Ah, yes: a fine cigar. The presence of a fragrant Cuban or Dominican in a man’s hand or jutting from his mouth, perhaps complemented with a bracing libation in his other hand, gives him an air of sophistication, of confidence, of manliness.
And like many of man’s pursuits of the finer things (wine tasting comes to mind), dedicated cigar smokers follow a ritual. Take the guys in the Cheroot Cigar Club, which meets at the University & Whist Club in Wilmington.
Formed five years ago, the club has 15 members—all men, though two women belonged in the past. Once a month they gather in a basement room at The Whist to sample a cigar chosen from the list published by Cigar Aficionado, the industry magazine. A convivial group, they’re businessmen and professionals ranging in age from early 30s to early 60s.
At the January meeting, they smoked an E.P. Carrillo from the Dominican Republic priced at $13.75 (recommended pairing: dark rum).
The first step in their ritual is to cut the closed end of the cigar. Cutting tools come in various designs, but the most common is the double-blade guillotine. The usual cut is straight, though some smokers prefer the wedge, or V cut. Others use a cigar punch, which (duh) punches a hole in the end of the cigar.
Cutting is often followed by the “cold draw”—drawing on the cigar to get a sense of its flavor and aroma.
The next step—lighting the cigar—is critical. Members use butane lighters, eschewing sulfur matches (there are non-sulfur varieties) and lighters fueled by lighter fluid or gasoline. The goal is to avoid a flame that might contaminate the cigar’s aroma or other qualities.
Lighting takes time. Joe Gallo, a Wilmington contractor and president of the club, demonstrated for a newcomer at the January meeting. He held the cigar horizontally and touched the flame to the tip, rolling the cigar to get an even burn. Then he gently blew on it, creating a brighter glow.
Now he was ready to put the cigar to his lips and start smoking. A cigar smoker rarely inhales. Instead, he holds the smoke in his mouth for a few seconds, allowing the tongue to savor the various taste sensations. A good cigar will take an hour to finish, and etiquette demands that one never knock the ash off. It keeps it burning at the proper temperature.
Most of the cigars smoked at the meetings, Gallo says, cost between $5 and $25, with an average price of $6. He usually smokes only one a week, calling it “a stress relief.”
“I run my own company, and when I can just chill out with a cigar and a glass of great scotch or wine, either alone or with friends, everything just seems to melt away,” he says. “It’s like laying back in your most comfortable recliner and listening to classical music. It takes you away from everything.”