobby with the amount of immediate pleasure I experience. This means I may miss out on the latest and greatest limited release cigar, or that I can’t afford to age 5 boxes of my favorites. However, I also don’t lose my mind over excessive expenditure or become so obsessed that it’s unhealthy. I’ve learned a few things from trial, error and research that work for me.
For example, I keep a simple humidor for daily use. It has the following characteristics:
- It has a good volume (probably about 150 cigars) Do not shortchange yourself in this regard.
- I replaced the humidification element with something real – those weird green foam things are heinous. Throw them away and get a gel replacement.
- The hygrometer sucks. Yes, it’s digital, but they’re pretty much all cheap, mass produced units. None of them is a precision instrument. Test ’em with the salt test, get a feel for how you like your cigars and you’ll be fine.
- It doesn’t have fancy drawers, shelves etc. Oh well.
- It’s kind of ugly. I have a very specific esthetic; I love design, art and so on. I don’t kid myself that I can reconcile my cigar needs with my love of design. There are some beautiful humidors out there and some great custom makers, but it would cost me at least $300 – $500 for an elegant, custom humidor with even a reasonable capacity.
- It cost about $50 used.
Definitely do some research: find one that keeps a decent seal and maintains humidity within your budget. Season it well. You’re protecting your investment and cigars which get subjected to wide humidity swings or dry out are a loss. I also keep a small coolidor, for extra storage and aging. They’re a great alternative to having a huge humidor and have an extra bit of thermal regulation. Putting one together is pretty simple and the instructions are on line: How To Build A Coolidor. I’m not a super handy kind of guy, so believe me, if I did it, it’s pretty painless.
Accessories. Invest in some good tools within your budget. A solid, reliable lighter is essential. I have a classic Corona pipe lighter which outlasted everything else. I also have a Vector torch. I look for reliability, ease of use, simplicity. Fundamentally, flint lighters with simple mechanics and good construction will last forever (Someone stole my ST Dupont, but it was a beautiful piece of craftsmanship. Worth the money? Eh. Only if you can afford it.) The rest are a crap shoot, but dig around. And try and get a decent warranty with your product. The Colibris are notorious for poor longevity and support. Good cutters are also essential. Find a solid, sharp, stainless steel guillotine. I use a Cuban Crafters perfect cutter, which does torpedos well, is automatically consistent and sharp but not very well-finished. It was cheap and works well. I also have a Zino, which is nice, but quite expensive and is currently – um, in need of service. I also use a punch (a Xikar) and will probably get a V-cut soon. They all have different advantages and work well with different cigars.
Purchasing. This depends a lot on your disposable income. As much as I respect and like the idea of supporting local businesses, the tobacconists near me neither have the stock, knowledge or customer service to justify the incredible cost differential. I buy a few sticks here and there from a brick-and-mortar shop, but I do a lot of online shopping. It’s my money and I don’t feel overly guilty about enjoying it. That’s the nature of business. Sometimes, I can literally get 5 cigars for the price of one by shopping online. I also gain access to producers I wouldn’t otherwise. Tobacconists stock cigars they know will sell. They won’t usually take a risk on the interesting new releases and blends I like to try, and they hardly ever stock one of my favorite vitolas, the lancero or panatela.
Nicotine. If you’re a cigarette smoker making a change, you can ignore this. But if, like me, you’re exclusively a cigar smoker, you want to be aware that nicotine is a drug. I may smoke big, rich cigars, but I don’t have a particularly high tolerance for nicotine. Make sure you prepare yourself by being well-fed before a heavy-duty smoke. If you get dizzy or feel sick, you’re getting too much nicotine. Stop. It’s not fun anymore, so why keep going?
Other tips. Relighting, saving etc. On the whole, I’ve given up on trying to save part of a cigar I smoked while out in a carrier. They just get funky. I prefer to sit at home and if it goes out, leave it in the ashtray. I relight later, when I feel like it. The trick of purging – where you blow out through the cigar and eliminate certain gases – works well for relighting, or when a cigar gets bitter towards the end. Toasting, where you gently heat the foot (the far end) of a cigar until it all lights evenly is good habit. I think it makes for a more even, better and cooler smoke overall. Reclipping sometimes works for a cigar which isn’t drawing well. I also tend to cut some torpedos at an angle to get a better draw if the first cut doesn’t work. Gently massaging/rolling cigars (without cracking the wrapper) can even out a difficult or tight draw. To repair cracked wrappers, I use a solution of acacia stored in a little glass bottle and my finger. Paint it on, let it dry, and voila!
Producers. This list is by no means exhaustive and I’m certainly not a bonafide expert. It is merely a starting point to get your feet wet without being completely overwhelmed or confused. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this pursuit is exploring the huge diversity of cigars, so take your time and find what you like. Your taste will change over time. I like a wide range, so a creamy, delicate cigar works sometimes, a full-bodied, spicy powerhouse works at other times.
- Arturo Fuente is a good, solid producer in the Dominican Republic. Invest in their premium sticks, not the cheapies. They are a benchmark for quality cigars and will give you a basis for comparison.
- Padrón is a big Nicaraguan producer still considered a boutique producer known for quality. They have a very accessible flavor profile and more than a few people say that a ’64 Anniversario is what got them into the hobby.
- Joya de Nicaragua comes from the first Nicaraguan cigar factory. Nicaragua came late to the game, but are a significant force in the US cigar market, known for spicy, strong cigars.
- Tatuaje and My Father Cigars. Although not in the same class of historically significant producers as the above, I believe that Tatuaje represents, in some ways, the new era of American cigar smoker. Post ’90s boom and bust, these are 2000s era cigars. They are definitely worth exploring and produce a quality product. José García (Don Pepin Garcia) rose to fame via Tatuaje’s success (he manufactured them) and produced the My Father line. I would at least try the My Father original line, and the Flor de las Antillas.
- Other reputable names include Ashton, CAO, Camacho, Davidoff, La Aurora, La Gloria Cubana, Oliva, Perdomo. Drew Estate is a current darling in the cigar community and commands high prices for some of their traditional style offerings. Even I must admit that despite their start in flavored cigars and offbeat marketing, they create some quality cigars.
Cuban versus non. A lot of the well-recognized names in cigars are originally Cuban: Romeo y Julieta, H. Upmann, Cohiba, Hoyo de Monterey, Montecristo, Partagas etc. They are not the same at all. The non-Cuban versions are owned by big conglomerates like Altadis or General Cigar Company and the product varies wildly. For example, non-Cuban Hoyos can be quite nice, in a genteel old-school European way, whereas the non-Cuban Cohibas I’ve had were awful. I haven’t had them for years, so maybe they’ve changed. A lot of these brands have made an attempt to adjust to the changing American palette, with varying degrees of success. You will have to wend your way through the products to find what you like. Honestly, I enjoy exploring the other, smaller producers so much, that I rarely smoke these old-school brands’ latest offerings and my knowledge is out of date. Cuban cigars however, are illegal in the US. This makes them difficult for the average smoker to access. They are also quite expensive, even in the countries where they are legal. I am not an expert on Cuban cigars, but given a choice without legal restriction, I would choose to have both in my humidor. Cubans are unique and cannot be duplicated. They are not necessarily always better, but there is nothing like a Cuban cigar and they are the original.