The nose knows. Patrick enjoys the occasional cigar on guys’ night out. Hello, Father’s Day surprise from Eve.
“Good cigars are all handmade,” said Cory, sales manager at Liberty Tobacco in Kearny Mesa (858-292-1772; libertytobacco.com; second location in Del Mar, 858-523-9240). “Most come from Nicaragua, Honduras, or the Dominican Republic. We sell hundreds of varieties; most will be long fill. That means the long leaves are bundled up in the cigar. That’s opposed to using chopped filler, the little shards of tobacco you find in a cigarette.”
Cigars vary in length. “Robustos are usually four and a half inches, while Churchills are seven and a half. They also vary by ring gauge [diameter].The numbers run from 48 to 60. A 60-ring gauge is a pretty large guy.”
Things get interesting with the varying tobaccos — it goes beyond mild, medium, and full-bodied. “Good cigars,” said Cory, “have to do with the blends of different tobaccos and the aging process. Once the tobacco is cut, it’s aged. The blends give a certain flavor, and the tobacco releases oils during the aging and curing process. It’s kind of like a marinade you’d use on a steak. Then, after the cigar is rolled, it’s aged again. The average would be about five years.”
Cory recommended that the occasional cigar smoker pick up something mild, “like a Macanudo, an Arturo Fuente, or a Romeo y Julieta. Our cigars vary in price from $2.95 to $49. That $49 one is the Davidus, a mild cigar that’s fairly large — eight or nine inches — that comes in its own cedar tube. That’s the same wood used in humidors.”
Humidors are storage boxes that “release moisture into the air inside, keeping the humidity in the box at 68 to 70 percent. If a cigar dries out, it loses its flavor.” Liberty Tobacco sells humidors from $39.99 up and cigar cutters (used to clip the end of a cigar before lighting) from $2.95 to $9.95.
“And,” said Cory, “we have gift sets. There’s a Montecristo gift pack for $81.95 that includes a lighter, a cutter, and three different cigars: a regular, a Reserva Negra, and a 75th anniversary.” Another pack, this one from Excalibur, gives you four cigars for the price of three ($24.95).
David Mogilner at Racine and Laramie Tobacconist in Old Town (619-291-7833; racineandlaramie.com) told me he carried “about 500 premium facings to choose from. And we have lots of gift sets for Father’s Day. One of my best is the CAO Champions travel humidor set. It retails for well over $100, but I sell it for $85. It includes ten cigars that have all been rated 90 or higher by Cigar Aficionado, and it comes with a leatherbound hard travel case that is also a humidor....
“There is always the discount pile — excess inventory that I’m blowing out for 33 percent off. Stuff that was really popular but has slowed down.”
I called Excalibur Cigar & Wine Lounge in Miramar next (858-549-4422; excaliburcigarclub.com) and spoke with Big Joe, a cigar smoker of some experience and reputation. He suggested, among other brands, Rocky Patel, Perdomo, and a rare gem called Roger Jacobi, which puts him in mind of a proper Cuban cigar. “Prices will range from $5 to $15, depending on age and the kind of wrapper. The wrapper is also a tobacco leaf, and it gives a lot of flavor....
“Get a good torch to light your cigar. You want a butane lighter, not something that uses some other fluid,” continued Joe. “The cigar will pick up the chemical smell. If you use a match, use a wood one, and let the sulfur burn off before you put it to the cigar. Otherwise, the first thing you’ll taste will be the sulfur. But here’s what I do: when you get a box of cigars, there are thin sheets of cedar between the layers. You can also rip them into strips, light the strips on fire, and use those to light your cigar. It gives a nice cedar smoke. Most cigar shops have those cedar pieces in quarter-inch strips, and if you ask, they’ll give them to you. And they’ll cut your cigars as well....
“The main thing,” he said, “is to keep the cigars humidified. You can keep the cigars in a Ziploc baggie — just moisten a paper towel, put it inside a smaller Ziploc baggie, and put the smaller baggie into the larger one with the cigars. The smaller baggie keeps the moisture away from the cigars, but there’s still enough moisture in the larger baggie.”